Monitoring food and health news

-- with particular attention to fads, fallacies and the "obesity" war

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

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

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


31 December, 2009

British parents to be banned from parking near school gates to tackle childhood obesity

Get kids to walk to school so pedophiles can attack them? Brilliant!

Parents face being banned from the school run as part of a controversial attempt to combat childhood obesity. Health chiefs hope introducing residents-only parking areas near schools will encourage pupils to walk or cycle instead. The plans were criticised as 'absolute nonsense' by parents' groups, who claim the Government is at fault for the rise in overweight youngsters. They point to physical exercise classes being cut from the national curriculum and school playing fields being sold off.

Margaret Morrissey, founder of and former chairman of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: 'Children are not obese because they are driven to school and walking a mile to school every day is not going to make any real difference.'

The proposals have been drawn up by the Greater Manchester Health Commission and could be rolled out nationwide. One in ten four and five-year-olds and 18 per cent of ten and 11-year-olds in Greater Manchester are classified as being dangerously overweight or obese. Will Blandamer, director of the Greater Manchester Public Health Network, said: 'It's about exploring as many opportunities as possible because we cannot continue to have obesity figures at the levels they are.' The Greater Manchester Health Commission, a quango of health, education and council bosses, plans to lobby the region's ten local authorities over a parking ban, which could affect around 1,100 schools.

Forecasts predict that more than 1.7million men and women in Greater Manchester will be overweight by 2020. GMHC's report also recommends more 20mph zones in residential side streets to create more spaces to allow safe outdoor play. Mr Blandamer added: 'The basic idea is to try and make walking and cycling and active travel as easy as possible and particularly to promote it among children. 'Twenty mile-per-hour zones have had success elsewhere and now we are asking what else can we do to make areas around schools as safe and pleasant for children as possible? 'Walking buses are already in use at a lot of schools but it's about exploring as many opportunities as possible because we cannot continue to have obesity figures at the levels they are.'

Now the report on the parking ban has been sent to the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, the GMHC will lobby councils to introduce the measures.


Hunger hormone ghrelin causes us to eat more cake

This is a very dubious mouse experiment only -- employing very indirect inferences

NO matter how much you've eaten or how full you feel, the prospect of an extra slice of cake can sometimes be too tempting. Now scientists have discovered why some people crave sugary, fatty food - even when they are stuffed. A study has shown the hunger hormone ghrelin - which the body produces when it feels peckish - encourages the brain to seek out high-calorie food, no matter how much one has eaten. The finding helps explain why Christmas lunch all too often turns into an orgy of overeating.

Ghrelin acts on the brain to make certain foods more attractive. It has also been shown to intensify the pleasurable feelings animals get from cocaine or alcohol.

An experiment at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre suggests ghrelin also makes people crave fatty foods when they are already full. Dr Jeffrey Zigman, a coauthor of the study, said: "What we show is that there may be situations where we are driven to seek out and eat very rewarding foods, even if we're full, for no other reason than our brain tells us to."

The researchers tested the role of the hormone on mice given a large meal. Once the creatures were full, they tested whether they preferred a room where they had previously found high-fat food over one that had offered only bland snacks. When the mice were injected with ghrelin, they preferred the room they associated with high-fat food.


30 December, 2009

Open wide: Dentists now offer quick HIV testing

"Don't forget to floss" may soon be followed by "and don't forget to wear a condom," as dentists and clinics have started to administer state-of-the-art saliva tests that can detect HIV in minutes.

"The surprise factor is you are offering this," said Dr. Catrise Austin, who has tested some 100 patients for HIV at VIP Smiles, her New York City clinic, since July. "The topic of HIV can be uncomfortable for some, so we decided we would talk about it with patients in a matter-of-fact way, the way we talk about cavities and gum disease."

To test for the AIDS-causing virus, all Austin needs to do is swipe a patient's upper and lower gums with a $15 OraQuick Advance kit. Within 20 minutes, the swab will change colors to indicate a positive or negative result — just like a home pregnancy test.

Nationwide, a handful of public health agencies, including in New York City, are trying to bring HIV testing to the dental chair. Approximately one in 10 Americans visit a dentist but not a physician each year, and about a quarter of HIV-infected people don't even know their status, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The city is funding dental HIV testing programs at Metropolitan Hospital, Harlem Hospital and Jacobi Medical Center, as well as small community dental clinics.


Antibody hunts, kills prostate cancer

This could be VERY good news if replicated in humans

US RESEARCHERS have found an antibody that hunts down prostate cancer cells in mice and can destroy the killer disease even in an advanced stage. The antibody, called F77, was found to bond more readily with cancerous prostate tissues and cells than with benign tissue and cells and to promote the death of cancerous tissue, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found.

When injected in mice, F77 bonded with tissue where prostate cancer was the primary cancer in almost all cases (97 per cent) and in tissue cores where the cancer had metastasised around 85 per cent of the time. It recognised even androgen-independent cancer cells, present when prostate cancer is incurable, the study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania showed. F77 "initiated direct cell death of prostate cancer cells ... and effectively prevented tumour outgrowth,'' it said.

But it did not target normal tissue, or tumor tissues in other parts of the body including the colon, kidney, cervix, pancreas, lung, skin or bladder, the study showed.

The antibody "shows promising potential for diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer, especially for androgen-independent metastatic prostate cancer", which often spread to the bones and was difficult to treat, the researchers wrote.

The five-year survival rate for metastatic prostate cancer was just 34 per cent, according to the study. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men, claiming half a million lives each year worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.


29 December, 2009

Disinfectants boost bacteria resistance - study

This study illuminates the importance of aseptic practices ("cleanliness", for short) -- now largely abandoned in British government (NHS) hospitals. No wonder so many people die of "superbugs" acquired in NHS hospitals

DISINFECTANTS commonly used in homes and medical facilities can boost the resistance of some bacteria to life-saving antibiotics, according to a study.

The findings shed light on how at least one pathogen - Pseudomonas aeruginosa - spreads and could apply to other hospital superbugs as well, the authors said. P. aeruginosa, responsible for one-in-10 hospital-acquired infections, is a so-called "opportunistic" bacteria that attacks people with weakened immune systems. It typically infects the pulmonary and urinary tracts, as well as burns and puncture wounds.

In laboratory experiments, researchers showed that the bug can rapidly mutate, building resistance to progressively higher doses of a disinfectant known as BSK, or benzalkonium chloride. Safe for humans, BSK is widely-used in cleaning and disinfecting products to kill bacteria, fungi and algae. The DNA-altered bacteria were able withstand concentrations of BSK up to 400 times greater than the non-mutated strain.

More critically, they also developed a resistance to an antibiotic, ciprofloxacin, even though they had never been exposed to the drug. Ciprofloxacin is a front-line medication in the fight against several bacterial infections and is also the drug of last-resort against the deadly disease anthrax.

"This is very, very worrying," Gerard Fleming, a professor at the National University of Ireland in Galway, said. "We found that in both cases - for the disinfectant and the antibiotic - the (mutated) bacteria was taking them in but expelling them just as quickly. "It would be like trying to pump air into a bicycle tyre with a huge hole in it."

The disinfectant-resistant strain of P. aeruginosa built up immunity against ciprofloxacin up to 10 times more effectively than did the baseline bacteria, the study reported.

In further experiments, the two strains were put together in an environment containing a diluted dose of disinfectant, such as might be found in a hospital or home. The mutated bugs were "highly competitive" with the non-mutated ones, Mr Fleming said. "They outgrew the so-called 'sensitive' strains so rapidly it was hard to believe. "That means that we have a problem - disinfectant may proliferate antibiotic resistance."

Mr Fleming hastened to add that this did not mean that disinfectants should not be used at all. "They are quite important as a first-line defence," he said. "The message is to use them properly - don't water them down to concentrations where they are no longer effective."


Blame your genes for debt binge

SO how's the credit card looking right now? Or are you still in denial for the moment? The orgy of Christmas spending is over, but for many the post-Christmas sales still beckon, and the annual "Jesus Christ" moment can arrive not so much on December 25, but early next month when mail from the likes of Visa and Mastercard starts to lob.

Relax though, for in this brave new era of blame-shifting and absence of personal responsibility, a propensity to overspend may not be your fault, but rather the result of a genetic condition. According to recent research from the London School of Economics and the University of California, some of us may actually have a debt gene which makes us predisposed to over-extending on the credit front.

OK, it's not quite a debt gene as such, but according to co-author Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of the LSE (and quoted on, humans have "a set of genes whose expression, in combination with environmental factors, influences financial decision-making". This little bit of DNA is called the MAOA gene, which apparently can degrade neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate such things as impulsive behaviour.

A study involving some 2500 US young adults (18-26) found that those with a "low efficiency" MAOA gene were more likely to be saddled with credit card debt. In other words, they were more likely to seek immediate gratification rather than weighing up the consequences first.

Apparently, if you carry the wrong variants of this gene (which is also linked to addictive behaviour), the chance you have unpaid bills on the plastic can increase by up to 16 per cent. Whether this means banks in years to come will demand a DNA sample before giving you a credit limit is doubtful, but based on this study it appears some of us may be hard-wired for profligacy. As with most genetic conditions, there is no easy cure. Happy New Year bill paying.


28 December, 2009

Hot stuff for slimmers: The chilli pill that burns off as many calories as a 25-minute jog

Even accepting the claims below as read, you could get a much bigger effect by skipping dessert

A slimming pill whose creators claim can burn calories while you sit at your desk goes on sale today. Capsiplex's makers say the capsule, which is made from hot peppers and capsicum and is used by Hollywood stars Jennifer Lopez, Brad Pitt and Britney Spears, can eat up as many calories as 80 minutes of walking or a 25-minute jog.

Trials at the University of Oklahoma showed adults taking Capsiplex burned off 278 more calories before, during and after a bout of exercise than those on placebos. Experts who developed it had to overcome the fact that capsicum extract is unbearably hot and would cause irritation if eaten in large quantities. A spokesman for Capsiplex said: 'For decades, scientists have known about the weight-loss potential of red-hot peppers. The problem has been the ability to consume such a highly concentrated amount, but we have overcome this by putting a protective coating on the ingredients which stops any gastric irritation. [And stops its absorption??] 'At last we have a safe and healthy supplement to help weight loss.'

A month's supply of the one-a-day capsules costs £29.99. The production of the tablet follows years of medical research into hot peppers and capsicum and their benefits to slimmers. Several studies have found that hot peppers and their extracts are a safe option for nutritional supplements aimed at regulating diet.

The pills are already used in the United States by personal trainers because chilli and capsicum help speed up the metabolism, meaning people can lose weight more rapidly.


Pomegranate lotion offers new hope in war on superbugs

How is an ointment going to be useful against MRSA? For topical use, iodine would probably be just as effective

The secret to beating the superbug MRSA could be found in the pomegranate. Scientists have created an ointment that tackles drug-resistant infections by harnessing chemicals that are contained in the fruit's rind. They found that by combining pomegranate rind with other natural products they created a strong, infection-busting compound. It is hoped that this could lead to the creation of a lotion for hospital patients, or even an antibiotic.

The need for a new method of tackling superbugs is growing more and more desperate as they continue to develop resistance to common antibiotics. Professor Declan Naughton, biomolecular scientist at the University of Kingston, Surrey, said the breakthrough by his team was significant and argued that one way to solve the problem of growing drug resistance was to investigate natural products. He added: 'A great deal of medicines come from plants, but the normal approach taken by the pharmaceutical industry is to try to find one particular active molecule.

'We found that combining three ingredients - pomegranate rind, vitamin C and a metal salt - gave a much more potent effect; killing off, or inhibiting, drug-resistant microbes from growing. 'It was the mix that fantastically increased the activity - there was synergy, where the combined effects were much greater than those exhibited by individual components. It shows nature still has a few tricks up its sleeve.'

Professor Naughton said he hoped the fact that natural products were being used would mean patients would suffer fewer side-effects. [Silly dream. Many natural molecules are highly toxic]

However, it will be a long time before any pomegranate- derived lotions come on to the market. Despite three years of research, the Kingston scientists are still at the stage of testing the fruit's actions on MRSA bacteria in the lab. More testing will be needed to see if it would work on a patient in the ward.

Professor Anthony Coates, a medical microbiologist at St George's Hospital in London, urged caution. He said: 'This observation - the fact it has acted against MRSA and other drug-resistant infections - is potentially significant. 'But we need to remember it is early research, of an observational nature, in vitro [in laboratory glassware].

'The need for new antibiotics is acute. To put it in context, about 20 new classes of antibiotics were marketed between 1940 and 1962 yet only three have been marketed since. 'In all classes, resistance has arisen. Most antibiotics come from nature, so it is very valid to look at natural sources.'


27 December, 2009

Gene found that raises child asthma risk by half

Those pesky genes again. As it was always known to be highly heritable, this is no surprise. The claim that there are also environmental causes is mere assertion, as far as I can tell -- now that the "excess hygeine" hypothesis is looking shaky

A gene that increases the risk of childhood asthma by 50 per cent has been discovered by scientists in one of the largest studies into the disease. The discovery could lead to new treatments for the conditions which affects one million children in Britain.

Scientists in America found the gene called DEBNND1B sets off a chain reaction that causes the immune system to overreact to irritants, triggering symptoms such as difficulty breathing and wheezing. The findings are published online by the New England Journal of Medicine. Only one other gene has been found that increases the chances of developing asthma.

Lead author Dr Hakon Hakonarson, director of the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, compared the genes of 793 children with persistent asthma to those to 1,988 children without to discover those with the disease had a variation in their genetic code.

Dr Hakonarson said: "We now know that the DENND1B gene and its protein are involved in the release of cytokines, which are signalling molecules that in this case tell the body how it should respond to foreign particles. "Many of these particles are well-known triggers of asthma. In asthma, patients have an inappropriate immune response in which they develop airway inflammation and overreaction of the airway muscle cells, referred to as airway hyperresponsiveness. "The gene mutations in DENND1B appear to lead to overproduction of cytokines that subsequently drive this oversensitive response in asthma patients." He added: "Because this gene seems to regulate many different cytokines, intervening in this pathway has great potential for treating asthma.

"Other asthma-related genes remain to be discovered, but finding a way to target this common gene variant could benefit large numbers of children if researchers can develop drugs to contain this signalling pathway. ."

Leanne Metcalf, Director of Research at Asthma UK, said: "A person’s likelihood of developing asthma is a combination of their genetic make-up and the kind of environment they are exposed to, especially in early life. "This large scale and well designed study has shed more light on the link between genetics and the overreaction of the immune system which is responsible for asthma symptoms, and opens up an exciting potential avenue for new treatments for the 1.1m children in the UK with asthma. "It is essential to remember, however, that genetics forms only one part of a much bigger picture, so further research is needed to understand exactly how genetic and environmental factors influence asthma."


Surgical cure for high blood pressure

Sounds good but one wonders what the long-term side-effects will be. Might be disastrous if applied to people where the cause is not neurological

High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and in general the higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk. LIfestyle improvements such as weight loss if necessary, exercise, stopping smoking and a low salt diet can reduce high blood pressure but many will require medication.

There are an estimated 15 million people in Britain with raised blood pressure and drugs to treat the condition are amongst the most commonly prescribed drugs.

For some people their blood pressure remains high even though they eat little salt and take medication.

In these patients the nervous system keeps sending signals from the brain to the kidneys to leave large amounts of salt in the blood which increases the volume of blood, causing a rise in pressure. The kidneys also produce hormones which cause the blood vessels to contract or dilate which also affects blood pressure.

The new procedure interferes with the signals to the kidneys by damaging the nerves carrying them.

The procedure involves passing a wire into the blood vessel in the groin and up into the main artery leading into the kidneys. From there the wire is used to make a series of tiny burns on the inside of the blood vessel which damages the nerve running along the outside of it.

The tiny burns just one millimetre across are the equivalent of snuffing a candle out between the fingers. A series of four or five burns are carried out in a spiral pattern along the inside of the artery to each kidney.

The blood vessel itself does not sustain serious damage as the blood flowing along inside it cools the burn, like running a burned finger under a tap. But the burn is deep enough to affect the nerve on the other side of the vessel.

Once the connection between the brain and kidneys is distrupted the signals to raise blood pressure should stop.

Early results show it can take between one and three months for the procedure to have an effect on blood pressure.

For some patients it will mean their blood pressure will respond to medication and for others it will mean they can reduce their dose or even stop taking them altogether.


26 December, 2009

Myrrh helps lower your cholesterol levels

One awaits replication of this result

The Three Wise Men were actually being cleverer than they thought - scientists have discovered that myrrh is good for your heart. Myrrh is a rust-coloured resin obtained from several species of Commiphora and Balsamodendron trees, native to the Middle East and Ethiopia. It is best known as one of the gifts of the Three Wise Men offered to the infant Jesus, along with gold and frankincense. At the time, myrrh was revered as an embalming ointment and as a perfume but it seems that as well preserving you in death it can preserve you in life too.

In the study, published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health, Nadia Saleh Al-Amoudi, a researcher from King Abd Al-Aziz University in Saudi Arabia noted that myrrh has long been used as a medicinal treatment for sore throats, congestion, and cuts and burns. The researcher fed myrrh resin, among other plant materials, to albino rats, and found that levels of "bad" cholesterol fell and levels of "good" cholesterol went up while the rodents were on the diet.

The discovery opens new doors for research into fighting high cholesterol, a health problem that is closely linked with the rise in obesity. "Of all nutrients, fat is implicated most often as a contributing factor to disease," explains the researchers.

This is not the first time that myrrh has been shown to have health giving properties. A study by Rutgers University in New Jersey found a substance found in the plant extract could be used to fight prostate and breast cancers.


Woman allergic to Christmas trees

A woman who becomes ill at the end of each year has found she is allergic to Christmas trees. Lisa Smith, 26, from East London, has suffered from a mysterious recurring condition since she was a teenager. Initially it was put down to the usual annual bout of winter flu. But now doctors have finally identified that she suffers from a rare allergy to chemicals found in pine needles.

Miss Smith, a swimming instructor, said: "From the moment the first Christmas trees went up in the shops, I'd plunge into what felt like a constant flu. Even on Christmas Day I found it impossible to feel excited about opening presents and would sneeze and cough and blow my nose throughout dinner."

After her fiancé, City worker, Phil French, 27, suggested she may be allergic to Christmas, she did some internet research and discovered it was a genuine condition. A strong smelling sap contained in pine needles can trigger allergies similar to those experienced by hay fever sufferers.

Miss Smith's GP confirmed the diagnosis and she has now replaced her traditional real Christmas tree with an artificial one. She said: "This will be the first time in over a decade I will be able to have a normal Christmas. It will be a relief to open my presents and have a Christmas Dinner without feeling unwell."


25 December, 2009

When herbs are bad for you

Urinary tract cancer associated with Chinese herbal products containing aristolochic acid

The carcinogen aristolochic acid, which was found in many prescribed Chinese herbal products including Guan Mu Tong, is associated with an increased risk of urinary tract cancer, according to a new study published online December 21 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Many countries, such as Taiwan, have banned products containing aristolochic acid (Taiwan did in 2003), because of clinical cases of urothelial cancer in association with aristolochic acid use. However, no such associations, to the authors' knowledge, have been documented in herbal products containing aristolochic acid.

To examine this association, Jung-Der Wang, M.D., ScD, of the Institute of Occupational Medicine and Industrial Hygiene, College of Public Health, at the National Taiwan University, and colleagues conducted a population-based case-control study of Taiwanese patients newly diagnosed with urinary tract cancer from January 1, 2001, to December 31, 2002. They also looked at a random sample of the entire insured population from January 1, 1997, to December 31, 2002. There were 4,594 case patients and 174,701 control subjects in the final analysis. The authors examined the association between having been prescribed Mu Tong, an herb that contains aristolochic acid, and urinary tract cancer using data from the National Health Insurance reimbursement database.

Having been prescribed more than 60 g of Mu Tong (possibly adulterated by Guan Mu Tong before banned), or consumption of an estimated amount of more than 150 mg of aristolochic acid was associated with an increased risk of urinary tract cancer in a dose-dependent manner. The increased risk was independent of arsenic exposure (another risk factor for urinary tract cancer).

"In addition to a ban on products that contain any amount of aristolochic acid, we also recommend continued surveillance of herbs or Chinese herbal products that might be adulterated with aristolochic acid-containing herbs," the authors write. "Finally, patients with a history of aristolochic acid nephropathy or consumption of Mu Tong or Fangchi before they were banned should be monitored regularly for urinary cancer."

Study limitations: Not all of the diagnoses were confirmed by histopathology reports. Subjects may have taken additional nephrotoxic herbs or agents that were not prescribed. Actual intakes of the prescribed herbal products recorded in the National Health Insurance reimbursement database were not validated. Smoking history was not taken into account.


Babyface wins race in longevity study

Good looks do have a general relationship with good health -- The possibility that it might reflect good genes is however avoided below -- predictably

PEOPLE who look young for their age are already the envy of their peers. But those holding back the years haven't just been blessed in the looks department. Scientists have shown looking younger than you are also means you will live longer. They suggest patients could give GPs a photograph of themselves since this would be as good a guide to their longevity as complicated testing.

University of Southern Denmark Professor Kaare Christensen tested the belief that a person's perceived age gave a general indication of health. His team looked at twins to see whether perceived age, or how old others think you are, was linked to survival and age-related traits such as physical functioning and brainpower.

"It's probably easy to explain because people who've had a tougher life are more likely to die early and their life is reflected in their face."


24 December, 2009

Having sex at an early age can double risk of cervical cancer (?)

Or is it that the type of people who have sex at an earlier age are more likely to get cancer anyhow? Who knows? The study authors admit that it is poverty-related and poverty is health-related

Women having sex at an early age can double the risk of developing cervical cancer, according to researchers. A study shows women are at greater risk from the disease by becoming sexually active at a young age, prompting campaigners to call for the screening age limit to be lowered. The study published in the British Journal of Cancer into why poorer women have a higher risk of the disease found they tended to have sex four years earlier than more affluent women.

In England, women do not qualify for NHS screening until they reach 25, perhaps ten years after they may have contracted HPV, the sexually transmitted virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer.

The age at which a woman had her first baby was also an important factor, according to the study of 20,000 women by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. But smoking and the number of sexual partners did not account for any of the difference.

Dr Silvia Francheschi, who led the study, said the risk of cervical cancer was higher in women who had their first intercourse aged 20, compared with 25. She said: “In our study, poorer women become sexually active on average four years earlier. So they may also have been infected with HPV earlier, giving the virus more time to produce the long sequence of events that are needed for cancer development.”

Women aged between 25 and 49 are offered checks every three years in England, while women aged 50 to 64 get five yearly checks for pre cancerous changes that could develop into cancer without treatment.

Dr Lesley Walker, of Cancer Research UK, said: “These results back up the need for the HPV vaccination to be given in schools at an age before they start having sex, especially among girls in deprived areas.”


Bourbon gives you worse hangovers

Wine, whisky and beer cause more problems for drinkers the next day than beverages like vodka, a new study suggests. Researchers say that the problem lies in organic byproducts created by the fermenting process. Drinks which contain more of these compounds appear to produce worse hangovers, scientists found.

They tested the theory by comparing the hangovers of a group of almost 100 people who had drank either vodka, bourbon, an American whisky made mainly from corn, or a placebo.

Although there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence that some drinks trigger worse hangovers, the researchers said there had been little scientific study into the area. Much that had been done had failed to exclude the effects of the alcohol itself, they added.

For their research the team took blood tests from volunteers to ensure that all alcohol had left their body before interviewing them about how they were feeling. Damaris J. Rohsenow, from Brown University, in Rhode Island, who led the study, said: "While alcohol in the beverage did increase how hungover people reported feeling the next morning compared to drinking a placebo, bourbon made people feel even worse than vodka did." Typical symptoms included a headache, nausea, thirst, tiredness and generally feeling unwell.

Despite having less of a hangover, those who had drunk vodka performed no better on tests requiring them to concentrate than the bourbon drinkers, researchers also found.

Previous studies have shown that these byproducts in alcohol, called "congeners," can have slight toxic effects. They are more plentiful in darker coloured drinks, including whisky and red wine. Bourbon is thought to contain around 37 times more congeners than vodka. “While the alcohol alone is enough to make many people feel sick the next day, these toxic natural substances can add to the ill effects as our body reacts to them," Mr Rohsenow said.

The findings are published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.


23 December, 2009

The secret to a healthy life? Try tomato seeds

Maybe there's something in it. I would like to see the double-blind trials, though. What control groups were used? How strong was the effect? The validation studies were supposedly published in the ACJN but a search on "fruitflow" there gives nil results. Possibly due to a more technical name, of course

A natural ingredient found in tomato seeds has been identified by British scientists as a key component to a long and healthy life. The gel prevents the blood from becoming sticky and clotting and so is being promoted as a natural alternative to aspirin. It was discovered by food researchers investigating the [non-existent] benefits of a Mediterranean diet.

Patented as Fruitflow, it is already being used in one fruit juice product and is now expected to be added to dairy drinks, spreads and other foods. EU health watchdogs have accepted that the ingredient does improve blood flow and have approved the use of such claims on packaging.

Fruitflow was discovered in 1999 by Professor Asim Dutta-Roy at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen. It is derived from the gel around tomato seeds. Clinical trials have shown it can help maintain a healthy blood circulation by preventing the clumping of blood platelets which can lead to clots.

Both Fruitflow and aspirin work by changing the characteristics of platelets, which are tiny cells in the blood. Normally they are smooth, but inflammation in the blood vessels - linked to smoking, high cholesterol and stress - causes them to become spiky and so stick together, forming clots. Aspirin strongly blocks one set of signals that causes this to happen. Fruitflow more gently damps down three others, enough to reduce the risk of clotting.

Currently, millions of older people take small doses of aspirin daily to improve blood flow. However this can have unwelcome side effects such as bleeding in the stomach and the creation of ulcers. Professor-Dutta-Roy said: 'To date, no side effects have been demonstrated during the development of Fruitflow.'

Research shows that a smoother blood flow can be seen within three hours of taking Fruitflow and the results can last up to 18 hours, making it ideal for daily consumption. The gel, which is colourless and tasteless, is extracted from tomato seeds and can then be added to a range of foods without changing their characteristics. It is currently added to Sirco, a range of 100 per cent pure fruit juices available from Waitrose, Ocado and some health food shops.


'World first' junk food tax flagged

Legal enforcement for a hatred of food that people enjoy. There is no such thing as junk food. What makes you fat is the total amount that you eat. You can get slim on McDonald's food. Some have. And you can get fat on milk. Is milk a junk food? What makes a food junk? Fat? Are roast dinners junk food, then? What about butter, margarine and cheese? They are full of fat. Are they junk too?

TAIWAN is planning the world's first tax on junk food in a bid to encourage the public to eat healthily and cut obesity rates. The Bureau of Health Promotion is drafting a Bill to levy the special tax on food deemed unhealthy, such as sugary drinks, candy, cakes, fast food and alcohol, said the Apple Daily.

Revenue from the tax would finance groups promoting health awareness or subsidise the island's cash-strapped national health insurance programme, the report said.

The Bill is expected to be submitted to the Parliament for approval next year and could take effect around 2011, it said, citing the bureau's director Chiou Shu-ti.

Taiwan would be the first government in the world to impose junk food tax if the Bill is passed, according to local health advocacy group John Tung Foundation. "Overweight problems are getting worse in Taiwan with 25 to 30 per cent of children obese, and it will cause more strain on our national health system," Beryl Sheu, chief of the foundation's food nutrition division, said. "Hopefully the tax will dissuade people from eating junk food and snacks and prompt food companies to make healthier products."


22 December, 2009

San Francisco folly -- but who expects anything else?

Gavin Newsom is at it again. The San Francisco mayor's latest foray into annoying nanny statism is a proposal, reported in The Chronicle last week, to require the city's cell phone retailers to post the radiation levels of their products. Where to begin?

In other cities, mayors usually try to make it easier for local businesses to prosper. But in The Special City, the mayor somehow manages to find ways that, if anything, make it harder for commercial enterprises to compete with out-of-town retailers. In San Francisco, that's not a priority. Newsom wants to require cell phone companies to post warnings for an ostensible cancer threat that has not been established.

Don't take my word for it. The Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration say cell phones sold in America are safe. The World Health Organization says they are not a health risk.

The Environmental Working Group has found studies that suggest that there could be problems from long-term cell phone use.

On the other hand, the American Cancer Society -- which isn't afraid to cry "carcinogen" -- looked at studies on cell phone use and cancer and found the following: "Patients with brain tumors do not report more cell phone use overall than the controls. This finding is true when all brain tumors are considered as a group, when specific types of tumors are considered, and when specific locations within the brain are considered. In fact, most of the studies show a trend toward a lower risk of brain tumors among cell phone uses, for unclear reasons." (My italics.) The Cancer Society did warn that there has not been enough research to determine if cell phones might affect children differently than adults.

Now, I would not suggest that Newsom require that cell phone retailers post signs that say that adult cell phone users may be less likely to get cancer.

For one thing, at some point, researchers probably will find some kind of link between gluing one's ear to a mobile device and a disease -- if only because cell phone addicts often work nonstop, talk too loudly and sometimes walk in front of moving cars. These days, everything eventually gets linked to cancer. But couldn't the mayor wait until a health authority or cancer-fighting organization deemed cell phones to be carcinogenic?

Of course not. Why, the French Senate is considering restrictions on the promotion and sale of cell phones to children. And as Newsom told The Chronicle's Heather Knight, "If we prevail, and I believe we will prevail, other cities will follow suit." The siren call -- a Model for Other Cities -- is ineluctable to a mayor who cannot resist the whiff of bragging rights at the Davos Economic Forum annual confab. Newsom can point to the city's Precautionary Principle Ordinance, which cites "a duty to take anticipatory action to prevent harm." That's EssEff-ese for: more mandates for warning signs.

After all, who possibly could object to signs that simply inform consumers? Problem is, after the passage of Proposition 65, which mandated warning signs for anything remotely toxic, in 1986, Californians don't even notice warning signs. You see them in buildings, on line, in elevators -- even at the cell phone store -- except you don't notice them because they're like background noise.

So an Outline by Team Newsom proposes to get around warning-blindness by requiring that stores post a phone's SAR -- or Specific Absorption Rate, a new term you can learn and forget -- in type as large as the font for the phone's price. (Talk about your invitation to small print.)

The most annoying part of all: Newsom and city supervisors spend too much time trying to do other people's jobs -- when they ought to be working on improving the quality of life in San Francisco. There's no need to be a fill-in for the FDA. If Newsom thinks it is his job to reduce risky behavior, he instead could focus on the estimated 900-plus new cases of HIV in the city each year.

Closer to home, if Newsom feels the urge to warn people of potential threats, he might want to put up a warning signs under Welcome to San Francisco banners -- that disclose the city's 99 homicides in 2008. As the precautionary principle ordinance notes, the public has a "right to know."


Breakfast cerals get a small reprieve

Adding raisins to sweeten children's cereal is not bad for their teeth, research has found. If no sugar is added to food containg the sweet dried fruit it is rapidly cleared from the surface of teeth, meaning it poses no serious risk of cavities. Higher dental plaque acid levels contributes to cavities in children - but eating bran flakes with raisins containing no added sugar does not increase acid in dental plaque than just bran flakes alone, according to the study.

Christine Wu, professor and director of cariology research at the University of Illinois at Chicago and lead investigator of the study, said: "Some dentists believe sweet, sticky foods such as raisins cause cavities because they are difficult to clear off the tooth surfaces." "But studies have shown that raisins are rapidly cleared from the surface of the teeth just like apples, bananas and chocolate."

In the study, published in the journal Pediatric Dentistry, children ages 7 to 11 compared four food groups - raisins, bran flakes, a commercial raisin bran cereal, and a mix of bran flakes with raisins without added sugar. Children chewed and swallowed the test foods within two minutes. The acid produced by the plaque bacteria on the surface of their teeth was measured at intervals.

Plaque bacteria on tooth surfaces can ferment various sugars such as glucose, fructose or sucrose and produce acids that may promote decay. But sucrose is also used by bacteria to produce sticky sugar polymers that help the bacteria remain on tooth surfaces, Wu said. Raisins themselves do not contain sucrose.

In a previous study at UIC, researchers identified several natural compounds from raisins that can inhibit the growth of some oral bacteria linked to cavities or gum disease.


21 December, 2009

Another anti-ageing pill

On the evidence offered, the benefits are slight. And being full of antioxidants, it will probably shorten your life, perhaps by encouraging cancer. The big picture is obviously out of sight below -- as in much medical research

Forget all those tubs of cream clogging up the bathroom cabinet. If scientific claims of an anti-wrinkle breakthrough are to be taken at face value, the secret of young-looking skin could soon be to pop a pill. Scientists have designed a sugar-coated tablet the size of a Smartie that they say has been shown in trials to bring a dramatic slowdown in ageing of the skin. It has been developed by the confectionery giant Nestlé and L’Oréal, the world’s biggest cosmetics company. Combining nutritional and dermatological science, they have used a compound found in tomatoes to promote the regeneration of new skin cells and protect old ones from damage.

The anti-wrinkle pill belongs to a rapidly developing class of products called cosmeceuticals, beauty treatments that are swallowed and work from within, instead of being rubbed on the skin or hair. The manufacturers hope its sugary flavours will mean women — and men — see it as a lifestyle product rather than medicine.

The sweet red pill, called Innéov Fermeté, has already gone on sale in parts of Europe and South America. A British launch is planned, although the companies this weekend declined to confirm a date. Before this can happen, teams of skincare consultants will have to be trained to help customers with advice on taking the pill.

Hundreds of anti-wrinkle products claim to slow ageing of the skin, but produce disappointing results. The developers of the new pill, however, say trials were so successful that it has the potential to sweep the market for anti-ageing products, worth more than £700m a year in Britain. Sales of anti-ageing treatments have held up well during the recession, with Boots reporting a 3.4% rise this year, due largely to demand for its No 7 Protect and Perfect anti-ageing cream.

Patricia Manissier, head of research and development at Innéov, the L’Oréal/Nestlé joint venture producing the new drug, said: “We have done a lot of research which shows this product works and now we’re looking for ways of improving it. We know that good nutrition can prevent the skin from ageing and that there are clear links between certain nutrients and skin health.”

Scientists developing the pill based it on lycopene, the red carotene pigment found in tomatoes. They modified it into a form more readily absorbed by human cells, then combined it with a form of vitamin C and with isoflavones — chemicals extracted from soya beans. All three ingredients are powerful antioxidants which, scientists believe, help protect tissue against damage.

The developers have tested their wrinkle drug with two groups of female volunteers: 90 post-menopausal women aged 51-69 and 70 others with an average age of 45. In each study, the women were divided into those who took the new pill and those who swallowed a placebo. After six months, the skin of those taking the real drug showed an 8.7% better rate of elasticity — the rate at which it sprang back into place after being stretched or twisted rather than leaving wrinkles.

One drawback, however, is the cost. The new drug will cost about £25 for a 10-day supply. In addition, manufacturers say women may not notice a difference for three months.


Soothing sounds play part in healing

There may be something in this aside from a placebo effect. Music can have a strong positive emotional impact and psychosomatic effects are well-known. One would think it to be important to get the right music for the person, however.

MUSIC can soothe the mind but it can also heal the body. Studies into the restorative powers of Mozart, Beethoven and even Beyonce have found regular exposure to music, particularly live performance, can lower blood pressure, ease anxiety and alleviate pain.

According to Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Australia - which conducts therapy, training and research at the Golden Stave Music Therapy Centre, at the University of Western Sydney - music can benefit children, teens and adults with a range of health issues. Music can help treat autism spectrum disorders, dementia, intellectual and learning problems as well as people with limited verbal skills.

Studies by the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London found that hospital patients who had regular exposure to visual art or music experienced a 48 per cent reduction in their stress levels, measured by the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Live music in particular was found to be highly effective in combating anxiety, with a 32 per cent improvement reported in those patients.

Bonnie Nilsson, one of four music therapists based at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, recently visited a 10-year-old girl who was due to have a needle inserted into her spine and composed a funny song about the doctors and needles. "Last week it took them two hours to calm her down and I went in and it took them 40 minutes," she said.

Ms Nilsson said choice of music was one of the few luxuries afforded to sick children who could find themselves confined to the hospital for long periods. "They lose a lot of control over everything to do with their body and their treatment, so … with music they get to choose, they have control in the session, they can choose which instrument to play … and it increases their moods and stimulates them," she said.

At Westmead, the Sydney Symphony participates in the music4health program in partnership with health insurer MBF. Members of its brass section led about 50 sick children and their parents in a Christmas carol singalong this month.

Kayla Coppe, 13, has been in and out of the hospital since she was born because of a rare condition that caused her to suffer several strokes. Her mother Rebecca said music had been Kayla's lifeline. "She goes into a different world when she listens to music. It is wonderful to see her escape like that." During her last stay at hospital, Kayla was in the isolation ward where her only company was a music therapist, who took instruments and played with the teenager for more than an hour. "It lifted her mood greatly," Mrs Coppe said.

Adolescent psychiatrist Sloane Madden said live concerts provided sick children with the chance to meet their idols and do things ordinary kids do. "We know that when kids are feeling better about themselves, they're likely to be more motivated around their treatment."

Symphony trombonist Ron Prussing said the concerts - there have been eight at Westmead this year - provided some welcome respite for the parents as well. "It must be very draining for the parents who are there day in, day out and to see their kids away from their troubles must be wonderful."


20 December, 2009

A sly bit of propaganda

A cancer research organization says below that it is a myth that people of middling weight are healthier and claims instead that "Extra weight means extra risk for chronic diseases like cancer". That may be true but it is OVERALL mortality that matters. Extra weight may increase some risks but it decreases others -- e.g. fat women get less breast cancer. It is of course true that BMI can be misleading but it is BMI that most of the alarmist "findings" are based on so they are trying to have their cake and eat it too. I also note that they are willing to control for smoking history but not for social class. They are in other words ready to admit the influence of third factors when it helps their case but other factors are ignored

Last year, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that being moderately overweight was not associated with the increase in death rates that was observed among the obese. In fact, that study found that the moderately overweight even had a lower death rate than individuals at normal weight.

This surprising finding bolstered a belief that being 10 or 15 pounds overweight was healthy. One sociology professor interviewed about the study in the New York Times went to so far as to assert that the study proved that what most people consider overweight is actually “the optimal weight.”

Another study appeared late this summer in the British medical journal The Lancet. This study was a review of previous studies on obesity and cardiovascular health among patients with coronary artery disease (CAD). Once again, the conclusion was surprising: as of four years (on average) after being diagnosed with CAD, subjects who fell into the overweight or mildly obese categories had the lowest risk for dying. The authors of the study did not conclude, however, that being overweight is “healthy.”

Instead, they strongly suggested that the most widely-used method to classify overweight and obesity (the body-mass index (BMI), which expresses weight in proportion to height) is simply an imperfect tool. They noted that “these findings could be explained by the lack of discriminatory power of BMI to differentiate between body fat and lean mass.” An accompanying Lancet editorial went further, saying flatly that BMI should be “left aside” as a clinical tool.

Only one week later, in the August 24 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, a major study appeared that shed new light on those much buzzed-about studies. In the new study, 527,265 men and women who were between 50 and 71 years old at the start of the study had their diets, medical histories and other factors tracked by researchers. After 10 years, 61,317 participants had died. When researchers analyzed the data, they looked at death rates among healthy people who had never smoked. (It was important to eliminate the effect of smoking on weight, because smokers are a paradox: they have higher death rates, but tend not to be overweight or obese.)

When the researchers did this, the effect of overweight and obesity at midlife (age 50) became much easier to measure: overweight people had a 20 to 40 percent higher death rate. (The death rates among obese individuals, depending on their degree of obesity, were double or triple the rate of healthy participants.)

Even so, Collins points out that studies that examine death rates alone are missing something. “Advances in medical care are lessening some of the impact that moderate obesity plays on death rates, but moderately obese individuals are more likely to develop other conditions that lessen quality of life and require multiple medications that come with their own side effects. “Studies link even moderate amounts of excess weight to increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and the demand for long-term medications.”

A 2005 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health followed 6798 middle-aged British men and showed that, after 20 years, subjects who became moderately overweight had a 24% higher risk of cardiovascular disease, and twice the risk of diabetes, than subjects at normal weight. Men who became considerably overweight had 41 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and 4 times the risk of diabetes than normal-weight subjects. And those men who became obese over the course of the study increased their risk of cardiovascular disease by 78 percent, and were nearly 8 times as likely to develop diabetes.

The evidence that overweight and obesity increase risk for certain cancers (especially post-menopausal breast cancer) is growing. Carrying extra weight also increases the odds for arthritis, gallstones, gout, sleep apnea and similar conditions caused, directly or indirectly, by the stress of extra weight on the body.


Natural swine flu defence found

Sounds interesting

A previously unknown natural defence against swine flu and other viruses has been discovered which could lead to new treatments. Scientists found that the virus-fighting proteins protected against swine flu when levels were increased. When the proteins were removed the swine flu virus was able to multiply in the body unchecked. The accidental discovery may help to explain why some people develop serious symptoms when they contract flu and others do not.

The protein, IFITM3, and although it appeared to be connected to the functioning of the immune system, how it worked and what it did had never been understood. Professor Stephen Elledge, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, US, who led the research, said: "We've uncovered the first-line defence in how our bodies fight the flu virus. "The protein is there to stop the flu. Every cell has a constitutive immune response that is ready for the virus. If we get rid of that, the virus has a heyday."

The findings, reported in the journal Cell, could pave the way to new kinds of antiviral treatment, say the scientists. However, it remains to be seen what the long-term side effects of boosting levels of the proteins might be.

The news comes as Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer, announced the latest swine flu figures showing a further drop in cases with an estimated 9,000 new diagnoses last week. It is thought over 800,000 people have suffered symptoms of swine flu since it first emerged in England in April. It appears that the second wave of the disease is coming to an end but he warned that it is not know what will happen in the New Year. Sir Liam said the NHS had coped 'brilliantly' with swine flu this year.

The vaccination programme is also progressing with three million people out of the nine million in the first priority groups already immunised. More than 100,000 pregnant women have so far been vaccinated, Prof David Salisbury, head of immunisation said, out of around 550,000 women who are pregnant at any one time in England. Two thirds of local NHS organisations have now reached agreements with GPs to start vaccinating children aged between six months and five years.


19 December, 2009

Overeating prevention hormone 'may protect against Alzheimer's'

Journal article here. A study of 89 Alzheimer's sufferers. There may be something in this but the sample is of unknown representativeness, the effects are weak and extreme-group analyses are not very persuasive. And confounding factors do not appear to have been explored

A hormone that helps to prevent overeating may also protect against Alzheimer's disease, researchers have discovered. Scientists discovered that higher levels of leptin are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's.

Leptin is produced by fat cells and sends a "feeling full" signal to the brain that reduces appetite. But there is growing evidence that the hormone also benefits brain development and function, and memory. Earlier research has shown that it reduces levels of beta-amyloid protein in the brain, a major component of the sticky deposits that are a key hallmark of Alzheimer's.

In the latest study, scientists carried out regular brain scans on 198 older volunteers after measuring their leptin levels. Over a 12-year follow-up period, a quarter of those with the lowest levels of leptin developed Alzheimer's compared with six per cent of those with the highest levels. Higher leptin concentrations were also associated with greater total brain volume. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Study leader Dr Sudha Seshadri, from Boston University Medical Center in the US, said: "If our findings are confirmed by others, leptin levels in older adults may serve as one of several possible biomarkers for healthy brain ageing and, more importantly, may open new pathways for possible preventive and therapeutic intervention."


Drinking three cups of tea or coffee a day cuts risk of age-related diabetes by 23%

Good to see a metanalysis of this crowded field but the overall effect they come up with is too slight to be taken very seriously. Lots of diabetics DO drink tea and coffee, so where does that lead us?

Drinking more than three cups of tea a day cuts the risk of diabetes, say researchers. Studies show that regular tea drinkers have a 25 per cent lower chance of developing Type 2 diabetes compared to those drinking tea occasionally or not at all. Almost 80 per cent of Britons are tea drinkers, getting through 165million cups a day. Diabetes affects 2.3million. Researchers are suggesting doctors tell patients most likely to develop the condition to step up their tea consumption.

The seven studies involved almost 300,000 tea drinkers, while further studies included information on those who drank regular coffee and decaffeinated coffee. They showed coffee drinking was also linked with a reduced risk of developing diabetes, says a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine journal.

The researchers from the University of Sydney collated studies involving 286,701 people which looked at the association between tea consumption and diabetes risk published between 1966 and 2009. In addition, 18 studies on coffee and diabetes found that drinking four cups cut the risk of getting diabetes by 25 per cent compared to those drinking no coffee.

Dr Rachel Huxley, who led the research team, said the protection appeared to be due to 'direct biological effects' A link was also found with decaffeinated coffee, so caffeine was unlikely to be solely responsible for the effect. She said: 'The identification of the active components of these beverages would open up new therapeutic pathways for the primary prevention of diabetes.'

Dr Carrie Ruxton, scientific adviser to the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel, said: 'The authors found that individuals who drank three to four cups per day had a 25 per cent lower risk than those who drank between zero and two cups per day. 'This protective effect may be due to the variety of compounds present in tea, including antioxidants.'


18 December, 2009

The health freaks are now gunning for Santa

One wonders if this is entirely serious. Anybody who talks of "giant multinational capitalists" is probably cross-eyed with hate, however

SANTA Claus has been accused of acting in ways that could "damage millions of lives". As the mythical man in red zooms around the planet delivering gifts, he is an unwitting promoter of obesity, unhealthy products, disease and even drink driving, according to an Australian academic. "Other dangerous activities that Santa could be accused of promoting include speeding, disregard for road rules and extreme sports such as roof surfing and chimney jumping," said Dr Nathan Grills, public health fellow at Monash University's Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine. "Despite the risks of high speed air travel, Santa is never depicted wearing a seatbelt or helmet."

In a paper published by the British Medical Journal, Dr Grills said Santa Claus' contemporary image became cemented in the public consciousness through a series of Coca Cola advertisements that began in the 1930s. His image was subsequently used in tobacco advertising and, while most countries had moved to ban this, it was common to still see Santa pictured on Christmas cards with a pipe in hand.

A study found Santa Claus was the only fictional character that was more highly recognised by US children than Ronald McDonald. "If Ronald McDonald can be so effective at selling burgers to children, we might expect Santa to be equally effective at selling other goods," Dr Grills said. "... Public health needs to be aware of what giant multinational capitalists realised long ago, that Santa sells and sometimes he sells harmful products."

Dr Grills said countries like India were increasingly celebrating Christmas, and Santa's image could again be used to sell harmful products where there was less regulation of advertising.

Santa's "rotund sedentary image" also had the effect of making "obesity synonymous with cheerfulness and joviality" around the world, he said. Children were also encouraged to leave out brandy, or other hard liquor, for a man who had to do a lot of travel and visit a lot of houses all in one night.

Amid a global swine flu pandemic, Dr Grills said most people who stood in as Santa impersonators were not required to undergo a health check - and they get "kissed and hugged" by a succession of "snotty-nosed kids". "We need to be aware that Santa has an ability to influence people, and especially children, towards unhealthy behaviour," he said. "Given Santa's universal appeal, and reasoning from a public health perspective, Santa needs to affect health by only 0.1 per cent to damage millions of lives."

Instead using a sleigh, Santa should be "encouraged to adopt a more active method to deliver toys - swapping his reindeer for a bike or simply walking or jogging", Dr Grills said.


Soy products may help 'prevent breast cancer returning'

Just the old social class effect again. The workers wouldn't be seen dead eating all that tofu crap

A study on women with breast cancer found those with the highest consumption of soy foods had lower recurrence of the disease. The finding is controversial as some studies have suggested soy foods, which contain chemicals which mimic female hormones in the body, may encourage cancer or interfere with medicines used to treat it.

Lead author Dr Xiao Ou Shu, M.D., of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, in America, found patients with the highest intake of soy protein had a 29 per cent lower risk of death during the study period, and a 32 per cent lower risk of breast cancer recurrence compared to patients with the lowest intake of soy protein.

An accompanying editorial by Dr Rachel Ballard-Barbash, of the National Cancer Institute, in Bethesda, Maryland, and Dr Marian Neuhouser, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, wrote: "Even though the findings suggest that consumption of soy foods among breast cancer patients is probably safe, studies in larger cohorts are required to understand the effects of these foods among diverse clinical subgroups of breast cancer patients and survivors.

"In the meantime, clinicians can advise their patients with breast cancer that soy foods are safe to eat and that these foods may offer some protective benefit for long-term health. "Moreover, the potential benefits are confined to soy foods, and inferences should not be made about the risks or benefits of soy-containing dietary supplements.

"Patients with breast cancer can be assured that enjoying a soy latte or indulging in pad Thai with tofu causes no harm and, when consumed in plentiful amounts, may reduce risk of disease recurrence."

The study, carried out on 5,042 patients aged between 20 and 75 who were diagnosed between 2002 and 2006. They were followed up for an average of four years. High soy intake was defined as 11 grams per day.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


17 December, 2009

British headteacher rapped for keeping a box of Kit-Kats to reward well-behaved pupils

Food fads are not harmless. Here we see good educational practice undermined by them. The sheer dogmatism of it all is unnerving. There are frequent claims from researchers to say that chocolate is beneficial but these killjoys just KNOW it is bad

A school headmaster has been criticised for breaching healthy food guidelines by handing out chocolate bars to reward pupils for effort. John Waszek, of St Edward’s College, Liverpool, was pulled up by a joint team of NHS and town hall healthy eating inspectors tasked with eradicating junk food and excess sugar and salt in schools.

Mr Waszek’s methods were called into question when an auditor from the city’s Transforming School Food Strategy unit inspected the school and spotted a box of KitKats in his office. He was sent a warning that the school was in breach of guidelines which have banned such items since 2007. The warning stated ‘There are a number of non-permitted school meal items in stock. These include confectionery items – sweets and chocolate.’

Mr Waszek confirmed the school operates a policy to promote healthy eating. He said: 'The person came into school and I was told that chocolate should not be allowed and we were in breach of the regulations. 'I asked “Do you mean the box of KitKats?” and I was told yes. I just laughed.'

Mr Wazsek often holds informal 'pastoral' meetings to discuss and problems and progress with pupils. He added: 'I ask the students would they like a tea, coffee or hot chocolate and they can have a KitKat with the drink. 'That's why we have a box of KitKats in school.'

He also revealed the school had also been warned against handing out sausage rolls to members of sports team after a game. However, he pointed out that St Edward's has achieved National Healthy School Status, awarded for excellence in physical activity, healthy eating and emotional health.

Mr Waszek added: 'The motives are fantastic. I don't have a problem with the healthy schools sentiment and a lot of the guidelines are absolutely right. 'But our job is made more difficult by legislative requirements.'

The Transforming School Food Strategy unit is run in partnership by Liverpool NHS Primary Care Trust and Liverpool City Council. Liverpool City Council said the team was working with schools to advise and help them meet national healthy eating targets set out by the Food Standards Agency. A town hall spokesman said: 'We have had a fantastic response from schools, who tell us how useful this service is in helping them meet these targets. 'The government says all students are entitled to a broad and balanced diet. We are there to support schools in achieving this. 'This work is having a real impact, with the quality of school meals and food in general improving dramatically in recent years. 'Eight out of every 10 schools have now achieved National Healthy School status which means the vast majority of our schools are providing the very best for students, helping to fight obesity and building a healthier future for our young people.'


Drink to health with champagne

The usual old polyphenol speculation. NO apparent research on people at all below

IF you need an excuse to pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly this festive season, here it is: It's good for your heart. British academics have found that champagne is packed with polyphenols – plant chemicals thought to widen the blood vessels, easing the strain on your heart and brain. And researchers believe the health benefits aren't limited to the expensive stuff, but are also found in cheaper alternatives, such as cava and prosecco.

The Reading University study builds on earlier findings that two glasses of red wine a day help keep heart and circulatory problems at bay.

Polyphenols are believed to boost the levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which then widens the blood vessels. They are found in relatively high levels in red wine, but not in white. Champagne, however, is most commonly made from a blend of red grape varieties pinot meunier or pinot noir and white chardonnay.

Polyphenols are also found in tea, olive oil, onions, leeks, broccoli and blueberries.


16 December, 2009

Food sweetener could be 'fuelling' childhood diabetes, study finds

Journal article here. A sample of 16 fatties is a joke. And a 10 week trial is pretty weak too

The sweetener fructose, a cheap sugar substitute found in thousands of processed foods and soft drinks, may be increasing childhood diabetes and the obesity crisis, new findings suggest. In a study by researchers at the University of California, 16 volunteers were put on a controlled diet with high-levels of fructose – a sweetener derived from corn.

After 10 weeks, the volunteers had developed more fat cells around the heart, liver and other major organs as well as showing signs of food processing abnormalities linked to diabetes and heart disease.

Another group of volunteers, who were also on a controlled diet but without the fructose, did not show the fat cell increase or the food processing abnormalities. Both groups put on the same amount of weight.

Children are said to be in a higher risk group as they are more likely to eat products with high-levels of sweeteners over longer periods of time. "This is the first evidence we have that fructose increases diabetes and heart disease independently from causing simple weight gain," Kimber Stanhope, a molecular biologist who led the study, told a Sunday newspaper.


Breast cancer drug combination offers new hope to women

Comment from Britain

A new breast cancer drug has been shown to shrink tumours in women for whom all other treatments have failed. Forty per cent of women with an aggressive and advanced form of breast cancer who were given the treatment in clinical trials saw their tumours reduce. The new drug - a combination of Herceptin with a particular type of chemotherapy - slowed the spread of disease in more than half of women with HER2-positive cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease. In 40 per cent of cases, tumours were reduced for at least six months.

The results are particularly significant because the research was carried out on women whose cancer was progresssing despite the fact they had already tried many other drug treatments. Charities described the study's findings as "promising" and called for rapid major trials to test the drug on larger numbers of women.

Around 10,000 women in Britain are diagnosed with HER2-positive cancer each year, making up around 20 to 30 per cent of all breast cancer cases. The diagnosis means women have been found to have large quantities of a protein known as HER2 on the surface of the tumour cells, which makes the disease more aggressive.

In recent years, the "wonderdrug" Herceptin, which targets this protein, has been hailed as the best solution for such women. The new trial found that for those women whose disease had continued to progress, the combination of Herceptin with a type of chemotherapy called DM1 - which prevents the cell division which spreads cancer - could offer a last hope.

On average, the 110 women in the study had already undergone seven types of different drug treatments, which had failed to stop the spread of their cancer, before they were given the "two-in-one" treatment, called TDM1. Tumours were shrunk in 40 per cent of cases, while a further 12 per cent of women saw their disease stabilise for six months or more, according to the study, which will be presented later today [Sunday] at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, in Texas.

Experts said the new treatment - which is not yet licensed in this country - could offer hope to women who had exhausted all other options. Charities called for rapid large scale trials to see if the new drug was as effective as the US study suggests.

Dr Jane Maher, Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support said: "These findings are definitely promising. What we need is more work quickly to see if the results are as good using large scale, randomised control trials." The combination drug is not yet licensed, and TDM1 could take three to five years to be available in this country.

Dr David Miles, from the Institute of Cancer Research, said it was rare to see a drug work so dramatically on women whose disease was so aggressive. He said: "These results are promising news for the thousands of women with advanced HER2-positive breast cancer who have already received many rounds of new treatment, and need new options to be available. To see such efficacy in such a large proportion of women with this aggressive type of cancer is unusual".


15 December, 2009

Coffee Guards Against Prostate Cancer?

More details here. The study is unpublished so is difficult to evaluate but it appears that only aggressive cancers are affected. The finding is of course epidemiological so the causal path is unknown -- something the researchers admit. A next step might be to look at what characterizes people who need a lot of artificial stimulation. A low metabolic rate? A low metabolic rate could quite conceivably lead to slower cancer development. In which case it is the metabolic rate, not the coffee, producing the effect

Men who are java junkies could be protecting themselves against the most deadly forms of prostate cancer. A study from Harvard Medical School found that men who drank the most coffee slashed their risk of developing the fastest growing and most difficult to treat prostate cancers by more than half when compared to men who drank no coffee.

This is the first study to associate coffee with a lower risk of prostate cancer. Researchers examined the overall risk as well as the risk of localized, advanced and lethal disease. No previous studies looked at coffee and its relationship to the outcomes of various prostate cancers. "We specifically looked at different types of prostate cancer, such as advanced vs. localized cancers or high-grade vs. low-grade cancers," Kathryn M. Wilson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School, said in a statement.

Men who drank the most coffee—six or more cups daily—reduced their risk by 60 percent. The risk was 25 percent lower for men who drank four or five cups, and 20 percent lower for those men who consumed one to three cups daily.

The researchers, who studied nearly 50,000 men over a 20-year period, believe that ingredients other than caffeine provide the benefit since men who drank decaffeinated coffee enjoyed the same reduction in risk. The advantage, they theorize, probably comes from the many antioxidants and minerals found in coffee.

"This research does provide a clue that coffee drinking might reduce the likelihood of a man being diagnosed with a more advanced prostate cancer, although there is still more research to do to confirm this and to uncover which component of coffee could be responsible," Helen Rippon of the U.K.'s Prostate Cancer Charity, told the Daily Mail. "Coffee has effects on insulin and glucose metabolism as well as sex hormone levels, all of which play a role in prostate cancer," the Harvard researchers told a conference of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"Very few lifestyle factors have been consistently associated with prostate cancer risk, especially with risk of aggressive disease, so it would be exciting if this association is confirmed in other studies."


Cigarette pack health warnings 'could encourage people to keep smoking'

According to a study, smokers who are continunally confronted with warnings that cigarettes kill actually develop coping mechanisms to justify continuing their habit. Comparatively, if smokers are shown warnings suggesting the habit could make them unattractive, they are more likely to give up. Teenagers who took up the habit to impress or fit in with their peers were more likely to be influenced by warnings about their appearance, the study found.

"In general, when smokers are faced with death-related anti-smoking messages on cigarette packs, they produce active coping attempts as reflected in their willingness to continue the risky smoking behaviour," the study said. "To succeed with anti-smoking messages on cigarette packs one has to take into account that considering their death may make people smoke."

The study from the United States, Switzerland and Germany, led by Jochim Hansen of New York University and the University of Basel, asked 39 psychology students who said they were smokers, aged between 17 -41. Participants filled in a questionnaire determining how much their smoking was based on self-esteem, before being shown cigarette packets with different warnings on them. Half of them read warnings such as "Smoking leads to deadly lung cancer", while the other half had warnings about attractiveness. After a 15-minute delay the students were asked more questions about their smoking behaviour and if they intended to quit.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that cigarette packets with death-related warnings were not effective and even caused more positive smoking attitudes. "On the other hand, warning messages that were unrelated to death effectively reduced smoking attitudes the more recipients based their self-esteem on smoking.

"This finding can be explained by the fact that warnings such as 'Smoking brings you and the people around you severe damage' and 'Smoking makes you unattractive' may be particularly threatening to people who believe the opposite, namely that smoking allows them to feel valued by others or to boost their positive self-image."

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Health warnings on tobacco packaging have played an important role in helping smokers understand the risks of tobacco use and where to get help to quit. Research from around the world has shown that different people react to different types of messages to motivate them to attempt to quit. “In October 2008, the UK was the first nation in the European Union to introduce graphic picture warnings to cigarette packets that showed smokers the grim reality of the effects smoking can have on their health. We are now currently working with the European Commission to develop new pictorial warnings for tobacco packaging, including testing different types of messages with smokers.”


14 December, 2009

Another government-sponsored iatrogenic disaster?

MS is no joke and there is no known cure. The comparative life-expectancies of those vaccinated and those not vaccinated will one day be an interesting study

THE cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil has triggered multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms in some girls after being inoculated. Doctors said the victims were either teenagers or women in their early 20s who may have been predisposed to MS or who had a prior history of symptoms.

St Vincent's Hospital neurologist Dr Ian Sutton reported five cases in a journal article in January. Another five have since emerged. "Gardasil vaccination is not the cause of MS; whether or not it was a trigger for episodes of inflammation in the brain in these rare cases is unclear," Dr Sutton said. All cases were in women aged under 26, the target group of a vaccination program that began in 2007.

Symptoms began within three weeks of vaccination and lasted from weeks to months. "We have raised the question: has the vaccine modified what may have occurred anyway or just been an additional trigger?" Dr Sutton said.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) last week said six million doses of Gardasil – created by scientist and former Australian of the Year Ian Frazer – had been distributed in Australia, and 1476 suspected adverse reactions had been reported to the regulator. "The TGA is also aware of a small number of cases in which neurological symptoms, similar to those experienced in patients with a dedemyelinating disorder such as multiple sclerosis, have been reported shortly after HPV (human papillomavirus vaccination)," the regulator said.

The cases involving neurological symptoms have been investigated by an independent panel.

The vaccine has been tested on more than 30,000 women worldwide, its manufacturer CSL said. "In spite of reports of some neurological symptoms occurring after vaccination, when those have been investigated no causative relationship with the vaccine has been determined," company spokeswoman Rachel David said.


British Boy, 12, suspended for 'crisp dealing' in school that banned junk food

Definitely a kid with a future in business

A schoolboy has been suspended for 'crisp dealing' at a school which has banned fatty drinks and snacks. In sign of pupil disgruntlement over school meal reforms spearheaded by TV chef Jamie Oliver, 12-year-old Joel Bradley was caught allegedly selling a packet of Discos at a marked-up price of 50p. He was suspended from Liverpool's Cardinal Heenan High School because it was the second time he had been caught.

His father, Joe, said the boy had been 'victimised' for an enterprise which could earn him as much as £15 a day. 'I think the school has made a beeline for him because of what I've done,' he told the Liverpool Echo. Mr Bradley, from Liverpool's Norris Green district, admitted he too had once been caught selling canned drinks, chocolate bars and crisps from a van outside the school - saying he was filling a void left by the closure of a local shop.

But headmaster Dave Forshaw said parents and pupils must abide by the school rules or go elsewhere. 'We are a healthy school and proud of it,' he said. 'If parents are not happy then they are perfectly free to take their children to a school that allows pupils to sell these things and allows a father to sell them outside on the pavement.'

Mr Forshaw said pupils were caught around 'three or four times a week' selling snacks at the school. 'We have six to seven regular sellers we pinpoint', he said.


13 December, 2009

The marigold extract that appears to have saved one man's sight

Worth a try in the absence of anything else, I suppose. Could be a spontaneous remission though

As a retired optician, Harry Marsland knew better than most how serious it was when he was diagnosed with an untreatable eye condition. But his tale of despair has turned into an astonishing story of recovery - thanks to the marigold plant. Mr Marsland, who at one stage needed help just to walk, could be the first person in the UK to have recovered from a devastating condition that causes blindness.

Within months of starting to take a food supplement containing marigold extracts he is driving a car again, reads without a magnifier and has near-perfect vision in the affected eye.

Mr Marsland, 73, suffered from age-related macular degeneration, which is responsible for half the cases of blindness in the country. After a number of standard vitamin treatments, which can only slow decline anyway, failed to work, he was handed a flyer that had been gathering dust in a doctor's drawer for almost a year. It promoted a vitamin supplement called Macushield, which contains mesozeaxanthin, derived from marigolds. 'I now know, professionally that I have recovered almost completely from the effects in my left eye,' he said yesterday. 'I am the first person to have such good fortune.'

Mr Marsland, from Oundle, Northamptonshire, started taking a 2mg capsule daily in April 2007. He paid £150 for it as it is not available on the NHS.

He has been blind in one eye since gambling on an experimental laser treatment in 2001, but the vision in his other eye is now 95 per cent as good as it was before. 'It was in August my wife Nina picked up my magnifying glass and realised it was dusty,' he said. 'She was the first to realise I no longer needed to use it. 'A few months later we were walking in the dark and I suddenly realised I was no longer holding on to my wife. It's miraculous, considering at one point I was literally blind in the dark.' Dry age-related macular degeneration happens when light-sensitive cells slowly break down.


Swine flu panic subsides

Like many similar panics before it

The swine flu pandemic is "considerably less lethal" than feared, with a death rate lower than 0.1 per cent, research by England's chief medical officer showed today. Twenty-six people have died for every 100,000 cases in England, an analysis of deaths to November 8 revealed. About 1per cent of the population in England has had swine flu with symptoms, of which 0.026 per cent died, the research added.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government's chief medical officer for England, led the study, published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), which described the low death rates as "fortunate". His study concluded: "The first influenza pandemic of the 21st century is considerably less lethal than was feared in advance."

Sir Liam wrote, however, that a lower impact than feared was not justification for "inaction". It was right to vaccinate people at risk - such as those with asthma, diabetes, heart disease and pregnant women - and to extend the programme, he went on.

"Viewed statistically, mortality in this pandemic compares favourably with 20th century influenza pandemics," he said. "A lower population impact than previous pandemics, however, is not a justification for public health inaction. "Our data support the priority vaccination of high risk groups. "Given that a substantial minority of deaths occur in previously healthy people, there is a case for extending the vaccination programme and for continuing to make early anti-viral treatment widely available."

The paper showed the estimated death rate was lowest among children aged five to 14, with around 11 deaths per 100,000 population. It was highest for those aged over 65, with 980 per 100,000. In the 138 people in whom the confirmed cause of death was pandemic flu, the typical age at death was 39. The analysis showed many of the patients who died were high risk and would have been eligible for vaccination.

"Two thirds of patients who died (92 or 67%) would now be eligible for the first phase of vaccination in England. "Fifty (36%) had no, or only mild, pre-existing illness. "Most patients (108, 78%) had been prescribed anti-viral drugs, but of these, 82 (76%) did not receive them within the first 48 hours of illness."

Sir Liam compares the pandemic with previous ones, saying "improvements in nutritional status, housing and health care availability might explain some of the apparent decrease in case fatality from one pandemic to the next". He added: "Since the most recent pandemic there have been major advances in intensive care medicine. "Many more patients may have died in England without the ready availability of critical care support, including mechanical ventilation."


12 December, 2009

Three glasses of wine a week 'increases risk of breast cancer returning by 30%'

It is not linked to risk of death but increases breast cancer? Must be a jolly nice sort of cancer! It's just epidemiolgical rubbish, of course -- picking out a correlation and assuming a direct causal link

Drinking just three glasses of wine a week increases by 30 per cent the risk of breast cancer returning, warn researchers. Women who have been successfully treated should limit their alcohol consumption to cut the chances of the disease coming back, they claim. Overweight and post-menopausal women are particularly susceptible to the effects of alcohol on recurrence, according to US researchers at the Kaiser Permanent Division of Research in Oakland, California.

Dr Marilyn Kwan, a staff scientist who led a new study, said 'Women previously diagnosed with breast cancer should consider limiting their consumption of alcohol to less than three drinks per week, especially women who are postmenopausal and overweight or obese' she said. The impact of drinking on the risk of developing breast cancer is well established. Scientific studies rank the scale of increased risk from four to seven per cent per drink, or unit of alcohol - the amount contained in a small glass of wine. But there have only been limited studies about alcohol's role in affecting the risk of recurrence.

The latest study looked at 1,897 breast cancer survivors diagnosed with early stage disease between 1997 and 2000. The researchers compared breast cancer recurrence in women previously diagnosed with breast cancer who drank, with a group of women previously diagnosed with the disease who did not drink. Women completed a questionnaire on wine, beer and liquor consumption over the past year, and medical records were checked. After eight years of follow-up there were 349 breast cancer recurrences and 332 deaths from cancer and other causes. Among drinkers - who comprised 50 per cent of those involved - wine was the most popular choice of alcohol among 90 per cent of women. Liquor was also chosen by 43 per cent of drinkers and beer by 36 per cent.

The overall increase in risk was 30 per cent for women drinking three or four drinks a week, with postmenopausal, overweight and obese women at greatest risk. The type of alcohol drunk did not affect the risk.

Alcohol consumption was not linked to risk of death, said Dr Kwan, presenting the data at the San Antonio Breast cancer Symposium in the US. She said 'These results can help women make more informed decisions about lifestyle choices after a diagnosis of breast cancer.'

Other research at the same conference shows breast cancer patients who are obese have poorer chances of beating the disease. Their treatment effect does not last as long and their risk of death increases, said Danish researchers at Odense University Hospital, who looked at medical records on 54,000 breast cancer patients.

Arlene Wilkie, director of research and policy at the Breast Cancer Campaign charity said 'This research adds to the growing evidence of a link between alcohol and breast cancer. To reduce breast cancer risk, as well as breast cancer recurrence we advise all women to limit their alcohol intake. 'Maintaining a healthy body weight throughout life, along with regular exercise will reduce the risk of many health problems including breast cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and other types of cancer.'


The CCF Challenge (Will food and science reporters take the bait?)

If you swallow the scary stories anti-food activists are constantly pushing to the media, you might be worrying about trace amounts of mercury in the fish you eat. But new research shows that levels of mercury in fish might be irrelevant after all. Since 2006 when we published “The Flip Side of Mercury,” we've been saying that selenium levels in seafood might actually be canceling out the negative effects of mercury, in an all-natural conspiracy to make fish the “brain food” your mom always said it was. (Selenium is a key antioxidant that helps guard against heart disease and boosts your immune system.) The News-Press in Fort Myers has the details:
Selenium -- an essential mineral found in all saltwater and many freshwater fish -- counteracts the toxic effects of mercury when it is present in equal or greater amounts than mercury, according to University of North Dakota environmental scientist Nicholas Ralston. If a fish has a higher selenium value than mercury, it would have a health benefit. If a fish were to have more mercury than selenium, it could be harmful….

Of 15 oceanic fish for which Ralston has tested, only mako shark had more mercury than selenium. Swordfish had only slightly more selenium than mercury, and all other fish, including thresher sharks and four tuna species -- the most commercially popular fish -- were considered strongly beneficial.
That’s big news. Even the much-maligned swordfish could be fully vindicated from mercury scaremongering. And tuna, the poster-fish for green scare campaigns, appears to have been unfairly singled out since it’s plentiful in selenium.

Here’s the catch, as the News-Press notes: Today’s fish consumption warnings are based only on the levels of mercury in fish. (Click here for more information about how supposed dangers from mercury in fish are often hyped by environmental alarmists and government regulators.)

After all, there has never been a single medically proven case of mercury toxicity related to commercial seafood in the United States (unless you take Jeremy Piven’s word for it). In fact, our wildly popular seafood calculator shows that an average-sized man could eat more than 10 pounds of canned light tuna every week before he would have any hypothetical new health risks from mercury.

We have to wonder: How many more newspapers will report on this important new research? The benefits of eating fish are well-documented, especially for pregnant mothers, but for too many years to count, activists have been telling people to throw the baby out with the bath water.

So we’re issuing a challenge to health and science writers and bloggers: Take a look at Dr. Ralston’s research. See if it passes the smell test. And allow yourself to challenge the conventional wisdom in print.

Can you imagine how the news about fish would change if everyone knew about the relationship between selenium and mercury? We sure can. Now it's up to you, reporters. We know you're out there.


11 December, 2009

Keeping youngsters squeaky clean could be bad for their heart (?)

Parents obsessed with cleanliness could be actually harming their children's hearts, claim some scientists. This is something of an old chestnut by now. Excess cleanliness was the ruling explanation for asthma for a while but recently seems to have run out of steam in that field after some inconsistent findings (e.g. here). The study below is a joke -- one of the more extravagant examples of epidemiological speculation. There are MANY differences between Filipinos and Americans and seizing on just one as THE explanation is faith, not science

The trend for antibacterial soaps could increase youngster's chance of being unhealthy later in life as exposure to everyday germs may prevent heart disease in adulthood. The study is the first to look at how contact with germs early in life affect the immune systems response to diseases associated with ageing in adulthood. It suggests that exposure to infectious bacteria early in life may actually protect individuals from cardiovascular diseases that can lead to death as an adult. It does this by damaging the body's natural response to attack – namely inflammation of the surrounding tissue. Over inflamation is actually a bad thing that can lead to increased blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

Professor Thomas McDade, lead author of the study at Northwestern University, in Chicago, said: “Contrary to assumptions related to earlier studies, our research suggests that ultra-clean, ultra-hygienic environments early in life may contribute to higher levels of inflammation as an adult, which in turn increases risks for a wide range of diseases.” Relatively speaking, humans only recently have lived in such hyper-hygienic environments, he stressed.

The study compared research results from a long-term project in the Philippines, which followed the lifestyle and health 3,300 families over 22 years, with those from a similar American survey. In particular they looked at the level of a substance in the blood – known as C-reactive protein (CRP)- which is a predictor of heart disease.

Blood tests showed that CRP levels in the Filipino young adults were at least 80 per cent lower relative to their American counterparts, though the Filipinos suffered from many more infectious diseases as infants and toddlers. Anecdotal evidence also showed their environments were much less hygienic when they were growing up. The results were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

“In the U.S we have this idea that we need to protect infants and children from microbes and pathogens at all possible costs,” Professor McDade said. “But we may be depriving developing immune networks of important environmental input needed to guide their function throughout childhood and into adulthood. "Without this input, our research suggests, inflammation may be more likely to be poorly regulated and result in inflammatory responses that are overblown or more difficult to turn off once things get started.”


Can grape juice help bring back your memory?

12 people is a tiny sample. Results unlikely to be statistically significant

Drinking purple grape juice can reduce or even reverse memory loss, scientists claim. In a study, those who drank a pure variety for 12 weeks saw their performance improve in a series of mental tests. Experts believe antioxidants in the skin and juice of the fruit are behind the results. Scientists from the psychiatry department at the University of Cincinnati carried out a study involving 12 people with early memory loss.

They were split into two groups, with one drinking pure 100 per cent Concord juice from grapes grown in the Concord region of Massachusetts, and the other a placebo. Both groups were given regular memory tests over three months. These involved them being asked to learn lists and remember items placed in a certain order. The researchers found the results of those who drank the grape juice showed an improvement the longer the trial went on.

Dr Robert Krikorian, who carried out the study, presented the findings at the International Polyphenols and Health Conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, yesterday. 'Following the treatment, those drinking Concord grape juice demonstrated a significant improvement in list learning,' he said. 'And trends suggested improved short-term memory retention and spatial, non-verbal memory. 'The results involving Concord grape juice are very encouraging and certainly warrant an additional study. 'A simple, easy-to-incorporate dietary intervention that could improve or protect memory function, such as drinking Concord grape juice, may be beneficial for the ageing population.'

The study adds weight to the theory that antioxidant-rich foods and drinks may help preserve brain function and slow or reverse memory decline. [Even if they reduce your lifespan]

Dr Krikorian's trial involved a dozen adults aged 75-80 suffering from early memory loss. During the 12 weeks in which each participant in the trial drank 100 per cent Concord grape juice or a placebo, they were assessed for memory function including verbal and non-verbal tasks.

In 2006 research in the U.S. found that drinking fruit and vegetable juices frequently could significantly cut the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The large-scale study at Vanderbilt University followed almost 2,000 people for up to ten years. Scientists found that the risk was 76 per cent lower for those who drank juice more than three times a week, compared with those who drank it less than once a week. [Possibly because juice drinking is a practice most popular among the middle class. The workers probably drink Coke]


10 December, 2009

Research throws up doubts over Tamiflu

Relenza may be a better alternative but that is not addressed below

There is no clear evidence that Tamiflu prevents complications in people with flu, an analysis suggests. While studies have shown the antiviral can cut the length of time people have symptoms by about a day, no real evidence has emerged that it prevents conditions like pneumonia, researchers said. The study, published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), questions the validity of research from Roche, the pharmaceutical giant that makes Tamiflu.

In August, experts said the drug was unlikely to prevent complications in children.

More than a million courses of antivirals including Tamiflu have been given out to people across Britain since the start of the swine flu pandemic. Around a million courses have been handed out through the National Pandemic Flu Service for England, with many more given out through GP surgeries.

The latest investigation, by the BMJ and Channel 4 News, found no real evidence Tamiflu stops complications and puts the cost of the drug to the Government at some £500 million. A review of 20 existing studies was carried out by a team led by experts from the Cochrane Collaboration, which last reviewed the evidence in 2005. Their updated study found Tamiflu “did not reduce influenza-related lower respiratory tract complications”. The drug was found to induce nausea while evidence of adverse reactions to the drug were “possibly under-reported”, they said.

The experts said the drug was effective in treating people preventatively after they had come into contact with somebody who was infected, and shortened the length of symptoms in those with swine flu. But they criticised some of the evidence available and said Roche had not been able to “unconditionally” provide the information needed. As a result, the team dropped eight trials that were included in their earlier review because they were unable to independently verify the findings.

Writing in the BMJ, they concluded: “Paucity of good data has undermined previous findings for oseltamivir’s (Tamiflu’s) prevention of complications from influenza.”

Dr Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the BMJ, said: “Governments around the world have spent billions of pounds on a drug that the scientific community now finds itself unable to judge.”

In a separate review, Professor Nick Freemantle and Dr Melanie Calvert, from the University of Birmingham, looked at observational studies based on a list provided to the Cochrane authors by Roche. They conclude that “oseltamivir may reduce the risk of pneumonia in otherwise healthy people who contract flu. However, the absolute benefit is small, and side effects and safety should also be considered.”

They added: “Interpretation of the studies was difficult. “It seems likely that some patients were included in more than one study, which undermines the ability of these studies to provide independent estimates.”

Dr Godlee and Professor Mike Clarke, director of the UK Cochrane Centre, said the review called into question “not only the effectiveness of oseltamivir but the whole system by which drugs are evaluated, regulated and promoted.” In an editorial in the BMJ, they said “once a trial is completed, there needs to be ready access to the raw data behind any analyses used to license and market a drug. “When vast quantities of public money, and large amounts of public trust, are placed in drugs, the full data must be accessible for scrutiny by the scientific community. “Pending full disclosure and independent review of the raw data from Roche, the risks and benefits of oseltamivir remain uncertain.”

A spokeswoman for Roche said study summaries of Tamiflu would be made available on a password-protected site for members of the scientific community. A statement from Roche said: “Roche is aware of this issue and has been liaising with Channel 4 News and the BMJ to fully address all of the issues that have been raised. “Roche stands behind the robustness and integrity of the data supporting the efficacy and safety of Tamiflu. “Tamiflu is playing a pivotal role in the management of the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 influenza virus.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “The Cochrane Review is an analysis of the use of Tamiflu to treat H1N1 [swine] influenza in healthy adults based on work on seasonal influenza. “It doesn’t cover people with underlying health conditions, or children, and we know that it may not be appropriate to generalise from effects in seasonal flu to those in a pandemic. “This is why we regularly ask for expert advice to ensure that our antiviral policy is based on the best available evidence and informed by expert judgment.

“On November 30 the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) reviewed the most up to date available evidence on antiviral use and concluded that it clearly continues to point towards a benefit in those with severe illness. “Unlike seasonal flu, swine flu has caused higher levels of severe illness in the young and healthy, and in some cases death. “So it is difficult to determine who will be hardest hit.

“Our priority has always been to minimise the risk of serious illness and death from swine flu. Therefore, while there are still significant levels of H1N1 circulating, our strategy remains to offer antivirals to all patients with the illness.”


Testosterone’s aggressive impact is circumstantial. It can make you friendlier

It is popularly known as the selfish hormone, which courses through male veins to promote egotistical and antisocial behaviour. Yet research has suggested that testosterone’s bad reputation is largely undeserved. Far from always increasing aggression and greed, the male hormone can actually encourage decency and fair play, scientists have discovered.

The common belief that it makes people quarrelsome, however, can cause it to have that effect. When people think they have been given supplements of the hormone they tend to act more aggressively, even though it does nothing biological to promote such behaviour.

The findings, from an Anglo-Swiss team, suggest that rather than encouraging selfishness and risk-taking as a matter of course, testosterone has subtler effects on human behaviour that depend very much on social circumstances. The research also highlights the importance of social expectations and prejudices on the placebo effect: these can cause testosterone to influence people’s actions according to its reputation, rather than its biological effect. “It appears that it is not testosterone itself that induces aggressiveness, but rather the myth surrounding the hormone,” said Michael Naef, of Royal Holloway, University of London, an author of the study. “In a society where qualities and manners of behaviour are increasingly traced to biological causes and thereby partly legitimated, this should make us sit up and take notice.”

The popular belief that testosterone promotes aggression is founded in animal research: castrated male rodents, for example, become less combative. In humans, studies of male prisoners have found that those with higher testosterone levels are more likely to have committed a violent crime, to rebel against prison rules and get into fights.

Some scientists, however, have questioned whether the male hormone contributes directly to antisocial behaviour. The alternative view is that testosterone makes people more anxious to seek high status. This can, in different circumstances, promote either hostile or co-operative behaviour.

The study, which is published in the journal Nature, sought to test this using a common psychological exercise known as the ultimatum game. In this game, a player is given a sum of money, say £10, to share with a second player, offering as much or as little as he or she wants. If the offer is accepted, the pot is distributed that way, but if it is refused, neither player gets any cash. Players who are very aggressive, offering just £2 or £3, stand to benefit financially, but also risk coming away with nothing.

Before playing the game, a group of 60 women was given either a testosterone supplement or a placebo. “We wanted to verify how the hormone affects social behaviour,” said Christoph Eisenegger, of the University of Zurich. “If one were to believe the common opinion, we would expect subjects who received testosterone to adopt aggressive, egocentric, and risky strategies – regardless of the possibly negative consequences on the negotiation process.”

The subjects who were given testosterone supplements in fact made much fairer offers in the ultimatum game than those given a placebo, suggesting that the hormone does not promote aggression in these circumstances, but co-operation. “The preconception that testosterone only causes aggressive or egoistic behaviour in humans is thus clearly refuted,” Dr Eisenegger said.

The only exception was when participants guessed that they had been given testosterone and not the placebo. In these cases, they made more aggressive offers. “Subjects who believed that they received testosterone — regardless of whether they received it or not — behaved much more unfairly than those who believed that they were treated with a placebo,” the researchers wrote. The results support the idea that testosterone promotes status-seeking, and that this can encourage or discourage aggression depending on the circumstances. In the ultimatum game, an unfair offer risks damaging a person’s status and reputation if it is rejected, so co-operative strategies are favoured. But in situations of conflict, as in prisons, a more aggressive and risky strategy may pay off.

“In the socially complex human environment, pro-social behaviour secures status, and not aggression,” Dr Naef said. “The interplay between testosterone and the socially differentiated environment of humans, and not testosterone itself, probably causes fair or aggressive behaviour.”


9 December, 2009

One third of heart disease deaths among Dutch adults blamed on being too fat

Predictable propaganda. I have noticed in my own field that Dutch scientists are particularly uncritical servants of an intellectual consensus. I guess that because Nederland is a small and insignificant country, they feel a particular need for approval. The study concerned here was not online at its original source at the time of writing but there is an extensive summary of it here. It is yet another piece of epidemiological speculation. Fat Dutchmen had more heart attacks. But why? Was it because they were fat or was it because they were lower class and had poorer health anyway? Who knows? Note also that a higher rate of death was reported only among the grossly fat -- the top 10% in terms of BMI. No mention of how people of middling weight fared! From other research they may in fact have been the healthiest -- so no surprise that their death-rate is not mentioned!

New research has found that around 67,000 deaths in Britain could have a direct link to being overweight. A third of heart disease deaths are caused simply by being overweight, researchers have found. The stark conclusion means about 67,000 deaths a year in Britain could have a direct link to our expanding waistlines. It also suggests obesity could be a bigger risk factor for cardiovascular disease than previously thought. With obesity levels set to double in the UK by 2015, charities warn the new figures show more action is needed to promote healthy eating and exercise.

In the ten-year study of 20,000 men and women aged 20 to 65, Dutch scientists found that being overweight accounted for half of fatal heart disease cases. When they applied this statistic to the general population - where average levels of obesity are lower than in the study - they concluded one in three fatalities were caused by being too fat. They also found that one in seven non-fatal heart disease cases could be attributed to people being overweight or obese.

Other recognised risk factors for heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol levels.

Chief investigator Dr Ineke Van Dis, from the Netherlands Heart Foundation, said: 'What this study shows is the substantial effect which being overweight and obese has on cardiovascular disease, whether fatal or non-fatal. 'In the near future, the impact of obesity on the burden of heart disease will be even greater. 'For consumer groups and our national heart foundations, these findings underline the need for policies and activities to prevent overweightness in the general population. 'And I think that general practitioners and cardiologists can do even more to tackle these problems, especially in obese patients under 65.'

His study, published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation, measured the Body Mass Index and waistline girth of its volunteers. BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. The researchers defined a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 as normal, 25 to 29.9 as overweight, and 30 or more as obese. In men, a waist circumference of 94 to 101.9cm was classed as overweight and more than 102cm as obese. For women, these figures were 80 to 87.9cm and more than 88cm respectively.

The study found patients with obese levels of BMI were four times more likely to die of heart than those of normal weight. A waistline that fell into the obese category increased the risk three-fold.

These figures were worse than earlier research which suggested that obesity doubled the chances of dying from heart disease. The difference may be because previous studies relied on inaccurate self-reported measurements of height, weight and girth, said the scientists.

Fotini Rozakeas, cardiac nurse for the British Heart Foundation, said: 'This study shows that in people between the ages of 20 and 65, BMI and waist circumference (WC) measurements are powerful predictors of the risk of having cardiovascular disease. 'With the incidence of being overweight or obese in the UK predicted to almost double by 2015, measuring BMI and WC in general health checks is an inexpensive and simple measure to assess health risk. 'While people can follow healthy diets and take regular exercise, policymakers must support them by shaping the environment to make healthy choices easier. 'One opportunity is to make food labels clear and consistent to help shoppers consider healthier options.'

Heart and artery disease is still the UK's biggest killer, claiming about 200,000 lives a year - more than a third of all deaths. An estimated 2.6million people in the UK are living with coronary heart disease.


Loneliness 'fuels breast cancer', say scientists

This is based on genetically abnormal WHITE RATS, for God's sake! Generalize at your peril. The last paragraph below offers some sense, though

Being lonely could more than treble a woman's odds of developing breast cancer, research suggests. Isolation may also dramatically increase the number of tumours and their size. Although the findings were made in animal tests, the researchers believe they have important implications for human health.

With loneliness already linked to a host of other illnesses from dementia to high blood pressure, they say it is important to consider a person's mental health when thinking about their physical health.

The University of Chicago team looked at the effects of loneliness or 'social isolation' on female rats genetically predisposed to develop breast cancer. The breed is also one that is 'naturally gregarious', and, like humans, enjoys the company of others. The study found that animals living alone were 3.3 times more likely to develop types of breast cancer common in women than those in cages of five.

The tumours were much bigger and more numerous, so that overall, the solitary rats had 84 times more cancerous tissue. The cancer also spread to most parts of the breast, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports. Importantly, the spread of disease seemed to be fuelled by stress hormones, rather than the sex hormones that often drive breast cancer.

Researcher Professor Martha McClintock said: 'We need to use these findings to identify potential targets for interventions to reduce cancer and its psychological and social risk factors.'

Other researchers have warned loneliness is as bad for health as smoking or obesity. They say being cut off from friends and family can raise blood pressure, stress and risk of depression-while weakening the immune system and a person's risk of disease.

Some studies have found the stresses of city life and high-powered jobs can raise the risk of breast cancer. At the same time, women who have a positive outlook are said to have lower odds of the disease.

But other studies have failed to make a link, which left British experts urging caution over the latest finding. Meg McArthur, of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, pointed out the results came from a study of just 40 or so rats. She added: 'Stress is a highly subjective state and therefore difficult to measure. 'It can also provoke unhealthy behaviour such as drinking alcohol or gaining weight which may independently increase your risk of breast cancer - and this makes the effects of stress on breast cancer risk difficult to untangle from other lifestyle risk factors for the disease.'


8 December, 2009

Another iatrogenic disaster?

A popular diabetes drugs taken by up to 500,000 people raises the risk of dying by 60 per cent compared with other medicines for the condition, researchers have found. The drugs, known as sulphonylureas, are commonly used to treat type two diabetes, which can be caused by being overweight. The condition affects around two million people in the UK.

In the study, the drugs were found to increase the risk of dying from any cause by 60 per cent. They also increased the likelihood of heart failure - a condition where the heart fails to beat strongly - by 30 per cent, compared with another common medicine. It is thought sulphonylureas affect the way the body protects the heart from damage, leaving it vulnerable, the authors said.

The researchers at Imperial College London said the findings were 'important' but stopped short of saying that diabetics should avoid the drugs. They said guidelines already recommend that metformin, the drug they used for comparison, be used in preference to sulphonylureas.

Diabetics are already more susceptible to heart problems because of their condition and concerns have been raised that some of the medication may exacerbate this. In addition, the study - involving over 90,000 diabetics in Britain - found a newer drug pioglitazone, reduced the risk of dying when compared with metformin by up to 39 per cent.

The study was led by Prof Paul Elliott, who wrote in the British Medical Journal online: "The sulphonylureas, along with metformin, have long been considered the mainstay of drug treatment for type 2 diabetes. Our findings suggest a relatively unfavourable risk profile of sulphonylureas compared with metformin. "This is consistent with the recommendations of the American Diabetes Association and International Diabetes Federation that favour metformin as the initial treatment for type 2 diabetes."

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at leading health charity Diabetes UK, added: “This study looks at the relative risk of the various drugs used to treat Type 2 diabetes. It is a retrospective study and there is nothing particularly new revealed here. “We have to treat the results and the interpretation of them with some caution. “Diabetes UK would not advise people with Type 2 diabetes to stop taking sulphonylureas based on the results of this research. "If you are concerned about taking this medication you should contact your GP or diabetes healthcare team.”


Vegetables to die for help Montacute’s men to reach ripe old age

This is rubbish. By chance alone there will always be some places that fare better than others

A little village in Somerset has been identified as Britain’s safest place for old men to grow even older. Men of retirement age living in Montacute (pop 640) have a longer life expectancy than their contemporaries anywhere else in Britain. Montacute, near Yeovil, was identified as the longevity hotspot of the country by an analysis of more than three million pension records. Sixty-five-year-olds living in Montecute can expect an average of 25 more years of life, taking them up to 90. In contrast, 65-year-old men living in Bootle on Merseyside can expect an average of only 17 more years.

The life expectancy figures were worked out by actuaries, based on the number of men over 65 expected to die in the next 12 months. The figures were calculated for every postcode. The national average, expressed as mortality per thousand, is ten, but in Montacute the figure is just 6.4. This contrasts with Bootle, which scored the highest with 15.3. The actuaries then used a formula to turn the mortality figures into average life expectancy by postcode.

Matthew Edwards, of Watson Wyatt, the international business consultancy, and lead actuary on the study, said it showed that variations in longevity were directly affected by where people live. He said: “These findings show vividly that postcodes can explain substantial variations in mortality, with the longevity varying from 17 to 25 years according to their postcode band; a difference in expected future life time of eight years.”

A parallel study of women found that differences in longevity by postcode were far smaller than for men, with a variation of just four years. The figures for women have yet to be released.

“The variations in life expectancy are due to substantial differences in general health and lifestyle patterns between different parts of the UK. The North-South divide in particular is very striking, and the variation in life expectancy by postcode band for female occupational pension scheme holders is about half of the above range.”

In Montacute there is little doubt about the reason that its residents live such long lives. Many of them have vegetable patches and grow much of their food. Not only is the fresh produce healthier to eat, but the hard work involved in digging and harvesting it also keeps them fit.

Shirley Hann, who has lived in the village all her life, still grows her own vegetables at the age of 74. A great-grandmother of three, she said: “It seems that growing our own vegetables does have a bearing on how fit we are and how long we live. People here all have allotments or a little vegetable patch in their back garden. “I’ve been eating homegrown veg my whole life. I’ve never regarded it as amazing, but I’m fit enough to do it. Plus if you’ve got something to do and you’ve got an interest, it keeps you healthy.”

Her cousin, Keith Hann, 72, has grown 95 per cent of his fruit and veg for half a century. The great-grandfather, who worked as a financial consultant, said: “When you grow your own food, or the majority of it, you’re having pure food not full of chemicals, which I’m afraid seems to be in most foods you buy from supermarkets. “We have a lot of older people in the village who seem healthy, agile and determined. “I think the younger generation could learn a lot about living from older people who appreciate their health and whatever they may have.”

Charlie Northam, 89, has only recently given up growing vegetables for himself and his wife, Mabel, 90. He put their good health down to his homegrown onions and said: “I wouldn’t live anywhere else for all the tea in China.”


7 December, 2009

Maitake mushrooms 'curb cancer growth'

This study was conducted in laboratory glassware, not people, so the idea has a long way to go yet. More details here. Abstract here

The maitake mushroom is more than a popular Chinese cooking ingredient, according to researchers at the Department of Urology at the New York Medical College, who claim that it could be potential weapon against cancer.

A study carried out at the institution and detailed in the British Journal of Urology highlights that combining an extract from the mushroom with the anti-cancer protein interferon alpha creates a treatment which has the ability to reduce growth of cancer tumours by as much as 75%.

It is believed that the two substances, when used in low doses, may activate an enzyme which controls growth of prostrate and bladder cancer cells.

Commenting on the discovery, Dr Alison Ross, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, told the Daily Express: "Many chemotherapy drugs currently in use have been derived from natural substances found in plants so it is not too far-fetched to think that mushrooms could be a valuable source of potential new cancer drugs."

Bladder cancer is the seventh most common form of the disease in the UK, affecting 356,600 people worldwide every year, according to Cancer Research UK.

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting UK men and around 670,000 people are diagnosed with the condition each year worldwide.


Science rescues British children from obesity police

SOCIAL WORKERS have been told to think again about putting overweight children on “at risk” registers after scientists found that obesity can be linked to a genetic defect. In the past three years dozens of parents in Britain have been accused of abusing their children through “overfeeding”, with some youngsters being taken into care. In one of the most extreme cases, in October, social workers went to a maternity ward in Dundee to remove a baby born 28 hours earlier. The Dundee family's lawyers will challenge the decision before a sheriff next week.

The research, by Cambridge University, suggests many parents have been wrongly accused and that the problem lies in the children’s chromosomes. Sadaf Farooqi, who runs the metabolic research laboratories, said: “We have found that part of chromosome 16 can be deleted in some families, and people with this deletion have severe obesity from a young age.”

The results, published today in Nature, emerged from comparing the genomes of 300 obese children with those of 7,000 healthy volunteers. This showed many of the obese youngsters were missing the section of chromosome 16 that contains a gene known as SH2B1, which plays a key role in regulating weight. “They were left with a strong drive to eat and gained weight easily,” said Farooqi.

Some of the 300 obese youngsters in the study were already on “at risk” registers as it was assumed their parents were overfeeding them. They have now been removed from the register, Farooqi said.

In February 2007 The Sunday Times reported on one of the first such “abuse by overfeeding” cases. It involved a boy of eight from Newcastle upon Tyne who weighed 14 stone and whose parents faced care proceedings. The intervention of social services in that case was seen as a landmark in fighting obesity.


6 December, 2009

No tumour link to mobile phones, says study

Not that this will slow down the elitists who think that everything popular must be bad

A very large, 30-year study of just about everyone in Scandinavia shows no link between mobile phone use and brain tumours, researchers reported on Thursday. Even though mobile telephone use soared in the 1990s and afterward, brain tumours did not become any more common during this time, the researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Some activist groups and a few researchers have raised concerns about a link between mobile phones and several kinds of cancer, including brain tumours, although years of research have failed to establish a connection.

"We did not detect any clear change in the long-term time trends in the incidence of brain tumours from 1998 to 2003 in any subgroup," Isabelle Deltour of the Danish Cancer Society and colleagues wrote. Deltour's team analysed annual incidence rates of two types of brain tumour -- glioma and meningioma -- among adults aged 20 to 79 from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden from 1974 to 2003. These countries all have good cancer registries that keep a tally of known cancer cases. This represented virtually the entire adult population of 16 million people, they said.

Over the 30 years, nearly 60,000 patients were diagnosed with brain tumours. "In Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the use of mobile phones increased sharply in the mid-1990s; thus, time trends in brain tumour incidence after 1998 may provide information about possible tumour risks associated with mobile phone use," the researchers wrote. They did see a small, steady increase in brain tumours, but it started in 1974, long before mobile phones existed.


"From 1974 to 2003, the incidence rate of glioma increased by 0.5 per cent per year among men and by 0.2 per cent per year among women," they wrote. Incidence of meningioma tumours rose by 0.8 per cent a year among men, and rose by 3.8 per cent a year among women starting in the mid-1990s. But this was mostly among women over the age of 60, who were already among those most likely to have brain tumours, they noted. In addition, it became easier to diagnose these tumours because of better types of brain scans.

Overall, there was no significant pattern, they said. "No change in incidence trends were observed from 1998 to 2003," they added. That would have been when tumours would start showing up, assuming it took five to 10 years for one to develop, they said.

It is possible, Deltour's team wrote, that it takes longer than 10 years for tumours caused by mobile phones to turn up, that the tumours are too rare in this group to show a useful trend, or that there are trends but in subgroups too small to be measured in the study. It is just as possible that mobile phones do not cause brain tumours, they added.

Most scientific studies show no association between mobile phone use and brain tumours and researchers trying to find a connection have failed to find any biological explanation for how a mobile phone might cause cancer. "Because of the high prevalence of mobile phone exposure in this population and worldwide, longer follow-up of time trends in brain tumour incidence rates are warranted," Deltour's team advised.


Surgery gives gift of 'HD' sight

PATIENTS are having their eyes fitted with an artificial lens that allows them to see in "high definition". Surgeons begin the process by implanting the lens into the eye using the standard procedure for cataracts. Then, for the first time in Britain, they can fine-tune the focus of the lens several days later. The technique gives patients vision so sharp that it is even better than 20/20 - the best an adult can usually hope for.

Bobby Qureshi, the first ophthalmic surgeon in the UK to use the lens, described it as "a hugely significant development". It can correct both cataracts and the long-sightedness that usually comes with age. The lens is made from a special light-sensitive silicone. By shining ultraviolet light on specific parts of the lens, surgeons can change its shape and curvature, sharpening the image seen by the patient.

Mr Qureshi told Sky News: "We have the potential here to change patients' vision to how it was when they were young. "The change is so accurate that we can even make the lens bifocal or varifocal, so as well as giving them good vision at distance we can give them good vision for reading. "They won't need their glasses at all."

The technique can overcome tiny defects in the eye that cause visual distortions. The lens can be adjusted several times over a period of days until patients have perfect vision. A final blast of light then permanently fixes the lenses' shape.


5 December, 2009

How walking the dog beats going to a gym: It gives you EIGHT hours of exercise a week

No proof is offered of what the optimal exercise period is. Are 8 hours better than one? Who knows? Most human attributes are distributed in a bell curve so it is important to know where the mean is

For those who are keen to keep fit but low on motivation, a personal trainer is often the best option. But the human version may not be the most effective. Dog owners get more exercise walking their pet than someone with a gym membership, researchers have found. On average they exercise the animal twice a day for 24 minutes each time - a total of five hours and 38 minutes a week, a study for the pet healthcare experts Bob Martin found. On top of that, the average owner takes their dog out on three long walks each week, adding a further two hours and 33 minutes to the total.

Those without a dog spend an average of just one hour and 20 minutes a week exercising by going to the gym or heading out for a stroll or jog. Worse still, almost half - 47 per cent - of non-pet owners admit they do absolutely no exercise whatsoever. A spokesman for Bob Martin said: 'A couple of short walks a day soon adds up and this research shows that it amounts to more time than people spend in the gym.'

The study of 5,000 Britons, including 3,000 dog owners, revealed that 57 per cent see walking the dog as their main form of exercise. More than three quarters say they would rather take their pooch for a hike than go to the gym. Some 86 per cent say they enjoy taking their pet out each day, with just 22 per cent saying they ever see it as a chore. But only 16 per cent say they enjoy exercising in the gym, with almost 70 per cent considering it a chore they have to do rather than something they would like to do.

The survey showed that having a dog to walk actually encourages regular exercise with 60 per cent of pet owners saying they always go for a walk with their dog - even when time is precious. But 46 per cent of gym-goers admit they often find other things to do to get out of doing exercise.

More than half of dog owners think walking their pet is a great way to meet new people. The spokesman said: 'Owning a dog makes us more healthy. The Government recommends 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise 3-5 times per week and it's encouraging to see that dog walkers are exceeding this target and enjoying it at the same time.'


In Defense of (Chicken) “Wings”

Paul McCartney has big plans next week. As the BBC reports, the vegetarian former Beatle will travel to the Copenhagen climate change summit to call for the world to adopt “Meatless Mondays” in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The main problem with Sir McCartney’s self-denial campaign? It wouldn’t have much of an actual impact.

Anti-meat activists often point to a 2006 United Nations report—which estimated that animal agriculture was responsible for 18 percent of global emissions—as justification for their latest round of “go veg” campaigns. And a more recent report published in the Worldwatch Institute’s magazine puts the figure even higher, at more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Nonsense. These two reports look at global emissions and unrealistic, worst-case scenarios. In fact, the United Nations admits that its figure unfairly lumps all countries together. Farms in Burma, you see, aren’t nearly as efficient (or climate-friendly) as farms in New Zealand, or those here in the United States.

Both reports also blame livestock producers for emissions caused by activities like making fertilizer and transporting food to market. In a meatless world, of course, these greenhouse gas-producing activities would continue—and increase—as the world would need to fertilize more land to grow soy and ship tofu around to billions of new vegetarians.

So what do all these global estimates mean for Americans? Let’s look at a 2008 inventory of domestic greenhouse-gas emissions conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA determined that the entire agricultural sector was responsible for just 6 percent of total domestic emissions. And when non-livestock ag emissions (like growing tomatoes and cotton) were excluded, the share for domestic animal agriculture drops to less than 3 percent.

In other words, U.S. farms are quite good at producing animal products while keeping low “footprints.”

Instead of shilling for vegetarianism, McCartney should consider promoting investment in American meat producers—especially those that can export their low-emissions technologies and practices to their counterparts around the globe. Or at least he might want to call a truce with the carnivorous world around him. Give Peace A Chance. Let It Be. But given McCartney’s past ties to animal rights extremists at the radical People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, we don’t expect him to anytime soon.

Maybe we’re Amazed at how such a famous musicians could be so tone-deaf.


4 December, 2009

Smaller food packets under British Government plans

When will they ever learn? Doing this INCREASES consumption of the foods concerned. People buy two packets instead of one

Crisps, traditionally sold in bags weighing 40g (1.41oz) or 35g (1.23oz), should be sold in 30g packs or smaller. Manufacturers of pies, sausage rolls and pasties should offer smaller versions of their snacks. Also, supermarkets should sell far more low-fat ice cream, skimmed milk and low-fat cheddar.

The recommendations have been put forward by the Food Standards Agency, which has started a consultation. It is part of its long-running battle against saturated fat, the most dangerous form of fat, which is linked to obesity, which in turn is the main cause of diabetes and heart problems.

The consultation said: "It has been estimated that reducing saturated fat intakes to within recommended levels could result in approximately 3,500 UK deaths averted annually and should improve the quality of life of many more people." It warned that consumers alone could not stop the obesity crisis. Food manufacturers needed to "reformulate" their products to affect people's diet. "The scale of public health issues requires concerted action and we cannot rely solely on commercial pressures to influence reformulation," the document stated.

Any changes the FSA formally recommends, following the consultation, will be voluntary. However, most people in the food industry believe the power and influence of the FSA, which is both regulator and policy adviser to the Government, will mean the recommendations will be adopted by all the major manufacturers.

The consultation on savoury foods follows a similar exercise undertaken earlier this year, when the FSA suggested popular chocolate bars and fizzy drinks should be sold in smaller pack sizes.

Julian Hunt at the Food and Drink Federation said he had serious concerns about how practical some of the changes would be and that many consumers would not be happy. "Not one of our members ever receives a single complaint if they increase the size of their portions. But if they take out so much as one gram from a product they are inundated with complaints. "Consumers want choice and they want value for money," he said. He added that taking fat out of products, without consumers noticing a change to their favourite snacks, would be "very challenging".

The consultation suggested sausage rolls, pork pies and other savoury snacks cut at least 10 per cent of their saturated fat content, possibly by offering less pastry.

The FSA also suggested changing the legislation to allow low-fat ice cream to be called ice cream. The current rules state that if there is not enough fat in the ice cream it has to be called "frozen dessert" or "iced glace".


Obesity comparison

Note that the figures below for the USA and New Zealand could mislead. American blacks are on average much fatter than American whites so the figure for whites alone would be much lower. Similarly, New Zealand has a large number of Polynesians (Maori), who are everywhere very fat -- as we see below

TWO South Pacific [Polynesian] nations, American Samoa and Kiribati, have been crowned the fattest countries in the world. The latest obesity report released by the World Health Organisation found that 93.5 per cent - more than nine in 10 - of American Samoans were overweight or obese. Kiribati came second on the dubious honours list, with 81.5 per cent of inhabitants tipping the scales.

In third spot was United States with 66.7 per cent, followed by Germany, with 66.5 per cent, and Egypt with 66 per cent. New Zealand also made an appearance in seventh place, with 62.7 per cent, while the United Kingdom came 10th, with 60 per cent.

Explaining the trend in the Pacific, the WHO said islanders were suffering from a drastic change in diet. Traditionally they ate native foods high in complex carbohydrates and low in fat, such as bananas, yams, taro root, coconut and fish. But since the Second World War, inhabitants have increasingly migrated to the US, New Zealand, France and Australia and introduced those back home to fatty Western foods. [Rubbish! Polynesians have ALWAYS been fat. It's genetic]

The smaller, less developed countries like Kiribati, which comprises 33 tiny islands clustered around the equator, food imports have fuelled the obesity boom. The Food and Agriculture Organisation, a United Nations agency established to fight world hunger, estimates food imports to these nations increased six-fold between 1964 and 2001. This exposed inhabitants to extremely cheap fatty food and processed meat, such as Spam and mutton flaps.

These countries are not alone in their battle, however. Research has shown the world is facing a "globesity" epidemic, with one in three adults now overweight and one in 10 obese. By 2015, WHO estimates the number of overweight adults will balloon to 2.3 billion, equal to the combined populations of China, Europe and the US.


3 December, 2009

Bug spray link to penis defect

Note the rubric below. Also note that approximately 30% of the U.S. population applies DEET as protection against West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne viruses. With such a high usage-rate, one would think that there would be an epidemic of the problems described below if DEET were the cause. There are various alternatives to DEET but they are not as long-lasting in their effects. Getting West Nile and related viruses can however be quite long-lasting in its effects so avoidance of DEET could have REALLY serious effects

PREGNANT women may wish to avoid insect repellent after a study found a link to an increasingly common birth defect, experts say. European researchers have found an association between mums who used the repellent in the earliest phase of pregnancy and an increased rate of hypospadias in the penises of their male children.

This is where the opening of the penis is in the wrong place - usually back from the tip and on the underside - and it often requires corrective surgery. It affects one to two boys in every 500 births, and University of NSW Professor of Toxicology and Occupational Health Chris Winder said the incidence was increasing.

"This particular defect of the male urethra is quite common, and has been linked to environmental sources as well as genetic problems," he said. "Here is more evidence that pregnant mothers, or mothers planning pregnancy, should limit their exposure to chemicals such as insect repellents." Prof Winder warned that while the research found an association between repellent use and the defect, it fell short of confirming it as a cause.

Researchers quizzed mums of 471 babies with hypospadias, and another 490 randomly selected babies, about their lifestyles and chemical exposures during pregnancy. They found that use of repellents during the first three months of pregnancy was associated with an 81 per cent increased risk of hypospadias. The most common active ingredient in repellents was N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide - otherwise known as DEET.


Will a glass of red wine keep tooth decay at bay?

This is a very preliminary study. Laboratory glassware is a long way from a human mouth

For those who value their super-bright smile, it has always been the drink to avoid. But red wine could actually be good for your teeth, scientists have claimed. They have found it contains chemicals that could ward off decay by stopping harmful bacteria from sticking to teeth. The findings, due to be published in the journal Food Chemistry, suggest a daily glass of red could help to keep teeth healthy and reduce the need for fillings.

In contrast, a recent study showed white wine could damage dental health because its high acid content erodes the enamel that coats the surface of a tooth.

Red wine, when drunk in moderation, is already thought to have a protective effect against heart disease and some forms of cancer. But in recent years, scientists have also been investigating whether it could help to prevent dental decay. Last year, a team of U.S. researchers discovered that chemicals found in large quantities in the discarded seeds and skins of grapes pressed to make wine blocked the ability of corrosive bacteria to bind with tooth enamel.

The most damaging bacteria, called streptococcus mutans, live in the mouth and feed on sugar in the diet. Once it sticks to the enamel, the organism triggers a process called demineralisation, where acid starts to punch holes in the teeth. In the latest study, researchers at Pavia University in Italy exposed the bacteria to a small amount of red wine that had all its alcohol content removed. This was so they could clarify if it was the alcohol, or something else in wine, that had a beneficial effect. The results showed harmful organisms were unable to cling to teeth or saliva once exposed to red wine.

The scientists said the active ingredient was a group of compounds called proanthocyanidins, chemicals rich in antioxidants that are found mainly in grape skins. However, the researchers are investigating whether the compounds can be extracted and used as a form of treatment on their own, as some wines contain sugars and acids that can also be corrosive to teeth....

However, the consumption of too much alcohol is linked to high blood pressure, liver problems and infertility.


2 December, 2009

Skunk cannabis smokers seven times more likely to suffer from psychosis

This is a very weak study as it could be that mad people are more likely to use drugs. They are certainly known to smoke (tobacco) more

Ultra-potent skunk cannabis is seven times more likely to trigger psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia than traditional hash, a study has warned. The research, by the highly-respected Institute of Psychiatry in London, will deepen concerns over the safety of cannabis amid political controversy over its criminal status.

Dr Marta Di Forti, who led the research, said: 'Our study is the first to demonstrate the risk of psychosis is much greater among frequent cannabis users, especially among those using skunk, rather than among occasional users of traditional hash. 'Psychosis was associated with more frequent and longer use of cannabis. Our most striking finding is that patients with a first episode of psychosis preferentially used high-potency cannabis preparations of the skunk variety.'

Skunk contains high levels of the psychoactive ingredient delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, which can trigger psychotic symptoms.

In South-East London, where the study was carried out, the THC content of hash is less than 4 per cent but in skunk it is 18 per cent. In the past two years skunk has come to dominate the cannabis market, with its price dropping to under £5 a gram. Some experts believe skunk is so potent it should be treated differently from other types of cannabis and put on a par with Class A drugs such as cocaine and Ecstasy.

Last month Professor David Nutt was forced to step down as chairman of the Government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after criticising the decision to push cannabis back into the more serious Class B after a period of downgrading. Its downgrading from B to C had been increasingly controversial as concern grew over its effects. The sacking of Professor Nutt, who claimed the drug was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, caused a revolt among members of the advisory council with several resigning.

The number of under-25s smoking cannabis was almost one in five last year, even though use has been falling since 2001.

This latest study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, involved 280 patients aged 18 to 65 attending a South London hospital with a first episode of psychosis, compared with 174 healthy people. Those with psychosis were twice as likely to have used cannabis for longer than five years, and more than six times likely to take it every day.

Significantly cannabis users who smoked skunk were 6.8 times more at risk of being treated for a psychosis than those who took hash. Other studies show hash users are at double the risk of suffering psychosis compared with those who never use the drug.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said: 'Those of us on the front line, including psychiatrists, police and families, know that skunk cannabis can be particularly dangerous for the significant minority of people vulnerable to mental illness. 'We need to give out an uncompromising warning about the specific links between skunk and mental illness.'

Drug charity Turning Point welcomed the findings. Spokesman Harry Walker said: 'We now have confirmation of what many suspected and it is important that we act on these findings.'


How a daily walk wards off prostate cancer AND can keep colds at bay (?)

The usual crap. It is probably middle-class men who walk for their health and middle class people are healthier anyway

A daily walk lowers the risk of prostate cancer, say researchers reporting in the latest issue of the journal Urology. Men who walked around three to six hours a week were two-thirds less likely to be diagnosed with the disease than couch potato counterparts. Men who did one to three hours a week were also 86 per cent less likely to have an aggressive, fast-growing tumour, the study found.

Previous research has shown exercise lowers blood levels of testosterone and other hormones linked to the growth of prostate tumours. Activity is also known to boost the immune system and reduce the risk of cancer.

Researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine found that people who exercise for at least 45 minutes for four days a week take up to 50 per cent less time off sick during winter.

Professor David Nieman, an exercise physiologist at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, says: 'The reduction in winter illness from exercise far exceeds anything a drug or pill can offer and walking is the best thing you can do.'

Exercising when you have a cold can help you fight it off faster. But Professor Nieman warns: If you have chesty, flu-like symptoms, take a couple of weeks off the exercise.


1 December, 2009

The latest wrinkle racket

Such claims have been made many times before. Note the rubric below

Surprisingly, it all started with an apple. A dull, sour apple, almost extinct, living quietly on a rare tree in a remote part of Switzerland. Now, that humble apple is a big celebrity, with fans such as Michelle Obama, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Lopez. It spends its time among beautiful people in swanky department stores. Why? Because this Swiss fruit is at the centre of what's being described as a 'revolution' in anti-ageing treatments. It's claimed this ingredient can reverse skin ageing, increase the lifespan of human cells, and may even make it possible to grow back lost hair.

I'm used to hyperbole in the beauty world, but this new development is really getting the cosmetics companies excited. They believe they have the science to prove that plant stem cells can be incorporated in skin creams, will interact with human skin stem cells, and can eliminate wrinkles and make skin look younger. Human stem cells can turn into any part of the body and so are big news in medical research, but the law bans the use of embryonic stem cells in cosmetics. So, instead, researchers turned their attention to plants. These also produce stem cells throughout their lives, both to grow, as a response to an injury.

The biggest 'star' in the stem cell world is called PhytoCellTec Malus Domestica. Derived from a rare 18th-century species of apple tree, the Uttwiler Spatlauber, it first attracted attention, as it could be kept for months without withering.

In a paper published in the cosmetics industry journal, the Journal Of Applied Sciences, Swiss scientists noted: 'These apples must have especially long-living tissue stem cells. Could we profit from these stem cells? 'What would be the effect of an extract of such long-living stem cells on the skin?'

To find out, scientists cut pieces of the apple, which responded by forming a protective 'callous' made of plant stem cells on the surface. These cells were grown in a liquid culture and put to the test. A solution containing one per cent apple stem cells seemed to boost cell production of human stem cells by a staggering 80per cent.

The human cells were irradiated with UV light, which killed 50 per cent of those grown in a normal liquid culture, but hardly any of those protected by the apple stem cells. Also, hair follicles kept in a solution of Uttwiler Spatlauber continued to grow for 18 days, while those kept in a typical solution died after 14. And, in tests on 20 women, applying a cream enriched with 2 per cent PhytoCell-Tec Malus Domestica twice a day reduced crows feet by eight per cent after a fortnight, and 15 per cent after four weeks.

But Professor Liam Dolan, the Sheradian Professor of Botany at Oxford University, who specialises in studying plant cells, is sceptical about the new ingredient. 'I don't see how plant stem cells could interact with human stem cells in this way,' he says.

But Dr Daniel Schmid, research director of Mibelle Biochemistry, the Swiss lab which developed PhytoCellTec Malus Domestica, insists that his study shows his apple stem cell extracts have been 'shown to improve the maintenance of the stem cells characteristics of epidermal stem cells.' He admits: 'The anti-ageing benefit for the skin after topical application could not be confirmed in a clinical trial.' But, he adds: 'The extract offers a promise of real skin rejuvenation.'

Further studies would be needed to prove that plant stem cells truly are as effective on faces as they are in the lab, but in our search for the elixir of youth, a new cream that can peel away the years, dreams tend to win over doubts, and this little apple looks as if it's going to bask in the limelight a little longer yet.


10 reasons why sex is good for you

The research details underlying the assertions below are not given but it is more likely that healthy people have more sex than that sex keeps you healthy. The direction of cause is speculative

HERE is something to get you in the mood tonight: a 10-year Welsh study found that those who enjoyed an active sex life were 50 per cent less likely to have died during that time than those who did not. And that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexual health benefits, says body+soul's sex and relationships therapist Dr Gabrielle Morrissey. "It makes sense that sex is good for you because we need lots of inducements to do it so that we stay on the planet," she says. "Sex involves our circulatory, nervous and muscular systems and brains, so it's a tune-up and workout of everything that’s important."

Sadly, it's often the first thing to go when our health is on the blink. "We have the attitude that sex is a luxury item instead of a necessity for wellness. We also think of it as something only for the young and strong, but its effects are a bonus as we age." Still need convincing? Here are 10 health reasons to ramp up your sex life:

1 Less heart attacks and strokes

Films often depict men having heart attacks in the throes of passion, yet the estimates of this happening are about one in a million. Research actually shows that having sex several times a week may cut your risk of a heart attack or stroke in half. "Sex releases feel-good hormones such as dehydroepiandrosterone and oxytocin," says Dr Darren Russell, president of the Australasian Chapter of Sexual Health Medicine. "You get more blood moving through the blood vessels."

2 Lowers blood pressure and stress

A small Scottish study exposed people to stressful situations and found that those who had regular sexual intercourse responded better to stress than those who engaged in other sexual activities or abstained. A partner's hug can do wonders, too: a US study found it can lower blood pressure and heart rates in premenopausal women. "Touch releases quantities of oxytocin, so you don’t have to orgasm," Dr Morrissey says.

3 Reduces depression

Those feel-good hormones also help keep depression at bay, although US psychologist Dr Gordon Gallup found that women whose partners did not wear a condom during sex were less likely to be depressed than those whose did. His theory? Semen contains the hormone prostaglandin, which may be absorbed through the vagina and act like an antidepressant. But this doesn't mean you should avoid condoms, he warns.

4 prevents osteoporosis

"Men and women who have regular sex have higher testosterone levels, (which) are linked to a lower risk of osteoporosis and bone problems," says Dr Russell. More studies are needed.

5 Keeps colds and flu at bay

Lots of sex means fewer colds and flu, say researchers from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, USA. They found that having sex once or twice a week increased production of the immune-boosting antibody immunoglobulin by a third. A German study found that even masturbation can increase men’s white blood cells.

6 Prevents prostate cancer

Several large studies have shown that men in their 20s who ejaculate frequently (about 21 times a month) can reduce their risk of prostate cancer later in life by a third, compared to those who ejaculate five to seven times a month. "It doesn’t necessarily have to be intercourse," Dr Russell adds.

7 Relieves headaches

Research shows that sex can alleviate an aching noggin, especially in women. The endorphins and corticosteroids released have an analgaesic effect, alleviating the pain of headaches, arthritis, cramps and body aches. "Endorphins are a natural painkiller," Dr Russell says. The production of oestrogen in women may also ward off period pain.

8 Improves sleep

Dr Russell prescribes sex for people with sleep problems. "Sex helps people sleep better and is less addictive than things like Valium," he says. Again, it's those powerful oxytocins at work. In turn, sleep boosts mental and physical health.

9 Keeps you fit

Some experts say that 30 minutes of vigorous sex is comparable to 15 minutes on a treadmill or walking up two flights of stairs, and burns between 360 and 835 kilojoules. Sex works the pelvis, thighs, buttocks, arms, neck and thorax. Your pulse rate doubles from about 70 beats per minute to 150, the same as an athlete mid-stride.

10 Prevents incontinence

The muscles that stem the flow of urine, reducing leakage and incontinence, are given a workout during sex, says Dr Morrissey. "Orgasm is best because the entire pelvic floor contracts." Flexing your pelvic muscles during sex maximises the benefits and makes sex more pleasurable. Use it or lose it

Regular sex keeps your genital organs in good working order, says Dr Darren Russell. Abstaining for long periods may cause the following:

Erectile problems in older men: A Finnish study of men aged 55 to 75 found that those who had intercourse less than once a week had twice the risk of erectile dysfunction than those who had sex more often.

Vaginal atrophy in women: A decline in oestrogen, especially during menopause, can result in the thinning and inflammation of the vaginal walls. "Once the oestrogen is gone, the vagina can atrophy and the tissues can wither away," Dr Russell says. This can cause pain and irritation if you return to sex after a long break. "Regular sex keeps the vagina lubricated and in good working order as a woman goes past the menopause." Vaginal oestrogen creams can also help.

More great reasons to say "Yes!" tonight:

Regular periods: US researchers found that women who have sex at least once a week have more regular menstrual cycles than those who have sex less often.

Look younger: In Secrets Of The Superyoung (Berkley), Dr David Weeks says his research found that couples who had sex three times a week looked seven years younger than those who had sex less often. Other researchers say sex raises a woman’s oestrogen levels, making her hair shinier and her skin more supple.

Better skin and teeth: Some argue that the minerals in semen (such as zinc and calcium) help stop tooth decay and improve skin, but Dr Morrissey is not convinced.

"The kind of momentary exposure, even over a long, repetitive experience, couldn’t possibly have any kind of impact, let alone the minimal number of minerals you’re talking about."


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

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

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

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

"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 salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. 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!


More on salt (See point 5 above): 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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."

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.