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, 2010

Antihistamine Use Linked to Extra Pounds

More epidemiological stupidity. Isn't it obvious that chronically ill people might get less exercise and thus gain weight? They obviously want to blame the remedy instead of the illness for weight gain but rightly chicken out in the end

People who use prescription antihistamines to relieve allergy symptoms may be more likely than non-users to carry excess pounds, a new study suggests, although the significance of the connection is not yet clear.

In a study of 867 U.S. adults, researchers at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, found that prescription antihistamine users were more likely to be overweight or obese than non-users were.

Among the 268 antihistamine users, 45 percent were overweight, versus 30 percent of the 599 study participants not on the medications.

The researchers stress, however, that the findings do not prove that antihistamines are the cause of the extra pounds. This type of study, known as an observational study, can only point to an association between two variables — in this case, antihistamine use and body weight — and cannot prove cause-and-effect.

It's possible that some other factor explains the link, according to lead researcher Dr. Joseph Ratliff, a postdoctoral associate in Yale's department of psychiatry.

"There have been studies that show allergies and asthma themselves are associated with obesity," he told Reuters Health in an email, "so these conditions themselves may have an effect."

Still, in a report in the journal Obesity, Ratliff and his colleagues say the findings point to an important question for future studies to explore.

More here

Pesky genes overturn the conventional wisdom again

A man's higher risk of heart attacks can be down to his genes, rather than lifestyle

SCIENTISTS have found a genetic explanation for why men are more likely than women to suffer heart attacks and strokes.

The British team found a cluster of genetic variants on the male sex chromosome that puts carriers at an increased risk of heart disease.

Previously, the difference between the rate of heart disease for men and women was attributed to men being more likely to have “high-risk” lifestyles - by smoking, for example - and to the protective effect on the heart of the female hormone oestrogen.

The latest study, presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Stockholm, indicates that men who carry a set of genes - the I-haplogroup - on their Y chromosome are at 55 per cent greater risk of heart disease.

“We're very familiar with this difference between men and women but it has been unclear whether it is to do with lifestyle, hormones or whether there is a genetic origin,” said Nilesh Samani, Professor of Cardiology at Britain's University of Leicester and the lead author.

The finding also provides a tantalising explanation for why northern Europeans tend to be at greater risk of heart disease than their Mediterranean counterparts. The I-haplogroup is most prevalent in northern, central and eastern Europe, suggesting that genetics as well as a diet and lifestyle may play a role.

In future, doctors could take into account this risk factor, alongside cholesterol and blood pressure, to help identify those individuals at greatest risk. “As a man I would want to have this test,” said George Kassianos, a GP with a special interest in cardiology, based in Berkshire in England. “As a doctor, if someone was already at risk and they had these gene variants as well, I could put them on statins sooner.”

The scientists behind the study said that it would be necessary to establish the mechanism by which the genetic variants increased a person's risk before pre-emptive genetic tests would be clinically useful.

However, they cautioned that direct-to-consumer testing companies were likely to jump on the findings and add the I-haplogroup to the portfolio of risk factors that could be disclosed through personal genetic tests. “They're giving out information that we don't yet understand properly, let alone know what to do about,” said Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study.

While women have two X chromosomes, men have one X and one Y, and the Y is always inherited from their fathers. As it is never paired with a partner, it escapes a process called recombination that shuffles the code of every other chromosome in each new individual. It is thus transmitted almost intact in the male line from generation to generation, altered only by rare spontaneous mutations.

These mutations can be used to identify categories of Y chromosome, known as haplogroups. Men from the same haplogroup must have shared a common male ancestor in the past. The I-haplogroup can be traced back to the Gravettian culture, which arrived in Europe from the Middle East about 25,000 years ago.

In the study, 3,000 males were tested, including 1,295 with heart disease. Those carrying the I-haplogroup variant had a 55 per cent higher risk of the disease. The association was not explained by traditional risk factors such as cholesterol, high blood pressure or smoking. “This study could explain to a large degree what predisposes men to heart disease,” Professor Weissberg said.

The scientists are working to identify the specific genes involved and the biological mechanisms by which they increase risk. Studies are also planned using data from other European countries to determine the extent to which the I-haplogroup explains the lower incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries.


30 August, 2010

The alleged fast-food/diabetes link

The British article excerpted below is typical of what one reads about fast food causing diabetes. The connection seems to be almost an article of faith. Yet when I looked at the evidence a couple of years ago, I could not find anything like conclusive evidence of an obesity/diabetes link, let alone a fast-food/diabetes link.

Let me state the obvious: Most fat people don't get diabetes and you can find lots of non-obese people in any McDonald's. Neither of those things would be true if fast food caused diabetes via obesity.

What has happened here, I suspect, is the usual epidemiological inattention to the direction of causation. It is true that those who already have diabetes do benefit by weight-loss and altering their diet but that does not mean that their diet caused the diabetes in the first place.

So what has caused the diabetes upsurge? At a guess: An interaction between genes and inactivity. Or maybe the increased stress of life in an increasingly lawless society. Or maybe both. But the research to find the real cause will not get done until this stupid obsession with fast food is abandoned. Don't hold your breath

The first thing you see when you enter Mayday University Hospital, Croydon, is a Burger King concession next to the main reception desk. If you don’t fancy that, there is an Upper Crust, and the shop opposite has a huge display with a buy-two-get-one-free offer on packs of Revels, Maltesers and Skittles. Bags of custard-filled mini-doughnuts were half price - but they’re all sold out now.

It is a depressing scene, not least because Mayday was the focus of a recent installment of The Hospital - a hard-hitting, five-part Channel 4 series examining the immediate and long-term effects of teenage obesity, alcoholism, violence and sexually transmitted infections. They are problems which, say health experts, are in danger of crippling the NHS.

The episode at Mayday looked at the impact of diabetes, particularly the obesity-related type 2 diabetes. The TV programme followed consultant diabetologist Dr Richard Savine and his team as they struggled to convince young sufferers to take responsibility for their health.

Speaking today, Dr Savine sums up the problem. ‘When I qualified it was unheard of to find a type 2 diabetic under the age of 40. Now we are seeing teenagers with the disease. 'They have diabetes because they have been fat since they were five years old or younger. In 20 years these people will get heart disease, be going blind, suffer strokes and need dialysis. 'And a large proportion of them will not survive, no matter what we do.’

'When I qualified it was unheard of to find a type 2 diabetic under the age of 40. Now we are seeing teenagers with the disease. They have diabetes because they have been fat since they were five years old or younger'

Watching nurses and doctors at the hospital - where one in five patients has diabetes - tuck into burgers and double choc-chip muffins, it is not hard to see why, with the best will in the world, their words fell mostly on deaf ears....

So what can be done? ‘We need to educate,’ he says. ‘Children are growing up with a skewed idea of what healthy eating is. ‘We need to get them to understand it isn’t normal to eat pizza or kebabs three times a week. And many patients see their health as something that doctors look after when it goes wrong.’

How does a Burger King in the hospital reception fit into that message? ‘Most patients will be fed hospital food, which is now very good,’ he answers. ‘It doesn’t matter whether the burger bar is in reception or next door - if a family brings junk food to a diabetic in hospital, you have already lost the battle.’

Of course, Mayday is not alone. Out of 170 NHS Trusts, 40 rent space to chains including Burger King, Subway and Upper Crust.


The toxic truth about vitamin supplements: How health pills millions take with barely a second thought can do more harm than good

Four years ago, I began taking the much promoted glucosamine supplement after hurting my knee in a skiing accident. Glucosamine is made from shellfish and is widely believed to promote joint health - the theory is that it speeds up the production of the protein needed to grow and maintain healthy cartilage.

Although there's no clinical evidence of its effectiveness, my GP said it might help rebuild the damaged cartilage and improve my joint strength. I didn't hesitate, and immediately started taking the recommended dose, 1,500 mg a day.

Not long after, I found I needed to go to the lavatory far too often - sometimes more than five times a day. I had abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas and my stools were dark and tarry. I self- diagnosed IBS.

My GP prescribed drugs to relax the bowel muscles, but they didn't help. Then, early last year, I ran out of glucosamine and didn't restock. My knee was better and I was taking fish oils, which were being promoted as the new miracle supplement for joints.

Within a few days, my bowels returned to normal and remained so until, after another ski accident damaging the same knee in March this year, I began taking glucosamine again.

Within a week my 'IBS' had returned and I made the link. I researched glucosamine and found that side-effects include diarrhoea and loose stools. I stopped again and, hey presto, everything's back to normal.

Sales of health supplements have soared in recent years, with 40 per cent of Britons taking them. It's such a huge market that manufacturers spend around £40 million a year just telling us about their products.

As supplements are either made from natural substances or mimic substances produced by our bodies, many people, like me, assume they cannot do any harm.

But we're wrong, say health professionals. They point out that the health supplement industry is unregulated, which means manufacturers are not required to list potential side-effects - nor do their products have to go through costly clinical trials.

There are a handful of exceptions, such as folic acid, which is recommended for women trying to conceive. If you take a tablet of 400 micrograms (mcg) strength to help with conception, it is classed as a food.

But increase the dose to 5 mg (to treat anaemia and other conditions) and it becomes a medicine, requiring a licence. Otherwise, there are no checks and balances to protect consumers. And this worries experts.

'Health supplements can produce ill effects,' warns Anna Raymond, from the British Dietetic Association. 'People take supplements randomly, but they can be toxic if taken with some medicines or in high quantities.'

Indeed, glucosamine has been linked to the death of one man. In 2004, Norman Ferrie, a 64-year-old engineer from Dundee, died of liver failure within weeks of taking the supplement. 'The liver had been normal and something had attacked it,' gastroenterologist Dr John Dillon, of Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, told the inquest in 2008. He said there had been two other cases involving extreme reactions to the widely used supplement.

'Increasingly, people are being taken in by the prospect of a magic pill that will make them healthy,' says Dr Dillon. 'Most people don't know that glucosamine and other supplements are only licensed as a food, but are sold as a medicine. 'It would seem fair to ask manufacturers of supplements to list serious risks.

'Everything we need can be got from a healthy diet. The vast majority of health supplements are a waste of money. People feel fluey and start taking supplements they don't need. They could end up with hypervitaminosis, caused by excessive amounts of supplements.' This can lead to vomiting, lethargy and even renal failure. 'The only time a person should take a supplement is if a doctor recommends it,' adds Dr Dillon.

But even taking supplements on doctors' recommendations is not risk free. Last month, it was reported that taking calcium supplements - often prescribed for osteoporosis - could raise the risk of heart attacks by 30 per cent.

And it's not just the main ingredient than causes problems. Another risk is having an allergy to one of the constituents of a tablet, such as a binding agent or the gel coating, says nutritionist Dr Carrie Buxton, from the Health Supplement Information Service.

Despite the concerns, the Food Standards Agency says legislation on supplements is adequate. So, what can you do to ensure your safety? Dietitian Anna Raymond advises anyone who starts taking supplements should tell their GP.

More here

29 August, 2010

Crazy legal verdict on vaccine damage

This is just doctors feeling sorry for a disabled kid and coming to a crazy conclusion in order to help him. Where to start?

* His condition is NOT of the kind usually blamed on the vaccine (autism)

* The vaccine has repeatedly been found to be safe in large trials of it

* His problems developed 10 days after the vaccination, which is a common time-frame for MMR side-effects (hence the verdict) but the side effects concerned are very short lived, akin to the flu. Epilepsy is NOT such a side effect.

Logical conclusion: His problems were completely outside what has otherwise been associated with the vaccine so the timing is a coincidence and the vaccine did not cause the effects observed

A mother whose son suffered severe brain damage after he was given the controversial MMR vaccine as a baby has been awarded £90,000 compensation. The judgment is the first of its kind to be revealed since concerns were raised about the safety of the triple jab.

Robert Fletcher, 18, is unable to talk, stand unaided or feed himself.

He endures frequent epileptic fits and requires round-the-clock care from his parents Jackie and John, though he is not autistic. He suffered the devastating effects after being given the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine when he was 13 months old.

The Department of Health had always denied that the jab was the cause of Robert’s disability.

But now, in a judgment which will give hope to hundreds of other parents whose children have been severely affected by routine vaccinations, a medical assessment panel consisting of two doctors and a barrister has concluded that MMR was to blame.

Robert’s mother Jackie said the money would help with his care, though she described the amount as ‘derisory’.

Her first application for compensation under the Government’s Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme was rejected in 1997 on the grounds that it was impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt what had caused Robert’s illness.

But Mrs Fletcher appealed and in a ruling delivered last week, a new panel of experts came to a different conclusion.

In a six-page judgment, they said: ‘Robert was a more or less fit boy who, within the period usually considered relevant to immunisation, developed a severe convulsion... and he then went on to be epileptic and severely retarded.

‘The seizure occurred ten days after the vaccination. In our view, this cannot be put down to coincidence. 'It is this temporal association that provides the link. It is this that has shown on the balance of probabilities that the vaccination triggered the epilepsy. 'On this basis, we find that Robert is severely disabled as a result of vaccination and this is why we allowed the appeal.’

The ruling will reignite the debate over the safety of common childhood vaccines, although it makes clear that Robert’s case does not involve autism.

There is one other reported case of a family being given compensation as a result of an MMR jab.

But Mrs Fletcher said she believed the compensation award to Robert was the first to a surviving MMR-damaged person since controversy erupted in 1998 when the now discredited Dr Andrew Wakefield raised concerns about a possible link between the combined MMR injection and autism. He has since been struck off the medical register....

The controversy over a suggested link between MMR and autism erupted in 1998 when Dr Wakefield published a paper in The Lancet medical journal.

His work has since been discredited and earlier this year Dr Wakefield, who has moved to America, was struck off the medical register after the General Medical Council ruled that he had acted against the interests of patients and ‘failed in his duties as a responsible consultant’.

Robert Fletcher does not suffer from autism. But Mrs Fletcher, from Warrington, Cheshire, said the ruling would give hope to hundreds of other parents fighting to prove that their children’s disabilities were caused by the MMR injection....

The first doctor who assessed Robert under the compensation scheme in 1996 concluded that he had suffered a ‘simple febrile convulsion with no long-lasting consequences’. Although he agreed that Robert had a degree of disability, he refused to accept that the MMR vaccine was to blame.

At this month’s appeal, evidence was given by a leading expert on vaccine-damaged children, paediatric neurologist Dr Marcel Kinsbourne. He explained the biological changes which had occurred in Robert’s brain following the vaccination.

The one-day hearing was chaired by a barrister sitting with two doctors, Professor Sundara Lingam, a former consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, and Dr Adrian Allaway.

In a dissenting judgment, Professor Lingam said he believed Robert was ‘genetically predisposed to epilepsy and that the vaccination triggered it rather than caused it. 'Robert would have developed epilepsy in any event, even if he had not had the vaccination’.

But Professor Lingam was overruled by his two colleagues. In their final judgment, they accepted that MMR had caused Robert’s illness but added: ‘We would stress that this decision is fact-specific and it should not be seen as a precedent for any other case. 'In particular, it has no relevance to the issue... as to whether there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.’

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, a London GP whose own son is autistic, said: ‘It is a very important principle that parents should be compensated in cases of this kind. 'But although a causal link has been established in law in this instance, exhaustive scientific research has failed to establish any link between MMR and brain damage. 'This case should not make parents feel any different about the safety of the vaccine.’

The Department of Health said: ‘This decision reflects the opinion of a tribunal on the specific facts of the case and they were clear that it should not be seen as a precedent for any other case. 'The safety of MMR has been endorsed through numerous studies in many countries.’


Food fanaticism hits charity fundraising in South Australia

There's no proof that there is anything wrong with any of the stuff banned and if people want it, they will get it elsewhere anyway

THEY'VE been a staple of hospital waiting rooms and reception desks for decades, but charity fundraiser chocolates, mints and lollies [candies] will be banned from all SA Health buildings under a crackdown on "unhealthy" food.

Butter, pies, pasties, sausages, bacon, soft drinks and even cordial are among more than 20 food items on a "red" list which will also be banned at department events, meetings and functions under the new state food policy which becomes mandatory on October 1.

Workers will even have to seek permission from department executives if they want to serve alcohol such as sparkling wine and fried food such as spring rolls at their staff Christmas party.

Already boxes of charity chocolates and Lion Mints have been removed from counters at the Royal Adelaide and Women's and Children's Hospitals.

However, while the sale of confectionery to raise money for good causes will be banned, chocolates and lollies will still be able to be sold at hospital and office cafeterias and in vending machines, as long as they make up only 20 per cent of the food on display.

SA Health's 30,000 staff were sent an email about the policy last week by chief executive Dr Tony Sherbon, who wrote: "Healthy eating is important for healthy lifestyle, which is why SA Health is making healthy food and drink choices easier in the workplace through the Healthy Food and Drink Choices for Staff and Visitors in SA Health Facilities policy."

The email stated "RED (unhealthy) category food or drinks should not be provided" at functions, meetings, events or even in "social club fridges".

The new policy also bans staff and charities from holding fundraiser sausage sizzles or lamington drives at SA Health sites, instead recommending staff seek sponsorship for "climbing stairs", playing hacky sack or having their head shaved.

Nurses, doctors, unions and charities have lined up to oppose the policy, describing the bans as "heavy-handed" and a "ridiculous" waste of money.

Service organisation Lions Club, which has raised funds through the sale of its trademark mints for more than 30 years, said the banning of its fundraiser boxes "was of course disappointing". National executive officer Rob Oerlemans said the organisation was looking into the impact the ban would have on fundraising at its national board meeting in Sydney today.

"We will just have to abide by these regulations, but the money we raise from these sales fund things like research into child cancer, spinal injury and diabetes prevention," Mr Oerlemans said.

Elaine Farmer, general manager of Surf Life Saving South Australia, which relies on funds raised through annual chocolate drives, was also disappointed by the ban. "It's getting tougher and tougher out there to raise money and every door that is closed on us just makes it worse," she said. "We have quite a few clubs that have chocolate runs for five to six weeks every year, which raises thousands of dollars, and it's very disappointing to now be banned from public hospitals and health departments."

Australian Medical Association state president Dr Andrew Lavender labelled the banning of foods "patronising and ridiculous". "There is no such thing as bad foods, it's all about how you use them, and this arbitrary banning is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut," Dr Lavender said. "This policy is a waste of resources. It's a nanny state approach and it would be much better putting that time and money into education programs."

Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Elizabeth Dabars also described the policy as heavy handed. "It is getting to the point people are not sure if they can bring a chocolate cake to work to celebrate someone's birthday," she said. "It seems extraordinary that people will have this type of control placed on them in the workplace.


28 August, 2010

Mothers who breastfeed 'are at lower risk of diabetes'

Ho hum! It's middle class mothers who are more likely to "do the right thing" and they are healthier anyway

Mothers who do not breastfeed are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes in later life, according to a study. Breastfeeding helps shift fat remaining around the abdomen after pregnancy, one of the factors behind the disorder, say scientists.

They believe that declining rates of breastfeeding in the western world may help explain the explosion in type 2 diabetes among middle-aged women.

Findings from a study of 2,233 women aged 40 to 78 were published yesterday in the American Journal of Medicine.

Dr Eleanor Schwarz, from the University of Pittsburgh, who led the study, said: 'Diet and exercise are widely known to impact the risk of type 2 diabetes. 'But few people realise that breastfeeding also reduces mothers' risk of developing the disease in later life by decreasing maternal belly fat.'

In the study, a quarter of mothers who did not breastfeed developed type 2 diabetes and they were almost twice as likely to get it as women who had breastfed or never given birth. In contrast, women who breastfed all their children were no more likely to develop diabetes than women who remained childless.

The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe, with almost one in three new mothers never attempting to breastfeed compared with two per cent in Sweden.

Previous research by the same US team also found breastfeeding could protect mothers against heart attacks and stroke in later life. Just one month of breastfeeding led to 10 per cent lower rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol - all of which contribute to heart disease - compared with women who had never breastfed.

'Our study provides another good reason to encourage women to breastfeed their infants, at last for the infant's first month of life. 'Clinicians need to consider women's pregnancy and lactation history when advising women about their risk for developing type 2 diabetes' added Dr Schwarz.

NHS experts say breastfeeding gives babies all the nutrients they need for the first six months of life. The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life with additional breastfeeding while the baby moves on to solids if the mother wants to.


Dubious Locovore mathematics

On vacation in Massachusetts, I reel from frequent arguments from lefties. (I vacation right between a home owned by the late Howard Zinn and one owned by Joe Sibilia, CEO of CSR Wire). I also rage at the NYTimes, which I unfortunately now have time to read.

It is then such a relief to stumble across a rare bright spot on the Op Ed page, like this one by Stephen Budiansky.

What a joy too when the latest group of silly people, the locavores, have their myths punctured in their own "paper of record."

"[T]he local food movement now threatens to devolve into another one of those self-indulgent — and self-defeating — do-gooder dogmas. Arbitrary rules, without any real scientific basis, are repeated as gospel by “locavores,” celebrity chefs and mainstream environmental organizations...

[I]t is sinful in New York City to buy a tomato grown in a California field because of the energy spent to truck it across the country; it is virtuous to buy one grown in a lavishly heated greenhouse in, say, the Hudson Valley...

One popular and oft-repeated statistic is that it takes 36 (sometimes it’s 97) calories of fossil fuel energy to bring one calorie of iceberg lettuce from California to the East Coast.... It is also an almost complete misrepresentation of reality... Shipping a head of lettuce across the country actually adds next to nothing to the total energy bill.

Eating locally grown produce is a fine thing in many ways. But it is not an end in itself, nor is it a virtue in itself. The relative pittance of our energy budget that we spend on modern farming is one of the wisest energy investments we can make..."


27 August, 2010

LOL! Now it's black rice

Just the antioxidant religion again. Good to see some realism in the last paragraph below

Black rice - revered in ancient China but overlooked in the West - could be the greatest 'superfoods', scientists revealed today. The cereal is low in sugar but packed with healthy fibre and plant compounds that combat heart disease and cancer, say experts.

Scientists from Louisiana State University analysed samples of bran from black rice grown in the southern U.S. They found boosted levels of water-soluble anthocyanin antioxidants.

Anthocyanins provide the dark colours of many fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries and red peppers. They are what makes black rice 'black'. Research suggests that the dark plant antioxidants, which mop up harmful molecules, can help protect arteries and prevent the DNA damage that leads to cancer.

Food scientist Dr Zhimin Xu said: 'Just a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, but with less sugar, and more fibre and vitamin E antioxidants. 'If berries are used to boost health, why not black rice and black rice bran? Especially, black rice bran would be a unique and economical material to increase consumption of health-promoting antioxidants.'

Centuries ago black rice was known as 'Forbidden Rice' in ancient China because only nobles were allowed to eat it. Today black rice is mainly used in Asia for food decoration, noodles, sushi and desserts.

But food manufacturers could potentially use black rice bran or bran extracts to make breakfast cereals, beverages, cakes, biscuits and other foods healthier, said Dr Xu.

When rice is processed, millers remove the outer layers of the grains to produce brown rice or more refined white rice - the kind most widely consumed in the West.

Brown rice is said to be more nutritious because it has higher levels of healthy vitamin E compounds and antioxidants. But according to Dr Xu's team, varieties of rice that are black or purple in colour are healthier still. They added that black rice could also be used to provide healthier, natural colourants. Studies linked some artificial colourants to cancer and behavioural problems in children.

The scientists presented their findings today at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: 'In reality, it's unlikely there's a single food out there that will have a great impact on lowering your risk of heart disease. Healthy eating is about a balanced diet overall. 'It's great if you can eat more of some groups of healthy foods, like having five portions of fruit and veg a day, but there is still no conclusive evidence that 'super foods' alone make a real difference to your heart health.'


New drug shrinks 80 per cent of melanomas

But maybe only temporarily

AN experimental therapy that targets the protein that feeds certain types of advanced melanomas has successfully shrunk tumours in up to 80 per cent of test patients, a study said on Wednesday. The orally-administered medication, called PLX4032, "shuts off" tumours by neutralising a mutated gene called "BRAF" that feeds the cancerous growths.

"We have never seen an 80 per cent response rate in melanoma, or in any other solid tumour for that matter, so this is remarkable," said Paul Chapman, senior author of the study and a doctor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre.

"Metastatic melanoma has a devastating prognosis and is one of the top causes of cancer death in young patients," said Keith Flaherty of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Centre and a lead author. "Until now, available therapies were few and unreliable, so these findings can really change the outlook for patients whose tumours are fuelled by this mutation."

The study, published in the August 26 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, grew out of the discovery that BRAF mutations, which occur in roughly half of patients with melanomas, effectively feed and grow the tumours. PLX4032 blocks the BRAF protein at the cellular level, allowing researchers to test whether starving the melanomas of the gene would shrink patients' tumours.

The research is potentially exciting news for the treatment of patients with advanced skin cancer. Early-stage melanomas can usually be successfully removed surgically, but few treatment options currently exist once the cancer has spread.

The only two drugs currently available on the US market help only between 10 to 20 per cent of patients, and for those with advanced melanomas, the prognosis for survival is usually nine months or less.

The study released this week documents the results of two phases of tests involving PLX4032, the first to determine the optimum dose and the second to examine the drug's effectiveness. During the first phase, 55 patients received gradually escalating doses that allowed scientists to determine that a twice-daily dose of 960 milligrams would be optimal.

The second stage involved 32 patients with BRAF-mutated melanomas, 26 of whom saw their tumours shrink more than 30 per cent, including two whose tumours disappeared altogether.

The drug proved capable of shrinking metastatic tumours in the liver, small bowel, bone and thyroid and produced minor side-effects, the researchers said.

"One of the things that make these results truly remarkable is that this drug works so reliably," Mr Flaherty said. "And patients who have been experiencing symptoms like pain and fatigue begin to feel better within a week of starting treatment, giving them a much better quality of life."

The study acknowledged that many patients eventually developed a resistance to the therapy, with tumour suppression lasting anywhere from three months to two years.

They said they would examine long-term prospects for the therapy, including how it might be combined with other drugs to extend its capabilities against tumours, during a final, phase III trial. "We don't know if treatment really improves overall survival of melanoma patients," Mr Chapman said.

"That is what we are trying to find out in the ongoing phase III trial. In the future, we hope to combine PLX4032 with other anti-melanoma drugs currently being developed."


26 August, 2010

Hype about lobsters and BPA: Here we go again!

A series of articles and blogposts now warn that the chemical Bisphenol A–used to make hard clear plastics–is wreaking havoc on lobsters in the Long Island Sound. Here are a few such hyped headlines: “Bisphenol A: Bad for you, bad for lobsters,” “Lobsters and Us,” “Plastics, chemicals may weaken lobster’s health,” “Lobster dieoffs linked to plastic pollution, including bisphenol A.”

Problems began in 1999 when Long Island suffered a massive lobster die-off. Lobstermen blamed the pesticide spraying used to control the spread of the deadly mosquito-borne West Nile Virus. But the spraying occurred after the die-off began–it could not have caused it.

Researchers pointed more likely causes: overly warm water and parasites. Nonetheless, lobstermen sued the pesticide company involved and netted $12.5 million in a settlement in addition to receiving $3.65 million in federal disaster payments. They proved nothing, but gained quite a bit.

Now they are looking at plastics—particularly those plastics made with the chemical bisphenol A (BPA). They cite the research of one scientist who says pollution might be contributing to a disease that rots lobster shells, which is now plaguing lobsters in Long Island and Southern New England.

BPA is a convenient target since it’s been in the news quite a bit. Environmentalists say BPA-based products are dangerous to humans, despite the fact that dozens of research panels around the world have ruled them safe. States are passing bans on some BPA-based plastics and Congress is looking at the issue as well.

With BPA already in the headlines, Hans Laufer–professor Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Connecticut—was sure to gain attention with his claims that BPA pollution might also be affecting lobster health. He maintains that BPA, along with other chemicals, creates stresses that reduce lobster resistance to the disease.

One of 15 researchers with the New England Lobster Initiative, Laufer recently presented this research at a symposium in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, there is no public record of this meeting and Laufer’s research is not yet available. According to a representative with the initiative it will go though peer review and be published in the Journal of Shellfish Research. Until then, all we know right now is what Laufer has told the press.

While it is important to investigate all possible factors, Laufer has been playing up his “findings” with some highly questionable claims. On the University of Connecticut website he claims: “The U.S. produces about 1 million tons of BPA produced annually, 60 percent of it ends up in the ocean.” Yet he offers no evidence or source for this very provocative claim.

Perhaps a more important question is whether the levels are high enough to have any effect. A 2009 analysis published in Environmental Science and Technology reported that BPA levels are extremely low—at parts per trillion–and impact on aquatic life is also low. This is not surprising, since BPA breaks down rather quickly. There was one exception: higher levels were found in fresh water sediments in areas impacted by several waste water treatment plants depositing into the waters–a situation that does not apply here.

It may be that Laufer simply just doesn’t like plastics or BPA, which he says is “as big a threat to human health as tobacco.” Never mind that there are no documented cases of anyone dying from trace exposures to BPA, but thousands of people every year from smoking.

Other researchers involved with this initiative have produced solid research that on focuses on more likely sources of the problem, mostly pointing to Mother Nature herself.

Researchers have shown that lobsters in New York and New England suffer in large measure because relatively warm waters make it a marginal area for their survival. “[The lobster decline] is a combination of factors that are all related back to changes in water temperature,” Robert Glenn– a marine biologist with Rhode Islands’ Division of Marine Fisheries–told the Cape Cod Times.

Warm water has some of same effects that Laufer says chemicals do. It stresses the lobsters; makes them more susceptible to disease; and can even impact growth and development. Not surprisingly, lobsters are migrating away from the warmest areas and are doing much better in the cooler waters, such as in waters near Maine.

Another problem may have more to do with perception than reality. New York lobstermen are using the 1990s as a baseline to measure the yield they want to take from the waters. Yet during that decade, lobstermen pulled far more of the critters out of the water than ever before—probably more than could ever be sustainable.

In New York, lobster take peaked in 1971 then dipped in the late 1970s into the 1980s, only to balloon in the 1990s, up to a record of more than three million pounds in 1992 and then to its pinnacle of nearly 9.5 million pounds in 1996.

Before the 1990s, such high figures must have been unimaginable to New Yorkers. The average yield for all the years between 1950 and 1989 totaled less than a million pounds. In fact, 1999 ended a decade that was largely an aberration for New York. Interestingly, the take for 1999 (just over 7 million) and 2000 (nearly three million) is still higher than any year before 1990.

The University of Rhode Island’s Kathleen Castro, who chairs the New England Lobster Research Initiative executive committee, highlighted such factors in a press release related to Initiative research. She explains:

“In the 1970s we didn’t have many lobsters around, and in the 80s and 90s we had them coming out of everywhere. We don’t know why there used to be so many of them, and now we don’t know why there’s so many less. Fishermen got used to the high numbers, and it may be that now they are just back down to more normal levels. It may be related to water temperature, predator abundance, or shifts in the ecosystem.”

It is likely that the pollution angle will continue to be a media focus. After all, too many people have too much to gain. The greens gain more hype to push a BPA bans, activist researchers garner more headlines, and the lobstermen amass more targets to sue for “damages.”

Source (See the original for links)

Intolerant, hysterical and smug! How I hate the organic fanatics

By Susan Hill, writing from Britain

One net of four lemons - £1.23; one net of four ORGANIC lemons - £2.49. One pint of semi-skimmed milk - 89p; one pint of ORGANIC semi-skimmed milk - £1.20. These price differences incensed me so much the other day that I spent an hour going round the small supermarket in a town near my home in the Cotswolds filling two trolleys with identical items, one organic and 'eco-friendly', the other non-organic and what you might call 'normal'.

When I had filled my trolleys, I went into a corner of the shop and worked out the cost of each. The organic trolley was £93.72. The other £66.30.

Now, a difference of almost a third is a big difference. How can many ordinary working families afford to pay such a lot extra for their shopping trolley week in, week out?

My little experiment confirmed what I always suspected - that organics are for the rich. This doesn't apply only to food. What about organic cotton bed linen, eco-friendly floor cleaner, organic dog biscuits? All of it costs a lot more.

The rich can, of course, afford to indulge their organic fads. They are the ones who fall for the hysterical hype about organic being better, more nutritious, more likely to make you live longer and not poison you with all those awful chemical pesticides that non-organic food is supposedly soaked in. But ordinary people have got far less money and a lot more sense.

Just as rich celebrities usually fall for daft religions and alternative everything, so naturally they fall for the religion of An Organic Existence. If you embrace the organic faith, the first thing that happens is that you lose your sense of perspective and your ability to read any facts, especially scientific facts, that run contrary to your beliefs.

So with the fervent belief that organic food is more nutritious comes the blindness which prevents you from accepting properly conducted scientific investigations, like the one reported in the Daily Mail last year.

After lengthy trials, the Berlin-based consumer watchdog Stiftung Warentest concluded that organic food has no health, taste or nutritional advantages over conventionally manufactured or harvested food. But you could scream that in their ears all day - the organic religionists will not listen.

If you can't justify organic foods on nutritional grounds, surely they are less harmful because they're not stuffed full of toxic pesticides which damage health? Er, no.

The old powerful weedkillers are now banned on all farms. Meanwhile, modern versions are strictly regulated, don't harm the soil and residues in food are undetectable. It seems the EU's safety regulations aren't all bad. But again, try to explain this to the organic fanatics and it's like talking to a brick wall.

Now, that's fine. People believe what they want to believe. I am a Christian and as a result a lot of people think that I'm a nutter. But with the organic brigade, as with many converts to other religions, it doesn't always stop there. They want to convert the rest of us to their faith - forcibly if necessary. You listen to a fervent organic believer and it's like listening to someone off to the Crusades.

Now, don't jump to the conclusion that because I know that 'organic' is a con and a rip-off, I want everyone to die of pesticide poisoning, the earth to become barren and animals to suffer. I don't.

I always buy free-range eggs and meat, not because they taste better or are more nutritious - sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't. It's because of the way the animals are treated. Their welfare ought to concern everyone.

And I was pleasantly surprised when I did a price comparison on free-range eggs and chickens, and on normal versus free-range bacon. On the eggs, there was 2p difference per half-dozen; on the bacon, 6p per pack.

That's not so much and it's worth forgoing a few pence to cover the cost, once you know how battery animals are treated. The benefits of free-range may be non-existent to us, but to the hens and pigs they are everything. The benefits of organic seem to be non-existent to anyone.

I asked a neighbouring vegetable grower if he had thought of converting to organic. Yes, he'd looked into it. It takes three years to change over to organic methods and get the seal of approval from Organics HQ. It is very labour intensive, pests flourish and yields are much smaller.

Since the recession, the bottom has dropped out of the organics market. Shops once allocated long stretches of shelving to organic produce. Now, they have shrunk or even vanished - except, of course, in stores where the rich live.

The rich who buy only organic products are telling us they are morally superior, that they have tender consciences and hug the planet on a daily basis.

So why can't they widen their concern and get real? After all, we will only eliminate hunger and gradually increase the life-expectancy of the world's poorest if we produce food on a massive scale, with all the benefits of modern fertilisers and pesticides.

While many mothers struggle to feed their young families at all, the rich indulge theirs in expensive organic-only babyfoods - some of which, when tested, were found to have fewer nutrients and minerals than the non-organic sort. Devoted poorer mothers know they should provide fresh fruit and vegetables for their children - yet find it hard enough to pay for the regular sort, never mind organic. The price of five bananas in my supermarket today - (special offer) £1. Price of five organic bananas - £2.39.

Yet the propaganda about organic everything is constantly pumped out, so that parents are made to feel guilty and inadequate. They are told that because they are not giving their families organic food, their children will be allergy-prone and stunted from ingesting pesticides. And that's before they're told that they are harming/polluting/ shortening the life of Planet Earth and helping to wipe out biodiversity.

Those who can ill afford to pay an extra £2.39 for five bananas make huge efforts to do so to in order to assuage their consciences, which have been pricked by the rich organic-fanatics who cannot face scientific facts because it's against their new religion.

Yes, organic might be a matter of faith - and some doctors would say that if you believe the medicine is doing you good, it really works. By all means, eat organic because you think it tastes better; sometimes it does. Believe it is more nutritious if you must and that non-organic is junk. It's a free world.

Just don't make others who can't afford your organic faith feel bad about it.


25 August, 2010

Virus link to chronic fatigue gives hope to sufferers seeking a cure

It's a sad commentary on the medical science community that their response to something they did not understand was to say it did not exist. Yet that was the response to chronic fatigue syndrome for a long time -- and still is to some extent. I had the ailment myself once but I have a good immune system so it only lasted a month with me

Scientists have found further links between a virus and chronic fatigue syndrome, a study published this week says.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and Harvard Medical School analysed blood samples that had been collected 15 years ago from 37 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Of the subjects, 32 - or 86.5 per cent - tested positive for the murine leukaemia virus-related virus, the researchers found. In contrast, tests on 44 healthy blood donors detected evidence of the virus in only three of the subjects, or 6.8 per cent.

While providing new evidence that a virus may play a role in the condition, the researchers said the findings, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, are nowhere near proving the virus causes the syndrome.

But they are being hailed by advocates for people who suffer from chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction syndrome. Kim McCleary, head of the CFIDS Association of America, said the findings were an important step towards developing treatments and dispelling the notion that the condition was psychological.

An estimated 140,000 Australians are believed to suffer from the syndrome, which causes prolonged and severe fatigue. Over the years, many viruses have been unsuccessfully linked to the syndrome. In 2009, Judy Mikovits and colleagues at the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada, published a paper in the journal Science. That paper reported that many patients appeared to be infected with a little-known virus called the xenotrophic murine leukaemia virus-related virus. But four other groups subsequently failed to duplicate the findings in other patients.

The virus detected in the new study does not appear to be exactly the same one the Reno group found, but it is related.

In addition to detecting evidence of the microbe in a majority of the stored blood samples, the researchers found evidence of the virus in fresh blood samples, indicating the infection persists.

Harvey Alter of the NIH said there were also indications the virus had evolved over time, which is what would be expected from a retrovirus.


Asparagus, garlic and artichokes 'could help fight obesity and diabetes'

Pure guesswork

Eating vegetables such as asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes could hold the key to fighting obesity and diabetes, researchers believe. Scientists are examining whether a diet rich in certain types of fibre can suppress hunger and improve the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels.

Foods such as garlic, chicory, asparagus and artichokes are known as fermentable carbohydrates, which are thought to activate the release of gut hormones that reduce appetite. They also enhance sensitivity to insulin – the hormone produced by the pancreas that allows glucose to enter the body’s cells – thereby leading to better glucose control, it is believed.

The charity Diabetes UK is now funding research into the health benefits of such foods. If proved to be effective, the findings could revolutionise treatments for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Nicola Guess, a dietitian at Imperial College, London, who is leading the three-year study, said: "By investigating how appetite and blood glucose levels are regulated in people at high risk of Type 2 diabetes, it is hoped that we can find a way to prevent its onset. "If successful, this study will be able to determine whether fermentable carbohydrates could provide the public with an effective and affordable health intervention to reduce an individual's risk of developing diabetes."

There are 2.35 million people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in Britain, and a further half a million sufferers who are unaware that they have the condition. If left untreated, it can lead to complications such as kidney failure, heart disease, stroke and amputation.


24 August, 2010

Now sugar is in the gun

These compulsive attacks on anything that people enjoy really do get tedious. I suppose we should be thankful that the authors do in this case acknowledge that they have shown no causal link. I could add some more reasons why the study proves nothing but I will leave it where the authors have left it

People who consume a diet high in fructose, a type of sugar and a key ingredient in high-fructose corn syrup, are more likely to have high blood pressure (hypertension), according to a new study. Drinking 2.5 cans or more of non-diet soda per day--or consuming an equivalent amount of fructose from other foods--increases your risk of hypertension by at least 30 percent, the study found. What's more, the increased risk appears to be independent of other dietary habits, including sodium, carbohydrate and overall calorie intake.

The study, which appears in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, focused on foods containing high-fructose corn syrup and other added sugars, such as soda, fruit punch, cookies, candy and chocolate. (Although fructose occurs naturally in fruits, the researchers excluded them because they contain other nutrients that are difficult to measure.)

"High-fructose corn syrup is very prevalent," says Dr. Michel Chonchol, M.D., the senior author of the study and a blood pressure specialist at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, in Aurora. "If you go to grocery stores, it's everywhere."

Chonchol and his colleagues analyzed the diet and blood pressure readings of more than 4,500 U.S. adults with no history of hypertension. The data used in the study was collected in nationwide surveys over a four-year period by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and also included information on health measures such as physical activity and body mass index.

The researchers estimated each person's fructose intake using detailed diet questionnaires and nutrition information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average fructose intake was 74 grams a day, an amount roughly equivalent to that found in 2.5 cans of soda.

People who consumed more than the average amount were more likely to have high blood pressure than people who consumed less, the researchers found. Above-average fructose intake increased the likelihood of having blood pressure above 140/90 and 160/100 mmHg by 30 percent and 77 percent, respectively. (Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or below, while anything above 140/90 is considered high.)

Hypertension can affect the health of blood vessels and is a leading risk factor for heart disease, kidney disease, and other ailments.

The findings don't prove that fructose actually causes hypertension, however. Although the researchers took various health factors and dietary habits besides fructose intake into account, it's always possible that other, unknown factors explain the apparent link between fructose and hypertension, says Dr. Cheryl Laffer, M.D., an associate professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, in Temple.

The study "doesn't tell us anything about causation," she says. "People who have high blood pressure may eat more fructose. It can go either way." One important drawback of the study is that the participants reported their own diets based on memory, which makes the estimates of fructose intake less accurate.

But the study's limitations don't mean that people should feel free to go on sugar binges, Laffer says. "I wouldn't discourage people from eating less fructose, because we have evidence that high fructose [consumption] is not particularly good for you," she says.

Animal studies have linked fructose consumption to higher blood pressure, for instance, and a study published earlier this year in the journal "Circulation" suggested that cutting back on sugar-sweetened beverages may lower blood pressure.

In a statement, the Corn Refiners Association, a trade group representing manufacturers of high-fructose corn syrup, said that Chonchol and his colleagues were drawing "inaccurate conclusions about fructose." The association challenged the authors' estimate that 2.5 cans of soda contain about 74 grams of fructose, and also highlighted the inaccuracies of diet surveys that rely on memory. "The risk of hypertension from fructose is not a matter of concern for the overwhelming majority of Americans," the association stated.

Chonchol and his colleagues acknowledge that more research is needed to confirm a link between fructose and hypertension.

It's still unclear how fructose might affect blood pressure, for instance. One theory is that fructose might make the body absorb sodium more readily, Chonchol says. Fructose intake may also increase levels of uric acid, which has been shown to contribute to high blood pressure.


Arthritis protein may reverse Alzheimer's

Memory loss caused by Alzheimer's Disease could be reversed after scientists discovered that a chemical naturally produced by the body to fight arthritis also works on the brain condition. Researchers found a protein triggered by rheumatoid arthritis could undo the "tangles" in the brain that are thought to cause Alzheimer's.

Memory loss associated with the disease was partially reversed by the protein, GM-CSF, which also lowered the risk of getting the illness.

Scientists at the University of South Florida even found that in some cases the memory impairment was completely reversed after treatment. The protein is commercially available and known as Leukine.

As people with rheumatoid arthritis suffer swollen joints, the protein stimulates scavenger cells in the body. In tests on mice, these cells removed deposits left by Alzheimer's in the brain.

Scientists said they were excited by the research, published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Prof Huntingdon Potter, a molecular medicine expert involved in the study, said yesterday that he hoped the treatment could soon be tested on humans. “Our findings provide a compelling explanation for why rheumatoid arthritis is a negative risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

In the study, scientists used two groups of mice, one healthy and the other genetically modified to develop Alzheimer’s-like symptoms, including memory loss. Half of the mice were injected with GMCSF, the other with a placebo saline solution. After 20 days, researchers found the memories of Alzheimer’s mice injected with the protein had improved substantially compared with mice treated with a placebo. “We were pretty amazed that the treatment completely reversed cognitive impairment in 20 days,” said Dr Tim Boyd, the scientist who led the study.

The research could provide new hope to almost 500,000 people who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common form of dementia in Britain.


23 August, 2010

Some progress against Ebola

I can't imagine what the clinical trials will be like. Who would voluntarily be infected by Ebola? Death-row inmates, maybe? Are they going to do safety tests only and then take a dangerous vacation in Africa? Kudos to them if they do, I guess

US scientists say they've cleared a key hurdle in the quest for a drug to treat Ebola, a notorious African virus and feared future weapon of bioterrorism.

A treatment administered to rhesus monkeys within an hour of being infected by the deadliest strain of Ebola was 60 per cent effective, and a companion drug was 100 per cent effective in shielding cynomolgus monkeys against Ebola's cousin, the Marburg virus, they say.

After studying the findings, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the green light for trials on a small group of human volunteers, the scientists said.

Ebola and Marburg are part of a family of so-called filoviruses, which cause hemorrhagic fever - a disease with mortality rates of up to 90 per cent where, in some cases, the patient bleeds to death.

The drugs are in a class of compound called PMO, for phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers. They are designed to hamper the virus' replication in cells, thus buying time for the immune system to mount a response and crush the invader.

The research, appearing online in the journal, Nature Medicine, was conducted by the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in collaboration with a Washington-based biotech firm, AVI BioPharma.

The Pentagon pumped funding into research for a vaccine and treatment for Ebola-type viruses in the wake of the September 9, 2001 terror attacks on the United States. Filoviruses are on the list of pathogens such as anthrax that are considered tempting sources for biological warfare or terrorism.

An important step in combatting Ebola was announced in May, again using tests on lab monkeys but involving a somewhat different technique to disrupt viral replication.

A team at the US National Emerging Diseases Laboratory Institute at Boston University Medical School designed drugs with small interfering RNAs, or siRNAs, which hamstring reproductive enzymes.

Despite this progress, a long road lies ahead before any treatment is licensed for humans, experts say. Testing a prototype drug is a three-phase process that starts with a tiny group of volunteers, where it is initially assessed for safety, and then broadens out to successively bigger groups, where effectiveness becomes a parallel question.

According to the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO), about 1850 cases of Ebola, with about 1200 deaths, have occurred since 1976.

The virus has a natural reservoir in several species of African fruit bat. Gorillas and other non-human primates are also susceptible to the disease.


Hazy truth about organics

Comment from Australia but almost certainly similar elsewhere

ENTHUSIASM for "clean, green" food is being tempered by confusion about what constitutes organic, with shoppers often not getting what they pay for.

Australians spend about $1 billion a year on organic food and other products, paying up to 50 per cent more than for conventional produce. Yet there is huge confusion about what the label "organic"means. There are now calls for the introduction of better industry standards.

Industry expert Joanna Hendryks from the University of Canberra, said that from a consumer's point of view "it's a dog's breakfast". "Consumers need to be incredibly motivated to tell if something is organic just by looking at the label."

Chairman of the Organic Federation of Australia (OFA), Andre Leu, said shoppers deserve a better deal. "Consumers find it very hard to decide what are genuine organic products," he said.

The fact there are seven separate organisations that certify products as organic, each with a different logo, adds to consumer confusion.

In 2008, OFA commissioned research to find out how well understood the logos were. It found that even the best recognised symbol, which belongs to the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia, was recognised by only 28 per cent of regular organic shoppers. Only 5 per cent of regular organic buyers recognising the other logos.

There is even confusion among the various certifiers about how to define a product as organic. One of the certifying bodies, Demeter, will only put its logo on food that has been grown using "bio-dynamic" principals, including the application of fermented cow manure that has been buried in a cow's horn.

Assistant professor Hendryks said shoppers gave a variety of reasons when asked why they buy organic. "For some consumers it is about taking back control and being able to make a difference to the environment in their own way," she said. "For others it is about the health benefits - or perceived health benefits, as the studies to date are still contradictory on whether there are or aren't benefits. "Then a lot of people swear by taste, particularly when they are talking about things like organic chickens and tomatoes."

Research shows shoppers are often casual when selecting what they assume is organic food - some believe chicken labelled free-range is also organic. "In my research, many people assumed Lilydale chicken was organic," Professor Hendryks said. "If you look at their packaging they don't anywhere say they are certified organic - and I'm not wanting to imply they are deceiving consumers - but there is a lot of confusion. "People will also assume that what is being sold in a farmers' market is organic when that's not necessarily the case."

A popular range of skin and haircare products is not certified as organic, despite having the words "Nature's Organics" on the label. A spokeswoman for the Melbourne company admitted many customers probably assumed the products were organic. "It is as natural as we can make it at this point," she said.

Until late last year there was no legal definition of the word "organic". As long as a product was not labelled "certified" organic, a manufacturer or grower could imply that it had been produced organically.

Only goods destined for export had to meet a minimum standard set by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. "On domestic markets there has been no legal requirement at all," Mr Leu said. "It's been at best a gentlemen's agreement that products on the market are certified but [there] has been no law to say that. "We always felt that was a bit of a problem because people could make organic claims when they haven't had anyone to accredit them or certify them as genuinely organic."

A new voluntary domestic Australian organic standard that, among other things, bans the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and genetically modified material was introduced last October.

It will be up to the ACCC to prosecute producers who fail to comply under trade practices legislation. The OFA is pushing for the seven certifiers to accept one standard logo.

Professor Hendryks said the move would be a great boost to consumers: "I think with a big education campaign it will definitely solve a lot of the confusion.".


22 August, 2010

Live Free Or Die

Here’s a letter to the Baltimore Sun from Don Boudreaux, a professor of economics

Vincent DeMarco thinks that among the justifications for Maryland’s ‘sin taxes’ on cigarettes and alcohol is the fact that they “save lives” (Letters, August 19).

Let’s grant that these taxes do, in fact, extend Marylanders’ life-expectancies. So what? The lives of individuals are the property neither of any government nor of officious “public interest” groups such as the one that Mr. DeMarco leads.

The life of each individual Marylander belongs to that individual. If he or she chooses to endure a higher statistical chance of dying sooner rather than later in order to enjoy smoking, drinking, hang-gliding, or gulping down gasoline it is no business of the state or of the likes of Mr. DeMarco and other busybodies.

Don’t forget that Maryland’s ringing motto is “The Free State” – not “The Long Life-Expectancy State.”


Spinach and cabbage 'may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes'

A minuscule correlation that proves nothing

Eating extra cabbage, broccoli and spinach may reduce the risk of developing type two diabetes, researchers have found. A diet rich in leafy green vegetables was associated with a 14 per cent reduced risk of developing the condition, a study by a team at University of Leicester has found.

There are around two million people in Britain with type two diabetes and some do not know they have it.

A diet high in fruit and vegetables generally has been found to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease but it had not been known whether there was a beneficial effect in diabetes.

Patrice Carter, a research nutritionist at the University and lead author, wrote in the British Medical Journal online that a lack of fruit and vegetables is thought to account for 2.6m deaths worldwide in 2000.

The team analysed six research studies involving more than 220,000 people. It was concluded that eating 1.15 servings of leafy green vegetables a day resulted in a 14 per cent reduced risk of type two diabetes when compared with people who ate less than half a serving per day. This was the equivalent of eating 122 grams of leafy green vegetables per day.

However there was no significant link between overall consumption of fruit and vegetables and the condition although the trend suggested eating more portions was beneficial.

Mr Carter wrote: "there are several possible mechanisms that could explain the benefit of consuming green leafy vegetables in the diet.

"Our results support the evidence that “foods” rather than isolated components such as antioxidants are beneficial for health.

"Results from several supplement trials have produced disappointing results for prevention of disease, in contrast with epidemiological evidence.

"Results from our meta-analysis support recommendations to promote the consumption of green leafy vegetables in the diet for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. The results support the growing body of evidence that lifestyle modification is an important factor in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

"The potential for tailored advice on increasing intake of green leafy vegetables to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes should be investigated further."

However in an accompanying editorial, Professor Jim Mann from the University of Otago in New Zealand, and Research Assistant Dagfinn Aune from Imperial College London, were cautious about the results.

They said that the overall message of increasing fruit and vegetable consumption must not be lost“in a plethora of magic bullets', even though leafy green vegetables are included in that.

It was too early to reach a conclusion about leafy green vegetables on their own, they said.

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at the charity Diabetes UK said: “We already know that the health benefits of eating vegetables are far-reaching but this is the first time that there has been a suggested link specifically between green, leafy vegetables and a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

"However, because of the relatively limited number of studies collated in this analysis it is too early to isolate green leafy vegetables and present them alone as a method to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

"Diabetes UK would be concerned if focusing on certain foods detracted from the advice to eat five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, which has benefits in terms of reducing heart disease, stroke, some cancers and obesity as well as type 2 diabetes.”


21 August, 2010

Epidemiologist Fired for Reporting Politically Incorrect Results

James Enstrom, an epidemiologist who has worked at the UCLA School of Public Health for 34 years, was recently fired, supposedly because his research "is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department [of Environmental Health Sciences]." As Michael Siegel notes, this rationale is patently false. The department's official mission is to "explore the fundamental relationship between human health and the environment," and that is exactly what Enstrom has done.

The problem is not that he tackled the wrong questions; it's that he came up with the "wrong" answers. Specifically, he has failed to find a connection between exposure to fine particulate matter and disease. Worse, he is a prominent critic of the view that such a connection is established well enough to justify new regulations by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

He has not only criticized the evidence underlying the proposed regulations but has made trouble by pointing out that a key CARB staffer, Hien Tran, had falsified his academic credentials and that a UCLA colleague who supports regulation of fine particulate matter, John Froines, had served on a scientific panel that advises CARB for 25 years without being reappointed every three years, as required by law.

Froines, who has publicly ridiculed Enstrom, participated in the faculty vote recommending his dismissal. Enstrom's popularity among his colleagues was not enhanced by his work on secondhand smoke, which also failed to generate politically correct results.

These circumstances have led observers such as Siegel, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, Bakersfield Californian columnist Lois Henry, epidemiologist Carl Phillips, and Jeff Stier of the American Council on Science and Health (where Enstrom is a trustee) to conclude that Enstrom's sacking was politically motivated.

Siegel reviews Enstrom's impressive body of work dating back to 1975, which includes studies reporting positive as well as negative results (among them important research on the lifestyle factors that make Mormons less prone to cancer). Siegel concludes that Enstrom "has not been afraid to report the results of his research as they unfold," an openness to evidence that clashes with what appears to be the true mission of his former department:
The mission of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences is not to "explore the fundamental relationship between human health and the environment." Instead, its mission is to show that fine particulate matter pollution and other environmental exposures adversely affect human health.

If your research fails to show an adverse effect of an environmental exposure on human health, then your research is apparently no longer "aligned" with the mission of the Department and School....As soon as you obtain negative findings and report them, you have deviated from the School's mission and you are at risk of being fired....

Is there no room for a difference of opinion in a public health institution? Must all faculty members [toe] a certain party line, regardless of what their research shows?

You can supply the answers yourself after considering the weak case against Enstrom as a scientist. I have interviewed him several times over the years, and he impresses me as an honest and conscientious investigator who is genuinely dismayed by the extent to which science has been politicized since he began his career. It is sadly unsurprising that his long stint at UCLA has ended this way.


Promising malaria breakthrough

THE race to subvert the drug resistance of malaria parasites has been hotly contested by scientific teams across the world. Rowena Martin leads the team that solved the problem, which is why she has been awarded the inaugural Macquarie University Eureka Prize for Early Career Research. She is among 19 winners of the Australian Museum's Eurekas, worth $190,000 and now in their 21st year, announced last night in Sydney.

After establishing how the drug resistance works, Martin and her team are now collaborating on drugs to overcome it.

At 36, Martin is a National Health and Medical Research Council Australian Biomedical Fellow and shuttles between the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne. Last year her paper describing her breakthrough work in the field was published in Science.

Malaria causes untold human suffering; there are 300 million cases annually and a million deaths, mostly of children, and mostly in developing countries.

The parasite has now developed resistance to one of the most effective drugs ever used against it, chloroquine, that works by accumulating in large quantities inside the parasite's "stomach", or digestive vacuole. Resistant parasites thwart that accumulation, leaking the drug out of the vacuole and rendering it harmless.

"It was during my PhD that I began developing a hypothesis that led to this work," she says, harking back to 2002.

By then, scientists had discovered the culprit was a protein called the chloroquine resistance transporter (PfCRT), that sits in the membrane enclosing the digestive vacuole. "But they didn't know exactly what it did, or what similarities it had to other proteins, so they had no strong direction to follow in research.

"There were a lot of teams trying to produce enough of it to experiment on, or understand it, but they were not finding anything conclusive. It was all very unclear and that's when I began thinking of this as an interesting field.

"I had had some experience in doing some expression of malaria proteins and had some ideas for what might be causing the problem and a hypothesis on a way of getting around the problem. When I began my postdoctoral work I put it into practice."

She turned to a common lab animal, the South African claw-toed frog, whose eggs are large and therefore easy to inject with genetic material encoding the protein of interest. The egg acts as "a little factory, producing many copies of the protein and targets them to the egg surface, where they can be studied".

By getting the eggs to produce and send to their surface the copies of the protein, the team was able to introduce chloroquine and observe how the resistant parasites dealt with it. Now the way is open for the development of drugs that can inhibit the function of the mutant protein.


20 August, 2010

The human magnet

Wotta lotta! It's Uri Geller all over again: Pure trickery. The woman is portrayed with a brass key and a copper coin sticking to her but magnetism attracts ferrous metals only -- NOT copper and brass

LOOKING on the bright side, she should never lose her keys. But for mother-of-one Brenda Allison, her mysterious 'power' that means metallic objects stick to her body has long since lost its attraction.

Dubbed 'the human magnet', Miss Allison says she is often embarrassed by the effect, which she has been told is down to a heightened electromagnetic current running through her body.

The accounts manager says coins, safety pins, magnets, spanners and even a metal lid from a Vaseline pot can stay on her body for up to 45 minutes without falling off. When the pulse is at its strongest, she says she can even dance in her living room without them coming off.

For as long as she can remember, she explains, her body has set off car alarms, interrupted the TV signal and blown out light bulbs. When she was a child, she said, her parents stopped buying her watches because her magnetic field kept interfering with the timing mechanism.

Every person has a subtle electromagnetic field flowing through their bodies - but most of us are unaware of its presence. However, Miss Allison, 50, says she first noticed the effects of her magnetism when she was in a nursery school.

As she grew up she started to keep a diary and realised the magnetic pulses were strongest at the end of each menstrual cycle. 'People laugh when I put metal objects on my skin and they don't fall off,' Miss Allison, of Holloway, North London, said: 'But sometimes my condition can be extremely embarrassing.

'On one occasion I had a dreadful experience at the supermarket. When I reached the check-out the till machine started to misbehave and it was obvious I had caused it. 'The man on the checkout started shouting at me and accused me of putting a voodoo curse on his till.'

Doctors have told Miss Allison that her magnetism may be caused by high stress levels and have urged her to take steps to relax. During strong magnetic periods she has been advised to grip the kitchen taps as they are 'earthed'.

Last night she said she her one wish was to be tested by electromagnet specialists so she can understand the cause behind her condition, adding: 'When I was a child my parents knew there was something different about me - but they never entertained the idea of taking me to the doctor.


Once again: The poor have poorer health

Study links diabetes to low income, education among women. The link between social class and health is undoubtedly the most pervasive finding in epidemiology but is usually ignored. Nice to see it explicitly mentioned this time

A new study by Statistics Canada released on Wednesday has linked Type 2 diabetes in some women with low levels of household income and education.

Excess weight is a well known risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. The report suggests that while factors like excess weight and ethno-cultural origin play a role in who develops diabetes in both income groups, women in poorer households were significantly more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.

In men, however, when researchers controlled for other risk factors, there was no link to income and education.

"Instead, the development of diabetes among men was related to being overweight or obese, and to the number of secondary behavioural factors they reported, such as heavy drinking, smoking and physical inactivity," the report said.

The study, "The role of socio-economic status in the incidence of diabetes," tracked the health status of more than 17,000 Canadians since 1994-1995.


19 August, 2010

The pill makes women more chatty

Since it mimics pregnancy that is not too surprising. Women chat a lot to their bubs, long before their bubs can talk. It's the only way the bubs learn

Only mentioned in passing below is that while speech areas in the brain grow, the brain does not increase overall in size. Very bad of me to mention it but the implication is that other areas of the brain shrink

Taking the Pill makes certain areas of women's brains bigger, a study has found. In a further discovery that will give women plenty to talk about, the research showed the contraceptive enhances the brain's 'conversation hub'.

Grey matter essential for memory and social skills also grows in size.

Differences in brain structure between the sexes have been studied many times before but this is the first study that has looked at the impact of the hormonal contraceptive on the brain.

The study found that the contraceptive of choice of 3.5million British women - a quarter of all 16 to 49-year-olds - increases brain size by around 3 per cent.

Scientists took high-resolution images of the brains of 14 men and of 28 women, half of whom were on the Pill. The women not on the contraceptive were scanned more than once to account for the hormonal fluctuations that occur over the course of a month. Several areas of the brains of women taking the Pill were larger than the brains of those not taking the contraceptive, the journal Brain Research reports.

No matter which brand or formulation of the drug, or how long it had been prescribed for, the results were the same.

The growth occurred in regions that scans showed to already be larger in women compared to men, like those involved in conversation. However, the contraceptive appeared to have little effect on areas more dominant in men, including those associated with spatial skills such as map reading.

Dr Belinda Pletzer, of Salzburg University, said the sex hormones in the Pill were clearly having a 'tremendous effect' on the female brain. She added: 'Larger volumes of a brain area could lead to an improvement of the functions this area is responsible for.

'Looking at the brain areas involved in our study, which are larger in Pill users compared to naturally-cycling women, this could concern several higher order brain functions, especially memory and verbal skills. 'The behavioural changes due to contraceptive use are likely to affect those skills that are already better developed in women compared to men like, for example, memory.'

Just how the Pill could have such an effect is not clear. But one theory is that the oestrogen or progesterone used to stop eggs from being released also strengthens the links between nerve cells in the brain.

Although some areas got bigger, the brain did not increase in overall size, and it is not known whether these parts shrink back to their original dimensions when a woman comes off the Pill.

The oral contraceptive is fertile ground for researchers. A previous study concluded that the Pill, taken by millions who are not yet ready to be mothers, makes women broody. Other research suggested that the hormones in the contraceptive suppress a woman's interest in more masculine men - and make boyish males seem more attractive.


Australia: Big burger causes do-gooder freakout

Looks yummy and seems to have lots of good stuff in it. Don't believe the crap about fat being bad for you. See the sidebar of this blog for the evidence on the matter

A burger branded a heart attack on a plate by dietitians is being billed as Brisbane's latest tourist attraction. The 21 burger - created by chefs at Treasury Casino's Cafe 21 - features 21 ingredients including a 250g meat pattie and a new super-sized bun to "support" its heavy load.

"It's definitely a monster," sous chef Anthony Swanson said. "We really just wanted something that would set us apart from the competition and give people another reason to come here."

He said the burger was easily Brisbane's biggest and would hopefully become something of a tourist attraction. "It's our new signature dish," said Mr Swanson.

But dietitian Nicola Fox said the burger was gluttony at its best. "The meat, salad and bread would be suitable as a meal, certainly not a snack," Ms Fox said. "Brisket, cheese, egg and bacon increase the calories significantly and the mayo, sugar, butter, onion jam and sauces add more calories without providing any nutritional value."

She said adding beer-battered fries and aioli on the side would make the ``ridiculously high-fat, high-calorie meal even more horrendous". "It's scary, a heart attack on a plate."

Mr Swanson said at $17, the burger was more expensive than its fast-food chain competition but "still good value".

The 21 Burger's ingredients: Rangers Valley beef, Wagyu beef brisket, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, mayo, chives, cream chees, bacon, Spanish onion, onion jam, egg, lettuce, tomato, smokey BBQ sauce, white damper roll, bread crumbs, parmesan, sugar, salt, pepper, butter.


18 August, 2010

Now milk is under attack

All the theories floated below have some plausibility but considering how universally milk is consumed in Western countries, it is hard to be believe that clear evidence of any harmfulness has not emerged long ago. If there is any potential harmfulness in milk, I suspect that we adapted to that long before the advent of modern medicine.

In fact it is known that we have. The milk-digesting enzyme (lactase) does not vanish with childhood in populations of Northern European origins, though it usually does in Asia. See here -- where lactase persistence is estimated to have emerged around 5,000 years ago

In Hindu culture, the cow has been a sacred object for thousands of years. In Britain, its milk is rapidly being accorded the same status. When David Cameron disowned a plan to abolish free milk for under-fives, floated by Anne Milton, a junior health minister, it was remarkable not just for the speed of the U-turn, but for how little explanation it seemed to require.

True, the label “milk snatcher” is deadly for a Tory politician, with its echoes of the attacks on Margaret Thatcher after she cut the ration in 1971. Yet there is something stranger at work – the unquestioning idea that milk is good for us. From Winston Churchill’s wartime order to keep the milk flowing, which was formalised under the 1946 School Milk Act, to Gordon Ramsay’s scowling demand on posters currently adorning London’s buses to “Make Mine Milk”, the idea that it is natural, healthy and an essential part of a good diet has been unchallenged.

In fact, there are strong arguments that giving cow’s milk to children is doing more harm than good. All of the nutrients in cow’s milk can be found elsewhere in a balanced diet. Although it is frequently cited as an important source of calcium for growing children, we can absorb only a third of the amount it contains due to the high levels of sodium, phosphorus and protein that are also present. Green vegetables – if children can be persuaded to eat them – are a much more efficient vehicle.

And while milk may be an easier sell to your offspring than Brussels sprouts, of more concern is the increasing evidence that cow’s milk can have negative side-effects, particularly if consumed at an early age. Many children who regularly drink milk – about 7.5 per cent of the child population – suffer from allergies that often go undiagnosed.

Besides the hormones and contaminants that saturate our homogenised milk, there are more than 30 protein types to which our bodies may react, which can manifest as eczema, constipation, drawn-out colds or frequent ear infections. Increasing numbers of paediatricians advocate trying cow’s milk-free diets to tackle such common symptoms. This is before you consider the 5 per cent of Britons – usually from ethnic minorities – who are lactose-intolerant. Once again, many do not recognise their affliction, and needlessly suffer conditions such as cramping and intestinal gas.

There are also suggestions that milk could be linked to diabetes. Finland, for example, has the highest incidence of Type 1 (that is, insulin-dependent) diabetes in the world – and the highest per capita milk consumption. In China and South-East Asia, where little milk is consumed due to the extremely high prevalence of lactose intolerance, this early-onset form of the disease is nearly non-existent.

Professor Outi Vaarala, a scientist at the University of Helsinki, has been studying this link for 20 years. She believes that the body develops antibodies against the presence of bovine insulin, which then shut down human insulin production – something infants are particularly prone to, as the intestinal wall is not sufficiently developed to prevent the cow hormone entering the bloodstream.

A pilot study has supported her hypothesis, but firmer results won’t appear until 2013.

Of course, this is just one of several theories that attempt to explain the apparent link – and although it would explain why infants weaned off breast milk too early seem to suffer higher risks of diabetes, it is more difficult to understand the frequent later development of the condition in young, milk-swilling children. If Prof Vaarala is right, something must have weakened the intestinal wall.

Cow’s milk has also been linked to Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes, for the same reason that it is associated with heart disease – the sheer amount of energy in the liquid. Given that milk is designed to double a calf’s birth weight in 47 days – compared with the 180 it takes humans – it is unsurprising that it contains more protein than we require. Even in low-fat milk, there are relatively high levels of cholesterol and saturated fat. As the nutritionist Joseph Keon notes in his forthcoming book Whitewash, the fat in semi-skimmed milk could make up 2 per cent of the weight, but 34 per cent of the calories.

Ultimately, the evidence that cow’s milk will harm your health is still inconclusive – although arguably no more so than the dairy industry’s claims for its bone-strengthening, cancer-defeating capabilities. But before we give its producers carte blanche to provide nursery children with 100 pints of the white stuff a year, consider this: no other species in nature regularly consumes another’s milk. Faced with these concerns, we might ask if we really need to do so.


Nastiness a risk factor for heart attack

Whether called nastiness, hostility or some other similar term, this finding has been popping up for 30 years or more and seems well founded. Anger is stressful and a lot of anger can understandably do lasting harm

NASTINESS is not only a social problem; according to new research aggressive and antagonistic people may be at higher risk of heart attack and stroke simply because they are disagreeable.

Researchers at the US National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, discovered that disagreeable people have greater thickening in their carotid arteries compared with likeable people. Thickness of the walls of the carotid artery, which is found in the neck, puts people at higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

People who scored in the bottom 10 per cent on agreeable personality traits had about a 40 per cent increased risk for elevated intima-media thickness. The effect is similar to having metabolic syndrome, which is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, according to new research published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association.

People who are agreeable tend to be straightforward, trusting and show concern for others, according to researchers. People who are classified as antagonistic tend to be distrustful, self-centered, arrogant and are quick to express anger, according to Angelina Sutin, the lead author of the study.

Thickening of arterial walls is a sign of age, but researchers found young people with antagonistic traits already have thickening in their carotid artery, even after controlling for risk factors such as smoking.

Highly agreeable women had the thinnest arterial walls. Theirs proved to be even thinner than men who had just as many amiable traits. On the other hand, women and men who are equally antagonistic had equally thick walls in their carotid arteries.

Researchers point out that doctors, in assessing other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as weight and cholesterol level, may also want to take into account whether their patients are angry and disagreeable.

“People may learn to control their anger and learn ways to express anger in more socially acceptable ways,” Ms Sutin said.


17 August, 2010

Another irresponsible epidemiological speculation: Eating red meat increases risk of heart disease

Retrospective self-reports! How weak can data get? And in any case have they ever heard that correlation is not causation? All that the findings most likely show is that middle class women report more "correct" diets. What they actually do is another thing

Eating red meat twice a day can increase a woman's risk of heart disease by nearly a third, a study has shown. The study found those who ate two servings of fresh or processed red meat daily were 30 per cent more likely to suffer heart disease than women who ate just half a portion.

Substituting red meat for a serving of nuts cut the risk of heart disease by 30 per cent, eating fish instead lowered the risk by 24 per cent, while swapping red meat for poultry slashed the risk by 19 per cent, the survey also found.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, in the U.S., studied the diets of 84,136 women aged 30 to 55 between 1980 and 2006. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire saying how often they ate 116 different food items.

During the research period 2,210 suffered non-fatal heart-attacks, while 952 others died from coronary heart disease.

Study author Adam Bernstein said: 'Our study shows that making substitutes for red meat or minimising the amount of red meat in the diet has important health benefits.'


The chocolate merrygoround again: Good for you. Bad for you and so on ad infinitem

The finding makes no sense. Why do small variations in the amount eaten make a big difference? The finding looks like data dredging. They just picked out of a whole lot of data one small bit that tended to justify their nine years of work

It is the news millions of sweet-toothed women have been waiting to hear - a small chocolate treat helps lower the risk of heart failure. A study of middle-aged and elderly women who ate a small amount of chocolate no more than twice a week found they had a lower risk of heart failure.

Unfortunately, however, eating even a little chocolate every day did not have the same health benefits.

The nine-year study, involving 31,823 Swedish women, looked at the relationship between the amount of high-quality chocolate the women ate and their risk of heart failure. The quality of chocolate eaten by the women had a higher density cocoa content.

The researchers found that women who ate an average of one to two servings of the high-quality chocolate per week had a 32 per cent lower risk of developing heart failure.

Those who had one to three servings per month had a 26 per cent lower risk, but those who ate at least one serving daily or more did not appear to benefit from the protective effect against heart failure.

Lead researcher Dr Murray Mittleman said the lack of a positive effect among women eating chocolate every day was probably due to the additional calories consumed.

Dr Mittleman, director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, said: 'You can't ignore that chocolate is a relatively calorie-dense food and large amounts of habitual consumption is going to raise your risks for weight gain. 'But if you're going to have a treat, dark chocolate is probably a good choice, as long as it's in moderation.'

High concentration of compounds called 'flavonoids' in chocolate may lower blood pressure, among other benefits, according to mostly short-term studies. However, this is the first research to show long-term outcomes related specifically to heart failure, which can result from ongoing untreated high blood pressure.

In the observational study, researchers analysed self-reported food-frequency questionnaire responses from participants aged between 48 and 83.

Combining the results with data from national Swedish hospitalisation and death registries between 1998 and 2006, the researchers used multiple forms of statistical modelling to reach their conclusions.

Dr Mittleman said differences in chocolate quality affect the study's findings - higher cocoa content is associated with greater heart benefits. He added: 'Anything that helps to decrease heart failure is an important issue worth examining.'

However, Dr Linda Van Horn, former chair of the American Heart Association Nutrition Committee and professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said: 'Those tempted to use these data as their rationale for eating large amounts of chocolate or engaging in more frequent chocolate consumption are not interpreting this study appropriately.

'This is not an "eat all you want" take-home message, rather it's that eating a little dark chocolate can be healthful, as long as other adverse behaviours do not occur, such as weight gain.'


16 August, 2010

You are not free even to choose what milk you drink?

America is a soft-Fascist State

“I still can’t believe they took our yogurt. There’s a medical marijuana shop a couple miles away, and they’re raiding us because we’re selling raw dairy products?” When the Rawesome organic food coop in Venice, California, was raided by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff, the Ventura County Sheriff, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, plus the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture in late June, one of the store’s volunteers was widely quoted expressing incredulity that dairy products would attract more attention from law enforcement than weed.

And it’s a funny line; we’re used to thinking of pot as something that must be purchased in secret and under elaborate ruses, while milk can be bought in the open. (Substitute fried chicken for marijuana, and you can find the same joke driving a recent episode of South Park inspired by a Reason cover.) But for the people who produce, sell, or drink unpasteurized milk, the comparison between medical marijuana and raw dairy is all too apt. Both are governed by a patchwork of state laws, some of which can be surprisingly liberal, but nearly all of which are vague enough to leave entrepreneurs with a massive amount of uncertainty about the viability of their business. Sale or distribution of both substances across state lines is essentially forbidden and operations attempting to go legit are restricted by the boundaries of the state where their cows or cannabis grow. Federal agents have a habit of involving themselves in actions within states as well, often in an unpredictable way.

Raw milk devotees—like medical marijuana fans—make claims for their consumable of choice ranging from the relatively uncontroversial (unpasteurized milk tastes richer and fresher) to the unlikely (raw milk cures autism). When people buy and drink raw milk, they tend to do so advisedly, understanding that they are trading safety for taste or other desired attributes, just as marijuana patients tend to notice that smoking dope involves, well, smoking and a certain amount of dopeyness.

No one is proposing that raw milk become the national standard—pasteurization was a great boon for food safety and isn’t going anywhere. But as more people become interested in raw milk, raids on dairies are becoming increasingly common, according to Pete Kennedy of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. And attempts to accommodate an increasing byzantine and inconsistent body of law become more difficult and expensive.

Headlines about “renegade” dairy farmers aside, raw milk producers don't tend to be people who enjoy breaking rules or living with any more uncertainty than their occupation already provides. But sometimes trying to do the right thing just draws more regulatory attention. The same day Rawesome was raided, one of its suppliers was also hit. The Palmer family is trying their darnedest to figure how to comply with the law. The problem is that laws that specifically address this area of commercial activity are few and far between, and tend to be open to a variety of interpretations. Thus the third raid on the Palmer’s farm in late June, resulting in, among other things, the family’s third confiscated computer and the removal of a supply of raw milk they planned to use to feed other animals, not people.

Or consider the case of Brigitte Ruthman, a woman running a very small-scale dairy in the Berkshires—she has a single cow that started giving milk in April. Last week, she received a cease and desist letter from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture.

Fans of raw milk and other forbidden dairy products often say that their fallback plan to is buy their own cow or goat if the crackdowns get worse, as the excellent site The Complete Patient points out in its coverage of the Massachusetts case. But unless you’re planning to drink a cow’s output every day, the logical thing to do is share the cow with some friends or neighbors. And that’s where you get in trouble. Ruthman’s was co-owned by three milk drinkers, an arrangement she believed made her enterprise legal. Massachusetts law doesn’t have much to say about such “herdshare” arrangements. In fact, it doesn’t say anything at all on the subject. Ruthman sought out advice on how to make her operation legit but got mixed messages from the state. And the cease-and-desist letter is likely just the beginning of a long legal battle over her cows.


Call for 'sunshine vitamin' in milk to help beat cancer in Britain

I understand that this is already done in some parts of the USA. It seems reasonable but there should be some opt-out available for those who don't like their food messed around with -- or feel that they may be at risk of getting an overdose.

What about babies who are fed entirely on milk? Would they run a risk of getting an overdose? Infant formula would surely have to be produced under its own rules

Milk could be fortified with vitamin D to strengthen bones and prevent heart disease and cancer. In England, half of the population is low in the 'sunshine vitamin' when winter ends – in Scotland, it is two-thirds.

Government scientific advisors are looking for ways to boost levels. Options include fortifying milk, something already done in countries such as Canada.

Dr Ann Prentice, chairman of the scientific advisory committee on nutrition, said: 'It is widely recognised within Government circles that we have a problem now that needs to be addressed. Milk is one of the potential vehicles that could be used.'

The vitamin is vital for calcium absorption and bone health and may help to prevent Alzheimer's. Recent research has shown that vitamin D supplements are as good as some drugs at keeping prostate cancer under control – and it is said that taking supplements of the vitamin in pregnancy and childhood could wipe out 80 per cent of cases of multiple sclerosis.

Low levels of vitamin D are linked to a higher risk of dying from cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Dr Susan Lanham-New, a SACN member and a Surrey University nutritionist, said that a study of 14,000 pregnant women in Bristol during the 1990s found that more than 90 per cent of them were not getting enough of the vitamin. She said: 'Vitamin D is known to be vital for a wide range of body functions. A lot of us are very worried about [deficiencies] and think it needs looking at.'

Vitamin D-rich foods include oily fish and eggs but with 90 per cent coming from the action of sunlight on the skin there are concerns that advice on abstaining from sunbathing is unnecessarily restrictive.

Finland became the first country to add vitamin D to milk supplies in 2003. Fortification is carried out – but not mandatory – in Canada, Israel and Jordan.

Opinions on the success of the Finnish initiative are mixed. A 2006 study of young men found that fortification led to a ' substantial' rise in vitamin D of more than 50 per cent. But a similar study the following year concluded that fortification only slightly boosted vitamin D levels.

Any plans for compulsory fortification of milk in the UK could lead to criticisms that consumers were being stripped of choice, although the vitamin has been added to margarine for many years by law.

The Department of Health said the SACN's report into fortification would take at least three years to complete.

The Food Standards Agency says most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need from their diet and sun exposure but recommends ten micrograms per day for over-65s and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

It warns that high doses can weaken bones but says that taking up to 25 micrograms in supplements a day is unlikely to cause any harm.


15 August, 2010

Rediscovered: Fat women get LESS breast cancer

It's been known for years but there are any number of statements to the contrary.

The presentation of the findings below is, however, very misleading, as usual. They only discuss relative risk, not what most people want to know: absolute risk. What they don't tell you (but which any calculator will) is that out of the big group of old ladies studied over a 10 year period, only 5% got cancer, so the risk for ALL groups was small. Most of the variations on HRT use would move you, for instance, from being around 3% at risk to 4% at risk -- which trivial change is in line with what has previously been reported

Journal abstract here

A prospective observational study that began following more than 50,000 California teachers in 1995 has confirmed reports linking hormone replacement therapy to breast cancer, but suggests obesity may offer some protection.

Data from 56,867 women enrolled in the California Teachers Study indicate that women who used estrogen therapy for at least 15 years had a 19% increase in the risk of breast cancer, and women who used combined estrogen-progestin therapy had an 83% increase in breast cancer risk.

The increase in risk was confined to tumors that were positive for both estrogen and progesterone receptors, wrote Tanmei Saxena of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and her coauthors. It was also more pronounced in women with low body mass index (BMI).

"These findings, taken in context of the larger literature on this topic, continue to underscore the need to personalize risk-benefit discussions for women contemplating the use of [hormone therapy]," wrote the investigators (Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. 2010;19:OF1-13).

The California Teachers Study is a prospective cohort study of 133,479 women who were enrolled in 1995. For the purposes of this study, the investigators excluded women who were not California residents, who had a previous or unknown history of breast cancer, who were older than 80 years at baseline, who were premenopausal or of unknown menopausal status, or who had an unknown history of hormone therapy.

Of the remaining 56,867 perimenopausal and postmenopausal teachers, 2,857 women (5%) were diagnosed with pathologically confirmed invasive breast cancer through December 2006, after a mean follow-up of 9.8 years. The average age at diagnosis was 67.1 years.

In a multivariate analysis, the investigators adjusted for race/ethnicity, first-degree family history of breast cancer, BMI, smoking history, alcohol consumption during the year prior to baseline, mammographic screening over the prior 2 years, parity and age at first full-term pregnancy, age at menarche, age at menopause, and history of breast biopsy.

Compared with women who never used any hormone therapy, those who did had a statistically significant 40% increase in the risk of breast cancer. The increase in risk was 19% for women who reported at least 15 years of estrogen-alone therapy, and 83% in women who reported at least 15 years of combined estrogen-progestin therapy.

Current use of hormonal therapy was associated with higher risk than past use. The greatest increase in risk - 69% - was among women who were using estrogen-progestin therapy currently and had never used any other formulation. The investigators noted that duration of use tended to be shorter among former users.

The longer the women used hormone therapy, the greater the risk. The increase associated with duration of use was statistically significant for all forms of hormone therapy. For example, women using estrogen-progestin therapy for less than 2 years at baseline had a 12% increase in the risk of breast cancer, compared with women who never used hormone therapy. The increase in risk was 42% for those using estrogen-progestin therapy for 3-5 years, 50% at 6-9 years, 67% at 10-14 years, 79% at 15-19 years, and 92% at 20 years or more.

Among current users of hormonal therapy, the association with breast cancer risk was statistically significant only for tumors that were both estrogen receptor-positive and progesterone receptor-positive, with increased risks of 33% in women who had 15 or more years of estrogen therapy and 84% in those who had been on estrogen and progestin for 15 years or more. The risks were even higher for women whose tumors were also HER2 positive, but the investigators suggested this might be a statistical fluke because of the small numbers involved. No association was seen between long duration of hormone use and triple-negative tumors.

BMI seemed to modify the risk associated with hormonal therapy, the investigators reported. Among women with a BMI of 25 or less, the relative risk of breast cancer was 2.1 in current long-term users of estrogen and progestin, compared with women who had never used hormone therapy (P less than .0001). In women with a BMI of 25-30, the relative risk was 1.9 in current long-term users of estrogen and progestin (P less than .0001). However, the effect was not statistically significant in women with a BMI higher than 30 (RR 1.2, P = .11).

The National Cancer Institute and the California Breast Cancer Research Fund sponsored the study. A coauthor disclosed serving as an expert witness for plaintiffs pursuing Prempro litigation.


Food cravings could be helped with pressure point therapy called Emotional Freedom Technique

Probably a placebo effect

IF YOU'VE ever wished you could stop those pesky chocolate cravings, the solution could be at your fingertips.

A study by Queensland's Griffith University has found that massaging key pressure points can stave off food cravings and even turn people off certain foods for life, leading to weight loss.

The 15-minute treatment, called Emotional Freedom Technique, involves holding your most craved treat in one hand while pressure point treatment is applied at the same time.

Senior lecturer in medicine at Griffith Dr Peta Stapleton conducted the one year study on 96 overweight and obese adults and found that EFT had an immediate effect on reducing food cravings, resulting in weight loss over time. "We actually got them to bring their own individual food to the session – most people chose chocolate," Dr Stapleton said.

"They looked at and smelled the food while the EFT was applied. By tapping on pressure points it releases endorphins which then relaxes your body and results in a decrease in the food craving."

Remedial therapist Bernice Vergou, 60, has been practising EFT for nine years and has dealt with various clients who want to reduce food cravings and lose weight.

"I've helped many clients stop craving their favourite foods," she said. "EFT is non-invasive, it's user-friendly and so easy to do yourself. Not one week goes by where I don't have a client contact me for positive feedback.

One of her customers, Maria Bottin, 47, said it only took one session of EFT to kill her craving for hot chips. "I would be driving home from work late at night and stop at McDonald's to fulfil my craving," she said. "After the EFT they tasted disgusting it really blew me away." She is now using the therapy to conquer cravings for her second favourite treat, chocolate.


14 August, 2010

Paracetamol (acetaminophen) taking doubles asthma risk for teenagers, study finds

I am pleased to see an admission towards the end of the article that there is no proof that paracetamol CAUSES asthma. The association reported is in fact completely unsurprising. Once again you have to ask WHY people do things. People who take more painkillers would almost certainly be in poorer health and it is the poorer health that leads to asthma, not the painkillers

There is however no doubt that paracetamol is much more dangerous than is generally realized. It can destroy your liver in some cicumstances. The side-effects of aspirin are much more manageable yet it is paracetamol that is in fashion and aspirin is "out"

Teenagers could double their risk of developing asthma by taking paracetamol even once a month. Adolescents who use the painkiller at least once a year have a 50 per cent increase in risk compared with those who don’t, a study found.

The international report, covering 300,000 teenagers in 50 countries, also found paracetamol users were more likely to suffer from eczema and allergic nasal conditions.

Charity Asthma UK, however, said while the research had found a link, there was no need for parents to stop their children using the drug at this stage.

Scientists believe paracetamol may cause changes in the body that leave children more vulnerable to inflammation and allergies.

The study adds to mounting evidence of a link between the painkiller and asthma, with previous research into adults and babies suggesting its use increased the risk of the disease.

A report in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine says paracetamol has not been proven to cause asthma, but there was a ‘significant association’. More exposure to the drug resulted in a greater chance of developing the condition.

The study headed by Dr Richard Beasley, of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, sent written and video questionnaires to more than 300,000 children aged 13 and 14 asking them how often they used paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen. High use was at least once in the last month and medium at least once in the last year, compared with those who never used it.

Those using the drug monthly had double the risk of asthma, while those taking it at least once a year had a 50 per cent rise in risk. For medium users, the risk of eczema was 43 per cent higher than non-users while high users were two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer skin rashes. There were similarly higher risks of allergic nasal disorders among users.

Dr Beasley said if further research proved a link, limiting the use of paracetamol among teenagers could cut asthma cases by up to 40 per cent. He said ‘If the associations were causal, they would be of major public health significance.

‘Randomised controlled trials are urgently required to investigate this relationship further and to guide the use of antipyretics (fever reducing medication), not only in children but in pregnancy and adult life.’

One issue is that alternative painkillers such as ibuprofen and aspirin can cause problems for those with existing asthma. However, a review of new findings on ibuprofen found it provided faster and longer relief from headaches than paracetamol, and was as effective or more so than paracetamol in adults and children.

Leanne Metcalf, director of research at Asthma UK, said there was a long way to go before it could be determined that acetaminophen actually causes asthma. She added: ‘The results could be merely coincidental and it is just as likely that these teenagers are taking acetaminophen because their immune system is weaker, making them more susceptible to infections that trigger asthma.

‘At this stage, taking acetaminophen,or paracetamol for that matter, should not be a concern for parents or carers who are worried about the development of asthma in their children.’


Busy Bodies Push For Meatless Mondays

Yes, some nattering nabobs aren't content with living their own lives meat free on Mondays, they want you to do the same!
There's a movement afoot aimed at changing the way we eat one day a week.

The Meatless Monday campaign is backed by public health advocates, chefs and suburban moms who want to tackle the problems of cholesterol and heart disease. One risk factor for these chronic conditions is consuming too much saturated fat — the type of fat found in meat.

Have you ever noticed that these types of nannying noobs are never content with living their own lives, they have to push, sometimes with legislation, for everyone else to do the same?
Sid Lerner, 79, learned the art of persuasion during his 50-year advertising career on Madison Avenue. One of Lerner's most successful campaigns was the "Squeeze the Charmin" campaign. In the commercials, grocery shoppers can't keep their hands off the irresistibly soft Charmin toilet paper.

Lerner says the campaign uses the rhythm of the week to its advantage: Friday is payday, Saturday is play day, Sunday is pray day.

But Monday? It's ripe for change, he says. He wants people to cut back on saturated fat by eating three meatless meals on Mondays.

Mind your own business.
To help make the message exciting, he's trying to bring top chefs into the fold. Wolfgang Puck and Mario Batali have both endorsed the concept, offering some Meatless Monday options. And simultaneously, Paul McCartney has pushed Meat Free Monday in England.

McCartney pushes it because of his discredited belief that eating meat will kill us all with globull warming.
The last thing Lerner wants is for Meatless Monday to become a campaign of food elitists in New York City. So, through a partnership with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, he's reached out to institutional dining faculties — from hospitals to school cafeterias. This will be the second year that some 80,000 Baltimore school kids will dine meat-free in their cafeterias on Mondays. And it's moved beyond Baltimore.

"The movement is just spreading like wildfire," says Karen Campbell, who directs wellness programs at Northern Kentucky University. She's helped bring Meatless Monday to her school and several restaurants in her town.

Sounds great. You're lying in a hospital bed (been there twice for a week at a time with a broken ankle and broken leg), suffering, stuck, and some jackwagon tells you you can't have meat. Wait, how much are you paying for that room? You already feel like garbage, last thing you need is to be denied some real food. Why can't people just mind their own business?


13 August, 2010

Yet another schoolgirl starves herself after British health chiefs send letter saying she is 'fat'

No apology, either. Bureaucracy rules

A distraught schoolgirl burst into tears and has been refusing to eat after being branded 'overweight' by health chiefs. Katie Owen, 11, was left so devastated when she read the letter from Barking & Dagenham NHS in Essex that she immediately decided to starve herself.

The shattered youngster cried her eyes out and called herself 'too fat' after receiving the results from the National Child Measurement Scheme, which records children's Body Mass Indexes (BMIs).

Katie, who was previously a pupil at Hunters Hall Primary and will start at Eastbrook School, Dagenham, next month, was measured in June. She is 5ft, tall for her age, and weighs 110 pounds - putting her BMI at a healthy 21.5. Yet the NHS has branded her overweight, even though she is a borderline case.

Katie's outraged mum, Joanne, of Dagenham, said: 'I think it's absolutely disgraceful. My daughter is slim and healthy. 'To put her through something like this when she is reaching such an important time in her life is just cruel. 'So many teenage girls starve themselves and become anorexic, which is really unhealthy and traumatic for the whole family. 'I couldn't bear it if that happened to my daughter.'

Katie and her pals received their results last week, but she was the only one told that she was too heavy. 'She is absolutely not fat,' said Joanne, who said Katie had been refusing to eat. 'Katie is tall for her age. A good few inches taller than most of her friends. 'And she suffers from problems with her joints. Katie has been under the care of Great Ormond Street Hospital for years.'

Katie's condition means she cannot always exercise regularly but the schoolgirl has always eaten healthily, avoids junk food and plays sport when she can.

Katie's case follows that of five-year-old Lucy Davies in February, who was told she was 'overweight and unhealthy' by the NCMP. They told the primary schoolgirl she may have an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer as her body mass index (BMI) was outside recommended guidelines... by one per cent.

A Barking & Dagenham NHS spokeswoman said that they could not comment on individual cases regarding the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) due to confidentiality.'

But public health consultant Dr Justin Varney said: 'The NCMP letters are intended to encourage parents and carers to ensure their children eat well and take exercise and to let parents know what support is available to them. 'If parents, carers or the child concerned are worried about their child's results, we recommend that they talk to their GP or practice nurse.'

He added: 'We do not endorse crash diets or weight loss for children. 'Overweight children should maintain their weight as they grow taller and grow into their ideal weight.'


The evils of pork scratchings

Comment from Britain

She looked at me with a glare so fierce that you would think I had offered her a lucky dip in a bag full of cyanide pills. The scene was a small and cosy rural pub and I had misguidedly offered a bag of pork scratchings to an elegant lady at the next table.

What is it about pork scratchings that has transformed them from an over-the-counter treat into the crack cocaine of bar snacks?

Scratchings may never have been a high fashion food but, until very recently, they haven't been thought of as life threatening.

At this point, I should come clean. I like pork scratchings and have made a broadcast for Radio Four's Food Programme that tries to put their case forward and right some wrongs.

There's something great about those morsels of salty, fatty, crispy pig skin and, despite all the rage against them, scratchings are hanging in there. Indeed, during the football World Cup, sales of pork scratchings rose by a huge 50 per cent.

This shouldn't come as a surprise - everyone knows the crackling on a joint of pork is the most highly-prized component of the Sunday dinner. And that's because crackling is the posh version of pork scratchings.

Pork crackling has long been a favourite indulgence. The famous essayist Charles lamb (1785-1824) wrote a piece entitled A dissertation Upon Roast Pig, in which he describes how crackling came about.

A 60g packet of pork scratchings may contain 375 kcal; 29g of fat; 0.65g of sodium (a quarter of our recommended daily intake). And if you scoffed three packets it would probably do you no good.

These back- of-the-pack numbers also read the same whether you are a petite lady or a hulking male. They do not take into consideration whether you eat scratchings once a week or once a year. In short, they are a very blunt instrument indeed.

Perhaps we should be looking to an older concept, even older than the pork scratching itself - the concept of moderation.

Granted, it is much harder to aspire to and relies on willpower, but so many delicious and delightful foods that may be bad for you in excess are less frightening when enjoyed in moderation.

It wouldn't hurt to champion moderation when it comes to drinking, television, driving and other appetites and pastimes, too.

Even the makers of something so resolutely non-PC as the pork scratching feel pressured to try to adapt their products to suit the health-conscious mood. The original (and genuine) pork scratching is made by taking thin strips of pork skin with the fat attached and deep-frying them until they are crispy. The resulting crunchy morsel is dusted with salt and put into a bag.

Then came a 'nouvelle' scratching which was created by frying the rind twice - the second frying renders, or melts away, more of the fat. This version tends to be billed as 'pork crackling' or 'pork crunch' on the bag.

The latest milestone on the road to a healthier pork scratching is something called 'puffed' pork. This pork is deep fried three times until very little fat remains.

It is like a Spanish delicacy of fried pork rinds called chicharrones. You'll also find this kind of scratching in the southern states of America.

The problem is that it's long on texture and short on flavour. What the health police do not understand is that part of the appeal of the classic pork scratching lies in its wickedness.

It tastes greasy and porky. It tastes salty. Attributes which make it the perfect pub snack. If you tamper with these qualities you rather miss the point. The healthier you make a scratching, the less satisfaction it will deliver.


12 August, 2010

Ye're all going to dieeee

Die, I tell you, die ... ye're all going to die, die a most horrible death ... die, yes you ... die. And so reports the BBC: "Many more people will die of heart problems as global warming continues, experts are warning," they tell us.
"Climate extremes of hot and cold will become more common and this will puts strain on people's hearts, doctors say ... A study in the British Medical Journal found that each 1C temperature drop on a single day in the UK is linked to 200 extra heart attacks."

"Heatwaves, meanwhile, increase heart deaths from other causes, as shown by the events in Paris during summer 2003."

The worst of it is that these people are serious and so is the BBC. They cannot see how stupid they look, how stupid they sound, and how stupid they are. In fact, they are beyond stupid. They are barking mad.

Amongst other things, I wonder if any of them know what a Saturated Adiabatic Lapse Rate is [The higher up you go, the colder it gets], and what thus happens when you drive from the coast (altitude 0ft) to my home, altitude a smidgin short of 1000ft? Are they really saying that this puts people at risk of a heart attack?

It is these people that are the real health hazard – they sap our life energy with their constant, sterile diet of scare stories. But if they are so in love with the idea of death, they should embrace it and save us leading them there. I am sick to the back teeth of them.


Mental health claims overblown

Comment from Australia by Dr Tanveer Ahmed, a consultant psychiatrist

There has never been a federal election where mental health has received such attention. Led by the charismatic and politically savvy Patrick McGorry, criticism of the government's lack of commitment to the sector has been ceaseless. He has been further aided by the advocacy group Get Up!.

The rise of mental health services to the heady heights of the national conversation is unprecedented, but not coincidental. The net of mental health has never been cast wider and at a time when almost all human distress, at least in the West, is transmitted through the language of psychology.

It underlines a fundamental shift in our beliefs about human nature, from a long held view that people were resilient to a current belief that we are inherently vulnerable to external circumstance. And once the diagnosis of illness is systematically offered as an interpretive guide for making sense of distress, people are more likely to perceive themselves as ill.

McGorry and the former adviser to the government on mental health who resigned in disgust, John Mendoza, have suggested in several interviews that one in two of us will suffer from a mental illness at some stage in our lives. According to such hyperbole, only the common cold can command a wider reach in medicine.

Criticism from the profession has been minimal, largely due to a belief that any extra money for the sector can only be a positive. But a psychiatrist in Adelaide, Jon Jureidini, has combined with a researcher to dispel the myths being espoused by eminent but nonetheless empire-building doctors.

Several of the claims being made are false and are being repeated by Get Up! despite being clearly informed of their errors.

According to the researchers, one-third of Australian suicides are not due to inappropriate discharges from hospital, as McGorry and Mendoza claim. The data they initially used was not related to a random sample from the community, but a group of community mental health patients. This oversight means their claims are out by a factor of 30 - seven preventable suicides out of 750 as opposed to 38 out of 113. Nor are 750,000 young Australians being denied desperately needed mental health services, the premise upon which Headspace and early intervention centres are based. McGorry's claims are based on a 2007 survey where a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds experienced a mental disorder in the previous year but only 23 per cent of them accessed treatment.

But satisfying a checklist of symptoms does not correlate with a need for treatment, as the very architect of the diagnostic system within psychiatry's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Robert Spitzer, has said.

In one of the most heralded critiques of modern psychiatric diagnosis, Professors Wakefield and Horwitz, in their 2008 book The Loss of Sadness describe how context has been removed from what is called illness within mental health.

Instead, as long as people satisfy a criteria for impairment they can be considered ill. Grief-like or behaviourally disturbed reactions to significant losses, such as that of a job, divorce or bankruptcy, automatically qualify as illness. Only the death of a loved one is classified separately.

Much of the posturing around mental health funding does not mention the significant contribution of drug and alcohol abuse that overlaps with what passes for mental health, especially in the field of early psychosis. This is likely to be calculated, given drug use raises questions about morality and individual responsibility whereas mental health elicits a non-specific sympathy.

Psychiatric diagnosis has enormous cultural power in many other fields, from the marketing of antidepressant medications to preventive efforts in schools, general medical practice, disability claims and many legal proceedings. What might seem like abstract, technical issues concerning these definitions have important consequences for individuals and how their suffering is understood and addressed.

Psychiatry has always been the most political of medical disciplines and tends to produce the best doctor-politicians. McGorry is a shining example. While the sector could certainly do with more funds, the exorbitant claims regarding untreated mental illness are indicative of a blurring of the lines between illness and normal, human responses to adversity.


11 August, 2010

The medicalization of life marches on: Being physically inactive is 'a disease'

Another excuse for government invasion of private life. Compulsory drill for everyone? Computer nerds taken away from their parents like fat kids now sometimes are?

The excuse is that that making people more active would pay off as preventive medicine. But, despite the popularity of the concept, preventive medicine measures are not in general cost-effective. They have very little impact and cost more than they save: "Although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not"

Physical inactivity should be classed as "disease in its own right", a pair of leading public health experts have proposed. Dr Richard Weiler and Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis have put forward the idea because they say the the link between inactivity and poor health is so strong.

Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, they explained: "Given the significant associated mortality and morbidity, we propose that perhaps physical inactivity should also be considered for recognition as a disease in its own right."

Obesity is already classed as a disease by the World Health Organisation, noted Dr Richard Weiler, a specialist registrar in sports and exercise at Imperial College Healthcare and a GP. But he said obesity was often at least partially the result of a deeper cause - not doing enough exercise.

Speaking about the article, he said: "Money is pumped at treating the symptoms of physical inactivity - at obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease - but not at the root cause."

He added: "It is neglected because of the way that modern medicine is taught and the way the NHS is run. "We need to put the health back into the NHS - we need to promote wellness as well as treat illness." In May Dr Weiler said that the evidence showed that lack of fitness was the root cause of more illness than being fat. Despite such evidence, he said it remained the poor relation of the public health family.

He said GPs should be financially rewarded for promoting exercise through the Quality and Outcomes Framework, an action which he estimated would cost £1 million. This was "peanuts" set against the estimated cost of problems associated with lack of exercise, of £8.2 billion a year, he argued.

His comments follow those made at the weekend by Prof Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, who said many people needed to "face facts and take responsibility" for their own health.

Dr Weiler said recent studies showed only one in 20 people took the minimum amount of recommended exercise, but there was still "no co-ordinated plan" to tackle the problem.

He and Dr Stamatakis, of University College London, concluded in their paper: "Can we afford to leave physical activity promotion in primary care as the ‘would-be-nice’ preventive option, offered typically in the form of unstructured advice by inadequately trained professionals?"


Some alarming bacterial evolution

PLASTIC surgery patients have carried a new class of superbugs resistant to almost all antibiotics from South Asia to Britain and they could spread worldwide, researchers say.

Many hospital infections that were already difficult to treat have become even more impervious to drugs thanks to a recently discovered gene that can jump across different species of bacteria.

This so-called NDM-1 gene was first identified last year by Cardiff University's Timothy Walsh in two types of bacteria - Klebsiella pneumoniae and Escherichia coli - in a Swedish patient admitted to hospital in India.

Worryingly, the new NDM-1 bacteria are resistant even to carbapenems, a group of antibiotics often reserved as a last resort for emergency treatment for multi-drug resistant bugs.

In the new study, led Walsh and Madras University's Karthikeyan Kumarasamy, researchers set out to determine how common the NDM-1 producing bacteria were in South Asia and Britain, where several cases had turned up. Checking hospital patients with suspect symptoms, they found 44 cases - 1.5 per cent of those screened - in Chennai, and 26 (eight per cent) in Haryana, both in India.

They likewise found the superbug in Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well 37 cases in Britain, where several patients had recently travelled to India or Pakistan for cosmetic surgery. “India also provides cosmetic surgery for other Europeans and Americans, and it is likely that NDM-1 will spread worldwide,” said the study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

NDM-1 was mostly found in E. coli, a common source of community-acquired urinary tract infections, and K. pneumoniae, and was impervious to all antibiotics except two, tigecycline and colistin. In some cases, even these drugs did not beat back the infection.

Crucially, the NDM-1 gene was found on DNA structures, called plasmids, that can be easily copied and transferred between bacteria, giving the bug “an alarming potential to spread and diversify,” the authors said.

“Unprecedented air travel and migration allow bacterial plasmids and clones to be transported rapidly between countries and continents,” mostly undetected, they said.

The emergence of these new drug-resistant strains could become a serious global public health problem as the major threat shifts toward a broad class of bacteria - including those armed with the NDM-1 gene - known as “Gram-negative”, the researchers warn.

“There are few new anti-Gram-negative antibiotics in development, and none that are effective against NDM-1,” the study said. NDM-1 stands for New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase-1.

Johann Pitout from the University of Calgary in Canada said patients who have medical procedures in India should be screened for multi-resistant bacteria before they receive care in their home country.


10 August, 2010

Asthma inhalers 'increase the risk of prostate cancer'

What utter tosh! Asthma is an autoimmune diseaee. It means that your body's defences are not working properly. The disease, not the medicine, is the obvious cause of any adverse outcomes

Drugs used by thousands of men in Britain to treat asthma may increase the risk of prostate cancer, according to research. It shows men who regularly take inhaled steroids to keep their asthma under control are almost 40 per cent more likely than men without asthma to develop a tumour.

Those who regularly use another type of inhaler - a bronchodilator - to relieve wheezing are 36 per cent more at risk of the disease. But the biggest danger appears to be among men with severe asthma who frequently need treatment with steroid tablets or injections. Among this group, according to the study, the risk of cancer increases by up to 70 per cent.

Although the same research found even having asthma appears to increase the risk by around 25 per cent, it said the chances of a tumour are significantly higher in men taking medication.

Asthma sufferers using bronchodilators will usually have two types - one which provides instant relief from symptoms and another to use once or twice day to prevent them developing in the first place.

Cancer experts last night stressed findings were preliminary, from a small study, and needed to be confirmed by much bigger studies before any change in asthma drug use could be considered. Dr Jodie Moffat, of Cancer Research UK, said: 'The results are quite weak and they could be a statistical fluke. The researchers themselves note that further studies are needed.'

And Dr Elaine Vickers, from Asthma UK, urged men with asthma not to stop taking medication on the basis of the results. She said: 'This research suggests that there could be a weak association between asthma and prostate cancer risk. However, even if this is true, the association is marginal, and there is no reason for men with asthma to be concerned.'

The study was undertaken by a team of scientists in Melbourne, Australia. They decided to look at the link between asthma and prostate cancer because both arise from inflammation in the body. The researchers studied 1,179 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and analysed how many had a history of asthma.

The results, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, showed just having asthma meant a 25 per cent increase in a man's chances of a tumour. But if he was on medication, the risks were even higher.

The researchers admitted it was 'difficult to disentangle' the effects of asthma drugs from the result of just having the condition itself. But they said the concerns raised by their findings should be investigated in bigger follow-up studies.

Around 5.2 million people in Britain have asthma. According to Asthma UK, it kills one person every seven hours and leaves 70,000 a year needing hospital treatment. Nearly 32,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK and 10,000 men die from it.


Unfounded melanoma scare in Britain

It was all just overdiagnosis of non-cancerous moles and spots. British doctors see so few real melanomas that they wouldn't know one if they saw one. Where I live we see LOTS of sun and we do have lots of melanomas. Yet even experienced dermatologists sometimes have to rely on a biopsy to make a diagnosis.

I always thought the scare was hilarious since melanomas are supposed to be caused by the sun -- and the Brits see precious little of that

Summer is a marvellous time. It's when we can all enjoy light and warmth, eat gorgeous seasonal foods and get the chance to wear those colourful clothes we've collected during the rest of the year. And, of course, it's also holiday time. All because of the sun, the glorious sun. No wonder the ancients worshiped sun-gods!

But in recent years our delight in the sun has been clouded by bullying health warnings. Repeatedly, we are told by the health czars to avoid the sun and never get a tan.

Health organisations that should know better, but rarely do, would have us shun the all-too-short glory of our summer days. Instead, we must cover our arms, wear hats and hide ourselves under a chemical burka of sun-cream.

Next, they'll even be ordering us to shut our curtains during the hours of daylight! All this is because of fear of the dreaded big C: cancer.

As a result, the killjoys spread their terrifying message, and parents are made to feel unreasonably guilty if they as much as let their children out in the sun unprotected for a minute or two.

But if all this miserable propaganda has got you scared and worried, you shouldn't be. Because the evidence is that the message promoted by the anti-sun brigade isn't true. Indeed, the great sun scare that would drive us to live our summers in darkness is just a myth that's grown from a bad piece of medical science. So it's time to lay out the facts.

There's no doubt that years of exposure to strong sun wrinkles the skin (as smoking did for the late novelist Beryl Bainbridge), because it loses its elasticity as fibres of collagen - the protein that supports the skin - link together. But the ultra-violet rays from the sun do not speed up true ageing, which is a completely different process caused by the loss of collagen over the years, which makes skin thinner and saggy.

This ageing loss occurs at the same rate of one per cent a year whether your skin is exposed to the sun or whether it isn't. And it happens at the same rate for both men and women. The problem is that nature isn't politically correct, and unfairly provides women with 15 per cent less skin collagen than men - the equivalent of 15 years worth of ageing! - so the effects are far more noticeable.

Of course we can live with wrinkles, but what about cancer? Fortunatately, the facts are absolutely clear - and they aren't the ones used by doctors who create panic with the figure of 84,000 new cases of skin cancers a year in the UK.

What they don't explain is that almost all of these so-called skin 'cancers' don't spread or kill; in fact, they are not really cancers at all. Instead, these mild forms of skin cancer - what doctors call basal cell and squamous carcinomas - are benign tumours, something quite different.

Calling them 'cancer' was a wretched historical error and this incorrect name should be abandoned before more people are hurt by it. Not so fast, says the anti-sun brigade. There is another kind of cancer, malignant melanoma. And, true enough, that can be vicious: the smallest of black spots can spread and kill.

But don't panic, that outcome is rare, and the melanoma scare is just as phony as the other sun-scare stories. According to the scaremongers, there has been a great increase in these 'melanomas' in recent years, supposedly caused by the sun.

The puzzle has been why this has not been accompanied by the expected increase in deaths from them. We now know the reason is that they aren't really melanomas at all: it's all a horrible mistake.

The mistake happened because sunlight makes moles grow, and in pale-skinned people this often gets mistaken for true melanoma. This kind of misdiagnosis, which began in sunny Australia, soon spread to feed the phony melanoma epidemic elsewhere.

And it continued because of fear of litigation if the real thing was missed in the doctor's surgery, and because screening programmes artificially increase false-positive diagnoses.

The big mistake was that the idea that sun exposure causes melanoma went public before it was proved. (In fact, we don't know what causes melanoma.) This erroneous idea was then supported by nonsense 'research' of the sort we read about daily: first we're told standing on the left leg can lead to cancer of the right testicle, then it's the right leg and left testicle; finally new studies show that it's your partner's leg, not yours.

And that story lasts for a few days when it is replaced by yet another study of whether red wine is good or bad for you. Such daily absurdities are typical products of 'descriptive epidemiology' - this is a bastard discipline that counts disease numbers, instead of studying the disease itself. (The problem is if you don't understand that most of the tumours reported as 'melanomas' are not actually melanomas, then your numbers are deeply flawed.)

This type of numerical manipulation has single-handedly destroyed clinical science. It has made such a shambles of melanoma that every single one of its claims is suspect: it has not been shown that UV or sunburn is the cause, that children are more susceptible, or that sun beds are dangerous and sun-screens preventative.

But health advice often bears little relation to the truth, so off went the thoughtless warnings about sun avoidance, and watching for black spots that enlarge, darken, bleed or itch - a crazy idea because we all have spots that do just that without them being cancerous at all.

Anyway, as there's no epidemic of deaths from skin cancer, the risk of spoiling your life by constant worry is far greater than the small chance of finding something that needs treatment. There are very good reasons to ignore these warnings.

Suntan is an evolutionary device: it protects against burning. The anti-solar brigade's claim that it indicates skin damage is a measure of their biological naivety. A suntan is just a sign of increased pigment - melanin - in the skin and is a natural biological response to the sun, not a sign of skin damage.

So don't keep yourself and your children out of the sun; far better to develop a healthy tan without burning. Sunshine is the dynamo for vitamin D production. Without it your bones will crack, as those practising sun avoidance have found.

Although the profound effect of sun on the immune system is a mystery, it is powerful enough to control many skin diseases. And there's a new chapter in the cancer story, now that epidemiologists have done a UV–turn and claim that sun exposure actually protects against many cancers, including melanoma - a benefit they now say far outweighs the risks that they'd previously claimed!

Finally, there's the happy effect of sun exposure on well-being; it makes you look good and feel good, an effect similar to anti-depressive treatment. What more can you want?

Having fun in the sun has been badly clouded by the pretence that sun exposure is a dangerous habit. It isn't; solar cancer has been massively exaggerated and sun avoidance will break more bones than bad habits. So forget the dark stories and go out and enjoy the sun while it lasts - just don't get burnt!


9 August, 2010

Western lifestyle 'to blame for soaring breast cancer rates'

So Brits should live like East Africans? I sincerely hope not. Again the conclusions below are naive speculation and very much what one expects from the sensationalist WCRF. There are known to be racial differences between blacks and whites other than the obvious ones. Blacks get more heart disease, for instance and are helped by the heart medication Bidil which does nothing for whites. So the observed differences could just as well be genetic as anything else. Note the role of genetics in the report immediately following the one below.

It is also not clear that the WCRF controlled for age. Westerners live longer and age is a major factor in cancer onset. See also the rubric below. To be even minimally persuasive, comparisons would have to be made between populations with similar lifespans, a similar level of diagnostic services and similar reporting systems. That's way too hard for the WCRF

Britian's high number of breast cancer cases is being fuelled by the Western lifestyle that encourages women to over-eat, drink too much and exercise too little, say new figures [Figures don't SAY anything. They need interpretation] They show the breast cancer rate in this country is more than four times higher than in eastern Africa, which has the lowest in the world.

Other parts of the world also have far fewer cases of breast cancer, with rates only half as high in South America and two-thirds lower in parts of Asia.

But this means the disease is not ‘inevitable’ for British women, who can cut the risk by taking action to prevent it, claims the World Cancer Research Fund.

The charity analysed the latest international cancer statistics which show 87.9 women per 100,000 in the UK were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. The figure puts Britain in ninth place among high-income countries. This compares with just 19.3 women per 100,000 in eastern Africa, which includes Kenya and Tanzania, at the bottom of low-income nations.

The highest rates of breast cancer in the world are in Belgium, which had 109.4 cases per 100,000 women in 2008. In second place is France with 99.7 cases, according to data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Experts say some of the disparity between wealthy and poor countries comes from better record-keeping and diagnosis.

But WCRF warns that lifestyle is an important reason for the difference between high-income nations such as Britain and low-income countries.

Around 45,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed a year in the UK. Scientists estimate four out of every ten breast cancer cases in this country, more than 18,000 cases a year, could be prevented through women maintaining a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol and being more physically active.

Breast-feeding babies is also an important factor in helping cut the chance of developing the disease, which kills around 12,000 women annually in Britain. Women in eastern Africa drink much less alcohol than women in the UK and obesity levels are much lower, while breast-feeding rates are much higher.

Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science for WCRF, said: ‘The fact that breast cancer rates in eastern Africa are so much lower than in the UK is a stark reminder that every year in this country, thousands of women are diagnosed with cancer that could have been prevented.

‘That such a large difference in breast cancer rates exists is a real concern. Also, it is not just eastern Africa that has significantly lower breast cancer rates. ‘The rate here is double that of South America, for example, and three times that of eastern Asia.

‘The fact that rates of breast cancer are much lower in other parts of the world highlights the fact that breast cancer is not inevitable. ‘This means we need to do more to get across the message that just by making simple changes to lifestyle, such as drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight, women can reduce their risk.’

Women who are heavily overweight run a higher risk of developing the disease, probably through changes in sex hormone levels triggered by weight gain.

The charity also recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and, if alcohol is drunk at all, it is limited to one drink a day.

Studies show drinking just one large glass of wine a day increases the chances of developing breast cancer by a fifth, possibly by raising levels of the sex hormone oestrogen. [And some studies show that moderate drinking reduces your risk of heart disease!]

However, the biggest risk factor is increasing age, with four out of five breast cancers diagnosed in the UK occurring in women aged over 50.

Dr Thompson said a healthy lifestyle did not just decrease the chances of getting breast cancer, but was also linked to other forms of the disease such as bowel cancer. ‘Scientists estimate that about a third of the most common cancers in the UK could be prevented just through eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight,’ she added.

Dr Caitlin Palframan, policy manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘It is difficult directly to compare these two populations side by side as it is likely that many breast cancer cases in eastern Africa are not diagnosed or recorded.

‘Breast cancer is thought to be due to a combination of lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors and many of these may differ between the UK and other populations. ‘Although some risk factors cannot be changed, women can reduce their risk by drinking less alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly.'


New hope for meningitis vaccine

DOCTORS discovered a possible breakthrough in finding a vaccine for the deadliest strain of meningitis. Sky News said research teams in London and Singapore have identified certain human genes behind the infection, which could lead to vital clues on how best to treat it.

Currently there is no vaccine for the Group B strain which each year claims thousands of lives around the world.

Scientists scoured the genetic codes of more than 6000 people for clues as to why certain individuals are more vulnerable to attacks by meningococcal meningitis than others. They found evidence that genetics plays a key role in the way the body responds to the infection.

Most people can carry the bacteria in their throat without ever succumbing to the disease. But occasionally, the infection strikes with devastating force, leading to death in up to 10 per cent of cases. Around 1500 cases of bacterial meningitis are recorded in the UK each year. Most victims are children under five and teenagers.

Although people can be immunised against some types of meningococcal bacteria, scientists have been unable to develop a vaccine against the Group B strain.

Consultant pediatrician Dr Simon Nadel, of Imperial College, London, told Sky News, "This is a significant breakthrough because for the first time we've identified genes that are important in determining how susceptible we are to infection with this bacteria.” "And it could mean that the proteins we've identified could be used to develop a vaccine to protect us against all the different types of meningitis bacteria."


8 August, 2010

Now liquorice is bad for you!

This is just more epidemiological speculation. Maybe poor parents eat more confectionery and we are simply seeing a socioeconomic effect here, for instance

Expectant mothers who eat liquorice could be increasing their unborn child’s risk of disease in adulthood. Experts have found eight-year-olds who were exposed to liquorice in the womb had levels of the hormone cortisol up to a third higher than those whose mothers never ate it. Cortisol helps the body deal with stress, but it is also linked to diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

In the study by London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital and the University of Helsinki, mothers were asked how much liquorice they ate in pregnancy. Their children were tested aged eight for cortisol levels.

The study found that those whose mothers ate half a gram a week of liquorice – less than one Liquorice Allsorts sweet – or more in pregnancy had cortisol levels a third higher than those whose mothers did not eat it.

Experts believe the presence of the naturally occurring, very sweet ingredient glycyrrhizin in liquorice ultimately affects the mechanism which regulates hormone levels.

Clinical scientist Alexander Jones of Great Ormond Street, one of the study’s authors, said: ‘For those who eat a lot of liquorice, it may be a good idea to cut down when pregnant.’


Damaged heart could be coaxed into mending itself, claim scientists

Good if it works out but don't hold your breath. There are many differences between humans and rodents

A broken heart could soon be able to mend itself after scientists discover a way of converting ordinary tissue into beating muscle cells. In as little as five years, researchers hope to be able to coax the heart into regenerating itself, repairing the damage caused by cardiac arrests and old age.

The revolutionary treatment could be possible after scientists discovered a technique for turning ordinary connective tissue into muscle cells inside the heart.

It works in a similar way to stem cells but instead of the new cells being grown outside the body and then injected back in, the technique simply makes the cells switch at the point where they are needed.

Around 700,000 people in Britain suffer from heart failure because it has virtually no ability to repair itself after an attack.

The main problem is that when beating muscles cells – known as cardiomyocytes – die during an attack there is no way to reactivate them and the surrounding connective tissue – known as fibroblasts – cannot take over their role.

Now Professor Deepak Srivastava at the Gladstone Institute, University of California, and his team have discovered a way of reprogramming fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes.

The system involves slowly administering three substances – using an artificial tube called a stent – into the blood that trigger the conversion. Professor Srivastava believes this could be achieved over just two weeks.

"We first have to test if the same factors can convert human fibroblasts to beating heart muscle and then find ways to safely introduce these factors, or small molecules that mimic these factors, into the coronary circulation so they can reprogram the existing fibroblasts in the heart, said Professor Srivastava.

"I envision such factors being loaded into a stent that is placed in the coronary artery and can elute (allow to emerge) the reprogramming factors over 1-2 weeks.

"It is ambitious, but not unreasonable, to imagine being ready for a clinical trial in the next five years."

The team found that they needed a combination of just three substance – Gata4, Mef2c, and Tbx5 – to efficiently convert fibroblasts into cells that could beat like cardiomyocytes.

One day after the three factors were introduced into mouse hearts, fibroblasts turned into cardiomyocyte-like cells within the beating heart. Up to 20 per cent eventually made the switch.

"The ability to reprogram fibroblasts into cardiomyocytes has many therapeutic implications," explained Dr. Srivastava who published his findings in the journal Cell.

"Half of the cells in the heart are fibroblasts, so the ability to call upon this reservoir of cells already in the organ to become beating heart cells has tremendous promise for cardiac regeneration."


7 August, 2010

Read, eat well and keep spirits high to avoid dementia

This is the usual groan-inducing epidemiological speculation. People who are not very good at reading get more dementia. What do we conclude from that? Could it be that people who already have some cognitive defect (as indexed by reading score) are more likely to develop greater cognitive defects later on? Does reading a lot reduce cognitive defects or do cognitive defects reduce reading?

And that's just for starters. We know that high IQ people are healthier in general and that they are very good at reading so is it just an effect of IQ that we are seeing?

And the fruit and veg "effect" is far too tiny to permit any causal inferences. I could go on...

Keeping one's brain active, trying not to become depressed and eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables are the best ways to ward off developing dementia, a study of almost 1,500 volunteers has found.

If younger people were to follow such advice, millions worldwide could avoid or postpone the debilitating condition in old age, the research suggests. The combined effects would far outstrip the theoretical possibility of eliminating a gene known to increase the chance of dementia, according to the study, published today in the British Medical Journal.

Dr Karen Ritchie, a neuropsychologist at the French National Institute of Medical Research, led a team who assessed how the cognitive ability of 1,433 pensioners in Montpellier changed over a seven-year period.

They asked them a series of questions about their lifestyle, medical history and educational background, as well as carrying out reading tests.

Their results indicate that how much intellectual exercise a person takes has an enormous effect on their likelihood of developing dementia. Those with lower reading scores were 18 per cent more likely to develop "mild cognitive impairment or dementia" – the former widely seen as a forerunner of the latter.

Those with depression were 10 per cent more likely to develop it; while those who ate fruit and vegetables less than twice a day were 6.5 per cent more likely to do so. Having diabetes was also a significant factor, leading to a five per cent higher risk than those without.

By comparison, possessing a particular gene associated with dementia increased the risk by seven per cent.

With 820,000 currently living with dementia in Britain, a number forecast to double by 2050, the report's authors point out that "even small reductions in incidence, or delaying the age of onset, are likely to have significant effects on prevalence and the enormous associated public health burden".

While studies have identified such risk factors before, they have not quantified their relative impact.

Although the bare statistics indicated intellectual activity was the most important factor, the study noted it was difficult to prise apart how much a good reading score was based on genetics and how much on upbringing.

In the absence of an answer, "the public health message can only be to encourage literacy at all ages irrespective of innate ability," the academics concluded.

Similarly, while depression was strongly linked to developing dementia, "the causal relation ... remains unclear". If it was an early sign of dementia rather than a direct trigger, they warned, treating it would not necessarily offer protection.

Getting people to eat more fruit and vegetables was also difficult, they accepted.

With such problems they concluded the most practical short-term solution was tackling diabetes, which previous studies have confirmed to be a causal factor.

Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Effective prevention of diabetes, depression and heart disease could potentially improve the lives of millions of people affected by this cruel condition and reduce the billions spent on dementia care each year.

"With the numbers of people with dementia rising quickly it is important that everyone manages their own risk and that as a society we invest in further dementia research that will one day help us find a cure."

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, added: "What is painfully evident from the study is the gaping hole that remains in our understanding and ability to diagnose or treat dementia effectively, a hole that can only be filled by more research.”


Prayers really can heal the sick, finds international study

I had to laugh when I saw this one. It will steam up a lot of Leftists. It's certainly not a controlled study but it probably does show the power of faith. Not all faith-healing is "rigged" and third world people (who were studied) generally seem to be religious. Hypnosis sometimes achieves similar results also

The power of prayer really can help to heal the sick, an international study has found - especially if the well-wisher is standing near the person they are praying for. Researchers say the vision and hearing of patients in their tests improved after healing practitioners prayed for them.

One elderly woman who could not see a person's hand when they held two fingers up in front of her face from a foot away is said to have been cured after a healer placed their hands over her eyes and prayed for less than one minute.

The tests were carried out by a team from Indiana university, led by religious studies Professor Candy Gunther Brown, who were looking into 'proximal prayer' - or prayers near the patient.

However, experts at the National Secular Society branded the research 'highly suspect.' Terry Sanderson, president of the NSS, said: 'This is a highly suspect study, based on vague results in places where checking would be impossible. There is a quite obvious religious motivation which undermines its impartiality.

'The fact is that all properly conducted studies of healing through prayer have shown it to be ineffective or even, in one instance, counterproductive.'

Professor Brown and her colleagues carried out the study as part of a research programme on the cultural significance and experience of spiritual healing practices. She said: 'We chose to investigate 'proximal' prayer because that is how a lot of prayer for healing is actually practiced by Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. '

The team studied the impact of 'healers' on disadvantaged people with vision or hearing impairments in Mozambique and Brazil. They evaluated 14 rural Mozambican subjects who reported poor hearing and 11 who said they had failing sight, both before and after the subjects received proximal intercessory prayer (PIP).

An audiometer and vision charts were used for a direct measure of improvement rather than relying on whether the people said they felt better.

The researchers found that two subjects with impaired hearing reduced the threshold at which they could detect sound by 50 decibels and three subjects had their tested vision improve from 20/400 or worse to 20/80 or better.

Professor Brown said one subject, an elderly Mozambican woman named Maryam, initially reported that she could not see a person's hand with two upraised fingers from a distance of one foot.

A healing practitioner put her hand on Maryam's eyes, hugged her and prayed for less than a minute then held five fingers in front of her. Afterwards she was able to count them and even read the 20/125 line on a vision chart. A follow-up study by the researchers in Brazil revealed similar findings.

Professor Brown said her study, which will be published in the September issue of the Southern Medical Journal, focused on the clinical effects of PIP and did not attempt to explain the mechanisms by which the improvements occurred.

But Mr Sanderson, from the NSS, added: 'This study, as it describes itself, is unscientific and therefore of no worth beyond its use as religious propaganda. 'It exploits the desperation of people living in extreme poverty who are unable to access proper medical care in order to bring them under the influence of these Pentecostal churches.'


6 August, 2010

Don’t call us fat or obese. Just leave us alone

The spat over how British officialdom should refer to plump people overlooks the fact that it should be none of its business how much we weigh

Obese, or not obese? That is the question. UK public health minister Anne Milton thinks it is time that people took personal responsibility for their weight. And she believes that calling overweight people ‘fat’ rather than ‘obese’ is more likely to encourage them to get trim. Others, however, prefer the medical term ‘obese’, believing that it communicates to overweight people the (alleged) seriousness of their condition.

Yet while the argument over ‘fat or obese?’ has raged in the comment pages and on phone-ins all week long, no one seems to be asking the most basic questions: Is it really the place of doctors and health officials to tell people what to eat or how much they should weigh? Who are they to label us fat or obese?

Professor Steve Field of the Royal College of General Practitioners agrees with Milton. ‘I think the term obese medicalises the state. It makes it a third person issue. I think we need to sometimes be more brutal and honest’, he said, in defence of using the word ‘fat’.

This view was echoed by columnist Rod Liddle – whose young daughter apparently calls him a ‘lardbucket pig’ – in The Sunday Times: ‘In the good old days it was quite common for people to laugh out loud at fatties as they waddled, panting, from the pie shop to the chippy, their arteries growing more clogged at every step….

But all that has been stopped. As a consequence, we have many more fat people than we’ve ever had before – especially in our schools, where one in three of the children is apparently overweight or obese.’ What a relief to know that the mystery of why society has collectively got fatter in recent decades – something that provokes so much debate in scientific journals – has been solved by this esteemed journalist from the comfort of his own armchair. A Nobel Prize must surely follow.

Others were horrified at the suggestion that we should all start using the f-word. Professor Lindsey Davies, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, told the BBC: ‘People don’t want to be offensive. There is a lot of stigma to being a fat person… I would probably be more likely to say something like “can we talk about your weight?” rather than “obesity”, but that is a judgement you make on a patient-by-patient basis.’

If people don’t know they’re fat, it’s not necessarily because they are in denial – it might just be that they’re not fat. Obesity, as defined in terms of body mass index by the medical profession, doesn’t match what the rest of society understands as ‘fat’ or ‘obese’.

An article on the BBC News website in 2006, Who are you calling fat?, illustrates the point very well, showing four men – who don’t by any sensible criteria look particularly overweight – whose weight and height mean they are clinically obese. As one of the men said: ‘I’d have to lose around three stone for the government to think I’m the right weight. That’s just stupid. I’d look ill and I probably would be ill.’

Even for those who are a bit heavier than that, there is little increased risk from carrying a few extra pounds. Indeed, the current definitions of normal weight, overweight and mild obesity don’t seem to bear much relation to health risk. Carrying a few extra pounds is harmless and may even be beneficial: if you have any kind of long illness and you’re off your food, it is probably better if you have some fat in reserve.

Whether obesity is a medical problem or a moral one, there is no obvious, successful cure. It is true that by restricting the amount you eat and/or taking extra exercise, you may be able to lose weight. But unless this is a reversion to a more normal diet after a period of genuine bingeing, such self-denial is unlikely to be sustained. The result will be piling the pounds back on again. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this kind of ‘yo-yo’ dieting is worse than never bothering to diet at all.

So, regardless of whether the officially approved label is ‘fat’ or ‘obese’, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you can ‘take responsbility’ and lose weight in any lasting way – and given the low health risks attached to mild obesity, there is no particular reason why you should want to.

What is really bizarre is that the debate about ‘fat’ vs ‘obese’ appears to be taking place on another planet. Since when has there been any positive reinforcement of being overweight? For at least the past 10 years, there has been veritable hysteria along the lines of: obesity = disease = death. TV programmes like Honey, We’re Killing the Kids and You Are What You Eat have taken great joy in reducing people to blubbering wrecks as the ‘expert’ informs them (or their loved ones) that their weight is going to kill them – a message reinforced by countless magazine articles, news items and government campaigns.

Apart from those from the fat-acceptance movement, who have rebelled against this tyranny of the skinny, no one thinks being overweight is a barrel of laughs. As Emily Hill has argued on spiked, even those few fat celebrities who seem to be in vogue – like James Corden, Dawn French or Beth Ditto – are regarded as cool in spite of their fatness or as weirdly exotic in a world where having the body morphology of a coat hanger is the only truly acceptable state. Fat poor people, on the other hand, are regarded as feckless chavs.

Here’s a statement you’re never likely to hear (unless the person concerned is recovering from a wasting illness): ‘You’ve put on how much weight? Really? That’s brilliant! That extra fat looks really good on you!’ You don’t hear it because it never happens. The outlook today is that skinny is good, fat is bad. Since when did people get abused for being slim?

Indeed, while the po-faced health minister was demanding that fat people be given the unalloyed truth about their adiposity, equalities minister Lynne Featherstone was singing the praises of curvaceous Mad Men star Christine Hendricks. Featherstone, who is campaigning against the ‘airbrushing’ of magazine photos, declared that ‘women and girls also have the right to be comfortable in their own bodies. At the moment they are being denied that.’ Perhaps Featherstone could direct her message about body autonomy to her fat-obsessed government colleagues before banging on about what magazines do with Photoshop.

What would be much better is if politicans just stopped talking about the shape of our bodies altogether. It’s just none of their business. We are more than capable of working out what is best for us on our own. We can even handle a bit of name-calling, especially if it didn’t carry an official seal of approval from Whitehall. We could really do without health authorities refusing treatment to overweight people and government ministers declaring that the obese will bankrupt the National Health Service. It really doesn’t matter what your doctor calls it when he or she makes you stand on the scales and prods your spare tyre – you know what the message is.

Here’s a suggestion: maybe we should take on board this message about being honest and direct. If your doctor, nurse, health visitor or anyone else wants to start giving you government-approved advice about the food you eat or any other aspect of your personal habits, try this riposte: ‘Kiss my big, fat ass.’


Don’t have a cow

The [British] Food Standards Agency created a considerable row when it announced this week that meat from a cow born in the United Kingdom from the imported embryos of a cloned American cow was sold and consumed last year. British and European regulations prohibit the sale of products intended for human consumption from cloned animals without prior authorisation, which has never been granted. The discovery incensed animal rights activists, and public outrage has erupted due to deep mistrust of cloned and genetically modified food, as well as the failure of the Food Standards Agency to detect the products in a timely manner. Two lessons can be learned from the issue.

First, the issue highlights the inability of the government to regulate effectively, even in matters as trivial and simple as the one at hand. That the farmer involved in the controversy, Steven Innes, appears not to have tried to circumvent the law, further highlights the elusiveness of effective regulation. If the government is unable to draw up intelligible and enforceable regulations on mundane issues, it is unlikely that it will be able to fare much better with more complex regulatory schemes.

Second, it is high time that Britain and the European Union become more accepting of scientific advancements that have improved, and will continue to improve, agricultural productivity. Cloning of animals is one such improvement. Farmers and scientists in the United States have experimented with the cloning of animals in order to increase milk and meat production. Meat and other products from cloned animals have proven to be just as safe as products from naturally conceived animals, and the cloning of animals does not affect any other individuals other than those who choose to produce and consume such products. If the ban were lifted, those who do not wish to buy products derived from cloned animals would remain free to do so, the costs of related regulation would be eliminated, and agricultural productivity could improve.

The shock over the cloned cow should be over the observation that there was shock at all. That Britain outlaws a non-offensive and potentially productive enterprise that is successfully practiced elsewhere in the world without incident is unfortunate, and harms the country and its farmers.


5 August, 2010

Forget about diet. It's those pesky genes again

Scientists uncover 95 genes linked to high cholesterol. But does it matter? The link between heart disease and cholesterol is very weak

Scientists have cracked the genetic secrets of high cholesterol, paving the way for new drugs to beat heart disease. Britain's biggest killer, heart disease affects 2.5million people and claims more than 250 lives each day.

The amount of artery-clogging cholesterol and other fats in the blood greatly affects the odds of heart attacks and other problems, but until now, little was known about the genes that control their levels.

More than 100 researchers from 17 countries, including the UK, studied the DNA of more than 100,000 people of European ancestry. This flagged up 95 genetic changes linked to blood fats, or lipids, and heart disease, the journal Nature reports. Further experiments showed that many of the genes also contribute to heart problems in other ethnic groups from around the world.

Working out exactly how these genes raise or lower cholesterol and other harmful fats could lead to new drugs that could benefit millions. Although statins are widely used to lower cholesterol, side-effects lead to many stopping taking them, and some doctors say that while the drugs benefit men, there is scant evidence they ward off heart disease in women.

Researcher Dr Christopher O'Donnell, of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in the US, said: 'The new findings point us to specific genetic signposts that allow us to understand why many people from all walks of life have abnormal levels of cholesterol and other blood lipids that lead to heart disease.

'What's really exciting about this work is that we are moving from discovery to understanding brand new information about how genes alter the lipids that lead to heart disease.'

Francis Collins, one of the world's leading geneticists, said: 'Genetic studies that survey a wide variety of human populations are a powerful tool for identifying hereditary factors in health and disease. 'These results help refine our course for preventing and treating heart disease, a health problem that affects millions.'

Professor Peter Weissberg, of the British Heart Foundation, said that although much more work was needed to understand what the genes do and how they work together, such research is crucial in beating heart disease. He added: 'Although this is just the first step down a long road, the good news is that the more we understand about cholesterol regulation, the more likely it is that new drugs will be developed to prevent heart disease.'

In Britain, there are around 230,000 heart attacks a year - the equivalent of one every two minutes. Around a third are fatal. Statins are prescribed to six million Britons judged to be significant risk of a heart attack or stroke, but there have been calls for everyone over the age of 50 to receive them. It is argued that wider access could save hundreds of thousands of lives while also saving the NHS billions a year.


New breed of antibiotic that can beat MRSA

Good news -- for a while

A family of ‘super-antibiotics’ capable of beating MRSA and other deadly infections has been created by scientists. In tests, one of the drugs killed strains of the hospital superbug resistant to antibiotics already in use.

Others were more than a match for other potentially lethal germs, including food poisoning bug E coli, and acinetobacter, a soil-dwelling bug that is even harder to treat than MRSA.

The drugs, details of which emerged last night in the prestigious journal Nature, have been hailed as ‘an important step forward’.

Bacteria resistant to multiple drugs claim around 25,000 lives a year across the EU. New treatments could save the taxpayer millions, as well as save lives.

Many superbugs are resistant to all but one or two antibiotics, and with resistance growing all the time, some scientists predict a ‘medical apocalypse’ in which hospital bugs will be completely untreatable.

The ‘super-antibiotics’ work in a similar way to members of a long-standing family of drugs called quinolones, which tackle respiratory and other infections by interfering with an enzyme that many different types of bacteria need to breed.

The new drugs, which are still in the early stages of development, attach to the same enzyme, but in a different place, meaning they can kill bugs that are resistant to other drugs.

Ted Bianco, of the Wellcome Trust, which part-funded the research, said: ‘This is an important step forward in the race against antibiotic resistance.’

If the drugs live up to their early promise, the first could be on the market within a decade.


4 August, 2010

More than the sum of our BMIs

The fat police are coming to a doctor's office near you. Under the terms of last year's federal stimulus package, new federal regulations require that an obesity rating must be part of every American's electronic health records by 2014.

The most common measure of whether a person is overweight or obese, and hence his or her obesity rating, is derived from weight and height and known as the Body Mass Index, or BMI. Because it's easy to apply, the BMI is used almost universally to define obesity — despite its manifest shortcomings.

The BMI is wholly arbitrary, having no scientifically valid relationship with mortality. It's inadequate as a measure of body fat because it cannot account for the composition of a person's body — fat, muscle, organs, water, etc. It's also affected substantially by a person's frame and the relative length of his or her legs and torso. And it does not take into account whether body fat is well-distributed or concentrated around the waist, the latter being more likely to indicate health risks.

Official public-health pronouncements have held that people with BMIs in excess of 25 but under 30 are overweight, and that those with BMIs of more than 30 are obese. It's also been repeatedly alleged that these measurements are associated with an increased risk of disease. All of this suggests that the BMI and these classifications are based on evidence and science.

In fact, the 1997 decision to set new (and lower) BMI measurements as acceptable was made by the International Obesity Task Force, a nongovernmental organization that gets 75 percent of its funding from the pharmaceutical industry, which stands to benefit if more people are classified as overweight or obese.

There is scant scientific evidence to support assertions by the federal government and others that being overweight or obese increases one's mortality risks, or that the overweight and moderately obese can improve their health by losing weight. Such claims ignore 40 years of international data suggesting that obesity is not a cause of premature mortality. Many studies have demonstrated that the effects of diet and physical activity are independent of the effects of BMI and other measures of body size or fat.

Age, sex, race, height, weight, blood type, and insulin resistance are among a host of characteristics that can account for profound differences between people with similar BMI scores. Such differences make it difficult to arrive at conclusions and recommendations that are generally valid, or to characterize body mass as having any reliable correlation with health.

Recent empirical analysis of the relationship between BMI and mortality found that death rates were essentially the same given BMIs ranging from 20 to 35. Normal-weight individuals of both genders do not appear to live longer than the mildly obese (those with BMIs of 30 to 35). This suggests that the only scientifically justified obesity interventions pertain to the small fraction of the population with BMIs of more than 40 (3 percent to 4 percent of adults).

This relatively small group might well benefit from medical and pharmaceutical interventions of various kinds — interventions that will depend on a better biological and medical understanding of obesity. Whatever the nature of these treatments for the extremely obese, the important point is that they — not those classified as merely overweight or moderately obese — should be the focus of any publicly funded antiobesity campaign.

The BMI has acquired unwarranted authority. And the new federal regulation, telling us to accept a correlation of "high" BMI scores with shorter lives, is contrary to the available evidence. It's too bad the fat police aren't as interested in the weight of the scientific evidence as they are in that of Americans.


The madness spreads to Italy

The traditional cry of the Italiam Mamma is "Mangiare! Mangiare!" (Eat! Eat!) so this will to lead to some big after-school feasts -- that is if anybody takes any notice of what the government dictates. Italians are inveterate scofflaws

ITALIAN children hoping for a second helping of pasta will be disappointed after the country famous for its healthy Mediterranean diet issued new school lunch guidelines in the wake of rising childhood obesity.

The health ministry is so concerned it said second helpings, mid-morning snacks and vending machines should be banned and schools should serve pizza no more than once a week.

Health Minister Ferruccio Fazio said 33 percent of Italian pupils between eight and 12 were now obese or overweight.

Pre-packaged cakes were also condemned, and the new regulations said children should instead be given “fruit of the season, yoghurt or fruit juice with no added sugar.”

Schools can offer pasta or rice daily. Fish or eggs are to be served as the main dish at least once a week - and ham or salami twice a month - with fruit and vegetables on the table every day.

The Mediterranean diet of pasta, olive oil, fish, fruit and vegetables is held by Italian nutritionists to provide the best natural protection against cardiovascular diseases, arthritis and other ailments.


3 August, 2010

Junk food starts allergies? Western high-fat diets are blamed for surge in illnesses

Just another epidemiologically-based theory. That poor African villagers have different internal flora from us should be no surprise to anyone -- but moving on from there is pure speculation

The most amusing comment: They found that the African villagers had "a far lower proportion of microbes associated with obesity". Seeing that African villagers are never very far from starvation that has to be a VERY big non-surprise

The rise of junk food and high-fat diets could be behind the explosion of allergies sweeping Britain, scientists claimed last night. They have found evidence that 'industrialised' Western diets high in red meat, sugar and fat lowered the numbers of healthy bacteria in our guts.

Without these microbes to prime the immune system, children are more likely to grow up suffering from asthma, eczema and other allergies, they say.

The number of people with allergies has trebled in the past 20 years. One in three people now suffer at some point in their lives.

Many scientists blame the modern obsession with hygiene and children's indoor lifestyles. Some doctors say exposure to germs and dirt in the early years is essential for a healthy immune system. Others have linked the rise in allergies to traffic pollution, food additives and the increasingly exotic diets of children.

The new study compared gut bacteria of children living in Florence, Italy, with youngsters raised in a rural village in Burkina Faso, West Africa.

They found that African children - who were eating food similar to the diet of the earliest farmers thousands of years ago - had a far lower proportion of microbes associated with obesity in adults and far more fatty acids known to protect against inflammation.

The diet of the African children consisted mainly of cereals, black-eyed peas and vegetables. The Italians, by contrast, ate higher quantities of meat, fat and sugar.

Dr Paolo Lionetti, who led the study at the University of Florence, said the differences between the children's gut microbes could be explained by their diets, which dominated other factors such as ethnic background, sanitation, climate or geography.

'The Burkina Faso children were selected as representative consumers of a traditional rural African diet,' he said. 'The diet of Burkina Faso children is low in fat and animal protein and rich in starch, fibre and plant polysaccharides, and predominantly vegetarian.

'All food resources are completely produced locally, cultivated and harvested nearby the village by women. Although the intake of animal protein is very low, sometimes they eat a small amount of chicken and termites.'

The trillions of microbes that inhabit the human gut were an essential 'organ' that helped to digest food, protect against pathogens, and reduce the risk of inflammation, he said.

Lindsey McManus, of Allergy UK, said: 'There is some evidence that probiotics in the gut are effective at boosting the immune system, especially in children with eczema and that they can protect against allergies. 'However, it's very early days with this study and a lot more work needs to be done.'


Every now and again the most relevant fact about weight pops out: Scientists link obesity to DNA

It's one of the most infuriating things in the world. Your best friend devours cream cakes by the plateful without putting on weight, but you gain 3lb by glancing at a chocolate bar. Now scientists think they know why. A study suggests that the 'propensity for obesity' may be hardwired into the brain while we are in the womb.

Its findings will be welcomed by the millions of us who have struggled to lose weight despite sticking rigidly to calorie-controlled diets.

Dr Tamas Horvath, of Yale University School of Medicine in the U.S., said: 'It appears that this wiring of the brain is a determinant of one's vulnerability to develop obesity.

'These observations add to the argument that it is less about personal will that makes a difference in becoming obese, and, it is more related to the connections that emerge in our brain during development.'

Britain, like most Western countries, is in the grips of an obesity epidemic with the number of fat people rising sharply since the 1960s. [Pick your starting point. Pick the year 2000 and there has been NO rise]

Dr Horvath and colleagues studied a group of laboratory rats bred to be vulnerable to obesity. They found that these naturally greedy animals were born with a major difference in the 'feeding centre of the brain'.

Neurons in the brain that are supposed to signal when enough has been eaten and when the body needs to burn off calories are far more sluggish in obese rats because they are inhibited by other cells, the researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

However, in animals resistant to obesity, these same neurons are far more active - and quickly tell the rest of the brain and the body when enough food has been consumed.

The way the brain develops and whether it is vulnerable to obesity is influenced by genes and conditions in the womb, the researchers say.

Dr Horvath added: 'Those who are vulnerable to diet-induced obesity also develop a brain inflammation, while those who are resistant, do not. 'This emerging inflammatory response in the brain may also explain why those who once developed obesity have a harder time losing weight.'

In 1980, six per cent of men and eight per cent of women in Britain were obese. Twenty years later, 22 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women are obese. At least 20million people in this country are thought to be overweight, while 12million are clinically obese. If the trends continue, one third of adults and half of all children will be obese by 2020.

Diet experts say the explanation for the wave of obesity is simple - that in an age of labour- saving devices and home entertainment, most people are doing too little exercise. At the same time, high-fat, high-sugar foods are more widely available.

The new finding doesn't explain why obesity is on the rise - but sheds light on why some people struggle to lose the extra pounds they get from a sedentary lifestyle.


2 August, 2010

Calcium supplements linked to heart attacks

Another unwarranted "correlation is causation" assumption. There may be something in the theory offered but the effect is very small and could simply indicate, for instance, that people who feel in poor health are more likely to take supplements and it is the pre-existing poor health that leads to heart attacks rather than the supplements

PEOPLE taking calcium supplements have about a 30 per cent higher risk of heart attack, research suggests. A review of existing studies on about 12,000 people found an increased risk for those on supplements, which are often prescribed to older women for the prevention or treatment of osteoporosis.

People taking supplements equal to 500mg or more per day were analysed through 11 studies, which compared them with people not on supplements.

According to the Food Standards Agency, adults need 700mg of calcium a day, which should come from dietary sources, including milk, cheese and green, leafy vegetables.

A study from experts at the University of Auckland and the University of Aberdeen said diets high in calcium do not increase the risk of heart attacks. It is the effect of supplements, which increase the levels of calcium circulating in the blood, which causes the increased risk.

Experts believe higher blood serum levels lead to hardening of the arteries, which can cause heart attacks. The authors said: "Serum calcium levels have been positively associated with an increased incidence of (heart attack) in large observational studies. "Ingestion of equivalent doses of calcium from dairy products has a much smaller effect than calcium supplements on serum calcium levels".

Today's study excluded patients who were taking both calcium and vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium. The authors said it was unclear whether the findings would apply to these patients.

Nevertheless, they called for a rethink on giving people calcium supplements for bone health. "Given the modest benefits of calcium supplements on bone density and fracture prevention, a reassessment of the role of calcium supplements in the management of osteoporosis is warranted," they said, writing online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Calcium has a number of important functions, including helping build strong bones and teeth. It regulates muscle contraction, including the heartbeat, and makes sure the blood clots normally.

Carrie Ruxton, an expert with the Health Supplements Information Service, which is funded by an association representing supplement manufacturers, said: "It is important to note that calcium is an essential mineral for the health of the bones and the nervous system.

"Ensuring adequate intake is vital. However, the latest data from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that one in 10 young women have calcium intakes below the lower reference nutrient intake (LRNI), a level at which deficiency is likely. "Calcium supplementation can help to ensure adequate intakes in people with poor intakes or higher requirements, for example during growth."

Judy O'Sullivan, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "We need to be cautious about the results of this analysis because none of the studies involved were designed to look specifically at the relationship between calcium supplements and the risk of heart attack. "However, the research should not be completely ignored. Any new guidelines on the prevention of fractures in those most vulnerable to them should take this type of analysis into account.

"Anyone who has been advised by their doctor to take calcium supplements shouldn't stop because of this research alone."


Why more and more people feel “mentally ill”

Yes, the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM is mad, labelling even shyness a disorder. But it didn’t create today’s therapy culture

Is nobody bog-standard, run-of-the-mill normal anymore? Are we all – by dint of a massive expansion of diagnostic categories – mentally ill? Such are the questions now being posed by a number of experts following the release of the preliminary draft revisions to the current diagnostic criteria contained in the so-called bible of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For the lexically-phobic amongst you, that’s DSM for short.

There is little doubt that over the past 20 or so years, the sheer number of mental illnesses and disorders has proliferated. Aspects of our behaviour, once so colloquially familiar, have acquired technical, medical-sounding appellations. Shyness has become ‘avoidant personality disorder’; anger has been reclassified as ‘intermittent explosive disorder’. The list unfurls itself into absurdity. Little wonder that one in four Americans can now be said to suffer from a mental illness.

The DSM, as the namer and shamer of mundane behaviours, seemingly now stands at the vanguard of the medicalisation of everyday life. The first edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM was published in 1952. That particular version contained a then unprecedented 60 diagnoses of mental illness. Over the next 40-odd years it expanded its reach ever further into our most routine of mental states, finding a diagnosis where before there was, for example, just a bashful man or woman. By 1994, the fourth edition of the DSM recognised a total of 384 mental ailments (plus 28 ‘floating diagnoses’).

If the preliminary draft revisions are any indication, the fifth edition of the DSM, to be published in May 2013, looks set to continue this trend. This time, however, there seems to be something of a reaction against the process of turning unremarkable behaviours into diagnostic categories, as captured in a critical new edition of the Journal of Mental Health. As Til Wykes of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London argues, the DSM is ‘leaking into normality. It is shrinking the pool of what is normal to a puddle.’ In particular, the proposed ‘at risk’ (of psychosis, dementia, etc) category has been singled out for special criticism – which is hardly surprising given that it means you only need to be showing the potential for a mental illness to be diagnosed as possessing one. As Robert Spitzer, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, pointed out in February: ‘There will be adolescents who are a little odd and have funny ideas, and this will label them as pre-psychotic.’

Spitzer’s concerns were echoed this week by Dr Felicity Callard of the UK’s Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health: ‘If this category were to be introduced the people likely to be given this diagnosis are going to be relatively young. What are the implications of someone receiving a diagnosis that is not a diagnosis of a disorder as such, but a potential disorder?’

At first glance, these concerns seem valid. The expansion of psychiatric diagnoses into the pre-illness phase opens up a worryingly vast area for clinical intervention. And the reclassification of the previously quotidian does indeed look set to ‘shrink the pool of what is normal to a puddle’. For example, in the future you could be said to be suffering from ‘anxious distress’ if you show two of the following symptoms: ‘irrational worry, preoccupation with unpleasant worries, having trouble relaxing, motor tension, fear that something awful may happen.’ A touch of first-date nerves? No, you’re now suffering from anxious distress.

More absurd still is the possible inclusion of a ‘hoarding disorder’ – that is, a ‘persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions’. If you’re wondering whether you’re afflicted with said condition just have a look around you: ‘The symptoms result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that fill up and clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible.’ It’s a wonder soap-dodging isn’t up for inclusion: ‘Symptoms will result in a large accumulation of flies and, in inverse proportion, the disaccumulation of friends and associates.’

The ease with which one can now be flippant about mental illness indicates part of the problem. Serious psychiatric conditions now sit alongside the trivial and banal. Despite claims to the contrary, the expansion of psychiatric diagnoses is not a mark of scientific, medical advance – it is the sign of the devaluation of mental illness. The distinction between the well and the ill has crumbled. In its place stands a populace indiscriminately in need of a therapist.

But what is strange about this current uprising against the tyranny of psychiatry is the extent to which all criticism seems to be focused on the DSM itself. It is as if this volume, by the sheer force of its descriptive and classificatory contents, is somehow held responsible for the tendency now to treat commonplace emotional states as mental disorders. But is a book really that powerful? Can its words, its authors’ utterances, really be that magical? That is the problem with the current attack on the DSM. Just as more literal-minded Christians believe that ‘in the beginning was the word’, so the DSM’s critics invest the bible of psychiatry with a similar enunciatory power: they name it, and so it is. As a consequence, the real evolution of what Frank Furedi has called ‘therapy culture’ is overlooked. Instead all eyes turn to the DSM, as if its contents, by their magical force alone, create the terms of the world in which we live.

By attributing so much significance to the DSM, the social reality of the need for a therapeutic intervention is effaced. This is to get the relationship between us as members of society and an ever-growing retinue of counsellors the wrong way round. The medicalisation of everyday moods and behaviours is not a DSM-created illusion, a money-making scam by classification-happy psychiatrists. Rather, this process of rendering our most mundane behaviours up for an external, therapeutic intervention is born of the atomisation of the social world. In this sense, the therapeutic state is not a trick or a DSM-inspired error: it expresses a civil society in which the individual is genuinely isolated.

Traditional support networks of family and local community have disintegrated. And collective institutions such as trade unions, political parties or the church have withered. The consequences are real. An individual might have once forged his existence and tackled the problems thrown up by life in terms of those collectivities - indeed, these institutions often provided the foundations for a sense of agency, the sense that the social world was something to be influenced, changed even, not suffered. Without these collective institutions to mediate an individual’s existence and struggles, his life becomes one less of striving than of mere survival. And it is upon society as an agglomeration of isolated, vulnerable individuals that the therapeutic state takes root.

A comment by Nick Craddock, professor of psychiatry at Cardiff University, in defence of the DSM, is telling in this regard: ‘Diagnosing bipolar disorder, for example, can be very helpful. It can transform people’s lives, make them feel accepted and can give their symptoms meaning.’ In other words, the diagnosis of a disorder does more than simply indicate a course of treatment; it gives meaning and it makes one feel accepted.

Where once an individual might have defined and affirmed themselves in terms of a project external to them, whether as part of a church or political party, left to our own limited devices, we are expected to define and affirm ourselves in terms of our inner life - our feelings and emotions. This is why the diagnostic categories have expanded to encompass the most mundane of emotional states: as a mechanism of social mediation, a means of overcoming atomisation, the categories of mental disorder must cater for everyone. This, of course, does nothing to alter an individual’s existence; it merely reconciles him to it.

The expanding categorisation of the DSM is not a positive phenomenon by any means. But by attacking the symptom of a social malaise, critics miss the deeply rooted, social cause.


1 August, 2010

World Health Organisation warns of cancer causing chemical in fried food and much else besides

The old acrylamide scare still has legs, apparently. Acrylamide may well be bad for rats but "Acrylamide, like the majority of the other rodent carcinogens, has never been shown to be a human carcinogen"

A CHEMICAL created when starchy foods are cooked at high temperatures has been proven to cause cancer, the World Health Organisation says. The main foods in which the chemical acrylamide has been detected include fried or roasted potatoes, potato crisps, coffee and cereal-based products, including biscuits and toasted bread.

A joint WHO and United Nations expert committee on food additives agreed there was evidence that acrylamide caused cancer following laboratory tests in animals this year. "Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has assessed the new data and agrees with the conclusions," a FSANZ spokeswoman said.

"The authority has acknowledged there is a need for ongoing research into health impacts of acrylamide in food. "The FSANZ has been working with industry to reduce the levels of acrylamide in food."

FSANZ will test certain products as part of the Australian Total Diet Study to determine levels of acrylamide next year.

"The 2004 study used 100 carbohydrate-based foods and next year's follow-up will compare against these original foods," the spokeswoman said. "People need to eat a balanced diet high in fruit and vegetables to be healthy." [Rubbish! Pure dogma. Where is the double-blind proof?]

The 2004 assessment by the Australian food authority showed an estimated average daily exposure to acrylamide of 0.5 micrograms per kilogram of bodyweight for Australians.

Acrylamide is mainly formed in carbohydrate-rich foods by the reaction of asparagine (an amino acid) with reducing sugars (particularly glucose and fructose) during high-temperature cooking, usually in excess of 120C, such as baking, grilling or frying.

Methods that can decrease the amount of acrylamide in potato chips include increasing the surface area by cutting potatoes into thicker slices and washing, blanching or par-boiling to reduce the sugars in potatoes before frying.

Acrylamide was discovered in foods by Swedish scientists in 2002.


Governing your stomach with Sen. Gillibrand

There is plenty of food in "food deserts". It is just food that the elite disapprove of

The recent Capital article entitled “The Kirsten Gillibrand Diet, revealed!” appears innocuous and apolitical. As this is a menial personal epithet, it would seem to fall clearly outside the reach of government activism. Think again. According to Food Safety News:
“Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) introduced legislation to combat 'food deserts' prevalent throughout urban and rural communities across the United States.

A food desert is a large and isolated geographic area where mainstream grocery stores and access to fresh produce are absent or distant. The legislation would invest $1 billion through loans and grants to help build approximately 2,100 new grocery stores in high need areas across the country.”

Of course healthy eating is a lifestyle choice that would combat obesity and lead to healthier Americans. Gillibrand is going well beyond attempting to properly educate people- she intends to control their personal preferences.

The question becomes why do these “food deserts” exist? Gillibrand and others like First Lady Michelle Obama are using their high-profile status to publicize the existence of large areas where a grocery store would face no competition. If this untapped market has so much potential, wouldn’t someone, be it a supermarket powerhouse like Safeway or even a local entrepreneur with a fruit stand, pounce on the opportunity?

The truth is that the private sector is unwilling to invest in these areas because they believe it will fail. Fresh fruit and healthy food costs significantly more than fast food. It demands additional personal discipline to eat well and allocate the resources to buy higher quality food. Gillibrand herself deems buying her favorite food, raspberries, a “splurge,” and she is in the top 5% of income earners in our country.

I am sure Gillibrand fancies that through her “food desert” bill, food oases will spring forth. In truth, the solution to the “desertification” of cities is simple, increased demand for healthier foods would prompt the market to respond with greater access.

The “food desert” bill plans to override the personal preferences of American by using one billion dollars of their own money to entice them to eat healthier. The people of New York elected Gillibrand to represent them, not to parent them.

Gillibrand successfully dieted through the power of her own decisions; it did not take a “dessert desert” initiative to rid the Senate cafeteria of unhealthy options. The Senator should be commended for her personal success in health, but does she think that her constituents don’t have the same capability of will as she? That they need her intervention to lead a better life?


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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