Posts by Dr. John Ray, monitoring food and health news -- with particular attention to fads, fallacies and the "obesity" war

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

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

A brief summary of the last 50 years' of research into diet: Everything you can possibly eat or drink is both bad and good for you

"Let me have men about me that are fat... Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look ... such men are dangerous."
-- Shakespeare

What fast food does to girls


30 April, 2012

Zip Code as Important as Genetic Code in Childhood Obesity

The original heading on this article -- reproduced above -- is a vast exaggeration.  What was actually found was an assembly of mostly non-significant (>.05) relationships.  And it was actually found that the environment around you had NO EFFECT on adults.  It was only among children that some connection was observed.

Comparing Seattle and San Diego strikes me as a bit bizarre and creating large difficulties for control. I haven't bothered to look it up but as far as I am aware,  San Diego has a much higher proportion of blacks and Hispanics than Seattle does.  So how do you control for ethnicity?  You could say, "We will look at whites only" but the whites in the two places might not be comparable.  Due to the well known "white flight" phenomenon, many of the whites in San Diego might be "left behind" people in various ways.

I also believe that San Diego has America's largest population of retired admirals but although that is unlikely to have affected the results below, it is another warning that the populations of the two cities might be non comparable in a number of ways.

And even if we accept that the controls were adequate what do the results mean?  How does "neighborhood" exert its effect?  I doubt that the neighborhood itself does anything.  But maybe people who live in nicer areas send their kids out to exercise of various sorts more.  It may be an exercise effect rather than a neighborhood effect that we are looking at.  That it is something like that is suggested by the fact that the environment had no effect on adult obesity

Nearly 18 percent of U.S. school-aged children and adolescents are obese, as the rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity puts children at greater risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and other illnesses, and of suffering severe obesity as adults. New study results indicate that where a child lives, including factors such as the neighborhood's walkability, proximity to higher quality parks, and access to healthy food, has an important effect on obesity rates. Researchers found that children living in neighborhoods with favorable neighborhood environment attributes had 59 percent lower odds of being obese.

"Obesogenic Neighborhood Environments, Child and Parent Obesity: The Neighborhood Impact on Kids Study" was published in a special theme issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Led by Brian Saelens, PhD, of Seattle Children's Research Institute, this is among the first neighborhood environment studies to look at a combination of nutrition and physical activity environments and to assess children and their parents. It is also among the largest studies of its kind to use objective geographic information system (GIS) data to examine the physical activity and healthy food option attributes of a neighborhood related to obesity.

Researchers used GIS to assess Seattle and San Diego area neighborhoods' nutrition and physical activity environments. Nutrition environments were defined based on supermarket availability and concentration of fast food restaurants. Physical activity environments were defined based on environmental factors related to neighborhood walkability and at least one park with more or better amenities for children. Kids that lived in neighborhoods that were poorer in physical activity and nutrition environment had the highest rates of obesity -- almost 16 percent -- in the study. This figure is similar to the national average. On the flip side, only eight percent of children were obese in neighborhoods where physical activity and nutrition environments were positive.

"People think of childhood obesity and immediately think about an individual's physical activity and nutrition behaviors, but they do not necessarily equate obesity with where people live," said Dr. Saelens, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. "Everyone from parents to policymakers should pay more attention to zip codes because they could have a big impact on weight."

Fast food may not be as easy to come by in the Seattle area, based on the study. There were 3,474 fast food locations in San Diego County, as compared to 1,660 in King County, Wash. On a county-level block group average basis, San Diego had 2.0 fast food locations per block group, and King County had 1.1.

Numerous national health organizations have identified neighborhood environment and built environment, including healthy food and physical activity opportunities, as important factors in childhood obesity, including the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Our data support recommendations from these groups that we need to change our environments to make them more supportive of physical activity and nutrition," said Saelens.


Salad growers find that salad is good for you

With such a tiny sample (10) this is PR, not science.  It is amazing what academic journals will print these days.  As long as it serves the antioxidant religion, I guess ....

Researchers have found that antioxidant-rich watercress can alleviate the natural stress put on our body by a workout. And they found that participants with no watercress in their system who ate the leafy vegetable just two hours before high level exercise still experienced the same level of protection.

Though regular moderate exercise is known to be good for us, the increased demand on our bodies can cause damage to our DNA.

According to a new study from scientists at Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Ulster, eating watercress can prevent some of the damage caused by high intensity exercise and help maximise the benefits of a tough workout.  The study findings have now been published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Study leader Dr Mark Fogarty, from Edinburgh Napier's School of Life, Sport and Social Sciences, said: "Although we are all aware of how good exercise can be for our bodies, pounding the treadmill, lifting weights, or doing high-levels of training can take its toll. The increased demand on the body for energy can create a build-up of free radicals which can damage our DNA.

"What we've found is that consuming a relatively small amount of watercress each day can help raise the levels of important antioxidant vitamins which may help protect our bodies, and allow us to enjoy the rewards of keeping fit. It's an interesting step forward in sports nutrition development and research."

Ten healthy men, aged on average of 23 years, participated in the study. For eight weeks they were given 85 grams of watercress -- a small bag -- and asked to participate in high-level exercise on the treadmill. An eight week study with no watercress consumption was carried out to act as a control.

The scientists also tested whether the protection properties of watercress were affected by the regularity of consumption.

Dr Fogarty said: "We put participants through short bursts of intense exercise and found that those who had not eaten watercress were found to have more DNA damage than those that did not. What was also fascinating is that the effect of eating watercress was not reliant on an accumulative build-up in our bodies. Those that ate the vegetable just two hours before exercise experienced the same benefits as those who had consumed the vegetable for eight weeks."

The study was sponsored by Vitacress Salads, one of Europe's growers of watercress.


29 April, 2012

Regularly eating strawberries and blueberries may stave off mental decline by more than two years

Some proper caution about interpreting the results expressed below

Eating blueberries and strawberries may stave off mental decline in later life, claim researchers.

They found brain ageing could be delayed by up to two and a half years in elderly women regularly eating high amounts of the berries.  The findings come from an ongoing study of nurses which involves only women, but may also apply to men.

Experts believe the benefits are derived from the high content of flavonoids in berry fruits, antioxidant compounds found in plants which can protect against a wide range of diseases.

The US research team used data from the Nurses' Health Study, involving 121,700 female, registered nurses between the ages of 30 and 55 who completed health and lifestyle questionnaires beginning in 1976.  Since 1980 participants were surveyed every four years regarding their frequency of food consumption.

Between 1995 and 2001, cognitive function was measured in 16,010 women over the age of 70 years, at 2-year intervals, says a report in the Annals of Neurology journal.

The findings suggest increased consumption of blueberries and strawberries slows cognitive decline in older women.  Those who had higher berry intake delayed cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.

The authors warn they cannot rule out the possibility that women who eat more berries also have other healthy habits, such as exercising more, which may play a part in the overall findings.

However, they found a greater intake of anthocyanidins and total flavonoids was also associated with less cognitive deterioration.

Experts believe that stress and inflammation contribute to cognitive impairment and that increasing consumption of flavonoids could mitigate the harmful effects.

Brain cells are particularly sensitive to free radicals, destructive groups of atoms made as a by-product of metabolism that can damage cell membranes and DNA.

Antioxidants help to neutralise free radicals, Dr Elizabeth Devore with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, said `Our study examined whether greater intake of berries could slow rates of cognitive decline.  `We provide the first epidemiologic evidence that berries may slow progression of cognitive decline in elderly women.

`Our findings have significant public health implications as increasing berry intake is a fairly simple dietary modification to test cognition protection in older adults.'

Derek Hill, CEO of IXICO and Professor of Medical Imaging Sciences, University College London, said: `Later this year, two major drug trials targeting the proteins in the brain associated with Alzheimer's Disease will announce their results. Many experts fear these drugs will be added to the long list of potential dementia treatments that fail to demonstrate conclusively that they slow cognitive decline.

`This latest research suggesting that a diet high on berries can slow cognitive decline in the elderly population is therefore especially welcome.  `It is a large and well-designed study that significantly strengthens the evidence that changes to diet may be able to delay onset of dementia symptoms.

`This suggests that we can take further steps to tackling the scourge of dementia in society while we await the arrival of effective new medicines.'

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: `Population studies like this can provide useful clues about the effects of lifestyle and diet on cognition, but we must be sensible when interpreting the results. The study suggests a link between eating berries and slower cognitive decline, but there could be many factors at play.

`It is not possible to say whether the increased consumption of berries resulted in an increased, beneficial level of flavonoid antioxidants in the brain.  `Further research will be needed to conclude whether antioxidants in berries are beneficial in the brain and we can't assume that simply eating berries could protect against cognitive aging or dementia.

`Previous evidence has shown that eating fruit as part of a healthy diet in midlife could help to reduce our risk of dementia and so eating a healthy balanced diet is something we should all be thinking about.  `With 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia, there is an urgent need to understand more about how to reduce the risk.'

Carol Brayne, Professor of Public Health Medicine, University of Cambridge, said: `Broccoli, blueberries, Mediterranean diet, is very difficult indeed to be sure that this is not residual confounding as these kinds of dietary patterns are associated with many other positive attributes, which themselves are associated with healthier ageing.

`Blueberries have been of interest for many years and it's certainly worth further investigation, but for definitive evidence we have to await well designed trials as this is another observational study.'

The range of consumption in the study was women eating less than one serving of blueberries a month, between one and 3 servings a month and more than one serving a week, and from less than one serving of strawberries a week to more than two a week.


Can beetroot make runners unbeatable? Chemicals released by the backed vegetable help boost athletes' performance

There have been other reports to this effect and since performance-enhancing driugs are well-known, it is not particularly surprising that some may occur naturally

It seems a most unlikely performance booster but new research suggests beetroot could be the secret to track success at this year's Olympics.

Scientists have discovered athletes who eat baked beetroot before a race run faster than their rivals.

The purple root vegetable contains high levels of chemicals called nitrates, which have been shown to boost exercise performance.

Researchers at St Louis University in the US recruited 11 fit and healthy men and women and got them to twice run five kilometres on a treadmill.

Before the first run, the volunteers consumed a portion of baked beetroot just over an hour before hitting the treadmill.

Before the second run, they ate an equivalent amount of cranberry relish, chosen because it has a similar calorific content to beetroot but without the same nitrate levels.

The results, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed that after eating the cranberry relish, the runners averaged a speed of 11.9 kilometres per hour, or 7.3mph.

But after scoffing beetroot, their average speed went up to 12.3 kilometres per hour, around 7.6mph.

Researchers said runners appear to be able to maintain their speed for longer if they have eaten the vegetable.  In a report on their findings, they said: `During the last 1.1 miles of the run, speed was five per cent faster in the beetroot trial.  `Consumption of nitrate-rich, whole beetroot improves running performance in healthy adults.'

The findings support earlier research, published in 2009, by British scientists which suggested drinking beetroot juice could have a powerful effect on stamina and endurance, as well as lower blood pressure.

The researchers, from the University of Exeter and the Peninsula Medical School, also in Exter, recruited eight healthy young men to complete a series of cycling tests.

They took them twice - after drinking beetroot juice once a day for six days and after drinking blackcurrant cordial.

When tasked with cycling at an easy pace, the men used less oxygen after drinking beetroot, suggesting their muscles were able to do the same amount of work while spending less energy.

When they were asked to cycle for as long as they could before stopping, the beetroot juice allowed them to pedal an extra minute-and-a-half before running out of energy.

This 16 per cent increase in endurance could mean someone who normally runs out of steam after jogging for an hour would be able to keep going for an extra ten minutes.

It is thought nitrates lead to the blood vessels widening, improving oxygen supply to the muscles.


28 April, 2012

Now even the NYT recognizes that "food deserts" are just an elite myth

People who like fast food will eat fast food;  people who like taking drugs will take drugs.  And there's nothing government can do about it.  It must be a bitter pill to Leftists to see that there are limits to what government can do

It has become an article of faith among some policy makers and advocates, including Michelle Obama, that poor urban neighborhoods are food deserts, bereft of fresh fruits and vegetables.

But two new studies have found something unexpected. Such neighborhoods not only have more fast food restaurants and convenience stores than more affluent ones, but more grocery stores, supermarkets and full-service restaurants, too. And there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents.

Within a couple of miles of almost any urban neighborhood, "you can get basically any type of food," said Roland Sturm of the RAND Corporation, lead author of one of the studies. "Maybe we should call it a food swamp rather than a desert," he said.

Some experts say these new findings raise questions about the effectiveness of efforts to combat the obesity epidemic simply by improving access to healthy foods. Despite campaigns to get Americans to exercise more and eat healthier foods, obesity rates have not budged over the past decade, according to recently released federal data.

"It is always easy to advocate for more grocery stores," said Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, who was not involved in the studies. "But if you are looking for what you hope will change obesity, healthy food access is probably just wishful thinking."

Advocates have long called for more supermarkets in poor neighborhoods and questioned the quality of the food that is available. And Mrs. Obama has made elimination of food deserts an element of her broader campaign against childhood obesity, Let's Move, winning praise from Democrats and even some Republicans, and denunciations from conservative commentators and bloggers who have cited it as yet another example of the nanny state.

Speaking in October on the South Side of Chicago, she said that in too many neighborhoods "if people want to buy a head of lettuce or salad or some fruit for their kid's lunch, they have to take two or three buses, maybe pay for a taxicab, in order to do it."
Mrs. Obama has also advocated getting schools to serve healthier lunches and communities to build more playgrounds.

Her office referred questions about the food deserts issue to the Department of Agriculture. A spokesman there, Justin DeJong, said by e-mail that fighting obesity requires "a comprehensive response." The federal effort, he added, includes not just improving access to healthy foods but also improving food in schools, increasing physical education time, and educating people on the importance of healthy diets.

Some researchers and advocates say that further investigation is still needed on whether grocery stores and chain supermarkets in poor neighborhoods are selling produce that is too costly and of poor quality. "Not all grocery stores are equal," said John Weidman, deputy executive director of the Food Trust, an advocacy group in Philadelphia.

It was difficult to design a study that could rigorously answer the questions: Do poor urban neighborhoods lack places to buy fresh produce and is that contributing to obesity? But Helen Lee of the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, found a way. For data on where children lived and went to school and how much they weighed, she used a federal study of 8,000 children. For data on the location of food establishments, she used a data set that compiled all the businesses in the nation and included their sizes and locations.
"I knew where the children lived, so let's take the middle of that neighborhood," Dr. Lee said. "What is the nearest grocery store? What is the nearest convenience store?"

She used census tracts to define neighborhoods because they tend to have economically homogeneous populations. Poor neighborhoods, Dr. Lee found, had nearly twice as many fast food restaurants and convenience stores as wealthier ones, and they had more than three times as many corner stores per square mile. But they also had nearly twice as many supermarkets and large-scale grocers per square mile. Her study, financed by the institute, was published in the March issue of Social Science and Medicine.

Dr. Sturm's study, published in February in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, had a different design. With financing from the National Institutes of Health, he used data on the self-reported heights, weights, and diets of more than 13,000 California children and teenagers in the California Health Interview Survey. The survey included the students' addresses and the addresses of their schools. He used a different data set to see what food outlets were nearby. Dr. Sturm found no relationship between what type of food students said they ate, what they weighed, and the type of food within a mile and a half of their homes.

He has also completed a national study of middle school students, with the same result - no consistent relationship between what the students ate and the type of food nearby. Living close to supermarkets or grocers did not make students thin and living close to fast food outlets did not make them fat. The study will be published soon in Public Health.


The Assault on Food

 John Stossel

Instinct tells us to fear poison. If our ancestors were not cautious about what they put in their mouths, they would not have survived long enough to produce us.

Unfortunately, a side effect of that cautious impulse is that whenever someone claims that some chemical -- or food ingredient, like fat -- is a menace, we are primed to believe it. That makes it easy for government to leap in and play the role of protector.

But for every study that says X is bad for you, another study disagrees. How is a layman to decide? I used to take consumer activists' word for it. Heck, they want to save the world, while industry just wants to get rich. Now I know better. The activists want money, too -- and fame.

To arbitrate, it's intuitive to turn to government -- except ... government scientists have conflicts, too.

Who becomes a regulator except people who want to regulate? Some come from activist groups that hate industry. Some come from industry and want to convert their government job into a higher-paying industry job. Some just want attention. They know that saying, "X will kill you," gets more attention than saying that X is probably safe.

I don't suggest that we ignore the experts and eat like pigs. But the scientific question should not overshadow the more fundamental issue. Who should decide what you can eat: you? Or the state? Should government decide what we may eat, any more than it decides where we live or how long our hair will be? The Food Police claim that they just want to help us make informed choices. But that's not all they want to do. They try to get government to force us to make healthy choices.

The moral issue of force versus persuasion applies even if all the progressives' ideas about nutrition are correct. Even if I would be better off eating no fat and salt, that would not justify forcing restaurants to stop serving me those things. Either we live in a free society or we don't.

It is no coincidence that the push for more food regulation came at a time when Congress obsessed about the rising cost of medical care. When government pays for your health care, it will inevitably be drawn into regulating your personal life. First, politicians promise to pay. Then, they propose to control you.

Where does it stop? If we must control diet to balance the government's budget, will the health squad next ban skydiving and extramarital sex? How about another try at Prohibition?

Government attracts do-gooders and meddlers who believe that, as Mark Twain put it, "Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits." Or, as Twain's spiritual descendant, H.L. Mencken, said about Puritanism, government health officials seem to have "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

Often the Food Police strike an innocent pose, claiming that they just want to give people information. Information is good. But it's not free. Mandated calorie signs in restaurants cost money. Those costs are passed on to consumers, and the endless parade of calorie counts and warning labels make us numb to more important warnings -- like, "This Coffee Is Scalding Hot."

It's not as if dietary information isn't already available. Health and diet websites abound. Talk shows routinely discuss the latest books on diet and nutrition. TV diet gurus are celebrities. That's enough. We have information. We don't need government force.

Let the marketplace of diet ideas flourish. Let claim meet counterclaim, but let's not let government put its very heavy thumb on one side of the scale.

The assumption behind so much of government's policy regarding food (and everything else) is that everything good should be encouraged by law and everything bad should be discouraged.

But since everything is arguably helpful or harmful, this is a formula for totalitarianism.

Thomas Hobbes assumed an all-powerful government was necessary to protect us from violence. He called it Leviathan. But he never imagined Leviathan would plan our dinners.


27 April, 2012

The VIOXX hysteria

There is a ridiculous article here which claims, in effect, that the executives of Merck & Co should have been hanged, drawn and quartered for releasing the anti-arthritis drug Vioxx.

It is all rather water under the bridge now so I won't go into great detail but but I believe Vioxx was unfairly impugned and should still be available to the many people it helped.

The attack on it was underpinned by a practice that I have often criticized on this blog:  Looking at relative risk to the exclusion of absolute  risk.  If the absolute risk is tiny, the relative risk seems of only academic interest to me.  There are risks in everything we do so something that has only a tiny absolute risk attached to it should be one of our better options in life, it seems to me.

Anyway, I will comment here only on the one big study that was most used to condem Vioxx.  The VIGOR study compared Vioxx with an accepted "safe" drug in its class: Naproxen.

And it found that using  Vioxx raised the absolute risk of a heart attack by one third of one percent -- from .01 to .04%  I would have interpreted that finding as showing that both drugs were low risk with only trivial differences between them but medical researchers love their relative risk statistics.  Without a heavy focus on RR, most of their findings would be trivial so RR is almost a religion with them. 

So they treated these essentially trivial results in a most frightening way: saying that Vioxx was FOUR TIMES as likely to give you heart attacks as its alternative.  And if you ignore that all the risks involved were tiny, that does sound alarming.  In fact, however, it was the usual medical research practice of making mountains out of molehills.  My recommendation from the data would have been that VIOXX is safe, except perhaps for  people with known heart problems

But that's not all.  While the heart attack rate  with Vioxx was elevated, the overall mortality was not!  In other words, Vioxx was not more likely to kill you than its control.  It may have led to a few more heart attacks but it REDUCED your risk of dying from other causes.  So even in relative risk terms it is a safe drug.  When you're dead you're dead.  It does not matter what you died of -- so overall mortality should have been the dominant criterion for evaluating Vioxx.  That it was essentially ignored just shows how hysterical people can get about drug companies.  They pick on trivialities to bring down what they hate as "Big Pharma".

Merck was unfairly persecuted by small minds and Vioxx should still be available to those it helped.  Arthritis is a most disabling condition and for some people Vioxx gave better relief than other drugs in its classs.

I could go on and discuss the other nitpicking associated with the VIGOR study but Humpty Dumpty is now well and truly off his wall so I see no point in going further.  I do however feel very sorry for the people at Merck and also sorry for the people who were   denied the chance to continue with something that was best for their disability.  Vioxx would not have once been so widely used without it being a very helpful drug.

LOL!  Health supplements 'could cause cancer': Study finds some products may increase chance of getting disease

Is the anti-oxidant religion fading at last?

Millions of people who take dietary supplements to ward off cancer may be toying with a ‘two-edged sword’ that might do them harm, experts have warned.

People were being misled by ‘messages from supplement manufactures’ stressing the health benefits of their products, including cancer prevention, according to a team of U.S. scientists.  They said there was no good evidence that supplement pills and capsules reduced the risk of cancer in healthy individuals.

They pointed out that antioxidants such as beta carotene, and vitamins C and E might even have biological effects that promote cancer.

Antioxidants are believed to counter the destructive effects of rogue oxygen molecules called free radicals.  Oxidative stress by free radicals, which attack cell membranes, proteins and DNA, has been linked to cancer and heart disease.

But the U.S. authors, writing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, argue that the supposed benefits of antioxidant supplements are largely a myth.

The panel of five experts, led by Dr Maria Elena Martinez, from the University of California at San Diego, wrote: ‘Undoubtedly, use is driven by a common belief that supplements can improve health and protect against disease, and that at worst, they are harmless.  ‘However, the assumption that any dietary supplement is safe under all circumstances and in all quantities is no longer empirically reasonable.’

Health supplements are booming in the U.S., with annual sales estimated at £18.6 billion, said the scientists, who assessed the evidence relating to several supplements including antioxidants, folic acid, vitamin D and calcium.

A number of animal, laboratory and observational studies had appeared to show that dietary supplements could lower cancer risk, they said.  However, these findings were not confirmed by the ‘gold-standard’ in evidence-based medicine, randomised controlled trials (RCTs).

Only a small number of RCTs had been carried out to test the effectiveness of dietary supplements, said the experts - and several of these had reported increased risks.

‘Supplementation by exogenous anti-oxidants may well be a two-edged sword,’ the scientists wrote. ‘These compounds could, in vivo (outside the laboratory), serve as pro-oxidants or interfere with any number of protective processes such as apoptosis induction.’ Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, causes malfunctioning cells effectively to ‘commit suicide’.

Experimental studies had shown that different tissues with different cancer-triggering pathways may not respond the same way to a particular nutrient.  ‘In fact, a nutrient may be associated with protection in one tissue and harm in another,’ said the experts.

They added that supplement users were ‘sometimes quick to discredit caution’ and distrustful of mainstream science which they suspected of being corrupted by links to the drug industry.

Users may also assume the supplements they bought to be as well regulated as over-the-counter medications.

‘These beliefs underscore the need for efforts by scientists and government officials to encourage the public to make prudent decisions based on sound evidence with respect to use of dietary supplements for cancer prevention,’ the scientists concluded.


26 April, 2012

Now pizza gets the nod

A finding in laboratory glassware only

It may not be the most obvious of health foods, but pizza could be good for you, research suggests.  Scientists have found that oregano, a seasoning commonly used in pizza and other Italian food, has the potential to become a powerful weapon against prostate cancer.

A medicine inspired by it could have  fewer side-effects than existing treatments, which can cause problems from incontinence to impotence.  Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in British men, affecting 37,000 a year and killing more than 10,000.

Researchers from Long Island University, New York, studied carvacrol, a chemical in oregano. Added to prostate cancer cells in the lab, it rapidly wiped them out. Left for four days, almost all the cells were killed, the Experimental Biology conference in San Diego heard.  Tests showed it triggered the cells to kill themselves.

The oregano chemical could now be used itself as a treatment against cancer, or as the blueprint for an even more powerful drug.  Experts warned, though, that when oregano is eaten, it could be that carvacrol is digested  before it can do any good.

Researcher Supriya Bavadekar, a pharmacologist, said: `Some researchers have previously shown that eating pizza may cut down cancer risk.  `This effect has been mostly attributed to lycopene, a substance found in tomato sauce, but we now feel that even the oregano seasoning may play role.'

Lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their read colour is credited with a host of health benefits, including warding off cancer and cutting the risk of heart disease.

Dr Bavadekar said: `If the study continues to yield positive results, this super-spice may present a very promising therapy for patients with prostate cancer.  `A significant advantage is that oregano is commonly used in food. We expect this to translate into a decreased risk of severe toxic effects.  `But this study is at a very preliminary stage and further experiments need to be conducted to get a better idea of uses in the clinic.'

Possibilities include using carvacrol itself or using it as the blueprint for an even more powerful treatment.

Others stressed that it is too early for men to start stocking up on pizza.  Margaret Rayman, a Surrey University professor of nutritional medicine who has compiled a cookbook of recipes designed to keep prostate cancer at bay said that much more work needs to be done.

For instance, any oregano-inspired treatment would have to be much less harmful to healthy cells than cancerous ones.


Another vote for chocolate

I must say that "chocolate is good for you" findings are common.  Note however that only dark chocolate -- which most people don't like much -- gets the nod

It has long been suggested  that dark chocolate is good for your heart.  Now a study has confirmed that eating it in moderate quantities does indeed lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

The research team set out to test the direct effect of eating chocolate which is a source of several substances that scientists think might impart important health benefits.

Chocolate contains compounds called 'flavanols' that appear to play a variety of bodily roles including those related to their potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.

Researchers at San Diego State University in the U.S. asked 31 people to eat a 50g bar of either regular dark chocolate, dark chocolate that had been overheated, or white chocolate, for 15 days.

When compared to the white chocolate group, those eating either form of dark chocolate were later found to have lower blood glucose and lower levels of `bad' blood lipids.

The researchers concluded that dark chocolate may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by improving blood glucose levels and lipid profiles.

However, they warned that although habitual dark chocolate consumption may benefit health by reducing the risk of heart disease, it must be eaten in moderation because it can easily increase daily amounts of saturated fat and calories.

A spokesman for the research team said: `We had great compliance with our study subjects because everybody wanted to eat chocolate.  `We actually had to tell them not to eat more than 50g a day.'

Now the researchers are planning follow-up studies involving more people and a longer duration of chocolate consumption.  The results will be presented at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego.


25 April, 2012

EPA human experiments debunk notion of ‘killer’ air pollution: Agency hides exculpatory results

A lesson in not trusting official science.  They may be the biggest liars of all

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conducted air pollution experiments on live human subjects that discredit its claims that fine particulate matter kills people. obtained the explosive and heretofore undisclosed results through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and reveal them here for the first time.


Last September, broke the news that EPA researchers had reported in Environmental Health Perspectives the case study of a woman who allegedly suffered atrial fibrillation after being exposed to concentrated airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in an experimental setting.

After disposing of the EPA’s effort to link the woman’s atrial fibrillation with her exposure to PM2.5, we commented:

    It’s also worth asking whether this is the only study subject that the EPA has studied. Are there others? What were their results? Do we only get to hear about the one result that could possibly be twisted to fit the EPA agenda?

To answer this question, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the agency to see if we could get answers those questions.

Result and Analysis of the FOIA Request.

This data sheet shows the following:

    EPA has been conducting air pollution effects tests on human subjects since at least January 2010.

    By the time the EPA researchers had published their September 2011 report in Environmental Health Perspectives, they had conducted 41 such tests.

    Of the 41 human experiments, clinical effects were reported by the EPA in only two study subjects. Both of these are controversial. One is the case study reported in Environmental Health Perspectives, which has been previously debunked. The other study subject flagged by the EPA researchers as experiencing a clinical effect (“a short episode of an elevated heart rate during exposure”), in fact, denied feeling any effects.

This reported effect was most probably due to some pre-existing condition or other stressor given the low-level of PM2.5 to which the study subject was exposed. Certainly the EPA has no reason to believe that was not the case or that the alleged heart rate jump was due to the PM2.5 exposure.

    The other 39 study subjects were exposed to PM2.5 levels up to 21 times greater (i.e, up to 750 ?g/m3) than the EPA’s own permissible exposure limit for PM2.5 on a 24-hour basis (i.e, 35 ?g/m3). All reported exposures among the 39 study subjects were greater than the EPA’s 24-hour PM2.5 standard. Seven study subjects were exposed to levels 10 times greater than the EPA’s 24-hour PM2.5 standard. No clinical effects were reported for any of these exposures.


There are at least three points to be made in light of this discovery.

1. The experimental results provide no evidence that ultra-high exposures to PM2.5 kill.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson testified to Congress last September that,

    [Airborne] particulate matter causes premature death. It doesn’t make you sick. It’s directly causal to dying sooner than you should.

These experiment results — produced by EPA’s own researchers — in no way support Jackson’s assertion.

2. The experimental results invalidate EPA’s cost-benefit analyses for its CSAPR and MATS rulemakings.

The EPA justified the multibillion dollar costs of its Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and its Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS) largely on the basis that the rules would prevent thousands of premature deaths from PM2.5, thereby purportedly providing tens of billions of dollars in monetized health benefits from “lives saved.”

But ambient levels of PM2.5 are typically far below the PM2.5 levels to which subjects were exposed in this EPA experiment. We reported earlier that the EPA’s 24-hour PM2.5 of 35 ?g/m3 was exceeded only about 0.0096% of the time in the U.S. during 2009.

Moreover, the EPA experiment provides no evidence that PM2.5, even at very high exposures, causes any health effects, let alone premature death.

3. EPA and its researchers have heretofore failed to disclose to the public these significant results.

Finally, there is the matter of the ethics and perhaps even the legality of the conduct of the EPA and its researchers.

The EPA’s experimental data on PM2.5 clearly paint a quite different picture than that provided by the September 2011 report in Environmental Health Perspectives and the agency’s recent PM2.5-related regulations (i.e., CSAPR and MATS).

The EPA researchers failed to mention the results from the other 40 human experiments in their Environmental Health Perspectives report. At the very least, their failure to disclose their own contrary results raises serious ethical concerns.

As an agency, the EPA failed to disclose these stunning results in its CSAPR and MATS rulemakings. This ought to raise concerns about the legal bases for these rulemakings. More than simply ignoring its own negative data, the agency seems to have actually hid them from public view.


In addition to these EPA-conducted experiments, there is other compelling data that casts doubt on the EPA’s claim that PM2.5 causes premature mortality, including historic air pollution data, current Chinese experience with air quality and the study “Fine Particulate Air Pollution and Total Mortality Among Elderly Californians, 1973–2002.”

The results of’s FOIA request add to this growing body of evidence.

Given the significant actual costs of the EPA’s PM2.5-related regulations on society, it is incumbent upon Congress to conduct a thorough investigation of the agency and its PM2.5 claims.


Fertility drugs 'more than double the chances of children developing leukaemia'

This is ridiculous.  IVF mothers are treated with ovary stimulating drugs too and yet they were found to have no increased risk.  It makes no sense.  It has to be a random result

Fertility drugs can more than double the chances of children born to mothers who struggle to get pregnant developing leukaemia, a study has shown.

Children were 2.6 times more likely to become ill with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common type of childhood leukaemia, if their mothers had been treated with ovary-stimulating drugs.

They had a 2.3-fold increased risk of suffering the rarer form of the disease, acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

Children conceived naturally after their mothers waited more than a year to get pregnant had a 50 per cent greater-than-normal likelihood of developing ALL.

But no heightened risk of childhood leukaemia was associated either with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) or artificial insemination.

The French scientists cannot yet fully explain their findings, the first to show a specific link between use of fertility drugs and childhood leukaemia.

Study leader Dr Jeremie Rudant, from the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at the French research institute INSERM in Villejuif, Paris, said: 'It has always been hypothesised that assisted reproductive technologies may be involved in the onset of childhood cancer as they involve repeated treatment at the time of conception and or manipulation of the sperm and egg. And it is now established that a majority of acute leukaemia have a pre-natal (pre-birth) origin.

'The findings indicate that more research is now needed to investigate more closely the link between specific types of fertility drugs and what role the underlying causes of infertility may play in the potential development of childhood leukaemia.'

Dr Rudant presented the results at the Childhood Cancer 2012 conference in London, hosted by the charity Children with Cancer UK.

A total of 2,445 French children and their mothers took part in the study, comprising 764 children who had been diagnosed with leukaemia and 1,681 who were free of the disease.

Mothers were asked if they had taken more than a year to conceive a child, and questioned about the treatments they had received.

Around 44,000 cycles of fertility treatment are carried out each year in the UK.  Use of fertility technology is increasing worldwide. In the UK, 1.8 per cent of all live births in 2007 followed fertility treatment, compared with just 0.5 per cent in 1992.

Despite a significant increase in risk, the actual number of children developing leukaemia after their mothers undergo fertility treatment remains very small.  Just 400 cases of childhood leukaemia are diagnosed each year in the UK, three-quarters of which are ALL.  ALL can affect children of any age but is most common between the ages of one and four. It is also more likely to affect boys than girls.

Dr Rudant said: 'Previous studies have suggested a link between infertility treatments and acute childhood leukaemia but there haven't been many studies, most of them have been small and they focused either on IVF or hormonal treatment. Our study was much larger and it's the first time that a specific increased risk linked to fertility drugs has been found.'


24 April, 2012

Avocados  tackle dangerous molecules -- in yeasts

The "antioxidant" religion again

Avocados could be a weapon in the fight against ageing and disease, say scientists.  Oil from the fruit was shown in tests to combat free radicals – dangerous molecules said to have a hand in everything from ageing to heart disease and cancer.

These are particularly common inside mitochondria, the tiny powerhouses in our cells that turn the food we eat into energy.

Many ‘antioxidant’ chemicals in vegetables and fruits such as carrots and tomatoes can mop up free radicals – but they can’t make their way inside mitochondria.

Those in avocados can, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s annual conference heard. Researcher Christian Cortes-Rojo said: ‘The problem is that the antioxidants in [other] substances are unable to enter mitochondria.

‘So free radicals go on damaging mitochondria, causing energy production to stop and the cell to collapse and die.  ‘An analogy would be that, during an oil spill, if we cleaned only the spilled oil instead of fixing the perforation where oil is escaping, then the oil would go on spilling, and fish would die anyway.’

Unstable free radicals are natural waste products of metabolism but may be generated in greater numbers due to factors such as pollution, tobacco smoke and radiation.  They wreak havoc in the body, triggering chain reactions that destroy cell membranes, proteins and even DNA.

The phenomenon is one of the prime drivers of ageing and believed to play a major role in damage to arteries and cancer.

The researchers found avocado oil allowed yeast cells to survive exposure to high concentrations of iron – an element that produces ‘huge amounts’ of free radicals.

‘We’ll need to confirm that what has been observed in yeasts could occur in higher organisms, such as humans,’ said Mr Cortes-Rojo, from the University Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo  in Mexico.

Avocado oil is similar in composition to olive oil, consumption of which is associated with unusually low levels of chronic disease in some Mediterranean countries, and Mr Cortes-Rojo said his discovery could mean avocado oil becoming ‘the olive oil of the Americas’.

Previous research conducted in Mexico, the world’s largest avocado producer, has shown that the fruit lowers blood levels of cholesterol, and certain fats linked to diabetes.


Some old quackery  lives on in a modern  psychiatric  guise

In 1861 Samuel A. Cartwright, an American physician, described a mental illness he called “drapetomania.” As Wikipedia points out, the term derived from drapetes, Greek for “runaway [slave],” and mania for madness or frenzy.

Thus Cartwright defined drapetomania as “the disease causing negroes to run away [from captivity].”

“[I]ts diagnostic symptom, the absconding from service, is well known to our planters and overseers,” Cartwright wrote in a much-distributed paper delivered before the Medical Association of Louisiana. Yet this disorder was “unknown to our medical authorities.”

Cartwright thought slave owners caused the illness by making “themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals.”  Drapetomania could also be induced “if [the master] abuses the power which God has given him over his fellow-man, by being cruel to him, or punishing him in anger, or by neglecting to protect him from the wanton abuses of his fellow-servants and all others, or by denying him the usual comforts and necessaries of life.”

He had ideas about proper prevention and treatment:

[I]f his master or overseer be kind and gracious in his hearing towards him, without condescension, and at the sane [sic] time ministers to his physical wants, and protects him from abuses, the negro is spell-bound, and cannot run away. . . .

If any one or more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good requires that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy in all after-time. . . . They have only to be kept in that state, and treated like children, with care, kindness, attention and humanity, to prevent and cure them from running away. [Emphasis added.]

Dysaethesia Too

The identification of drapetomania is not Cartwright’s only achievement. He also “discovered” “dysaethesia aethiopica, or hebetude of mind and obtuse sensibility of body—a disease peculiar to negroes—called by overseers, ‘rascality.’” Unlike drapetomania, dysatheisa afflicted mainly free blacks. “The disease is the natural offspring of negro liberty–the liberty to be idle, to wallow in filth, and to indulge in improper food and drinks.”

Cartwright, I dare say, was a quack, ever ready to ascribe to disease behavior he found disturbing. A far more informative discussion of the conduct of slaves can be found in Thaddeus Russell’s fascinating book, A Renegade History of the United States.

Have things changed much since Cartwright’s day? You decide.

The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) list Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) under “disorders usually first diagnosed infancy, childhood, or adolescence.”  According to the manual:

"The essential feature of Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a recurrent pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that persist for at least six months. It is characterized by the frequent occurrence of at least four of the following behaviors: losing temper, arguing with adults, actively defying or refusing to comply with the requests or rules of adults, deliberately doing things that will annoy other people, blaming others for his or her own mistakes or misbehavior, being touchy or easily annoyed by others, being angry and resentful, or being spiteful and vindictive."

Marked on a Curve

In diagnosing this disorder, children are marked on a curve. “To qualify for [ODD], the behaviors must occur more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level” (emphasis added). The behaviors must also be seen to impair “social, academic, and occupational functioning.”

The parallel with drapetomania is ominous. Children, after all, are in a form of captivity and as they get older may naturally resent having decisions made for them. They may especially dislike being confined most days in stifling government institutions allegedly dedicated to education (“public schools”). Some may rebel, becoming vexatious to the authorities.

Is that really a mental, or brain, disorder? PubMed Health, a website of the National Institutes of Health, discusses treatment and prevention in ways that suggest the answer is no. “The best treatment for the child is to talk with a mental health professional in individual and possibly family therapy. The parents should also learn how to manage the child’s behavior” (emphasis added), it says, adding, “Medications may also be helpful.”

As for prevention, it says, “Be consistent about rules and consequences at home. Don’t make punishments too harsh or inconsistent. Model the right behaviors for your child. Abuse and neglect increase the chances that this condition will occur.”

Strange Illness

It seems strange that an illness can be treated by talk and prevented by good parenting. And how was four arrived at as the minimum number of behaviors before diagnosis? Or six months as the minimum period? Odd, indeed.

While ODD is discussed with reference to children, one suspects it wouldn’t take much to extend it to adults who “have trouble with authority.” Surely one is not cured merely with the passing of adolescence. Adults are increasingly subject to oppressive government decision-making almost as much as children. Soviet psychiatry readily found this disorder in dissidents. Let’s not forget that the alliance of psychiatry and State permits people innocent of any crime to be confined and/or drugged against their will.

So we must ask: Do we have a disease here or rather what Thomas Szasz, the libertarian critic of “the therapeutic state,” calls “the medicalization of everyday life.” (Szasz’s chief concern is commonly thought to be psychiatry, but in fact it is freedom and self-responsibility. See my “Szasz in One Lesson.”)

It seems that the common denominator of what are called mental (or brain) disorders is behavior that bothers others which those others wish to control. Why assume such behavior is illness? Isn’t this rather a category mistake? Why stigmatize a rebellious child with an ODD “diagnosis”? (Let’s not forget what psychiatry not long ago regarded as illness and abetted control of.)


In our scientific age, many people find scientism, the application of the concepts and techniques of the hard sciences to persons and economic/social phenomena, comforting. In truth it is dehumanization in the name of health.

Szasz, a prolific author who celebrated his 92nd birthday earlier this week, writes:

"People do not have to be told that malaria and melanoma are diseases. They know they are. But people have to be told, and are told over and over again, that alcoholism and depression are diseases. Why? Because people know that they are not diseases, that mental illnesses are not “like other illnesses,” that mental hospitals are not like other hospitals, that the business of psychiatry is control and coercion, not care or cure. Accordingly, medicalizers engage in a never-ending task of “educating” people that nondiseases are diseases."

No one believes drapetomania is a disease anymore. Slaves had a good reason to run away. We all have reasons–not diseases–for “running away.”


23 April, 2012

Positive Feelings May Help Protect Cardiovascular Health

Or maybe good health gives you positive feelings

Over the last few decades numerous studies have shown negative states, such as depression, anger, anxiety, and hostility, to be detrimental to cardiovascular health. Less is known about how positive psychological characteristics are related to heart health. In the first and largest systematic review on this topic to date, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers found that positive psychological well-being appears to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events.

The American Heart Association reports more than 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease (CVD) each day, an average of one death every 39 seconds. Stroke accounts for about one of every 18 U.S. deaths.

"The absence of the negative is not the same thing as the presence of the positive. We found that factors such as optimism, life satisfaction, and happiness are associated with reduced risk of CVD regardless of such factors as a person's age, socioeconomic status, smoking status, or body weight," said lead author Julia Boehm, research fellow in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH. "For example, the most optimistic individuals had an approximately 50% reduced risk of experiencing an initial cardiovascular event compared to their less optimistic peers," she said.

In a review of more than 200 studies published in two major scientific databases, Boehm and senior author Laura Kubzansky, associate professor of society, human development, and health at HSPH, found there are psychological assets, like optimism and positive emotion, that afford protection against cardiovascular disease. It also appears that these factors slow the progression of disease.

To further understand how psychological well-being and CVD might be related, Boehm and Kubzansky also investigated well-being's association with cardiovascular-related health behaviors and biological markers. They found that individuals with a sense of well-being engaged in healthier behaviors such as exercising, eating a balanced diet, and getting sufficient sleep. In addition, greater well-being was related to better biological function, such as lower blood pressure, healthier lipid (blood fat) profiles, and normal body weight.

If future research continues to indicate that higher levels of satisfaction, optimism, and happiness come before cardiovascular health, this has strong implications for the design of prevention and intervention strategies. "These findings suggest that an emphasis on bolstering psychological strengths rather than simply mitigating psychological deficits may improve cardiovascular health," Kuzbansky said.


How to do better in your exams: Drinking a glass of water can boost your results by a grade

I doubt that the drink did anything.  Taking a drink into an exam may however indicate forethought -- and forethought may mean that they have studied more too

Forget expensive private tutors and brain-boosting vitamins. The key to  exam success could be as simple as a glass of water.  Students who took a drink into the exam hall did up to 10 per cent better than those who did not - the difference between a grade.

Although it is unclear why a drink should help, one theory is that information flows more freely between brain cells when they are well hydrated.  Researchers said that drinking water may also calm nerves, while those who became thirsty during test time could be more easily distracted.

The study, which looked at hundreds of university students, compared whether they took a drink - such as water, coffee or cola - into the exam with their final marks.

The students' overall academic ability was then factored in, to ensure that the results were not skewed by the possibility that smarter students are also more thirsty.

Those who arrived armed with drinks did around 5 per cent better on average. But the improvement was even more marked among those just starting out at university, whose results improved by as much as  10 per cent - the difference between being awarded a first-class degree and a 2.1, the annual conference of the British Psychological Society's heard.

The type of drink did not change the results, meaning the students' performance could not be put down to caffeine or sugar.

Researcher Chris Pawson, from the University of East London, said: 'The results imply that the simple act of bringing water into an exam was linked to an improvement in  the students' grades.' Dr Mark Gardner, of Westminster University, added that it was not clear why the greatest improvement was seen in new students.

However, it could be they were the most anxious, or having newly left home were more prone to wild nights out and so in greater need of hydration.

Earlier research from the University of East London has shown that children aged between seven and nine who drank water did better on tests of visual attention and memory.


22 April, 2012

Cancer chemical alert over crisps and coffee as Food Standards Agency identifies 13 at-risk products

The old acrylamide scare pops up again.  It was a hot topic in California in 2005.   I don't think I need  to add anything  beyond what I said in 2007

Food firms have been warned about the presence of a cancer-risk chemical in everyday products ranging from crisps and chips to instant coffee and ginger biscuits.

A biscuit designed for babies and toddlers has also been caught up in the alert.

Experts are even warning families to  only lightly toast their bread at home, as the chemical, called acrylamide, is more likely to form the longer and darker foods cook.

A study by the Food Standards Agency has identified 13 products containing raised levels of the chemical. In each case, officials at the local council where the supplier is based have been told to notify them.

Acrylamide, which is still being investigated by scientists, is a cooking by-product associated with frying, baking, roasting or toasting foods at very high temperatures, usually greater than 120c.

The FSA insists its findings raise no immediate risk to the public and there is no need for people to change their diet.

However, it is putting pressure on all food companies to reduce acrylamide levels because long-term consumption could increase the risk of cancer. Its official advice is also that families should ensure bread and chips they eat are only toasted or baked to the 'lightest colour possible'.

The FSA said its study of levels of acrylamide and furan – another cancer-risk chemical – is used to identify which firms need to take action. Acrylamide is formed by a reaction between natural components in food as it cooks.

In reality it has probably been in the diet for as long as man has fried, roasted or toasted food. Manufacturers including Heinz and McVitie's have already responded by changing their recipes.

But others, including Nestle, makers of Nescafe, say it is impossible to do so without harming the flavour and quality of their products. It added: 'There is currently no scientific evidence to suggest any particular product has any negative impact on health in the context of acrylamide exposure.'

The FSA is required by the EU and the European Food Safety Authority to carry out the annual tests. It looked at 248 samples, from chips sold by fast-food outlets to supermarket own-label and big brand ranges. In 13 cases levels were above  the 'indicative value' – a trigger point to tell the firm it should examine its production process.

European watchdogs have been putting pressure on food manufacturers to reduce acrylamide for almost a decade. In 2002 Swedish studies revealed high levels formed during the frying or baking of potato or cereal products.

The FSA said: 'This raised worldwide public concern because studies in laboratory animals suggest acrylamide has the potential to cause cancer in humans by interacting with the DNA in cells.

'The Agency believes exposure to such chemicals should be as low as reasonably practicable.'

The latest survey found 'an upward trend' in acrylamide levels in processed cereal-based baby foods, excluding rusks. Importantly however, the FSA said this did not mean parents should stop giving these products to youngsters.

The Food and Drink Federation,  which represents manufacturers,  said members are 'ensuring levels are as low as reasonably achievable'.

Heinz changed its Banana Biscotti recipe this year to reduce acrylamide to trace levels. United Biscuits, which makes McVitie's Gingernuts, said it has cut acrylamide by 70 per cent. The firm also pledged to cut levels in its McCoy’s crisps.


Scientists Regenerate Damaged Mouse Hearts by Transforming Scar Tissue Into Beating Heart Muscle

This sounds like REALLY good news

Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes just announced a research breakthrough in mice that one day may help doctors restore hearts damaged by heart attacks -- by converting scar-forming cardiac cells into beating heart muscle.

These scientists previously transformed such cells into cardiac muscle-like cells in petri dishes. But Gladstone postdoctoral scholar Li Qian, PhD, along with researchers in the laboratory of Deepak Srivastava, MD, has now accomplished this transformation in living animals -- and with even greater success. The results, which may have broad human-health implications, are described in the latest issue of Nature, available online April 18.

Cardiovascular disease is the world's leading cause of death. Annually in the United States alone, the nearly 1 million Americans who survive a heart attack are left with failing hearts that can no longer beat at full capacity.

"The damage from a heart attack is typically permanent because heart-muscle cells -- deprived of oxygen during the attack -- die and scar tissue forms," said Dr. Srivastava, who directs cardiovascular and stem cell research at Gladstone, an independent and nonprofit biomedical-research institution. "But our experiments in mice are a proof of concept that we can reprogram non-beating cells directly into fully functional, beating heart cells -- offering an innovative and less invasive way to restore heart function after a heart attack."

In laboratory experiments with mice that had experienced a heart attack, Drs. Qian and Srivastava delivered three genes that normally guide embryonic heart development -- together known as GMT -- directly into the damaged region. Within a month, non-beating cells that normally form scar tissue transformed into beating heart-muscle cells. Within three months, the hearts were beating even stronger and pumping more blood.

"These findings could have a significant impact on heart-failure patients -- whose damaged hearts make it difficult for them to engage in normal activities like walking up a flight of stairs," said Dr. Qian, who is also a California Institute for Regenerative Medicine postdoctoral scholar and a Roddenberry Fellow. "This research may result in a much-needed alternative to heart transplants -- for which donors are extremely limited. And because we are reprogramming cells directly in the heart, we eliminate the need to surgically implant cells that were created in a petri dish."

"Our next goal is to replicate these experiments and test their safety in larger mammals, such as pigs, before considering clinical trials in humans," added Dr. Srivastava, who is also a professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), with which Gladstone is affiliated. "We hope that our research will lay the foundation for initiating cardiac repair soon after a heart attack -- perhaps even when the patient arrives in the emergency room."

This research builds on the groundbreaking cell-reprogramming work of another Gladstone scientist and UCSF professor of anatomy, Shinya Yamanaka, MD, PhD. Dr. Yamanaka's 2007 discovery of a way to turn adult human skin cells into cells that act like embryonic stem cells has radically advanced the fields of cell biology and stem cell research. But these new Gladstone experiments go further by both completing the experiments directly in live hearts and by employing a technique called "direct reprogramming." Direct reprogramming could revolutionize the field of regenerative medicine, as it lets scientists transform one adult cell type into another without first having to revert back to the stem cell state. In the future, Gladstone scientists hope to use direct reprogramming not only to treat heart failure, but also for spinal cord injury and devastating illnesses such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.


21 April, 2012

Bucky Balls Could Double Your Lifespan

Generalizing about lifespans from a short-lived species (rats)to a long lived species (humans) is intrinsically dubious.  We  may already have some equivalent of whatever helped the rats below

Buckminster fullerene molecules, the naturally occurring spheres made up of 60 carbon atoms, have long been suspected to have biological benefits. Now, a study that set out to establish if they were toxic when administered orally has proven quite the opposite-they almost doubled the lifespan of the rats that they were fed to.

The experiments, which were carried out at the Universite Paris Sud, France, set out to assess what adverse reactions might be caused by ingesting Bucky balls orally. To do that, they fed three groups of rats differently. Along with their normal diet, one group was held as a control; a second was fed olive oil; and a third group was fed olive oil doped with a 0.8 mg/ml concentration of Buckminster fullerene.

The results, which appear in Biomaterials, took the researchers by surprise. The control group had a median lifespan of 22 months, and the olive oil group one of 26 months. But the Bucky ball group? They stuck it out for 42 months. That's almost double the control group.

The researchers have established that the effect is mediated by a reduction in oxidative stress-an imbalance in living cells that contributes to ageing. To say these results are important is an understatement: the desire to live longer runs strong in many of us, and it's a feat scientists have been hoping to achieve for centuries.

But while it's a remarkable finding, it's worth remembering that it's just a single study. It's going to take a hell of a lot more work before the scientific community is completely convinced that we should all be splashing Bucky-enriched olive oil on our salads, that's for sure.


Prenatal exposure to inner-city air pollution among NYC minorities  is linked to childhood obesity, claims study

Silly me!  I would have thought that air pollution would be rather bad anywhere in Northern Manhattan or the South Bronx but apparently there are variations.

Generally speaking poorer people live in more polluted areas and poor people are more likely to be obese but the authors  are obviously so used to that criticism that they have in this study attempted to correct for that by controlling for maternal receipt of public assistance

So maybe the air in some parts of NYC really is polluted enough to be bad for you

A study of pregnant women and their children in New York City has provided clinical evidence that links environmental pollution with childhood obesity.

The most up-to-date statistics show that 17 per cent of children in the U.S. are obese, and that figure rises to 25 per cent in built-up, inner-city neighborhoods.

While poor diet and lack of exercise are still the major contributors to the national epidemic, this new evidence suggest that air pollution can play a role.

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health conducted the study of expecting mothers in New York, and found that those exposed to higher concentrations of airborne chemicals were more than twice as likely to have children who were obese by the age of seven.

The burning of coal, diesel, oil and gas - as well as other substances, such as tobacco - produce chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).

The school's report, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, and its lead author - Dr Andrew Rundle - said: 'Obesity is a complex disease with multiple risk factors. It isn't just the result of individual choices like diet and exercise.'

Dr Rundle, a professor of epidemiology, added: 'For many people - who don't have the resources to buy healthy food or don't have the time to exercise - prenatal exposure to air pollution may tip the scales, making them even more susceptible to obesity.'

Researchers recruited 702 non-smoking pregnant women through prenatal clinics at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Harlem Hospital.

The women were selected between the ages of 18 and 35, and identified themselves as either African-American or Dominican. They lived in areas in Northern Manhattan or the South Bronx, which are predominantly low-income areas.

Children of women exposed to high levels of PAH during pregnancy were nearly twice as likely (1.79 times) to be obese at age five, and more than twice as likely (2.26 times) to be obese at age seven, compared with children of mothers with lower levels of exposure.

The seven-year-olds whose mothers were in the highest exposure group had, on average, 2.4lb more fat mass than children of mothers with the least exposure.

Previous research from Columbia University found that prenatal exposure to PAH can negatively affect childhood IQs and is linked to anxiety, depression and attention problems in young children.

PAH also disrupt the body's endocrine system and are known carcinogens.  But Dr Rundle said there are ways to reduce PAH exposure.  Certain fuels release more of the chemicals than others, and efforts in New York City to take diesel buses off the streets and retrofit oil furnaces so they burn cleaner fuel was already starting to help.


Association of Childhood Obesity With Maternal Exposure to Ambient Air Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons During Pregnancy

By Andrew Rundle et al.


There are concerns that prenatal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals increases children’s risk of obesity. African-American and Hispanic children born in the Bronx or Northern Manhattan, New York (1998–2006), whose mothers underwent personal air monitoring for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposure during pregnancy, were followed up to ages 5 (n = 422) and 7 (n = 341) years. At age 5 years, 21% of the children were obese, as were 25% of those followed to age 7 years.

After adjustment for child’s sex, age at measurement, ethnicity, and birth weight and maternal receipt of public assistance and prepregnancy obesity, higher prenatal PAH exposures were significantly associated with higher childhood body size.

In adjusted analyses, compared with children of mothers in the lowest tertile of PAH exposure, children of mothers in the highest exposure tertile had a 0.39-unit higher body mass index z score (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.08, 0.70) and a relative risk of 1.79 (95% CI: 1.09, 2.96) for obesity at age 5 years, and they had a 0.30-unit higher body mass index z score (95% CI: 0.01, 0.59), a 1.93-unit higher percentage of body fat (95% CI: 0.33, 3.54), and a relative risk of 2.26 (95% CI: 1.28, 4.00) for obesity at age 7 years. The data indicate that prenatal exposure to PAHs is associated with obesity in childhood.


20 April, 2012

IVF problems?

There seems to be a certain desperation to find something wrong with IVF.   It was heavily opposed by the medical profession in its early days.  And the Pope thinks it is immoral, of course.  Sadly for the ghouls, however, the incidence of medical problems among IVF-conceived children is in fact very low. 

But the guy writing below reports   that there was a a different average of vascular indicators among IVF kids.  So he  drew the usual non-sequitur that IVF CAUSED that problerm.  That mothers who turn to IVF often have other health problems he seems to overlook.  The problem he identified could simply be a normal genetic transmission, in other words. Just a few such children in the sample could be skewing the average of the whole sample

IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) has brought the miracle of childbirth to hundreds of thousands; indeed it is now estimated that 1 per cent to 3 per cent of all births in developed nations involve IVF.

There have already been some health problems documented in IVF offspring. There is an approximately 20 per cent to 30 per cent increase in the risk of major malformations in IVF babies. However, the absolute risks of such outcomes is low.

Of greater concern would be any significant increase in the risk of the common cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack or stroke.

A recent scientific study from Switzerland has found significant abnormalities in the blood vessels in the body and lungs of 12-year-old children who were born through IVF (published in Circulation this month). The investigators assessed 65 IVF and 50 non-IVF children, and found significant adverse changes in their developing blood vessels.

The study included the careful examination of relevant control groups. By doing this, the authors found that the problems observed were likely caused by events that influenced the embryo when "in the test tube". Other research has recently also found elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels in IVF offspring.

Can environmental exposures so early in life actually alter the risk of later heart disease?

In 1992, we conducted research that found that abnormalities could be seen in the blood vessels of high-risk children. In 2005, we found increased blood vessel thickening in newborns with low birth weight, showing that even foetal events could potentially influence cardiovascular health in later life. It now seems that even the environment of the embryo might also influence heart-disease risk in adulthood.

Do children born from IVF need to be treated differently, from a health point of view? It is very important for IVF parents and children not to be unduly alarmed by these preliminary findings, mainly based on a single study of only 65 children. It would seem prudent for IVF children to lead a "heart-healthy" lifestyle of no smoking, sensible diet, regular exercise and occasional check-ups by their GPs.


Systemic and Pulmonary Vascular Dysfunction in Children Conceived by Assisted Reproductive Technologies

By Urs Scherrer, MD et al.


Background—Assisted reproductive technology (ART) involves the manipulation of early embryos at a time when they may be particularly vulnerable to external disturbances. Environmental influences during the embryonic and fetal development influence the individual's susceptibility to cardiovascular disease, raising concerns about the potential consequences of ART on the long-term health of the offspring.

Methods and Results—We assessed systemic (flow-mediated dilation of the brachial artery, pulse-wave velocity, and carotid intima-media thickness) and pulmonary (pulmonary artery pressure at high altitude by Doppler echocardiography) vascular function in 65 healthy children born after ART and 57 control children. Flow-mediated dilation of the brachial artery was 25% smaller in ART than in control children (6.7±1.6% versus 8.6±1.7%; P<0.0001), whereas endothelium-independent vasodilation was similar in the 2 groups. Carotid-femoral pulse-wave velocity was significantly (P<0.001) faster and carotid intima-media thickness was significantly (P<0.0001) greater in children conceived by ART than in control children. The systolic pulmonary artery pressure at high altitude (3450 m) was 30% higher (P<0.001) in ART than in control children. Vascular function was normal in children conceived naturally during hormonal stimulation of ovulation and in siblings of ART children who were conceived naturally.

Conclusions—Healthy children conceived by ART display generalized vascular dysfunction. This problem does not appear to be related to parental factors but to the ART procedure itself.


Gum disease 'does not cause heart trouble': Any link 'coincidental', say scientists

A quite amazing degree of epidemiological realism below

The belief that gum disease can lead to heart attacks and strokes is unfounded, experts said yesterday.

A panel of 13 U.S. scientists insisted there was no evidence for a causal link between bad gums and cardiovascular disease.

They reviewed 500 articles in scientific journals and concluded that while people with gum disease may be at greater risk of heart and artery problems, the association is probably coincidental.

Both conditions shared common risk factors, such as smoking, and both produced similar inflammation markers.  Those common factors could help explain why diseases of the blood vessels and mouth can occur in tandem.

Research has shown that people with gum disease are almost twice as likely to suffer from coronary artery disease as those without gum disease.

'Much of the literature is conflicting, but if there was a strong causative link, we would likely know that by now,' said Professor Peter Lockhart, co-chairman of the expert panel and chairman of oral medicine at the Carolinas Medical Centre in Charlotte, North Carolina. 'There's a lot of confusion out there.'

He cited coincidental lifestyle factors. 'We already know that some people are less proactive about their cardiovascular health.

'Individuals who do not pay attention to the very powerful and well-proven risk factors, like smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure, may not pay close attention to their oral health either.'

Professor Lockhart added: 'The message sent out by some in healthcare professions that heart attack and stroke are directly linked to gum disease can distort the facts, alarm patients and perhaps shift the focus on prevention away from well-known risk factors for these diseases.'

Only a large, long-term study could prove that dental disease caused heart disease, but there was no likelihood of such an investigation in the near future.

'It's most important to let patients know what we know now, and what we don't know,' said Professor Lockhart. The panel spelled out their views in a scientific statement published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

A number of theories have been suggested to explain the association between gum and heart disease. One is that mouth bacteria attach to fatty deposits in arteries and trigger blood clots. Another is that they are a source of inflammation,  which leads to a thickening of artery walls.

But the experts writing in Circulation said statements that imply a cause and effect relationship between gum and heart and artery disease were 'unwarranted' at this time.

Natasha Stewart, of the British Heart Foundation, said: 'Maintaining good oral hygiene, as well as a healthy diet, avoiding smoking and taking part in  regular physical activity, are essential for good health including protecting your heart and gums.'

Professor Nairn Wilson, from the British Dental Association, said: 'One thing we can say with confidence is keeping your teeth and gums healthy by brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, restricting sugary foods to meal times and visiting the dentist regularly makes an important contribution to oral health and general well-being.'


19 April, 2012

BOOK REVIEW of The Obesity Epidemic by Zoe Harcombe (Columbus Publishing Ltd 328 pp £20)

Reviewed by Dr. Alick Dowling

This masterly fully-referenced comprehensive survey of the field in 136,000 words demolishes current advice. Those who absorb her message reject misguided policy from World Health Authorities.

The author, an experienced nutritionist is brave to challenge, not only the current `consensus' of the medical establishment, but also that shared by her fellow nutritionists and dieticians, that `cholesterol' is responsible for heart attacks and strokes. `I regularly attend obesity conferences where I am a lone and unwelcome voice in amongst an overwhelming majority of dieticians.' (p 272)

I knew nothing about her book until Feb 2012 (though published in 2010) when Zoe Harcombe featured on I wrote to her:

"How refreshing to see a nutritionist writing sense about fats. I admire your sensible response to Dr Malcolm Kendrick's 'The Great Cholesterol Con'. To put my cards on the table: I am a long-retired GP born in 1920 who reviewed his book for the Bristol MedChi website (also on John Ray's blog "Food & Health Skeptic".  See here). This mentions my booklet 'Enjoy Eating Less', a copy of which I would be happy to send you as it might interest you as we have written on the same subject"

We exchanged copies.

As a member of 'thincs' (The International Network of Cholesterol Sceptics), Harcombe admires Malcolm Kendrick's The Great Cholesterol Con, agrees that Cholesterol is not responsible for heart attacks and nor are statins the answer to a non-existent problem.

In turn Kendrick supports Harcombe: Switching from high fat to high carbohydrate could be the single greatest cause of the recent obesity epidemic. Kendrick does not exclude other causes.

Having read (and re-read!) her full text (hoping to review it for the Bristol Medchi site) I realized table 1 on p 2 reveals an anomaly, which I missed at the first reading, not discussed by Harcombe.

This table shows that between 1966 and 1982 UK percentages of overweight and obese rose from 14% to 44% for men, from 11% to 26% for women. This was long before the wrong advice was substituted in 1983, when the percentages started the even sharper rise vividly described by Harcombe.

What happened in the late 70s/early 80s before Harcombe's obesity epidemic took off? The alternative suspect is Portion size!

Nearly 50 years ago, large portion sizes, associated with affluence in developed countries, was then the predominant cause of obesity. With our 6 children age 14 to 5, we visited New York in 1964 (en route to Edmonton in Canada to stay with our Canadian/Polish brother-in-law and their family of 6 children). We saw for the first time enormous portion sizes and widespread obesity, obvious then in New York, noticeable in Canada, but then rare in the UK.

This was nearly 2 decades before the 1983 wrong medical advice was given to switch from fats to high carbohydrate, which Harcombe denotes as the beginning of the obesity epidemic.

Large-sized portions in the past were confined to the affluent, for example the Edwardian penchant for enormous meals. Only after WWII did such affluence spread to a wider society. The early clear signs from Table 2 towards the `epidemic' of obesity were later fuelled by bad medical advice.

For the overweight it is common sense that food portions return to `normal' levels. Eating less is one way to do this, and accepted as sensible, though difficult, by most of the obese. Advising `eating less' was shorthand for reducing portion size for those with a weight problem. If eating too much of almost anything, not just processed food, can cause obesity, it is commonsense to recommend those affected to eat less.

Her writing style is humorous and clear. Her book is not easy reading because much of the material is technical, especially when she has to deal with the complexities of the cholesterol controversy and the arguments used to maintain the `consensus' that `fats' and cholesterol are bad for us. She is to be congratulated for her success in surmounting these difficulties.

Many other factors complicate individual problems. Harcombe recognizes a strong genetic factor, why some people are never likely to be thin. She has three dietary tips:

1) Eat real food,

2) Eat three meals a day & don't snack,

3) Manage carbohydrates for weight problems.

She deplores all processed food. I am more relaxed. Small quantities of carefully chosen processed food don't need to be totally banned. Our versatile digestive system is robust enough to deal with processed foods, unless overwhelmed by sheer quantity.

Harcombe thought my `advice and book would have been invaluable before the obesity epidemic took hold'. It is still relevant and helps those readers who are prepared to limit their food intake.

Harcombe had the misfortune to be involved in the Minnesota Starvation scheme in her teens (p 42 & 54). It is probable this has influenced her attitude to hunger, and that a neural pathway `remembers' it for her as an addiction to food. For most people in the affluent world hunger is not something to be feared.

James le Fanu, not mentioned by Harcombe, should be remembered for his early championing of Kendrick's book in the Telegraph (18/3/2007, 25/3/07, 1/4/07, 8/4/07) when he described `taking a statin holiday'. He was attacked by a cardiologist (Weissberg) as naive for being taken in by someone like Kendrick.

To return to the book: The Obesity Epidemic: the excellent Contents Page shows the structure and how well the material is organized. The Index is not as complete as expected, with no mention of metabolic rate. In contrast the 399 footnotes with valuable references are separated by Chapters, after the Index.

The research needed to analyze these - many needed hours of computation - is most impressive. They rebut those who question the author's competence to pronounce on technical matters. The Glossary and Abbreviations are useful; the Appendix has 4 rather technical pages, presumably needed to complement the footnotes.

After the Introduction (pp 12) the content is divided into 4 parts, these subdivided into 16 Chapters. The book ends with a brief Summary (p 280-285).

1: General principle: Eat less/do more. This has 4 relatively brief chapters 1-4 (pp 13-44) Chapter 4 (pp 37-42) explains the Minnesota `Starvation Experiment' May 1944 when 200 conscientious objectors volunteered to starve as an alternative to call-up; Harcombe unwittingly as a teenager (p 42) had a similar experience.

2: The Calorie Formulae (p 46-51): - To lose one pound of fat." 3 chapters 5-7 (pp 52-79) all devoted to `calories'

3: The Diet Advice The bulk of the book (pp 87-231) with a short `What should we eat' survey (p 82-86) followed by the Chapters 8-14. Chapter 8, the major one is devoted to Cholesterol, including a Pre-amble and a `Post-amble' the latter being an eloquent summary why Cholesterol should be regarded as a `good thing'. See the end of this review for a clinching argument.

Chapter 9 (pp 126-136) details how and why medical advice was changed in 1983 for the worse as mentioned above. Denis Burkitt (p 136) is rebuked for recommending fibre to be in our diet. However he did not do so for nutritional reasons, but to help to eliminate abdominal problems, which it did. I remember hearing him on this subject.

Medical advice then for irritable bowel and colitis was to `rest' the colon by starvation, which made painful abdominal cramps worse. Patients soon learnt to ignore such advice, just as now many refuse to take statins.

Chapter 10 "What is our current advice, a short account" (pp 137-152) is followed by Chapter 11 "Have we reviewed the U turn" (pp 153-166). Chapter 12 "Eat Less Fat" (pp 167-191) contrasts with Chapter 13 ("Base your meals on starchy foods" (pp 192-211). The last Chapter of this section 14 "Do More" (pp 212-231), is a controversial one about exercise.

4: How can we stop The Obesity Epidemic (p 232-235). 2 Final Chapters 15 & 16 (p 236-273). Chapter 15 was the most stressful and difficult to write (p 258); it comes over as a challenge to her tenacity in seeking answers from obstructive officials. The final Chapter 16, which is devoted to the question of how to organize obesity management without impinging on freedom to choose, raises more questions than it answers. The summary at the end rounds off her advice.

To summarize: Harcombe and I are both outside the present Health Adviser's `consensus' on the evils of cholesterol. Many other contributors in the `obesity' field are also in this position.

When will the medical establishment realize their vulnerability to being sued for ignoring the increasingly known dangers of statins? Many victims will be eager to initiate actions. The web makes this a likely prospect.

Harcombe is trenchant about Bariatric Surgery: (p 271) I have not proposed bariatric surgery as a solution, because a fundamental premise of this book is that we need to remember why we eat.

Campbell-McBride calls the gut the second brain of the body. Do we have full and certain knowledge of what will happen long term by surgically altering our digestive tract in such drastic ways? She goes on to describe a victim who was unable to eat lamb because he knew he could not digest it, but who was able to eat bread, potato and pastries and was gaining weight at a steady pace.

She has 2 footnotes on this subject, 379 and 380, referring to A study on the economic impact of bariatric surgery from The American Journal of Managed Care and The Association for the Study of Obesity Annual Conference, Liverpool (June 2009) respectively.

Since then there have been unexpected research developments involving recently identified hormones PYY and ghrelin that control respectively sensations of fullness and hunger. These control body weight by `talking' from the gut to the brain (see Campbell McBride above).

Dr Carel Le Roux (Imperial College & King's College London) believes that bariatric surgery has a powerful and unexpected side effect: it can re-balance the hormones so the patient would `stop thinking like a fat person and think and behave like a thin one'.

It remains to be seen whether this is substantiated but if it is there must surely be a less radical procedure than bariatric surgery to do this `re-balancing', for example via pills or injections. Research into `discordant identical twins' who have different weights, presumably due to these hormones being `unbalanced' is part of this ongoing research in the field of epigenetics.

For those who still have a lingering doubt that Cholesterol must still be an evil substance, as many doctors and dieticians still believe, despite the arguments presented here and in her book, and for readers who find the complexities of the saturated and unsaturated fats, and the idiotic subdivisions of `good' and `bad' cholesterol too difficult to comprehend, a final word from Harcombe, might convince or at least comfort by its common-sense explanation that as cholesterol is made by the body it is unlikely to be something that is harmful or will kill us. (p 123).

Human breast milk contains significant quantities of cholesterol.. . . It would not do so if cholesterol were in any way a harmful substance. (p 124).
See also Addiction to food: A relevant review of Theodore Dalrymple's book Junk Medicine subtitled Doctors, Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy

Received via email from the author

Crooked medical research

A Sharp Rise in Retractions Prompts Calls for Reform

In the fall of 2010, Dr. Ferric C. Fang made an unsettling discovery. Dr. Fang, who is editor in chief of the journal Infection and Immunity, found that one of his authors had doctored several papers.

It was a new experience for him. "Prior to that time," he said in an interview, "Infection and Immunity had only retracted nine articles over a 40-year period."    The journal wound up retracting six of the papers from the author, Naoki Mori of the University of the Ryukyus in Japan. And it soon became clear that Infection and Immunity was hardly the only victim of Dr. Mori's misconduct. Since then, other scientific journals have retracted two dozen of his papers, according to the watchdog blog Retraction Watch. "Nobody had noticed the whole thing was rotten," said Dr. Fang, who is a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Dr. Fang became curious how far the rot extended. To find out, he teamed up with a fellow editor at the journal, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. And before long they reached a troubling conclusion: not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem - "a symptom of a dysfunctional scientific climate," as Dr. Fang put it.

Dr. Casadevall, now editor in chief of the journal mBio, said he feared that science had turned into a winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct.   "This is a tremendous threat," he said.

Last month, in a pair of editorials in Infection and Immunity, the two editors issued a plea for fundamental reforms. They also presented their concerns at the March 27 meeting of the National Academies of Sciences committee on science, technology and the law.

Members of the committee agreed with their assessment. "I think this is really coming to a head," said Dr. Roberta B. Ness, dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health. And Dr. David Korn of Harvard Medical School agreed that "there are problems all through the system."

No one claims that science was ever free of misconduct or bad research. Indeed, the scientific method itself is intended to overcome mistakes and misdeeds. When scientists make a new discovery, others review the research skeptically before it is published. And once it is, the scientific community can try to replicate the results to see if they hold up.

But critics like Dr. Fang and Dr. Casadevall argue that science has changed in some worrying ways in recent decades - especially biomedical research, which consumes a larger and larger share of government science spending.

In October 2011, for example, the journal Nature reported that published retractions had increased tenfold over the past decade, while the number of published papers had increased by just 44 percent. In 2010 The Journal of Medical Ethics published a study finding the new raft of recent retractions was a mix of misconduct and honest scientific mistakes.

Several factors are at play here, scientists say. One may be that because journals are now online, bad papers are simply reaching a wider audience, making it more likely that errors will be spotted. "You can sit at your laptop and pull a lot of different papers together," Dr. Fang said.

But other forces are more pernicious. To survive professionally, scientists feel the need to publish as many papers as possible, and to get them into high-profile journals. And sometimes they cut corners or even commit misconduct to get there.

To measure this claim, Dr. Fang and Dr. Casadevall looked at the rate of retractions in 17 journals from 2001 to 2010 and compared it with the journals' "impact factor," a score based on how often their papers are cited by scientists. The higher a journal's impact factor, the two editors found, the higher its retraction rate.

The highest "retraction index" in the study went to one of the world's leading medical journals, The New England Journal of Medicine. In a statement for this article, it questioned the study's methodology, noting that it considered only papers with abstracts, which are included in a small fraction of studies published in each issue. "Because our denominator was low, the index was high," the statement said.

Monica M. Bradford, executive editor of the journal Science, suggested that the extra attention high-impact journals get might be part of the reason for their higher rate of retraction. "Papers making the most dramatic advances will be subject to the most scrutiny," she said.

Dr. Fang says that may well be true, but adds that it cuts both ways - that the scramble to publish in high-impact journals may be leading to more and more errors. Each year, every laboratory produces a new crop of Ph.D.'s, who must compete for a small number of jobs, and the competition is getting fiercer. In 1973, more than half of biologists had a tenure-track job within six years of getting a Ph.D. By 2006 the figure was down to 15 percent.


18 April, 2012

Taxing fast food won’t persuade people to eat lentils and mung beans

By Richard Littlejohn

Doctors are calling on the Government to take urgent action to tackle Britain’s obesity ‘epidemic’. They are demanding ‘bold and tough’ measures aimed at the fast food and soft drinks industries.

This would involve an exciting new range of ‘fat taxes’ and a ban on advertising and sponsorship by the likes of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.

Manufacturers would also be required to label their products with health warnings detailing the amount of salt, sugar and calories in everything from pizzas to popcorn.

The idea is that if food and drink companies were prevented from backing sporting events such as the Olympics and football’s Carling Cup, people would stop stuffing their faces with burgers and guzzling beer.

Some hope.

No one tucks into half-a-dozen Big Macs and fries because they think it is going to turn them into Usain Bolt, or downs eight pints of lager in the vain hope that they will be able to play football like Robin Van Persie. They do it because they are stupid and greedy.

The poverty lobby is already bouncing up and down about the decision to slap VAT on pasties. They have dubbed it a ‘tax on the poor’. So what will they make of a huge, government-imposed increase in the price of fish and chips and takeaway chicken korma?

As for exclusion zones preventing fast-food chains and burger vans setting up shop near to schools, that’s been tried and has failed spectacularly. When Jamie Oliver attempted to improve the quality of school dinners, parents were queuing up to pass bags of chips through the railings to their ravenous children.

The medical profession is right in one respect. Britain is the Fat Man of Europe. We have overtaken our Continental neighbours and caught up with the Americans in the obesity stakes.

It is estimated that by 2030, half the population will be dangerously overweight and at risk of an early grave thanks to diabetes and assorted cancers.

But calling it an ‘epidemic’ is to suggest that obesity is something which can be ‘caught’, like measles or the flu. Demanding firm action from the Government also implies that the legions of lardbutts waddling the streets are somehow the Government’s fault, the Government’s responsibility and therefore deserving of a Government ‘cure’.

This is part of the depressing modern ‘victim’ culture, which strips people of any responsibility for their own actions and wellbeing. In all but a handful of cases, involving glandular malfunction and mental disorder, obesity is not an illness.

It is the inevitable result of uninhibited gluttony and a lack of willpower and self-restraint. Self-appointed ‘experts’ think that if only the public were ‘educated’ about the calorific content of deep-fried pizzas, they’d stop eating them and embrace a virtuous diet of lentils and mung beans instead.

Don’t be daft. People eat greasy fast food because it tastes good and provides cheap, cheerful instant gratification. They’re actively looking for the sugar rush, not trying to avoid it.

Cigarette packets are plastered with pictures of diseased lungs, skulls and crossbones and grim health warnings in lettering the size of the Hollywood sign. But millions still smoke and the Government is content to keep ramping up the prices and pocketing the proceeds.

Higher taxes on fast food would simply disappear into the vast black hole of state spending, or get frittered away hiring another army of useless, interfering healthy eating co-ordinators from the jobs pages of The Guardian.

Britain’s existing battalions of taxpayer-funded ‘five-a-day’ workers have been conspicuously unsuccessful in persuading the great unwashed to switch from French fries to fruit and vegetables.

When councils forced chip shops to cut the number of holes in salt shakers in a doomed attempt to reduce consumption, the punters simply unscrewed the caps.

As for the other ‘bold and tough’ measures, banning sponsorship and advertising by food manufacturers would be an intolerable intrusion on free speech and freedom of choice.

Driving food and drinks firms to the wall at a time of recession and high unemployment is the economics of the madhouse.

If the state really wants to encourage hideously fat people to lose weight, there’s a simple solution. The easy way to save the hundreds of millions of pounds being spent on treating the obese is to stop indulging them. We’ve all read reports of social workers buying fast food, fizzy drinks and sweets for ‘clients’ too fat to get out of their own beds.  If the morbidly obese were left to wallow in their own filth they might get round to losing weight.

We learned recently that some clinics are widening their doors so that  their XXXL patients can squeeze through. Why? Tell them that if they can’t get in, they won’t get help.

The NHS shouldn’t have to buy reinforced ambulances and heavy-duty maternity beds to support self-inflicted gutbuckets. Nor should the fire brigade be forced to use forklift trucks and winches to rescue 40-stone monsters from their own homes.

And why should the Health Service budget be expected to stretch to fitting gastric bands to people lacking the willpower to lose weight by eating less and exercising more?

Banning burgers isn’t the answer. There’s nothing wrong with a quarter-pounder, eaten occasionally and in moderation.  Why should the rest of us have to pay more for our fast-food treats because some of our selfish fellow citizens are slowly, and not so slowly, gorging themselves to death?

Let them eat cake. It’s their funeral.


Sound wave treatment that zaps prostate tumours could double men's chance of avoiding debilitating side effects

Sounds hopeful

Men with prostate cancer could soon be offered sound wave treatment that almost doubles their chance of avoiding debilitating side effects.  The therapy closely targets tumours, causing much less damage to healthy tissue than conventional surgery or radiotherapy.

High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is already used in some NHS hospitals and private clinics, often to treat the entire half of the prostate where the cancer was situated.  But it is now being used in a more targeted way to treat areas of early-stage cancer just a few millimetres in size.

Experimental research shows this dramatically cuts the number of men suffering incontinence, impotence and other complications due to nerve damage caused by treatment.

Men undergoing traditional treatment – radiotherapy or surgery to remove the whole prostate – have a 50 per cent chance of a ‘perfect outcome’, avoiding the side effects and achieving good cancer control a year after therapy.

In a new trial, men treated with HIFU had a nine in ten chance of achieving the best result. None of the 41 men in the trial had incontinence and just one in ten suffered from impotence after 12 months. Altogether 95 per cent of the men were cancer-free after a year, a report in the medical journal Lancet Oncology says.

HIFU focuses high-frequency sound waves on to an area the size of a grain of rice.  The sound waves cause the tissue to vibrate and heat to about 80c, killing the cells in the target area.  The procedure is performed in hospital under general anaesthetic and most patients are back home within 24 hours.

Dr Hashim Ahmed, who led the study at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University College London, said: ‘We’re optimistic that men diagnosed with prostate cancer may soon be able to undergo a day case surgical procedure, which can be safely repeated once or twice, to treat their condition with very few side-effects.  That could mean a significant improvement in their quality of life.

‘This study provides the proof-of-concept we need to develop a much larger trial in the NHS in the next two years, hopefully backed by the Government, to determine whether it is as effective as standard treatment in the medium and long term.’

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. In the UK, more than 37,000 men are diagnosed each year and the condition leads to approximately 10,000 deaths.

However, men with early-stage prostate cancer can live for years without their disease getting worse and many face the dilemma of opting for therapy that may lead to side effects.

Standard treatments can damage surrounding healthy tissue, with up to a quarter of men suffering urinary incontinence and two-thirds having erectile difficulties as a result.

But the latest trial, funded by the Medical Research Council, the Pelican Cancer Foundation and St Peter’s Trust, used focal HIFU therapy, meaning it targeted the exact areas of cancer using two highly sensitive diagnostic techniques, MRI and mapping biopsies.

Professor Mark Emberton, who leads the research programme at UCLH and UCL, said similar techniques to preserve tissue had been successful in breast cancer treatment, where women have been offered a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy.

Owen Sharp, of The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: ‘We welcome the development of any prostate cancer treatment which limits the possibility of damaging side effects such as incontinence and impotence.

‘However, we need to remember that this treatment was given to fewer than 50 men, without follow-up over a sustained period of time.’

Prostate Action chief executive Emma Malcolm said: ‘Today, men being treated for prostate cancer face a daunting range of side effects, having a 50/50 chance of getting through a year without experiencing incontinence, impotence, or having their cancer spread.  ‘[This] research suggests high-intensity focused ultrasound could cut this risk ... giving thousands of men a better quality of life.’


17 April, 2012

Doctors hit out at Government's obesity strategy as they launch campaign to tackle Britain's junk food problem

These galoots should stick to healing the sick.  There is no evidence that anything they propose will do any good

Doctors have hit out at the Coalition's obesity strategy today as they launched a campaign to tackle Britain's junk food problem.  The body that represents every doctor in the country said there was a 'huge crisis waiting to happen' because measures to tackle the fat problem are failing.

A quarter of women (24 per cent) and just over a fifth of men (22 per cent) in the UK are now classed as obese - the highest in Europe.  By 2030, experts predict that the problem will have ballooned - with 48 per cent of men and 43 per cent of women obese.

The three-month investigation by the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges will look at the action individuals can take - as well as the impact of advertising and sponsorship.

They are demanding a ban on McDonalds advertising at major sporting events like the Olympics and want the Government to consider bringing in a 'fat tax' on the most unhealthy foods.  They also want fast food free zones around schools to be brought in.

The campaign will be chaired by Professor Terence Stephenson, vice-chairman of the AoMRC and president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.  He said the campaign would see medical professionals coming together in an unprecedented way.

'Our starting point is the collective desire to ensure the healthcare profession is doing all it can to detect, treat, manage - and ultimately prevent - obesity.

'It is unprecedented that the medical royal colleges and faculties have come together on such a high-profile public health issue.'

In an apparent attack on the Coalition, he said that current strategies to tackle obesity were not working.

He added: 'We recognise the huge crisis waiting to happen and believe that current strategies to reduce obesity are failing to have a significant impact.'

He added: 'Speaking with one voice we have a more of a chance of preventing generation after generation falling victim to obesity-related illnesses and death.'

One in three children are overweight or obese by the age of nine.

The campaign will seek the views of healthcare professionals, local authorities, education providers, charities, campaign groups and the public, in the form of written and oral evidence.

It's first report will be published later this year and will offer recommendations for how the medical profession, individuals, organisations and the government can reduce obesity levels.

Professor Sir Neil Douglas, chairman of the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, said: 'This won't be just another report that sits on the shelf and gathers dust; it will form the bedrock of our ongoing campaigning activity.

'We are absolutely determined to push for whatever changes need to happen to make real progress in tackling - which is why we're casting the net wide to get input from a range of organisations and individuals.

The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges represents all surgeons, psychiatrists, paediatricians and GPs.


Curry spice 'lowers risk of heart attack after surgery'

Sounds like there might be something in this if it can be replicated elsewhere

The curry spice turmeric may help ward off heart attacks in people who have had recent bypass surgery, according to a study.  Curcimins - the yellow pigment in turmeric -  is known for having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Bypass surgery is performed to improve the blood supply to the heart muscle. However, during the operation the organ can be damaged by prolonged lack of blood flow, increasing the patient's risk of heart attack.

The new findings suggest that curcumins may ease those risks when added to traditional drug treatment.

The results need to be confirmed in further research, said Wanwarang Wongcharoen from Chiang Mai University in Thailand.

Turmeric extracts have long been used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine.

Research has suggested inflammation plays an important role in the development of a range of diseases, including heart disease, and curcumins could have an effect on those pathways, said Bharat Aggarwal, who studies the use of curcumins in cancer therapy at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

'It's very, very encouraging,' said Aggarwal of the study.

The researchers studied 121 patients who had non-emergency bypass surgery at their hospital between 2009 and 2011.

Half of those patients were given one-gram curcumin capsules to take four times a day, starting three days before their surgery and continuing for five days afterwards. The other half took the same number of drug-free placebo capsules.

The researchers found that during their post-bypass hospital stays, 13 per cent of patients who'd been taking curcumins had a heart attack, compared to 30 per cent in the placebo group.

After accounting for any initial pre-surgery differences, Wongcharoen and his colleagues calculated that people on curcumins had a 65 per cent lower chance of heart attack.

Researchers said it's likely that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of curcumins may have helped limit heart damage in the patients.

'Curcumin has for many years now been shown to reduce inflammation and to reduce oxygen toxicity or damage caused by free radicals in a number of experimental settings,' commented Jawahar Mehta, a cardiologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

'But that doesn't mean that this is a substitute for medication,' he said, noting that drugs like aspirin, statins and beta blockers have been proven to help heart patients and people in the current study were taking those as well.

One limitation was that the study was relatively small. Another is that while curcumins are thought to be safe, there could be side effects at very large doses.

'Taken in moderation or used in cooking, (curcumins) are quite useful. But I wouldn't go to a health food store and start taking four grams of curcumin a day, as was done in this study,' Mehta said.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Cardiology.


16 April, 2012

High levels of phthalates associated with greater incidence of  type-2 diabetes  -- among 114 elderly Swedish women

Anything with such a funny name has got to be suspicious!  Be that as it may, publicity seekers have been targeting phthalates for a very long time -- long enough for there to have been many official reviews of the evidence against them -- reviews which find them harmless.  But if you keep doing studies of them over and over again, you are bound to get some "positive" results by chance alone -- and that is probably what we see below.  So it is wise of the authors below to be cautious in interpreting their results.

And don't forget the study which shows that phthalates IMPROVE male reproductive performance!  LOL

There is a connection between phthalates found in cosmetics and plastics and the risk of developing diabetes among seniors. Even at a modest increase in circulating phthalate levels, the risk of diabetes is doubled. This conclusion is drawn by researchers at Uppsala University in a study published in the journal Diabetes Care. "Although our results need to be confirmed in more studies, they do support the hypothesis that certain environmental chemicals can contribute to the development of diabetes," says Monica Lind, associate professor of environmental medicine at the Section for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Uppsala University.

Together with Lars Lind, professor of medicine at Uppsala University, she has analysed new information from the so-called PIVUS study, which covers more than 1,000 70-year-old women and men in Uppsala.

In a physical examination participants were examined for fasting blood sugar and various insulin measures. They submitted blood samples for analysis of various environmental toxins, including several substances formed when the body breaks down so-called phthalates. Most people come into daily contact with phthalates as they are used a softening agents in plastics and as carriers of perfumes in cosmetics and self-care products.

As expected, diabetes was more common among participants who were overweight and had high blood lipids. But the researchers also found a connection between blood levels of some of the phthalates and increased prevalence of diabetes, even after adjusting for obesity, blood lipids, smoking, and exercise habits. Individuals with elevated phthalate levels had roughly twice the risk of developing diabetes compared with those with lower levels. They also found that certain phthalates were associated with disrupted insulin production in the pancreas.

"However, to find out whether phthalates truly are risk factors for diabetes, further studies are needed that show similar associations. Today, besides the present study, there is only one small study of Mexican women. But experimental studies on animals and cells are also needed regarding what biological mechanisms might underlie these connections," says Monica Lind.

Circulating Levels of Phthalate Metabolites Are Associated With Prevalent Diabetes in the Elderly

By P. Monica Lind et al.

OBJECTIVE: Phthalates are ubiquitous industrial high-volume chemicals known as ligands to peroxisome proliferator–activated receptors (PPARs). Because PPAR-? agonists modulate insulin sensitivity and are used to treat type 2 diabetes, we investigated whether circulating levels of phthalate metabolites are related to prevalent type 2 diabetes.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: A total of 1,016 subjects, aged 70 years, were investigated in the Prospective Investigation of the Vasculature in Uppsala Seniors Study. Four phthalate metabolites were detected in almost all participant sera by an API 4000 liquid chromatograph/tandem mass spectrometer. Type 2 diabetes was defined as the use of pharmacological hypoglycemic agents or a fasting plasma glucose >7.0 mmol/L.

RESULTS: A total of 114 subjects were shown to have diabetes. Following adjustment for sex, BMI, serum cholesterol and triglycerides, educational level, and smoking and exercise habits, high levels of the phthalate metabolites monomethyl phthalate (MMP) (P < 0.01), monoisobutyl phthalate (MiBP) (P < 0.05), and monoethyl phthalate (MEP) (P < 0.05), but not mono(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, were associated with an increased prevalence of diabetes. Using the fasting proinsulin–to–insulin ratio as a marker of insulin secretion and the homeostasis model assessment-insulin resistance index as a marker of insulin resistance, MiBP was mainly related to poor insulin secretion, whereas MEP and MMP mainly were related to insulin resistance.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings in this cross-sectional study showed that several phthalate metabolites are related to diabetes prevalence, as well as to markers of insulin secretion and resistance. These findings support the view that these commonly used chemicals might influence major factors that are regulating glucose metabolism in humans at the level of exposure of phthalate metabolites seen in the general elderly population.


Sugarcane juice to be commercially marketed

You can get it freshly crushed  by almost any roadside in India so it is mildly surprising that it has not hit the Western world much as yet.  It's got to be pretty harmless and undoubtedly contains useful nutrients.  I used to chew sugarcane as a boy -- which made it good gum exercise as well

Swiss Australian consortium Nutraceutical and Natural Products (NNP) Ag has recently secured worldwide commercialization rights to PlantZap (patent pending), a natural electrolyte base for sports and health drinks.

The PlantZap concentrate is extracted from sugar cane, using new technology developed by Queensland Government researchers at the Health and Food Sciences Precinct.

PlantZap is free from chemicals and additives, the company says, low in sugar and sodium and rich in electrolytes (dominated by potassium). It is described as having a pleasant, naturally slightly salty taste, making it suitable to be consumed straight or formulated with flavors.

Its nutritional profile is similar to that of coconut water, which is an emerging beverage in the market today with global retail sales in excess of $1 billion, the company reports.

Unlike coconut water, however, PlantZap has virtually unlimited supply, and is therefore likely to remain price stable for the industry and consumer, the company says.

PlantZap’s taste is formulated to work well with the unique flavor systems developed by Ungerer and Company; a multinational flavor and fragrance house headquartered in New Jersey and the exclusive flavor supplier to PlantZap globally.

NNP sees great opportunity for PlantZap to be included as a natural source of electrolytes in existing sports and health drinks and claims that it is now in negotiations with one well-known brand in the U.S. that is interested in converting its entire range of sports drinks to PlantZap.

According to Mike Lehman, CEO of NNP, PlantZap dovetails with market direction. “Consumers are becoming more and more aware about the level of salt and sugar in processed foods and their diets. They also are starting to realize the importance of naturally sourced potassium and magnesium for their health and wellbeing. Here is a product which is low in sugar, high in potassium and with levels of magnesium that can be consumed daily as a naturally healthy way to hydrate,” he says.


15 April, 2012

Mum's diet can stop child allergies?

The omega-3 theory has long been  a popular one and the article below is based on a report by an omega-3 enthusiast -- so the positive result reported below  is rather to be expected  -- but there is other research that questions the benefits of Omega-3

And the report below is in fact a bit of a fraud.  The journal article referred to below is Effect of n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in pregnancy on infants’ allergies in first year of life: randomised controlled trial.  The subjects were infants at high risk of hereditary allergies but even so, omega-3 had no effect on allergies overall.  A slight benefit was found with two allergies only, which looks like a data dredging effect.

One word summary:  Rubbish

JUST one gram of omega-3 long-chain fatty acids a day can prevent some allergies, such as sensitivity to eggs

A co-author of the world's biggest study into the effect of omega-3 on allergies, University of Adelaide Professor Bob Gibson, said pregnant women who included omega-3 in their diet could help prevent certain allergies.

The findings, published in the prestigious British Medical Journal, show omega-3 could improve the health of children "on a massive scale", he said.

"Children born to the mothers who received the fish oil treatment when they were pregnant had less atopic eczema and were less sensitive to egg exposure than those who were born to mothers in the placebo or control group," Prof Gibson said.

"Not all signs of allergy were influenced but some allergic conditions like asthma do not appear in children until they are older."

The study involved 2000 children from across Australia. Prof Gibson and his team will continue to follow them in coming years to monitor the longer-term benefits, including whether omega-3 has any impact on asthma.

Prof Gibson will travel to Canada next month to become the first Australian to receive the Alexander Leaf distinguished scientist award for his lifetime achievements in the study of fatty acids.

His earlier work, which found omega-3 fatty acids were beneficial for brain development, led to changes in infant formula regulations and the addition of fatty acids in commercially sold products.

That work includes a groundbreaking paper from the early 1980s on the fatty acid composition of human breast milk, which sparked new research in the area across the globe.

"The work to find a cure for allergy goes on," he said. "Although I've been working in this field for more than 30 years, I'm constantly astounded by the discoveries.  "Just when you think you've found everything there is to find, we realise there is more and more that science can uncover."


Could a cure for AIDS be on the horizon?

Sounds promising but a long way to go yet.  Also sounds expensive so may never be generally available

Human stem cells can be genetically engineered into 'warrior' cells that fight HIV - and the new cells can attack HIV-infected cells inside a living creature.  The breakthrough, by UCLA scientists, is hoped to be the first step towards a treatment that can eradicate HIV from an infected patient.

Much HIV research focuses on vaccines or drugs that slow the virus's progress - but this new technique could offer hope of a 'cure'.

The study, published April 12 in the journal PLoS Pathogens, demonstrates for the first time that engineering stem cells to form immune cells that target HIV is effective in suppressing the virus in living tissues.

'We believe that this study lays the groundwork for the potential use of this type of an approach in combating HIV infection in infected individuals, in hopes of eradicating the virus from the body,' said lead researcher Scott G Kitchen.

The scientists took CD8 cytotoxic T lymphocytes — the 'killer' T cells that help fight infection — from an HIV-infected individual and identified the molecule which guides the T cell in recognizing and killing HIV-infected cells.

However, these T cells, while able to destroy HIV-infected cells, do not exist in great enough quantities to clear the virus from the body.

So the researchers cloned the receptor and used this to genetically engineer human blood stem cells. They then placed the engineered stem cells into human thymus tissue that had been implanted in mice, allowing them to study the reaction in a living organism.

The engineered stem cells developed into a large population of mature, multi-functional HIV-specific cells that could specifically target cells containing HIV proteins.

The researchers also discovered that HIV-specific T cell receptors have to be matched to an individual in much the same way an organ is matched to a transplant patient.

In this current study, the researchers similarly engineered human blood stem cells and found that they can form mature T cells that can attack HIV in tissues where the virus resides and replicates.

They did so by using a surrogate model, the humanized mouse, in which HIV infection closely resembles the disease and its progression in humans.

In a series of tests on the mice's peripheral blood, plasma and organs conducted two weeks and six weeks after introducing the engineered cells, the researchers found that the number of CD4 "helper" T cells — which become depleted as a result of HIV infection — increased, while levels of HIV in the blood decreased.

'We believe that this is the first step in developing a more aggressive approach in correcting the defects in the human T cell responses that allow HIV to persist in infected people,' Kitchen said.


14 April, 2012

How a glass of red wine could PREVENT you from putting on weight

I don't know if this is right or not but forgive me while I laugh!

If you want to avoid gaining weight, it may be time to ditch the skipping rope and grab  a corkscrew instead.  For U.S. experts have found a compound in red wine that can help control obesity.

The substance, piceatannol, delays the generation of young fat cells and prevents them from growing into mature ones. It is also thought to protect the body from heart and neurodegenerative diseases, as well  as cancer.

The compound blocks insulin’s ability to activate genes that carry out further stages of fat cell formation.  The agent found in wine is also thought to protect the body from heart and neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.

The groundbreaking research was carried out at Purdue University, Indiana, USA.  Lead researcher Dr Kee-Hong Kim said: 'In the presence of piceatannol you can see delay or complete inhibition of young fat cells.

'Piceatannol alters the timing of gene expressions, gene functions and insulin action during adipogenesis - the process in which young fat cells become mature fat cells.'

Dr Kim, assistant professor of food science at the university, added: 'We are now testing our idea using animal model obesity to see if it has the same benefical functions.  'We need to work on improving the stability and solubility of piceatannol to create a biological effect.'

The compound is similar in structure to resveratrol - a supplement sold in the UK last year to combat disease - and is also found in grapes, blueberries and passion fruit.

The research was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.


Eating nuts can help stave off obesity, says study

Vegetarians are the big nut eaters  so this is probably a study of vegetarians  -- most of whom are probably middle class.  So they should have the usual middle class health advantages.  And vegetarians certainly are often slim  -- due to their difficulty in getting enough nutrition

Dieters often dismiss them because of their high fat content, but research suggests that snacking on nuts can help keep you slim.  A study found that those who consumed varieties such as almonds, cashews and pistachios demonstrated a lower body weight, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference compared to non-consumers.

They were also at lower risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Experts are now recommending a daily intake of 1.5 ounces, or three tablespoons of nuts as part of a healthy diet.

Lead researcher Carol O'Neil, from Louisiana State University, said: 'One of the more interesting findings was the fact that tree nut consumers had lower body weight, as well as lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference compared to non-consumers.

'The mean weight, BMI, and waist circumference were 4.19 pounds, 0.9kg/m2 and 0.83 inches lower in consumers than non-consumers, respectively.'

In the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers compared risk factors for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome of nut consumers versus those who did not consume nuts.

They used data from 13,292 men and women participating in the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES).  Nut consumers were defined as those who ate more than one quarter of an ounce a day.

Tree nut - almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts - consumption specifically, was associated with higher levels of good cholesterol and lower risk of chronic diseases including heart disease.

In addition, it was also linked to a lower prevalence of four risk factors for metabolic syndrome: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and low good cholesterol levels.

Dr O'Neil adds: 'Tree nuts should be an integral part of a healthy diet and encouraged by health professionals—especially registered dietitians.'

Maureen Ternus, executive director of the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation (INC NREF), also congratulated the recent data.

She said: 'In light of these new data and the fact that the FDA has issued a qualified health claim for nuts and heart disease with a recommended intake of 1.5 ounces of nuts per day, we need to educate people about the importance of including tree nuts in the diet.'


13 April, 2012

The FDA does something right

The Food and Drug Administration has rejected a petition from environmentalists that would have banned the plastic-hardening chemical bisphenol-A from all food and drink packaging, including plastic bottles and canned food.

The agency said Friday that petitioners did not present compelling scientific evidence to justify new restrictions on the much-debated chemical, commonly known as BPA, though federal scientists continue to study the issue.

The Natural Resources Defense Council's petition was the latest move by public-safety advocates to prod regulators into taking action against the chemical, which is found in products from CDs to canned food to dental sealants.

About 90 percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies, mainly because it leaches out of food and beverage containers.

Some scientists believe exposure to BPA can harm the reproductive and nervous systems, particularly in babies and small children, potentially leading to cancer and other diseases. They point to results from dozens of BPA studies in rodents and other animals.

But FDA reiterated in its response that that those findings cannot be applied to humans. The agency said the studies cited by the NRDC were often too small to be conclusive. In other cases, they involved researchers injecting BPA into animals, whereas humans ingest the chemical through their diet over longer periods of time. The agency also said that humans metabolize and eliminate BPA much more quickly than rats and other lab animals.

"While evidence from some studies have raised questions as to whether BPA may be associated with a variety of health effects, there remain serious questions about these studies, particularly as they relate to humans," the agency said in its response.

The Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned the FDA in 2008 to ban BPA as a food additive, including all uses in food or beverage packaging. Petitions on various safety issues are routinely filed by advocacy groups, companies and even individuals. When the FDA failed to respond within the required timeframe, the environmental group sued the agency. In December a federal judge ruled that the agency had to respond by the end of March.

"The FDA is out of step with scientific and medical research," said Dr. Sarah Janssen, NRDC's senior scientist for public health. "This illustrates the need for a major overhaul of how the government protects us against dangerous chemicals."

FDA officials stressed that their assessment of BPA is ongoing, and they expect to issue another update later this year based on their most recent findings. The agency's last official statement was that there is "some concern" about BPA's effects on infants and young children.


Could eating your greens be a lifesaver? Study finds breast cancer sufferers who consume veg are more likely to survive

In China it's probably the richer who have greatest dietary variety and they would be healthier anyhow

Women diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to survive if they eat up their greens, research suggests.  A large Chinese study found a link between higher consumption of cruciferous vegetables such as greens, cabbage and broccoli, and reduced breast cancer death rates.

Researchers followed the progress of almost 5,000 women for around five years after they were diagnosed with breast cancer.

They found that the more cruciferous vegetables women ate during the first three years after diagnosis, the less likely they were to die.

As consumption increased, the chances of dying from breast cancer fell by between 22 per cent and 62 per cent and from all causes by between 27 per cent and 62 per cent.

Breast cancer recurrence risk also decreased, by between 21 per cent and 35 per cent

During the study period, a total of 587 women died, 496 from breast cancer. Researchers recorded 615 cases of recurrence.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Chicago, US.

The researchers pointed out that cruciferous vegetable consumption habits differed between China and the West.

'Commonly consumed cruciferous vegetables in China include turnips, Chinese cabbage/bok choy and greens, while broccoli and brussels sprouts are the more commonly consumed cruciferous vegetables in the United States and other Western countries,' said study leader Dr Sara Nechuta, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, US.

'Second, the amount of intake among Chinese women is much higher than that of US women. The level of bioactive compounds such as isothiocyanates and indoles, proposed to play a role in the anti-cancer effects of cruciferous vegetables, depend on both the amount and type of cruciferous vegetables consumed.'

Dr Nechuta said future studies of the effects of cruciferous vegetables on breast cancer should make direct measurements of levels of bioactive compounds.

The women were participants in the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study, an investigation of Chinese breast cancer survivors diagnosed with different grades of tumour between 2002 and 2006.


12 April, 2012

Eating berries can cut men's risk of Parkinson's disease by 40 per cent

It's encouraging to see that the authors undertook some validation of their food frequency questionnaire but as I spent a large part of my 20 year research career validating questionnaires, I know the possibilities there and I cannot see that they would be able to rule out the likely social class biases that probably lie behind the results reported below.  Middle class people are more likely to follow diet advice (or say they do) and also tend to be healthier. I think  we are just looking below at yet another proof that middle class people have a pervasive health advantage.

One might also note that high IQ people are more healthy and take more notice of official advice so the result could be an IQ effect alone.  IQ and higher class do correlate but there is a substantial non-overlap of variance nonetheless

In the end diet questionnaires are the weakest form of data and results from them must be taken with much salt  -- iodized preferably

Particularly salt-demanding is the fact that the finding was observed in men only.  The physiology of male and female  brains is not that different

Reliance on extreme quintiles is also a mark of desperation.  It leaves out the majority of the data!  Much ado about nothing would be my summary of the paper

Eating strawberries, blue- berries, blackcurrants and blackberries could help to protect against Parkinson’s disease, researchers suggest.  Men who ate the fruits along with other foods rich in flavonoids were found to be 40 per cent less likely to develop the brain disease.

And those who ate berries at least once a week could cut their risk of developing the disease by a quarter compared with those who never ate them, the study by British and U.S. experts also found.

Flavonoids – which are also found in tea and red wine – are antioxidants which can offer protection against a range of diseases including heart disease, some cancers and dementia.

The research is the first large-scale study looking at the effect of  flavonoids in protecting against  Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological condition which affects 125,000 Britons.   It causes tremors and muscular rigidity or stiffness, and affects all kinds of movement in the body.  About 10,000 new sufferers are diagnosed each year. There is no cure, but drugs and surgery can help control symptoms.

About 130,000 men and women took part in the research, published in the journal Neurology, of whom 800 had developed Parkinson’s disease during 20 years of follow-up.

It involved an analysis of their diets and, adjusting for age and lifestyle, men volunteers who ate the most flavonoids were shown to be 40 per cent less likely to develop the disease than those who ate the least. The study found no similar link for total flavonoid intake in women.

Antioxidants help to neutralise free radicals – destructive by-products of metabolism in the body that can damage cell membranes and DNA.  Brain cells are particularly sensitive to free radicals – which may help to explain the benefits revealed by the study.

It found the main protective effect came from higher intakes of anthocyanins – a type of flavonoid – present in berries and other fruits and vegetables such as aubergines.

Men who ate one or more portions of berries each week were 24 per cent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, relative to those who did not eat the fruits, the experts said.

Dr Xiang Gao of Harvard School of Public Health, one of the study leaders, said the findings suggest that anthocyanins ‘may have neuro- protective effects’.   He added: ‘Given the other potential health effects of berry fruits, such as lowering risk of hypertension as reported in our previous studies, it is good to regularly add these fruits to your diet.’

His colleague Professor Aedin Cassidy, of Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia, described their findings as ‘exciting’.


Habitual intake of dietary flavonoids and risk of Parkinson disease

X. Gao, MD et al.


Objective: To prospectively examine whether higher intakes of total flavonoids and their subclasses (flavanones, anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, flavonols, flavones, and polymers) were associated with a lower risk of developing Parkinson disease (PD).

Methods: In the current analysis, we included 49,281 men in the Health Professional Follow-up Study and 80,336 women from the Nurses' Health Study. Five major sources of flavonoid-rich foods (tea, berry fruits, apples, red wine, and orange/orange juice) were also examined. Flavonoid intake was assessed using an updated food composition database and a validated food frequency questionnaire.

Results: We identified 805 participants (438 men and 367 women) who developed PD during 20–22 years of follow-up. In men, after adjusting for multiple confounders, participants in the highest quintile of total flavonoids had a 40%lower PD risk than those in the lowest quintile (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.60; 95% confidence interval 0.43, 0.83; p trend = 0.001). No significant relationship was observed in women (p trend = 0.62) or in pooled analyses (p trend = 0.23). In the pooled analyses for the subclasses, intakes of anthocyanins and a rich dietary source, berries, were significantly associated with a lower PD risk (HR comparing 2 extreme intake quintiles were 0.76 for anthocyanins and 0.77 for berries, respectively; p trend < 0.02 for both).

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that intake of some flavonoids may reduce PD risk, particularly in men, but a protective effect of other constituents of plant foods cannot be excluded.


The politics of fat in the 21st century

Acceptance is the new buzzword among some participants in the great weight debate, but how far can they push it?

When Regina Benjamin was made US Surgeon-General in July 2009 she ran into a storm of criticism.  But it wasn't just the usual political point-scoring that any new appointee has to weather.

Many of the attacks on Benjamin were because she is overweight - by 20 kilograms or possibly more.

What message was the country's top health administrator sending, wondered her critics. And they were the polite ones. Even more bluntly, some asked, was she too fat for the job?

Benjamin, a formidable personality by all accounts, wasted little time returning fire. "I exercise regularly, at least four days a week," she was reported as saying. "I tend to stay on the elliptical as long as other people. I'm not out of breath. You can be healthy and fit at different sizes. The real message is that you don't want to limit yourself by your dress size."

The furore around Benjamin's appointment brought into sharp relief a controversial approach being promoted by a small but growing group of doctors and academics, cheered on by "fat acceptance" activists.

It is possible to be fat and healthy, they say. Further, they believe that the constant focus on shedding weight and staying slim may actually be doing more harm than good.

Needless to say, this is a hugely controversial area - a potent stew of emotion, prejudice, guilt and politics. There is also a range of positions, from hardline "fat pride" activists through to doctors and other health professionals who, while they accept being overweight is often unhealthy, believe focusing exclusively on patients' weight can be counterproductive.

The official measure of whether a person is overweight is the Body Mass Index. If you have a BMI of 25 or more, you are overweight. Get up to a BMI of 30-plus and you are clinically obese.

(The BMI itself is a controversial tool, often criticised for producing anomalous results in all but the most "average" body types.)

Anyone with a BMI of 25 or more who visits their GP will almost certainly be told to lose weight. They'll probably be given a diet sheet, counselling on exercise and may even be referred to a dietitian before being sent on their way.

And, while many of those patients will manage to lose some excess weight, most solid studies show the vast majority (up to 95 per cent) will regain all the weight they have lost within one to two years. Many will even "overshoot", ending up heavier than their starting weight.

Dr Rick Kausman is the author of a book called If Not Dieting, Then What? and widely recognised as a pioneer of healthy weight management without dieting.

"There is no question that weight-loss dieting does not work," he says. "The way I define a weight-loss diet is anything that tells us what, when and/or how much to eat for the purpose of weight control.

"Weight-loss dieting also increases the risk of eating disorders and immune problems and physical health issues." Kausman says some doctors understand the complexities of the problem but don't have enough time to deal with it in "a 10-minute consult", and others "just think it's a matter of telling people to eat less and exercise more and it's the person's fault that they are not able to do that".

Regardless of individual doctors' reasoning, however, it has been pointed out that if any other treatment of "intervention" had a failure rate of up to 95 per cent, we'd almost certainly be looking for a different approach.

Dr Linda Bacon is an American physiologist and psychologist, and the main standard bearer for the "health at every size" (HAES) movement.

"HAES teaches people to rely on internal regulation, a process dubbed 'intuitive eating'," Bacon writes in a recent paper. "HAES teaches people to make connections between what they eat and how they feel in the short and medium term, paying attention to food and mood, concentration, energy levels, fullness, ease of bowel movements, comfort eating, appetite, satiety, hunger and pleasure as guiding principles."

And while Kausman tends to talk about individuals being at their "most healthy weight" rather than "health at every size" he shares Bacon's focus on mindful eating.

In particular, he says, it's important to "check" whether you are hungry before eating. "Dieting makes it more difficult for people to know when they are hungry or full because dieting says, 'Don't trust your body, follow our rules and forget whether you are hungry or not'," he says. "When I see people who have dieted on and off for 20 or 30 years, I'm almost retraining them to start trusting their body again."

But activists such as Bacon go much further, asserting that promoting weight loss is counterproductive and it is possible to be fat and fit.

There is some research to show being fit is more important than being thin and that being overweight (though not obese) may actually offer some health benefits.

But both these points remain controversial, flying in the face of mainstream medical thinking.

Lyn Roberts, chief executive of the Heart Foundation, says it is dangerous to think that being overweight is OK. "It's almost like we have normalised being overweight and obese in Australia," she says. "That is a concern because of the very direct link between overweight and obesity and the fact that it increases your risk of heart disease. We also know it's a risk for diabetes and arthritis and some types of cancer as well.

"There are people who are overweight who may be very fit and who may not have high cholesterol and high blood pressure and who may not go on to develop diabetes, but there are a lot of people who are overweight who really do have a range of other problems."

Roberts admits losing weight is extraordinarily tough for most people, which is why the Heart Foundation also emphasises prevention. "We really want to encourage people not to put on that weight in the first place because it is so much more difficult to lose it once it's on," she says.  "I have enormous sympathy and regard for people that are out there trying to lose weight because it is not an easy thing to do."


11 April, 2012

Why don't GPS warn you that statins can harm your memory?

This would appear to be part of a slowly-growing general awareness of the toxicity of statins.  The cure may be worse than the disease if all effects are taken into account

The side effects probably show up rarely in clinical trials because of therapeutic non-compliance.  People made ill by the drugs discontinue or cut down taking them but out of embarrassment don't admit it as they know that getting into a clinical trial is a big deal

John Holliday had been on a higher 40mg dose of cholesterol pills for only a few weeks when he started to lose his concentration.  ‘I’d be watching TV and suddenly find myself unable to follow the plot of a drama,’ says John, 52, a telecoms project manager who lives in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, with his wife Jill, 51, and their two children Adam, 20, and Emma, 16.  ‘I’d have to read the same page of a book over and over because I couldn’t take any information in.

‘I’d always been known for my amazing memory — I was great on trivia and had total recall of events that happened 20 years ago, but suddenly I couldn’t remember things and my brain felt fuzzy.’

Just like up to seven million other people in Britain, John had been prescribed a statin to lower his blood cholesterol levels.     The drugs are credited by the British Heart Foundation as contributing towards the dramatic 50 per cent fall in deaths from heart attacks in the past ten years.

But while there is consensus that statins are lifesavers for people who have previously had a heart attack, concern is growing over their debilitating side-effects.  They include muscle weakness, depression, sleep disturbance, sexual dysfunction, muscle pain and damage, gastro-intestinal problems, headaches, joint pains and nausea.

Now, official bodies here and in the U.S. have ordered that the drugs must carry warnings for cognitive problems, too. Worryingly, it’s claimed GPs are failing to warn patients of the effect statins can have on the mind — meaning they may mistake them for signs of ageing or Alzheimer’s.

‘When I went back to my doctor after six weeks for a blood test, I told him how dreadful I was feeling,’ says John.  ‘But he just said all drugs had side-effects and didn’t mention reducing the dose.’

Things came to a head when a friend showed John an electrical circuit he’d built for his car. ‘I’d worked with circuits since I was 16 but it made no sense,’ he says.

So John insisted on seeing his doctor again and repeated his concerns about his rapidly declining memory. This time the GP told him he could start on another type of statin when he felt well enough, and so John stopped taking the drugs immediately.

‘It took a few months, but gradually my memory returned and I’ve got my concentration back. I can’t say for sure statins caused these problems, but it seems like too much of a coincidence.’

Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. ordered statins must carry warnings that some users have reported cognitive problems including memory loss, forgetfulness and confusion.  This followed a decision by the UK’s Medicines Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to add memory problems to the list of  possible statin side-effects in late 2009.

The FDA said reports about the symptoms were from across all statin products and age groups. Those affected reported feeling fuzzy or unfocused in their thought process — though these were found to be rare and reversible.  The FDA also warned, following U.S. research, that patients on statins had a small excess risk of developing Type 2 diabetes — but stressed that the benefits of taking a statin still outweigh this.

The MHRA had 2,675 reports for adverse drug reactions connected with statins between 2007 and 2011.

Officially, side-effects are rare —affecting only 1 per cent of people on the pills — but some doctors say they are under-reported.  Dr Malcolm Kendrick, a GP and author of The Great Cholesterol Con, says he frequently sees patients suffering from mental confusion in his job in hospital intermediary care for the elderly.  ‘Many of the patients I see will have been admitted to hospital after a fall or similar crisis,’ he says.

‘If they appear confused I’ll often advise taking them off statins to see if it has any effect — in my experience, about 10 to 15 per cent of people who appeared to have memory problems experienced an improvement in their memory symptoms after being taken off the drug.  ‘I had one dramatic case where a lady was admitted to hospital on 40mg a day of simvastatin with such poor memory function her family asked me about power of attorney.

'I suggested taking her off statins and within a week her memory had returned to normal. She went home a fit and independent 83-year-old.’

Dr Kendrick says cholesterol is the main constituent of synapses (structures that allow signals to pass between brain cells and to create new memories) and is essential for brain function.

‘It is still not proven that statins have a significant effect on mortality — it has been calculated that a man who has had a heart attack who took a statin for five years would extend his life by only 14 days.

'Too many statins are being given to people at low risk.  ‘Even in the highest risk group you need to treat 200 people a year with statins to delay just one death.  'One day the harm these drugs are doing is going to be obvious — the benefits are being over-hyped and the risks swept under the carpet.’

While Dr Kendrick’s controversial view is in the minority, one large review of 14 studies by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published by the highly respected Cochrane Library last year, concluded there was ‘little evidence’ cholesterol-lowering drugs protect people who are not at risk of heart disease.

This review has been criticised by other doctors who say side-effects are rare and that there are still benefits even for people at lower risk who do not have established heart disease.

These defenders of statins include Professor Colin Baigent of the Clinical Trial Service at Oxford University, who published research in 2010 showing statins reduced deaths from all causes by 10 per cent over five years.

‘There is relatively little evidence of cognitive impairment — what evidence there is all comes from observational studies.  ‘People read about side-effects and then put two and two together and blame the statins for their muscle pain or other health problems — it’s just not reliable evidence.

‘If you look at the best-quality randomised controlled trial where patients don’t know if they are taking a statin or placebo, there is no evidence of memory problems.  'Even the FDA says the risks of cognitive problems are very small and go away when statins are discontinued.  ‘We’re in danger of forgetting just how effective these drugs are.’

Dr Dermot Neely of the charity Heart UK, and lead consultant at the Lipid and Metabolic Clinic at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, agrees side-effects with statins are rare.  ‘I’ve been dealing with patients on statins since 1987 and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number whose memory symptoms turned out to be caused by statins.’

However, he said he often saw patients who had not been told about side-effects.  ‘It’s important GPs are clear about the drugs statins can interact with, such as certain antibiotics, as this can get overlooked.  ‘If a patient notices an adverse effect after starting statins, they should discuss this with their GP —but not stop their drugs suddenly because this can be dangerous.’

Sonya Porter, 73, decided to stop taking statins after her memory problems became so bad that she walked away from a cashpoint leaving her money behind.  ‘I was permanently fuzzy-headed and just couldn’t seem to concentrate,’ says Sonya, a retired PA from Woking, Surrey.

Then I started to get scared I might have Alzheimer’s. After reading about memory problems associated with statins, I thought it was at least a possibility. I decided to come off the pills to see if it made any difference.  ‘I didn’t ask my GP, I just did it — I’d rather die of a heart attack than Alzheimer’s disease. Within a month I felt normal again and didn’t have any problems with memory.  ‘I’m terrified that I could have been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s.’

John Holliday is also reluctant to go back on statins.  ‘I wouldn’t rule it out completely — my latest test showed my cholesterol levels have gone up,’ he says.  ‘But on balance, I’d rather take my chances with heart disease than feel as confused as that again. It’s all very well living slightly longer — but it’s about quality of life, too.’


Stem cell jab that repairs liver without need for transplant to be trialled on sick British children

Hopeful and at a stage where is could soon be in use

Doctors have developed a pioneering treatment for liver disease that could save hundreds of lives a year and avoid the need for transplant surgery.  Liver specialists desperately need new approaches to the epidemic of liver diseases that is leading to huge demand for donor livers.

Eighteen British children suffering from rare and life threatening liver conditions are to receive infusions of specially treated liver cells removed from the organs of dead donors.  Doctors believe they will make vital stem cells - the building blocks of life - and repair the damaged organ.

The worlds first trial using liver stem cells is to take place at London's King's College Hospital and will be headed by paediatric liver consultant Professor Anil Dhawan.  He described the use of stem cells to treat liver disease as an 'exciting breakthrough'.

He said: 'We have many very sick children and babies who need transplants. If we can cure them without a transplant that will a fantastic development.  'We have tried using ordinary liver cells with limited success, but is the first time a treatment has been developed that gets the liver to re-grow using stem cells.'

It comes after they successfully treated on baby Iyaad Syed last year.  Iyaad was born healthy in February 2011 but his liver had started to fail after he caught the herpes-simplex virus. Professor Dhawan injected donor liver cells into the boy's abdomen when he was just two weeks old. In November, doctors announced that Iyaad had recovered well and his own liver was functioning normally.

Liver specialist, Professor Etienne Sokal, who developed the technique at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium said: 'Some patients with liver disease are unable to produce appropriate stem cells to repair the liver.

'We have been able to show the cells we infuse into the liver last and continue to supply the liver with new stem cells, which are able to correct the missing functions of the liver in these children.  'Our early trials in the laboratory were successful enough for us to get the go ahead to start human trials.'

If the trials in children are successful it is hoped the treatment can be extended to patients who have livers damaged by alcohol abuse, viral diseases like hepatitis or the growing numbers of patients who going into liver failure due to obesity.

At present large numbers of liver patients die each year waiting for an organ transplant - while some don't even make the transplant list due to organ shortages.  For those lucky to get an organ there is the risk of the liver rejecting putting them back on the transplant list.

The UK - along with many countries - is facing an epidemic of serious liver disease much of it due to alcohol abuse and obesity which is dramatically increasing the need for donor livers.

Latest figures show that around one fifth - or around 150 - of 700 organs transplanted each year go to recovering alcoholics.

The death toll due to liver disease has risen by a quarter in the last decade and many of the victims are only middle-aged. Just over 11,500 men and women now die of liver disease every year -up from 9,200 in 2001.

It is estimated that just under 80 per cent of these deaths are caused by alcohol, and obesity and the remaining 20 per cent by hepatitis and inherited conditions.

A culture of overeating is also putting the lives of more than 500,000 obese young people at risk of serious liver disease according to a recent report by the Department of Health.

While alcohol is a major contributor to liver damage, many people are unaware of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is linked to being overweight.  It can progresses to a life-threatening condition called cirrhosis of the liver and is now almost prevalent as alcohol abuse as a cause of liver disease.

The new treatment developed by Professor Sokal offers the hope of an alternative to liver transplants for the growing numbers of people who face death due to liver failure.  The stem cells are better tolerated than a organ transplant and require less immuno- suppression drugs- reducing risks of rejection.

From a small number of cells gathered from one liver, experts have been able to grow millions of special liver cells capable of making stem cells when infused into a patient's liver.

Trying to treat liver disease by infusing donor liver cells is not new. But until now only adult liver cells have been used - with limited success as the cells die off after a period of time.

By using specially treated liver cells that are capable of becoming stem cells, scientists believe they may have found a permanent cure for patients who would normally need a transplant.

Doctors will trial the stem cell treatment on children with an inherited metabolic disorder that affect the liver called Crigler-Najjar syndrome.  Children with this condition are unable to eliminate toxins from their bodies and therefore must undergo daily 12-hour exposure to special blue lights, just to survive.  Without daily treatments, a child would suffer brain damage, muscle and nerve damage and death.

The treatment will also be tried on children with urea cycle disorders who are unable to process liver toxins because of a genetic defect. This condition can lead to brain damage and death without a special diet.  Experts believe that up to 20 per cent of cot deaths may be due to undiagnosed urea cycle disorders.

Professor Dhawan, said: 'If all goes well the children we are treating with the cells will show an improvement within a couple of months. We would expect those children to come off their medicines and therapy. It will mean the liver cells have done their job and corrected the defects that made them ill.

'Then we will have to see how long the effect lasts and whether we have to top up these children with further infusions. I am optimistic the treatment will work.'

Professor Max Malago, a liver transplant surgeon at London's Royal Free Hospital, said: 'There is enormous demand for donor livers at present which is impossible to meet. There patients who are desperate to transplant but unfortunately not everyone can get an organ.  'If there was an alternative treatment to transplant where you could save the liver it would offer hope to patients who are at present dying waiting for an organ.'


10 April, 2012

You CAN have that plate of chips (fries): Why fried foods are not always bad for you

For years we have been told that eating too much fried food is a sure-fire recipe for a heart attack.

However research from Spain, published in the British Medical Journal, found that the amount of oil consumed makes absolutely no difference to the incidence of heart disease.

The study monitored the diets and cooking methods of 40,000 people aged between 29 and 69 over an 11 year-period.

Participants were asked whether the food they ate was fried, battered, crumbed or sautéed with their diets divided into ranges of fried food consumption.

Fried food was defined as food for which frying was the only cooking method used.

None of the participants had heart disease when the study began, but by the end there were 606 events linked to heart disease and 1,134 deaths.

However there was no link between the heart attack deaths and the amount of oil a person consumed.

Professor Michael Leitzmann from the University of Regensburg in Germany, said the study exploded the myth that fried food 'bad for the heart'.

However he added that the research 'does not mean that frequent meals of fish and chips will have no health consequences.'

In Spain, people fry using unsaturated olive or sunflower oil as opposed to saturated fats like butter, lard and palm oil.

Fried food is also more calorific because it absorbs the fat of the oils, so too much can lead to weight gain which carries serious health consequences.

The authors of the study conclude: 'In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death.'


The one-off jab that could stop the most common cause of age-related blindness in elderly

Very early days for this yet

A chemical that will stop people from developing the most serious form of age-related macular degeneration has been found by scientists.

Given as a one-off injection, it would keep the disease at bay, allowing elderly men and women to continue to everyday activities from reading the newspaper to driving or watching TV.

The most common cause of blindness in the elderly, age-related macular degeneration affects a quarter of over-60s in the UK and more than half of over-75s.  The number of sufferers is expected to treble in the next 25 years as the population ages but there are few treatments - and no cure - for the condition.

Caused by the deterioration and death of the cells in the macula, the part of the retina used to see straight ahead, robs sufferers of their central vision. The more common ‘dry’ form affects the eyes gradually, sometimes over many decades.

But one in seven of those with dry AMD will develop the more ‘serious’ wet form and lose their central vision almost immediately.

The breakthrough, from Trinity College London, could prevent dry AMD turning into the more serious form, allowing people to continue going about their day-to-day lives.

In tests on animals and on human eyes donated to medical research, a husband and wife team of scientists showed an immune chemical called IL-18 to be crucial to the conversion to the more serious form of the disease.  They believe that increasing levels of IL-18 in the eye will stop the process in its tracks in people.

Dr Matthew Campbell said: ‘It means if you take someone with dry AMD and inject IL-18 into the retina, you could potentially prevent them from ever getting wet AMD.’ However, he stressed that the research is at an early stage.

Dr Sarah Doyle, his wife and fellow researcher, said: ‘Our results directly suggest that controlling or indeed augmenting the levels of IL-18 in the retinas of patients with dry AMD could prevent the wet form of the disease.’

There are drugs that can be used to improve vision in those with wet AMD. But they are given late in the course of the disease and have to be regularly injected into the eye.

Another treatment, called photodynamic therapy, is only suitable for around a fifth of patients.

In contrast, it is possible that a jab that boosts IL-18 levels will be a widely suitable one-off treatment.

The researchers, who detail their work in the journal Nature Medicine, are trying find a way of inserting gene for IL-18 into people’s eyes. Ferried into the eye inside an empty virus shell, it would ‘switch on’ and produce IL-18 when needed.

Given routinely to people with dry AMD, it should stop them developing the more serious form.

Dr Campbell said: ‘Essentially, it’s vaccination. More work needs to be done on this disease because the population is getting older and it is going to get more prevalent.’

If animal trials are successful, the treatment may be given to patients for the first time in around five years.

Widespread use is around a decade away and dependent on any drug being shown to be safe and effective in stringent, large-scale trials.

Avril Daly, of charity Fighting Blindness Ireland, which part-funded the research, said that a treatment that stopped dry AMD from turning into the more serious form would make a huge difference.

‘Anything that could prevent the onset of wet macular degeneration would be a huge relief and a huge benefit, not only to the individuals themselves but also to the healthcare service.’


9 April, 2012

Fear of the unknown

The many ingredients of factory-produced food cause some people to think it is bad  -- and they have some influence

Fairfax County Public Schools has decided to phase out the 26-ingredient burger. Penny McConnell, who directs the county's Office of Food and Nutrition Services, says she will replace it with an alternative frozen patty made of 100 percent beef. The change could come as soon as mid-April.

But McConnell says she doesn't have the kitchen equipment, the space or the labor force to return to scratch cooking in schools.

She says the pre-prepared foods made by manufacturers are healthful and help limit the risks of food-borne illness, since they prevent the chance of cross-contamination that comes with handling raw meat. "That product that comes from a manufacturer, it's gone through lab analysis and safety checks," McConnell says. "I know it's safe."

The debate about school food is a reflection of a wider cultural rethink about the way we eat.

"What I believe is that we're going back," says Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado. "If we want to be healthy and want our kids to be healthy, we've got to find our kitchens again."


It's all just kneejerk stuff.  Instead of finding out why ready-prepared food has complex ingredients, they just think they know better. They just cannot handle the thought that manufactured food might be SAFER.

And note that  Feminazis who HATE "processed" food  are the cause of the need for such – with "women's lib" - women are no longer "stay at home moms" that cook home-cooked meals.

Feminazis can't have it both ways - "Fulfillment" in career, competition with men etc. , and "home cooked meals"

Why those antioxidants could be causing you more harm than good

They are the Philosopher’s Stone of the 21st Century: antioxidants, touted as a universal cure-all. Naturally occurring chemicals, they are found in fruits and juices, made into supplements, and even added to make-up.

Every week we read about a new superfood that is supposed to have more of these apparently beneficial chemicals than anything that has come before – and the concept is beguiling.

Antioxidants enhance the immune system’s defence against the diseases caused by free radicals. They include Vitamins A, C and E and selenium, and we have been told they may help prevent cancer, heart disease and even such neurological conditions as Alzheimer’s.

But adding extra antioxidants to our diet gives no benefit. You can eat as many blueberries – or whatever the antioxidant-containing food du jour is – as you like and it won’t stop you getting these illnesses. And loading up with supplements may be bad for your health.

Some antioxidants are produced by the body and some by plants, and so they can be derived from the diet. Their job is to combat free radicals – highly reactive molecules formed as a natural by-product of cellular activity. Free radicals are also created by exposure to cigarette smoke, strong sunlight, and breathing in pollution.

These aggressive chemicals present a constant threat to cells and DNA. We know they can lead to cell damage, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Free radicals have also been implicated in everything from strokes to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Antioxidants stop the chain reactions triggered by free radicals that can damage and destroy cells. So it may seem entirely reasonable that it would be a good thing to eat and drink more antioxidants to boost the supply – or even rub them into your skin. But this is by no means the case.

You might have seen some antioxidant- containing products labelled with a number, usually in the thousands. This is the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) number.

It compares the antioxidant with a standard substance called trolox – itself an antioxidant. Cranberries, for example, have an ORAC level of 8,983, which is related to the number of molecules of trolox that would have the same antioxidant strength. Taken in isolation, the number is pretty meaningless, but it makes it possible to compare different foods. So theoretically, the higher the ORAC number, the better the food.

In reality, beyond a certain point, there is no benefit. In 2008, a study of nearly 15,000 men showed no benefits from Vitamin C and E supplements. There is no recommended daily amount of antioxidant consumption.And although there is evidence that antioxidants may have an effect on cancers, much of it is based on experiments on free radicals in cells cultured outside the body, in labs.

So if antioxidants are good for us, why doesn’t eating more of them have an even more beneficial effect? We know that people with poor diets are more prone to a host of diseases, and that those who eat a balanced diet with at least five fruits and vegetables a day, take exercise, and other very mundane things such as that, have the best chance of not becoming ill. But trials where people have consumed higher than usual levels of antioxidants by taking supplements have found  that, if anything, they have a negative impact on health.

A Cochrane Review published last month, which looked at the results of hundreds of individual studies, found that current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases. And when the review looked at the mortality rate over 78 randomised clinical trialsfor a range of conditions and using various antioxidants, those consuming antioxidants were 1.03 times more likely to die early.

Another clinical trial last month showed that antioxidant supplements don’t slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s. Two 1994 clinical studies showed a possible increase in lung cancer when taking antioxidants.


8 April, 2012

Link between fast food, depression "confirmed"

Working class people eat more fast food and also have less rewarding lives so tend to get depressed

A new study supports past research tying fast food consumption to a greater risk of depression.

Published in the research journal Public Health Nutrition, the results indicate that frequent consumers of fast food are 51 percent more likely to develop depression than those who eat little or none of it. And "the more fast food you consume, the greater the risk of depression," said Almudena S nchezVillegas of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain, the study's lead author.
A new study supports past research showing that eating fast food is linked to a greater risk of depression. (Image c Joey)
The study included 8,964 participants that had never been diagnosed with depression or taken antidepressants. They were assessed for an average of six months; during that time, 493 were diagnosed with depression or started to take antidepressants.

The research also found that participants who ate the most fast food and commercially baked goods were more likely to be single, less active and have poor dietary habits, which included eating less fruit, nuts, fish, vegetables and olive oil. Smoking and working more than 45 hours per week were other prevalent characteristics.

The data was found to support research published last year in the journal PLoS One, which recorded 657 new cases of depression out of 12,059 people analyzed over more than six months. A 42 percent increase in depression risk associated with fast food was found.

"Although more studies are necessary, the intake of this type of food should be controlled," S nchezVillegas proposed. He cited its effects for both mental and physical health, including its established tendency to promote obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Depression affects an estimated 121 million people worldwide. Previous studies suggest that certain nutrients may help prevent depression. These include group B vitamins, omega3 fatty acids and olive oil, as well as a healthy "Mediterranean"type diet more generally.


People just don't like supposedly "healthier" food

JUST one per cent of purchases are from McDonald's healthy range of foods.

The research, conducted by the Cancer Council, is the first to confirm that healthy options are rarely being purchased by eat-in diners.

"Australians are mainly purchasing unhealthy fast foods, despite healthier options being available in fast food stores," the authors said in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia.

The researchers compared purchases at 20 McDonald outlets over a two-week period.  There were 1449 meals purchases observed, but just one per cent was healthy.  No more than two healthy meals were observed in any store.  A total of 65 per cent were deemed unhealthy.

Nutritionist and chef Zoe Bingley-Pullin said it was not surprising that most people were not opting for the healthier choice.  "McDonald's is an indulgence food and the majority of people that go there are buying something because they see it as a treat," she said.

She said that it was positive that McDonald's offered healthier choices, but that it was not going to sway the majority of its customers to switch to salads.  "It is not the first point of choice when you are thinking of healthy food," she said.

A McDonald's spokesperson said it would not offer healthier options on its menu if they didn't sell.  "The introduction last year of a choice between salad or fries with extra value meals shows that there is a demand for choice," she said.

"Are salads as popular as fries?  "We don't claim that they are, but they are being chosen by our customers and we expect the number will grow."

Obesity Policy Coalition spokeswoman Jane Martin said fast food outlets like McDonald's would be better off making their high turnover products like burgers and fries healthier.

"There should be ways of making the mainstay of their business healthier because that is obviously what is being marketed heavily during shows like My Kitchen Rules and that's what people are buying," she said.

She said providing a healthy menu was getting rid of the protest vote in the group and meeting the company's corporate social responsibility policy.


7 April, 2012

Pink slime and the slimy tactics of America’s food elitists

Last week, the Media Research Center’s Dan Gainor wrote a nice article examining how the mainstream media has been complicit in smearing lean finely textured beef — what critics are calling “pink slime.” “ABC has covered the story almost round the clock in recent weeks with stories on ‘World News with Diane Sawyer’ and ‘Good Morning America’,” Gainor reported. Versions of the story have been picked up by dozens of major and minor newspapers around the country. And most television and radio news programs have covered it as well.

On Sunday, however, The New York Times‘s Andrew Revkin became what appears to be the first major media figure to debunk the misinformation campaign in a blog post entitled, “Why I’m O.K. with ‘Pink Slime’ in Ground Beef.”
I agree with Texas Gov. Rick Perry on something — the nutritional merits of derided “pink slime” — the processed last scrapings of meat and connective tissue after cattle are butchered. Dude, it is indeed beef — a source of low-fat nutrition.

One of Revkin’s sources, a historian and blogger named Maureen Ogle, explains the issue well:
“First a word about PS: It’s beef, people. Plain ol’ beef. It’s created by using a deboning process that removes every last morsel of flesh from beef carcasses. During the cutting, slivers and bits of bone end up with the beef, but those are reduced to mush in the processing that follows. … In the BEEF industry, its use dates back to the mid-1970s, although poultry and fish processors were already using the technique. Beef packers began using in the in mid-seventies because, at the time, all meat prices, but especially beef, were in the stratosphere. … So pushed by consumers on one side, and soaring costs on the other, meatpackers asked for, and got, permission from the USDA to use a “mechanical deboning” process that allowed them scrape meat off carcasses so that what had been waste could be eaten.”

Although critics are calling pink slime an unsafe food additive that ought to require mandatory labeling wherever it appears, the fact of the matter is, lean finely textured beef is exactly that: beef. And, compared to other ground beef, LFTB is probably better for consumers. It is processed in a way that removes much of the fat — thus the “lean” part of its name. And beginning around the early- to mid-1990s, following a foodborne illness outbreak linked to Jack in the Box hamburgers, processors began treating LFTB with tiny amounts of the common food disinfectant ammonium hydroxide to kill germs, thereby substantially reducing consumers’ exposure to foodborne pathogens.

You might think that the food nannies who complain about high-fat, calorie-dense food served in institutional settings such as school cafeterias would embrace a product that is lower in fat and largely pathogen free. But you’d be wrong. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, a self-righteous, elitist git who’s been whining about high-fat school food for years, praised the pink slime propaganda campaign for getting LFTB removed from scores of school cafeterias. In an e-mail to the Associated Press, Oliver added, “I hope the U.S. government is also listening because it’s partly responsible for lying to the public for allowing this cheap, low-quality meat filler to be used for so long without having to legally state its presence on packaging.”

In a surprising move, though, the Consumer Federation of America took a positive stand, issuing a statement that “CFA is concerned that manufacturers of hamburger patties may replace LFTB with something that has not been processed to assure the same level of safety. We are also concerned about the potential chilling effect this recent controversy may have on companies who seek to apply innovative solutions and new technologies to enhance food safety.”

Unfortunately, that seems to be precisely the point. Food elitists like Jamie Oliver and Marion Nestle, who seemingly has never met a new technology she didn’t ridicule, aren’t interested in promoting safe, nutritious, and cheap foods per se; they want us all to eat the fruits of some idealized, pastoral perfection — you know, things that aren’t icky. “Culturally we don’t eat byproducts of human food production,” says Nestle. “It’s not in our culture. Other cultures do. We don’t.”

Our culture doesn’t do that? What’s next on her hit list? Sushi? Kiwi fruit? Kopi Luwak? Well, I have news for Marion Nestle: Our “culture” didn’t eat those things either … until we did. Cultures adapt, innovate, learn. That is, we try new things. And when we find things that work well, taste good, and are safe, we adopt them as our own.

In short, the attack on so-called pink slime is one more example food activists’ willingness to attack and mislead consumers about whatever it is that they personally dislike, the facts be damned. So, I’ll continue to eat ground beef products that contain lean finely textured beef. I encourage you to do the same. And if Jamie Oliver ever comes for my scrapple, he’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.


The Disastrous Sliming of "Pink Slime"

Jamie Oliver, TV’s “Naked Chef,” (yeah, not sanitary) is a food snob.  But when food snobbery crosses the line into food scaremongering, we have a problem.

And that is what has happened with the pink slime controversy. By now, you probably know Oliver went on his show and laid into pink slime – or, as they call it in the meat industry, lean finely textured beef. It’s an additive found in ground beef. He “demonstrated” how beef producers take parts of the cow that otherwise would be discarded, then centrifuges separate beef from fat in ways that were previously not economically possible. This beef is roughly 95% lean and is often added to cheaper, high-fat ground beef to raise its protein content – which I would take as a good thing – then treat it with anti-bacteria substances, including minute amounts of ammonia hydroxide, then use it to fill out ground beef.

I put “demonstrated” in quotation marks because Oliver, ever the showman, ignored the fact that ammonia hydroxide gas is used to make the meat and has been approved for use by the FDA since 1973 yet he poured ammonia from a gallon jug with a skull and crossbones on it over beef, which could only be further from the truth if it were gasoline and he’d set it on fire. But it makes for good TV, and that’s Jamie’s real concern.

He fancies himself a modern-day Upton Sinclair – horrifying us into action by holding up for us to see the ingredients we actually eat. Only, he’s more like Rachel Carson, raising a big stink, costing us all millions and millions of dollars, turning us against each other and against well-meaning, law-abiding, job-providing, community-supporting companies over absolutely nothing.

This product has been tested extensively – by government, private watchdogs, food groups, food industry organizations – and the only thing any of them has found wrong with it is its nickname. Even the harshest critics of the beef industry, people such as Carol Tucker Foreman, director of the Food Safety Institute for the Consumer Federation of America, and Nancy Donley, president of Safe Tables Our Priority, a group that represents victims of food-borne illnesses, admit it is safe.

Heck, a month ago, 70 percent of all the ground beef sold in America – including all the beef sold at McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s – contained this stuff.. And there was no outbreak of disease or death. Why? Because it is safe.

An industry is dying. Already, 3,000 jobs are lost, and more are on the way. Experts say we’ll need 150,000 more head of cattle per year to make up for the lost filler and that ground beef could go up 20 percent or more. All because a food snob from England whose kids are legally named – and I couldn’t possibly make this up – Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo, Petal Blossom and  Buddy Bear, decided to bump the ratings with a misleading stunt.

This does present some interesting questions. If science is to guide all policy decisions, as liberals remind us during any conversation about global warming, why not now? This science is actually settled! Is this just too juicy to pass up? The English accent? The scariness of finding out how people in flyover country make their money? The appeal to irrational paranoia against unseen forces that drives so much of the Occupy movement? The relentless push from a self-interested media organization on which the left religiously relies?

Or is Jamie Oliver just one more person who thinks he knows what’s good for us better than we do ourselves? Go back to being a food snob, Jamie. Thanks for another lesson in liberal hypocrisy.


'Pink slime' ingredient is also used in cheese, reveals meat industry under fire for using  cleaning chemical

The controversy over ammonia-treated beef - or what critics dub ‘pink slime’ - broadened this week as it was revealed that the caustic cleaning chemical is also used in cheese.  Related compounds are also used in baked goods and chocolate.

Ammonia, known for its noxious odor, became a hot topic with the uproar over what the meat industry calls ‘finely textured beef’ and what a former U.S. government scientist first called ‘pink slime’.  

Ammonia is a nitrogen compound with a distinctive pungent smell of urine. It's used widely as a cleaning agent - although it's highly caustic in its pure form.

'Pink slime' beef is made from fatty trimmings sprayed with ammonium hydroxide - ammonia mixed with water - to remove pathogens such as salmonella and E.coli.   

Ammonia compounds are used as leavening agents in baked goods and as an acidity controller in cheese and sometimes chocolate.    
Kraft Foods, whose brands include Chips Ahoy cookies and Velveeta cheese, is one company that uses very small amounts of ammonium compounds in some of its products. It declined to specify which products.   

‘Sometimes ingredient names sound more complicated than they are,’ said Kraft spokeswoman Angela Wiggins.Wiggins said that in turning milk to cheese, a tiny amount of ammonium hydroxide is added to a starter dairy culture to reduce the culture's acidity and encourage cheese cultures to grow.   

The meat industry has been trying to raise awareness of other foods that contain ammonia, in response to what it has characterized as an unfair attack on a safe and healthy product.  

For example, ammonia compounds are used as leavening agents in baked goods and as an acidity controller in cheese and sometimes chocolate.   

‘Ammonia's not an unusual product to find added to food,’ Gary Acuff, director of Texas A&M University's Center for Food Safety, told a recent press conference hosted by Beef Products Inc. ‘We use ammonia in all kinds of foods in the food industry.’  

After critics highlighted the product on social media websites and showed unappetizing photos on television, calling it ‘pink slime,’ the nation's leading fast-food chains and supermarkets spurned the product, even though U.S. public health officials deem it safe to eat.

Hundreds of U.S. school districts also demanded it be removed from school lunch programs.  One producer, Beef Products Inc, has since idled three factories. Another, AFA Foods, filed for bankruptcy protection.

Ammonia - often associated with cleaning products - was cleared by U.S. health officials nearly 40 years ago and is used in making many foods, including cheese. Related compounds have a role in baked goods and chocolate products.  

Using small amounts of ammonia to make food is not unusual to those expert in high-tech food production. Now that little known world is coming under increasing pressure from concerned consumers who want to know more about what they are eating.  

‘I think we're seeing a sea change today in consumers' concerns about the presence of ingredients in foods, and this is just one example,’ said Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety.   

The outrage, which many experts say has been fueled by the term ‘pink slime,’ seems more about the unsavoriness of the product rather than its safety.   ‘This is not a health issue,’ said Bill Marler, a prominent food safety lawyer. ‘This is an 'I'm grossed out by this' issue.’   

Still, critics of so-called ‘Big Food’ point out that while ‘pink slime’ and the ammonia in it may not be harmful, consumer shock over their presence points to a wider issue.  

‘The food supply is full of all sorts of chemical additives that people don't know about,’ said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer and president of industry watchdog consulting firm Eat Drink Politics.  

Wiggins said that in turning milk to cheese, a tiny amount of ammonium hydroxide is added to a starter dairy culture to reduce the culture's acidity and encourage cheese cultures to grow. 

‘It is somewhat similar to activating yeast for dough by adding warm water, sugar and salt to create the proper environment for yeast growth,’ Wiggins said.   

In the case of ammonium phosphate, used as a leavening agent in baking, she said the heat during baking causes the gas to evaporate


'Pink slime' furore crushes beef processor AFA foods

A LEADING US beef processor, AFA Foods, has filed for bankruptcy protection, blaming media coverage of one of its products dubbed "pink slime" by critics.

AFA Foods said it was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection "given recent changes in the market for its ground beef products and the impact of media coverage related to Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT)."

Based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, the company claims to be the nation's largest ground beef processor, producing more than 317 million kilograms annually, mostly for food service companies.

AFA Foods said in a statement on today that it had sought bankruptcy protection because "the best way to preserve value for its stakeholders is through an orderly sale of some or all of its assets".

BLBT is made from beef trimmings otherwise used in pet food and cooking oil that is treated with a puff of ammonia to deter e. coli bacteria. The lean, finely textured beef is typically added to ground meat, like hamburger, as a low-cost filler.

In mid-March, public furore about the so-called "pink slime" drove the US Department of Agriculture to announce it would leave it to schools to decide whether to use the controversial ground beef filler in the meals they serve to students.

The USDA's National School Lunch Program feeds more than 31 million school children, many of them from low-income families.

USDA recently bought 3.6 million kilograms of the rosy-coloured product for school meals - prompting more than 250,000 consumers to sign an online petition demanding a halt to its use in school food.

Several fast-food chains, including McDonald's, have declared they would cease beefing up their burgers with lean finely textured beef.

AFA Foods has seven production facilities and a workforce of more than 1000 employees.


6 April, 2012

Is autism in children down to mutation in sperm that's more common in older fathers?

The thinking here seems unclear.  If autism is caused by de novo mutations that means that the mutations are not found in the parents and it is therefore not hereditary.  But we read:  "Autism is hereditary, in that children with autistic people in their family are more likely than other children to be autistic."

To a significant extent therefore the findings below  would seem to be artifactual.  The authors studied only "families where just one child  has the condition" and even in that sample only one in 7 had de novo mutations.   So it seems that the findings concern only a very small subset of autistic cases and tell us little if anything about autism in general.  I do however agree with the view that there are  different types of  autism but whether the findings below apply to any clear phenotype of autism appears not to have been explored.  Unless they do the findings are essentially trivial

Many cases of autism are caused by faulty sperm and eggs, with older men more likely to father a child with the condition, researchers believe.

Three large-scale studies have highlighted the importance of mistakes in the DNA of eggs and sperm to the development of autism.

One in seven cases of autism in families where just one child  has the condition are caused  this way, the respected journal Nature reports.

The studies also showed sperm to contain more of these mistakes than eggs – and the older the man, the more errors linked to autism were found in his sperm.

It is thought that up to 90 per cent of a child’s risk of developing  autism is written in their genes but little is known about the many genes involved.

In order to find out more, three teams of researchers – including some from Yale and Harvard universities – scrutinised the DNA of hundreds of parents of children with autism and of the youngsters themselves. Unaffected siblings were also studied.

The projects revealed the importance of genetic flaws called ‘de novo mutations’.  We usually think of disease- causing genetic mistakes appearing in a parent’s DNA and being passed to their child.  But the de novo mutations first appear in the child’s DNA and are caused by problems with sperm or egg production.

The research team headed by the University of Washington showed sperm to be a much bigger culprit than eggs.  For every four mutations traced back to sperm, there was just one that began life in an egg.

The finding fits with previous studies that show that older fathers are slightly more likely to have an autistic child than their younger counterparts. One study found that a man aged 40 and over is almost six times more likely to have an autistic child as a man in his 20s or teens.

Pooling the results of the three studies revealed three genes to be peppered by these de novo mutations.

The scientists said that it is likely that hundreds of genes are involved in autism and their study shows the picture to be even more complex than thought.

It is hoped that unravelling the genetics will speed up both the search for new treatments for the condition and the development of diagnostic tests.

Autism, and related conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome,  affect more than one in 100 British children – ten times as many as  just 30 years ago. But, with the causes unclear, current treatment consists of managing individual symptoms, such as hyperactivity.

Stephen Sanders, who led the project headed by Yale University, said: ‘With every new gene we  discover, we learn more about potential treatments for patients with autism.’

The lead scientist on the third project, Mark Daly of Massachusetts General Hospital, said: ‘These results clearly demonstrate the potential of DNA sequencing  technology to articulate specific risk factors for autism.

‘We have only scratched the  surface but, with continued collaborative efforts, these gene  discoveries will point us towards the underlying biological roots  of autism.’


Is this the end of the cheap burger? EU diktat on low-quality meat means prices are set to soar

If there are no health concerns, I think the EU should butt out of this issue

The price of burgers, sausages and pies is to rocket because of an EU ban on low-quality meat.

From the end of this month, there will be a ban on bulking up fast food and supermarket value ranges with reconstituted mince made from scraps of beef and lamb.

The move will hit the shopping budget of already hard-pressed families and lead to more meat being wasted in abattoirs.

The Food Standards Agency, which risked a ban on the export of British meat products if it did not impose the Brussels-driven ruling, stressed that the change is not being made because of health or safety issues.

Instead, it is the result of a disagreement over the definition of the so-called ‘desinewed meat’.

But the meat-processing industry accused the FSA of ‘bowing down’ to the European Commission and warned of price rises and job losses.

Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association, said: ‘This is a criminal waste of a valuable food product at a time when we are being urged to reduce food wastage. Common sense has gone out of the window.

‘If economic principles apply, the cost of the burger will rise and it is going to be the less well-off who are affected at what is already a bad time.’

The row surrounds desinewed meat, or DSM.  This is meat that is left on bones and carcasses after slaughter. Rather than going to waste, it is grated off mechanically, creating a mince-like substance.

Jamie Oliver’s high-profile campaign for junk food to be banned from school canteens means DSM features less in school dinners than in the past.  But it is widely found in inexpensive meat products on sale in fast food restaurants and in supermarkets, where it is used to bulk up the meat content at low cost. The FSA sees DSM as being a different product to a second type of reconstituted meat, called mechanically separated meat, or MSM.

The higher pressures used in the MSM process means that while it is considered acceptable for chicken and pork, it is not deemed usable for beef and lamb, for fear of spreading diseases such as BSE.

However, the European Commission says DSM and MSM are one and the same.  Under this interpretation of the law, it will no longer be possible to put beef or lamb through even the gentler DSM processing.

Existing products will not be recalled but any foods that contain reconstituted beef or lamb will have to be reformulated.

The cheap desinewed meat in burgers will have to be replaced with more expensive cuts.

Chicken and pork carcasses can still undergo DSM processing but any foods they are put into will have to be clearly labelled.

Currently, DSM’s classification as meat means it counts towards the total meat content of a product and does not need to be listed separately on the label.

There are fears that the changes will push up the cost of some meat products so much that shoppers stop buying them, leading to job losses in Britain’s £6billion meat industry.

The British Meat Processors Association estimates that the total cost to the consumer and industry of the moratorium could reach £200million.

Describing the ban as ‘madness’, Mr Rossides said: ‘All this has happened at breakneck speed. The industry must be given time to adjust to any change in requirements and market circumstances in a controlled and properly managed way, in order to minimise market disruption and financial damage.

‘People are going to have to reformulate products, repackage and relabel. I don’t know that you won’t see an English sausage any more but it may be that it’s more expensive.’

The FSA said that if the dispute over classification can be resolved, the ban could be lifted. Its chief executive, Tim Smith, said the move had come ‘unexpectedly’.

The Food and Drink Federation said it supports ‘a pragmatic approach to the required changes, including a reasonable timeframe for the transition, to avoid disproportionate measures that could lead to meat being wasted, causing a significant impact on the environment and on the price and availability of meat raw material’.

A spokesman for the consumer watchdog Which? said that its research showed that shoppers want to know if they are eating desinewed meat and that clear labelling of food allows customers to make an informed choice.


5 April, 2012

The attack on red meat consumption takes an amusing twist

Below is a recent report subject to all the usual criticisms of observational studies and self-reported food intake.  But even if you take their data seriously, you find some interesting stuff.
Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies

By An Pan et al.

Background:  Red meat consumption has been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases. However, its relationship with mortality remains uncertain.

Methods:  We prospectively observed 37 698 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2008) and 83 644 women from the Nurses' Health Study (1980-2008) who were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer at baseline. Diet was assessed by validated food frequency questionnaires and updated every 4 years.

Results:  We documented 23 926 deaths (including 5910 CVD and 9464 cancer deaths) during 2.96 million person-years of follow-up. After multivariate adjustment for major lifestyle and dietary risk factors, the pooled hazard ratio (HR) (95% CI) of total mortality for a 1-serving-per-day increase was 1.13 (1.07-1.20) for unprocessed red meat and 1.20 (1.15-1.24) for processed red meat. The corresponding HRs (95% CIs) were 1.18 (1.13-1.23) and 1.21 (1.13-1.31) for CVD mortality and 1.10 (1.06-1.14) and 1.16 (1.09-1.23) for cancer mortality. We estimated that substitutions of 1 serving per day of other foods (including fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains) for 1 serving per day of red meat were associated with a 7% to 19% lower mortality risk. We also estimated that 9.3% of deaths in men and 7.6% in women in these cohorts could be prevented at the end of follow-up if all the individuals consumed fewer than 0.5 servings per day (approximately 42 g/d) of red meat.

Conclusions:  Red meat consumption is associated with an increased risk of total, CVD, and cancer mortality. Substitution of other healthy protein sources for red meat is associated with a lower mortality risk.


But a careful reanalyisis of their data shows that red meat is actually GOOD for you

The statistics below are quite esoteric and I would analyse  the data a little differently (I prefer Pearsonian rs to beta weights as the best indicator of a  relationship) but are quite  defensible

I have highlighted in red the key points

As we have seen in an earlier post on the China Study data (1), which explored relationships hinted at by Denise Minger’s previous and highly perceptive analysis (2), one can use a multivariate analysis tool like WarpPLS (3) to explore relationships based on data reported by others. This is true even when the dataset available is fairly small.

So I entered the data reported in the most recent (published online in March 2012) study looking at the relationship between red meat consumption and mortality into WarpPLS to do some exploratory analyses. I discussed the study in my previous post; it was conducted by Pan et al. (Frank B. Hu is the senior author) and published in the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine (4). The data I used is from Table 1 of the article; it reports figures on several variables along 5 quintiles, based on separate analyses of two samples, called “Health Professionals” and “Nurses Health” samples. The Health Professionals sample comprised males; the Nurses Health sample, females.

Below is an interesting exploratory model, with results. It includes a number of hypotheses, represented by arrows, which seem to make sense. This is helpful, because a model incorporating hypotheses that make sense allows for easy identification of nonsense results, and thus rejection of the model or the data. (Refutability is one of the most important characteristics of good theoretical models.) Keep in mind that the sample size here is very small (N=10), as the authors of the study reported data along 5 quintiles for the Health Professionals sample, together with 5 quintiles for the Nurses Health sample. In a sense, this is somewhat helpful, because a small sample tends to be “unstable”, leading nonsense results and other signs of problems to show up easily – one example would be multivariate coefficients of association (the beta coefficients reported near the arrows) greater than 1 due to collinearity (5).

So what does the model above tell us? It tells us that smoking (Smokng) is associated with reduced physical activity (PhysAct); beta = -0.92. It tells us that smoking (Smokng) is associated with reduced food intake (FoodInt); beta = -0.36. It tells us that physical activity (PhysAct) is associated with reduced incidence of diabetes (Diabetes); beta = -0.25. It tells us that increased food intake (FoodInt) is associated with increased incidence of diabetes (Diabetes); beta = 0.93. It tells us that increased food intake (FoodInt) is associated with increased red meat intake (RedMeat); beta = 0.60. It tells us that increased incidence of diabetes (Diabetes) is associated with increased mortality (Mort); beta = 0.61. It tells us that being female (SexM1F2) is associated with reduced mortality (Mort); beta = -0.67.

Some of these betas are a bit too high (e.g., 0.93), due to the level of collinearity caused by such a small sample. Due to being quite high, they are statistically significant even in a small sample. Betas greater than 0.20 tend to become statistically significant when the sample size is 100 or greater; so all of the coefficients above would be statistically significant with a larger sample size. What is the common denominator of all of the associations above? The common denominator is that all of them make sense, qualitatively speaking; there is not a single case where the sign is the opposite of what we would expect. There is one association that is shown on the graph and that is missing from my summary of associations above; and it also makes sense, at least to me. The model also tells us that increased red meat intake (RedMeat) is associated with reduced mortality (Mort); beta = -0.25. More technically, it tells us that, when we control for biological sex (SexM1F2) and incidence of diabetes (Diabetes), increased red meat intake (RedMeat) is associated with reduced mortality (Mort).

How do we roughly estimate this effect in terms of amounts of red meat consumed? The -0.25 means that, for each standard deviation in the amount of red meat consumed, there is a corresponding 0.25 standard deviation reduction of mortality. (This interpretation is possible because I used WarpPLS’ linear analysis algorithm; a nonlinear algorithm would lead to a more complex interpretation.) The standard deviation for red meat consumption is 0.897 servings. Each serving has about 84 g. And the highest number of servings in the dataset is 3.1 servings, or 260 g/d (calculated as: 3.1*84). To stay a bit shy of this extreme, let us consider a slightly lower intake amount, which is 3.1 standard deviations, or 234 g/d (calculated as: 3.1*0.897*84). Since the standard deviation for mortality is 0.3 percentage points, we can conclude that an extra 234 g of red meat per day is associated with a reduction in mortality of approximately 23 percent (calculated as: 3.1*0.25*0.3).

Let me repeat for emphasis: the data reported by the authors suggests that, when we control for biological sex and incidence of diabetes, an extra 234 g of red meat per day is associated with a reduction in mortality of approximately 23 percent. This is exactly the opposite, qualitatively speaking, of what was reported by the authors in the article. I should note that this is also a minute effect, like the effect reported by the authors. (The mortality rates in the article are expressed as percentages, with the lowest being around 1 percent. So this 23 percent is a percentage of a percentage.) If you were to compare a group of 100 people who ate little red meat with another group of the same size that ate 234 g more of red meat every day, over a period of more than 20 years, you would not find a single additional death in either group. If you were to compare matched groups of 1,000 individuals, you would find only 2 additional deaths among the folks who ate little red meat.

At the same time, we can also see that excessive food intake is associated with increased mortality via its effect on diabetes. The product beta coefficient for the mediated effect FoodInt --> Diabetes --> Mort is 0.57. This means that, for each standard deviation of food intake in grams, there is a corresponding 0.57 standard deviation increase in mortality, via an increase in the incidence of diabetes. This is very likely at levels of food consumption where significantly more calories are consumed than spent, ultimately leading to many people becoming obese. The standard deviation for food intake is 355 calories. The highest daily food intake quintile reported in the article is 2,396 calories, which happens to be associated with the highest mortality (and is probably an underestimation); the lowest is 1,202 (also probably underestimated).

So, in summary, the data suggests that, for the particular sample studied (made up of two subsamples): (a) red meat intake is protective in terms of overall mortality, through a direct effect; and (b) the deleterious effect of overeating on mortality is stronger than the protective effect of red meat intake. These conclusions are consistent with those of my previous post on the same study (6). The difference is that the previous post suggested a possible moderating protective effect; this post suggests a possible direct protective effect. Both effects are small, as was the negative effect reported by the authors of the study. Neither is statistically significant, due to sample size limitations (secondary data from an article; N=10). And all of this is based on a study that categorized various types of processed meat as red meat, and that did not distinguish grass-fed from non-grass-fed meat.

By the way, in discussions of red meat intake’s effect on health, often iron overload is mentioned. What many people don’t seem to realize is that iron overload is caused primarily by hereditary haemochromatosis. Another cause is “blood doping” to improve athletic performance (7). Hereditary haemochromatosis is a very rare genetic disorder; rare enough to be statistically “invisible” in any study that does not specifically target people with this disorder.


Sugar Taxes Are Unfair And Unhealthy

If the regulatory discussion about sugar is going to be based on science, rather than science fiction, it needs to move beyond kicking the soda can.

Conventional wisdom says draconian regulation—specifically, a high tax—on sugary drinks and snacks reduces unhealthy consumption, and thereby improves public health. There are many reasons, however, why high sugar taxes are at best unsuccessful, and at worst economically and socially harmful.

Research finds that higher prices don't reduce soda consumption, for example. No scientific studies demonstrate a difference either in aggregate soda consumption or in child and adolescent Body Mass Index between the two thirds of states with soda taxes and those without such taxes.

Patrick Basham is a Cato Institute adjunct scholar. He coauthored (with John Luik) the Democracy Institute book, Gambling: A Healthy Bet.
More by Patrick Basham

The study that did find taxes might lead to a moderate reduction in soda consumption also found this had no effect on adolescent obesity, as the reduction was completely offset by increases in consumption of other calorific drinks.

Economic research finds sugar taxes are a futile instrument in influencing the behavior and habits of the overweight and the obese. Why do sugar taxes fail? Those consumers who strongly prefer unhealthy foods continue to eat and drink according to their individual preferences until such time as it becomes prohibitively expensive to do so.

Demand for food is largely insensitive to price. A 10 percent increase in price reduces consumption by less than 1 percent. Applied to soda, this means that to reduce consumption by 10 percent, the tax rate on sugary drinks would need to be 100 percent!

A sugar tax also has undesirable social and economic consequences. This tax is economically regressive, as a disproportionate share of the tax is paid by low earners, who pay a higher proportion of their incomes in sales tax and also consume a disproportionate share of sugary snacks and drinks.

Such taxes also have perverse, unintended consequences. Taxes on sugary snacks lead many consumers to replace the taxed food with equally unhealthy foods. Poorer consumers react to higher food prices not by changing their diets but by consuming even fewer healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and eating more processed foods. For instance, taxes levied specifically on sugar content increase saturated fat consumption.

Sugar taxes have failed where they've been tried, and are unfair and unhealthy. Given that there's no compelling evidence they'll improve public health, we can't justify using the tax code to shape the sweetness of our dietary choices.


4 April, 2012

Babies treated in the womb for obesity: Overweight mothers-to-be get diabetes pill to cut the risk of having a fat child

Is this another DES disaster coming up?  Where are the long-term double-blind studies to support this policy?  Many molecules that are safe for adults  can be teratogenic.  Metformin works by suppressing glucose production by the liver.  Could it cause long term  liver damage  or malfunction in some of  the unborn?   That it has been safely used by diabetics is no guarantee that is will be equally safe in unborn babies.  We are looking at quite different metabolisms in the two cases

Babies are being medicated in the womb in an attempt to prevent them from being  born obese.   In a world first, dangerously overweight mothers-to-be in four British cities have started taking a diabetes drug during their pregnancy.

The doctors behind the controversial NHS trial say that obesity among pregnant women is reaching epidemic proportions and they need to act now to protect the health of tomorrow's children.

However, there is likely to be unease about resorting to medication in pregnancy for a problem that can be treated through changes in diet and exercise.

If the strategy is a success, the treatment could be in widespread use in as little as five years, with tens of thousands of overweight but otherwise healthy mothers-to-be drugged each year.

The Daily Mail recently revealed the rise of the 'sumo baby', with the number of newborns weighing more than 11lb soaring by 50 per cent over the last four years.

More than 15 per cent of pregnant women are obese. This raises their odds of dying in pregnancy, of their baby being stillborn and of a host of pregnancy complications, some of which can be fatal.

Big babies are around twice as likely to grow into overweight adults, suggesting obesity and the lifetime of ill-health it can bring is 'programmed' in the womb. The trial involves 400 pregnant women in Liverpool, Coventry, Sheffield and Edinburgh.

They have started taking metformin, which has been safely used by diabetics for decades and is cleared for the treatment of diabetes in pregnancy. It costs just pence per tablet.

Some of the participants have already had their babies but many more births will be needed before it is clear if the treatment works. Mothers-to-be elsewhere are due to take part.

The study aims to exploit the ability of metformin to lower levels of the hormone insulin in the bloodstream.

Obese women make more insulin than other mothers-to-be and this leads to a greater nutrition supply reaching the baby.

It is hoped that lowering levels of insulin will reduce the supply and so cut the odds of babies being born obese.

Treatment with metformin may redistribute the baby's fat stores, reducing the deposits around the liver and other organs.

Study leader Professor Jane Norman of Edinburgh University said: 'One of the challenges is that many women feel perfectly healthy but there is very good evidence that women who are obese have an increased risk of pregnancy problems and their babies are at risk, and we'd like to reduce that risk.'

Addressing concerns about unborn babies being medicated for a problem that many would say could be treated by diet and exercise, she said: 'I absolutely support the improvement of diet and encouraging exercise.

'But we are increasingly faced with women who start their pregnancy obese. Saying at that stage to eat less and exercise more is not particularly helpful.'

Obesity experts have welcomed the study, which is funded by the Medical Research Council, the NHS's health research arm and the baby charity Tommy's, saying that while the situation is not ideal, it needs to be tackled.

Patrick O'Brien of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists described the study as 'very important'.  He said: 'When you are overweight in pregnancy you are at increased risk of just about every complication you can think of.'


Britain's obesity madness again

Stories like this pop up often  -- showing how mindless the definition of obesity has become.  It's child abuse

She dreams of becoming a  ballerina and when she’s not dancing, four-year-old Sophie Kettle spends her free time swimming, roller-skating and riding her bike.  So her parents were astounded to receive a letter from the NHS saying their daughter, who weighs just 2st 13lb, is ‘overweight’.

The medical note warned that Sophie is in the fattest 3 per cent of her age group and is at increased risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.  The 3ft 3in youngster was taken to the family GP, who informed her she was ‘obese’ and in the ‘danger zone’.

Her mother Joanna said that Sophie, who had been happy and healthy, now often refuses her food.  Herself a former anorexic, Mrs Kettle fears her daughter could eventually develop an eating disorder.

‘She comes home from school saying, “Mummy, I’m fat”, and I have to explain to her that she’s just perfect as she is,’ said Mrs Kettle, 29, from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.  ‘It’s terrible that a child so young should be worrying what she eats.’

Sophie and her classmates at Hamilton primary school in High Wycombe had their height and weight measured by NHS staff to calculate their body mass index (BMI) as part of the National Child Measurement Programme, which aims to pinpoint youngsters with weight problems.

For adults, BMI is measured by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared.

Although the calculation for children begins the same way, the result is then compared with those of others of the same age and sex to calculate the child’s ‘centile’ – or position relative to others on a scale of one to 100.

The letter to Mrs Kettle and her husband James, a traffic warden, said their daughter has a BMI ‘centile’ of 97 – meaning she is in the top 3 per cent. Between 91 and 97 is classed as overweight while 98 and above is clinically obese.

‘If she was a teenager and overweight, I would be the first to be concerned,’ said Mrs Kettle. ‘But she’s not even five and she’s a tiny little thing without an ounce of fat on her.

‘The GP told me to give Sophie smaller portions, but she’s being given healthy food, not biscuits and crisps.’

In her school packed lunch, Sophie takes two or three pieces of fruit, and her mother says there are always vegetables with dinner.

‘She’s such an active child,’ she added. ‘Her dream is to become a ballet dancer and she’s on a waiting list for lessons.’

Mrs Kettle, who also has a two-year-old son, Ryan, is concerned her daughter might struggle with the same food issues she herself faced as a teenager.  She said: ‘I ended up damaging my body, and I would hate for Sophie to do the same.’

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the eating disorder charity BEAT, said: ‘It is important that any health-related information is given very sensitively.  ‘BMI alone is a very unreliable measure of overall health especially where children are concerned as they are still growing taller.  ‘Raising a child’s insecurities about weight and shape can lead to problems in the future.’


3 April, 2012

Australia: Alarm bells sound on registration of Chinese medicine

I am a great believer that all therapeutic claims should be thoroughly investigated on an equal basis but the proposals below are not too bad.  There is no doubt that there is some therapeutic value in Chinese medicine.  I once resorted to it myself with beneficial results.  Where I grew up you went to a doctor when you were sick  -- but if you were REALLY sick you went to a Chinese herbalist

THE federal government's decision to register Chinese medical practitioners in the same way as other health professionals is a potentially dangerous endorsement of unproven treatments, doctors say.

From July 1, it will be mandatory for practitioners and students to be registered with the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia, which will also manage complaints and disciplinary processes as well as assessing practitioners trained overseas who wish to practice in Australia.

Registered individuals must commit to maintaining and developing their skills and spending at least 20 hours a year in training, according to standards agreed in January. They must also meet a minimum English language requirement and have professional indemnity cover to the value of at least $5 million in liability.

But a respiratory medicine specialist, Hubertus Jersmann, said it risked misleading patients, who were likely to believe that practitioners' registration was comparable to that of doctors.

"Registration gives people legitimacy," said Associate Professor Jersmann, of Royal Adelaide Hospital. "In the eyes of the public they sound exactly like a GP" who had undertaken 11 years of general and specialist training.

Regulation could help to weed out unacceptable practices, said Professor Jersmann, who has co-authored an article on the issue in today's Medical Journal of Australia.

But this had to be balanced against the risk of giving tacit government support to a field that was not supported by scientific evidence gained through rigorously controlled clinical trials.

"If research is conducted that shows it works, we'd welcome that. We're not emotionally opposed to it," said Professor Jersmann, who wrote the article with a neurophysiologist, Marcello Costa.

Chinese medicine practitioners often argue their therapies have the virtue of a long history of accepted use. But, Professor Jersmann said, "the length of time is immaterial. Where is the evidence people haven't died? We want certainty whether it works or not."

The chairman of the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia, Charlie Xue, has previously defended the new standards, saying they were set "following extensive consultation with practitioners and other stakeholders". The board has called on practitioners to apply promptly for registration to meet the deadline.

Mandatory registration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioners, medical radiation practitioners and occupational therapists will also start from July, through boards established under the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.


Fat can PREVENT diabetes: Gene found in cells that could protect against the condition


A gene that could help protect against diabetes has been found in fat cells, scientists say.  It shows that the body's ability to regulate blood sugar can actually be improved by the presence of body fat, according to U.S. researchers.

Professor Ulf Smith, president of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, called the finding 'really exciting'.

The gene resists type 2 diabetes by converting glucose sugar into fatty acids and boosting sensitivity to insulin, which regulates the blood sugar.

For most obese people, levels of sugar rise too much because it is prevented from entering fat cells.  But a team from Boston in the U.S. found that if they increased levels of a 'glucose transporter' gene in obese mice, it allowed more sugar into their fat cells and protected against the condition.

Sugar in fat cells triggered a response from the gene - called ChREBP - that regulated insulin sensitivity throughout the body, according to the Daily Express.

Nearly three million people in the UK suffer from diabetes, and a further 850,000 have it without knowing.  Most have type 2 diabetes, with around 2.5million suffering from the illness, which can cause strokes, heart attacks and blindness.  It normally develops during middle age from obesity or an unhealthy lifestyle.

'The general concept that all fat is bad is not true,' said lead researcher at Harvard Medical School, Dr Mark Herman.

'Obesity is commonly associated with metabolic dysfunction that puts people at higher risk for diabetes, stroke and heart disease, but there is a large percentage of obese people who are metabolically healthy.'

The scientists, whose findings were published in the journal Nature, found that - conversely - normal weight mice missing the transporter gene developed diabetic symptoms.

Previous research has shown that the gene is more active in those whose bodies had a better sugar balance.


2 April, 2012

Bacon can be good for you

Some cautious backpedalling below

The Saturday morning staple of a bacon or sausage sandwich has received a bashing of late. In January, researchers from Sweden claimed that eating just 50g (1.7oz) of processed meat a day – the equivalent of one sausage or two rashers of bacon – raises the risk of pancreatic cancer by a fifth.

And another study claimed that a diet high in these processed meats may also lead to bowel cancer and heart disease.

But, as nutritional experts attest, pork is the most unfairly maligned of meats and a few good-quality rashers or bangers could do us good, if eaten in moderation.

‘Pork has a bad reputation, mainly because it’s associated with cheap processed sausages, whose contents are largely unknown, or fatty bits of bacon and flavourings. But that reputation should not apply to products from outdoor-reared, well-nourished animals,’ says Kumud Gandhi, a food scientist and founder of The Cooking Academy.

Catherine Collins, principal dietician at St George’s Hospital London, says: ‘Bacon, sausages and other processed pork products have sodium nitrite added as a preservative and flavour-enhancer, giving them their salty flavour.

‘But this chemical can form a carcinogenic substance called nitrosamine in the digestive system, which may be the reason the Swedish study found a small cancer risk, although it’s far from conclusive.

‘The people in the Swedish study wouldn’t have just been eating a  sausage once a day – they will have been eating a whole fry-up. Someone with this kind of lifestyle may well be obese or smoke, which are big known risk factors for pancreatic cancer,’ says Collins.

‘There is no evidence that eating processed meats once or twice a week as part of a balanced diet will  do any harm whatsoever.’

Department of Health guidelines  suggest that  red-meat consumption of more than 70g (2½ oz) per day, the equivalent of two portions a week, may raise the risk of bowel cancer.

Collins says: ‘As a red meat, pork contains haem iron, which is thought to be potentially carcinogenic. Two portions a week – bacon with eggs, or a meal with sausages – has not been found to pose any risk. Studies have also shown that if you blacken any meat, the charred substance could be cancer-causing, but if you eat ‘barbecued’ sausages with yogurt, the bacteria it contains renders these carcinogens less harmful.’

Nutritionally, pork ranks highly among meats. It is rich in essential vitamins and minerals, including B6, B12, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc, and it’s high in protein, contains carbohydrates and a lean cut is low in fat and calories.

Nutritionist Zoe Harcombe says: ‘Typically, about 45 per cent of the fat in pork is unsaturated. Most of that is oleic acid, the same healthy fat found in olive oil, which is known to help lower cholesterol levels.  ‘Of course, the rest is unhealthy saturated fat, so moderation is key.’

If you don’t eat fish or nuts, pork is a useful alternative source of omega 3 fatty acids, says Gandhi. ‘A piece of loin pork, the size of a deck of cards (100g, 3½oz), will give half your daily protein intake and 15 per cent of your daily iron intake. Protein is important for children, so if you give them two good-quality  sausages made from outdoor-reared, toxin-free pork and which contain  90 per cent pork meat, that’s a good, nutritious meal.’

Pork is also a source of zinc and  Vitamin D. ‘If you are worried about nitrites, choose a sausage with a higher meat content – more than 80 per cent – or a brand of bacon without added water, as these will need fewer flavour enhancers,’ says dietician Anna Raymond.

Rachel Green, of BBC3’s Kill It, Cook It, Eat It, says: ‘Buy free-range  pork sausages from butchers or farm shops. I like to use more mature, flavoursome rare-breed porks such as Gloucestershire Old Spot or Tamworth. With bacon, look for British dry-cured for the healthiest cuts.’

Knowing where your meat comes from and what has been done to it is key to its quality and nutritional value. Michael Jones, owner  of Drings butchers in Greenwich,  London, says: ‘If you get a good piece of bacon, which hasn’t been cloaked in sugar and fat, it’s just a good piece of meat that is tasty, nutritious and ethical too.’


Vaccine to stop heart attacks could be developed

This sounds a bit far-fetched but time will tell.  The approaches outlined below also give some concerns about possibly serious side effects

Vaccines against heart disease could be available within five years, a London conference has heard.

Injections of antibodies could prevent the build up of fat in the arteries which cause narrowings and break off leading to heart attacks, experts said.

It would be the first time that the underlying causes of heart disease was targeted instead of reducing factors such as high levels of bad cholesterol and blood pressure which increase the likelihood of heart disease developing.

Several different approaches are in the pipeline and could be licensed within five years, the Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology meeting at Imperial College London was told.

Independent experts said the vaccines were 'very promising' and could have a big impact on the treatment of the disease.

Cardiovascular disease causes one in three of all deaths in Britain accounting for 191,000 deaths a year.

There are around 2.7m people with heart disease and treatment costs £3.2bn a year.

Lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking and drinking too much alcohol are the main causes of heart disease but it is also known that there are strong hereditary factors too.

Coronary heart disease occurs when fatty plaques build up in the blood vessels feeding the heart and over time become narrowed. Parts of the plaque, known as atheroma, may break off causing a clot to form which can block the artery causing a heart attack.

Prof Nilsson, who is professor of experimental cardiovascular research at Lund University, in Sweden told the conference: “People at high risk of heart attacks are likely to be the first candidates for immune approaches. Such treatments, since they’ve totally different modes of action, could be used in addition to the current therapies."

Prof Nilsson said that although current treatments including statins and blood pressure drugs are very effective and reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes by around 40 per cent, 'it should not be forgotten that 60 per cent of cardiovascular events continue to occur'.

Prof Nilsson told the conference that experiments had shown it was possible to alter the way the immune system reacted to plaques in the arteries to reduce inflammation and the severity of the build up.

Working with Prof Prediman Shah, from Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, the team were able to formulate a vaccine that reduced plaque build up by 60 to 70 per cent in mice.

The resulting CVX-210 vaccine, currently in development as an injection by CardioVax, is waiting regulatory clearance to start clinical trials.

A second vaccine using the same materials has been formulated as a nasal spray, Prof Nilsson said.

Another approach, of directly injecting antibodies against bad low density lipoprotein which carries cholesterol in the blood and forms the basis of the plaque, is already in trials.

Prof Nilsson said: “The rationale is that since oxidised LDL plays a major role in the development of atherosclerotic plaques and harmful inflammatory processes, directly targeting oxidised LDL should prevent plaque formation and reduce inflammation."

Early studies have shown that the antibody, called BI-204, developed jointly by BioInvent and Genentech, reduced plaques by half and was well tolerated when tested in 80 healthy people.

A trial of BI-204 in 144 people with heart disease is underway in America and Canada where body scans will measure plaques in the arteries over time.

Prof Nilsson said it was unlikely that the products would be given as traditional vaccines in early childhood and instead were more like drugs in that they would need to be given repeatedly.

He said: “Both these treatments are far more like drugs – to be effective they’d need to be given long term. The antibody therapy in particularly is likely to be expensive so you could probably only afford to give it to high risk populations rather than everyone."

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation said: “A vaccination approach to the treatment of atherosclerosis is based on an attempt to interfere with the cellular mechanisms that cause life threatening build up of fatty deposits.

“There will be great interest in the outcome of the on-going studies to see firstly if this approach is safe and secondly, whether it can influence the progression of vascular disease in the long term.

“It is very promising, but it will take some time before we know if it is successful and, if so, which patients are likely to benefit most from this treatment.”


1 April, 2012

British government release new hard-hitting anti-smoking advert

Nobody loathes smoking more than I do but this is complete bullsh*t.  No research is quoted to substantiate the extravagant claims made  -- because there is none.  All the evidence is that passive smoking does no harm, obnoxious though it undoubtedly is.  See the references given in the sidebar to this blog

The government is rolling out a new anti-smoking campaign, highlighting the "hidden dangers" of second-hand smoke to young children.

New TV and radio adverts in England show that smoking by a window or the back door does not protect youngsters from harmful effects.

According to figures from the Royal College of Physicians, millions of children in the UK are exposed to second-hand smoke that puts them at increased risk of lung disease, meningitis and cot death.

Second-hand smoking results in over 300,000 doctors visits among children every year, 9,500 hospital visits and costs the NHS more than £23.6 million annually.

A survey of 1,000 children aged eight to 13 whose parents are smokers was released to support the campaign.

It found 98% wished their parents would stop smoking, 82% wished their parents would not smoke in front of them at home and 78% wished they would not smoke in the car.

Meanwhile, 41% said cigarette smoke made them feel ill while 42% said it made them cough.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "We all know smoking kills but not enough people realise the serious effect that second-hand smoke can have on the health of others, particularly children.

"This campaign will raise awareness of this danger and encourage people to take action to protect others from second-hand smoke.

"This is just one part of our wider strategy on tobacco. We need to do more.

"That is why next week we will end tobacco displays in large shops. We will also be consulting on plain packaging this spring."


The porridge solution

As a lifetime lover of porridge, I am delighted to pass on this story

The 80,000-seater stadium and the 2,818 flats built for the Olympic Village in Stratford, east London, were constructed by a workforce who lived on 'takeaways', according to Olympic chiefs.

It was only during construction that bosses from the Olympics Delivery Authority (ODA) realised that a staggering number of the 12,000 builders working on the Olympic showpiece were living an 'unhealthy lifestyle' and that many were significantly overweight.

Lawrence Waterman, head of health and safety for the ODA, revealed the statistics at a health and safety conference hosted by the Police Federation last week.

He revealed statistics from an occupational health report which showed that 28 per cent of the 12,000 builders - that's 3,360 - at the Olympic Park were classed as 'obese'.

The report also revealed that 41 per cent of the workforce - a staggering 4,920 - were overweight and that 3,500 - 29 per cent - had high blood pressure.

He said that accidents were being caused by workers skipping breakfast after indulging in fatty takeaways the night before - leaving them 'desperate' for something to eat by lunchtime.

The conference heard how accidents at the massive 500-acre site 'peaked' in the one-hour period before lunch as workers' minds were on what they were having for lunch rather than on the job in hand.

Mr Waterman said that as soon as bosses at the ODA realised how unhealthy the workers were they started offering bowls of porridge for just £1 to workers so they got a 'healthy start to the day'.

He stated in his report: "They (the workers) were coming into work for three hours suffering really low blood sugar.  "We had canteens offering porridge for a £1 and accidents in the morning went down."

The campaign encouraging workers to tuck into porridge even had a poster showing Ronnie Barker as Norman Stanley Fletcher in the hit 1970s sitcom Porridge telling them to ditch fry ups and choose as 'quick, healthier and inexpensive' breakfast.

One 41-year-old worker, who did not want to be named, said today (Tue): "A lot of the lads on the site were pretty big.  "Builders are known for their love of fry-ups and fast food - it comes as part of the job really - but nobody realised quite how unhealthy most of us were."

The 40-year-old worker - who admitted that he was overweight - added: "Lots of us ended up eating porridge in the morning to see us through to lunchtime and I must admit it did work.  "Before that we couldn't stop thinking about what we were having for lunch."

The Olympic Stadium was completed last year and in January this year the Olympic Village was handed over from the ODA to the London 2012 Organising Committee for the finishing touches to be made before the event kicks-off in July.

An Olympic Delivery Authority spokesman said: “The health and safety of our workforce has always been our top priority. While regular surveys highlighted obesity levels no higher than the UK average, we offered healthy breakfasts to the workforce at a reduced price in order to maintain blood sugar levels throughout the day, particularly for those skipping breakfast.

"The result was better diets, lower accident rates and a general boost to health. Our health and safety record is excellent, with 125 reportable injuries across more than 80 million man hours worked – the best ever achieved on a major UK construction project.”


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

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

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

"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.

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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