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

The original version of this blog is HERE. Dissecting Leftism is HERE (and mirrored here). The Blogroll. My Home Page. Email me (John Ray) here. Other mirror sites: Greenie Watch, Political Correctness Watch, Education Watch, Immigration Watch, Gun Watch, Socialized Medicine, Eye on Britain, Recipes, Tongue Tied and Australian Politics. For a list of backups viewable in China, see here. (Click "Refresh" on your browser if background colour is missing) See here or here for the archives of this site

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

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

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

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

These kids are all "obese" according to Britain's moronic National Health Service


31 August, 2012

Marmite: the latest superfood?

Marmite -- and a similar Australian product -- Vegemite -- is a complete mystery to Americans, who generally find it revolting. But in much of the British Commonwealth it has a huge and dedicated following. I enjoy the stuff myself. I always have a large jar of Vegemite in the fridge. That's almost a patriotic duty in Australia. And it has always been clear that it has some useful nutrients in it. I doubt that the concentration of niacin is high enough for relevance to the mouse study mentioned below, however

Five months ago, crisis struck in New Zealand. Earthquake damage to a factory in Christchurch halted production of a staple foodstuff, crippling supply chains nationwide. Supermarket shelves were stripped bare and store cupboards emptied. Consumers started panic buying, hoarding secret supplies and auctioning half-full containers online for extortionate amounts.

They called it “Marmageddon”. The foodstuff? Marmite. That sticky, gloopy, salty spread, made from yeast extract. It’s so popular on the other side of the world that when Sanitarium, its main manufacturer in New Zealand, shut down, the prime minister appeared on television urging the public to stay calm. Now, Marmite could become just as in demand in Britain, after scientists labelled it the latest “superfood”, capable of helping our bodies fight off life-threatening infections.

According to research in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, high doses of niacin (or vitamin B3), one of the main ingredients in Marmite, help boost the body’s defences against staphylococcus bacteria. In tests, concentrated niacin – which produces neutrophils, a white blood cell that fights bacteria – increased our immune system’s ability to kill different strains of the bugs by up to 1,000 times. This could mark a turning point in the battle against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, such as MRSA, the deadly strain that poses a threat in hospitals.

As the saying goes, you either love Marmite or you hate it. On one side are devoted fans who worship “black gold” and would pour it on their cornflakes if they could. On the other are those who hate its yeasty, bitter tang. I’m one of the latter: for me, Marmite has the taste of stale, acrid sardines and the texture of cold treacle. They say the best things for you often taste the worst – such as cabbage, lentils and green tea – but I’d need a lot more convincing before spreading Marmite on my toast.

This isn’t the first time it has been billed as a superfood. First produced in Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire in 1902, Marmite contains concentrated brewer’s yeast, salt, spices and celery. Due to its high nutritional value, it was part of soldiers’ ration packs during the First World War, and in the Thirties, English scientist Lucy Wills found that the folic acid in Marmite could be used to treat anaemia. Its high vitamin B content also reportedly makes the spread an effective mosquito repellent.

“Marmite helps my pregnant clients get over morning sickness and it’s great for elderly people who have lost their sense of taste,” explains nutritionist Melanie Brown. “I would recommend it to vegetarians, who miss out on vitamin B12, and children who don’t eat much wholegrain bread.”

But not everyone agrees. Concerns have been raised over the high salt content of Marmite (11g per 100g), which led the local council in Ceredigion, Wales, to ban it in primary schools in 2008. More recently, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration declared Marmite illegal because of its large quantities of additives – it hasn’t been sold in Denmark since May last year.

So before you start lathering yourself in the sticky spread, be warned: indeed, scientists from Oregon State University, who carried out the latest research, have urged people not to take high doses without medical supervision. Our recommended daily intake of niacin is 17mg (13mg for women), and excessive quantities can cause skin flushes and liver damage.

For all those Marmite obsessives out there, the experts recommend a spoonful at a time. “A thin layer is all you need, not piled on your toast like chocolate spread,” says Brown. “A little of what you love won’t do you any harm.”


Eating nuts in pregnancy 'reduces chance of childhood allergy'

Finally the word is getting out

Mothers-to-be should eat nuts because doing so reduces the chances of their children developing allergies, new research has found.
The study adds to evidence that most women should not fear eating nuts in pregnancy, or while breast feeding.

Children of women who eat peanuts and other nuts during pregnancy are a third less likely to suffer from asthma by the age of seven, compared to those whose mothers avoid them, researchers discovered.

For years pregnant women were advised against eating nuts of any kind, due to concerns that they could increase the risk of allergies in their offspring.

But in 2009, the Food Standards Agency revised its advice, stating there was “no clear evidence that eating or not eating peanuts during pregnancy, breastfeeding or early childhood has any effect on the chances of a child developing a peanut allergy”.

Now Danish researchers have gone a step further - finding that eating nuts while expecting has a protective effect on babies.

British experts said they hoped the “robust” study would help discredit the myth that foods containing nuts were somehow intrinsically dangerous for most children.

The new study looked at more than 60,000 mothers and their children, following them from early pregnancy until the children were seven.

Nut eating during pregnancy reduced the chance of a child being classes as asthmatic at 18 months by about a quarter, and a third at seven years.

Writing in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Ekaterina Maslova and colleagues from the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, said: “We found that maternal peanut and tree nut intake one or more times per week during pregnancy decreases the risk of allergic disease in childhood. These results do not support avoidance of nuts during pregnancy.”

Colin Michie, chairman of nutrition at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, hoped women would take note of the findings, which mirrored others showing early exposure to nuts was beneficial for the developing immune system.

He said a rash of studies in the 1980s, that purported to find evidence of a link between nut eating during pregnancy and allergic response, had in fact been found to be weak.

Unfortunately public health officials had leapt on these and others, and advised against eating nuts. By invoking the ‘precautionary principle’ they had unwittingly done more harm than good, he said.

He went on: “Recent studies such as this robust research show the truth of granny’s wisdom, that a little bit of everything tends to be good for you.

“If your body has experienced something before, it’s not going to think that it’s an enemy and come out fighting against it, which is what happens with an allergic response.

“Scientifically speaking, if you have antigens that are present when you are building up your immune repertoire as a foetus and infant, you are less likely to regard something as foreign or dangerous when you encounter large quantities of it.”

This school of thought is exactly the same as that in the hygiene hypothesis, which contends that growing up in a home that is too clean is bad for a child, as it prevents exposure to bugs that stimulate the immune system.

Dr Michie cautioned that, while it was now largely accepted that most pregnant women and young children should not restrict their diets for fear of allergies, there were still clinical exceptions.

Women who had a “dreadful family history of allergy” to nuts should still avoid them, he said, while those unsure should consult their doctors.

Michael Walker, a food chemist, said two studies, called EAT and LEAP, were currently ongoing to determine if early introduction of potentially allergenic foods could help prevent food allergies.


30 August, 2012

Whoops! Chocolates and red wine may not be so good for you as scientists say there is no evidence they battle heart disease

Scientists claim there is no proof that chocolate and red wine cut heart disease – despite millions hoping they do.

The mechanisms by which they could make a difference have still to be explained, according to heart specialists.

The evidence that dark chocolate protects the heart remains elusive, even though a recent study showed a 37 per cent cut in risk for those eating a square a day.

This was only a 'sign', however, and not proof because the study was flawed, said Steffen Desch from the University of Leipzig Heart Centre in Germany.

He said a more conclusive trial could be difficult because the real thing would have to be tested against a 'dummy' substance that looked and tasted like chocolate.

Some small studies have claimed that chocolate lowers blood pressure and reduces inflammation in the body. But Dr Desch is unconvinced. 'Despite the studies I couldn't yet recommend dark chocolate as a prevention or treatment in cardiovascular disease,' he said.

'There's no strong evidence of a benefit and no clear explanation of an effective mechanism.' The calories contained in chocolate are likely to offset any protection to the heart, he added.

His reservations came as Dutch researchers dampened down speculation about the benefits of red wine on the heart. Even though it is also supposed to help heart health, there is no single ingredient which appears to work, they said.

They have tested resveratrol, which is found in the skin of red grapes and is believed to have a range of life-enhancing properties. Eric Sijbrands, of Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, led a series of studies which failed to replicate the findings of heart benefits from taking resveratrol.

Using it in capsules for four weeks did not lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension, he said. 'Certainly I would never actively prescribe red wine for a heart condition and, even if I was asked about it, I would be cautious,' he added.

If red wine does work, the explanation is likely to be 'complex', he said. Any benefit from moderate consumption is likely to be small and outweighed by the adverse effects of drinking too much.

The scientists were speaking at the European Congress of Cardiology in Munich yesterday.


Cannabis smoking 'permanently lowers IQ'

Teenagers who regularly smoke cannabis are putting themselves at risk of permanently damaging their intelligence, according to a landmark study. Researchers found persistent users of the drug, who started smoking it at school, had lower IQ scores as adults.

They were also significantly more likely to have attention and memory problems in later life, than their peers who abstained.

Furthermore, those who started as teenagers and used it heavily, but quit as adults, did not regain their full mental powers, found academics at King’s College London and Duke University in the US.

They looked at data from over 1,000 people from Dunedin in New Zealand, who have been followed through their lives since being born in 1972 or 1973.

Participants were asked about cannabis usage when they were 18, 21, 26, 32 and 38. Their IQ was tested at 13 and 38. In addition, each nominated a close friend or family member, who was asked about attention and memory problems.

About one in 20 admitted to starting cannabis use before the age of 18, while a further one in 10 took up the habit in the early or mid 20s.

Professor Terrie Moffitt, of KCL’s Institute of Psychiatry, who contributed to the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said “persistent users” who started as teenagers suffered a drop of eight IQ points at the age of 38, compared to when they were 13.

Persistent users meant those who used it during at least three of the ages from 18 to 38, and who said at each occasion they were smoking it on at least four days a week.

She said: “Adolescent-onset cannabis users, but not adult-onset cannabis users, showed marked IQ decline from childhood to adulthood. “For example, individuals who started using cannabis in adolescence and used it for years thereafter showed an average eight-point IQ decline.

“Quitting or reducing cannabis use did not appear to fully restore intellectual functioning among adolescent-onset former persistent cannabis users,” she said.

Although eight points did not sound much, it was not trivial, she warned.

It meant that an average person dropped far down the intelligence rankings, so that instead of 50 per cent of the population being more intelligent than them, 71 per cent were.

“Research has shown that IQ is a strong determinant of a person’s access to a college education, their lifelong total income, their access to a good job, their performance on the job, their tendency to develop heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even early death,” she said.

“Individuals who lose eight IQ points in their teens and 20s may be disadvantaged, relative to their same-age peers, in most of the important aspects of life and for years to come.”

The cognitive abilities of the 10 per cent of people who started in their 20s - who could loosely be classed as college smokers - also suffered while they were still smoking.

However, if they gave up at least a year before their IQ test at 38, their intelligence recovered, suggesting their brains were more resilient and bounced back.

Prof Moffitt said adolescent brains appeared "more vulnerable to damage and disruption" from cannabis than those of fully mature adults.

Reliable figures on cannabis usage among today’s British teens and twentysomethings are hard to come by.

But Prof Moffitt said there was growing concern in the US that cannabis was increasingly being seen as a safe alternative to tobacco. “This is the first year that more secondary school students in the US are using cannabis than tobacco, according to the Monitoring the Future project at the University of Michigan,” she noted. “Fewer now think cannabis is damaging than tobacco. But cannabis is harmful for the very young.”


29 August, 2012

Middle class people more likely to do what the do-gooders tell them

Whether that is what makes them healthier is not establshed, however

The middle classes are getting healthier by giving up bad habits as the less well-off fail to get the message, a report has found.

The increasing social class divide in health will put ‘unavoidable pressure’ on an already hard-pressed NHS, it says.

The report, from the influential King’s Fund health think-tank, says many poorer people are failing to give up habits such as smoking and eating junk food.

Researchers analysed official data from England covering four behaviours linked to disease and early death: smoking; excess alcohol use; poor diet and sedentary lifestyles.

These bad habits account for almost half the burden of ill health in developed countries and are linked to everything from heart problems and diabetes to cancer.

They found the number of people engaging in three or four of these risky behaviours fell from 33 per cent in 2003 to 25 per cent in 2008.

But the ‘significant’ change was very different among the social classes. The report found ‘these reductions have been seen mainly among those in higher socioeconomic and educational groups’.

Those with no educational qualifications were more than five times as likely as those with degrees to engage in four key damaging behaviours in 2008, compared with three times as likely in 2003.

‘The health of the overall population will improve as a result of the decline in these behaviours, but the poorest and those with the least education will benefit least, leading to widening health inequalities and unavoidable pressure on the NHS’, the report says.

It found the better off someone was, the more likely they were to have begun living a healthier life during 2003-08 – when the Labour government embarked on a campaign for healthier living.

David Buck, a senior fellow at the King’s Fund who was head of health inequalities at the Department of Health until 2010, led the research. He said: ‘The widening... gap is due to the improvement in those at the top, and, to a lesser degree, those in the middle, not because those at the bottom have got worse per se. They’re stuck in a rut.’

Those from poorer backgrounds or with less education are more likely to develop long-term conditions such as cancer and diabetes earlier and to experience them more severely, Mr Buck said. He added: ‘As well as this being a public health problem, this does also store up problems for the NHS in future.’

The report warns about 70 per cent of adults in England still engage in two of the four habits.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has pledged to ‘improve the health of the poorest fastest’, with the better-off currently living seven years longer on average.

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘We are working hard to tackle health inequalities – from next year, local authorities will receive a specific public health budget for the first time, targeted at the areas that need it most.’


An aspirin a day could help in fight against depression among the elderly

The effects found below were slight in absolute terms but the evidence for benefit from aspirin intake does seem wide-ranging

Taking an aspirin pill a day could help combat depression in the elderly. Trials found a regular dose reduced the risk in sufferers by around 40 per cent.

It seems to work by lowering levels of homocysteine, an acid in the blood thought to increase the chances of heart attacks and strokes when levels are too high.

Now some scientists think excess homocysteine may also be a factor in poor mental health and that nearly one in six cases of depression in the elderly could be avoided by using aspirin to lower levels in the blood.

Up to 20 per cent of us suffer depression at some point in our lives, with women affected more than men.

And the elderly are at high risk because of the effect from declining health, bereavements and loneliness.

To test whether lowering homocysteine levels prevented depression, scientists at the University of Western Australia in Perth studied 3,700 men aged between 69 and 87 and monitored their medical records to see which ones had a history of depression.

They were also tested to see if they had raised levels of homocysteine. The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, showed men with excessive homocysteine levels were 60 per cent more likely to suffer with depression.

The report said: 'This study showed, for the first time, that aspirin is associated with a significantly lower risk of depression among older men with high homocysteine.'

Researchers say it is still not clear how homocysteine makes someone more susceptible to depression, but the men with high homocysteine who took a daily aspirin saw their risk of depression drop 43 per cent.

Taking vitamin B supplements, which can also lower homocysteine, did not have the same effect. US scientists recently discovered daily aspirin users are 16 per cent less likely to die if they develop any type of cancer.

Other studies suggest the drug can also cut the risk of prostate cancer by almost 30 per cent and bowel cancer by up to 60 per cent.

However aspirin can cause stomach bleeding in around one in a thousand patients.

Emer O’Neill, chief executive of the Depression Alliance, said although the research was ‘interesting’, patients should not change their treatment because of the findings.


28 August, 2012

Could drinking red wine help keep old people steady on their feet?

Mouse study only -- using gigantic doses

Red wine isn’t usually associated with being steady on your feet. But a ‘miracle ingredient’ in it could have that effect on pensioners, scientists claim. They say that resveratrol, which is already credited with a host of health benefits from cutting cholesterol to warding off cancer, boosts balance and improves mobility.

In tests, old mice that were given the plant chemical for a few weeks became just as sprightly as young animals.

If resveratrol has similar effects on the human body, it could help prevent the painful falls and fractures from which many pensioners struggle to recover.

Falls are one of the leading causes of death in the over-75s, and half of elderly women die within two years of a fall.

The US researchers said: ‘Our study suggests that a natural compound like resveratrol, which can be obtained through dietary supplementation or diet itself, could actually decrease some of the motor deficiencies that are seen in our ageing population.

‘That would therefore increase an ageing person’s quality of life and decrease their risk of hospitalisation due to slips and falls.’ The researchers, from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, fed resveratrol to young and old mice for eight weeks and regularly tested their ability to walk along a rodent-sized beam.

Initially, the older mice struggled but, over time, they became just as deft on their paws as the younger animals.

An American Chemical Society conference heard that it is not entirely clear how resveratrol, which is found in the grape skins that give red wine its colour, improves balance.

But rather than it strengthening bones or muscles, studies on cells in a dish suggest it helps ailing brain cells survive.

But don’t reach for the wine bottle just yet – you would fall over long before you drank the required amount.

Despite its potential in lab tests, resveratrol is so poorly absorbed by the human body that someone would have to drink several hundred glasses of wine a day to get the benefits enjoyed by the mice.

The researchers are now looking for compounds that work just as well but at much lower quantities.

They say that while there are medicines available to help improve balance and co-ordination in people with diseases such as Parkinson's, there is nothing for otherwise healthy pensioners who are not as steady on their feet as they used to be.


Anorexia is genetically transmitted

As it is clearly a mental illness in the OCD category, this is what you would expect

Claire Vickery was not surprised when scientists announced that eating disorders have a genetic link, because she and her two daughters suffered from the illness.

Eating disorders specialist Professor Howard Steiger, of McGill University in Montreal, told a conference in Adelaide last week that new discoveries in epigenetics show mothers pass a genetic predisposition to eating disorders to their children.

"The science of epigenetics is relatively new," he said at the National Eating Disorders Collaboration National Workshop. "Epigenetics helps explain how adverse development, stress, malnutrition and other influences can affect development of mental-health problems - including eating disorders."

Ms Vickery, 56, said she had bulimia from the ages of 16 to 29. "I'm sure I'm carrying the gene."

However, the president of the Australian and New Zealand Academy for Eating Disorders, Dr Anthea Fursland, said that genes alone would not result in a child developing an eating disorder. "Genetic influences do play a part but they will not cause an eating disorder on their own," she said. "Eating disorders arise as result of a combination of factors but the common factor in every case is dieting."

Ms Vickery's two daughters, Anna and Laura, both had eating disorders when they were younger. They have all recovered but Ms Vickery's experience led her to set up the Butterfly Foundation, which encourages prevention, treatment and support of those affected by eating disorders.

Professor Steiger said epigenetics would play a large role in understanding eating disorders. "If eating disorders are about anything, they're about the ways in which environments switch on hereditary vulnerabilities," he said.

"It will give us a better understanding how it is that some people develop an eating disorder. It's not due to moral weakness or character flaws, but real susceptibilities, for which we can find real physical evidence."

By identifying the genes, he hopes to develop a test and even medication.

One of Ms Vickery's daughters, Anna Spraggett, who is 33 and has three children, said she was excited about the discovery. "It's a positive step forward to finding a cure and treatment," she said.

While she thinks that environmental factors play a part, Ms Vickery said if parents were aware their children were susceptible, they could be mindful of stressful triggers.

"This is not about guilt for mothers," she said. "But if there was a take-home message, it's to choose your words with children … no fat talk in the household - or ever, in fact."


27 August, 2012

Breastfeeding fanatics

Class told baby formula 'was like AIDS'

EXPECTANT mums and their partners were told baby formula was "like AIDS" during an Australian Breastfeeding Association class. Couples were also repeatedly told a baby died "every 30 seconds" from formula feeding, prompting a rebuke from doctors.

"Formula is a little bit like AIDS," one of the association's leading counsellors told couples in the breastfeeding education class.

"Nobody actually dies from AIDS; what happens is AIDS destroys your immune system and then you just die of anything and that's what happens with formula. It provides no antibodies.

"Every 30 seconds a baby dies from infections due to a lack of breastfeeding and the use of bottles, artificial milks and other risky products. Every 30 seconds."

The association has received $4.3 million from the Federal Government during the past five years and its patron is Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

The counsellor is commended in the ABA's latest annual report for taking the highest number of calls to the body's taxpayer-subsidised National Breastfeeding Helpline. Other documents show she helped more than 900 callers in 2010 and was honoured at a branch conference last year.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians said the baby mortality cited was "certainly not true in Australia" and could be "highly frightening" for new parents.

"There are better ways to try to explain the benefits of breastmilk," paediatric and child health division president Susan Moloney said. "We highly support breastfeeding. It is the optimal form of nutrition for any human infant. But in the cases where it isn't able to be done, formula feeding is safe in Australia."

Australian Breastfeeding Association president Rachel Fuller immediately launched an investigation into the comments.

"These statements were inappropriate in this situation and the individual concerned has acted outside the instructions and guidelines given," Ms Fuller said. "We take such matters seriously and are following this matter up internally today."

An expectant mother attended the class at the ABA's Brisbane office on behalf of The Sunday Mail after a complaint about a previous session.

A dozen couples paid $85 each, including a compulsory membership fee, to attend. Similar sessions are held regularly around the country. "Of course, there's the higher IQ and all of the diseases that you don't get," the breastfeeding counsellor said in her opening remarks.

"We used to talk about all those sorts of things, but we don't talk about any of those any more." She added: "A couple of years ago I broke this leg, quite badly. Nobody said to me 'we have this wonderful range of wooden legs now' ... they fixed the leg."

Like wooden-leg salespeople, formula companies would try to promote benefits, attendees heard. "That's what formula is; it's pure sales pitch. They don't say 'look, a baby dies from this product every 30 seconds' ... they forget about that bit."

No information was offered about deaths in Australia.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Alex Markwell said the statements were "inappropriate" and could amount to "scaremongering".

"I just don't think those comments are helpful in the long term. We have enough evidence that shows breastfeeding is best wherever possible. But women who for whatever reason are unable to breastfeed should not be ostracised," Dr Markwell said.

Why we went undercover:

To gain a true picture of what was being told to couples one of our reporters, who is an expectant mother, attended the class as a member of the public. The Australian Press Council and Media Alliance guidelines allow for undercover investigations in circumstances of significant public interest and when no alternative is available.


I have personally encouraged young mothers I know to breastfeed but have also been supportive when they have found it too difficult -- JR

Little need to chew over secret to long life

I like the last sentence below

Doctors, dietitians and divines have long sought to identify the secret of a long life. The answer? Minestrone soup, according to nine siblings from Sardinia who have been recognised as the world's oldest in terms of combined age.

The oldest member of the Melis family, Consolata, was turning 105 yesterday, while the youngest of her siblings, Mafalda, is 78.

"To have such a large number of living siblings with an average age of more than 90 years is incredibly rare," the editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records, Craig Glenday, said on Tuesday of the Melises, who hail from Perdasdefogu in the mountainous Ogliastra province.

"We believe Ogliastra contains the highest number of centenarians per capita in the world."

Scientists have tried to work out what makes Sardinians live so long - 371 are over the age of 100, or 22 in every 100,000 - and credit genetic heritage, a frugal Mediterranean diet and a hardy lifestyle.

"We eat real food, meaning lots of minestrone and little meat, and we are always working," said Alfonso Melis, 89, who narrowly escaped being captured by German soldiers in World War II.

"Every free moment I have, I am down at my vineyard or at the allotment where I grow beans, aubergines, peppers and potatoes," he said. "You just keep working and you eat minestrone, beans and potatoes," added his older sister Claudia, 99.

Consolata, who has had 14 children, nine of whom are still alive, plus 24 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren, still cooks and feeds her goats.

"My grandchildren have washing machines, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners, and when I hear them say, 'I am stressed', I don't understand," she told Corriere della Sera.


26 August, 2012

Amusing "junk" food idiocy in the NYT

Economist Don Boudreaux has a laugh at some addled Leftist hatred in the letter to the New York Times below:

Asserting that “Not everyone can afford fresh fruits and vegetables,” Mark Bittman pleads for policies that would replace today’s large commercial farms with smaller farms (“Celebrate the Farmer!” Aug. 22). He writes: “The naysayers will yell, ‘this mode of farming will not produce enough corn and soy to feed our junk food and cheeseburger habit,’ and that’s exactly the point. It would produce enough food so that we can all eat well”.

Not all food experts agree with Mr. Bittman’s suggestion that agricultural markets and policies result in too little availability of fresh foods and, hence, prevent Americans – and especially poor Americans – from eating well. Only last September one expert found that “In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food…. In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people” – a price, this expert reported, that is half of what it costs at McDonald’s for the same number of people to dine on burgers, fries, and soda. (This fact, of course, means that people who eat lots of hyperprocessed foods choose to do so, and even pay a premium to indulge that preference.)

Oh, I almost forgot: the expert who found that junk food is more pricey than are many healthier options such as “rice, grains, pasta, beans, fresh vegetables” is your very own Mark Bittman writing in your very own pages (“Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” Sept. 24).


The empty-headed self-righteousness of the original NYT article is nauseating so I am pleased that Boudreaux has exposed the author for what he is -- JR

The "incorrect" diet that seems to beat fibromyalgia

When I wrote in the Daily Mail about how I’d overcome fibromyalgia, the response from readers was overwhelming. Clearly, many people, like me, have been floored by the condition — and the lack of effective treatment — and were anxious for more details.

Unfortunately, no one really knows what causes fibromyalgia and there’s no cure. Treatments such as painkillers rarely do more than ease the symptoms (characterised by debilitating muscle pain).

Many patients end up giving up work and normal daily life — I longed to retire early from my job as a GP just so I could rest all day.

After two years of misery, my condition was getting worse — but I then came across the theory that fibromyalgia may be linked to oxalates, which are compounds found in ‘healthy’ foods such as fruit, vegetables, salad, nuts and beans.

I cut these out of my diet and overnight my symptoms disappeared — the disabling muscle pains, tingling legs, fatigue and inability to concentrate all went. But if I ate foods rich in oxalates, the symptoms returned within hours.

Why would this be so? Oxalates are a kind of ‘natural’ plant pesticide and if the body doesn’t excrete them properly for some reason, it’s possible they accumulate in the muscles, brain and urinary system, causing a range of problems.

But though this made sense, no one could have been as surprised as me that the low oxalate diet actually helped.

And it really did — I was so happy to function normally again, to be able to run instead of amble, do my housework, carry on working and feel animated again.

I must stress that by no means am I an expert in fibromyalgia — eminent doctors and researchers, such as those behind the Fibromyalgia Association UK, have spent years studying this condition, and done much to support sufferers.

Indeed, the article I wrote was about my personal experiences and those of a small number of my patients.

But I can’t believe we are unique — I’m willing to believe my physiology may be a bit odd, but felt surely there would be others in the same situation......

The important thing to remember is that this approach appears to go against the healthy eating principles you’ve been following for years.

Your fruit and vegetable intake is going to be limited to low oxalate produce, which will likely result in you eating much less than before (though this is no reason not to get your five a day — you just won’t have a wide range of fruit and vegetables to choose from).

Going low oxalate also means avoiding healthy wholewheat products and potatoes.

I’d also recommend avoiding vitamin C supplements — in large doses, this vitamin is metabolised into oxalate.

Some low-oxalate foods, such as sponge cake and shortbread biscuits, are high in sugar, so shouldn’t be eaten to excess.

However, there are plenty of low-oxalate foods that are low in sugar, such as eggs, meat and cheese.


24 August, 2012

Living proof that the food Fascists are wrong

Some more proof of extremely limited diets being quite viable

When William Staub died of natural causes at the age of 96 last month, his longevity seemed a tribute to the benefits of healthy living. After all, in the Sixties Staub invented the first mass-produced running treadmill, which found its way into millions of homes and gyms. He was still using his own treadmill right up to the last weeks of his life.

But there was also something odd about his lifestyle — an extremely restricted diet that runs contrary to all sensible ideas of nutrition. For most of his long life, Mr Staub lived solely on tomatoes, plain toast and tea — occasionally brightened by a slice of cheese and lettuce. How can anyone exist on such a regime for a month — let alone many decades?

Mr Staub’s story is just the latest in a long line of strange tales of people who, for years, will eat only a few odd foods, such as cheese and chips, or even just Monster Munch crisps (and only the one flavour, at that).

Why are they still alive? After all, we are constantly reminded how we must enjoy balanced diets that include five-a-day fruit and veg, along with the right proportions of protein, dairy and carbs, and all the vitamins, minerals that a body needs (and not too much of anything, remember!).

Nevertheless, thousands get along by eating far more restricted fare every day of their lives. Infamously, Lord Lucan would only ever have the same food for dinner: pork chops.

According to Muriel Spark, the novelist who researched Lucan’s life, the missing peer’s idea of variety was to have the chops glazed in gelatine during the summer months, while in winter he would have them grilled. Lucan’s friends claimed this as evidence that he was too dull to have done anything so bold as to attempt to murder his wife, kill his nanny by mistake and then disappear.

But it is not only the famous or infamous who are affected. Last month Abi Stroud, an 18-year-old from Newport, South Wales, revealed that she has eaten only cheese and chips for the past eight years. The regime might sound like teenage heaven to some kids, but Stroud says it has been utter hell. She eats three blocks of mature cheddar and three bags of chips a week. She will eat white bread — but only one particular brand.

The A-level student says that this is not through choice. She has a deep phobia of new foods. They terrify her, she says. Even the sight of a banana being peeled makes her gag.

As a result, her social life is as sorely restricted as her diet. ‘I never go out for dinner with friends or eat with other people because so I’m worried about being expected to eat something else,’ she told reporters. ‘When people ask me to try something different, I feel sick and dizzy. A teacher tried to get me to eat a chicken nugget and I burst into tears.’

Now Miss Stroud has been diagnosed by specialists with a condition called Selective Eating Disorder. Her food aversion began when she was ten, and she believes it was linked to the death of her grandmother. Her condition saw her weight spiral to 15st when she was 16. Exercise then saw her slim down to 13st.

She is off to university next month, and she hopes her diagnosis can help her to break her phobic cycle. ‘Now I know it’s not just me being a fussy eater, I’m determined to try something new,’ she says.

Selective eating disorder (SED) is such a newly identified condition that it has not yet been accepted into the ‘bible’ of psychiatry, the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is expected to be included in the 2013 edition.

Meanwhile, The British Journal of Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry has described SED as: ‘A little-studied phenomenon of eating a highly limited range of foods, associated with an unwillingness to try new foods. When this happens social avoidance, anxiety and conflict can result.’

Pilot studies in America have found many thousands of people who seem to fit the criteria for the disorder. But SED should not be confused with normal childhood fussiness.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, about 12 per cent of three-year-olds suffer from persistent selective eating — extremely faddy about their food — but fewer than one per cent carry it into adulthood.

Debbie Taylor is one of this minority. For more than a decade, the 32-year-old has eaten nothing but crisps. For the past two years, she has eaten only beef-flavoured Monster Munch for breakfast, lunch and dinner — two family-size bags a day.

The mother of a 12-year-old son, she says she has always been a fussy eater. ‘I can remember my mum trying everything to get me to eat healthily, cooking spaghetti bolognese and chopping up veg, which I refused to eat. She finally said: “If you don’t eat that, there’s nothing else.” I replied: “Fine. I don’t want anything.”’

Her food aversions led to anorexia and bulimia as a schoolgirl. In her late teens, she ate only dry-roasted peanuts, and bread sprinkled with salt. At the age of 25, she bought a packet of barbecue-flavoured crisps and fell in love with them. ‘I didn’t eat anything else for the next eight years, until the day I decided to go wild and try Monster Munch. They had been a childhood treat, and they became my crisp of choice,’ she has said.

The amazing thing is that Ms Taylor looks remarkably healthy, as do many selective eaters.

So how on earth do their bodies manage to survive? The secret lies in the human frame’s remarkable diversity and adaptability, according to Rick Miller, a registered dietitian and spokesman for the British Dietetic Association.

He says the dietary guidelines put out by Government experts are our best scientific guess at a one-size-fits-all recommendation. But our individual nutritional needs vary widely — and at the far edges of this spectrum are people whose bodies exist happily on strange diets.

‘The human body is a fascinating organism. It has been built for survival, and people’s nutritional requirements can differ from person to person,’ Mr Miller explains.

‘The official recommended daily intakes of nutrients — called Dietary Reference Values (DRVs) are only a guide. There are individuals who can survive on very little, as well as those who need a lot more every day. So some people can be apparently healthy on very restricted diets. However, they may be missing out on vital vitamins and minerals.’

On top of this, our systems can hoard scarce nutrients, which may also help people to survive on bizarre food regimes.

Mr Miller adds: ‘The body can store minerals, iron and B vitamins in the liver, so people on restricted diets can rely on their own stores for a while. People with SED may also have tastes that reflect their body’s vital nutritional needs. ‘We see cravings for certain nutrients in pregnant women, and there might be something similar happening with some selective eaters.’

And he has a warning for healthy-diet evangelists: the worst thing you could ever do to someone with SED is to make them suddenly eat a ‘proper’ meal.

‘If you force someone with SED to suddenly take on lots of other nutrients, it can send their body into a form of shock,’ he says, ‘This is called “re-feeding syndrome” and can have serious consequences, such as causing heart attacks.’

Of course, no one with conventional tastes should try voluntarily eating a severely restricted diet. But if one had to do it, what would be the best thing to eat?

Scientists have looked into this question and found that Sophie Ray, 19, from Wrexham, North Wales, might be on the right track. She has reportedly eaten nothing but cheese and tomato pizza for the past eight years after a attack of the stomach bug gastroenteritis left her with an extreme fear of food. She says: ‘I love pizza. The thought of trying other foods makes me very anxious, I feel sick and clam up.’

Naturally, she would be healthier on a full-spectrum diet, but an investigation in 1997 by Dr Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, has shown real cheese pizza with real tomato sauce can provide us with sufficient nutrients to survive.

Professor Nestle says pizza mixes a lot of ingredients and can provide protein (from wheat crust and cheese) and essential nutrients, such as vitamin B12 (again from cheese) and vitamin C (from tomato), along with antioxidants and other nutrients. The olive oil used for good Italian pizza provides both calories and vitamin E.

‘Vitamin D can come from the sun, there is a fair amount of vitamin A in tomatoes,’ she says. ‘And to top it off, tomato sauce is a good source of nutrients such as lycopenes, with their rich anti-oxidant potential. ‘If you are stuck on a desert island that happened to have a pizza parlour, you could do a lot worse.’

Only one food might be better — it is the food that many of us consumed solely for six months or more. And that is breast milk.

According to Jo Ann Hattner, a nutrition consultant and the author of Gut Insight, a book about digestive health: ‘Mother’s milk is a complete food. We may add some solid foods to an infant’s diet in the first year of life to provide more iron and other nutrients, but there is a little bit of everything in human milk.’

Technically, adults could survive on breast milk, too. The only problem (outside of the comedy world of Little Britain) would be finding a woman willing to provide it — and in sufficient quantities to keep a grown-up supplied.


Junk science about junk food

In the fight against obesity, should science matter? It depends on whom you ask. The answer may surprise you, and could make you realize that you shouldn't always trust the do-gooders.

A study published in Pediatrics magazine this month shows an association between obesity reduction and states with strict school rules against salty and fatty foods and sugary drinks. The researchers were properly prudent to caution that while they found a link between less obesity and rules against goodies, their study did not prove causation.

They noted that they did not control for key factors that could explain the results some other way. The conclusion of the study is clear and should be undisputed: These laws may, but don't necessarily, make a difference -- the same way umbrellas may be a leading cause of rain.

But consider the reaction from the executive director of the New York State Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Alliance: In response to the accurate NBC News headline, "School junk food bans may really help curb obesity," Nancy Huehnergarth tweeted, "Worth repeating. School food policy works!" But that's not repeating; it's distorting. Neither the study, the headline nor the story said the bans work.

There's nothing wrong with promoting a policy agenda, but it's wrong to mislead the public by knowingly twisting the findings of a study to serve that agenda. Unfortunately, policymakers and the public tend to give a free ride to anyone fighting obesity, smoking or any societal ill. If science is to determine policy, that is a mistake. We shouldn't blindly trust those who mislead us even if they want to save the world.

Similar fuzzy thinking applies in what turns out to be an asymmetrical battle over disclosure of funding and the credibility of scientific research. The study itself appears to be scientifically sound and comes with appropriate caveats. It was partially funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, or RWJF, which most media outlets disclosed. However, that disclosure is woefully incomplete; a distortion by omission. The typical reader would consider the funding source to bolster the credibility of the report. But I've found no coverage that also discloses that critical fact that the RWJF is one of the nation's leading proponents of the very laws being evaluated for their efficacy. Everyone might safely assume pretzel purveyors oppose the laws, but not everyone will know that RWJF has a dog in the fight.

Don't disbelieve the study just because it was funded by the RWJF, but be aware of the potential for bias, just as you would if a study funded by Coca-Cola reached the opposite result.

The same caution is also in order even for today's government-funded studies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pushing the limits of federal law by using taxpayer dollars, first from the stimulus bill and now from the health care law, to lobby for policy changes at the state and local level. Remember the Bloomberg administration's controversial (and unscientific) subway ads, where soda turned into globs of fat? Those were the type of federally funded campaigns meant to lay the groundwork for soda taxes. Less controversial are federally funded studies meant to justify the policies. The government isn't funding studies to determine whether these laws work; it is funding them to justify a position it has already taken.

If you ignore these principles you aren't following the science -- you are biased in favor of nanny state laws. That's fine, but in that case, don't pretend the science is on your side.


23 August, 2012

Green tea extract 'eradicates cancer tumours'

A very preliminary study in laboratory glassware only

Powerful new anti-cancer drugs based on green tea could soon be developed after scientists found an extract from the beverage could make almost half of tumours vanish. The University of Strathclyde team made 40 per cent of human skin cancer tumours disappear using the compound, in a laboratory study.

Green tea has long been suspected of having anti-cancer properties and the extract, called epigallocatechin gallate, has been investigated before. However, this is the first time researchers have managed to make it effective at shrinking tumours.

Previous attempts to capitalise on its cancer-fighting properties have failed because scientists used intravenous drips, which failed to deliver enough of the extract to the tumours themselves.

So, the Strathclyde team devised a “targeted delivery system”, piggy-backing the extract on proteins that carry iron molecules, which cancer tumours Hoover up. The lab test on one type of human skin cancer showed 40 per cent of tumours disappeared after a month of treatment, while an additional 30 per cent shrank.

Dr Christine Dufès, a senior lecturer at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, who led the research, said: “These are very encouraging results which we hope could pave the way for new and effective cancer treatments.

“When we used our method, the green tea extract reduced the size of many of the tumours every day, in some cases removing them altogether. "By contrast, the extract had no effect at all when it was delivered by other means, as every one of these tumours continued to grow.

“This research could open doors to new treatments for what is still one of the biggest killer diseases in many countries.” She added: “I was expecting good results, but not as strong as these.”

Dr Dufès said population studies had previously indicated that green tea had anti-cancer properties, and scientists had since identified the active compound as epigallocatechin gallate.

But the Strathclyde researchers were the first to delivery it in high enough doses to tumours to have an effect.

She explained: “The problems with this extract is that when it’s administered intravenously, it goes everywhere in the body, so when it gets to the tumours it’s too diluted. “With the targeted delivery system, it’s taken straight to the tumours without any effect on normal tissue.”

Cancer scientists are increasingly using targeted delivery to improve results, relying on the many different ‘receptors’ that tumours have for different biological substances.

In this instance, the scientists used the fact that tumours have receptors for transferrin, a plasma protein which transports iron through the blood.

The results have been published in the journal Nanomedicine.

The “ultimate objective” was a clinical trial in humans - but Dr Dufès said that was some way off. “We have got to optimise the delivery system and therapeutic effect first,” she said.

Dr Julie Sharp, from Cancer Research UK, said: “A few studies have shown that extracts from green tea may have some effect on cancer cells in the lab but this has not yet been backed up by research in humans.” She added: “It’s far too soon to say if enjoying a cup of green tea has any wider benefits in combating cancer but we know that a healthy balanced diet can help to reduce the risk.”


Midwives told to drop ‘30-second rule’ on cutting umbilical cord after delaying longer shown to benefit babies

This has been known for some time. It seems a pity that it is not already generally implemented

A radical change in the way babies are delivered will see midwives delay cutting the umbilical cord following evidence that it improves the health of newborns.

The Royal College of Midwives is preparing to update its guidance to recommend delayed clamping for most women who give birth in hospitals, which will affect about 90 per cent of all births.

Current guidance from the RCM and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is to cut and clamp the umbilical cord within 30 seconds to protect babies from too much exposure to a synthetic hormone given to mothers to speed up labour and deliver the placenta.

It was also thought to help prevent a baby getting jaundice, a condition that causes yellowing of the skin, and was encouraged because of the risk of bleeding in new mothers.

However, doctors have long been divided over the issue – and studies have now found that delaying the procedure by just a few minutes has significant health benefits.

It is thought being connected to the maternal blood supply for longer helps protect babies against iron deficiency and anaemia, and allows vital stem cells to be transferred.

Increasing numbers of women have also been asking midwives to delay cutting and clamping to allow more blood to drain from the placenta into the baby, and also simply so they are connected for longer.

The new guidance is being developed and will be announced at the College’s conference in November.

Mervi Jokinen, practice and standards development adviser at the RCM, said: ‘We are supporting the midwives not to clamp the cord immediately. We’ve not finalised the guidelines and in terms of how long it will recommend delaying clamping for, we don’t know.

‘Guidelines drawn up by different organisations vary from one to five minutes, and even up to ten.

‘Most midwives will have to use their judgment in terms of the clinical situation. It’s more likely to happen within three to five minutes.’

Mrs Jokinen added that the change was driven by the evidence from clinical studies, but also because women were increasingly asking for midwives to delay clamping.

‘The issue here was studies started to show that with early clamping you’re denying a baby a boost of blood and it was recognised that haemoglobin levels were much lower later on,’ she said.

‘It is said that babies who are healthy and well would benefit from greater haemoglobin levels. Women have also asked us to give their babies to them while they are attached.’

A study from Sweden found a delay of three minutes could reduce the risk of iron deficiency later in childhood as well as anaemia in newborns, which can lead to poor brain development.

At four months, fewer than one per cent of infants who had delayed clamping were deficient in iron compared with six per cent of those clamped immediately. There was no increase in jaundice or other complications thought to be linked to delayed clamping.

In an editorial published in the same journal as the study, Dr Patrick van Rheenen, a consultant paediatrician at Groningen University in the Netherlands, said: ‘Delayed clamping clearly favours the child.

‘How much evidence is needed to convince obstetricians and midwives that it is worthwhile to wait for three minutes to allow for placental transfusion?’

A major US study published in 2007, which involved more than 1,900 newborns, found a two-minute delay was enough to reduce the risk of anaemia by half and low iron levels in the blood by a third.

The World Health Organisation dropped early clamping from its guidelines in 2007 and best practice on the issue varies across Europe. Guidelines in the UK, drawn up by NICE, recommend early clamping although an update is due in 2014.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists updated its guidance last year to recommend the cord ‘should not be clamped earlier than necessary, based on a clinical assessment of the situation’.

Although hospitals will still be able to decide their own birth protocols, it is likely that they will follow RCM policy.

David Hutchon, a retired consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist who has campaigned for years for a change in policy, said: ‘This is very welcome. ‘But whether doctors will take any notice is another issue. ‘There’s a lot of ignorance out there and people have just blindly followed guidance for years without questioning it.’


22 August, 2012

Mouse study: Bowel cancer 'could be fuelled by E coli stomach bug'

Or is it that mice with cancer are more likely to get e-coli through weakened resistance?

One of Britain’s most common cancers could be fuelled by the E coli stomach bug, scientists believe.

The breakthrough raises the prospect of a vaccine against bowel cancer, which claims 16,000 lives a year and is the second most common form of the disease in women after breast cancer and the third most diagnosed in men.

The elderly, who are most at risk of the bowel cancer, could also be screened for the ‘sticky’ strain of E coli that makes a DNA-damaging poison.

Although the idea that a bug is involved in cancer might seem strange, it is not unheard of, with a virus being to blame for most cases of cervical cancer and a bacterium strongly linked to stomach cancer.

Now, tests on mice and people, carried out in the UK and US, have pointed to E coli being a strong suspect in bowel cancer.

The concern surrounds a version that sticks well to the inside of the lower bowel, or colon. It also contains genes that make a poison which causes the type of damage to DNA usually seen in cancer.

Although we usually think of E coli as causing food poisoning, these strains had been thought to live in the bowel without causing any problems.

However, tests show them to be much more common in bowel cancer patients than in healthy people.

Two-thirds of the 21 samples taken from bowel cancer patients contained the bug, compared to just one in five of those taken from healthy people, the journal Science reports.

Experiments also showed that mice inoculated with the bug are at very high odds of developing bowel cancer – as long as the E coli carries the poison-making ‘pks’ genes.

Liverpool University’s Dr Barry Campbell, a co-author of the study, said: ‘The research suggests that Ecoli has a much wider involvement in the development of colon cancer than previously thought.

‘It is important to build on these findings to understand why this type of bacteria, containing the pks genes, is present in some people and not in others.’

Professor Jonathan Rhodes said: ‘The bottom line message is that there seems to be a strong association between a type of E coli and the development of colon cancer.

‘And given that this type of E coli is specifically able to damage DNA and inflict the sort of damage you get in a cancer, it is very likely it has a causative role, at least in some patients.’

The scientists, who collaborated with scientists from the University of North Carolina, aren’t sure why some people who have the bug go onto develop cancer and others don’t.

But factors such as genes and diet are probably important.

Professor Rhodes said: ‘The literature on colon cancer taken as a whole suggests that having the right genes, taking exercise, possibly taking an aspirin a day, limiting red meat and eating plenty of leafy green vegetables all have a protective effect.’

If the link is confirmed, it could lead to tests for the rogue form of E coli being included in bowel cancer screening for the elderly.

In the long-term, a vaccine that stops the bug from taking root is also possible, added the professor.

There is a precedent for this – the HPV vaccine which is given to teenage girls wards off infection by the human papilloma virus - the bug behind the majority of cases of cervical cancer.

Henry Scowcroft, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘This is an intriguing study in mice suggesting that the bacteria in our gut may play a role in the development of bowel cancer.

‘This would make sense, as we know that being infected with bacteria called H pylori can increase the chances of developing stomach cancer.

‘But since this study only involved mice and is still at an early stage, it’s not yet clear whether E coli is actually linked to bowel cancer in humans at all, let alone whether this knowledge could be used to help improve things for patients or people at risk.’


How your blood group can affect your heart disease risk: Britons with 'O' type 'benefit from natural protection'

The Japanese are fanatical about blood type. Maybe they are onto something! The effects below are however too small to be given much credence

A person’s blood group helps determine their risk of heart disease, a study has found. Researchers claim almost half of Britons with blood group O, the most common blood type, benefit from some natural protection against the illness.

However, they said people from groups A and B are more at risk, while people from AB, the rarest blood group, are the most vulnerable.

The findings, published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, are based on an analysis of two large US health and lifestyle studies.

The Harvard University researchers concluded people with blood group AB were 23 per cent more likely to suffer from heart disease. Group B blood increased the risk by 11 per cent, and type A by 5 per cent.

Lead researcher Professor Lu Qi, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said ‘While people cannot change their blood type, our findings may help physicians better understand who is at risk for developing heart disease.

‘It’s good to know your blood type the same way you should know your cholesterol or blood pressure numbers. 'If you know you’re at higher risk, you can reduce the risk by adopting a healthier lifestyle, such as eating right, exercising and not smoking.’

The study compared blood groups and heart disease incidence but did not analyse the complex biological mechanisms involved.

There is evidence that type A blood is associated with higher levels of ‘bad’ type of cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL), which is more likely to fur up the arteries.

AB blood is linked to inflammation, which also plays an important role in artery damage.

People with type O blood may benefit from a substance that is thought to assist blood flow and reduce clotting.

The researchers pointed out the study group was mostly white Caucasian and it is not clear whether the same findings applied to other ethnic groups.

Prof Qi said ‘It would be interesting to study whether people with different blood types respond differently to lifestyle intervention, such as diet.’

Scientists from Pennsylvania University last year found the same gene that causes people to be blood group ‘O’ gives them some protection against heart attack.

But experts warn that while blood type O may offer some protection from heart trouble, blood type alone will not compensate for other factors that are linked to cardiovascular disease.

Other research found blood group O patients may be at greater risk for bleeding and blood transfusions after heart surgery. Patients with AB blood type are 20 per cent less likely to die after heart bypass surgery than those with A, B or O blood types, said Duke University Medical Center researchers.

Doireann Maddock, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said ‘While these findings are certainly interesting we’ll need more research to draw any firm conclusions about blood type and its role in heart disease risk.

‘Nobody can influence what type of blood they are born with but a healthy lifestyle is something everybody can have an influence over. Eating healthily, getting active and stopping smoking are the types of things you should be worrying about, not your blood type.’


21 August, 2012

California Initiative Puts Profit Ahead of Science

Proposition 37 props up profits for organic growers and denies the scientific consensus in favor of biotech crops.

The Proposition 37 petition asserts that “genetic engineering of plants and animals often causes unintended consequences. Manipulating genes and inserting them into organisms is an imprecise process. The results are not always predictable or controllable, and they can lead to adverse health or environmental consequences.” All of these claims, quoted from the findings and declarations section of the initiative, are solidly contradicted by the scientific consensus regarding biotech crops.

In a 2004 report, Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reviewed and compared the unintended consequences of conventional, mutagenic, and biotech plant breeding. The NAS report noted that all types of plant breeding—conventional, mutagenic, and biotech—could on rare occasions produce crops with unintended consequences. However, the report concluded, “The process of rDNA [biotech breeding] is itself not inherently hazardous.”

What about the claim that biotech breeding is “an imprecise process”? Not so says the NAS report. Conventional breeding transfers thousands of unknown genes with unknown functions along with desired genes, and mutation breeding induces thousands of random mutations via chemicals or radiation. In contrast, the NAS report notes, “Genetic engineering methods are considered by some to be more precise than conventional breeding methods because only known and precisely characterized genes are transferred.”

Any adverse health consequences? After reviewing all the scientific evidence, the NAS report concluded, “To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.” In 2003, the International Council for Science (ICSU) representing 111 national academies of science and 29 scientific unions issued a report declaring, “Currently available genetically modified foods are safe to eat.” The ICSU pointedly added, “There is no evidence of any ill effects from the consumption of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.” With regard to eating foods made from biotech crops, the World Health Organization flatly states, “No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.”

At its annual meeting in June, the American Medical Association endorsed a report on the labeling of bioengineered foods from its Council on Science and Public Health. The report found that, “Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.” The AMA report further noted, “Despite strong consumer interest in mandatory labeling of bioengineered foods, the FDA’s science-based labeling policies do not support special labeling without evidence of material differences between bioengineered foods and their traditional counterparts. The Council supports this science-based approach….” Every independent scientific body that has ever evaluated the safety of current biotech crop varieties has found them to be as safe or even safer than conventional crop varieties.

So who is funding this pack of lies? The petition for Proposition 37 was filed and launched by notorious trial lawyer James Wheaton. The corporations that back the initiative include Nature’s Path, which sells $300 million worth of organic cereals annually and has pledged $500,000 to the anti-science campaign and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, a private company with revenues of $50 million annually derived from peddling organic soaps and has given $300,000. The biggest donor is Mercola Health Resources run by Chicago osteopath and self-styled alternative medicine guru Joseph Mercola, who promotes his sketchy supplements through his online health newsletter. Mercola has donated $800,000 to the campaign.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has spent $635,000 promoting the initiative. OCA lists no donors on its 2010 IRS Form 990 and apparently gets most of its $1.3 million in revenues from phone solicitations contracted out to the Hudson Bay Company of Illinois based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lundberg Family Farms, with revenues of nearly $50 million from selling organic rice, has committed $200,000 to the campaign. Among the activist groups favoring Proposition 37, is the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), which is part of an anti-science coalition jumpstarted with a $1 million grant from Mercola. Among other claims, the IRT suggests that eating foods made from biotech crops is a cause of autism.

The traditional anti-biotech environmentalist groups have piled on and endorsed Proposition 37 as well, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, the Pesticide Action Network, and the Sierra Club. Shoving science aside, the California Democratic Party has formally endorsed Proposition 37. In particular, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who insists on the accepting the scientific consensus concerning climate change, rejects it with regard to the safety of biotech crops and supports anti-science when it comes to Proposition 37. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) is also on board the pro-Proposition 37 bandwagon.

One other claim made in the Proposition 37 petition is that “90 percent of the public want to know if their food was produced using genetic engineering.” That is unfortunately about right. And why not? After all, profitmongering organic foods purveyors and scaremongering environmentalists have been spreading disinformation about the safety of biotech crops for more than two decades now.

However, there may less than meets the eye to those poll results. The citizens of the European Union are supposed to be especially averse to biotech crops. However, a new European Commission report, A Decade of EU-Funded GMO Research, finds that polls may not be a good way to evaluate actual consumer attitudes toward foods made with biotech crops. The researchers found that despite strongly negative polls, when it came to looking at the actual buying behavior, “most people do not actively avoid GM [genetically modified] food, suggesting that they are not greatly concerned with the GM issue.”

Based on scientific assessments the Food and Drug Administration only requires labels when a product raises safety or nutritional issues which clearly current foods using ingredients from biotech crops do not. Thus the agency is correct when it says that such labels would be "inherently misleading," and would "imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods." Of course, the whole point of Proposition 37 is to mislead with regard to the safety of biotech crops. The coalition anti-science campaigners want to mandate labels in this case because they hope that consumers would treat them as warning labels, turning away from perfectly safe and cheaper biotech and conventional foods toward pricier and more profitable organic fare. Of course, if people who have been suckered by organic fearmongering want to avoid biotech foods, they can simply purchase foods labeled organic now.

Although cloaking the Proposition 37 anti-science disinformation campaign in bogus health fears and alleged consumer choice concerns, the Organic Consumers Association Director Ronnie Cummins gives the game away in an open letter earlier this month. “The burning question for us all then becomes how—and how quickly—can we move healthy, organic products from a 4.2% market niche, to the dominant force in American food and farming?,” writes Cummins. Sadly many well-meaning Californians appear to have been duped by the promoters of Proposition 37, so that its corporate and special interest backers cynically calculate that an electoral victory in November will produce higher profits and more donations. Here is a real case of putting profits ahead of science.


Scientists hopeful of drug addiction cure

Early days yet

AUSTRALIAN and international scientists may have found a cure for heroin and morphine addictions. The discovery could have wide-reaching implications leading to better pain relief without the risk of addiction to prescription drugs, while also helping heroin users kick the habit.

Dr Mark Hutchinson from the University of Adelaide said a team of researchers had shown for the first time that blocking an immune receptor, called TLR4, stopped opioid cravings.

"Both the central nervous system and the immune system play important roles in creating addiction, but our studies have shown we only need to block the immune response in the brain to prevent cravings for opioid drugs," Dr Hutchinson said.

The scientists, including a team from the University of Colorado Boulder, used an existing drug to target and block the TLR4 receptor.

The National Institutes on Drug Abuse in the United States is further developing the drug, which has been proven to work in the laboratory, to test in clinical trials. As a result, clinical trials on patients could be underway in just two to three years time, Dr Hutchinson said.

If the clinical trials were successful, opioid drugs used to treat acute pain could potentially be co-formulated with the additional drugs to limit the chance of addiction. This approach could also treat patients with heroin or other opioid addictions who are admitted to hospital and require pain relief.

These patients generally needed larger doses of drugs like morphine to treat pain because their bodies have developed a higher tolerance.

However, Dr Hutchinson said co-formulated drugs would mean these patients could be given lower doses. "It might make it much easier to treat those already addicted or tolerant populations," Dr Hutchinson told AAP.

President of the Australian and New Zealand College of the Anaesthetists Dr Lindy Roberts said although opioids were important for the treatment of pain they could have adverse effects.

She said treatments that could potentially separate the pain relief aspects of drugs from adverse effects were welcomed.

The findings were published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience.


20 August, 2012

Popcorn ingredient linked to Alzheimer’s

This had to come. Anything to knock something that is popular! The journal article is The Butter Flavorant, Diacetyl, Exacerbates ?-Amyloid Cytotoxicity. It was a study in laboratory glassware only

Movie popcorn has often been criticized for its high calorie count, but now the tasty treat may harm more than just your waistline.

A recent study has found that diacetyl, an ingredient in popcorn responsible for its buttery flavor and smell, may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The scientists said they focused on the substance, because it has already been associated with respiratory and other health issues in workers at microwave popcorn and food-flavoring factories. According to, diacetyl is used in other products such as margarines, snacks and candies, baked goods and in some beers and chardonnay wine.

Robert Vince, director of the Center for Drug Design at the University of Minnesota and the study’s lead author, said diacetyl is similar in structure to another substance that aids the clumping of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain – a significant indicator of Alzheimer’s.

Just like this substance, diacetyl was found to increase the amount of beta-amyloid clumping, said. The popcorn ingredient was also able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, a defense which prevents harmful substances from entering the brain.

The study was published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.


Boosting bacteria in drinking water may improve health

Every gallon of purified drinking water is home to hundreds of millions of bacteria. Water treatment facilities try to remove them – but perhaps encouraging some of the microbes to grow could benefit human health.

Lutgarde Raskin of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor says that workers at water treatment facilities across the US try to destroy all of the bacteria in drinking water with infusions of chlorine and other disinfectants. But this is nearly impossible to achieve with the current technology.

The present approach also ignores the fact that the drinking water microbiome contains some bacteria that can be beneficial. For instance, nitrates that can contaminate drinking water could be converted by some bacteria into harmless nitrogen gas. Raskin and her team suggest that encouraging the growth of these bacteria in drinking water could actually improve the quality and safety of the product.

Between April and October 2010, the researchers analysed bacterial DNA in drinking water treated at municipal facilities in Ann Arbor. They wanted to work out exactly which bacteria were present, and what factors influenced the abundance of the various components of the bacterial community.

They found that slightly altering the water's pH during the filtration process, or even changing how filters were cleaned, helped good bacteria outcompete more harmful microorganisms for the limited resources in the water.

"It does no good to try to remove bacteria entirely," says Raskin. "We are suggesting that a few simple changes can be made that will give bacteria that are good for human health an edge over harmful competitors."


19 August, 2012

Could dark chocolate stave off dementia?

A number of things to note: This is a study of some fairly dippy oldies so should not be generalized beyond that. Secondly, we have no means of knowing if the study generalizes even to all dippy oldies. Is the effect peculiar to Italians, for instance? Thirdly, as the abstract below shows, the alleged beneficial effect was not observed on the widely used Mini Mental State Examination -- a pretty comprehensive test for dementia. So which set of results should we trust? Fourthly, averages based on the results of only 30 people are likely to be quite unstable. Fifthly, it is again only dark chocolate that gets a tick of approval. Most people don't like dark chocolate much so it suits the usual elite tendency to condemn what is popular and praise what is not

A daily dose of chocolate could help keep dementia and Alzheimer's at bay, a study suggests.

Researchers found that consuming cocoa every day helped improve mild cognitive impairment – a condition involving memory loss which can progress to dementia or Alzheimer's – in elderly patients.

For the study, 90 people aged 70 or older diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment were split into three groups of 30 and given either a high, medium or low dose of a cocoa drink daily.

The drink contained flavanols – chemicals associated with a decreased dementia risk which are found in a variety of foods, including cocoa products such as dark chocolate.

The participants' diet was restricted to eliminate other sources of flavanols, such as tea or red wine.

Their cognitive function was examined using tests of factors including working memory and processing speed.

Researchers found those who drank the high and medium doses daily had significantly better cognitive scores by the end of the eight-week study in a number of categories, including working memory.

Those given the higher doses of the flavanol drink improved far more than those given the lowest dose, the study, published in the journal Hypertension, found.

Insulin resistance and blood pressure also decreased in those drinking high and medium doses of the flavanol drink.

Doctor Giovambattista Desideri of the University of L'Aquila in Italy, lead author of the study, said: 'This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols, as a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet, could improve cognitive function.

'Larger studies are needed to validate the findings, figure out how long the positive effects will last and determine the levels of cocoa flavanols required for benefit.'

Dr Laura Phipps, of Alzheimer's Research UK, said: 'Cocoa-based treatments for brain function would likely have patients queuing out the door, but this small study of flavanols is not yet conclusive.'

Benefits in Cognitive Function, Blood Pressure, and Insulin Resistance Through Cocoa Flavanol Consumption in Elderly Subjects With Mild Cognitive Impairment

By Giovambattista Desideri et al.


Flavanol consumption is favorably associated with cognitive function. We tested the hypothesis that dietary flavanols might improve cognitive function in subjects with mild cognitive impairment. We conducted a double-blind, parallel arm study in 90 elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment randomized to consume once daily for 8 weeks a drink containing ?990 mg (high flavanols), ?520 mg (intermediate flavanols), or ?45 mg (low flavanols) of cocoa flavanols per day. Cognitive function was assessed by Mini Mental State Examination, Trail Making Test A and B, and verbal fluency test. At the end of the follow-up period, Mini Mental State Examination was similar in the 3 treatment groups (P=0.13). The time required to complete Trail Making Test A and Trail Making Test B was significantly (P less than 0.05) lower in subjects assigned to high flavanols (38.10±10.94 and 104.10±28.73 seconds, respectively) and intermediate flavanols (40.20±11.35 and 115.97±28.35 seconds, respectively) in comparison with those assigned to low flavanols (52.60±17.97 and 139.23±43.02 seconds, respectively). Similarly, verbal fluency test score was significantly (P less than 0.05) better in subjects assigned to high flavanols in comparison with those assigned to low flavanols (27.50±6.75 versus 22.30±8.09 words per 60 seconds). Insulin resistance, blood pressure, and lipid peroxidation also decreased among subjects in the high-flavanol and intermediate-flavanol groups. Changes of insulin resistance explained ?40% of composite z score variability through the study period (partial r2=0.4013; Pless than 0.0001). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first dietary intervention study demonstrating that the regular consumption of cocoa flavanols might be effective in improving cognitive function in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment. This effect appears mediated in part by an improvement in insulin sensitivity.


When Did Milk Become Bad for You?

Last week, as I entered Union Station Metro station in Washington, I saw ads for what appeared to be First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. It was a series of three ads, the first said: “Let’s move hot dogs out of school lunch.” Okay, fine, because, let’s face it, while hot dogs may be scrumptious and all-beef, they look like small batons of questionable meat.

The second ad said: “Let’s move cheese out of school lunch.” I mean, I guess. Cheese, while a good source of calcium (and delicious), is not necessarily the healthiest thing in the world. I don’t think it should be removed from children’s lunches, but I just chalked it up to liberal nanny-state policies.

It was the third ad that really got my goat. Hidden in the corner, the least noticeable sign read: “Let’s move milk out of school lunch.” Really? Milk? Arguably one of the best sources of calcium, which, as I’ve been told since I was old enough to remember, makes bones strong?

When did milk become unhealthy? Rather, when did milk become so bad for you that it should be banned from school lunches and put on the same level as the hot dog?

Curious about the reasoning behind the sudden “war on milk,” I visited the website mentioned on the ad. To my surprise, it was not, in fact, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” website, but was a separate organization called “Let’s Really Move!” – an apparent response to the failure of the First Lady’s core initiative:

“The stalled ‘Let’s Move’ campaign needs to get back in gear. The ‘Let’s Move’ campaign has abandoned any major effort to improve the nation’s nutrition, focusing instead on noncontroversial recommendations about exercise. That strategy will not combat skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol.”

As for the organization’s crusade against milk (even skim milk), they claim it does not actually promote bone health or protect against osteoporosis and is high in fat, cholesterol and sugar. Instead of milk, they suggest beans, broccoli, kale, tofu and whole grains. Mmmm! That’s sure to get the kids excited about healthy eating!

Conversely, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” suggests fat-free milk is okay.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, that it’s nearly impossible these days to keep track of what foods are good for you and which ones aren’t. I grew up thinking milk was great, now it’s apparently as bad for you as what’s sold at sporting events.

Advocacy groups and nanny-state politicians have for decades tried to control us through our diets. But they don’t just try to control us by telling us what we should or should not eat, they also control the very supply of food.

For milk, the government subsidizes the dairy industry and sets production limits, which means taxpayers and consumers are paying more for a gallon of milk than they should be.

And the current version of the farm bill will make such market distortions even worse. The new Dairy Management Supply Program will set milk prices and effectively tax dairy farmers if prices fall below those price controls. The government will then use that tax money to purchase products, controlling the supply.

Dairy farmers are not happy about this, and are meeting with members of Congress this month in order to discuss their issues with the farm bill. Wonderful. We know what that will mean: dairy farmers will receive special consideration and carve-outs within the farm bill, further muddling the bill and promoting corporate welfare.

With this kind of control over something so basic to our diets, it’s no wonder the farm bill has stalled in Congress. Now, lawmakers need to work to remove these kinds of market-distorting special handouts, not just because they promote cronyism, but because, seriously, “milk does a body good.”


17 August, 2012

Are walnuts good for sperm?

No journal source mentioned so difficult to evaluate. The effect was tiny and may have been a Rosenthal effect if the study was not double blind

Men who want to increase their fertility levels might benefit from eating walnuts, according to a study.

Researchers in America asked a group of young men in their 20s and 30s to eat a 75g packet every day for three months. Compared with a group of men who avoided walnuts, they managed to increase their sperm count and its quality, potentially giving them a better chance of fathering a child.

Scientists at the University of California chose walnuts because they are a major source of ‘good’ polyunsaturated fats. They are rich in omega 3 and omega 6 – also found in oily fish – which are thought to be good for sperm development and function but are lacking in many Western diets.

One in six couples struggle to conceive, and it is thought around 40 per cent of these problems are due to problems with the man’s sperm.

Professor Wendie Robbins, of UCLA’s School of Public Health, said as the 117 volunteers were healthy non-smokers, it was not clear that walnuts would help with fertility problems, but it had a positive effect.

The researchers analysed the men’s sperm concentration, how strongly they swam and their genetic makeup. Those eating walnuts saw a modest 3 per cent average increase in sperm swimming, compared with no increase in the group who did not eat walnuts.

And fewer of the walnut eaters were seen with aneuploidy – a disorder where sperm have too many or too few chromosomes.

Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at the University of Sheffield, said the study found only a ‘quite modest’ increase in sperm count. ‘I would be cautious about recommending this as a therapy for infertility until it has been studied further,’ he added


Powerful new drug eases pain and inflammation of arthritis sufferers

A powerful new drug that could bring relief to hundreds of thousands of -Britons crippled by rheumatoid arthritis is being developed.

Patients taking the pill, -tofacitinib, suffered less pain and inflammation than those on today's best treatments.

Scientists say it was also more effective at slowing -damage to joints after results of an ongoing clinical trial of nearly 1,000 sufferers showed the pill is 'superior' to the common treatment methotrexate, or MTX.

Tofacitinib targets pathways in the cells that regulate inflammation. And, unlike many treatments for rheumatoid arthritis - which affects around 400,000 Britons - it can be taken orally instead of by injection.

Half of those on the trial had fewer symptoms than those on MTX and -displayed less joint damage.

Judith Brodie, chief executive of UK charity Arthritis Care, told the Daily Express: 'This looks very promising. Anything that can make a difference to people with rheumatoid arthritis is hugely important.'

The disease, in which the body's immune system attacks the joints, can strike at a young age, unlike the more common osteoarthritis, which mainly strikes older people.

It usually affects hands and feet, although any of the body's joints can become inflamed and painful.

Tofacitinib, still in the developmental stage, belongs to a new group of drugs called Janus kinases, which can be used to treat adults with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis.

The current more common treatment involves painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs which tackle the pain and swelling.

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or DMARDS - of which methotrexate is the most common - are used to slow down the progression of the disease and joint damage.

Tofacitinib is being reviewed by regulators in the U.S., Europe and Japan. If approved, it would become the first new-generation inhibitor treatment drug on the market.

A spokesman for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which has developed the drug, said: 'Tofacitinib is a novel, oral small molecule Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor that is being investigated as an immunomodulator and disease-modifying therapy for rheumatoid arthritis.

'Tofacitinib is currently under review by several regulatory agencies around the world, including in the European Medicines Agency.'

Rheumatoid arthritis is less common than osteoarthritis, which affects around 8.5 million Britons.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition associated with age, treated by exercise and painkillers.


16 August, 2012

Eating egg yolks is as 'bad as smoking' in speeding up coronary heart disease

Cripes! I am a dead man! I am in my 70th year and I have been eating two eggs for breakfast most days for many years! Though maybe my resting BP of 130/80 gives some hope. Not bad for an old guy, I think.

Seriously, though, the effects found below are very small in absolute magnitude (c. 9% more plaque) and the subject population was not representative. See the abstract appended

Scientists have unscrambled the truth about eggs - eating the yolk is almost as bad as smoking for people at risk of heart disease.

The problem lies in an increased risk of the hardening of the arteries, known as atherosclerosis. It is a disorder of the arteries where plaques, aggravated by cholesterol, form on the inner arterial wall.

As a key component of a traditional English breakfast, the new findings may not put off egg lovers.

But Dr David Spence revealed eating the yolk of an egg is about two-thirds as bad as smoking when it comes to the build up of plaques.

Having surveyed 1,231 men and women, Dr Spence, of the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada, linked the findings to stroke and heart attack risk factors. Plaque rupture is the usual cause of most heart attacks and many strokes.

The study involved patients, with an average age of 61.5, attending vascular prevention clinics in Ontario. Ultrasound was used to establish a measurement of total plaque area and questionnaires were filled out regarding the patients’ lifestyles.

The research found carotid plaque area increased in line with age after 40, but increased above the average rise after years of regular smoking and egg yolk consumption. The study also found those eating at least three yolks a week had significantly more plaque area than those who ate up to two yolks per week.

Dr Spence, 67, who is also a neurology professor, said: 'The mantra ‘eggs can be part of a healthy diet for healthy people’ has confused the issue. 'High cholesterol intake increases the risk of cardiovascular events, and egg yolks have a very high cholesterol content.

'The study shows that, with age, plaque builds up gradually in the arteries and egg yolks make it build up faster.'

Dr Spence added that the effects were independent of sex, cholesterol, blood pressure, smoking, body mass index and diabetes.

He said that while he feels more research should be done, he stressed the regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease.

The research has been published online in the journal Atherosclerosis.

Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque

By J. David Spence et al.



Increasingly the potential harm from high cholesterol intake, and specifically from egg yolks, is considered insignificant. We therefore assessed total plaque area (TPA) in patients attending Canadian vascular prevention clinics to determine if the atherosclerosis burden, as a marker of arterial damage, was related to egg intake. To provide perspective on the magnitude of the effect, we also analysed the effect of smoking (pack-years).


Consecutive patients attending vascular prevention clinics at University Hospital had baseline measurement of TPA by duplex ultrasound, and filled out questionnaires regarding their lifestyle and medications, including pack-years of smoking, and the number of egg yolks consumed per week times the number of years consumed (egg-yolk years).


Data were available in 1262 patients; mean (SD) age was 61.5 (14.8) years; 47% were women. Carotid plaque area increased linearly with age after age 40, but increased exponentially with pack-years of smoking and with egg-yolk years. Plaque area in patients consuming less than 2 eggs per week (n = 388) was 125 ± 129 mm2, versus 132 ± 142 mm2 in those consuming 3 or more eggs per week (n = 603); (p < 0.0001 after adjustment for age). In multiple regression, egg-yolk years remained significant after adjusting for coronary risk factors.


Our findings suggest that regular consumption of egg yolk should be avoided by persons at risk of cardiovascular disease. This hypothesis should be tested in a prospective study with more detailed information about diet, and other possible confounders such as exercise and waist circumference.


Skin patch could free thousands of sufferers from peanut allergy

Scientists have developed a skin patch that could conquer deadly peanut allergies.

The stick-on patch is packed with tiny traces of peanut protein and could help thousands of people affected by life-threatening reactions to the popular snack.

Worn on the arm or back, the patch allows minute amounts of the protein to gradually seep through the top layers of the skin.

It then comes into contact with immune system cells which would normally trigger a life-threatening overreaction.

But the proteins are in such tiny quantities that the immune cells slowly get used to their presence, learning to recognise peanuts so that they are no longer a threat.

As a result, the body’s defences stop overreacting when they come into contact with peanuts.

The patch, about the size of ten pence piece, has just entered a year-long international trial involving more than 200 patients with severe peanut allergies.

The volunteers will either wear a peanut patch or an identical dummy one, changing it for a new one every day.

Scientists behind the patch hope it will help those with known peanut allergies whose lives are put at risk through accidentally coming into contact with tiny amounts of the harmful protein.


15 August, 2012

Babies born naturally 'have higher IQs than those delivered by caesarean section'

In mice. Relating mouse IQ to human IQ is a bit of a joke

Babies born naturally may have higher IQs than those delivered by caesarean section, new research claims.

According to scientists, when women give birth naturally there are higher levels of a special protein in babies’ brains that helps boost intelligence levels as they develop.

Scientists at Yale University in the US say the increased levels of the protein, called UCP2, in babies born naturally could help foster their short and long term memories – key components of the human IQ – as they grow up.

They made the discovery after studying the hippocampal region in the brains of mice born naturally and by caesarean.

Mice born by C-section were found to have lower levels of UCP2 and, as a result, suffered 'impaired adult behaviours'.

UCP2 has already been credited with helping to improve the chances of newborns breastfeeding.

The findings come at a time when a deal of controversy surrounds C-sections. Critics have said that C-sections can increase the risk of internal bleeding and can lead to problems to do with fertility in the future.

They think that celebrity mothers, such as Victoria Beckham and Zoe Ball, are to blame for more women opting for them.

Around one quarter of babies in NHS hospitals are delivered by caesarean, although the figure is thought to be as high as 60 per cent in private clinics.

Study author Dr Tamas Horvath, whose findings are published in journal PLoS ONE said: 'These results reveal a potentially critical role of UCP2 in the proper development of brain circuits and related behaviours.

'The increasing prevalence of C-sections driven by convenience rather than medical necessity may have a previously unsuspected lasting effect on brain development and function in humans as well.'

She added: 'We found that natural birth triggered UCP2 expression in the neurons located in the hippocampal region of the brain.

'This was diminished in the brains of mice born via C-section. Knocking out the UCP2 gene or chemically inhibiting UCP2 function interfered with the differentiation of hippocampal neurons and circuits, and impaired adult behaviours related to hippocampal functions.'


How a potato juice supplement could help cure stomach ulcers

Early days yet

Stomach ulcers could have handed in their chips - thanks to the humble potato. Scientists at Manchester University have discovered spuds contain unique antibacterial molecules that can treat the condition.

Members of the university’s microbiology team now hope the substance, dubbed ‘potato juice’ could go into production as a daily diet supplement.

Inspiration came as one of the department’s scientists tucked into a spud for Sunday lunch. It led to the discovery of a key molecule which could both cure and prevent the bacteria that lives in the stomach and causes stomach ulcers and heartburn.

The discovery is one of many being made by scientists at the university as they try to develop the products and medicines of tomorrow.

Uniquely, unlike with antibiotics, the stomach bacteria cannot develop resistance to the ‘potato juice’ which also does not cause any side-effects.

Scientists at the university even carried out the test on different types of potatoes - discovering Maris Piper and King Edward varieties worked the best.

The process to extract the as yet unnamed molecule has now been patented, with hopes it could one day be sold as a supplement similar to probiotic yoghurt drinks.

Ian Roberts, professor of microbiology at the Faculty of Life Sciences, who worked on the discovery, said: 'One of our scientists was having Sunday lunch when her boyfriend’s grandma said they used to use potatoes to cure stomach ulcers.

'Afterwards she went and bought a bag of King Edwards from a shop on Curry Mile and started testing them in the lab.

'When I first heard about the idea of using potatoes to treat stomach ulcers I have to admit I was a bit sceptical. But on another level I wasn’t surprised - a lot of botanical products have very interesting compounds and we just have to find them.

'We see this ‘potato juice’ as a preventative measure to stop stomach ulcers developing that people would take as part of a healthy lifestyle. It could be a huge market if we can get it developed.'

The discovery of ‘potato juice’ is just one of a number of new medicines and treatments being developed by staff at the University of Manchester’s intellectual property department.

Staff there seek out companies from across the world to develop the university’s inventions.

Business manager Dr Sunita Jones said: 'It is really exciting to see these new discoveries - they cover all areas of science so it really keeps us on our toes.

'As a scientist, the end goal of any work is to put something into the public arena which will benefit people.

'We work to develop all the new technology that comes out of the university, by getting licensing agreements or forming spin-out companies. It’s great to see years of research pay off with a new drug or product at the end.'


14 August, 2012

Fat protects you against dying of diabetes!

A win for fatties! The conclusion below must have been written with gritted teeth -- but it is based on a lot of data. It's published in a top journal too
Association of Weight Status With Mortality in Adults With Incident Diabetes

By Mercedes R. Carnethon et al.


Type 2 diabetes in normal-weight adults (body mass index [BMI] less than 25) is a representation of the metabolically obese normal-weight phenotype with unknown mortality consequences.


To test the association of weight status with mortality in adults with new-onset diabetes in order to minimize the influence of diabetes duration and voluntary weight loss on mortality.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Pooled analysis of 5 longitudinal cohort studies: Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, 1990-2006; Cardiovascular Health Study, 1992-2008; Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults, 1987-2011; Framingham Offspring Study, 1979-2007; and Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, 2002-2011. A total of 2625 participants with incident diabetes contributed 27 125 person-years of follow-up. Included were men and women (age >40 years) who developed incident diabetes based on fasting glucose 126 mg/dL or greater or newly initiated diabetes medication and who had concurrent measurements of BMI. Participants were classified as normal weight if their BMI was 18.5 to 24.99 or overweight/obese if BMI was 25 or greater.

Main Outcome Measures

Total, cardiovascular, and noncardiovascular mortality.


The proportion of adults who were normal weight at the time of incident diabetes ranged from 9% to 21% (overall 12%). During follow-up, 449 participants died: 178 from cardiovascular causes and 253 from noncardiovascular causes (18 were not classified). The rates of total, cardiovascular, and noncardiovascular mortality were higher in normal-weight participants (284.8, 99.8, and 198.1 per 10 000 person-years, respectively) than in overweight/obese participants (152.1, 67.8, and 87.9 per 10 000 person-years, respectively). After adjustment for demographic characteristics and blood pressure, lipid levels, waist circumference, and smoking status, hazard ratios comparing normal-weight participants with overweight/obese participants for total, cardiovascular, and noncardiovascular mortality were 2.08 (95% CI, 1.52-2.85), 1.52 (95% CI, 0.89-2.58), and 2.32 (95% CI, 1.55-3.48), respectively.


Adults who were normal weight at the time of incident diabetes had higher mortality than adults who are overweight or obese.


Disinfectant harmless to humans could be latest weapon against hospital superbugs

A disinfectant that is harmless to humans but deadly to superbugs is poised to become the latest weapon against hospital infections.

The germ-destroying product called Akwaton, works at low concentrations according to a study from the Université de Saint-Boniface in Canada.

Researchers tested the compound against bacterial spores of Clostridium difficile that attach to surfaces and are difficult to destroy.

Previous work by the group has shown Akwaton is also effective at low concentrations against strains of MRSA and E coli.

Spore-forming bacteria including C. difficile and MRSA can survive on surfaces for long periods of time.

Spores are heat-tolerant and can continue for a number of years in a dehydrated state before they are reactivated. Most chemical disinfectants control or prevent spore growth rather than irreversibly destroying them.

The latest study showed that Akwaton was able to destroy Bacillus subtilis bacterial spores, suspended in water and attached to stainless steel or glass surfaces, at concentrations well below one per cent after just 90 seconds' treatment. It was equally as effective at more dilute concentrations (below 0.1 per cent) if left to act for longer periods.

Lead researcher Dr Mathias Oulé, explained the advantages over other chemical compounds currently used against bacterial spores.

'Most disinfectants have to be applied at much higher concentrations – typically between 4-10 per cent - to properly get rid of bacterial spores.

'Unfortunately such high levels of these compounds may also be harmful to humans and other animals. Akwaton is non-corrosive, non-irritable, odourless and is effective at very low concentrations,' he said.

'Bacterial spores demonstrate a remarkable resistance to physical and chemical agents as well as ordinary antiseptics. On top of this micro-organisms are becoming increasingly resistant to disinfectants as well as antibiotics.

'Our latest study shows Akwaton is effective at destroying these spores as well as bacteria that are known problems in healthcare environments.'

The product is produced by Fofaton Akwaton International, which is based in South Africa.

The study is reported online in the Journal of Medical Microbiology.


13 August, 2012

Campus ignoramuses

This guy and his minions sure know how to debase the intellectual standing of their college. Basing policy on speculative epidemiogical inferences is just plain dumb -- and speculative epidemiogical inferences are all they've got as support for this policy. The guy is just a would-be Fascist

You, too, can be O.K. without pork. That’s the message of Michael J. Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas. Well, part of the message at least – after all, Sorrell didn’t ban pork from his campus dining facilities arbitrarily. No – the decision to stop offering any pork products was based in a much broader institutional philosophy, the president says.

“When you come to college, you come to be educated,” Sorrell said. “We thought we could do more in the area of promoting healthy lifestyle choices and healthy eating habits.”

In a brief statement announcing the decision Tuesday, Sorrell put it like this: “Eating pork can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, sodium retention and heart problems, not to mention weight gain and obesity. Therefore, as a part of our continued effort to improve the lives and health of our students, Paul Quinn College and its food service partner Perkins Management have collaborated to create a pork-free cafeteria.”

In a subsequent interview with Inside Higher Ed, Sorrell framed the move as just another step in Paul Quinn’s crusade for healthier students, staff and community members. The college had already started reducing the availability of fast food, pork and other fatty and sweet foods, adding salad options instead. After the football team got cut a few years ago, the president turned the field into an organic garden (which has since produced 6,000 pounds of food, much of which is donated or goes to the campus cafeterias). The college has also taken up a number of other projects, like the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk and AIDS testing.

The health problems Sorrell wants to head off are more common among the demographic the historically black college serves: low-income, minority students. When Sorrell got there five years ago, he couldn’t believe the menu.

“There was a proliferation of ranch dressing on everything. I mean, it just was typical choices that you would see made by folks who weren’t creative enough to manage the economic constraints with the need to create healthy options. I mean, we were no different than many other small colleges that service students from underrepresented communities,” Sorrell said. But campus food is on a continuum. “If I’m a betting person, I bet the future holds a 100-percent healthy dining campus. We’re not there yet, but we’re gradually working our way there.”

But the no-pork idea is unlikely to catch on at other colleges, said Rachel A. Warner, director of communications and marketing at the National Association of College and University Food Services.

“Colleges and universities will cater to whatever their student population wants,” Warner said. “So if there was a large demand, for example, for a specific type of protein or menu item, they’ll usually provide that. But normally our schools try to increase the diversity of their menu, as opposed to decrease it.”


Marijuana and memory: study shows it's not good news

Australian scientists say they have proved that persistent heavy marijuana use damages the brain's memory and learning capacity. Their study showed for the first time the earlier people developed a cannabis habit, the worse the damage.

Scientists from Melbourne's Murdoch Childrens Research Institute (MCRI), Melbourne University and Wollongong University used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 59 people who had been using marijuana for 15 years on average. The images were compared with scans of 33 healthy people who had never used the drug.

The scans measured changes to the volume, strength and integrity of white matter, the brain's complex wiring system. Unlike grey matter, the brain's thinking areas which peak at age eight, white matter continues developing over a lifetime.

Senior researcher Dr Marc Seal of MCRI said the scans showed long-term heavy cannabis users had disruptions in their white matter fibres. There was a reduction in the volume of white matter of more than 80 per cent in the users studied, Dr Seal said.

While the average age participants started using marijuana was 16, some began as young as 10 or 11 and were more seriously affected.

"This is the first study to demonstrate the age at which regular cannabis use begins is a key factor in determining the severity of the brain damage," Dr Seal said. Cannabis interferes with naturally occurring cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

"If you're a teenager and you've got all these natural cannabinoids in your white matter, it's not good to be introducing a lot of external cannabinoids in your system, because it stops the white matter maturing," Dr Seal said.

The significant differences in long-term heavy cannabis users' white matter was linked to poor memory and learning.

"We don't know if the changes are irreversible but we do know that these changes are quite significant," Dr Seal said. "These differences are linked to memory impairment and concentration.

"These people can have trouble learning new things and they are going to have trouble remembering things," he said.

The results could not be explained by other recreational drug use and alcohol. Dr Seal said the participants would be followed up in the next two years to track any further changes.

The results added to previous evidence showing the hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in memory, shrunk in heavy users. Previous studies investigating white matter among cannabis users had substantially smaller numbers of participants.


12 August, 2012

Giving your child junk food can lower their IQ, claim scientists

Will the stupid attacks on popular food never stop? This study proves nothing. What it shows at most is that lower class people eat more "junk" food and they have lower IQs anyway

Eating junk food can reduce a child's IQ, according to new research.

A study found that while eating healthily can give a boost to intelligence, toddlers on a diet of drinks and sweets were less bright as they got older.

By the age of eight the ‘junk food’ tots had IQs up to two points lower than their healthy counterparts, according to researchers from the University of Adelaide.

The findings reinforce the need to provide children with healthy foods at a crucial, formative time in their lives, the authors claim in the European Journal of Epidemiology.

Dr Lisa Smithers, who led the study, said: 'While the differences in IQ are not huge, this study provides some of the strongest evidence to date that dietary patterns from six to 24 months have a small but significant effect on IQ at eight years of age.

'It is important that we consider the longer-term impact of the foods we feed our children.'

Her team looked at the link between the eating habits of children at six months, 15 months and two years, and their IQ at eight years of age.

The study of more than 7000 children compared a range of dietary patterns, including traditional and contemporary home-prepared food, ready-prepared baby foods, breastfeeding, and ‘discretionary’ or junk foods.

'Diet supplies the nutrients needed for the development of brain tissues in the first two years of life, and the aim of this study was to look at what impact diet would have on children’s IQs,' said Dr Smithers.

Breastfed children are more likely to succeed in primary school than those who are brought up on fizzy drinks

'We found that children who were breastfed at six months and had a healthy diet regularly including foods such as legumes, cheese, fruit and vegetables at 15 and 24 months, had an IQ up to two points higher by age eight.

'Those children who had a diet regularly involving biscuits, chocolate, sweets, soft drinks and chips in the first two years of life had IQs up to two points lower by age eight.

'We also found some negative impact on IQ from ready-prepared baby foods given at six months, but some positive associations when given at 24 months.'


Benefits of statins are exaggerated and not always the best way to prevent heart disease, study claims

The word is getting out

Statins are not the best way to prevent heart disease, according to new research.

The cholesterol-lowering drugs are taken by seven million people in the UK, costing the NHS £450million a year.

Conventional medical wisdom states they are a good 'cure-all' treatment for heart disease, but making dietary changes could be a more effective tactic, say scientists.

Professor Kausik Ray, of St George's Healthcare Trust in London, said statins are an effective treatment for many people with heart problems, especially if they have already had a heart attack or stroke.

However, this accounts for only a small amount of patients who are actually prescribed statins. The majority are given to people seen to be 'at risk' of the disease.

Professor Ray says it is very difficult to predict who is at risk.

He told Mail Online that cost was the biggest driver to prescribe statins to people at lower and lower risk from heart disease.

He said: 'Statins are cheap and fairly safe. The costs of the drugs are as low as £1.30 a month compared to £24 a month a few years ago.

'However, the cost from heart disease for hospital admissions, investigations, stents and bypasses is huge.'

He added to The Sun: 'For people with no family history of heart problems and others deemed a low risk, other approaches should be used, like eating a good diet full of fish, lean meat, vegetables and low in saturated fat.'

He is one of the experts who has taken part in a documentary due to be released in September, called 'Statin Nation.'

The director Justin Smith claims the benefits of statins are routinely exaggerated and that the pharmaceutical industry is partly to blame. He told Mail Online: 'Creating a drug is a costly and lengthy process so they are encouraging more patients to take existing drugs.'

Mr Smith worked for four years as a personal trainer and nutritional coach before writing the book '$29 Billion Reasons to Lie About Cholesterol' in 2009.

He said he made the crowd-funded documentary because he believes doctors are being provided with too much information that favours the drugs industry.

However, Professor Peter Weissberg, from the British Heart Foundation, contested this saying: 'The most commonly used statins are off patent, which means the drug cmopanies no longer have any financial incentive in expanding the market.

'It is the medical community who is pushing for wider use of statins since they are convinced by the evidence this will reduce heart attacks and strokes in the future.'

Mr Smith also pointed to a 2008 study by Allender et al in Coronary Heart Disease Statistics, which found the heart disease rate did not decline between 1994 and 2006 in men aged 65 to 94 yet high cholesterol levels dropped by 40 per cent.

He added that average cholesterol levels in the UK are low when compared with the rest of Europe, yet the UK has one of the highest rates of heart attacks

Mr Smith said: 'I hope that the film will prompt more people to ask their doctor questions like: if I take this cholesterol medication, how much longer might I live? 'This question is important because most people will not receive life extension from statins.'

He added that negative side-effects of statins were not given enough prominence.

However, Maureen Talbot, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: 'Statins are now a very important part of the lives of millions of people and play a vital role in both lowering cholesterol and helping prevent heart attacks.

'Their importance shouldn’t be underestimated and the potential risk of side effects are outweighed by the proven benefits. The use of statins is the main reason why fewer people have high cholesterol levels now compared to 20 years ago.

'Your body will always make cholesterol so if you stop taking a statin it’s likely your cholesterol levels will rise. So, if you’re prescribed a statin make sure you take it every day because they’re most beneficial when you take them on a long-term basis. If you develop side effects see your GP as the medicine or dose can be changed. '

But she added: 'It’s worth remembering though that you may be able head off the prospect of being prescribed statins by eating a healthy balanced diet, keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy weight and body shape.'


10 August, 2012

The dangerous demonization of our food

Apples, celery, and bell peppers may be hazardous to your health, according to some environmental activists. At least that's the impression you might get reading the Environmental Working Group's Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. But their guide is nothing more than an annual recycling of hogwash.

In fact, EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide is the eighth annual iteration of the group’s unfair and dangerous demonization of healthy fruits and vegetables. These reports twist and spin data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that actually shows the opposite of what the EWG greens claim: pesticide residues are so minute that they pose little to no health risks to US consumers.

In fact, USDA explains its findings in a May 2012 press statement: “Similar to previous years, the 2010 report shows that overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels well below the tolerances set by the EPA. The report does show that residues exceeding the tolerance were detected in 0.25 percent of the samples tested. For baby food–included for the first time in this report – the data showed that no residues were found that exceeded the tolerance levels.”

In other words, this report found that 99.75 percent of samples tested contained residues well below EPA’s “safe level.” Wow, that’s an impressive success rate! It’s a very strong indicator that U.S. consumers have nothing to fear from trace pesticides on their food.

What about the 0.25 percent that had levels above EPA standards? Consumers need not fear even those. Such slight exceedances have no public health impact because EPA standards are exceedingly stringent so that even a child could be exposed at levels thousands of times higher without ill effect.

For example, a research paper by University of Texas Professor Frank Cross highlights findings from number of studies showing that the EPA’s risk estimates overstate pesticide exposure by as much as 99,000 to 463,000 times actual exposure. As a result, standards are actually tens of thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands—times more stringent than necessary to protect public health. An occasional exceedance of a few parts-per million makes no difference.

Not surprisingly, after reviewing the USDA data, EPA concluded: “The very small amounts of pesticide residues found in the baby food samples were well below levels that are harmful to children.”

Nonetheless EWG lists 12 fruits and vegetables on a dirty dozen list, suggesting they contain unsafe levels of pesticide residues. Apples, according, to EWG are the biggest offender. Yet, USDA reports one apple out of 744 tested that contained residues above EPA tolerance levels—and by only a tiny amount
(2.4 parts per million).

A small percentage of other apples had minute traces of pesticides for which EPA has no established tolerances for the commodity tested. Such exposures are limited, accidental and of little concern. USDA explains: “Some residues were found with no established tolerance levels but the extremely low levels of those residues are not a food safety risk, and the presence of such residues does not pose a safety concern.”

Unfortunately, EWG’s Shopper’s Guide may discourage consumption of many healthy fruits and vegetables. EWG acknowledges: “The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure.” Still, they suggest consumers can lower “pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated produce.”

Seriously, are they suggesting that consumers avoid apples and eat onions (the cleanest commodity according to EWG) instead? It’s more likely that after seeing apples listed as the “dirtiest” commodity on the EWG shopping list, some parents might decide against placing them in their kids’ lunch bags. What a shame if they do.

The Mayo Clinic lists apples as one of “10 great health foods for eating well” noting they are a great source of the soluble fiber pectin, which aids in healthy blood pressure, lowering of cholesterol, and management of glucose levels. Apples are also an excellent source of Vitamin C, which is an antioxidant with a wide range of health benefits. Indeed, there is good reason to recommend an apple a day!

Also on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list are blueberries, which are well-recognized as a super-food that is loaded with anti-oxidants and other great vitamins. Where does the insanity end?

As a partial solution, EWG suggests buying organic food, but organic food is often more expensive and not necessarily a reasonable option for consumers on fixed budgets. Never mind that there isn’t any compelling body of evidence demonstrating that organic food is any safer.

A consumer’s best option is to ignore the greens and listen to the USDA’s recommendations: “Age-old advice remains the same: eat more fruits and vegetables and wash them before you do so. Health and nutrition experts encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables in every meal as part of a healthy diet.”


Australia: Buffalo milk hits red tape

SYDNEYSIDERS are missing out on a global super milk, and its value-added products, with buffalo milk farmers weighed down by legislation and restrictive permits that deal with feral pests.

Buffalo milk production in the Asian-Pacific region exceeds 45 million tonnes annually, with more than 30 million tonnes produced in India alone, and it is much sought-after in Italy for mozzarella cheese.

Despite the demand, just a few hundred head of buffalo produce milk in Australia.

Kim and Ian Massingham, who fell in love with the product during a trip to Italy, have 14 head of buffalo at their East Kurrajong property and another nine in Bathurst. They are forced to use milk from Cairns to make their artisan AusBuff Stuff cheese and gelato, plus lean meat products, as their property is not registered for milk production.

Water buffalo fall under non-indigenous species 3B and the Massingham's pay a three-year licence fee to keep the animals behind electric fences. Owners must have a permit to keep water buffalo as they are considered an introduced pest similar to camels.

Only recently a $100 transport fee, between farms or to the abattoir, was dropped.

The Massinghams said buffalo milk had a far lower cholesterol level than cow's milk, 11 per cent higher protein, 9 per cent more calcium, 37 per cent more iron and more phosphorus.

Buffalo also metabolise all dietary carotene into vitamin A, which is passed into the milk.

The presence of higher levels of immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, lysozyme, lactoperoxidase also make buffalo milk suitable for special dietary and health foods. Lactose intolerant people rarely have a reaction to buffalo milk.

As opposed to the feral beast in northern Australia, domestic buffalo, in human care, are placid and patient. "There is definitely a pecking order,"Mr Massingham said. "If we were doing a business plan it would never happen."

The Massinghams hope to move to a more suitable property and set up their own buffalo dairy.

While they do not need pasture and can live off feed, buffalo produce about half the milk of normal dairy cows.


9 August, 2012

Childhood diet and IQ

This is very poorly reasoned. Probably a social class effect

BABIES' diets can affect their intelligence in childhood, new University of Adelaide research has confirmed.

Researchers examined the eating habits of more than 7000 children at six months, 15 months and two years, and measured their IQ at eight years of age.

They found those who were breastfed at six months and had a homemade diet, featuring wholesome foods, had an IQ that was up to two points higher.

In contrast, children consuming higher amounts of unhealthy foods had IQs up to two points lower.

Lisa Smithers, the lead author and postdoctoral research fellow in Public Health at the University of Adelaide, said the study reinforced the need to provide children with healthy foods.

"Diet supplies the nutrients needed for the development of brain tissues in the first two years of life," Dr Smithers said.


Women 'duped over benefits of breast cancer screening': Charity deserves an Oscar say scientists

The world's biggest breast cancer charity has been accused of 'Oscar-winning' tactics that dupe women into being screened.

Experts said the charity - which invented the pink ribbon logo for breast cancer awareness - was overselling the benefits of X-ray checks and ignoring the potentially harmful effects.

Misleading statistics are persuading women to undergo mammography without knowing the full facts, it was claimed.

Professor Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin, of the US Center for Medicine and the Media at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, said women were being given false hope by 'deceptive' advertising.

They launched an attack on the British Medical Journal's website on advertising campaigning by the charity Susan G Komen for the Cure.

They said its campaign failed to acknowledge that survival rates are distorted by the process of screening, and further bias is created by overdiagnosis of cancers that would never have caused death.

'If there were an Oscar for misleading statistics, using survival statistics to judge the benefit of screening would win a lifetime achievement award hands down,' they said.

The criticisms will fuel the debate in the UK about whether or not breast cancer screening does more harm than good.

An independent review is under way into the NHS breast cancer screening programme to investigate whether it remains worthwhile. It is expected to report by the end of the year.

In the US, there is growing awareness of a 'fine balance' between benefits and harms caused by screening. But you would not know that from charity adverts for screening which claim 'early detection saves lives', say the US professors.

The adverts say: 'The five-year survival rate for breast cancer when caught early is 98 per cent. When it's not? It's 23 per cent.'

The actual benefit is small, they claim. Mammography results in a reduction in the chance that a woman in her 50s will die from breast cancer over the next ten years from 0.53 per cent to 0.46 per cent, a difference of 0.07 percentage points, they said.

In addition, harms are overlooked including false alarms requiring a biopsy and overdiagnosis - where women are treated for cancers that would have never have produced symptoms.

The US critics claim: 'For every life saved by mammography, around two in ten women are overdiagnosed. Women who are overdiagnosed cannot benefit from unnecessary chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.'

Under the NHS screening programme in England women are invited for three-yearly mammograms, or X-rays, between the ages of 50 and 70 years. The age limits are being extended to 47-73.

UK cancer charities said they hoped the outcome of the NHS review would provide clarity on the controversial screening issue. A Breast Cancer Care spokesman added: 'Until then, we know that in the majority of cases, the sooner breast cancer is detected, the greater the chances of a better outcome.'

A Susan G Komen for the Cure spokesman said: 'Everyone agrees mammography isn't perfect, but it's the best widely available detection tool we have.'


8 August, 2012

Vitamins often a waste of money, says Australian consumer watchdog

POPPING a daily multivitamin pill could be a waste of time and money, says consumer watchdog Choice.

Healthy individuals who already eat a balanced diet but also take multivitamins could be spending money unnecessarily, an investigation by Choice found.

Although there is sometimes clinical evidence to support taking a supplement, the doses can often be way below levels required to have a significant impact, the organisation said.

"If you have a healthy diet and you're not a person with specific nutritional requirements, there's a good chance you're wasting your money," Choice spokeswoman Ingrid Just said.

"At 20 to 70 cents per day for multivitamin products we priced, the 'worried well' can spend several hundred dollars a year simply by taking a daily pill.

"Marketing messages, often backed up by high-profile sporting celebrities, give the impression that we all need multivitamins to be fit and healthy," she said in a statement.

People taking a range of multivitamins without checking the recommended daily intake (RDI) requirements could be exceeding the RDI for some vitamins and potentially putting their health at risk, as not all vitamins are safe in high doses.

But most multivitamins contain lower doses of ingredients so it's harder for them to be over-consumed, the investigation found.

Vitamin labelling could also confuse consumers, with some labels stating the vitamin name such as B3, while others using the chemical name, niacin.

"An untrained person probably wouldn't know that the two things are one and the same," Ms Just said.

Manufacturers of products sold in Australia are not required to list how each ingredient amount relates to RDI.

"We want manufacturers to list vitamin and mineral values according to the percentage of an appropriate RDI in each dose to help consumers compare apples with apples," Choice's investigation concluded.

Multivitamins are big business, with Choice identifying eight different multivitamin products marketed by both Blackmores and Nature's Own, 11 by Nature's Way and 16 by Swisse.

But some groups definitely benefit from supplements, including pregnant women taking folate before and after conception, the study pointed out.

Choice recommends individuals consult a dietician or GP about their nutritional needs before opting for multivitamin or other supplements.


Obesity crisis over? Scientists discover way to turn 'bad' fat into 'good' fat

It's a long way from practical application however -- and the side effects could be daunting

Scientists have taken a leap forward in the battle against the bulge by discovering how to turn fat into muscle.

The discovery could prove a milestone in tackling diabetes and obesity, which costs the NHS an estimated £4 billion a year, a financial toll which is rising every year.

People have two types of fat - 'bad' white fat which stores energy and accumulates from not exercising enough, and 'good' muscle-like brown fat which burns it.

Researchers have discovered a switch that can turn white fat into brown, which would speed up a person's metabolism and tackle that paunch.

Fat can be "browned" using drugs called thiazolidazines (TZDs), by activating a cell called ppar-gamma, which increases the body's sensitivity to insulin.

But doctors have steered clear of using these drugs because of their harmful side effects which include liver toxicity, bone loss, and, ironically, weight gain.

By studying mice and human fat tissue, scientists at Columbia University Medical Centre in America found that white fat is converted into brown fat when the activity of enzymes called sirtuins increases.

They created a mutant version of the ppar-gamma, in effect mimicking the actions of sirtuins, converting white fat into brown.

The finding, which appears today in the online journal Cell, opens up the possibility to inventing new ways to tackle obesity - one of the biggest threat to health in the UK claiming up to 30,000 lives a year.

The study's lead author Domenico Accili, professor of Medicine at Columbia University, said: 'Turning white fat into brown fat is an appealing therapeutic approach to staunching the obesity epidemic, but it has been difficult to do so in a safe and effective way.'

She added: 'Our findings have two important implications. First, they suggest that TZDs may not be so bad - if you can find a way to tweak their activity.

'Second, one way to tweak their activity is by using sirtuin agonists, that is, drugs that promote sirtuin activity.'

In 2009, almost a quarter of adults (22 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women) in the UK were classified as obese.


7 August, 2012

Greens kill cancer genes

The study below appears to have been conducted in laboratory glassware so is poorly generalizable as yet

IT turns out that mum was right - you really should eat your greens. Numerous studies have found cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage contain cancer-fighting nutrients.

But in a further breakthrough, researchers from Oregon State University in the US have uncovered how green vegetables fight disease in a new study published in the Clinical Epigenetics journal.

They found a key component of broccoli sprouts - sulforaphane - helps suppress breast cancer proliferation and growth, particularly by working through a mechanism called DNA methylation.

Linus Pauling Institute associate professor Emily Ho said this process "turns off genes" and helps control what DNA material gets read as part of genetic communication within cells. This process gets mixed up in cancer sufferers.

She said young sprouts contain more than 50 times the sulforaphane contained in mature broccoli.

"It appears that DNA methylation and HDAC inhibition, both of which can be influenced by sulforaphane, work in concert with each other to maintain proper cell function," she said. "They sort of work as partners and talk to each other."


Time to come clean: little white lies found to be a health hazard

Research from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana has shown telling the truth improves health.  Hard to know how far the finding will generalize but there's probably something in it

 Honesty may actually help your health, suggests a study presented to psychologists at the weekend that found telling fewer lies benefits people physically and mentally.

For this "honesty experiment", 110 individuals aged 18 to 71 participated over a 10-week period. Each week, they visited a laboratory to complete health and relationship measures and to take a polygraph test assessing the number of major lies and white lies they had told that week.

"Recent evidence indicates that Americans average about 11 lies per week. We wanted to find out if living more honestly can actually cause better health," said lead author Anita Kelly, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

"We found that the participants could purposefully and dramatically reduce their everyday lies, and that in turn was associated with significantly improved health."

Researchers instructed half the participants to stop telling lies for the 10 weeks. The instructions said "refrain from telling any lies for any reason to anyone. You may omit truths, refuse to answer questions, and keep secrets, but you cannot say anything that you know to be false."

The other half - who served as a control group - received no such instructions. Over the study period, the link between less lying and improved health was significantly stronger for participants in the no-lie group, the study found. As an example, when participants in the no-lie group told three fewer white lies than they did in other weeks, they experienced, on average, about four fewer mental-health complaints and about three fewer physical complaints.

For the control group, when they told three fewer white lies, they experienced two fewer mental-health complaints and about one less physical complaint. The pattern was similar for major lies, Ms Kelly said.

Overall, Ms Kelly says participants in the more truthful group told significantly fewer lies across the study. By the fifth week, they saw themselves as more honest, she says. For both groups, when participants lied less in a given week, they reported their physical health and mental health to be significantly better that week.

And for those in the more truthful group, telling fewer lies led them to report improvements in close personal relationships. Overall, they reported that their social interactions had gone more smoothly, the study found.

Among those asked not to lie, the participants explained how they did it. Their responses included realising they could: simply tell the truth rather than exaggerate; stop making false excuses for why they were late or had failed to complete tasks; answer a troubling question with another question; change the topic or be vague; and laugh as if the questions were ridiculous.


6 August, 2012

Students With Strong Hearts and Lungs May Make Better Grades

This seems pretty good support for the idea that there is a general syndrome of biological fitness, of which IQ is one part

Having a healthy heart and lungs may be one of the most important factors for middle school students to make good grades in math and reading, according to findings presented at the American Psychological Association's 120th Annual Convention.

"Cardiorespiratory fitness was the only factor that we consistently found to have an impact on both boys' and girls' grades on reading and math tests," said study co-author Trent A. Petrie, PhD, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Sport Psychology at the University of North Texas. "This provides more evidence that schools need to re-examine any policies that have limited students' involvement in physical education classes."

The researchers gathered data at five Texas middle schools from 1,211 students, of whom 54 percent were female with an average age of about 12. Overall, the group was 57 percent white. Among the boys, the breakdown was 57.2 percent white, 24.2 percent Mexican-American, 9.1 percent African American, 1.1 percent Asian-American and 1.2 percent American Indian. For the girls, 58.6 percent were white, 23.4 percent were Mexican-American, 9.2 percent were African-American, 2.3 percent Asian-American and 0.6 percent were American Indian.

While previous studies have found links between being physically fit and improved academic performance, this study also examined several other potential influences, including self-esteem and social support. It also took into account the students' socioeconomic status and their self-reported academic ability, Petrie said.

In addition to cardiorespiratory fitness, social support was related to better reading scores among boys, according to the study. It defined social support as reliable help from family and friends to solve problems or deal with emotions. For girls, having a larger body mass index was the only factor other than cardiorespiratory fitness that predicted better reading scores. For boys and girls, cardiorespiratory fitness was the only factor related to their performance on the math tests. "The finding that a larger body mass index for girls was related to better performance on the reading exam may seem counterintuitive, however past studies have found being overweight was not as important for understanding boys and girls performances on tests as was their level of physical fitness," Petrie said.

From one to five months before the students were to take annual standardized reading and math tests, they answered questions about their level of physical activity, and how they viewed their academic ability, self-esteem and social support. The school district provided information on the students' socioeconomic status and reading and math scores at the end of the year.

To determine students' physical fitness, the researchers worked with physical education teachers to administer a fitness assessment program widely used in U.S. schools. The program includes a variety of tests to assess aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition. The assessment provides an objective measure of cardiorespiratory fitness through the Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run, or PACER, and body composition through measuring BMI, the study said.

"Because this is a longitudinal study, these variables can now be considered risk factors in relation to middle school students' performance on math and reading examinations," Petrie said. "And that is essential to developing effective programs to support academic success."


A starvation diet could actually be good for you - and make you live longer

This has been known from animal studies for many years but it seems to be reaching a wider audience these days

Tomorrow, a BBC TV Horizon investigation looks into the health benefits of fasting.

Science reporter Michael Mosley speaks to scientists who have discovered that periods of eating very little or nothing may be the key to controlling chemicals produced by the body linked to the development of disease and the ageing process. This backs up  recent studies on animals fed very low-calorie diets which found the thinnest (without being medically underweight or malnourished) are the healthiest and live the longest.

The key, say researchers at the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute, is the hormone Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1). Mosley explains: ‘IGF-1 and other growth factors keep our cells constantly active. It’s like driving with your foot on the accelerator pedal, which is fine when your body is shiny and new, but keep doing this all the time and it will break down.’

According to Professor Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute, one way to take the foot off the accelerator, and reduce IGF-1 levels dramatically – as well as cholesterol, and blood pressure – is by fasting.
Controversial theory: The reason experts haven¿t emphasised this is that they don¿t want to trigger eating disorders or demotivate the overweight trying to get into the healthy weight range

Controversial theory: The reason experts haven¿t emphasised this is that they don¿t want to trigger eating disorders or demotivate the overweight trying to get into the healthy weight range

‘You need adequate levels of IGF-1 and other growth factors when you are growing, but high levels later in life appear to lead to accelerated ageing,’ he says. ‘The evidence comes from animals such as the Laron mice we have bred which have been genetically engineered so they don’t respond to IGF-1. They are small  but extraordinarily long-lived.’

The average mouse has a life span of two years – but the Laron typically live 40 per cent longer. The oldest has lived to the human equivalent of 160. They are immune to heart disease and cancer and when they die, as Prof Longo puts it: ‘They simply drop dead.’

During the film, Mosley tries various fasts – for three days straight, and for two days a week, for six weeks – with dramatic results. Not only does he lose weight, but his cholesterol levels and blood pressure improve. These findings chime with recent reports that reaching a ‘healthy’ Body Mass Index (BMI) may not be enough – we need to be as slim as possible to reduce our risk of illness.

The reason experts haven’t emphasised this is that they don’t want to trigger eating disorders or demotivate the overweight trying to get into the healthy weight range. There is only so long, however, we can shy away from this because the evidence keeps mounting.

Matthew Piper, of the Institute of Healthy Ageing, University College London, says: ‘Studies on monkeys show if we restrict the diet there is a delay in the onset of cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes in later life as well as staving off dementia.’

Reducing our food intake over months or years could boost lifespan by 15 to 30 per cent, experts believe.

You can eat pretty much what you want, but the catch is that you have to go through periods of fasting.

I’ve always followed medical advice: never crash diet. But after speaking to Professor Valter Longo, who has been studying the health benefits of fasting, I agreed to try it.

I fasted for just over three days. I ate nothing at all for 82 hours, but drank plenty of water and black tea, plus one cup of low-calorie soup a day. It wasn’t much fun, but I didn’t get any headaches, I slept fine and I felt energetic throughout.

At the end, I had missed out on about 7,500 calories worth of meals. Since you need to cut your food intake by about 3,500 calories to lose 1lb of fat, that means I’d lost just over 2lb of flab.

I also had my blood tested and my levels of the hormone IGF-1 – which scientists believe is linked to ageing – were significantly lower than before.

This, says Valter, is the key to how fasting helps prolong lifespan. The lower our IGF-1, the less likely we are to develop a host of diseases.

The problem was I couldn’t see myself doing three-day fasts regularly, so I tried out something less extreme. I met Dr Krista Varady, of the University of Illinois, Chicago. She explained the merits of Alternate Day Fasting (ADF).

One day you eat whatever you want, the next day you fast. Even on my fasting days I would be allowed about 600 calories.

She said: ‘We recently finished a trial that looked at two different groups, about 16 people in each, doing ADF for ten weeks. We put one group on a low-fat diet, eating lean meats fruits and vegetables. The other group were eating lasagne and pizza. Both groups lost weight but the people eating high-fat meals lost the same amount of weight as those eating low-fat meals.’

And it wasn’t just weight loss. Both groups saw similar falls in the ‘bad’ cholesterol, LDL, and in blood pressure.

I gave it a go, but found it too hard and ended up doing a 600-calorie fast one or two days a week.

I started out at 13½ st. After six weeks on my new regime, I have lost 20lb. My cholesterol, blood glucose and IGF-1 have all improved markedly.

I do believe that with intermittent fasting I can slow down my cells and extend my healthy years. So I plan to stick with it.


5 August, 2012

Daily glass of wine ‘is as good as drugs for protecting thin bones in older women'

Sounds fairly persuasive

One or two glasses of wine a day could work as well as drugs at  protecting older women from thinning bones.  Regular moderate intake of alcohol after the menopause helps to maintain bone strength, according to an international review team.

In comparison, they say, abstaining from alcohol leads to a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.

Hundreds of thousands of postmenopausal women take drugs called bisphosphonates every day to combat thinning bones.  But modest drinking may work as well, suggested the review published in the journal Menopause.

Experts from the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research analysed a study by researchers  at the University of Oregon that showed while women were drinking 19g of alcohol a day – about two small glasses of wine – they had a drop in loss of old bone that improved the balance between old and new bone, maintaining strength.

When the women were asked to stop drinking, their 'bone turnover' went up.

One reviewer said: 'The results suggest an effect of moderate alcohol consumption similar to the effects of bisphosphonates.'

Sarah Leyland of the National Osteoporosis Society warned against drinking more to protect bones and said: 'Moderate amounts of alcohol might be beneficial  for bones, but excessive alcohol increases the risk of fractures, as well as increasing the risk of falls.'

Alcohol appears to remedy the imbalance between the dissolving of old bone and poor production of new bone that can lead to osteoporosis in older women.

In comparison, abstaining from alcohol leads to a higher risk of developing osteoporosis because bone turnover accelerated again.

Osteoporosis is often termed the 'silent disease' as there are no symptoms prior to a fracture. However, once a person has broken a bone, their risk of breaking another bone - a fragility fracture - increases dramatically.

Around 300,000 fragility fractures occur every year in the UK, and hip fractures lead to 1,150 deaths every month.

The Forum last year produced a summary of studies confirming that moderate alcohol consumption is linked with improvements in bone mineral density.

It concluded that moderate consumption of alcohol - especially of beer and wine - improves bone strength in men and postmenopausal women.

The latest analysis looked at a study of 40 healthy postmenopausal women aged around 56 carried out by US researchers at the University of Oregon.

This meant alcohol was reducing the loss of old bone which improved the balance between old and new bone, thus maintaining strength.  When the women were asked to stop drinking, their bone turnover went up.  But a day after they began drinking again, their bone turnover was once again reduced.

The Forum said the study demonstrated changes at a cellular level linked to alcohol which helped explain why drinkers often had better bone strength.

Other recent studies have similarly shown that moderate drinking is associated with improved bone density, although heavy drinking is linked to thinning bones.

A recent study from Finland showed women drinking more than three alcoholic drinks a week had significantly higher bone density than abstainers.

Professor Jonathan Powell and Dr Ravin Jugdaohsingh of the Medical Research Council Nutrition Research Group at Cambridge University, said 'The study is novel and methods appear robust. The authors seem to know what they are doing.

'The moderate alcohol effect on bone is really quite potent. This is the 'big issue' in determining the relation of moderate alcohol intake and bone that needs resolving.

'It would be interesting to investigate just how long the levels of the bone turnover markers remain suppressed - if for 24 hours, then the regular, modest consumption (versus the 3 days a week modest consumption) debate for alcohol has some 'data' that supports the former - at least for bone.'


Chile outlaws fast-food 'happy meals'

Beware: Parochial dimwit at work

MCDONALD'S, Burger King, KFC and other fast-food companies are being accused in Chile of violating the country's new law against including toys with children's meals.

Senator Guido Gerardi filed a formal complaint on Wednesday with the health authority accusing many companies of knowingly endangering the health of children by marketing kids' meals with toys more than a month after the law took effect on June 7.

Gerardi said he's also targeting the makers of cereal, ice cream and other products that include toys, crayons and stickers with their products as well as markets where the food is sold.

If his allegations are upheld by Chile's health ministry, the companies could be forced to remove the products or face fines.

"These businesses know that these foods damage the health of children and they know the law is in effect. They're using fraudulent and abusive methods. Burger King puts toys in its 'happy meals' and this is illegal; so is the unhappy little box of McDonald's," Gerardi said.

An ordinance banning the use of toys in fast-food sales took effect in San Francisco last year, but a similar measure was defeated in New York.

The experience of both US cities helped Gerardi craft his "junk food law", his spokeswoman Carol Bortnick said.

Gerardi said he wrote the law because nearly a quarter of Chile's six-year-olds suffer from childhood obesity.  [And what evidence has he got that his bans will have any effect on it?   Similar bans elsewhere have had no effect]


3 August, 2012

The Feds' War on ... Buckyballs!

It's come to this: In the name of protecting parents from their own lack of responsibility and common sense, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is waging all-out war on an innovative consumer product company in New York.

The vengeful, destructive feds won't stop until the world is safe from tiny, magnetic Buckyballs -- and until every last job created by the firm is wiped out.

Where are the defenders of American innovation and entrepreneurship when you need them? While the White House doles out billions of taxpayer dollars to failed crony ventures, this phenomenally successful toy maker is fighting for its life.

Last week, the agency filed an "administrative complaint" against the manufacturer/distributor of Buckyballs and Buckycubes, New York-based Maxfield and Oberton Holdings LLC. The legal action -- only the second of its kind in 11 years -- seeks to stop all sales of Buckyballs products, force a recall and order full refunds. According to the bureaucrats, "dozens of young children and teenagers swallowed" the adult desk toy, causing "internal injuries requiring surgeries."

A dozen swallowing incidents have been linked by the CPSC to Buckyballs since 2009. Compare that to the estimated 30,000 emergency room visits that occur every year as a result of children swallowing government-minted coins.

There are no fewer than five cautionary labels on every Buckyballs or Buckycubes product box; the company distributes an educational video on the dangers of swallowing the toys. And Maxfield and Oberton has cooperated with the government on safety policy since its inception.

Yet, several feckless retailers (including Brookstone, Amazon and Urban Outfitters) under the regulatory gun have already yanked the magnets from their virtual and physical shelves despite the company's clear warnings that Buckyballs and Buckycubes are for adults -- not children.

"Obviously the bureaucrats see danger everywhere, and those responsible people -- like our company who have vigorously promoted safety and appropriate use of our products -- gets put out of business by an unfair and arbitrary process," Craig Zucker, founder and CEO of Maxfield and Oberton, said in a statement.

Obama's big-business pals sit on do-nothing jobs councils and host countless dog-and-pony shows touting their commitment to "Startup America." But when a 3-year-old startup that has earned $50 million in sales all on its own faces ruthless bureaucratic extinction, the government jobs blowhards are nowhere to be found.


Hunter-gatherers, Westerners use same amount of energy, contrary to theory

Modern lifestyles are generally quite different from those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, a fact that some claim as the cause of the current rise in global obesity, but new results published July 25 in the open access journal PLoS ONE find that there is no difference between the energy expenditure of modern hunter-gatherers and Westerners, casting doubt on this theory.

The research team behind the study, led by Herman Pontzer of Hunter College in New York City, along with David Raichlen of the University of Arizona and Brian M. Wood of Stanford measured daily energy expenditure (calories per day) among the Hadza, a population of traditional hunter-gatherers living in the open savannah of northern Tanzania. Despite spending their days trekking long distances to forage for wild plants and game, the Hadza burned no more calories each day than adults in the U.S. and Europe. The team ran several analyses accounting for the effects of body weight, body fat percentage, age, and gender. In all analyses, daily energy expenditure among the Hadza hunter-gatherers was indistinguishable from that of Westerners. The study was the first to measure energy expenditure in hunter-gatherers directly; previous studies had relied entirely on estimates.

These findings upend the long-held assumption that our hunter-gatherer ancestors expended more energy than modern populations, and challenge the view that obesity in Western populations results from decreased energy expenditure. Instead, the similarity in daily energy expenditure across a broad range of lifestyles suggests that habitual metabolic rates are relatively constant among human populations. This in turn supports the view that the current rise in obesity is due to increased food consumption, not decreased energy expenditure.

The authors emphasize that physical exercise is nonetheless important for maintaining good health. In fact, the Hadza spend a greater percentage of their daily energy budget on physical activity than Westerners do, which may contribute to the health and vitality evident among older Hadza. Still, the similarity in daily energy expenditure between Hadza hunter-gatherers and Westerners suggests that we have more to learn about human physiology and health, particularly in non-Western settings.

"These results highlight the complexity of energy expenditure. It's not simply a function of physical activity," says Pontzer. "Our metabolic rates may be more a reflection of our shared evolutionary past than our diverse modern lifestyles."


2 August, 2012

Want to live longer? Ditch the diet, cancel your gym session - just eat very little

This appears to have worked for the Japanese.  Up until about 1960, most  were very poorly fed,  rarely getting as much to eat as they would have liked.  That has two effects:  Stunted growth and longer lifespan.  Both effects are seen in older Japanese, many of whom  live for a century or more and who are about 6" shorter than younger Japanese

It will be interesting to see what transpires if North Korea is ever liberated.  They have chronic famine there and the average North Korean is 7" shorter than the average South Korean

Forget exercise, fad diets or so-called miracle pills – if you want to live longer simply eat less, a leading scientist has claimed.

Dr Michael Mosley, a presenter on BBC science show Horizon, said ongoing research suggested that a high metabolic rate – how much energy the body uses for normal body functions – is a risk factor for earlier mortality.

And he revealed that communities in Japan and the U.S. which  follow strict, low-calorie diets  appear to have a lifespan longer than the global average.

The 55-year-old said of calorie restriction diets, which are often as low as 600 calories a day: ‘The bottom line is that it is the only thing that’s ever really been shown to prolong life.

‘Ultimately, ageing is a product of a high metabolic rate, which in turn increases the number of free radicals we consume.

‘If you stress the body out by restricting calories or fasting, this seems to cause it to adapt and slow the metabolism down. It’s a version of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.’

Dr Mosley said he did not believe it was necessary to eat three meals a day because ‘what we think of as hunger is mainly habit’.

In a new Horizon programme, he also suggests that intermittent fasting could offer the same benefits as calorie restriction by reducing the growth of hormone IGF-1.

While the hormone maintains and repairs tissue, high levels have been shown to contribute towards cancer and ageing.
New approach: Forget exercise, fad diets or so-called miracle pills ¿ if you want to live longer simply eat less, a leading scientist has claimed

New approach: Forget exercise, fad diets or so-called miracle pills - if you want to live longer simply eat less, a leading scientist has claimed

His comments, made to the Radio Times, come after the Institute of Health Ageing at University College London suggested eating 40 per cent less could extend a person’s life by 20 years.

A researcher said: ‘If you reduce the diet of a rat by 40 per cent it will live for 20 per cent longer. So we would be talking 20 years of human life.

'This has shown on all sorts of organisms, even labradors.’


Anxiety 'raises risk of early death by a fifth'

There could be a social class explanation here if working class  people experience more stress.  Even if they don't, chronic  depression is a mental illness and we know that working class people have poorer health generally

Even low levels of stress of anziety can increase the risk of fatal heart attacks or stroke by up to a fifth, a study has shown.  Anxiety and low-level depression appear to set off physiological changes that make the body more prone to death from cardiovascular disease.

A quarter of adults are at risk of an early death even though their problems are relatively mild, it found.

People who suffer from clinical depression or other major mental health problems have a greater chance of dying early.  But now British researchers have found that even those with problems they don’t consider serious enough to bring to a doctor’s attention, are at an increased risk.

The team found those with “sub-clinical” anxiety or depression had a 20 per cent higher chance of dying over a decade than those who did not.

The researchers, from universities and hospitals in Edinburgh and London, looked at deaths in 68,000 middle aged and older people who they followed from 1994 to 2004.

They found those suffering from sub-clinical anxiety and depression were at a 29 per cent increased risk of dying from heart disease and stroke.

They were also at a 29 per cent increased risk of dying from ‘external causes’ like road accidents and suicide, although these only accounted for a tiny proportion of deaths.

It had been thought that depressed or anxious people were more likely to die early because they failed to take good care of themselves - perhaps smoking and drinking more, eating worse and doing less exercise.

But Dr Tom Russ, lead author of the study, published in the British Medical Journal, said: “These ‘usual suspects’ only make a small difference to mortality.”

Even when these factors and others - including blood pressure - were stripped out of the equation, the link remained, he emphasised.

The psychiatrist, of the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre at Edinburgh University, said this suggested stress altered the physiology of the body to make it intrinsically less healthy.

In particular, he said it could make the body more vulnerable to heart attack and stroke.  He said: “It’s early days, but there’s growing interest in potential physiological changes associated with both distress and cardiovascular pathology.”

Dr Russ pointed out that the group they looked at were not those with serious depression who were simply avoiding medical help.  “If these individuals went to a doctor, they wouldn’t be diagnosed with depression,” he said.  So many people had mild anxiety or depression, “that we really need to take it seriously”, he argued.

But he said neither he nor colleagues who worked on the project were advocating “the medicalisation of anxiety”, nor suggesting people suffering from it should go on drugs.

If anything, they thought treatments not based on drugs should be investigated.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said: "This research highlights the importance of seeking help for mental health problems as soon as they become apparent, as early intervention leads to much better health outcomes all round."

*Meanwhile, new figures show that the number of anti-depressants prescriptions being issued in England has risen by almost 10 per cent in just a year.

Data from the NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care show that the number rose from 42.8 million prescriptions in 2010 to 46.7million in 2011 - a rise of 3.9 million, or 9.1 per cent.

The NHS is now spending £49.8 million on anti-depressants such as citalopram and fluoxetine, better known by its brand name, Prozac.

Of all drug types, antidepressants saw the biggest rise in cost and items dispensed between 2010 and 2011.


1 August, 2012

The pros and cons of selenium intake

Was the largest empire the world has ever seen built by people suffering from  selenium deficiency?  You decide

Who would have thought that the earth beneath our feet could be to blame for health woes ranging from heart disease to thyroid problems to cancer?

Yet that’s the view of some experts who say levels of selenium, a mineral essential for good health, are so low in British soil that it’s affecting the food chain, our diets and, ultimately, our risk of disease.  The body uses selenium to make ‘selenoproteins’, which work like antioxidants preventing damage to cells.  There is a growing body of evidence to show it has a key role in health.

Just last week, researchers at the University of East Anglia found people who eat large amounts of the mineral, along with vitamins C  and E, are 67 per cent less likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

Previous research has shown that in old age a good selenium intake helps enhance brain function, so that cognition remains sharp and active.

The problem is we are not getting enough.  The richest food sources of selenium are Brazil nuts, kidney, liver and fish, but the foods that make the largest contribution to our selenium intake — because we eat proportionately more of them — are cereals, bread, meat and poultry.

However, because levels of selenium in our soil are low, cattle aren’t absorbing as much when they graze, nor are crops or other fresh produce grown on it.  As a result, there is less selenium available from meat, grains and vegetables.

Farming methods have a part to play. In a study conducted at Warwick University’s Horticultural Research Institute a few years ago, it was found that although British and northern European soils have been relatively low in selenium since the last ice age, levels are being further depleted by intensive modern farming methods and the use of chemical fertilisers.

‘Selenium levels in our blood plummeted after the time the government began measuring them in 1974,’ says Margaret Rayman, professor of nutritional medicine at the University of Surrey and a leading researcher in selenium’s effects.  ‘They stabilised at this sub-optimal level in the mid-Nineties as our diets haven’t changed much since.’

She adds: ‘If you live in the UK, the likelihood is you are not grossly deficient, but do have low levels of selenium.’

The problem is compounded by the fact that we import less wheat from America’s selenium-rich soils than ever before, she says.  Soil in the U.S. has higher levels of selenium due both to different geological conditions and the fact that it’s generally more alkaline, allowing better uptake of nutrients by plants.

In fact, the average Briton consumes only half (30-35mcg) of the daily amount recommended by the government (60mcg for women, 75mcg for men).

In the long-term, the effects of low intakes can be devastating, says Professor Rayman.

Earlier this year, in a paper published in The Lancet, she detailed selenium’s links to everything from enhanced fertility and thyroid function to preventing plaque build-up in the arteries and regulating blood pressure.

One study of men with fertility problems showed that 100 mcg selenium supplements taken daily significantly increased sperm cells’ ability to swim, indicating they had been selenium-deficient.  Eleven per cent of men who took the supplement went on to father a child.

‘Selenium is an essential component of two selenoproteins required for healthy sperm,’ says Professor Rayman.  ‘One of these is needed for transportation of selenium into the testes and the other gives sperm a stable structure that allows it to swim.’

But selenium is not without controversy.  Lately, some of the scientists who once hailed it as a small medical breakthrough for serious diseases have backtracked, suggesting their latest findings appear to show its power may have been overstated.

Selenium was, for instance, thought to be able to fight prostate cancer and heart disease, but various studies in the past five years have chipped away at the notions.

One large study in the American Journal of Epidemiology followed more than 1,000 adults for seven-and-a-half years and found those who took 200 mcg of selenium daily had no reduction in their risk of developing heart disease or of dying from it than those who took a placebo.

Indeed, eating large quantities of Brazil nuts was found in one study at the University of Warwick to raise cholesterol levels by 10 per cent and raise the risk of heart disease, not lower it.

And while some scientists have recently shown it protects against bladder cancer in women, others have found it does nothing to help to prevent lung cancer.

Similar conflicting evidence surrounds selenium’s role in the prevention of type 2 diabetes, with some studies suggesting high selenium levels lower the prevalence of the condition by helping to control glucose metabolism.

However, other studies, including research by Saverio Stranges, professor of cardiovascular epidemiology at Warwick University, have found no such benefit and, indeed, that it ‘may increase the risk for the disease’.


£200,000 cystic fibrosis drug 'could transform lives'

They've gots lots of bureaucrats earning in the region of  £200,000 p.a.  You could probably fire the lot of them with no reduction in patient welfare

A drug which could transform the lives of people with cystic fibrosis has been developed, as the health watchdog investigates whether it can be provided on the NHS at an annual cost of £200,000 [per patient].

Trials of the drug Ivacaftor have shown improvement in patients’ breathing and weight gain, with use reducing their need for antibiotics.  It has been shown to help some of those who suffer from cystic fibrosis, and has been hailed by one trial co-ordinator as “remarkable”.

It is now being studied by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) to determine whether it is value for money, at a cost of £200,000 per year.

It has already been approved for use in patients over six years of age in the United States, and by EU watchdogs.  It is expected to become available in France, Germany and the Irish Republic shortly, according to the Times newspaper.

Cystic fibrosis currently affects more than 9,000 people in Britain and is incurable, causing internal organs to be “clogged up” with a sticky mucus.

Caused by a faulty gene, it places severe limitations on sufferers and significantly shortens life expectancy.

Ivacaftor works by targeting a particular mutation, G551D, which is present in around 600 people with cystic fibrosis in Britain – around six per cent.

Stuart Elborn, lead coordinator of the trials from Queen’s University, Belfast, told the newspaper: “When the first slide went up, we were speechless.  “The hair was standing on the back of my neck.  “It was the moment the drug went from being one that might not even work to one that will transform thousands of lives.”

According to the Times, the £200,000 a year cost would use more than half of the £110m UK budget currently used on cystic fibrosis.

Vertex, the company which spent 13 years developing and making the drug, says the cost will be offset against money spent on patients’ spending time in hospital or taking time off work.

A spokesman said they were “working with the health authorities to make it available as quickly as possible”.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. More here on similar findings

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

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

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

The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.

"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 in general but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees -- the statin and antioxidant fads, for instance. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

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

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it

The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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