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


31 August, 2009

The alcohol merrygoround spins again: Good for you, bad for you, Good for you, bad for you, Good for you, bad for you

Boozing wards off dementia? Sounds like another failure of theory. Alcohol is a neurotoxin so should make dementia worse. Other effects, such as vascular dilation, could be helpful, however. The study is another epidemiological one so I am pleased to see that the authors are properly cautious about causal inferences: "Our results suggest that alcohol drinkers in late life have reduced risk of dementia. It is unclear whether this reflects selection effects in cohort studies commencing in late life, a protective effect of alcohol consumption throughout adulthood, or a specific benefit of alcohol in late life". Putting that into plain English: Maybe heavy drinkers have to be especially healthy to survive into old age

OLDER Australians who drink up to 28 glasses of alcohol a week have a better chance of warding off dementia than those who abstain, a study shows. Data compiled from 15 global studies, including responses from more than 10,000 people, found drinkers, not teetotallers, are better off when it comes to developing diseases affecting cognitive function.

Those aged 60 and older who consumed between one and 28 alcoholic drinks each week were almost 30 per cent less likely to have Alzheimer's later on in life, the data found.

Light and moderate drinkers were also 25 per cent less likely to contract vascular dementia – associated with circulation of blood in the brain – and 26 per cent less likely to suffer from any form of dementia. The report, Alcohol Consumption as a Risk Factor for Dementia and Cognitive Decline, was published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

But Professor Kaarin Anstey, from the Australian National University, warned this was not encouragement to start drinking 28 glasses of alcohol a week. "This article used all published studies to include one to 28 drinks per week, but in some countries (the range) differed – they were higher in some and lighter in others," Professor Anstey said. "Australian guidelines, for instance, don't say 28 drinks is moderate."


Marijuana prevents cancer?

Proper caution expressed about these results below. Marijuana users may be more middle class, for instance, and that could explain the better health. A balanced evaluation would also look at harms that marijuana might inflict -- such as a greater incidence of paranoid psychosis

Among the more interesting pieces of news that came out while I was on vacation the first half of August was a new study in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, which found that marijuana smokers have a lower risk of head and neck cancers than people who don’t smoke marijuana. Alas, this important research has been largely ignored by the news media.

While this type of study cannot conclusively prove cause and effect, the combination of this new study and existing research — which for decades has shown that cannabinoids are fairly potent anticancer drugs — raises a significant possibility that marijuana use is in fact protective against certain types of cancer.

A team of researchers from several major universities conducted what is known as a “case-control” study, comparing patients who had squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth, larynx, and pharynx with control patients matched for age, gender, and residence location who did not have cancer. By looking at matched groups with and without cancer, researchers hope to find patterns indicating risk or protective factors. In this case they focused on marijuana use, but also took into account known risk factors for this type of cancer, including tobacco and alcohol use.

After adjusting for those confounding factors, current marijuana users had a 48% reduced risk of head and neck cancer, and the reduction was statistically significant. Former users also had a lower risk, though it fell short of being significant. The investigators crunched the numbers several different ways — for example, by amount of marijuana used or the frequency of use — and the findings stayed the same nearly across the board, with moderate users showing the strongest and most consistent reduction in cancer risk.

The scientists write, “We found that moderate marijuana use was significantly associated with reduced risk HNSCC [head and neck squamous cell carcinoma]. The association was consistent across different measures of marijuana use (marijuana use status, duration, and frequency of use).”

Strikingly, among drinkers and cigarette smokers, those who also used marijuana reduced their cancer risk compared to those who only drank and smoked cigarettes. So marijuana may actually have been countering the known bad effects of booze and cigarettes.


30 August, 2009

EU bites into cereals’ health claims

For once I agree with the EU. A LOT of food claims are just fraud

BREAKFAST cereal manufacturers will be forced to abandon many health claims used to promote their products unless they can be scientifically proven, under a European Union clampdown. The move will hit some of the UK’s most popular cereal brands and other foods, many of which claim to improve health because they have been enhanced with ingredients such as vitamins and oat bran, but which also contain high levels of sugar, fat or salt. Kellogg’s, which makes Special K, Frosties and Optivita, and Nestlé, which produces Shreddies and Cheerios, could be among the biggest firms affected.

Corinne Vaughan, deputy head of nutrition at the Food Standards Agency, said: “Cereal manufacturers make a variety of health claims. Some are genuine, but other foods are heavily promoted on the basis of health claims for one ingredient, while unhealthy levels of sugar, fat and salt hardly get a mention.”

Among the products which could be affected are Sugar Puffs, which claim on their packaging to help growth, maintain healthy skin and eyes, and boost the digestive and nervous systems. However, as their name suggests, sugar accounts for 35% of their content. Weetabix’s Weetos brand, comprising chocolate-covered wheat hoops, boasts on the front of the packet that it is “wholegrain goodness fortified with vitamins and iron”. The 23.5% sugar content is noted only on a nutrition label. “We need more clarity in the science behind the claims and in the labelling,” said Susan Jebb, head of the Medical Research Council’s human nutrition unit.

There are two facets to the Brussels crackdown. First, the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) is conducting a scientific review of 4,000 health claims made by food producers, including cereal manufacturers. Most of the 60-plus rulings published so far for foods, including pro-biotic drinks and yoghurts, have been dismissive of industry health claims.

The European Commission is also developing a scheme to restrict food manufacturers promoting products on the basis of one or two healthy ingredients if they also contain “high” levels of sugar, saturated fat or salt. The crucial question is how “high” will be defined. Health campaigners and Britain’s Food Standards Agency believe foods with more than 15% sugar should be considered “high”. However, last week it emerged that Europe was likely to settle on a figure of 20%-25% for cereals.

Even at these higher levels, the European rulings could dramatically change the way cereals are promoted. Those affected could include brands such as Kellogg’s Special K Yoghurty, which is targeted at slimmers but contains 23% sugar, or Kellogg’s Bran Flakes, which is endorsed by Sir Chris Hoy, the Olympic cycling champion. The blurb on packets of Bran Flakes suggests that a daily bowl can enhance heart health, keep nervous and immune systems working and support concentration levels. The 22% sugar content — equivalent to two to three heaped teaspoons in each bowl served with milk — is mentioned only in small print.

Optivita, another Kellogg’s cereal, uses health claims even more prominently. Its packet bears a large banner claiming it can lower blood cholesterol, backed by a dozen red heart logos and an endorsement from Heart UK, a medical charity. The claim is based on the fact that Optivita is enhanced with oat bran, which has been shown to lower cholesterol if several grams are eaten regularly each day. Optivita contains about 1g of active bran per bowl — less than a third of the weight of a 1p coin. By contrast, a bowl of Optivita Nut Oat Crisp with milk contains 14g of sugar, equivalent to three heaped teaspoons, as well as 7g of fat.

Kellogg’s, which admits making a “five-figure” donation to Heart UK, accepts there is no published scientific evidence to show that eating a daily bowl of Optivita lowers cholesterol. A spokesman said: “We do have evidence of our own to show it reduces cholesterol, but we have not published it as it is proprietary and confidential. All our claims are backed by good science.”

The new EU rules may also hit some brands of muesli, whose healthy reputation often belies their high levels of added sugar. Alpen, for example, contains 23% sugar, some from fruit but some added, making a total of two to three teaspoons of sugar per bowl. By contrast Berries & Cherries muesli, from Dorset Cereals has 41% sugar, but most of this comes from fruit so it is unlikely to be affected by the rules.

A spokesman for the Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers, said: “Cereals may often be high in sugar but they bring many other wonderful nutrients to the table like vitamins and minerals so they can still be seen as healthy.”


DNA swap could cure inherited diseases

There was another report on this last year

The prospect of a human baby with three biological parents has moved closer after scientists created monkeys using a technique that one day could stop children from inheriting severe genetic diseases. The birth of four healthy macaque monkeys in the US offers the strongest evidence yet that DNA can be transplanted safely from one egg to another to correct genetic defects that damage health.

The successful experiment in a close human relative suggests that it should be possible within a few years to use the method to help women who carry genetic disorders to avoid passing them to their children. It should allow scientists to replace faulty “cellular batteries” called mitochondria, which affect about 1 in 6,500 births. While most mitochondria defects have mild effects, some can trigger severe brain, heart, muscle and liver conditions, as well as cancer, diabetes, blindness and deafness.

The technique is controversial, however, because the children it creates would inherit genetic material from three parents. The mother and father would contribute most of their child’s DNA but a small amount would come from a second woman donating healthy mitochondria. Such children would be the first produced by germline genetic engineering, in which genes introduced by artificial means would be passed to successive generations.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, of the Oregon National Primate Research Centre, who led the research, said that this would be justified because it was the only viable approach. “The only way to treat these defects is to replace the genes,” he said. “This is gene transfer involving the germline, which is a concern, but we are pursuing it not for general use but for patients with mutations they will pass to the next generation. We believe this technology will prevent that.”

Although more than 99 per cent of a cell’s DNA is carried in the nucleus, a small amount resides in the mitochondria — tiny energy-producing structures inherited from the mother — and it is mutations in this mitochondrial DNA that can cause disease. In the research, published in the journal Nature, the modified eggs containing chromosomes from one female monkey and mitochondria from another, were fertilised by injecting a sperm. The resulting embryos were transferred to the wombs of surrogate mothers.

The first monkeys to be born were twins called Mito and Tracker, after a dye called MitoTracker used in the experiments. Two more monkeys were born after later experiments, named Spindler and Spindly after a genetic structure called the spindle along which chromosomes divide.

Tests showed that none of the monkeys had any trace of mitochondrial DNA from the mother that provided their nuclear DNA, suggesting that the process was successful. “We consider it a big achievement,” Dr Mitalipov said. “Anything we study and achieve in non-human primates can be translated much more easily to humans.” He said that the technology could be applied “pretty quickly” in humans, and that his team would apply to an internal ethics board and the US Food and Drug Adminstration for permission to try it with human eggs.

Clinical use will have to wait for the results of experiments with humans and follow-up studies on the health of the four monkeys. “It may take a few more years,” Dr Mitalipov said.

Similar research is being carried out by a team from Newcastle University using a slightly different technique. British scientists welcomed the Oregon study and urged the Government to change the law. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA), passed last year, allows such experiments on embryos but made it illegal for altered embryos to be implanted into the womb. Ministers have the power to rescind this ban.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, of the National Institute for Medical Research in London, said: “These are proof-of-principle experiments suggesting that transfer of the nuclear genetic material from one egg to another may be a valid way to avoid the devastating problems associated with the inheritance of abnormal mitochondria that are present in the eggs of some women. “It would seem unreasonable to delay real trials where any embryos produced were transferred to the women who wanted to avoid having children affected with these diseases.” He added: “I think it is quite reasonable to activate the regulation-making power now.”


29 August, 2009

'Hopeless' women at risk of stroke

This is almost certainly just another social class effect. Working class women are less healthy and would have good reasons to feel less hopeful about their future. The researchers did control for income but income is not a good proxy for social class, particularly among women. The occupation of a husband may put a woman into a much higher class bracket than her own income would, for instance. And even among males, there are some high-income working class people and low income middle-class people. An electrician or plumber will usually earn more than an office-worker, for instance. In my own research into social class, I found that a simple white-collar/blue-collar dichotomy was a powerful predictor -- as was self-assigned class

FOR women, feelings of hopelessness are not just unfortunate, they are a stroke risk, US researchers said. They said otherwise healthy women who are chronically hopeless are more likely to have a build-up of plaque in their neck arteries that can trigger a stroke.

Many studies have linked depression with heart disease and recent studies have suggested that optimism may protect women from heart disease. However this latest study, by Susan Everson-Rose of the University of Minnesota Medical School, is the first to show that hopelessness may directly affect a healthy woman's risk for stroke.

Researchers looked at 559 women with an average age of 50 who had no clinical signs of heart disease, such as elevated blood pressure. To measure hopelessness, they asked questions about the future and personal goals. They also measured symptoms of depression using a 20-item assessment scale. And they took ultrasound images of the women to measure the thickness of their neck arteries.

"What we found is, those women who reported feeling hopeless about the future or their personal goals had more thickening in the neck arteries - more atherosclerosis - which is a predictor of stroke and subsequent heart attack," Ms Everson-Rose said.

The difference was measurable. Women who scored high on the hopelessness scale had neck arteries that were 0.02mm thicker than their more hopeful counterparts. The difference was significant even after adjusting for other heart risk factors including age, race, income, heart disease risk factors, even depression.

Ms Everson-Rose said the team looked specifically for differences between women who where hopeless and those who were depressed - a more global disorder that affected things like sleep, appetite and overall mood. "What we find is this thickening in the neck arteries is a specific feature to hopelessness," she said.

Ms Everson-Rose said studies are needed to understand what physiological changes specifically occur in women who are chronically hopeless. The study did not track levels of cortisol, a known stress hormone, for example. Nevertheless, women should be aware that feelings of hopelessness may have physical consequences. "If women do have these strong feelings, it is potentially a predictor of cardiovascular disease and they should seek help," she said.


Stomach-stapling surgery can eliminate diabetes symptoms

It should be noted that less than 3% of the population are diagnosed diabetes 2 cases so we are dealing with a small population subset here. Most fatties do NOT get diabetes. What the research below shows is that those prone to diabetes are set back by overeating. It does NOT show that overeating will give you diabetes

Weight-loss surgery can eliminate the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in nearly eight out of ten patients who have the drastic procedure, a large international study has found. A review of medical research involving 135,000 patients found that the symptoms of diabetes were resolved or improved in a majority of those who had bariatric surgery to help to lose weight.

Overall, 78 per cent of patients had a “complete resolution” of their diabetes for up to two years after surgery, while 87 per cent experienced either resolution or an improvement in their condition.

Type 2 diabetes is increasingly common because of obesity. Unlike type 1, which emerges in childhood, type 2 occurs when the body’s production or use of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, is impaired. Diabetes and its complications account for about one in ten deaths in England each year.

Bariatric surgery, also known as a gastric-band operation, involves fitting a staple or band around the upper part of the stomach, limiting the amount people can eat before feeling full. It can also take the form of a gastric bypass. Previous research has suggested bariatric surgery could benefit patients with diabetes, but the procedure is typically only recommended on the NHS for those who are morbidly obese — with a body mass index of 40 or more — and where other attempts to lose weight have failed.

The number of procedures carried out on the NHS rose 40 per cent last year, but some pay up to £12,000 to have the operation done privately. About 6,000 people had the procedure last year.

The new study was presented yesterday at a conference of the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders in Paris. The study was led by Professor Henry Buchwald, of the Department of Surgery at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. It found patients lost an average of 38.5kg after the procedure, representing 55.9 per cent of their excess weight.

The benefits of the operation for diabetes are not fully understood, but are thought to be related to weight loss. Losing weight helps the body to make more efficient use of available insulin, which can avoid the complications of poor blood sugar control such as kidney issues, nerve damage and eye problems.But the charity Diabetes UK expressed concern that the findings may encourage diabetics to consider weight-loss surgery as a solution to their condition, rather than diet and exercise.

Zoë Harrison, care adviser for the charity, said: “Although the data shows good results from bariatric surgery, it must be remembered that any surgery carries serious risks. “Bariatric surgery should be considered only as a last resort. It can lead to dramatic weight loss, which in turn may result in a reduction in people taking their type 2 diabetes medication, and even in some people needing no medication at all. This does not mean type 2 diabetes has been cured. “These people will still need to eat a healthy, balanced diet and be physically active to manage their diabetes.”


"Low-fat" food no help

SOME "skinny foods" are no different than chocolates or other high-fat options when it comes to trying to lose weight, dietary experts warn. Eating so-called light food can sometimes result in consuming the same amount of kilojoules as eating "full-fat" varieties. Over-eating of low-fat biscuits, light yoghurts and low-carb beers can be waist-bloating, the experts warn. And although many of those items are lighter in kilojoules, they often don't appease an appetite and can result in indulging again a short time later.

Dietitian Clare Evangelista, from the Dietitians Association of Australia, said so-called diet drinks were among the worst offenders. "Recent research suggests people who consume large amounts of diet soft drink do not weigh less than those who don't," Ms Evangelista said. "This may be because after drinking diet soft drink, the body does not get the fluctuation in blood-glucose levels that helps tell the body we are full. "So, drinking diet soft drink may increase food cravings and feelings of hunger."


28 August, 2009

Australian Primary School bans bottled water

I must admit that I find the bottled water craze quite mad but if people get some satisfaction out of it, who are we to judge them? I am sure I do some things that some others might consider mad -- like blogging, for instance. I am sure the Greenies would be able to find something wrong with blogging if they tried -- uses too much electricity or some such -- JR

A Melbourne school has banned commercially bottled water in what is believed to be a Victorian first. Pupils at Eltham North Primary School are being told to drink tap water and use only environmentally friendly re-useable containers.

Principal David Foley said the ban was part of the school's green policy, which includes re-useable containers for lunches, the Herald Sun reports. "We have good water in Melbourne," he said. "It's a waste of money buying plastic bottled water and most of the bottles end up in our waterways or in landfill. "We don't want students to come to school using soft drink or bottled water."

It is estimated Australians spend about $500 million each year on bottled water. A bottled water ban was introduced in the NSW town of Bundanoon last month.

But Mr Foley said his school had been moving towards the policy since installing waste-cutting water fountains last year. "It's the way to go," he said. "We're also using it as an education process to see what can happen if water goes off and what can happen if you're using a poor bottle like a soft drink container." Mr Foley said bags wouldn't be checked for dodgy bottles, but staff would monitor the use of drink containers in class and in the playground.

Brendan Lynch, from water dispenser firm Aquabubbler, said his company had supplied eco-friendly products to hundreds of schools in Victoria. "Kids are a lot more discerning about where they drink from these days," he said. "A lot of water troughs at schools are unhygienic." Mr Lynch said it was crazy that people were buying so much bottled water during the economic crisis. "A lot of those bottles can't be recycled and end up as landfill, it's a no-win situation," he said.

Opposition education spokesman Martin Dixon said he had no problem with the bottle ban. "It's something that they have weighed up carefully," he said. "It's good to allow schools to do something innovative and environmentally friendly."


Health warning: exercise makes you fat

I must admit that I have to laugh at a lot of the stories I put up. There is so much flailing at the wind. There is NO long-term way of changing your weight other than surgery. Nothing else works -- JR

Fat is a massive problem. Really massive. Nearly 60 per cent of the country’s adult population is now overweight, while one in 10 children are so obese by the time they start school that their health is deemed to be at risk. All told, weight problems are estimated to cost the economy £16 billion a year – on top of the facts that ambulances have to be fitted with reinforced heavy-lifting equipment to get patients into the vehicles and that a growing number of soldiers are, according to Army commanders, too fat to fight.

Yet something strange is going on. While obesity levels have grown year on year, so have levels of physical activity. More people in Britain do the recommended amount of exercise – at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at least five times a week – than did 12 years ago. Use of personal trainers and gyms has soared: over the past five years, the amount spent on the latter has grown by 50 per cent, to more than £1.25 billion. Is it possible that all that exercise is doing nothing to make us slimmer?

Exercise is, of course, essential for good health, improving our heart and lung function while triggering the release of a host of hormones that bring on feelings of wellbeing. But some surprising studies in America are starting to reveal that even under gruelling training regimes, people fail to lose as much weight as they should.

In a study of 464 overweight women, Dr Timothy Church of Louisiana University examined what would happen if they conducted differing levels of exercise. One group was asked to do no additional exercise, while three other groups were asked to spend 72 minutes, 136 minutes or 194 minutes with a trainer each week for six months. All were asked not to change their diet.

The results were surprising. While all of the women lost weight, including the control group (which is thought to be a consequence of basing the study on overweight women who wanted to lose weight), those who exercised the most did not lose significantly more weight than those who were told not to change their diet.

“People are often undoing the work they have done during exercise by eating the wrong foods afterwards,” explains Dr Church. “When they exercise heavily, they compensate and increase their energy intake. So after spending time in the gym, they eat a chocolate muffin, which undoes all of the work they did.”

Another study due to be published next month in the journal of Public Health Nutrition by researchers at the University of Leeds draws similar conclusions. Professor John Blundell and his colleagues found that people asked to do supervised exercise to lose weight also increased the amount they ate and reduced their intake of fruit and vegetables.

“A single bout of exercise can be considered a relatively slow method of 'removing’ energy from the system,” say the researchers. “The time spent exercising has to be significantly long in order to expend a meaningful amount of energy. Even when exercise energy expenditure is high, a healthy diet is still required for weight loss to occur in many people.”

The problem, it seems, is that exercise is a relatively poor way of burning calories. So exasperated scientists are now starting to turn to the most unlikely of solutions – fat itself. Until recently, fat has been disregarded as a simple storage tissue – a place where excess energy is tucked away by the body for when food is scarce. With our modern diets, this excess energy is never needed, so it builds up, creating layers of fat.

New findings, however, are suggesting that fat plays a far more active role in the body. “Fat cells have been found to produce more than 100 different chemical signals and hormones,” says Prof Paul Treyhurn of Liverpool University. And scientists at Harvard have found it may be possible to manipulate body fat so it starts to do us good.

Fat found around the belly, known as intra-abdominal fat, has been found to be harmful, increasing the risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes. But subcutaneous, or peripheral fat, found beneath the skin of the hips and thighs works to protect us. “If we can reprogramme the fat so that it produces less bad effects, it could get rid of some of the metabolic consequences of obesity,” says Prof Ronald Kahn, head of obesity research at Harvard Medical School’s Joslin Diabetes Centre.

In research on rats, Prof Kahn has found it is possible to transplant peripheral fat into the abdominal area, and so reduce the risk of developing obesity-related diseases. He believes that it may be possible to “reprogramme” belly fat so that it behaves more like subcutaneous fat: people would still be fat, but they would at least be healthier.

Another discovery, however, has this year set the world of obesity research alight – that humans have deposits of brown adipose tissue, or brown fat. Unlike white fat, brown fat burns energy rather than stores it. And it burns a lot of energy.

Previously, adult humans were not thought to have any brown fat – it had only ever been found in animals such as rodents or in human babies, quickly disappearing as they grew older. But a new scanning technique this year revealed tiny hot spots around the necks of patients, with brown fat cells mixed in with the white fat.

“As little as two ounces of brown fat can burn up 400 to 500 calories a day,” says Prof Kahn, who is among the scientists leading research into brown fat. “It’s very hard to burn off that much with exercise. A little bit more active brown fat can be very beneficial for helping to keep weight down.”

Like muscle tissue, brown fat contains abundant numbers of tiny cellular power plants known as mitochondria. In muscle, these convert sugar into the energy that powers our bodies. But in brown fat, the mitochondria are slightly defective and highly inefficient, meaning that much of the energy is lost as heat.

Scientists now believe that activating brown fat stores in obese patients – and even increasing their levels of brown fat – could help them to keep their weight down. In particular, Prof Kahn has discovered that a growth factor called BMP-7 can be used to turn stem cells into brown fat. When this was transplanted into mice, the tissue formed discrete islands of brown fat. The team now plans to use the approach on fat from humans.

“If we treat fat that has been removed by liposuction to convert it into brown fat, we could then put it back into patients,” says Prof Kahn. “If you combined this with improved diet and exercise, the effect could be dramatic.”

Other groups are also looking at alternative methods to maximise the amount of brown fat in obese patients by manipulating cells. Researchers in Australia have found more brown fat mixed in with our muscles – and in experiments with sheep, they have found a hormone that increases muscle temperatures by two and half degrees during and immediately after meals, as brown fat stores are activated.

Prof Iain Clarke, from the department of physiology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, believes that while brown fat may be responsible for some of this heat production, the muscle cells themselves may also provide a way of burning off extra calories. His group has found they are able to manipulate the energy-burning process in sheep by giving them a natural hormone. If successful in humans, it could provide a new kind of weight-loss drug.

However, there may be an even simpler approach. In the past, brown fat was probably important for keeping humans warm in cold weather. In fact, studies have shown that in cold rooms, patients have higher brown fat activity. Could turning down the thermostat a few degrees help us reduce our swelling waistlines?

Scientists are not yet sure. But what is clear is that the solution to obesity can no longer simply be better diets and increased exercise. Instead, the best way to fight fat could be with fat itself.


27 August, 2009

Breast cancer drug Tamoxifen may have long-term risks

Another backflip in the official wisdom. People have been taking this stuff for decades

Thousands of women taking a “gold standard” drug to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer are at increased risk of another type of tumour developing, according to new research.

Tamoxifen, which is prescribed to most breast cancer survivors for several years after initial therapy, prevents new tumours by blocking the sex-hormone oestrogen. It can prevent the recurrence of cancer after surgery for pre-menopausal women with hormone-sensitive cancers — which account for about two thirds of breast cancers. But the US study, reported in the journal Cancer Research, shows Tamoxifen may raise the risk of developing other aggressive tumours. Researchers found that five or more years of Tamoxifen treatment quadrupled the chances of a non-hormone-sensitive breast tumour developing.

Christopher Li, who led the study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, said: “This is of concern, given the poorer prognosis of oestrogen-receptor negative tumours, which are also more difficult to treat.”

Dr Li’s team assessed Tamoxifen use among more than 1,000 women who had hormone-sensitive breast cancer diagnosed. Comparing those who received Tamoxifen with those who did not showed that the drug reduced the chances of oestrogen-positive breast cancer returning. However it also appeared to greatly increase the risk of an oestrogen-negative second tumour developing.

Alison Ross, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Women should be reassured that, based on extensive scientific evidence, the benefits of taking drugs such as Tamoxifen far outweigh any potential risks.”

The association was not seen in women who took Tamoxifen for less than five years.


Broken hearts mend with 'patch'

Very clever but probably pretty distant as a treatment. Showing the potential is important, however

A team of Israeli scientists has developed a potential way to fix the damage from heart attacks. A "patch" has been made from heart muscle that can be used to fix scarring left over from a heart attack. Writing in the journal PNAS, the scientists describe how the technique strengthened the hearts of rats that had suffered heart attacks. The "patch" was grown in abdominal tissue first, then transplanted to damaged areas of the heart.

This experiment is the first to show that such patches can actually improve the health of a heart after it has been damaged. The scientists measured an increase in the size of the muscle in damaged areas, and improved conduction of the electrical impulses needed for the heart to pump normally.

Heart attacks usually cause irreversible damage to heart muscle. If people survive, then the damaged muscle can cause another serious condition called heart failure.

It is hoped that the procedure may eventually lead to treatments in humans because of its "simplicity and safety", the authors - led by Tal Dvir from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva - wrote in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). However, they added that "because most patients with heart attacks are old, and multiple surgery can pose a large risk to them, our strategy is not currently an option".

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), told BBC News: "In the last decade there has been significant research into injecting cells, including stem cells, into the heart to try and repair the damaged area. "This study was in animals, but may help scientists better understand how to repair damaged human hearts in the future." The technique is also being developed for livers and bladders.


26 August, 2009

Suncream may be linked to Alzheimer's disease, say experts

This is just the old nanoparticle scare again

The frightening possibility of Alzheimer's disease being induced by suncream is being investigated by academics. Millions of British holidaymakers use block to protect their skin from the sun every year. Now the University of Ulster says two of its experts have been awarded £350,000 by the European Union to explore the possible links between the suncream and the brain disease.

They are leading a groundbreaking three-year research project into whether human engineered nanoparticles, such as those found in sunscreen, can induce neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

It follows a 2003 study by British doctors that found some leading brands of sunscreen lotions failed to stop the sun's damaging rays penetrating the skin. They recommended staying out of the sun or covering up when outside as the best way to protect against skin cancer. [I second that!]

Professor Vyvyan Howard, a pathologist and toxicologist, and Dr Christian Holster, an expert in Alzheimer's, are conducting the latest research as part of a worldwide project called NeuroNano. The University of Ulster experts will be specifically looking at nanoparticles present in chemicals found in sunscreens and an additive in some diesel fuels - titanium dioxide and cerium oxide - and their connection to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

Professor Howard said: 'There is now firm evidence that some engineered nanoparticles entering intravenously or via lungs can reach the brains of small animals. 'Indeed they lodge in almost all parts of the brain and there are no efficient clearance mechanisms to remove them once there.'

There were also suggestions that nanoscale particles arising from urban pollution had reached the brains of animals and children living in Mexico City, he said. 'It has recently been discovered that nanoparticles can have highly significant impacts on the rate of misfolding of key proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. 'The brain itself is a very special organ. It cannot repair by replacing nerve cells, the ones you get at birth have to last all your life, which makes them peculiarly vulnerable to long term low dose toxicity.' [That is the old view but the well-known ability of the brain to repair itself (after strokes etc.) has led some to question that. It is certainly now well-established that the brain can repair alcohol damage. Given what the brain can do for stroke victims and alcohol abusers, I don't think we should worry too much about nanoparticles] The brain had built up some protective mechanisms but a major worry was that nanoparticles seemed to be able to circumvent them, he said.

'All this adds up to a new field of investigation. This research programme is deeply challenging and entails the gathering of entirely new knowledge in a field - neuronanotoxicology. 'It requires the marshalling of unique expertise, methodologies, techniques and materials, many themselves completely new and never before brought together in the required combination,'" said the professor.

Latest figures show neurodegenerative diseases currently affect over 1.6 per cent of the European population, with dramatically rising incidence likely in part to the increase of the average age of the population. 'There is also some epidemiological evidence that Parkinson's disease is connected to environmental pollutants and it is often noted that, historically, reports of Parkinson's symptoms only began to appear after widespread industrialisation. [Because people died young in the old days]

'The risk that engineered nanoparticles could introduce unforeseen hazards to human health is now also a matter of growing concern in many regulatory bodies, governments and industry,' said the professor.


Brain chemical could hold key to treating multiple sclerosis

Sounds hopeful

Scientists say that they have taken “a major step forward” in understanding how to reduce the severity of multiple sclerosis (MS), a university claims.

Tests on mice found that the brain chemical galanin can significantly reduce the seriousness of the disease, which attacks the central nervous system. Experiments with the molecule on human brain tissue suggest that it could have the same effect on people.

The researchers at the University of Bristol said that further study was needed but that potentially a drug could be developed within ten years. The research offers hope to some 85,000 MS sufferers in Britain. They found that mice with high levels of galanin were resistant to the MS-like disease, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).

David Wynick, who works on the function of galanin in the relief of neuropathic pain, initiated the project and worked with David Wraith and Neil Scolding on the research.

Scientists believe the key to the currently incurable condition may lie in galanin, a neuropeptide or small protein-like molecule that influences the brain’s activity. They found that mice with a large amount of galanin became “completely resistant” to the EAE, but mice that had no galanin at all developed a more severe form. They then carried out tests on human brain tissue already affected by MS and found that galanin repaired some of the damage seen in acute sufferers of the condition. Professor Wraith, who is working on a vaccine for the prevention and treatment of MS, commented: “The results were really remarkable: rarely do you see such a dramatic effect as this.”

MS is the most common disabling neurological disease among young adults and symptoms range from pain and tiredness to spasms, paralysis and memory loss.

A spokeswoman for the university said that although the results were “very encouraging” there was still much work to be done before a drug could be developed and it could be at least ten years before one was on the market. She said the team were now expected to seek the “substantial” funding needed to advance their findings.


25 August, 2009

PETA loses one in New York

Kangaroos are in plague proportions in many parts of Australia. There are millions of them. They can even be seen in the streets of some outer Brisbane suburbs if you get up early. Culled wild kangaroos sold for meat are usually killed instantly by expert marksmen

A LITTLE-KNOWN ban on the sale of kangaroo meat in New York has been overturned, sparking outrage from animal rights activists. After a six month lobbying effort, New York lawmakers have agreed to drop a ban on the sale of all but one kangaroo species. Only the rare Tasmanian Forester Kangaroo will remain off the menu, News Limited has learned.

Australian officials recently rejected a push to place the giant marsupial on the national threatened species list.

The New York Department of Conservation and Environment confirmed the law had been modified. New York Governor David Paterson this month signed off on the change, which allows any roo but the Forester to be served from November 11.

Animal rights activists are furious. "We would always be happy with laws that do restrict the sale of meat and we wouldn't want a law banning roo meat overturned," said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal's Asia director Jason Baker. "They come to a violent and bloody death, as do all animals in this industry," he said.

News Limited learned of the drama after a popular Australian-themed bar in Manhattan, Eight Mile Creek, removed kangaroo skewers from its menu. The bar was one of at least three vendors that were blindsided by a conservation department blitz about eight months ago, when they were issued fines of up to $US5000. The establishments, which included one of downtown Manhattan's best-known butchers, removed all traces of roo as lawmakers debated changing the rules.

New York lawyer, John Dyett, said the ban had been a "serious piece of conservation law" that New Yorkers had introduced four decades ago, before clear roo slaughter rules existed in Australia. He said the legislature had made a "wise and sensible" decision by taking up local assemblyman Rob Sweeney's push to update the law, which lets conservation officials extend the ban to any roo species they want in the future. "We do know back in Australia they are prolific breeders," Mr Dyett said.

"New York State is heavily protecting an endangered Australian species and the commissioner has been given the authority to further protect others as needed," he said. The Tasmanian Forester roo is not an endangered species in Australia. Australia's Threatened Species Scientific Committee rejected a move to have it listed as threatened as recently as May based on a receommendation that said the species "is not subject to a continuing decline, nor has it undergone a recent decline."


Rapid evolution observed

In 1948, 5,209 residents of a medium-sized New England town signed up for what would become the longest-running, systematic medical study in the world. The Framingham Heart Study, as it was called, was the first to show that smoking, obesity, and high cholesterol all increased people’s chances of developing heart disease. Six decades on, it’s also the first multigenerational human study to reveal that some of these same traits are actively undergoing natural selection.

The news should come as a surprise to many physicians. Ever since Charles Darwin, a prevailing attitude among medical practitioners has been that evolution does not operate in humans because modern medicine and culture have greatly leveled the playing field by homogenizing survival rates. The same sentiment has also been echoed by some leading evolutionary biologists, most famously the late Stephen Jay Gould.

Not so, says Yale University’s Stephen Stearns, who specializes in life history evolution. Survival rates have indeed evened out, particularly among children, yet human birth rates remain highly variable. Some people simply have more children than others. And if there’s variation in lifetime reproductive success, and if some heritable trait is associated with that variation, then natural selection must be acting. To demonstrate natural selection in humans, however, requires a multitude of data collected over successive generations. Enter Framingham.

In 2005, Raju Govindaraju, a medical geneticist at Boston University and the former director of the Framingham Heart Study Genetics Laboratory, approached Stearns with an idea: analyze the Framingham data from an evolutionary perspective. Govindaraju had read many of Stearns’s seminal evolution papers as a plant biology graduate student in the 1970s, and was sitting on a goldmine of Framingham data, so he gave Stearns a call. “That was one of the best phone calls I ever had,” Govindaraju says.

“The thing that immediately struck me,” recalls Stearns, “was that, gosh, we can actually study selection operating on a contemporary human population and thereby make clear to everybody that natural selection is operating on humans.”

Stearns hired a postdoc, Sean Byars, and together with Govindaraju and Douglas Ewbank, a University of Pennsylvania demographer, set to work analyzing a handful of medically relevant traits for their effects on women’s lifetime reproductive rates. They measured the statistical associations between the traits and family size in the first two generations of Framingham women to estimate the strength of natural selection and the potential genetic response to selection. Early results show that women with lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose, and women who conceive earlier in life and reached menopause at a later age, all had more offspring. As a result, a model based on the data (that also controlled for social factors that influence fertility) predicts that levels of all these genetically based traits will change over the next generation. “People, myself included, may have written off evolution in humans,” says Ewbank. “But it’s still there. It’s still happening.” But the same response won’t continue indefinitely. Obviously, says Stearns, “if selection continued to reduce cholesterol, we couldn’t build a brain.”

The researchers also plan to study several other traits of medical interest, including high-density lipoproteins, triglycerides, and bilirubin levels. The researchers have not yet looked at the genetics behind the trend, but neither did Darwin when he was studying natural selection, which can be demonstrated solely by showing statistically that a trait can be heritable and lead to larger family sizes.

“The findings are startling,” says Govindaraju. “This will set the stage for really a new way of thinking about modern populations,” and allow researchers to make short-term predictions about humanity’s future evolution. Peter Ellison, a Harvard evolutionary biologist who was not involved in the study, agrees. “We can now think about human phenotypes much more dynamically than we normally do,” he says.

Stearns and his colleagues, who plan to publish their findings later this year in a special supplement of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are now looking at male reproduction and combining their phenotypic analyses with genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism data from Framingham participants to search for genetic signatures of the tradeoffs between survival and reproduction. “We’ll try to push Framingham as far as we can,” says Stearns.


24 August, 2009

Food Cop Logic is Toxic Waste

A few weeks ago, we commented on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s obesity conference in Washington, DC, reminding readers that government regulation will be a part of the obesity-fighting problem. Coinciding with the conference, the Urban Institute released a study that wiggled into a few news stories by claiming that a “junk food” tax could be an effective tool for combating obesity. But reporters failed to note something far more insidious in the study: The researchers also write that your cookie (or parts of it) may well wind up as a “toxic” chemical. We’re not making this up.

As they explain:
Furnishing an instructive model is the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which authorizes strict regulatory action (including prohibitions on manufacture and distribution) for products where “there is a reasonable basis to conclude” that they “will present an unreasonable risk of injury or health to the environment.”

…a substance is considered toxic if its unregulated use would cause harm to health that outweighs the substance’s anticipated benefits to society. Applying this balancing test to nutrition, a food substance might be considered toxic or “junk” if its nutritional benefits are outweighed by its contribution to obesity.
This would be a gross manipulation of federal law. The Toxic Substances Control Act regulates the use of chemicals in lead-based paint, indoor radon levels, and asbestos. In other words, actual health threats.

The study authors’ real goal is to draw analogies to the war on smoking, writing that “The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has noted that ... tobacco would fit this definition of a toxic substance … and the same may be true for nutritionally worthless, obesity-inducing foods.”

But there’s one key flaw: Food isn’t tobacco (or radon, for that matter). There’s no such thing as second-hand soda (or potato chips, or cookies, or pizza). Taxing certain foods is simply punishing people for their personal food choices. Or as Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, might say, “nudging” us toward a government-approved lifestyle.

Trying to demonize fat, sugar, salt, or other culinary items as toxic substances will only serve to fuel even more scaremongering headlines. Of course, maybe that’s just what the food police have in mind.


Female orgasms and a 'rule of thumb'

'C-V distance' may be a factor in how easily a woman has an orgasm

During intercourse, the female orgasm can be elusive. What frustrated woman hasn't wondered: Am I simply, um, put together differently than other women?

Kim Wallen, professor of psychology and behavioral neuroendocrinology at Emory University, is busy doing the math to find out. And, yes, he says, simple physiology may have a lot to do with orgasm ease -- specifically, how far a woman's clitoris lies from her vagina. That number might predict how easily a woman can experience orgasms from penile stimulation alone -- without help from fingers, toys or tongue -- during sexual intercourse.

In fact, there's even an easy "rule of thumb," Wallen says: Clitoris-vagina distances less than 2.5 cm -- that's roughly from the tip of your thumb to your first knuckle -- tend to yield reliable orgasms during sex. More than a thumb's length? Regular intercourse alone typically might not do the trick.

Wallen is not the first to check into this "C-V distance." In the 1920s, Princess Marie Bonaparte, a French psychoanalyst and close friend of Sigmund Freud, grew fed up with her own lack of orgasmic response. In her professional practice, she saw plenty of patients with the same complaint ("frigidity," in the parlance of the day).

She blamed physiology, not psyche. Bonaparte collected C-V and orgasm data from her patients and in 1924 delicately published her observations under a pseudonym. (She also persuaded an Austrian surgeon to experiment on her, by cutting around her clitoris and stretching it closer to her vagina -- with disappointing results.)

Recently, Wallen dug up Bonaparte's measurements and analyzed them with modern statistical techniques. Sure enough, he found a striking correlation. Now he is hoping to do his own measurement study.

Preliminary work has revealed that only about 7% of women always have orgasms with sex alone, he says, while 27% say they never do. The current research hold-up: developing a reliable, at-home technique for measuring C-V distance, especially one that can deal with stretchy skin.

Women with a large C-V distance should not be discouraged, Wallen says. "Personally, I don't think the inability to experience no-hands, penis-only intercourse with orgasm says anything about a happy sex life," he says. "Maybe it could allow couples to be a bit more inventive in how they have sex."

He acknowledges that the measure might become one more standard women feel they need to live up to, like breast size. "People would ask, 'Is your distance really small?' "


23 August, 2009

Another big medical backflip: "Stop prescribing Tamiflu for routine swine flu cases"

Healthy people who catch swine flu should not be given antiviral drugs, as most will recover within a week, the World Health Organisation has said. The drugs are offered to anyone in England with flu-like symptoms but guidance from the UN health agency suggests that the side-effects of taking medication may outweigh the benefits for otherwise healthy people.

Tamiflu or Relenza should, however, still be used as soon as possible on people with severe illness or whose condition is deteriorating, the WHO advises. Those in at-risk groups — such as pregnant women or people with an underlying medical condition such as diabetes — should also receive treatment promptly.

The Department of Health, which has stockpiled enough antivirals to treat up to 80 per cent of the population, said that it would maintain a “safety-first” policy of offering everyone the medication.

Overall illness and the number of people in hospital with swine flu have declined in the past fortnight. However, the number of deaths linked to the H1N1 virus in Britain increased after the deaths of women in Wales and Northern Ireland. The woman patient in Northern Ireland, the first victim in the Province, was said to have had an underlying health condition. She died on Thursday night in hospital. Her family has asked for her identity to be kept private.

A 55-year-old woman from Caerphilly County Borough was the first fatal case in Wales. She died in hospital last Saturday after developing circulatory complications. She was admitted to the Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport, on August 2 after falling ill with flu-like symptoms. She tested positive for swine flu and was put on a course of antiviral medicine. Four days later she was transferred to the intensive care unit of the University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff, with heart-related problems. No further details were released at the family’s request.

The latest WHO advice, from a panel of international experts, came as new figures showed that 45,986 courses of antivirals were given to patients in England last week. In the previous week 90,363 had been given out after callers contacted the National Pandemic Flu Service, the telephone and internet service that allows patients to obtain medication without seeing a doctor.

There have been fears that the mass use of Tamiflu would encourage the H1N1 swine flu strain to become resistant to the antiviral. Researchers have also expressed concern over the side-effects of the drug, including sickness, nightmares and insomnia in children.

A team from the University of Oxford said earlier this month that children with mild symptoms should not be given the antiviral, and urged the Department of Health to urgently reconsider its policy.

The new advice on the WHO website said that most patients were experiencing typical flu symptoms and would get better within a week. Its experts recommended prompt antiviral treatment for all children aged under 5 with severe or deteriorating illness but added that older children, who were otherwise healthy, “need not be given antiviral treatment unless their illness persists or worsens”.

Illness due to swine flu appears to have peaked for the summer, official figures showed, with an estimated 11,000 cases being diagnosed last week, down on 25,000 the previous week.

Only one person in ten in England who sought treatment from the Pandemic Flu Service or their doctor last week actually had the virus, the Health Protection Agency said yesterday. Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, warned that a second wave of illness was expected as Britain entered the winter flu season but said that it was virtually impossible to predict accurately when this would peak.


Why sleep? Scientist delves into one of science's great mysteries

Bats, birds, box turtles, humans and many other animals share at least one thing in common: They sleep. Humans, in fact, spend roughly one-third of their lives asleep, but sleep researchers still don't know why. An evolutionary explanation is offered below

According to the journal Science, the function of sleep is one of the 125 greatest unsolved mysteries in science. Theories range from brain "maintenance" — including memory consolidation and pruning — to reversing damage from oxidative stress suffered while awake, to promoting longevity. None of these theories are well established, and many are mutually exclusive.

Now, a new analysis by Jerome Siegel, UCLA professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Sleep Research at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and the Sepulveda Veterans Affairs Medical Center, has concluded that sleep's primary function is to increase animals' efficiency and minimize their risk by regulating the duration and timing of their behavior. The research appears in the current online edition of the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

"Sleep has normally been viewed as something negative for survival because sleeping animals may be vulnerable to predation and they can't perform the behaviors that ensure survival," Siegel said. These behaviors include eating, procreating, caring for family members, monitoring the environment for danger and scouting for prey. "So it's been thought that sleep must serve some as-yet unidentified physiological or neural function that can't be accomplished when animals are awake," he said.

Siegel's lab conducted a new survey of the sleep times of a broad range of animals, examining everything from the platypus and the walrus to the echidna, a small, burrowing, egg-laying mammal covered in spines. The researchers concluded that sleep itself is highly adaptive, much like the inactive states seen in a wide range of species, starting with plants and simple micro-organisms; these species have dormant states — as opposed to sleep — even though in many cases they do not have nervous systems. That challenges the idea that sleep is for the brain, said Siegel. "We see sleep as lying on a continuum that ranges from these dormant states like torpor and hibernation, on to periods of continuous activity without any sleep, such as during migration, where birds can fly for days on end without stopping," he said.

Hibernation is one example of an activity that regulates behavior for survival. A small animal, Siegel noted, can't migrate to a warmer climate in winter. So it hibernates, effectively cutting its energy consumption and thus its need for food, remaining secure from predators by burrowing underground.

Sleep duration, then, is determined in each species by the time requirements of eating, the cost-benefit relations between activity and risk, migration needs, care of young, and other factors. However, unlike hibernation and torpor, Siegel said, sleep is rapidly reversible — that is, animals can wake up quickly, a unique mammalian adaptation that allows for a relatively quick response to sensory signals.

Humans fit into this analysis as well. What is most remarkable about sleep, according to Siegel, is not the unresponsiveness or vulnerability it creates but rather that ability to reduce body and brain metabolism while still allowing that high level of responsiveness to the environment. "The often cited example is that of a parent arousing at a baby's whimper but sleeping through a thunderstorm," he said. "That dramatizes the ability of the sleeping human brain to continuously process sensory signals and trigger complete awakening to significant stimuli within a few hundred milliseconds."

In humans, the brain constitutes, on average, just 2 percent of total body weight but consumes 20 percent of the energy used during quiet waking, so these savings have considerable adaptive significance. Besides conserving energy, sleep invokes survival benefits for humans too — "for example," said Siegel, "a reduced risk of injury, reduced resource consumption and, from an evolutionary standpoint, reduced risk of detection by predators."

"This Darwinian perspective can explain age-related changes in human sleep patterns as well," he said. "We sleep more deeply when we are young, because we have a high metabolic rate that is greatly reduced during sleep, but also because there are people to protect us. Our sleep patterns change when we are older, though, because that metabolic rate reduces and we are now the ones doing the alerting and protecting from dangers."


22 August, 2009

Antioxidants FACILITATE cancer growth

This should be the death-knell of the antioxidant religion. The authors below are of course careful to give believers an "out" of sorts and caution is proper but in conjunction with some previous studies (see side-column) which have shown harm from antioxidant intake, the warning is loud and clear

Cells don't like to be alone. In the early stages of tumor formation, a cell might be pushed out of its normal home environment due to excessive growth. But a cell normally responds to this homeless state by dismantling its nucleus, packing up its DNA, and offering itself to be eaten by immune system cells. Simply put, the homeless cell kills itself. This process, known as apoptosis, typically stops potential cancer cells before they have a chance to proliferate.

Now, researchers from the lab of Harvard Medical School professor of cell biology Joan Brugge have uncovered another mechanism that kills these precancerous, homeless cells. By studying two different types of human breast epithelial cells, the researchers found that when separated from their natural environment, these cells lose their ability to harvest energy from their surroundings. Eventually, they starve.

"We originally thought that in order for cells to survive outside their normal environment, they would simply need to suppress apoptosis," says Brugge, senior author on the paper, which appeared August 19 online in Nature. "But our studies indicate that this activity is not sufficient to prevent the demise of homeless cells. Even if they escape apoptosis, these cells can't transport enough glucose to sustain an energy supply."

Surprisingly, metabolic function is restored if antioxidant activity is increased inside the cells, allowing the cells to use energy pathways that don't rely on glucose. "It raises the interesting idea that antioxidants, which are typically thought to be protective because they prevent genomic damage, might be allowing these potentially dangerous cells to survive," says first author Zachary Schafer, assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame and a former postdoc in Professor Brugge's lab.

The authors caution against extrapolating too far from their data, which were based on experiments in laboratory cell culture. They also emphasize that the experiments were not designed to mimic the effect of dietary antioxidants in the body. The researchers used two specific antioxidant compounds - which are chemically distinct from those found in food and supplements - only in order to understand how oxidants contributed to the metabolic defects.

"We think that genes with antioxidant activity play a much bigger role than antioxidant compounds administered from outside the body," says Brugge. "What happens with dietary antioxidants is much more complicated and not what we were trying to study."

The researchers had previously reported that when cells were endowed with a cancer-causing gene that prevents them from committing suicide, they still died when cut off from their extracellular environment. This puzzled researchers, who have long thought that apoptosis was the only way the cells could die.

In the recent study, Schafer and colleagues took a closer look, measuring the levels of proteins and molecules associated with metabolic activity in the displaced, but apoptosis-resistant, cells. They found that the cells had become incapable of taking up glucose, their primary energy source. Under the microscope, the cells also displayed telltale signs of oxidative stress, a harmful accumulation of oxygen-derived molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS). The end result was a halt in the production of ATP, the molecular lifeblood that transports energy in the cells. The unmoored cells were literally starving to death. "The idea that a lack of extracellular matrix can prevent cells from accessing nutrients hasn't been shown conclusively before," says Schafer. "Loss of glucose transport, decreased ATP production, increased oxidative stress - all those things turn out to be interrelated."

To figure out what was wrong, the researchers took a straightforward approach - they tried to fix it. Schafer engineered the homeless cells to express high levels of a gene, HER2, known to be hyperactive in many breast tumors. He also treated the cells with antioxidants in an attempt to relieve oxidative stress and help the cells survive.

Both strategies worked. The cells with the breast cancer gene regained glucose transport, preventing ROS accumulation, and recovered their ATP levels. The antioxidant-treated cells also survived, but by using fatty acids instead of glucose as an energy source. "Our results raise the possibility that antioxidant activity might allow early-stage tumor cells to survive where they otherwise would die from these metabolic defects," says Schafer.

The researchers are currently planning to test the effects of antioxidant genes, some of which are abnormally regulated in human tumors, and a wider range of antioxidants in animal models. They also plan on characterizing the metabolic consequences of matrix detachment in more detail. "Ultimately," Brugge says, "we want to understand enough about the metabolism of tumor cells so that new types of drugs can be designed to target them."


Kidney dialysis machine 'small enough to be worn as a belt'

This really does seem to deserve that much over-used word "breakthrough"

Scientists have developed a kidney dialysis machine small enough to be worn as a belt which can allow patients to receive the treatment as they walk around. The breakthrough could potentially free thousands of patients from attending hospital every other day. More than 25,000 people in Britain need to have regular dialysis, usually around three times a week, because their kidneys do not function properly.

Described as “small and light enough to be wearable”, the battery-powered machine weighs around 10lb. Researchers hope that the device will give patients the freedom to have their treatment whenever and wherever they choose. Dr Victor Gura, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, one of the team behind the new machine, said: “Our vision of a technological breakthrough has materialized in the form of a Wearable Artificial Kidney, which provides continuous dialysis 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

While hospital patients have to receive a fairly intensive form of dialysis, because of the limited time available, the researchers hope that this machine can offer a gentler form, more akin to that provided naturally by the kidneys themselves.

The researchers are carrying out preliminary tests on the machine, including in patients who need dialysis. “However, the long-term effect of this technology on the well-being of dialysis patients must be demonstrated in much-needed clinical trials,” Dr Gura said. “Although successful, this is but one additional step on a long road still ahead of us to bring about a much-needed change in the lives of this population.”

Timothy Statham, chief executive of the National Kidney Federation (NKF) said that few patients would want round the clock dialysis but many would appreciate the extra freedom the device could offer. He added that many of the estimated two per cent of patients who had been able to have more regular dialysis, thorough machines in their own homes, had seen “remarkable results”.

The findings are published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.


21 August, 2009

Now candles are bad for you

How did our ancestors ever survive? But it's just speculation. No tests were done to see how they actually affected people

They can add a hint of romance to a meal or make taking a bath a real luxury. But scented candles can be bad for your health, say scientists. The smoke produced by many of them is laced with toxins linked to cancer, asthma and eczema. The odd candle is unlikely to do any harm, but we should avoid using them day after day in bathrooms and other poorly ventilated rooms, say the researchers.

The U.S. researchers burnt a range of candles in the laboratory and collected and tested the substances given off. This showed that those made of paraffin wax, the most common type, released potentially harmful amounts of chemicals such as toluene and benzene. Some of the pollutants have been linked to cancer, while others could trigger asthma attacks or skin complaints, the American Chemical Society's annual conference heard.

Most of those on sale in Britain, including many scented ones, are made of paraffin wax, a byproduct of the petroleum industry. Beeswax and soy candles, which are more expensive, were given a clean bill of health in the tests.

Researcher Dr Amid Hamidi, of South Carolina State University: 'An occasional paraffin candle and its emissions will not likely affect you. 'But lighting many paraffin candles every day for years or lighting them frequently in an unventilated bathroom around a tub, for example, may cause problems.'

Dr Noemi Eiser, of the British Lung Foundation, echoed the advice. She said: 'We would like to reassure people that occasional use of paraffin candles should not pose any risk to their lung health. 'However we would advise people to take sensible precautions when burning candles, such as opening a window to keep the room ventilated to minimise the amount of emissions breathed in.'

But Dr Joanna Owens, of Cancer Research UK, said: 'There is no direct evidence that everyday use of candles can affect our risk of developing cancer.' She said it more important to focus on the risk factors that there was hard evidence for, such as smoking, alcohol, obesity, unhealthy diets, inactivity and heavy sun exposure.

The British Candlemakers' Federation said an authoritative study two years ago concluded that candles, including those made of paraffin wax, did not pose a health risk.


Tiny magnets that help heal injuries could be used to treat cancer

Tiny magnets have been used to guide stem cells to repair injuries in a study that opens a new approach to targeted medicine. Research by British scientists has shown that nanomagnets consisting of stem cells “tagged” with microscopic particles containing iron, each of which is 2,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair, can be steered around the body using an external magnetic field.

The first study of the technique has shown that it can boost by five times the number of stem cells that reach the injured blood vessels of rats. The results also suggest that similar methods could be used in other branches of medicine, for example to guide chemotherapy drugs towards tumours while avoiding healthy tissue.

As the nanoparticles used in the experiment are already approved for medical use by the US Food and Drug Administration, human trials of the technology could potentially begin within three to five years, scientists said.

Mark Lythgoe, of University College London who led the study, said: “These particles are tiny: one nanometre is the distance that a fingernail grows in a second.” “It’s feasible that heart attacks and other vascular injuries could eventually be treated using regular injections of magnetised stem cells.

“The technology could be adapted to localise cells in other organs and provide a useful tool for the systemic injection of all manner of cell therapies. And it’s not just limited to cells – by focusing tagged antibodies or viruses using this method, cancerous tumours could be much more specifically targeted.”

In the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Interventions , the team focused on a type of stem cell called endothelial progenitor cells, which have been shown to be important in vascular healing. Each cell was tagged with a “nanomagnet” about 50 nanometres in diameter, before these were injected into the rats. A magnetic field was then used to guide the tagged stem cells through the bloodstream until they reached an injured artery.

Panagiotis Kyrtatos, another member of the UCL team, said: “This research tackles one of the most critical challenges in the biomedical sciences today: ensuring the effective delivery and retention of cellular therapies to specific targets within the body. “The nanomagnets not only assist with the targeting but with the aid of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) also allow us to observe how the cells behave once they’re injected.”

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which helped to fund the study, said: “This encouraging research shows that nanomagnets could be used to help therapeutic stem cells reach specific areas of the body, particularly inside blood vessels where the blood is flowing fast and at high pressure. “We await further research to find out if, as well as increasing the chances of these cells getting to where they are needed, this strategy can actually speed up the repair process.”


20 August, 2009

Quack psychotherapy kills

"Encounter groups" and the like once had a certain vogue in mainstream psychology but it became apparent that they often did more harm than good to vulnerable people and they therefore largely fell out of mainstream use. The quacks, however, seem to have reinvented and worsened the procedures.

Last I heard, NSW had psychologist registration laws requiring 6 years of accredited training in some form. I would have thought that the quacks below were in breach of that and could be prosecuted

JOHN Marshall had a sense of deja vu when he heard that Rebekah Lawrence had jumped naked to her death just days after completing a self-help course. Eighteen years earlier, Mr Marshall's stepson died during a self-help program run by the creator of Ms Lawrence's course. "When I first heard about it in the news, I thought, my God," Mr Marshall told The Australian yesterday. "They're identical. They've just changed the dates and the names."

Darren Hughes was 24 when, in 1987, he fell to his death from a 12m-high window during the Breakthrough residential self-help program. In 2005, Lawrence jumped naked to her death from her office window, just two days after completing The Turning Point course. Hughes's course was run by the Walter Bellin Partnership until 1988. Mr Bellin also created The Turning Point course.

The inquest into Lawrence's death heard last week from Geoffrey Kabealo, the chief executive of People Knowhow, the company behind The Turning Point and Breakthrough courses since 1988. Mr Kabealo said last week that "some 40,000 people have come through the (Turning Point) course and we haven't had any episodes like Rebekah Lawrence". Mr Kabealo has since denied any knowledge of Hughes's death.

Mr Marshall, a sergeant with Sydney Water Police, said organisers of the course were aware of his stepson's mental problems. Hughes had been in a psychiatric hospital, had had electric shock therapy and was recovering from drug addiction. Mr Marshall warned one of the organisers that his stepson should not be doing the $1500 course because of his mental health history. "It's all right," the organiser told him. "He's on a higher plane now." The woman he spoke to was a volunteer who had taken the course herself but who did not have any professional training.

The inquest into Lawrence's death heard a similar story about the volunteers' training. The 34-year-old called two members of her "service team" the night before she died. The first team member told the inquest he had not expected to receive calls in the middle of the night. The other told Lawrence she was not qualified to answer her questions. Neither had any formal training or qualifications in counselling or psychology.

Mr Marshall said his stepson, a welder and boilermaker, was on medication and "seemed to be getting himself back on track" before starting the Breakthrough course. It was on the fourth day of the program that Hughes fell 2 1/2 storeys at a guest house in Robertson, in the NSW southern highlands. A policeman told Mr Marshall the group had reacted to Hughes's death "as if nothing had happened".

Mr Marshall said the organisers "took participants' watches away and any personal effects, like photos, that gave them a link to their identities". "The idea was to disorientate them and reprogram them," he said. Hughes's parents describe the course when it was run by the Walter Bellin Partnership as "brainwashing" and "a cult". The inquest into Hughes's death recorded an open verdict, but his mother, Dorothy Marshall, believes the course was to blame. She said she was horrified to discover "that the same people could do it again". "They take innocent young people that trust them and they destroy them mentally," she said.

Mr Marshall hopes the inquest into Lawrence's death will ensure courses use qualified practitioners and are properly regulated. "Otherwise it will happen again," he said.


Junk food dummies: How bingeing on burgers and chips can drain your brainpower -- if you are a rat

This generalization from rats has a number of problems. The rats were fed a VERY high fat diet and fat is probably not a large part of a normal rat diet anyway. They would not have good adaptation to it. So once again poor generalizability from rodent studies to humans can be expected

Eating too much fast food will make you thicker in more ways than one, according to a study. As well as expanding the waistline, a high-fat diet of curries, kebabs, burgers and chips can make you less intelligent. The research was performed by scientists at Oxford University on rats. A high-fat diet over less than ten days damaged the rodents’ short-term memory and made them less mentally alert, as well as significantly decreasing their ability to exercise.

The group of biological experts say their results – dubbed a ‘high-fat hangover’ – show an important link between what people eat, how they think, and how our bodies perform.

Andrew Murray, co-author of the study, said: ‘Western diets are typically high in fat and are associated with long-term complications such as obesity, diabetes, and heart failure yet the short-term consequences of such diets have been given relatively little attention. ‘We hope that the findings of our study will help people to think seriously about reducing the fat content of their daily food intake to the immediate benefit of their general health, well-being and alertness.’

The research team studied rats fed a lowfat diet, comprising just 7.5 per cent of calories as fat, and compared them with rats fed a high-fat junk food diet, typically 55 per cent of calories as fat. They discovered that after just four days the muscles of the rats eating the high-fat diet were less able to use oxygen to make the energy needed to exercise, causing their hearts to work harder and increase in size. After nine days on a high-fat diet, the rats took longer to complete a maze and made more mistakes in the process than their low-fat-diet counterparts. The number of correct decisions before making a mistake dropped from over six to an average of five to 5.5.

The low-fat rats were also running 50 per cent further by this stage than their fatter and ‘thicker’ counterparts.

Researchers then investigated the cellular causes of these problems, particularly in muscle cells. They found increased levels of a protein called uncoupling protein 3, which made the cells less efficient at using oxygen to make the energy required for running.

The findings are published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology. Dr Gerald Weissmann, editor of the journal, said: ‘It’s nothing short of a high-fat hangover.’

The research funded by the British Heart Foundation may have implications for athletes looking for the best diet for training and patients with metabolic disorders. The scientists are now studying the effect of a short-term high-fat diet on humans.


19 August, 2009

Powerful anti-cancer compound uncovered (in mice)

Many effects found in rodents do not generalize to humans

A new study conducted on mice has uncovered a chemical compound that effectively targets cancer stem cells - the key cells that spread malignant tumors and are usually resistant to treatment. In a study published in Thursday's edition of the journal Cell, a group of medical researchers said they had discovered that a compound called salinomycin directly targeted cancer stem cells. "Evidence is accumulating rapidly that cancer stem cells are responsible for the aggressive powers of many tumors," said Robert Weinberg, a member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, and one of the study's authors.

Cancer stem cells are rare but aggressive parts of tumors and their ability to seed new tumors while proving largely resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy makes them a key component in treating cancer patients. "Many therapies kill the bulk of a tumor only to see it regrow," said Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, another author of the Cell paper.

Previous attempts to study cancer stem cells have been stymied by difficulties in locating the rare cells within tumors, and the tendency of the cells to lose their key properties when grown outside of the body. To conduct their research, the study group found a novel way to manipulate cultured breast cancer cells into cancer stem cells that retained the tendency to seed tumors and resist anti-cancer treatments. The researchers then analyzed some 16,000 chemical compounds, looking for one that could target the cancer stem cells, eventually narrowing the field to 32, and then down to one: salinomycin.

The compound showed impressive results, both against naturally-occurring and manipulated cancer stem cells, reducing the proportion of breast cancer stem cells by more than 100-fold compared to a commonly-used breast cancer treatment called paclitaxel. It also inhibited the ability of the cancer stem cells to seed new tumors when injected into mice, and slowed the growth of existing tumors in the animals. "It wasn't clear it would be possible to find compounds that selectively kill cancer stem cells," said Piyush Gupta, one of the study's lead authors and a researcher at the Broad Institute. "We've shown it can be done."

The compound even targeted groups of genes, usually linked to particularly aggressive tumors and poor patient prognoses, that are highly active in cancer stem cells, effectively decreasing their activity, the study said. "Our work reveals the biological effects of targeting cancer stem cells," said Gupta. "Moreover, it suggests a general approach to finding anti-cancer therapies that can be applied to any solid tumor maintained by cancer stem cells."

The researchers are not yet sure how salinomycin works, and there are a number of pharmaceutical steps that would need to be taken before it could be used to treat cancer patients. However, the study's authors are positive both about the prospects for salinomycin and a number of the other chemical compounds tested, several of which also showed some ability to target cancer stem cells.


Always look on the bright side of life... it could help fend off a heart attack

This is just another replication of the long-established finding that hostile people have more coronary heart disease

A study of 100,000 women showed that the optimistic ones had a nine per cent lower chance of developing heart disease. The research, from the University of Pittsburgh, examined the women aged 50 to 79 who were initially free of cancer and cardiovascular disease. It revealed that those seen as having positive characters were less likely to die from conditions linked to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol or have depressive symptoms, smoke, be sedentary or have a high body mass index. But women with a high degree of 'cynical hostility' were at a higher risk of dying earlier.

Women were deemed to be optimistic if they agreed with statements such as: 'In unclear times, I usually expect the best.' Pessimism was defined as agreeing: 'If something can go wrong for me, it will.'

Lead author Hilary Tindle said: 'As a physician, I'd like to see people try to reduce their negativity in general. The evidence suggests that sustained, high degrees of negativity are hazardous to health.'

A separate study, from the University of Alberta, Canada, found that positive expectations helped patients with whiplash injuries recover three times more quickly. Those who had low expectations of complete recovery were four times more likely still to feel symptoms of the injury six months later. ... and why reading this could make you smile

According to the old song, when you're smiling the whole world smiles with you. And according to psychologists, it's true. An experiment suggested that the tendency is to smile or frown when you see someone else doing the same thing. The facial muscles are automatically activated just by observing the other person's expression, researchers from Dutch universities found. And even merely reading certain trigger words can have an effect.

The study, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, detected different facial reactions to the words 'smile' and 'cry' or 'funny' and 'frustrating'. As volunteers read the words, the researchers monitored the reaction in the zygomatic muscle which control smiles and the corrugator supercilii, controlling frowns. When they read the verb 'to laugh' from a screen, it activated the zygomatic 'smile muscle' yet when they read 'to frown' the frown muscle did not respond at all.

There was some, but not as much, movement from both the smile and frown muscles when the volunteers read the words 'funny', 'frustrating' and other adjectives.


Australia: Vaccine fear campaign investigated

These fruitcakes certainly are dangerous

A GROUP that claims vaccines cause autism, brain damage and cancer has been reported to the healthcare watchdog for allegedly spreading misinformation and endangering children's health. The official complaint to the Health Care Complaints Commission follows a newspaper advertisement paid for by businessman Dick Smith pleading with parents to ignore the Australian Vaccination Network's fear campaign.

AVN is run by Meryl Dorey, who publishes a website and newsletter, campaigns against mass public immunisation programs and promotes the use of homeopathy to prevent disease.

The Australian Skeptics group supports the complaint that Ms Dorey and the network are breaching the Health Care Complaints Act by making unsubstantiated health claims based on "conspiracy theories", pseudo-scientific evidence and debunked research.

Ms Dorey, of Bangalow on the Far North Coast, says her eldest son, now 20, was "vaccine-injured" from the diphtheria-tetanus-polio immunisation when he was two months old and the measles-mumps-rubella shot at 12 months. She attributes his life-long sleep apnoea and allergies to the vaccinations. Ms Dorey said she was not anti-vaccination, just "pro-information and pro-choice". "We never have and never will tell anyone that they should not vaccinate. We simply fill the information void left by government and the mainstream medical community," she said.

But Dick Smith, the Skeptics and the author of the complaint, Ken McLeod, say Ms Dorey and AVN do not promote choice because her speeches and publications never mention the proven benefits of immunisation, and the group's motto is: "Love them, protect them, never inject them.". "They can have their view but be upfront about it and don't quote dubious scientific evidence that has been debunked," Skeptics executive officer Tim Mendham said.

Mr Smith wrote and funded the advertisement because he believed young, vulnerable mothers were being conned by the network's claim to be an independent voice.

Complaints commission executive officer Kim Swan said the allegations were being assessed, and AVN had been asked to respond. Ms Dorey said the commission did not have jurisdiction over her or the network because she was not medically qualified and did not provide a health service.


18 August, 2009

IQ a bigger contributor to socioeconomic influence on risk of CV death than conventional risk factors

To translate that heading into plain English: Poor people get more heart attacks not because they are fatter and smoke more (etc.) but because they are dumber. That reinforces the idea that IQ is a marker of general biological fitness as well as being a marker of mental ability. Another indication of that is that high IQ people live longer. I imagine that some readers think I overdo it in attributing so many epidemiological correlations to IQ and social class (which are themselves correlated) but the paper below shows just how important those factors are

A couple of footnote-type comments: 1). It is odd that alcohol consumption was not mentioned in the study. Perhaps they were afraid that they might find that boozers live longer. 2). There is a constant tendency for people to counter generalizations that they don't like with contrary examples, quite ignoring that you can prove anything by examples. So when confronted by the idea that IQ is a marker of general biological fitness, some people say: "What about Stephen Hawking? He's very bright but he's none too healthy". One might reply however that to have lived into his 60s with his severe disability his basic health must be exceptionally robust!

Intelligence appears to play a greater role than traditional cardiovascular risk factors in the relationship of socioeconomic disadvantage with cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality, according to a new and unusual study.

This is the first research to properly examine this issue, say Dr G David Batty (University of Glasgow, Scotland) and colleagues in their paper published online July 14, 2009 in the European Heart Journal. "Our findings suggest that measured IQ does not completely account for observed inequalities in health, but probably— through a variety of mechanisms— may quite strongly contribute to them." The findings indicate the need to further explore how the links between low socioeconomic status, low IQ, and poor health might be broken, they observe.

In an accompanying editorial, Drs Michael Marmot and Mika Kivimäki (University College London, UK) say research such as this "is challenging . . . [but it] makes clear that what happens in the mind, whether the influence came from the material world or the social, has to be taken into account if we are to understand how the socioeconomic circumstances in which people live influence health and well-being." [It must have been hard for The Marmot to admit that. He is associated with the dubious WCRF and some equally dubious dietary claims]

Adding IQ to statistical models strengthens their power [But it is SO "incorrect"]

Batty and colleagues explain that controlling for preventable behavioral and physiological risk factors attenuates but fails to eliminate socioeconomic gradients in health, particularly CVD, which raises the possibility that as-yet-unmeasured psychological factors need to be considered, and one such factor is cognitive function (also referred to as intelligence or IQ).

They studied a cohort of 4289 US male former military personnel, from the Vietnam Experience Study, which they say had a number of strengths that enabled them to explore the role of IQ. It provides extensive data on IQ (early adulthood and middle age) and four widely used markers of socioeconomic position: early-adulthood and current income; occupational prestige and education; a range of nine established CVD risk factors; and cause-specific mortality.

They used the relative index of inequality (RII) to quantify the relation between each index of socioeconomic position and mortality. Over 15 years, there were 237 deaths (62 from CVD and 175 from other causes). In age-adjusted analyses, each of the four indices of socioeconomic position was inversely associated with total, CVD, and "other" causes of mortality, such that, as would be expected from previous findings, elevated rates were evident in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged men.

When IQ in middle age was introduced to the age-adjusted model, there was marked attenuation in the RII across the socioeconomic predictors for total mortality (average 50% attenuation in RII), CVD mortality (55%), and "other" causes of death (49%). When the nine traditional risk factors were added to the age-adjusted model, the comparable reduction in RII was less marked: all causes (40%), CVD (40%) and "other" mortality (43%).

And adding IQ to the model adjusted for age and CVD risk resulted in further explanatory power for all outcomes, they say.

Consider IQ when planning health promotion and in consultations

In their editorial, Marmot and Kivimäki say there is probably not a direct IQ effect but rather cognitive function more likely "explains" the link between socioeconomic position and mortality, insofar as intelligence is a determinant of social and economic success in life. Further research will help clarify this issue, they note. [The Marmot is trying to waffle his way out of it. I am not even sure what he means there]

Batty et al say their results suggest that individual cognition levels should be considered more carefully when health promotion campaigns are being prepared and in health-professional-client interactions.


Journal abstract follows:

Does IQ explain socio-economic differentials in total and cardiovascular disease mortality? Comparison with the explanatory power of traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors in the Vietnam Experience Study

By G. David Batty et al.

Aims: The aim of this study was to examine the explanatory power of intelligence (IQ) compared with traditional cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors in the relationship of socio-economic disadvantage with total and CVD mortality, that is the extent to which IQ may account for the variance in this well-documented association.

Methods and results: Cohort study of 4289 US male former military personnel with data on four widely used markers of socio-economic position (early adulthood and current income, occupational prestige, and education), IQ test scores (early adulthood and middle-age), a range of nine established CVD risk factors (systolic and diastolic blood pressure, total blood cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, body mass index, smoking, blood glucose, resting heart rate, and forced expiratory volume in 1 s), and later mortality.

We used the relative index of inequality (RII) to quantify the relation between each index of socio-economic position and mortality. Fifteen years of mortality surveillance gave rise to 237 deaths (62 from CVD and 175 from ‘other’ causes).

In age-adjusted analyses, as expected, each of the four indices of socio-economic position was inversely associated with total, CVD, and ‘other’ causes of mortality, such that elevated rates were evident in the most socio-economically disadvantaged men.

When IQ in middle-age was introduced to the age-adjusted model, there was marked attenuation in the RII across the socio-economic predictors for total mortality (average 50% attenuation in RII), CVD (55%), and ‘other’ causes of death (49%). When the nine traditional risk factors were added to the age-adjusted model, the comparable reduction in RII was less marked than that seen after IQ adjustment: all-causes (40%), CVD (40%), and ‘other’ mortality (43%).

Adding IQ to the latter model resulted in marked, additional explanatory power for all outcomes in comparison to the age-adjusted analyses: all-causes (63%), CVD (63%), and ‘other’ mortality (65%). When we utilized IQ in early adulthood rather than middle-age as an explanatory variable, the attenuating effect on the socio-economic gradient was less pronounced although the same pattern was still present.

Conclusion: In the present analyses of socio-economic gradients in total and CVD mortality, IQ appeared to offer greater explanatory power than that apparent for traditional CVD risk factors.

European Heart Journal 2009 30(15):1903-1909

WCRF crooks now attacking ham sandwiches

The newspaper accepts them as cancer experts. Frantically fundraising frauds would be a better name. They seem to come out with these scares every few months. Some background on the WCRF and their unsubstantiated scares here and here

Parents are being warned not to put ham, bacon and other processed meats in their children's packed lunches. Ham sandwiches are given to thousands of children every day in packed lunches. Many parents regard them as a healthy option. Now, however, parents are being urged not to put the sandwiches in their children's lunch boxes - because of the cancer risk. Ham, bacon and other types of processed meat raise the risk of bowel cancer over a lifetime, according to a cancer charity.

Giving sandwich fillers such as ham and salami to children means they get into habits that increase their risk of developing cancer later in life, it claims. Healthier alternatives are fish, low-fat cheese, houmous, or small amounts of unprocessed, lean meat such as chicken.

Scientists estimate that in the UK about 3,700 bowel cancer cases could be prevented if everyone ate less than 70grams of processed meat a week, which is roughly the equivalent of three rashers of bacon.

The World Cancer Research Fund charity said that although the research has not specifically looked at the effect of eating processed meat in childhood [That's a great basis for decision-making, isn't it?], the 'convincing' evidence in adults makes it important to teach children to avoid it where possible. Marni Craze, children's education manager for the charity said: 'If children have processed meat in their lunch every day then over the course of a school year they will be eating quite a lot of it. 'It is better if children learn to view processed meat as an occasional treat if it is eaten at all.

'We also need to do more to raise awareness of the issue, as a recent survey has shown that two thirds of people in Britain do not know that eating processed meat increases the risk of cancer. [Because it doesn't] 'This is despite the scientific evidence about a link being convincing.'

The warning applies to meats that have been processed by smoking or having salt or additives put in them. It does not relate to cooked meat, although the charity recommends limiting the intake of red meat to 500grams (cooked weight) per week to cut down the risk of developing bowel cancer.

The charity also says packed lunches that contain sugary drinks and items high in fat and calories could indirectly raise the risk of cancer by making children overweight - with the extra pounds carried into adulthood. [Funny that middling-weight people live longer, isn't it?]

Miss Craze said: 'If children are regularly eating high-calorie foods or sugary drinks then they are more likely to become overweight. Putting ham in your child's sandwich might seem like a convenient option, particularly for parents who do not have a lot of time to prepare their child's lunch box. 'But packed lunches are a part of a child's diet that is relatively easy to control. 'Putting some salad into a sandwich will count towards the five portions of fruits and vegetables children should be eating every day. [And that rule is totally made-up, with NO experimental support] 'A small fruit juice instead of a fizzy drink will also give a portion. Chicken that has not been processed, fish, houmous or low fat cheese are easy alternatives.'

Last year, the WCRF claimed that, after not smoking, staying a healthy weight is the most important way to prevent cancer. In 2007, the charity also blamed drinking and everyday foods, including processed meats, for cancer. Among the findings of the analysis of thousands of studies on lifestyle and cancer was that small amounts of processed meat raise the risk of bowel cancer by 20 per cent. Processed meats may also trigger cancer in the prostate, lung, stomach and oesophagus. Last year, the charity linked the research to a warning about traditional cooked breakfasts.


17 August, 2009

Memory exam as good as IQ test?

This is not exactly new. It has long been known that memory is a factor in IQ but the claim that it predicts academic success better is new. It may depend on the type of academic success and the way it is measured. Verbal ability is the component of IQ most usually found to be the best predictor of academic success, which may be part of the reason why women generally outpace men in the numbers gaining academic qualifications these days.

The article mentioned below must be a very recent acceptance as it is not at the time of writing listed as "In press" at the journal concerned.

A previous recent publication of Prof. Alloway's work says that it was done among children with learning difficulties. That would severely limit the generalizability of her findings

Scientists are calling for a new way of testing intelligence. As the internet cuts the need for the brain to store facts, “working memory” - our ability to retain and juggle information for brief periods - could be as much a measure of modern mental abilities as traditional IQ tests.

For decades psychologists, teachers and employers have relied on IQ testing to assess people’s learning potential. The tests measure problem-solving ability and a person’s capacity for abstract reasoning. Now, however, scientists are suggesting that short-term or working memory is a better and simpler measure of the skills modern youngsters will need in school and in their eventual careers.

Tracy Alloway, director of the centre for memory and learning at Stirling University, is to release the latest research suggesting that tests of children’s working memory helped predict their grades more accurately than IQ tests. “Working memory measures our ability to process and remember short-term information. It’s about how well we juggle different thoughts and tasks,” she said. “There is a great deal of variation between different individuals and it is becoming clear that it is a much better way of predicting academic attainment.”

Such findings are likely to prove controversial, especially as Alloway claims that testing working memory also avoids the cultural bias built into IQ tests. Such bias has been blamed, for example, for the way different racial groups achieve significant variations in their average scores.

In her latest research Alloway gave working memory and IQ tests to 98 children aged 4.3 to 5.7 years in full-time preschool education. Recently, six years on, she revisited the children, now aged 10 and 11, asking them to take a battery of tests to measure working memory and IQ. She said: “Critically, we find that working memory at the start of formal education is a more powerful predictor of subsequent academic success than IQ.” Alloway’s research is due to be published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Some link psychology’s new focus on short-term memory with the rise of the internet and other electronic databases which makes the ability to juggle facts and figures more important than remembering them for long periods.

Alloway believes there are other factors at work too. “Working memory assesses people’s ability to process information and keep track of complex tasks, so it is relevant to many aspects of modern lifestyles,” she said.

Other psychologists believe IQ tests still have a lot to offer. Robert Logie, professor of human cognitive neuroscience at Edinburgh University and an expert in working memory, said measuring IQ gave a far more complete view of a person’s all-round mental abilities. He said: “There are many aspects to intelligence, and working memory is important but it is far from being the whole story.”


Great dangers in the rushed-out swine flu vaccine

The entire population of Britain are about to become guinea pigs in a risky experiment

A warning that the new swine flu jab is linked to a deadly nerve disease has been sent by the Government to senior neurologists in a confidential letter. The letter from the Health Protection Agency, the official body that oversees public health, has been leaked to The Mail on Sunday, leading to demands to know why the information has not been given to the public before the vaccination of millions of people, including children, begins.

It tells the neurologists that they must be alert for an increase in a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which could be triggered by the vaccine. GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal.

The letter, sent to about 600 neurologists on July 29, is the first sign that there is concern at the highest levels that the vaccine itself could cause serious complications. It refers to the use of a similar swine flu vaccine in the United States in 1976 when:

* More people died from the vaccination than from swine flu.
* 500 cases of GBS were detected.
* The vaccine may have increased the risk of contracting GBS by eight times.
* The vaccine was withdrawn after just ten weeks when the link with GBS became clear.
* The US Government was forced to pay out millions of dollars to those affected.

Concerns have already been raised that the new vaccine has not been sufficiently tested and that the effects, especially on children, are unknown. It is being developed by pharmaceutical companies and will be given to about 13 million people during the first wave of immunisation, expected to start in October. Top priority will be given to everyone aged six months to 65 with an underlying health problem, pregnant women and health professionals.

The British Neurological Surveillance Unit (BNSU), part of the British Association of Neurologists, has been asked to monitor closely any cases of GBS as the vaccine is rolled out. One senior neurologist said last night: ‘I would not have the swine flu jab because of the GBS risk.’

There are concerns that there could be a repeat of what became known as the ‘1976 debacle’ in the US, where a swine flu vaccine killed 25 people – more than the virus itself. A mass vaccination was given the go-ahead by President Gerald Ford because scientists believed that the swine flu strain was similar to the one responsible for the 1918-19 pandemic, which killed half a million Americans and 20million people worldwide.

Within days, symptoms of GBS were reported among those who had been immunised and 25 people died from respiratory failure after severe paralysis. One in 80,000 people came down with the condition. In contrast, just one person died of swine flu. More than 40million Americans had received the vaccine by the time the programme was stopped after ten weeks. The US Government paid out millions of dollars in compensation to those affected.

The swine flu virus in the new vaccine is a slightly different strain from the 1976 virus, but the possibility of an increased incidence of GBS remains a concern. Shadow health spokesman Mike Penning said last night: ‘The last thing we want is secret letters handed around experts within the NHS. We need a vaccine but we also need to know about potential risks. ‘Our job is to make sure that the public knows what’s going on. Why is the Government not being open about this? It’s also very worrying if GPs, who will be administering the vaccine, aren’t being warned.’ ....

Dr Tom Jefferson, co-ordinator of the vaccines section of the influential Cochrane Collaboration, an independent group that reviews research, said: ‘New vaccines never behave in the way you expect them to. It may be that there is a link to GBS, which is certainly not something I would wish on anybody. ‘But it could end up being anything because one of the additives in one of the vaccines is a substance called squalene, and none of the studies we’ve extracted have any research on it at all.’ He said squalene, a naturally occurring enzyme, could potentially cause so-far-undiscovered side effects.

More here

16 August, 2009

Chocolate cuts death rate after heart attack (?)

It would be nice to believe this but I am afraid that it is just another overinterpreted epidemiological finding. Chocolate eaters got fewer heart attacks. Why? The article below offers a speculation that is popular but goes against the evidence. 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. So it is more likely that wealthier people ate more chocolate and that they were healthier anyhow

Heart attack survivors who eat chocolate two or more times per week cut their risk of dying from heart disease about threefold compared to those who never touch the stuff, scientists have reported. Smaller quantities confer less protection but are still better than none, according to the study, which appears in the September issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine. Earlier research had established a strong link between cocoa-based confections and lowered blood pressure or improvement in blood flow. It had also shown that chocolate cuts the rate of heart-related mortality in healthy older men, along with post-menopausal women.

But the new study, led by Dr. Imre Janszky of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is the first to demonstrate that consuming chocolate can help ward off the grim reaper if one has suffered a heart attack. "It was specific to chocolate - we found no benefit to sweets in general," said Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and a co-author of the study. "It seems that antioxidants in cocoa are a likely candidate" for explaining the lifesaving properties, he said in an e-mail.

Antioxidants are compounds that protect against so-called free radicals, molecules that accumulate in the body over time and can damage cells and are thought to play a role in heart disease, cancer and the aging process.

In the study, Dr. Janszky and colleagues tracked 1,169 non-diabetic men and women, 45-to-70 years old, in Stockholm County during the early 1990s from the time they were hospitalized with their first heart attack. The participants were queried before leaving the hospital on their food consumption habits over the previous year, including how much chocolate they ate on a regular basis.

They underwent a health examination three months after discharge, and were monitored for eight years after that. The incidence of fatal heart attacks correlated inversely with the amount of chocolate consumed. The results held true for men and women, and across all the age groups included in the study.

So should we all be loading up on cocoa-rich sweets? "To be frank, I'm pretty cautious about chocolate because we're working on weight problems with so many individuals," said Dr. Mukamal, who is also a physician. "However, I do encourage those who are looking for healthier desserts to consider chocolate in small quantities," he said.


Poisonous weed found in grocery salad

This sounds like a timely warning. For American readers, the reference to "rocket" is a reference to arugula. I'll stick to lettuce, myself. Picture of groundsel below

A CUSTOMER shopping at a discount supermarket store in Germany found stems of a poisonous weed in mixed salad bags, triggering concerns about potential health risks, the store said.

Traces of senecio vulgaris or common groundsel, that can cause extensive liver damage if ingested in large amounts, were discovered by a customer with a specialised knowledge of plants in a Plus store in Hanover, northern Germany. "It's hard for laymen to tell the difference from rocket," said a Plus spokeswoman. "We immediately took all affected bags off the shelves."

Samples were sent to the University of Bonn for testing, which detected more than 2500 micrograms of poison - 2500 times more than the recommended daily allowance - in 150 grams of salad, German media reported.

Consumer affairs minister in Rhineland-Palatinate, Margit Conrad, warned shoppers to be vigilant. "Not everything that looks like fruit and vegetable is edible," she said. "No one should eat plants or parts of plants that have an unusual taste."


15 August, 2009

Cannabis ‘can help to prevent osteoporosis in the elderly’ -- but harms the young

Psychotic oldsters with healthy bones coming up? Very strange results. Maybe the researchers themselves were high when they did the study. It's only a mouse study anyway and lots of effects observed in mice turn out differently in humans

Cannabis can help to prevent osteoporosis in the elderly, according to research. The findings could lead to new treatments being developed to treat the crippling condition. Researchers at University Edinburgh also found, though, that the drug can weaken the bones of younger people.

The discovery was described as “exciting” by charities, but they cautioned that it was important to understand the negative consequences of cannabis use on young bones. It was previously recognised that bone development was affected when a molecule in the body, known as the cannabinoid receptor type 1, came into contact with cannabis. It was not clear, though, whether the impact was good or bad. Now the Edinburgh team has established that this depends on the age of the user.

They exposed mice to compounds similar to those found in cannabis. They found that, in the young mice with the receptor, the compounds increased the rate at which bone tissue was destroyed. When the older mice with the receptor were exposed to the same compounds, though, their bone loss decreased and the accumulation of fat in the bones was prevented. Among older people bone regeneration normally slows down and fat builds up, causing osteoporosis.

Stuart Ralston, Professor of Rheumatology at the university, who led the study, said: “This is an exciting step forward, but we must recognise that these are early results. We plan to conduct further trials soon and hope the results will help to deliver new treatments that will be of value in the fight against osteoporosis.”

Professor Ralston said that the ideal way forward would be to develop a drug which was similar to cannabis but which did not have the same psychotropic effects. He added that smoking cannabis with tobacco was bad for bones at any age.

It is estimated that three million people have osteoporosis in Britain. One in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will suffer broken bones because of the condition.

Claire Bowring, medical policy officer for the National Osteoporosis Society, said: “This is an exciting study ... but it is important to understand the potential negative effects on peak bone mass [in the young] as well as the positive protection from age-related bone loss. We look forward to further research to see if these effects are mirrored in [people].”


Flapjacks to be banned in Britain?

Supermarkets should stop selling high-calorie snacks and treats to help to fight the country’s obesity problem, the outgoing chairman of the Food Standards Agency says. Dame Deirdre Hutton has spoken out as the watchdog prepares new targets for food manufacturers to reduce the calories and saturated-fat content in cakes, pastries, biscuits, chocolate bars and fizzy soft drinks.

A drive against supersize portions and bargain multipack offers on junk food is also part of the effort. “It is my personal view that supermarkets should stop marketing food that is small in size and high in calories. For example, flapjacks should not be on sale,” Dame Deirdre said.

Her remarks were made in an interview with The Times to mark the end of her four-year tenure as head of the agency. “I don’t think that supermarkets should be selling this very energy-driven food,” she said. “We should be making low-calorie food the norm and anything that is high in fat should be niche. We should reverse the norm and stores should sell 90 per cent healthy food and 10 per cent unhealthy.”

Research [i.e. brainless straight-line projections] has found that, without action, about 90 per cent of today’s children will be overweight or obese by 2050, with the bill to the taxpayer estimated at £50 billion. At present 22 per cent of children in England are overweight or obese by the time they start school, and by the age of 10 or 11 the proportion is almost 31 per cent.

Labels on the front of packs to identify unhealthy food items are seen as vital to help to change buying patterns. However, Dame Deirdre’s enthusiasm for them has triggered numerous clashes with food industry chiefs who are vehemently opposed to “traffic light” labels, with some food packaging carrying red alerts, plus guidance on the maximum recommended daily consumption of salt, sugar and fats. Leading companies including Tesco, Nestlé and Danone are against these labels, although the guidance is already used on food sold at Asda and Waitrose. Widespread take-up depends on a decision by the European Commission, which could take at least another year, though it is possible that ministers will introduce new laws in Britain.

Dame Deirdre made clear, however, that the food industry had already shifted its position on labels and the need to improve the nation’s diet. “When I started here they kept saying that food was an individual choice as part of a balanced diet,” she said. “Now they have recognised that they are part of the solution and they need to play ball, and they are. But that’s not to say we won’t be pushing them harder — we will.”

Fraudsters and firms that flout food safety laws should face tougher penalties, Dame Deirdre added. Most cases are heard by magistrates, and many offenders get only light fines.“I would like to see courts hand out much higher fines and penalties, especially as the agency is being more pro-active on enforcement”.

She warned that all food outlets faced more spot checks by enforcement officers. The recent spate of sheep rustling across the country had raised her concerns that illegal slaughter of animals was rife and could pose a threat to human health.

She said that she frowned on the use of “tertiary” labelling by supermarkets, whereby they invent a location brand for products. Marks & Spencer uses the LochMuir name for some of its fish packs, which has a picture of a loch, but no such loch exists. Tesco sells a chicken range under the Willow Farm label, also a fictitious location.


How to cure diseases before they have even evolved

WILL swine flu virus turn nasty as the northern hemisphere winter gets under way? All previous pandemic flu strains started off mild before becoming deadlier, so health authorities are taking the threat seriously. They know that if 2009 H1N1 flu does become more lethal over the next few months, we will be nearly defenceless: there are already signs of resistance to Tamiflu, and any vaccines will be in very short supply.

H1N1 flu is far from the only threat. A new pathogen could emerge at any time, as the SARS virus did in 2002, or a known virus such as that behind Lassa fever could become much better at passing from person to person and spread beyond Africa. Or a rogue scientist, or just a careless one, could release a deadly virus such as smallpox.

We have been relatively lucky so far. The nature of SARS allowed it to be contained, while H1N1 flu remains mild for now. But our luck could run out tomorrow. "Mother Nature is among the worst terrorists," says Michael Goldblatt, who once led the biodefence programme for the Pentagon's research arm, DARPA, and now heads Functional Genetics, a biotech company in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

"If you look at the viruses that are the biggest threats of modern times, most of them were unknown through human history: HIV, SARS, Ebola. You don't know where the next one is coming from. How do you develop therapeutics for the unknown and unknowable, given that you won't have time to develop a vaccine for a new agent after it appears?" he asks.

Goldblatt and a few other researchers think they have the answer. They are working on an entirely new class of antiviral drugs that should do something seemingly impossible: work against a wide range of existing viruses and also be effective against viruses that have not even evolved yet. What's more, it should be extremely difficult for any virus to become resistant to these drugs.

This might sound too good to be true, but the first trials of these drugs are already producing encouraging early results. If just a few of them live up to their promise in full-scale human trials - no sure thing - they will be a medical breakthrough on a par with the discovery of penicillin. At last, doctors will be able to treat viral diseases as ably as they do bacterial ones.

The conventional strategy for developing antivirals is "one bug, one drug" - finding a drug that blocks viral replication by binding to part of a viral protein. The trouble is, any minor mutation that slightly changes the shape of the protein can render these drugs useless, as is happening with Tamiflu. The hundreds of millions of dollars governments worldwide have spent stockpiling this drug could well turn out to be futile.

A few existing antiviral drugs, such as interferons, do work against a wide range of viruses. However, these drugs merely rev up the body's immune system, which makes them less effective than doctors would like.

Back in the late 1990s, when Goldblatt was at DARPA, he began to wonder whether there was another strategy, one that exploits the key weakness of all viruses: their utter dependence on their hosts. By themselves, viruses are more helpless than newborn babies. They can replicate only by tricking their host cells into making more copies of them, a process that can involve hundreds of host proteins.

What if, Goldblatt wondered, some host proteins are essential for viral replication but not for the survival of the host? If so, disabling these proteins should block viral replication without killing healthy cells.

After moving to Functional Genetics, Goldblatt began putting his idea to the test. He and his colleagues disabled one gene at a time in human cells before exposing them to viruses such as flu. This fishing expedition worked beautifully: they identified more than 100 different human proteins that flu viruses need to replicate but which cells can survive without. Only four were previously known to be involved in viral replication.

One especially promising target is TSG101, a protein involved in the transport of materials within cells that many viruses co-opt to break out of cells. Functional Genetics has developed a small-molecule drug that appears to block the interaction between viruses and TSG101. Dubbed FGI-104, the drug inhibits a wide range of viruses in cell culture, including hepatitis C and HIV, and has also been shown to protect mice against Ebola (American Journal of Translational Research, vol 1, p 87).

FGI-104 appears not to be too toxic. Yet it might not even be necessary to inhibit TSG101 to fight infections. When a virus uses TSG101 to escape a cell, some of the normally internal protein ends up exposed on the outside of the cell - a very distinct footprint of viral infection that Goldblatt's team decided to target. They have designed an antibody, called FGI-101, that will bind to any exposed TSG101. As soon as viruses start to bud off from a cell, FGI-101 binds to the TSG101 and triggers the cell's destruction. It might not completely prevent viral replication but it should greatly reduce it.


14 August, 2009

Beer keeps bones strong, scientists find

This probably just means that working class people tend to have heavier bones to start with. It would be mostly working class women who drink beer. One speculation is as good as another

Beer could stop bones from going brittle, research has shown. A study found that the bones of women who drink beer regularly are stronger, meaning they are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis. But wine does little to protect against the disease, the journal Nature reports.

It is thought that the high level of silicon in beer slows down the thinning that leads to fractures and boosts the formation of new bone. Beer is also rich in phytoestrogens, plant versions of oestrogen, which keep bones healthy. Bones are made up of a mesh of fibres, minerals, blood vessels and marrow, and healthy ones are denser with smaller spaces between the different parts.

The researchers asked almost 1,700 healthy women with an average age of 48 about their drinking habits. They then underwent ultrasound scans, which showed the bones in the hands of beer drinkers to be denser. The women's hands were chosen because the bones in the fingers are among the first to show signs of osteoporosis.

Those classed as light beer drinkers - having less than a pint a day - fared just as well as those in the moderate bracket, suggesting that even small amounts can boost bone health.

The Spanish researchers said: 'Silicon plays a major role in bone formation. Beer has been claimed to be one of the most important sources of silicon in the Western diet.' Three million Britons are affected by osteoporosis.


Two-for-one supermarket deals face the axe in Britain

Stupid flailing at the wind which will achieve nothing. If people are careless with their money in one way, they will be careless in other ways. And if people tend to waste their money on food, why is it anybody else's business but theirs? The amount of manufactured food (which most food is these days) produced simply reflects the amount demanded. A more extensive comment from Britain here

Buy-one, get-one-free offers could be banished from supermarket shelves under a government plan to reduce Britain’s food waste mountain. Supermarket chiefs will be told instead to offer half-price deals and package food in a greater range of sizes to suit the single person’s fridge as well as the family’s.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is demanding that stores agree to a tough target on reducing food waste or face legislation that forces them to make savings. Buy-one, get-one-free deals, known as “bogofs”, are one of the main reasons why a third of all food is wasted, a report on food security and sustainability found.

Households throw away 4.1 million tonnes of food each year that could have been eaten if it had been managed better, according to Wrap, the Government’s waste watchdog. Food waste costs the average household £420 a year and the average person throws away more than their own weight in food annually. Single-person households, now almost a third of all homes, waste the most, partly because bogofs encourage them to buy quantities they cannot eat by the use-by date.

The report said that the new industry target on food waste, which would be set next year and cover the period to 2015, would have to save households at least £370 million a year. Supermarkets will be encouraged to phase out bogofs on perishable food. In the interim, they will be required to give shoppers advice on how to reduce wastage, for example with labels on whether items can be frozen and recipes for overripe fruit and vegetables.

Defra and the Food Standards Agency are also preparing new guidance to reduce confusion about date labels on food. Wrap research found that millions of people did not know the difference between “sell-by” and “use-by” dates and also failed to realise that they could eat food after the “best-before” date.

A new label, the Healthier Food Mark, will be launched this year for food that meets minimum standards for nutrition and sustainability. Hospitals and prisons will buy food with the mark and it will be rolled out nationwide from 2012.

Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, is also seeking to relax restrictions on GM food, by permitting more trials of GM crops in Britain and allowing more imports of GM grains for feeding livestock.

The British Retail Consortium said it would resist attempts to restrict bogofs. “Retailers know their customers better and should be allowed to decide what’s the best policy,” a spokesman said. People who took home more than they could eat should give it to family and friends, he added.


The osteoporosis jab: Twice-yearly treatment cuts the risk of spinal fracture in women by two thirds

A cheap twice-yearly jab to treat osteoporosis could soon be available in Britain. Successful trials of the drug denosumab have shown it dramatically cuts the number of spine and hip fractures in women, and helps bones regrow. It has also been found the drug can help men with prostate cancer who are undergoing hormonal therapy, which raises the risk of bone loss.

The latest data on almost 8,000 post-menopausal women having an injection every six months found it cuts the risk of suffering a spinal fracture by two-thirds. The risk of a hip fracture was cut by 40 per cent, while there was a 20 per cent reduction in the chances of other broken bones. Women also regained up to 9 per cent of bone density during treatment in the three-year trial.

The data from these trials, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is being evaluated by the European drug safety authority. Licensing approval could be granted within a few months and denosumab may be available on the NHS in 2010. Although a final price for the drug has to be agreed, it will probably cost between £50 and £80 a year per patient - cheaper than some other osteoporosis drugs currently available.

Professor Graham Russell, of Oxford University, said: 'These results suggest that denosumab offers an important new approach to prevention of fractures in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis.' He added that because the drug was administered by an injection it would be more convenient for patients who had problems taking oral therapy.

In a separate trial of 1,400 men undergoing hormone therapy for prostate cancer, injections over three years resulted in a two-thirds lower risk of spinal fracture compared with a 'dummy' treatment. There was a 'significant reduction' in the risk after just one year of treatment, and an increase in bone density.

Study author Dr Matthew Smith, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Centre in the U.S., said there were currently no approved treatments for bone loss in men having prostate cancer treatment. He said: 'Bone loss and fractures are an important but often unrecognised problem for prostate cancer survivors. 'In this large international study, denosumab markedly increased bone mineral density and decreased the risk of fractures in many men receiving androgen deprivation therapy for prostate cancer. 'The efficacy of denosumab was apparent as early as one month and was sustained for three years,' he added.

Denosumab works in a different way to existing medicines as it stimulates patients' immune systems to block a protein called rank ligand, which triggers the breakdown of bone strength in sufferers.

But there are side effects, the most common being joint pain, back pain and high blood pressure and cellulitis skin infection. [A lot depends on how severe and frequent these effects are]

At least 120,000 patients a year suffer fractures in the vertebrae of the spine and 60,000 others break their hips. At least 5,000 men each year are treated with hormonal therapy for prostate cancer.

Professor Roger Francis of the National Osteoporosis Society said: 'We welcome this forthcoming and exciting new treatment. 'This drug is not yet licensed for use, but when available, it will add to the choice of drug treatments available for people at risk of breaking a bone because of osteoporosis. 'However, patient safety is paramount and, as with any new drug to market, risks and side effects will need to be fully assessed.'

The drug is being developed by Californian biotechnology company Amgen, which has applied for a marketing licence in Europe. A spokesman said: 'We hope it will be licensed shortly and available to patients next year.' The drug will be assessed by the Government's rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence before being allowed widespread use on the NHS.


13 August, 2009

A Mediterranean diet and regular exercise keeps Alzheimer’s at bay (?)

The usual epidemiological nonsense based on a highly atypical sample. It was probably just the usual class effect that was detected. It was probably middle class people -- who are healthier anyway -- who obeyed the conventional food wisdom by eating their vegetables etc.

People who eat a Mediterranean diet and exercise regularly are at significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests. A study of more than 1,000 elderly people shows that those who exercised the most and ate a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fish were 60 per cent less likely to suffer from dementia.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first to show a link between the two life style factors and a persons Alzheimer’s risk. The study, conducted by Columbia University Medical School, focused on a community of elderly people in New York with an average age of 77, who were monitored for 5½ years. Standard neurological and psychological tests for Alzheimer’s were undertaken every 18 months. A total of 282 people developed the disease by the end of the study.

Higher physical activity was found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 33 per cent, while people who had a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, cereal and fish, but low in meat and poultry, showed a 40 per cent risk reduction. Participants who both exercised a lot and ate a Mediterranean-style diet had a 60 per cent reduced risk.

Dr Nikos Scarmeas, study leader from Columbia University Medical School, said: “It seemed that the more that they were doing in terms of both diet and exercise, the lower was their risk for the disease. “Often people who exercise also follow a healthy diet and vice versa. We wanted to tease out which of these two behaviours may be associated with lower risk for [Alzheimer’s], or if the combination of the two is associated with decreased risk even further.”

He said even low degrees of physical activity appeared to have a protective effect against Alzheimer’s. It is believed by experts that environmental and genetic factors contribute to the onset of the disease. “We need to understand and learn more about the exact biological mechanisms that may connect physical activity and diet with the biological changes of Alzheimer's disease,” Dr Scarmeas said.

About 60 per cent of the 700,000 Britons suffering from dementia are affected by Alzheimer’s. The number of patients is rising fast.

Dr Susanne Sorensen, Head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society said: “A Mediterranean diet full of green leafy vegetables, oily fish, nuts and low in saturated fats is an incredibly healthy approach to eating and may reduce your risk of developing dementia. This study suggests combining this diet with regular exercise is one of the best ways to cut your chances of developing dementia. “With one million people set to develop dementia in the next 10 years, it is essential that we act now to defeat it.”


New single-dose swine flu drug is found to work as well as Tamiflu

A new, single-dose swine flu drug has been shown to work as well as Tamiflu in large-scale clinical trials, it was announced yesterday. The drug could play a crucial role in preventing flu viruses from becoming drug resistant because of patients not finishing their course of medication for reasons including adverse side-effects.

Avian flu and the ordinary seasonal virus can also be treated. The medication, known as Laninamivir, is taken as a single dose with the same kind of inhaler that is used for asthma. “We see in trials that about 20 per cent of people don’t finish the course of treatment,” said Peter Openshaw, a specialist in respiratory diseases at Imperial College London. The smaller dose also means that Laninamivir will be much easier to stockpile.

It was tested in a thousand patients infected with two types of seasonal flu in Japan. Patients treated with Laninamivir recovered as quickly as those given Tamiflu and had fewer side-effects. A study, published in the journal Nature, showed that the drug was just as effective against swine flu and the H5N1 bird flu virus.

John Oxford, a virology specialist at Queen Mary, University of London, described the result as a “mini-breakthrough” in a long-stated goal for flu treatment, and said that it could not have come at a better time. But he added that swine flu would be around for some time to come. “We’re in for a long haul,” he said.

Laninamivir is manufactured by the Australian company Biota, which expects to submit an application to market the drug in Japan by early next year. The company is seeking a licensing partner to market the drug in the US and Europe. Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical company, has been suggested as a likely candidate.

Research published by the University of Oxford suggests that the automatic prescription of anti-virals for otherwise healthy patients is not the best policy, as the drugs only reduce the length of illness by one day. However, scientists predict that by next year more old people, who have some immunity to the current virus, will be infected. “Within 18 months it will have mutated and then it will move up the age range,” Professor Oxford said.


Bee venom destroys cancer cells in tests on mice

Bee venom can be engineered to target tumours and could prove an effective future treatment for cancer, a study has found. During a trial, the poisonous chemical in a bee’s sting, melittin, was attached to tiny molecules or “nanoparticles” that then attack and destroy cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact. The carrier particles, dubbed “nanobees”, were also effective in targeting pre-cancerous cells.

Nanobees could eventually replace conventional therapy for certain types of cancer, according to scientists behind the study, which is published today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. They said that the treatment would have fewer side-effects than chemotherapy. “The nanobees fly in, land on the surface of cells and deposit their poisonous cargo,” said Professor Samuel Wickline, a specialist in nanomedicine at Washington University in St Louis, who led the research.

The treatment was tested on two groups of mice with cancerous tumours. One group had melanoma skin cancer, the other had been implanted with human breast-cancer cells. After four to five injections of the nanobees, the breast-cancer tumours were 25 per cent smaller, and the melanoma tumours were 88 per cent smaller, compared with untreated mice. The carrier particles used in the study have already been approved for clinical use in various other medical applications. The team plans to begin human trials with the nanobees next year.

They predict that the treatment could be effective in treating a wide range of cancers and that it would have fewer side-effects than chemotherapy. They say the treatment could also be more effective than chemotherapy, because it is more targeted. With chemotherapy, patients are given the largest tolerable dose of medication, but because nanobees specifically attack tumours, doses could be much lower.

Melittin works by attaching itself to the surface of cells and ripping holes in the membrane. “In high enough concentration it can destroy any cell it comes into contact with,” said Professor Paul Schlesinger, a cell biologist at Washington University and a co-author of the paper.

Most cancer treatments target DNA, but cancer cells are frequently able to adapt and develop resistance to DNA damage. It is much harder for cells to defend against damage to the membrane, however, making melittin an attractive treatment. Despite the high toxicity of the bee venom, the mice suffered few side-effects and there appeared to be little damage to non-cancerous cells.

Leaky blood vessels around tumours mean that nanoparticles build up there in high enough quantities to do damage. A chemical tag enhanced this effect by increasing nanobees’ affinity for cancerous cells compared with normal cells. “It’s like molecular Velcro,” Professor Wickline said. “The toxin doesn’t come off the bee until it finds its target.”

If the melittin had been injected into the bloodstream in its normal form it would lead to widespread destruction of red blood cells. But following the nanobee injection, the blood count of mice was normal, and they showed no signs of organ damage.

A concern with some nanomedicines is that nanoparticles are left circulating in the body after treatment. They are biologically inert, meaning they are do not get metabolised and cleared from circulation in the normal way.

The spherical nanobees, which are about six millionths of an inch in diameter, are, however, quickly cleared from the system after treatment. They are made of perfluorocarbon, an inert non-toxic compound used in artificial blood. Once the melittin has been removed from the nanobee, it dissolves and is evaporated in the lungs.


12 August, 2009

Children should not be given Tamiflu or Relenza for flu

Once again, medical "wisdom" goes into reverse

CHILDREN with seasonal flu should not be given antivirals such as Tamiflu because harmful side effects outweigh relatively meagre benefits, according to a study released today. In some children Tamiflu caused nausea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration and other complications, researchers reported.

The study did not cover the current outbreak of swine flu, but its conclusions suggest that antivirals may not significantly reduce the length of illness or prevent complications in children infected with the new A(H1N1) virus, the researchers said.

Carl Henegan, a doctor at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England, and co-author of the study, said the current British practice of giving Tamiflu for mild illness was "an inappropriate strategy". "The downside of the harms outweighs the one-day reduction in symptomatic benefits," he said.

The research showed that antivirals oseltamivir and zanamivir shortened the duration of seasonal flu by up to a day and a half. But the drugs had little or no effect on asthma flare-ups, increased ear infections or the need for antibiotics.

Tamiflu, the brand name for oseltamivir, was also linked to an increased risk of vomiting. Zanamivir is marketed under the name Relenza.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, comes 10 days after Britain's Health Protection Agency (HPA) reported that more than half of 248 students given Tamiflu after a classmate fell ill with swine flu suffered side-effects such as nausea, insomnia and nightmares. Most of the students did not have the flu when they were given the drug.



This is a very small trial with an atypical group. But, if replicated, it would indicate that different sources of calories have different fattening power. That seems rather unlikely on the whole. Abstract follows:

Skim milk compared with a fruit drink acutely reduces appetite and energy intake in overweight men and women

By Emma R Dove et al.

Background: Several studies show that proteins, including whey and casein, are more satiating than carbohydrates. It follows that skim milk would be more satiating than sugar-rich beverages. However, this has yet to be shown.

Objective: The objective was to investigate the effects of drinking skim milk in comparison with a fruit drink at breakfast on selfreported postmeal satiety and energy intake at lunch.

Design: In a randomized crossover trial, 34 overweight women (n = 21) and men (n = 13) attended 2 sessions 1 wk apart. At each session, participants consumed a fixed-energy breakfast together with either 600 ml skim milk (25 g protein, 36 g lactose, ,1 g fat; 1062 kJ) or 600 ml fruit drink (,1 g protein, 63 g sugar, ,1 g fat; '1062 kJ). Participants provided satiety ratings throughout the morning. Four hours after breakfast they consumed an ad libitum lunch, and energy intake was assessed.

Results: Participants consumed significantly less energy at lunch after consuming skim milk (mean: 2432 kJ; 95% CI: 2160, 2704 kJ) compared with the fruit drink (mean: 2658 kJ; 95% CI: 2386, 2930 kJ) with a mean difference of '8.5% (P , 0.05). In addition, selfreports of satiety were higher throughout the morning after consumption of skim milk compared with the fruit drink (P , 0.05) with the differences becoming larger over the 4 h (P , 0.05).

Conclusions: Consumption of skim milk, in comparison with a fruit drink, leads to increased perceptions of satiety and to decreased energy intake at a subsequent meal.

Am J Clin Nutr 90: 70-75, 2009.

11 August, 2009

So hamburgers are OK now?

A lot of health freaks are going to be chomping angrily into their nutburgers over this

Not one to ignore the family need for burgers, Michelle Obama brought Malia and Sasha to lunch at Good Stuff Eatery on Thursday.

Patrons dining at the outdoor tables realized right away what was happening, said Felice Robinson, administrative coordinator for Good Stuff Eatery (303 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E). "How are you gonna miss the Secret Service?" she said.

The patrons outside saw the Obama girls getting out of the van and were immediately thrilled, whipping out their cell-phone cameras to get photos. "People were really happy to get a shot, and especially to see the girls," said Robinson. "Michelle has been here before, but this was the girls' first visit."

The First Family (sans Dad) ordered a Farmhouse Cheeseburger, Colleti's Smokehouse Burger and -- of course -- the new President Obama burger, topped with horseradish mayo, red onion marmalade, crumbled blue cheese and bacon.

Several members of Michelle Obama's staff joined them for lunch (and milkshakes!) at a 10-person table.


Beetroot eases pain of red-faced runners

POUNDING the streets for hours every day in preparation for a marathon? Sit down and drink some beetroot juice instead. Drinking a glass has been found to boost stamina, allowing people to endure strenuous physical exercise for longer.

Research shows that the nitrate in beetroot juice leads to a reduction in oxygen uptake, slowing the rate at which a person becomes exhausted. Those drinking the juice can exercise for 16 per cent longer.

The scientists behind the study said that the reduction in oxygen use was greater than that achieved by any other known means, including training. The findings could be of interest to endurance athletes, elderly people or those with cardiovascular, respiratory or metabolic diseases, they added.

But there is a side-effect, albeit harmless. Drinking beetroot juice can lead to beeturia, when urine turns pink or red because of acidity levels in the stomach.

The research team, led by the University of Exeter, conducted the study with eight men aged 19 to 38. They were given 500ml a day of organic beetroot juice for six consecutive days before completing a series of tests, involving cycling on an exercise bike. On another occasion, they were given a placebo of blackcurrant cordial for six consecutive days before completing the same cycling tests. After drinking beetroot juice the group was able to cycle for an average of 11 minutes, 25 seconds - 92 seconds longer than when using the placebo. This translates into a 2 per cent reduction in the time taken to cover a set distance. The group that consumed the beetroot juice also had lower resting blood pressure.

The researchers are not sure of the mechanism that causes the nitrate in the beetroot juice to boost stamina. However, they suspect that it could be a result of the nitrate turning into nitric oxide in the body, reducing the oxygen cost of exercise. Nitrate is high in other foods, such as lettuce, but can be introduced in larger quantities because beetroot can be juiced, the researchers said.

The study follows research by Barts and the London School of Medicine and the Peninsula Medical School, published last year, which found that beetroot juice reduced blood pressure. The researchers found that in healthy volunteers blood pressure was reduced within an hour of drinking.

The latest research was carried out by the University of Exeter and Peninsula Medical School and published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The team hopes to conduct further studies to try to understand in more detail the effects of nitrate-rich foods on exercise physiology.

Professor Andy Jones, lead researcher from the University of Exeter School of Sport and Health Sciences, said the work showed that nitrate-rich food could increase endurance.

"We were amazed by the effects of beetroot juice on oxygen uptake because these effects cannot be achieved by any other known means, including training," he said. "I am sure professional and amateur athletes will be interested in the results."

Experts welcomed the findings but cautioned that both studies to date had been small and called for trials on a larger scale, including research into long-term benefits or potentially harmful effects.


10 August, 2009

Eating Is No Fun Anymore

Is high-fructose corn syrup the culprit behind American waistlines? Perhaps it does have some role but waistlines in many other affluent countries are also large these days -- and most do not source much sugar from corn. German and Southern Italian waistines are also notorious and they get most of their sugars from beet. And there is plenty of obesity in Mexico and I gather that they get most of their sugars from sugarcane. They need all their corn for tortillas! The argument below is basically against agricultural subsidies but such subsidies seem to be an enduring folly worldwide so I think it will need a bigger stick than obesity claims to knock them out

It’s depressing when formerly pleasurable pursuits become hot-button political topics: Suddenly your normal trip for a burger and fries becomes a question of morality, life, and death. Are those French fries prepared in heart-healthy olive or canola oil? Is that beef humanely raised and slaughtered, and should I even eat beef when there’s a super-delicious veggie burger on the menu? Are the onion, lettuce, and tomato toppings locally sourced and certified organic? Are the pickles made “in house,” the mustard by grinding mustard seeds with a mortar and pestle?

It is all so exhausting. It makes me just want to stop eating altogether. It was with this attitude that I went to an afternoon showing of Food Inc. I was fully prepared to hate it, expecting another lecture from the food police, another horror story about fast food. I even entered the theater empty-handed — no popcorn or candy. I was ready to be grossed out.

To my surprise, I actually liked most of it. It had melodramatic moments, and the predictable “big business is bad” message became rather tiresome a half-hour into the movie, but there were — to use a popular Obamaism — some teachable moments in the movie and even a compelling political message too few have heard before: Farm subsidies create real problems for the average American eater.

Farm subsidies have been around for so long that only octogenarians have lived in a food subsidy–free America. The first subsidies — introduced by Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s — were marketed to the American public as a “temporary solution” to help the collapsing farm industry. Some 70 years later, it appears the United States is still in the recovery phase.

Food Inc. boils the subsidy issue down to the basics: Farm subsidies artificially reduce the cost of some food — mainly manufactured and unhealthy snack foods — and create incentives for farmers to produce massive amounts of some commodities no single nation can possibly absorb.

So, what happens? Well, as Food Inc. demonstrates with the help of an upbeat soundtrack and colorful pop-up images of ketchup bottles and batteries, people start getting pretty creative with how to put those commodities to use. Enter corn — lots of corn.

U.S. corn farmers are paid to produce more corn than people can eat normally. As a result of this overproduction, corn is everywhere. Corn derivatives can be found in nearly one-quarter of all the products in the grocery store — from peanut butter to Twinkies. And of course, corn subsidies led to the creation of a clear, liquid sweetener — HFCS, or high-fructose corn syrup.

It isn’t only corn subsidies making HFCS as popular as it is today, but also sugar tariffs. While the government reduces the price of corn, it simultaneously hikes the cost of sugar through a complex set of tariffs that make the price of cane and beet sugar more than three times the price of sugar in other nations. Food manufacturers naturally choose the lower-cost corn-based sweetener. Who can blame them?

But this toying around with prices comes with consequences, and Food Inc. connects the dots between farm subsidies and America’s growing health problems, such as obesity. A report by the Heritage Foundation examined this issue last year and came to the same conclusion:
There is a growing scientific consensus that HFCS likely contributes to the obesity and diabetes epidemics in America, both major contributors to the overall degradation of health in the U.S. The body metabolizes HFCS differently than cane- and beet-based sugars, leading to lower insulin production and an increase in triglyceride fats in the bloodstream (Bray, Nielsen and Popkin, 2004). Because of the lower cost associated with foods containing HFCS and hydrogenated soy-based oils (also a by-product of crop subsidies), this trend disproportionately affects low-income families and those trying to feed a family on a budget. While the real price of healthy fruits and vegetables increased by nearly 40 percent between 1985 and 2000, the price of an HFCS-rich soft drink decreased by 23 percent (Pollan, April 2007).
Food Inc. suggests how some of this works by focusing on a family of fast-food eaters. We’re introduced to them while they sit at the drive-thru, waiting for their order of burgers, fries, and large sodas. It might be obvious, and perhaps staged, but it gives a real-life example of one reason why people choose to eat unhealthy fast food and HFCS-laden snack foods and sodas — it’s cheaper to eat bad food. The family agrees that they should eat healthier, but they find the price of whole and natural foods, such as fresh vegetables, to be too high. The mother says she’s very worried about her children, one of whom is on the verge of developing diabetes — no doubt due to bad eating habits.

So what’s the solution? This is where Food Inc. fails miserably.

At the end of the movie, as the screen goes black, ten “simple things you can do” flash on the screen. Among them: Buy organic, shop local and at farmers’ markets, and tell Congress that food safety is important to you. These are just adorable little suggestions for most of the foodie types watching the movie. But what about those who can’t afford the farmers’ market vegetables?

How about suggesting the purchase of inexpensive fresh vegetables like carrots, cabbage, and celery? There are workable and achievable ways people can live and eat healthier. It’s simply insulting to suggest to people who have multiple jobs and very little income that they should purchase the highest-priced produce. And where was the suggestion to tell Congress to chuck farm subsidies? Why wasn’t that on the list of ten things you can do?

On the bright side, this movie may encourage two very different groups — right-leaning think-tanks and politicians, and left-leaning environmental and food-watchdog groups — to come together in the cause of ending harmful farm subsidies.

It even ties in with the topic du jour — the future of America’s health-care system. Farm subsidies shouldn’t just offend economist types who want the free market to dictate prices. They should offend anyone who cares about Americans’ health, which should be just about everyone. Ultimately, this may be a more compelling argument to abolish the policy than straight economics.

Food Inc. shines a light on the dangers of farm subsidies. Let’s hope a few politicians make it to the movies.


Scientists find cannabis trigger for forgetfulness in mice

And the adverse effects of cannabis are said to be "long-term" but not "permanent". A bit confusing. One wonders how those terms would pan out among humans

Researchers said they had pinpointed the biochemical pathway by which cannabis causes memory loss in mice. The discovery could help open the way to drugs that have marijuana’s desired pain-killing properties but without its amnesic side effects, according to the paper, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

It has long been known that cannabis produces memory loss by acting on the hippocampus, the region in the brain that governs most of our cognitive functions. But whether that impact was long-term or lasted only during the drug’s use, as well as how the drug acted biochemically, has been intensely debated.

Rafael Maldonado and and Andres Ozaita at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona believe they can help answer both questions. The scientists first created a new measure of cognitive impairment so that they could easily assess the impact of cannabis use on memory in normal mice.

Marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, acts on cannabinoid receptor neurons called CB1. While found in several locations within the brain, there are two concentrations of CB1-type cells in the hippocampus. To explore how each of these neural networks might affect memory loss, the researchers created two groups of genetically modified mice, each missing the CB1 receptors in either of the two regions. The rodents were then injected with doses of THC equivalent to “heavy use” of marijuana in humans.

One of the groups reacted in the well-known forgetful fashion when required to do memory tests. The other mouse group — whose CB1 had been removed from the so-called GABAergic neurons — was unaffected by the drug. “Not only were the behavioural effects abolished, the biochemical responses that are directly responsible for the amnesic-like effect were abolished too,” Maldonado said in a phone interview. This should make it possible to develop a molecule that will produce cannabis’ positive effect without affecting the GABAergic brain cells that govern memory, he said by phone.

The research also showed that administering cannabis leads to a change in the way that proteins are manufactured in the affected part of the brain. “This is crucial, because a change in protein synthesis means a long-term change, this is not something that will just disappear the next day,” he said. Just how long memory might be degraded is unknown, he added. “These are not permanent changes, even if they are long-term. People who are using cannabis therapeutically should not be worried,” he said. Maldonado refused to give an opinion about the impact for recreational users of marijuana, though.

Despite its ambiguous legal status, marijuana is used in several countries, especially the United States, as an analgesic for patients with cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS and other conditions causing pain or discomfort. Unlike illegal marijuana, so-called medical marijuana comes from an identified source in which levels of THC are known and monitored.


9 August, 2009


Not necessarily. They are associated but that could be because of a common social class factor. Abstract follows:

Breast cancer risk factors in Turkish women – a University Hospital based nested case control study

By Vahit Ozmen et al.


Breast cancer has been increased in developing countries, but there are limited data for breast cancer risk factors in these countries. To clarify the risk for breast cancer among the Turkish women, an university hospital based nested case-control study was conducted.


Between January 2000 and December 2006, a survey was prospectively conducted among women admitted to clinics of Istanbul Medical Faculty for examination and/or treatment by using a questionnaire. Therefore, characteristics of patients diagnosed with breast cancer (n = 1492) were compared with control cases (n = 2167) admitted to hospital for non-neoplastic, non-hormone related diseases.


Breast cancer risk was found to be increased in women with age (? 50) [95% confidence interval (CI) 2.42–3.18], induced abortion (95% CI 1.13–1.53), age at first birth (~ 35) (95% CI 1.62–5.77), body mass index (BMI ~ 25) (95% CI 1.27–1.68), and a positive family history (95% CI 1.11–1.92). However, decreased breast cancer risk was associated with the duration of education (? 13 years) (95% CI 0.62–0.81), presence of spontaneous abortion (95% CI 0.60–0.85), smoking (95% CI 0.61–0.85), breast feeding (95% CI 0.11–0.27), nulliparity (95% CI 0.92–0.98), hormone replacement therapy (HRT) (95% CI 0.26–0.47), and oral contraceptive use (95% CI 0.50–0.69). On multivariable logistic regression analysis, age (~ 50) years (OR 2.61, 95% CI 2.20–3.11), induced abortion (OR 1.66, 95% CI 1.38–1.99), and oral contraceptive use (OR 0.60, 95% CI 0.48–0.74) were found to be associated with breast cancer risk as statistically significant independent factors.


These findings suggest that age and induced abortion were found to be significantly associated with increased breast cancer risk whereas oral contraceptive use was observed to be associated with decreased breast cancer risk among Turkish women in Istanbul.

World Journal of Surgical Oncology 2009, 7:37

Study: Depression can be “chronic” in preschoolers

Mostly those in daycare, on the basis of previous research. Cortisol (stress hormone) levels among young children spending long periods in institutional care are often disturbingly high

Depression in children as young as 3 is real and not just a passing grumpy mood, according to provocative new research. The study is billed as the first to show major depression can be chronic even in young children, contrary to the stereotype of the happy-go-lucky preschooler.

Until fairly recently, "people really haven't paid much attention to depressive disorders in children under the age of 6," said lead author Dr. Joan Luby, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis. "They didn't think it could happen ... because children under 6 were too emotionally immature to experience it."

Previous research suggested that depression affects about 2 percent of U.S. preschoolers, or roughly 160,000 youngsters, at one time or another. But it was unclear whether depression in preschoolers could be chronic, as it can be in older children and adults.

Luby's research team followed more than 200 preschoolers ages 3 to 6, including 75 diagnosed with major depression, for up to two years. The children had up to four mental health exams during the study.

Among initially depressed children, 64 percent were still depressed or had a recurrent episode of depression six months later, and 40 percent still had problems after two years. Overall, nearly 20 percent had persistent or recurrent depression at all four exams.

Depression was most common in children whose mothers were also depressed or had other mood disorders, and among those who had experienced a traumatic event, such as the death of a parent or physical or sexual abuse.

The new study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and released Monday in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, did not examine depression treatment, which is highly controversial among children so young. Some advocates say parents and doctors are too quick to give children psychiatric drugs.

University of Chicago psychiatrist Dr. Sharon Hirsch said the public thinks of preschoolers as carefree: "They get to play. Why would they be depressed?" But depression involves chemical changes in the brain that can affect even youngsters with an otherwise happy life, said Hirsch, who was not involved in the study.


8 August, 2009

Weighing America and Finding It Wanting

David Kessler's anti-obesity crusade. He blames his own obesity on the "food industry". It'd be funny if he weren't such a menace

David A. Kessler is a man of science--former dean of the medical school at Yale and a physician himself--but he is also a man of pudge, so not long ago he decided to combine the two interests in an experiment. "I walked into a bakery," he writes in his new book, The End of Overeating, "and asked for two semi-sweet chocolate-chip cookies." He took them home and looked upon them. And Kessler saw that they were good. Better than good. "They were thick and gooey--chunks of chocolate filled the craters of the cookies and rose into peaks."

He placed them on his work table, an arm's length away. "I was fixated on those cookies," he writes. Without noticing, he inched his right hand closer to the cookies, just within reach of the overbrimming craters, the peaks rising chocolaty to the sky.

He went upstairs. "But even from that safe distance, I could not fully shake the image of the cookies." Yet he didn't eat them! He left the house, "and I felt triumphant." Then he went to a coffee shop and ordered "an orange-chocolate cookie and ate it at once." There his experiment ended.

As rigorous scientific research goes, this isn't Louis Pasteur. Kessler the author moves on, and the reader can't be quite sure what the experiment was meant to illustrate. Even if you concede that Americans are fat--and you'll get no argument from me--and that this widespread (heh) and chronic obesity qualifies as an "epidemic," it's not clear what David Kessler's individual powerlessness before a cookie has to do with anything beyond David Kessler. But that, it turns out, is just the point. Kessler has said in interviews that his weight yo-yos between 160 and 230 pounds.

Now he is intent on making his difficulties our own, so that the means of overcoming them will apply not only to himself but to the rest of us too. For in addition to being a man of science and a man of calories, Kessler is also a man of government, an activist and believer in public policy's limitless capacity to improve mankind.

Though his most prominent public role was in the 1990s, as director of the Food and Drug Administration under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, he is a figure more suited to the present moment. The tobacco bill that President Obama signed in June, to cite one example, is mostly a collection of measures that Kessler tried but failed to enact during his years at the FDA. The legislation doubles--triples! quadruples!--the agency's regulatory power, greatly restricting the range of permissible activity for tobacco companies and their sales outlets, and making life even more difficult than it already is for smokers who want to smoke.

The tobacco bill was vintage Kessler not only in its programs but in its premise: that dark forces of commerce are getting rich off a citizenry powerless to resist their sophisticated manipulations. The same view shapes most of the current administration's efforts to reform the everyday behavior of Americans along cleaner, more healthful, and more rational lines. Because we drive too many miles in the wrong kind of cars, use the wrong kinds of light bulbs and tools, mismanage our finances, garden with the wrong fertilizer, eat too much of the wrong foods, and so on and so on--all with far-reaching consequences that we refuse to calculate--Congress and federal agencies are taking greater interest than ever before in the habits of their fellow citizens.

Kessler's present preoccupation, the evils of food, is nicely timed. At last count his book had spent three months on the New York Times bestseller list. During the last week of July he was the subject of two special reports on ABC, one on Good Morning America ("Food Addiction Confessions") and another on Nightline ("Hooked on Food"). And the Centers for Disease Control held its first national conference on obesity, cutely titled "Weight of the Nation," to address the subject from a perspective identical to Kessler's.

His thesis is that sugar, salt, and fat--the lures with which the food industry entices Americans into obesity--are the new tobacco, ripe for the same regulatory regime that has bankrupted companies, upended livelihoods, and put the centuries-old custom of smoking on a fast track to ultimate extinction. In this view, the food industry, health care reform, and American eating habits are all tangled together, creating another opportunity to make us live more sensibly. One leftwing blogger for the Washington Post outlined the reasoning:

"Health reform is in the works. And the administration is desperately looking for ways to cut costs without denying care. One way to do that is to make people healthier so they need less care. And one way to do that is to avert the obesity epidemic."

The Post's blogger probably doesn't know the meaning of "avert," for it is now common wisdom that the epidemic is already upon us. Under cover of health care reform, Congress and the administration are entertaining several ways to "make people healthier," as the blogger put it, by changing what we're fed: higher subsidies for the production of foods regulators approve of, higher taxes on foods we should dislike, rewards and punishments sprinkled all along the path that food travels from farm to feedbag.

One of the more modest proposals is the Menu Education and Labeling Act. MEAL would require restaurants to trash their old menus and print new ones that will announce, in big block letters, the level of trans fats, saturated fats, carbohydrates, sodium, and calories found in every dish they offer. MEAL echoes the exhaustive labeling that Kessler, as FDA chairman, helped mandate for packaged food in 1995. Those earlier labels increased costs to food producers by billions of dollars and have proved an unambiguous flop; consumers stubbornly continue to eat whatever they want and ignore the gruesome details about what they're eating. In the logic of regulators, however, the failure of one regulation can always be overcome with an additional regulation. And for a government guy, regulatory activity is its own reward.

This is where Kessler's new book will prove particularly useful, for both regulators and their adversaries, as either guidebook or sounding alarm. The End of Overeating offers a case study in progressive paternalism. He's giving us an inside look at the thinking that leads a person in power to scan his citizens and reconceive their private failings, individual preferences, or personal indulgences as pressing matters of state, and thus fit for government correction.

When it comes to the question of what to do about all these fat people waddling around, Kessler believes he's the bearer of big news. "No one has recognized what's really happening," he writes. "Let me try to explain." At bottom is this insight, which he says is supported by the very latest scientific data: "Weight gain is primarily due to overeating: "Eat more, gain more weight." The idea that fat people get fat because they eat too much may not strike you as earth-shattering, but that just means you haven't been following the back-and-forth palaver about American obesity.

For nearly a generation the popular notion has been advanced that obesity is something that happens to people; more often than not fat people are fat through no fault of their own. In a massive effort at blame-shifting, network medical correspondents, morning show hosts, and newspaper health columnists advanced theories designed to put the primary responsibility for obesity everywhere but on the person who gets fat. Obesity is a heritable trait, went one popular theory; it's genetically determined, so thank mom and dad. Or it's a consequence of overconsumption of specialized "fat grams," the inevitable result of a predisposition to seek out the wrong kind of calories. Or it's a question of a faulty metabolic system that layers globs of fat along beltlines and bottoms instead of shedding them in the normal manner.

All wrong, according to Kessler, speaking here as the man of science. No such theories are supported by the most recent research. In their absence, the more commonplace notion of personal responsibility might enter in: People are fat because of what they do themselves, not because of what is done to them, and therefore the consequences of what they do are best borne by them alone--are best thought of, that is, as nobody's business but theirs.

But Kessler the man of government recognizes that the old idea of personal responsibility undercuts the case for governmental regulation, which at least in theory is designed to prevent harm being done to one party by another. So Kessler the man of science enlists Kessler the man of pudge to testify to the helplessness a fat person feels. The blame can still be shifted. All those fat Americans may not be victims of screwy metabolisms or genetics, Kessler says, but we can still think of them as helpless victims. And where there's a victim, a victimizer must be found.

The primary victimizer is, of course, the American food industry. Kessler believes that the products it offers its customers are irresistible. This is a common view and getting commoner. As our Baby Boomers age, the famous ardor they once felt for sexual intercourse has been transferred to food, which at their time of life is more easily attainable and requires less fuss. Kessler's tortured encounters with one foodstuff after another are described in a prose that is nearly Jackie Collins-like in its sensual intensity. Embarrassed readers may wonder whether they shouldn't just leave the room....

How could this be? Are we not men, human beings endowed with a will, free citizens of a self-governing country? Well, not exactly. At this point, in The End of Over-eating, Kessler the man of science returns. For it is not only the food industry that is doing the victimizing. The dark forces of capital are in cahoots with the natural forces of evolution and biology to force the American population into obesity. Kessler has embraced the fashionable reductionism that most popular science writers succumb to these days. And no wonder. Reductionism is the metaphysics of our intellectuals. Somehow they have convinced themselves that the most accurate way of accounting for reality is to reduce everything that happens to its physical processes: Neurons dart, chemicals percolate, synapses bristle, and--presto--you've got the Sistine Chapel and the Bhagavad Gita, the Little Sisters of the Poor and the bombing of Hiroshima, Rosalyn Tureck playing the Goldberg Variations and an American consumer going limp watching an ad for a Triple Stack Baconator from Wendy's. Reductionism gives off an air of scientific rigor. With Kessler it makes his case for regulation appear more impressive and, what amounts to the same thing, more complicated than it really is.

Kessler is an old hand at this. As FDA director, in agitating publicly for regulation of tobacco, he never referred to a cigarette as a cigarette; it was instead a "nicotine delivery device." As a description, the phrase is so incomplete as to be essentially inaccurate. But it sounded clinical, and it shifted the subject to what Kessler wanted to talk about, away from the free choice of the smoker and onto the ostensibly sinister motives of the cigarette maker. And it worked. In The End of Overeating he does the same for food, especially if it's food that people enjoy. He describes each food item in terms of its components--sugar, salt, fat, or some combination of the three--as if this disaggregation were a more accurate rendering of the thing as a whole.

More here

Eye drops 'may reverse glaucoma'

A new type of medicated eye drop may be able to reverse symptoms of glaucoma, an Italian study has suggested.

Glaucoma, the world's leading cause of blindness, is caused by pressure inside the eye - intraocular pressure - which damages cells in the optic nerve. The study of rats and human patients found drops containing a nerve growth factor may stop these cells dying, and actually improve vision. It is reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It is estimated that 77m people have glaucoma around the world. The build up of intraocular pressure can sometimes be controlled through other techniques. But once pressure has started to damage optic nerve cells, called retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), it has proved impossible to recover that lost function. And often people with glaucoma do not seek expert help until the condition is already relatively advanced.

The researchers, from the University of Rome, treated rats with symptoms of glaucoma with eye drops containing nerve growth factor. The animals who were given the eye drops showed decreased levels of RGC death compared with those who did not receive the treatment. The researchers went on to test the drops in three human patients whose intraocular pressure had started to be controlled, but who still showed signs of progressive deterioration in their vision. In two of the patients vision improved, while in the other it was stabilised. The improvements lasted up to 18 months after the eye drops were applied.

Nerve growth factor appears to trigger chemical changes within cells that prevent them from dying in response to damage. It might also enable cells whose function had begun to be damaged to bounce back. And it might boost the capacity of healthy RGCs to form new connections within the optic nerve, to compensate for any damage that had already taken place.

However, nerve growth factor cannot rescue RGCs that have already died - in common with brain tissue, the optic nerve cannot regenerate. Lead researcher Dr Stefano Bonini said: "Although neuroprotection in glaucoma has already been attempted with several compounds, this is the first time that an improvement in visual function is observed in patients with advanced optic nerve damage."

David Wright, chief executive of the International Glaucoma Association, warned against drawing firm conclusions from such a small study - but said the results were encouraging. He said: "There have been many false dawns in the search for neuro-protective agents for the treatment of glaucoma and it is a feature of research on other compounds that early promise does not always translate into clinical effectiveness when larger studies are undertaken. "However, this research would seem to indicate both effectiveness and acceptability as to the means of drug delivery. "If these early indications are carried through to wider trials and there are no other problems, then this has the potential to open a completely new method of treating glaucoma and of preventing unnecessary visual loss in the future."

Professor Peng Khaw is director of the National Institute of Health Research Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology. He said many other substances had achieved good results in animals, only to fail in humans. However, he said, if the researchers could perfect an easy-to-use eye drop formulation that would represent a huge step forward.


7 August, 2009

Alternative medicine is a very expensive con

Complementary and alternative medicine such as acupuncture, herbal supplements and meditation are big business in the United States, totaling nearly $34 billion in out-of-pocket spending, according to a government report released on Thursday. More than 38 million adults visited chiropractors, acupuncturists and other specialists in alternative care in 2007, the report from the National Institutes of Health found.

About two-thirds of this amount was spent on products such as supplements, with nearly $12 billion going to practitioners, according to the report from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Despite this emphasis on self-care therapies, 38.1 million adults made an estimated 354.2 million visits to practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine," the report said.

Complementary medicine, such as aromatherapy to ease discomfort after surgery, is used with conventional medicine whereas alternative medicine is used in place of it, the center says. Other findings:

* Complementary or alternative therapies make up 1.5 percent of the $2.2 trillion in total health care expenditures.

* Popular products included fish oil, glucosamine to treat arthritis and Echinacea to prevent or treat colds.

* Common treatments included acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation and traditional healing.

* On average, an adult spent $121.92 on visits to providers and paid $29.37 out of pocket per visit.

* People spent $14.8 billion out of pocket to buy nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products -- a third of what is spent on pharmaceuticals.

"With so many Americans using and spending money on (complementary and alternative) therapies, it is extremely important to know whether the products and practices they use are safe and effective," said NCCAM director Dr. Josephine Briggs. "This underscores the importance of conducting rigorous research and providing evidence-based information on complementary and alternative medicine so that health care providers and the public can make well-informed decisions." Her institute was established in 1998 to conduct this research.


Vegetarians' outrage as British supermarket acknowledges 'macabre' practice of turning out-of-date meat into electricity

And I thought that was where sausages came from!

Consumers should be informed if any of their home electricity is being generated using the 'macabre' recycling of waste meat from supermarkets, campaigners said today. Tesco now sends 5,000 tons of meat that has passed its sell-by date to be turned into enough National Grid electricity to power 600 homes for a year.

The retail giant has hailed the scheme as part of a 'green' drive which had enabled it to stop sending any of the waste it produces to environmentally damaging landfill sites.

But animal rights campaign group Viva said many non-meat eaters would be 'horrified' that their houses were being part-powered by out-of-date meat. And they said any environmental benefits of recycling the meat were far outweighed by the greenhouse gases produced by rearing so much more meat than was needed in the first place.

Justin Kerswell, campaigns manager for Viva (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals), said: 'It's a sad indictment of modern life that not only hundreds of millions of animals are killed each year in the UK, but so much meat is left over from greed and indifference. 'To turn this wasted meat into power might seem like a good idea at first, but you have to ask yourself why is so much left over and why are so many animals dying to provide this excess? 'Surely killing fewer animals in the first place should be the aim.

'Whatever savings are made by turning this meat into energy is more than voided by the huge amount of greenhouse gases generated by the farming and production of the meat in the first place. Tesco should take a long hard look at its wasteful practices.' He said consumers should be told if their domestic power came from such sources. 'More and more people are choosing to adopt an ethical and green vegetarian or vegan diet. 'Most would be horrified to find out that their power was generated by left-over meat. Consumers should have the right to know if their power is generated in this macabre manner.'

But a spokesman for Tesco dismissed the claims, saying the amount recycled in this way is a 'tiny proportion' of the meat the chain sells. He said: 'We aim to have no waste at all but even with a highly efficient supply chain, a tiny amount is inevitable. 'The amount of meat waste from our stores makes up less than 1 per cent of our total waste, and a miniscule proportion of meat sold. 'Tesco wants to play its part in helping the environment by ensuring that none of our waste goes to landfill, which produces damaging methane gas, but instead is reused in a productive way.'

Government-funded waste body Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme) says retailers generate about 1.6 million tons of food waste each year, including meat, with food manufacturers throwing away 4.1 million tons and restaurant and other outlets another three million.

Britain lags behind other European countries in the use of so-called 'anaerobic digestion' conversion, and ministers were handed recommendations on how to boost rates by an expert review panel last month. Meat and other food waste is processed in biomass-to-energy plants which turn waste food into bio-fuel and then use that to produce renewable electricity.

Tesco, the UK's biggest retailer, said this week that it had succeeded in diverting all of its annual 531,000 tonnes of waste away from landfill. Schemes such as the meat-to-power conversion, recycling cardboard boxes into new ones and turning recycled carrier bags into rubbish sacks had all been used as part of the drive, it said.


6 August, 2009

Heavy drinking 'can double the risk of cancer' (?)

More epidemiological speculation. Suspicious that wine drinkers were not affected. Social class is the probable cause of the differences observed. Lower class people probably drink more irresponsibly and indulge in other risky behaviours, such as drug abuse. And Canada is very multi-ethnic. Were differences due to that ruled out? Blacks tend to have poorer health and may drink more so was it all just a racial effect?

Heavy drinkers have another reason to drown their sorrows. They face almost double the usual risk of developing certain cancers, according to research. The bad news is for those who frequently down large amounts of spirits or beer. Drinkers who prefer wine do not appear to face the same risk.

Heavy beer and spirits drinkers increase their risk of developing cancer of the oesophagus, liver and lung, the research claims. Doctors found 'statistically significant' links between heavy consumption of alcohol and seven different cancers in all. However moderate drinking - less than daily - and wine consumption did not show the same effects.

'We compared people who drank heavily to our reference group, who abstained or drank only very occasionally,' said Dr Andrea Benedetti from the department of medicine at McGill University in Montreal. 'We also looked for trends across our categories: non-drinkers, weekly drinkers and daily drinkers. The results were astounding. 'We saw increased risk for oesophageal cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer. 'The strongest risk was for oesophageal and liver cancer.'

The research, published in the medical journal Cancer Detection and Prevention, used data originally collected for a massive occupational cancer study in Montreal in the 1980s. The information was a treasure-trove, said Dr Benedetti.

She continued: 'Lifetime interviews were conducted with people about their job histories and detailed information about all the things they could have been exposed to was collected. 'As it turns out, the data also included information about non-occupational factors such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, diet and socio-economic status. 'For the most part we showed that light drinkers were less affected or not affected at all. It is people who drink every day or multiple times a day who are at risk. 'This adds to the growing body of evidence that heavy drinking is extremely unhealthy in so many ways.'


Discovery of epilepsy gene paves way for more effective treatments

A genetic defect that could be responsible for up to half of all cases of epilepsy has been identified by scientists. In about 50 per cent of cases, the onset of epilepsy is linked with an obvious cause, such as a head injury, brain tumour or another neurological disease. In most other cases the condition is believed to have a genetic basis — but so far little progress has been made in identifying the genes responsible. The latest study, which is published today in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), shows that a mutation in a gene called ATP1A3 can lead to a severe form of epilepsy in mice. If the findings translate to human beings, they could pave the way for more effective treatments.

The team behind the study has already begun screening a large archive of DNA samples from epileptic patients to ascertain whether the same genetic flaw predisposes people to the disease. They say that the 99 per cent match between the mouse and human versions of the gene means there is a good chance that it also plays a role in human epilepsy.

In both species the gene is involved in regulating levels of sodium and potassium in the brain. Imbalances in these chemicals have already been linked with epilepsy in humans.

In epilepsy sufferers, the brain is hyperexcitable, meaning that when stimulated there is a much bigger increase in neuronal firing than in a normal brain. Sodium and potassium affect how easily neurons fire.

“It’s equivalent to salty water conducting electricity better than tap water. When there’s more sodium present in the brain, the conductivity of neurons increases and they fire more often,” said Steve Clapcote, a neuroscientist from the University of Leeds, who led the study.

The ATP1A3 gene regulates the levels of sodium and potassium in the brain by producing an enzyme that works as a sodium-potassium pump. In a strain of mouse called Myshkin, which has been bred to have epilepsy, a defect in the ATP1A3 gene means that an inactive version of the enzyme is produced, leading to sodium and potassium imbalances. As a consequence the mice have regular seizures.

The study went a step farther in isolating the cause of the epilepsy by cross-breeding the epileptic mice with normal mice that had been genetically engineered to have an extra copy of the ATP1A3 gene. The extra copy compensated for the faulty version, resulting in offspring that were free of epilepsy and had normal levels of the sodium-potassium pump enzyme.

“An imbalance of sodium and potassium levels has long been suspected to lead to epileptic seizures, but our study is the first to show beyond any doubt that a defect in this gene is responsible,” Dr Clapcote said.

Epilepsy affects about 1 in 200 people in Britain. But despite being a relatively common condition, anticonvulsive medication — the most common treatment — is ineffective in more than 30 per cent of cases. Its side-effects can also have a big impact on quality of life.

If the study’s findings translate to humans, it could open up new avenues for treatment. One possibility would be to give patients a synthetic version of the sodium-potassium pump enzyme to help to regulate levels of these chemicals in their brain. Alternatively, drugs could be designed to stimulate the inactive enzyme.

Designing specifically tailored drugs will be a long-range project, says Professor Mark Rees, a specialist at the University of Swansea, who is also involved in the DNA screening project. “But any piece of the jigsaw that takes us a step towards designing the drugs is to be welcomed,” he said.


5 August, 2009


Benzodiazepines [e.g. Valium] are the most prescribed anxiolytics and are used by a broad population. However, benzodiazepines can cause unwanted side effects, including sedation, development of tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms after long-term administration. Rupprecht et al. (p. 490; published online 18 June) now find that a translocator protein (18-kD) ligand, XBD173, is a fast-acting anxiolytic agent, both in animals and humans, which lacks the unwanted side effects of benzodiazepines and provides a promising target for novel clinically effective anxiolytic drugs.


Translocator Protein (18 kD) as Target for Anxiolytics Without Benzodiazepine-Like Side Effects

By Rainer Rupprecht et al


Most antianxiety drugs (anxiolytics) work by modulating neurotransmitters in the brain. Benzodiazepines are fast and effective anxiolytic drugs; however, their long-term use is limited by the development of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Ligands of the translocator protein [18 kilodaltons (kD)] may promote the synthesis of endogenous neurosteroids, which also exert anxiolytic effects in animal models. Here, we found that the translocator protein (18 kD) ligand XBD173 enhanced -aminobutyric acid–mediated neurotransmission and counteracted induced panic attacks in rodents in the absence of sedation and tolerance development. XBD173 also exerted antipanic activity in humans and, in contrast to benzodiazepines, did not cause sedation or withdrawal symptoms. Thus, translocator protein (18 kD) ligands are promising candidates for fast-acting anxiolytic drugs with less severe side effects than benzodiazepines.

Science 24 July 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5939, pp. 490 - 493

Grow your own teeth: Breakthrough in the lab may spell the end of dentures -- one day

Scientists have made teeth from stem cells in a world first that could make dentures a thing of the past. They looked like normal teeth, were sensitive to pain and chewed food easily. While the experiments were on mice, they pave the way for people to 'grow their own teeth' as required. The technique could also be adapted to other organs, allowing hearts, lungs and kidneys to be grown inside the body to replace parts worn by age or damaged by disease.

The Japanese study focused on stem cells - 'master cells' with the ability to turn into other cell types. The researchers from the Tokyo University of Science identified two types of stem cell, which together contain all the instructions for a fully grown tooth. The cells were grown in the laboratory for five days until they formed a tiny tooth 'bud'. This was then transplanted deep into the jawbone of a mouse that had had a tooth removed. Five weeks later, the tip of the tooth broke through the gum. And after seven weeks, it was fully-grown, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.

The researchers, who repeated the experiment many times, also showed that the new, bioengineered teeth were fully-functional. Dr Kazuhisa Nakao said: 'Every bio- engineered tooth erupted through the gum and had every tooth component such as dentine, enamel, pulp, blood vessels, nerve fibres, crown and root.' Importantly, the rodent recipients had no trouble eating.

The cells used were take from mouse embryos, but the researchers believe it should be possible to make teeth from other types of cell as well. They are now looking for suitable cells in people. Possibilities include skin cells and cells from the pulp inside teeth. They also have to work out how to control the size of the bio-engineered teeth, as those grown in the experiments were slightly smaller than usual. The process would also have to be speeded up if it was to be used on people as human teeth take years to form.

However, the pioneering technology could one day allow those with teeth missing to fill the gaps in their smile without having to resort to false teeth, bridges or synthetic implants. Experts believe that using 'living' teeth rather than artificial ones would be better for oral health and may also provide a more natural 'bite'. Bio- engineered teeth are likely to cost around £2,000 each - a similar price to the implants used at the moment.

But Britain's 11 million denture wearers should not throw away their fixative creams and gels quite yet. The technology is still at a very early stage and the Japanese researchers believe it will not be widely used by dentists for at least 15 years. Despite this, British experts said it was an important landmark.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem cell researcher at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, said the work was 'excellent' and highlighted the promise of using bio-engineering to make complex structures. But he cautioned that the researchers had yet to find cells suitable for use in people.

Professor Damien Walmsley, of the British Dental Association, said: 'If you lose a tooth at the moment, one of the options is a metal implant. If you could have a natural replacement, that would be good.' Natural-looking replacements-also have massive psychological benefits for self-conscious patients.

The technique of creating cell 'buds' could be applied more widely to grow other organs, such as hearts, kidneys and livers, inside the body. Lead researcher Professor Takashi Tsuji said: 'The ultimate goal of regenerative therapy is to develop fully-functioning bioengineered organs that can replace lost or damaged organs following disease, injury or ageing. 'Our study makes a substantial contribution to the development of bio- engineering technology for future organ replacement therapy.'


4 August, 2009

Attention-seeker targets restaurant over salt

Doctors recommend against eating more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. Order a Denny's double cheeseburger and you'll consume 3,880 milligrams in one sitting, almost double the suggested daily allowance of salt. Denny's meals "are dangerously high in sodium," according to a lawsuit filed last week by a New Jersey man with the support of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit group active in nutrition and food safety issues, the LA Times reports.

Nutrition advocates have won legislative and corporate lobbying battles to rid most of the food industry of artery-clogging trans fats and to compel restaurant chains in some cities and states to reveal the calorie counts of their foods. Now, they're turning their guns on salt. "We have clear and convincing evidence that sodium is associated with high blood pressure, and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke — and it is pretty consistent across populations and ethnic groups," said Dr. David Katz, a preventive medicine specialist at Yale University Medical School. "It is unconscionable that a single meal would have 2,000 milligrams or more of sodium," Katz said, reports Times writer Jerry Hirsch.

The New Jersey Superior Court lawsuit alleges that Denny's heavy use of salt puts "the restaurant chain's customers at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke." The lawsuit asks the court to order Denny's to list the sodium content of its food on the menu and warn about the hazards of consuming salt in high doses.

Denny's Corp. called the suit "frivolous and without merit."

"With hundreds of items on the menu, Denny's offers a wide variety of choices for consumers with different lifestyles, understanding that many have special dietary needs," said the company, which has about 1,500 restaurants nationwide.

Salt-laden selections include the Meat Lover's Scramble, an amalgamation of cheese, eggs, bacon, diced ham and sausage that comes with more meat on the side plus hash browns and pancakes. The meal has 5,690 milligrams of sodium — the equivalent of nearly three days' advised maximum salt intake. A scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese meal on the Denny's "senior" menu has 2,060 milligrams of sodium.

Such heavy intake could trigger congestive heart failure in some high-risk patrons, said Dr. Stephen Havas, adjunct professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed the lawsuit after private talks with Denny's failed to persuade the chain to make the kind of broad sodium reductions or menu disclosures that the group urged, said Michael Jacobson, the group's executive director. "For those Americans who should be most careful about limiting their sodium, such as people middle-aged and older, African Americans, or people with existing high blood pressure, it's dangerous to eat at Denny's," Jacobson said, the Times reports

The group also has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to regulate salt as a food additive instead of an ingredient that is "generally regarded as safe." Such a change would make it easier to regulate sodium levels in food, such as by limiting the amounts permitted in various food categories.

Although they acknowledge that excessive sodium consumption is a problem in America, health experts aren't necessarily lining up with Jacobson's group and its publicity-grabbing lawsuits. Katz, the Yale doctor, said that by focusing so intently on salt, nutrition advocates risk de-emphasizing greater dangers to public health, such as the high number of calories people consume daily.


Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights

Eating meat is a natural human activity — that is, we are biologically omnivorous. In my view, this makes it entirely moral for human beings to eat meat. How that meat is obtained is important. Human exceptionalism — a concept denied in animal-rights ideology — holds that we have a duty to treat animals humanely. Arguments can certainly be made that factory farms are not humane, although they do provide important human benefits of inexpensive and nutritious food. Many opponents of factory farms don’t have to worry about food prices when feeding their families. Still, there is “humane meat,” advocated by Matthew Scully in Dominion, which is more expensive but is raised on Old McDonald–type farms with humane methods of slaughter.

I consider vegetarianism for moral reasons akin to a vow of chastity by monastics: It eschews a normal human activity for higher moral purposes. That is to be admired. But no monastic would or should say that his vow of chastity makes him morally superior to married people who have sex. Similarly, vegetarians’ decision to refrain from eating meat does not make them morally superior to people who do eat meat.

In Dominion, Scully does indeed come at his advocacy from an animal-welfare (as opposed to an animal-rights) perspective. But he is barely on the right side of the line because he is indifferent to the human good derived from animal industries and animal use.

He also claims that the ideology doesn’t matter in this debate. That is absolutely wrong. Animal-welfare philosophy supports human exceptionalism; animal-rights philosophy disdains that approach and rejects human exceptionalism as “speciesist.” There is a huge difference between the two. Whether we believe human beings have a unique moral status in the world has tremendous implications for human rights and human flourishing. Indeed, it could be the most important ethical and moral issue of the 21st century.


3 August, 2009

Botox in trial to cure depression

This is an old idea. Trygve Braatoy's "psychomotor therapy" of the 1940s was based on similar thinking -- the idea being that if you deliberately adopt a certain behaviour, that behaviour eventually becomes truly you. The idea never gained much acceptance outside Scandinavia. We will have to await the publication of a controlled study to evaluate the proposal below. Results so far could just be placebo

It may smooth out more than just worry lines. Botox, popularised by Hollywood stars wanting to stay young and wrinkle-free, is being tested as a treatment for depression. Scientists believe emotions can be “reverse engineered” — if a patient is prevented from frowning, the theory goes, their brain may think there is nothing to worry about.

“The basic principle is that there is feedback from the body to the brain so the brain always knows what the body is doing,” said Marc Axel Wollmer, the psychiatrist in charge of the trials being held jointly at Basle University, Switzerland, and Hanover University, Germany. “If we have an emotion like joy or grief we also have a facial expression that corresponds,” he said. “Studies indicate that if we deliberately produce a facial expression, there is a change in feeling.”

The theory is called “facial feedback hypothesis”. Another example is that someone who is forced to smile at a social event where the person is feeling uncomfortable may find he or she enjoys it more.

An initial experiment by another team used Botox on 10 depressed patients. After two months nine were no longer depressed and the 10th patient reported an improvement in mood.

Botox, based on a toxin produced by bacteria, is injected into the forehead. It temporarily weakens or paralyses the muscles that wrinkle the skin. It is a common treatment used by about 100,000 Britons a year.

Amanda Holden, the actress and Britain’s Got Talent judge, took a course of Botox after acquiring “crow’s feet” lines by her eyes. Kylie Minogue and Geri Halliwell, the pop singers, are among other celebrities to have had the injections. “We are not interested in treating people unhappy with the cosmetic appearance of their lines,” said Wollmer. “They will feel happier after treatment because they like their looks better. That would be too simple.”


The ever-expanding world of mental illness

Redefining everyday problems and personality quirks as psychiatric problems is bad news for us all - and democracy

Britain’s newspapers have been full of predictions this week about 2012, when London will host the Olympics. There is a sense both of excitement over potential success and trepidation over potential failure, both on and off the sporting field. It is too early to predict with any confidence whether the London Games will be a success or not, but one thing I can predict, with utmost confidence, is that by 2012 many more of us will be defined as mentally ill.

This will not be related to the Olympics, but because 2012 is when the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (usually referred to by the shorthand DSM-V) is expected to be published. If previous revisions are anything to go by, then many more people will fall within the parameters required for a diagnosis of mental disorder (1).

It does not require a PhD in psychiatric history to be fairly certain that DSM-V will be more extensive than its predecessors. For example, between the first and fourth editions, published in 1952 and 1994, the number of pages grew from 130 to 886 and the number of diagnostic categories more than tripled. This led some sceptics to suggest, tongue only slightly in cheek, that at such a rate of growth we can reasonably expect the fifth edition to contain some 1,256 pages and 1,800 diagnostic criteria (2).

We have a few years to wait before finding out the exact contents. But it has been revealed in the US this week that there are already tortured discussions amongst those preparing DSM-V as to whether such things as overuse of the internet, ‘excessive’ sexual activity, compulsive shopping and apathy should be contained within the parameters of clinically diagnosable mental disorder in the next edition of the manual (3).

For example, there has also been much debate about the validity and/or expansion of the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with a recent BBC Panorama programme detailing the expansion of the concept from extreme experiences (for example, war situations) to the more mundane (for example, minor traffic accidents, work stress) (4). At the end of that edition of Panorama, presenter Jeremy Vine said the APA was looking at tightening up the diagnostic criteria for PTSD in DSM-V. Time will tell if he is correct, but he is obviously unaware of post-traumatic embitterment disorder (PTED), an illness said to afflict those who remain bitter or aggrieved for too long about a past wrong, and which some psychiatric professionals wish to be included in the new manual (5). Good job this diagnosis wasn’t around for the year-long British miners’ strike of 1984-85.

In his 2007 book, Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness, Christopher Lane detailed how the medical profession and drug companies promoted their wares by reclassifying everyday anxiety and mild eccentricity as mental illness (so that shyness becomes ‘avoidant personality disorder’ or ‘social phobia’), and also documented the often chaotic, arbitrary and tactical procedures that accompanied the inclusion of certain diagnostic criteria within the creation of DSM-III in 1980. This was far from a rational, scientific, clearly defined process (6).

It is easy, and a lot of fun, to mock the excesses of such diagnostic expansion. There are also many ‘diagnoses’ not (yet) included in DSM classifications that are given credence by many mental health professionals. My personal favourite is the man, sacked from his job for being persistently late, who sued for unfair dismissal on the grounds that he suffered from ‘chronic lateness syndrome’. That’s one to save for the next time you sleep in.

Nevertheless, there are also some more serious issues that arise from the current situation in terms of personal autonomy, social understanding and political life.

For me, the changing cultural climate was highlighted by the differing reception for two books by the American literary critic and feminist, Elaine Showalter: The Female Malady (1985) and Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture (1997). While the first book enjoyed much acclaim and is deemed essential reading for any serious students of the relationship between gender and mental health, the later one provoked much criticism, with Showalter having to encounter public protests at several post-publication promotional events.

The difference was not so much in what she was arguing, but in the cultural environment in which it was expressed. In many respects, Showalter was making the same point in both books: that what are often termed medical diseases or illnesses are actually the result of complex social, political and psychological processes that could get hidden under a psychiatric diagnosis. However, the later book was published in a climate far less amenable to deep searches for meaning in human experience. Instead, catch-all simple diagnoses and professional expertise, whether by way of therapy or medication, are now seen as holding the key to the understanding of human suffering.

It should be no surprise if some people, in an attempt to give meaning to their lives, use a dominant psychiatric framework in which to do so. The relative decline of past frameworks in which we situated ourselves (religion, political projects, nation, and so on) does not halt the search for meaning, and today we live in a period where mental health professionals, campaigners and government regularly inform us of our vulnerability.

Not only does this outlook pose problems for us as autonomous individuals as we adopt the role of Being Sick; the pathologisation of everyday life also undermines democracy, too. The concept of democracy rests on the assumption that we, as rational agents, elect and hold parliament to account. If, on the contrary, we are classed as irrational, as suffering from myriad mental disorders that limit our capacity and responsibility, then the basis of democratic accountability is seriously compromised. Instead of ‘we, the people’ holding the state to account, the state takes on the role of doctor caring for a vulnerable and irrational electorate.

This is illustrated not only by the expansion of psychiatric diagnoses, but also by the broadening definition of a ‘vulnerable adult’. In the 1990s, there was a fairly high threshold before someone qualified as a ‘vulnerable adult’. It was linked with clearly defined groups (for example, those in need of services due to mental or other disability, age or illness) who were at risk of suffering significant harm or serious exploitation. No doubt such a high threshold was used to withhold services from people who needed it, but it also reflected a view that to be vulnerable was not the norm.

However, over the years the authorities in Britain have reversed that viewpoint and exponentially expanded the numbers of people classified as a vulnerable adult. The definition now includes all disabled people, and virtually anyone in receipt of any form of health or social services or who is receiving treatment or therapy of any description. The idea that such groups are, by definition, ‘at risk’ is now so unquestioned that it does not need a mention. In effect, ‘vulnerable’ has become a noun. We all require the care of the therapeutic state.

It is clear that the government and many mental health professionals (although there are also many who are deeply concerned by current developments) have a low opinion of our ability to negotiate and transcend the problems of contemporary social and political life, and they have a vested interest in viewing us as sick and irrational. It should also be clear that allowing them to get away with this interpretation unchallenged poses a danger to our personal autonomy and political agency.


2 August, 2009

Music therapy for stroke victims

I would question the focus on classical music below. I am a J.S. Bach man myself but most people relate best to very simple music

Anyone who's ever heard Pavarotti blow the doors off a concert hall with the stunning conclusion of Puccini's Nessun Dorma knows that opera music has the ability to move the heart. (And in Pavarotti's case, move it to another zip code.) In a new study from (where else?) Italy, researchers examined the effects that different types of opera and classical music have on cardiovascular measures.

As reported by the BBC, when 24 healthy subjects were monitored while listening to a random selection of classical pieces, researchers noted clear physical changes. Fast tempo prompted increased blood pressure and faster breathing and heart rates. Slower tempo lowered blood pressure and brought down heart and breathing rates.

Their conclusion: Quiet, soothing music is actually NOT the best music for the heart. Music that modulates between slower and faster tempos, as well as lower and higher volumes (something like Nessun Dorma, for instance), has the most advantageous effects on heart rate and general circulation.

But here's where it gets interesting… Commenting on the Italian study, Diana Greenman (who heads up a UK charity that brings live music to hospitals and hospices) told the BBC: "I hear time and again of stroke patients who suddenly are able to move in time to the music after previously being paralyzed."

Now THAT'S pretty amazing! So I followed a link in the BBC piece to a 2008 article that detailed a remarkable study from the University of Helsinki.

Researchers recruited 60 stroke patients, and each began their participation as soon as possible after their stroke. Divided into three groups, some patients listened to whatever music they liked, some patients listened to audio books, and some patients had no specific listening plan. Meanwhile, all subjects received standard protocols for stroke rehabilitation.

After three months, testing showed that focused attention and mental operation abilities improved by 17 percent in the music group, but didn't improve at all in the other two groups. Verbal memory scores were even more impressive: Music group: 60 percent improvement. Audio books group: 18 percent. Non-listening group: 29 percent. Subjects in the music group also tended to be less confused and less depressed than subjects in the other two groups.

Lead researcher of the study told the BBC that in the weeks after a stroke, patients are typically inactive much of the time, providing a perfect music-listening opportunity.

At the end of the BBC article, several readers submitted comments that offer real-life confirmation of the study results. For one man, a motorcycle accident prompted brain bleeding followed by a stroke that left him unable to move one side of his body and unable to speak. But when the radio was on he could sing along with familiar songs.

A woman in India suffered a severe stroke that left her with a "major speech deficit" and limited vocabulary. But her daughter reports that she can recall and sing some of her favorite songs.

One stroke expert told the BBC that more research is needed before widespread use of music as therapy can be recommended for stroke victims. This caution is pretty laughable unless someone can produce any evidence at all of a single adverse side effect of music (with the possible exception of getting the Macarena song stuck in your brain for a full afternoon).


Arm-swinging riddle is answered

RESEARCHERS say they may have come up with an explanation as to why we swing our arms when we walk, a practice that has long piqued scientific curiosity. Swinging one's arms comes at a cost. We need muscles to do it, and we need to provide energy in the form of food for those muscles.

So what's the advantage? Little or none, some experts say, contending that arm-swinging, like our appendix, is an evolutionary relic from when we used to go about on all fours. But a trio of specialists from the United States and the Netherlands have put the question to rigorous tests.

They built a mechanical model to get an idea of the dynamics of arm-swinging and then recruited 10 volunteers, who were asked to walk with a normal swing, an opposite-to-normal swing, with their arms folded or held by their sides. The metabolic cost of this activity was derived from oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production as the human guinea pigs breathed in and out.

Arm-swinging turned out to be a plus, rather than a negative, the investigators found. For one thing, it is surprisingly harmless in energy costs, requiring little torque, or rotational twist, from the shoulder muscles. Holding one's arms as one walks requires 12 per cent more metabolic energy, compared with swinging them.

The arms' pendulum swing also helps dampen the bobbly up-and-down motion of walking, which is itself an energy drain for the muscles of the lower legs. If you hold your arms while walking, this movement, called vertical ground reaction moment, rises by 63 per cent.

Should you prefer to walk with an opposite-to-normal swing - meaning your right arm moves in sync with your right leg and your left arm is matched to the motion of your left leg - the energy cost of using your shoulder muscles will fall. The downside, though, is that opposite-to-normal swing forces up the metabolic rate by a quarter.

The study, headed by Steven Collins at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, says we should give the thumb's-up to arm swinging. "Rather than a facultative relic of the locomotion needs of our quadrupedal ancestors, arm swinging is an integral part of the energy economy of human gait," says the paper. It appears in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the biological research journal of the Royal Society, on Wednesday.


1 August, 2009

Cervical smear surgery 'given needlessly' to women with borderline results

Many women with borderline results are given invasive treatment which increases their chances of suffering complications in future pregnancies

Hundreds of women may undergo unnecessary surgery after cervical smear tests, it has emerged. Many women with borderline results are given invasive treatment which increases their chances of suffering complications in future pregnancies. A study in the British Medical Journal found many of these treatments are entirely pointless, as there may be no tumour, or it may so small that it would disappear naturally.

Some 2,700 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, and around 1,000 die.

The NHS screens women aged 25 and above for signs of pre-cancerous cells that may develop into tumours. It claims screening saves around 4,500 lives a year. Many women with positive results are referred for a procedure known as a 'colposcopy' to carry out a more detailed investigation. In many cases lesions are found, and the patients are sent for an operation to remove abnormal tissue - even though it may not be cancerous.

Some doctors argue the operation should only happen if a biopsy proves it is cancerous. The BMJ research found that for those whose tests reveal only mild changes or borderline results, invasive treatment can do more harm than good.

The study concluded that while the colposcopy detected more serious lesions (known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN) it could lead to overtreatment, because they could sometimes return to normal of their own accord.

The study of more than 4,000 British women aged 20-59 whose results showed borderline or mild abnormalities also revealed a higher rate of after-effects. These included pain, bleeding and complications in later pregnancies.

The study's authors stated: 'We conclude that there is no clear benefit of a policy of immediate colposcopy as although it detects more CIN grade II or more severe disease, it leads to a large number of referrals with no high-grade CIN, overtreatment with associated after effects in young women, and no clear psychological benefit.'


Australia: Fad-laden food religion well-entrenched at a major Melbourne hospital

FAST food giant McDonald's has been given the green light to sell Big Macs in Melbourne's new Royal Children's Hospital. But it will have to meet strict Australian-first menu guidelines.

The hospital's retail food policy revealed to the Herald Sun paves the way for several fast food chains to operate in the $1 billion hospital. They will be subject to a "traffic light" system where half their menu is made up of "green" healthy food such as fruit, vegetables and water. "Red" food, including chips, cannot form more than a fifth of the food on offer.

The decision follows a report revealing RCH staff were split over McDonald's, which opened in the existing hospital amid controversy in 1991. Many doctors believed the presence of McDonald's sent a bad health message, while others felt it was a boost for sick children.

But RCH chairman Tony Beddison said the policy - a first at an Australian hospital - encouraged healthy eating and allowed families to make their own choices. "It provides choice, it provides great variety for children and their families, but it also gives a very clear message about healthy eating," he said. [A totally misleading message, more like it. Does he know the huge amounts of fat and red meat that Eskimos eat and how they almost never get cardiovascular disease?]

"There is going to be no retailer excluded from the tender. "It will be up to the individual retailer to come forward with their plan. But those plans must comply with the traffic-light green, amber, red policy and they need to comply regardless of who they are. "Sick kids need to be nurtured and looked after, guided and helped. But above all, we need to think about their wellbeing. "As a hospital we need to provide leadership to the community. We will not be endorsing any of the tenants, but they will need to meet this policy." To earn a place in the hospital, restaurant menus must feature:

* At least 50 per cent "green" food, such as lean meat, fish, chicken, fruit, vegetables and plain water.

* No more than 30 per cent "amber" food, including ice cream, muesli and snack bars, canned fruit, diet drinks and fruit juice.

* "Red" foods - such as chips, deep fried foods, chocolate bars, lollies, chips and soft drinks - to make up no more than 20 per cent.

At least three food stores will operate in the new hospital, but there could be room for up to nine depending on the mix of plans received when the tender process opens next month. The hospital will conduct twice-yearly audits to enforce the rules.

The hospital did not want to tell families what to eat [except that they do], but Mr Beddison said the hospital policy could be adopted far more widely. "There is no doubt this policy has extensions into other parts of the community, particularly where children eat, such as tuck shops," he said.

He would not speculate on who the likely tenderers would be, but said no restaurants were involved in developing the policy.