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, 2010

Eating almonds could help prevent diabetes and heart disease, say scientists

The journal article is "Almond Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Adults with Prediabetes" by M. Wien et al. This does not appear to have been a double blind trial so expectations of both the subjects and their doctors could have influenced the results. We know from hypnosis that suggestion can have powerful effects on the body. It also does not follow that results found with prediabetics would generalize to any other group

Eating almonds could help prevent diabetes and heart disease, according to a study. Researchers found that incorporating the nuts into our diets may help treat type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 to 95 per cent of all cases.

As well as combating the condition, linked to obesity and physical inactivity, it could tackle cardiovascular disease, said the report published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

Diabetics have a shortage of insulin or a decreased ability to use the hormone that allows glucose to enter cells and be converted to energy. When diabetes is not controlled, glucose and fats remain in the blood and over time, damage vital organs.

The study found that a diet rich in almonds may help improve insulin sensitivity and decrease LDL-cholesterol levels in those with pre-diabetes, a condition in which people have blood glucose levels higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.

The study – conducted at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey – looked at the effects of consuming an almond-enriched diet on 65 adults with pre-diabetes. The group on the almond-enriched diet showed greater improvements in insulin sensitivity and significant reductions in LDL-cholesterol compared with the nut-free group.

Lead researcher Dr Michelle Wien said: ‘It is promising for those with risk factors for chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease that dietary changes may help to improve factors that play a potential role in the disease development.’

An estimated 55 million people in Europe have been diagnosed with diabetes.


Who's to Blame for Weight Gain?

Now drinking water can make you fat?

It’s no secret that delicious holiday food can add a few extra pounds to the waistline. But recent studies are attempting to show that weight gain, especially as a young child, is not all the fault of too much food and not enough exercise.

A Newsweek article titled Born to be Big, states, “The evidence now emerging says that being overweight is not just the result of personal choices about what you eat, combined with inactivity," says Retha Newbold of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in North Carolina, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Exposure to environmental chemicals during development may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.” ’

What does this mean? That chemicals in the environment, newly termed obesogens, may lend a helping hand in the obesity epidemic, especially in babies and children. Studies show that these chemicals are found in the water and food supply as well as in other man-made chemicals.

As far-fetched as these new studies sound, one particular agency of the federal government is taking it very seriously — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

An article in the New York Times stated, “U.S. EPA regulators convened with scientists last month to discuss how to design regulations for chemicals based on emerging science that connects exposures during pregnancy with disease much later in life.” Diseases including obesity.

The article went onto say that as this new information is coming out linking certain chemicals to diseases like obesity and cancer, it is even more critical that they quickly get through “200,000 chemicals in a European library of commercial compounds called REACH, to determine their toxicity.”

An article by Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) explains, “REACH stands for ‘registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals’ — the name of a massively bureaucratic program in the European Union. The EPA wants Congress to use it as a model for revisions to the Toxics Substances Control Act — and they even have started working on their version of the program while pushing for congressional authorization.”

Regulation of chemicals, whether man-made or natural, won’t solve America’s obesity problem — especially when handled by a government bureaucracy.

“This is just another excuse for the federal government to get further involved in our daily lives,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “We should not be putting blame on the environment or man-made chemicals for making America fat. Weight management is ultimately under the control of the individual, not a bunch of bureaucrats.”

The NIH isn’t the only one concerned with obesogens.

Adam Carey, a gynecologist, obstetrician and Professor of Nutrition at Leeds Metropolitan University in the U.K. implied in an article that even water can make you fat. He wrote, “Thanks to the possible pollutants that are so difficult to remove from our water supply, it has been linked to a number of health complaints — and yes, it may even trigger weight gain. Even calorie-free water can affect our body fat levels if chemicals that disturb hormonal activity leach into our supply and drive up our chances of putting on weight.”

Now drinking water can make you fat? Even if there is a chance chemicals, whether we drink them, eat them, or are exposed to them in the womb, can possible make people more susceptible to weight gain, these types of studies and printed materials do nothing but discourage people from exercising and watching what they eat.

The U.K. article even states that plainly: “There’s no point in any of us trying to eat healthily and exercise if we don’t do something about our water.”

This is a troubling misconception that places the blame of being obese on anything and everything except personal habits.

“This research is a slippery slope,” says ALG’s Wilson. “Personal healthy practices like exercising and eating right should not be neglected just because of new research. Experts themselves have said it is too early to say if chemicals are really to blame for America’s obesity epidemic.”

Wilson is right. In the New York Times article, Ila Cote, a senior science adviser at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, speaking for herself, said, “The epigenetic data should be considered seriously but is not yet ready for risk assessment. It could be used in very preliminary stages to identify problematic chemicals but cannot be used in a quantitative manner.”

In other words, if you put on a few pounds during this holiday season, don’t blame it on the water or your development process in your mother’s womb. Perhaps the weight gain can be attributed to that 10th sugar cookie you ate or the extra serving of potatoes with dinner.

Americans need to take responsibility for their health, otherwise the government will — even more than it already has.


30 December, 2010

Don't feel guilty about that brandy butter - it's GOOD for you!

Not all the findings referred to below are sound -- but neither are the claims for the evils of butter

After the calorie-laden onslaught of the past few days, it’s no ­surprise that the health Nazis come out in force. Watch the ­alcohol. Go easy on the pudding. Think of all that saturated fat. Think of your body mass index.

This time of year, if the nannies are to be believed, is a killer. And butter, they say — the lovely, creamy ­butter which almost defines what is best about northern European cuisine — is about the worst thing you can eat.

A few days ago, Gordon Ramsay’s new cookbook was slated by an American health watchdog, the Physicians Committee for ­Responsible Medicine. It said his ­recipes would ‘wreak havoc’ with your health, as they contained too much cream and far, far too much butter.

Earlier this year, Shyam Kolvekar, a ­cardiologist practising in Britain, ­actually called for butter to be banned — yes, banned, like crack cocaine — to save the nation’s health. Mr Kolvekar trotted out the old canard that butter leads to clogged arteries and heart ­disease as it is full of saturated fats.

But scientists are increasingly ­challenging this view, and their work ­suggests that this call to ban butter is as wrong-headed as it is ludicrous. While it is true that we Britons eat too much fat and that our diets are far from ideal, butter is not the culprit.

For decades we have been told that animal fats (found in meat, butter, cream and cheese) are the dietary equivalent of the axis of evil, and ­responsible for the epidemic of cancers and heart disease that has swept the Western world in the past century.

But scientists claim that, far from being killer foods, butter and other dairy ­produce are — when eaten in ­moderation — good for us. They note that as butter consumption has declined over the ­decades, as a result of health concerns, the intake of margarine and other manufactured spreads has increased. But there has been no ­corresponding fall in cardiovascular problems. In fact, quite the reverse.

In a research paper looking at the ­relationship between health problems and butter, Professor Mary Enig, a ­biochemist from Maryland in the U.S., said: ‘Heart disease was rare in America at the turn of the century. Between 1920 and 1960, the incidence of heart disease rose to become America’s number one killer. During the same period butter consumption plummeted from 18lb per person per year to 4lb.’

In another paper, published this year, Professor Peter Elwood, an expert in fat metabolism, said: ‘There appears to be an enormous mismatch between the ­evidence from long-term prospective studies and perceptions of harm from the consumption of dairy food items.’

This is not a message the food industry wants you to hear. For ­margarine and ­manufactured spreads have become a multi-billion-pound industry. Huge international companies now promote the message that ­animal-derived fats are the main causes of heart disease and cancer. But the Swiss, Swedes and northern Italians (who eat a great deal of butter) have very low rates of heart disease.

The anti-dairy propaganda machine has been highly successful. When I was a child, in the Sixties and Seventies, the ­middle classes all believed that ­margarine was good for us.

What only a few years before had been a detested wartime staple was suddenly rebranded by food industry conglomerates as a fashionable ‘health’ food. The labels on the tubs proclaimed how good margarine was — being ‘high in polyunsaturates’ and ‘low in ­saturates’. These phrases became repeated as a kind of holy writ of healthy living — but, like many religious mantras, were not totally understood.

Nevertheless, because people are obsessed with their weight and ­constantly looking for a new dietary ­panacea, somehow margarine acquired a bogus ‘slimming’ cachet as well.

The trouble is many margarines are packed with other unhealthy substances and chemicals. For example, they are rich (sometimes 15 per cent by weight) in trans-fats — synthesised unsaturated fats which increase the risk of coronary heart disease by raising ­levels of ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and ­lowering levels of ‘good’ high-­density lipoprotein cholesterol. A Harvard study found that trans-fat-rich margarines increase the risk of heart disease in women by nearly half.

Just as worryingly, a study published last year in New Zealand found that children who ate margarine every day scored, on average, three points lower in IQ tests than those who did not.

The researchers suggested that high trans-fat levels found in margarines could be to blame. Trans-fats have been linked to memory problems —­perhaps due to the way they affect absorption of other nutrients.

After an outcry from consumers and scientists, the use of trans-fat in ­margarines has now been cut. But then, many of us didn’t need the excuse to ­re-embrace butter — one of the ­purest, most natural foods you can eat. Of course, natural is not always the same as healthy, but, in this case, it really is — at least, in moderation.

Butter is a simple emulsion of ­milk-fat, ­protein and water, and is packed with nutrients. It is a high-energy food, ­containing 700 calories per 100g, slightly less than olive oil but exactly the same as most standard margarines.

Butter is rich in Vitamin A, which is needed for the proper functioning of the cardiovascular system. ­Deficiencies of this vitamin in pregnant women can result in babies with deformed hearts. In infants it can lead to ­blindness and skeletal defects.
Butter is also rich in Vitamin D, which helps build strong bones, and contains Vitamin E and selenium — essential for healthy nervous and immune systems.

Recent studies have also shown that butter can help to fight cancer, as it is rich in an anti-carcinogenic fatty acid obtained through cattle eating grass.

Butter, it is true, is high in dietary ­cholesterol, but the relationship between the cholesterol we eat and levels of this chemical in our blood stream is complex.

Butter — like all dairy products — is good for bone growth and repair and helps keep our joints supple. Unlike ­margarine, it promotes a ­feeling of being full when consumed in small amounts; like rich chocolate, ­butter is ‘fattening’, but you really don’t need to eat a lot of it to feel satisfied.

Increasingly, in Britain we want foods that not only look like food, but taste of food as well. A good butter — and I am thinking of the creamy ­wonders that come from Jersey and Normandy — is a gourmet food, to be savoured in small quantities.

Mashed potato cannot be made properly without butter. Ditto ­scrambled eggs. Toasted crumpets with marge? Unthinkable.

For thousands of years, butter has been recognised as one of the greatest ­culinary inventions of humankind. Those who cannot see this are ­simply missing out. So, forget the health Nazis and enjoy all those last scrapings of your brandy butter — without the ­slightest feeling of guilt.


The secret of keeping the doctor away: An iPod a day

Patients could be given Apple iPods loaded with their favourite music to help them recover from operations faster.

A £10,000 trial plans to test the theory that patients allowed to listen to music feel less pain, need less medication and leave hospital sooner after surgery.

If approved, the first to benefit will be new mothers, who will be exposed to music before and after they give birth, and those admitted for orthopaedic operations such as hip and knee replacements.

They will be monitored to see how music affects their anxiety levels, blood pressure and heart rate compared to those who don’t listen to music.

Although it is thought that the best music to use depends on each patient’s personal taste, the research will be used to create an original piece of music designed to have the most therapeutic effect.

The trial would involve about 120 patients at Barts and The London NHS Trust, and be run by The Public Engagement Foundation charity. Founder Tim Joss said: ‘This is not about art as fluff – it’s about saving the NHS money and I will not consider this to be a success unless that’s what it does. We want to get rid of that clinical, hospital feel and make wards feel more welcoming for patients.’

The music may be given to patients on iPods, or they may be encouraged to bring in their own devices or use the hospital’s in-house entertainment system.

Mr Joss added: ‘It may be that what helps a new mother recover from a birth is not the same thing that helps someone on an orthopaedic ward. It could be fascinating.’

The charity is seeking £10,000 funding for the project from the hospital’s charitable fund, rather than using NHS money.

Music psychologist Susan Hallam, from the London Institute of Education, said: ‘There is plenty of evidence that music can reduce anxiety. It can cut the time patients take to recover so could allow them to leave hospital quicker.’


29 December, 2010

Eating "healthier" means living longer (?)

The heading above is something of a tautology but there are some non-tautologous findings (below) underlying it. We also see below, however, more epidemiological speculation. And, perhaps sadly, the differences in relative risk (40%) are too low to support inferences of causation anyway (200% conventionally required). But let us look at what the findings COULD mean anyway:

Note that diet was assessed via a self-report questionnaire rather than direct observation. That leaves a lot of room for "faking good" and high IQ people (who are healthier anyway) may be more able and inclined to do that.

Note that high IQ has been found elsewhere to be a strong predictor of "good" (conforming) behavior: We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order".

So the alleged enthusiastic eaters of fruit and vegetables (etc.) may simply be high IQ people saying what they know will earn approval. They may even actually eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, but we don't know that.

It could be objected that education was controlled for but the correlation between educational level and IQ is around .7 -- which leaves 50% of the variance in the two variables not explained by one another. Thus control for education may reduce the influence of IQ but certainly does not eliminate it.

And whether what is true of septuagenarians is true generally would also seem moot

The leading causes of death have shifted from infectious diseases to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. These illnesses may be affected by diet. In a study published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers investigated empirical data regarding the associations of dietary patterns with mortality through analysis of the eating patterns of over 2500 adults between the ages of 70 and 79 over a ten-year period. They found that diets favoring certain foods were associated with reduced mortality.

By 2030, an estimated 973 million adults will be aged 65 or older worldwide. The objective of this study was to determine the dietary patterns of a large and diverse group of older adults, and to explore associations of these dietary patterns with survival over a 10-year period. A secondary goal was to evaluate participants' quality of life and nutritional status according to their dietary patterns.

By determining the consumption frequency of 108 different food items, researchers were able to group the participants into six different clusters according to predominant food choices:

"Healthy foods" (374 participants)
"High-fat dairy products" (332)
"Meat, fried foods, and alcohol" (693)
"Breakfast cereal" (386)
"Refined grains" (458)
"Sweets and desserts" (339).

The "Healthy foods" cluster was characterized by relatively higher intake of low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables, and lower consumption of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-calorie drinks, and added fat. The "High fat dairy products" cluster had higher intake of foods such as ice cream, cheese, and 2% and whole milk and yogurt, and lower intake of poultry, low-fat dairy products, rice, and pasta.

The study was unique in that it evaluated participants' quality of life and nutritional status, through detailed biochemical measures, according to their dietary patterns. After controlling for gender, age, race, clinical site, education, physical activity, smoking, and total calorie intake, the "High-fat dairy products" cluster had a 40% higher risk of mortality than the "Healthy foods" cluster. The "Sweets and desserts" cluster had a 37% higher risk. No significant differences in risk of mortality were seen between the "Healthy foods" cluster and the "Breakfast cereal" or "Refined grains" clusters.

According to lead author Amy L. Anderson, Ph.D., Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Maryland, the "results of this study suggest that older adults who follow a dietary pattern consistent with current guidelines to consume relatively high amounts of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish, may have a lower risk of mortality. Because a substantial percentage of older adults in this study followed the 'Healthy foods' dietary pattern, adherence to such a diet appears a feasible and realistic recommendation for potentially improved survival and quality of life in the growing older adult population."

The journal article is "Dietary patterns and survival of older adults" by Amy L Anderson et al., Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Volume 111, Issue 1 (January 2011)


Some brains are more sociable than others

If your social life leaves something to be desired, it might be your brain structure that’s to blame. A ‘Facebook feature’ deep in the temporal lobe governs the number of friends you are likely to make, scientists have found.

The amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure, has for some time been linked to empathy and fear responses. But a study suggests that the larger the amygdala, the wider and more complex is its owner’s network of friends and colleagues.

Volunteers aged between 19 to 83 were asked to complete questionnaires which measured how many regular social contacts they had, and in how many different groups.

Magnetic resonance imaging scans found a positive link between big amygdalas and the richest social lives. Professor Lisa Barrett, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, reported the findings in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

She said they were consistent with the social brain theory, which suggests the human amygdala evolved to deal with an increasingly complex social world. Other studies of primates have shown that those living in larger groups tend to have larger amygdalas.

The findings was published in a new study in Nature Neuroscience.

Dr Lisa Barrett, Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, who took part in the research, said the amygdala got bigger to cope with mankind's more hectic social life.

She added: 'Further research is in progress to try to understand more about how the amygdala and other brain regions are involved in social behaviour in humans.'

Her colleague Dr Bradford Dickerson, an associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School said: 'This link between amygdala size and social network size and complexity was observed for both older and younger individuals and for both men and women.'


28 December, 2010

Hormone-treated beef off the shelves at a major Australian supermarket chain

This will undoubtedly segment the market -- with food freaks buying their meat at Coles and others buying cheaper meat elsewhere. Are there enough food freaks to make it worthwhile for Coles? We will see, I guess. Richard Goyder is a very smart man, however, so he has probably guessed right

BEEF pumped with growth hormones will be banned by supermarket giant Coles from New Year's Day in an Australian first, sending shock waves through the meat industry. Industry experts predict higher beef prices as more customers demand hormone-free meat, which makes up about half of all beef sold in Australia.

Farmers have used hormone growth promotants (HGPs) to speed up muscle growth in cattle for more than 30 years, backed by rigorous safety approval from health authorities.

But in a survey of 1000 people by Meat and Livestock Australia, leaked to the Sunday Herald Sun, almost half said they would consume less meat if it had added hormones, while 16 per cent would "never touch it again" and 15 per cent would "actively warn others".

Industry experts now fear a "knock-on effect" from the Coles ban if other retailers were forced to fall into line.

Coles has vowed to continue spending tens of millions of dollars a year absorbing the extra costs incurred by farmers so that consumers would not pay more. HGPs for cattle have been approved in Australia since 1979, but were banned by the European Union in 1988.

Without the HGPs, industry experts said another two million head of cattle would be needed to make up a shortfall in meat, creating environmental problems. "This has the potential to be very damaging to the beef industry and its reputation," Sydney University Prof Ian Lean said.

But Coles ambassador Curtis Stone said the industry needed to listen to consumer concerns. "The goal of the food industry should be to produce food as Mother Nature intended with as little additives as possible," Stone said. "As consumers, we have the power to make sure this happen."

Australian Cattle Council chief David Inall accused Coles of needlessly frightening customers. And CSIRO livestock industry chief Alan Bell said HGPs were "very safe and backed by science". "The problem is that the word 'hormone' is an emotive one," Prof Bell said.


Now the humble spud is in the gun

Obama Administration Bans Potatoes from WIC Program

Chris Voigt lost 21 pounds and improved his health by living on a potato-only diet for 60 days. Potatoes are more nutritious than other starchy foods like rice and bread, and “are a good source of vitamins.” They have a lot of vitamin C (much more than a banana or an apple), and potassium levels slightly higher than potassium-rich bananas).

But the Obama Administration, which does not understand nutrition, has banned white potatoes from the WIC program (for school lunches and poor mothers), based on the false belief that potatoes are unhealthy. (Yet critics of the Obama Administration’s food nannyism get lectures from liberal journalists).

Potatoes are critically important in providing the poor with cheap, nutritious food. As Voigt notes,”In 2008, the United Nations declared it to be the ‘Year of the Potato’. This was done to bring attention to the fact that the potato is one of the most efficient crops for developing nations to grow, as a way of delivering a high level of nutrition to growing populations, with fewer needed resources than other traditional crops. In the summer of 2010, China approved new government policies that positioned the potato as the key crop to feed its growing population.”

After they were brought from America to Europe, potatoes “rescued the Western World” from recurrent famines, and made the Industrial Revolution possible. They did this by radically increasing the amount of food that hungry peasants could grow per acre, and by enabling farmers to provide the agricultural surplus that would feed burgeoning industrial populations.

In addition to trying to take away poor people’s potatoes, the Obama Administration has pushed ethanol subsidies that turn food into fuel and contribute to a “global food crisis” by spawning famines overseas. The Obama Administration is also using federal funds to subsidize the opening of an International House of Pancakes in Washington, D.C., and the development of high-calorie foods that benefit politically-connected agribusinesses.


25 December, 2010

Short Hiatus

This blog is suspended for a couple of days over the Christmas period. But as Macarthur said for the cameras: "I shall return"

24 December, 2010

Vitamins Cause Cancer?‏

More reason to question compulsory dosage of the whole population with folates

People with higher levels of folate in their red blood cells were more likely to have two tumor-suppressing genes shut down by methylation, a chemical off switch for genes, researchers report in the December issue of Cancer Prevention Research.

DNA hypermethylation, notes co-author Jean-Pierre Issa, M.D., professor in MD Anderson's Department of Leukemia, is found in a variety of cancers and diseases of aging, such as heart disease. Methyl groups attach to genes at sites called CpG islands and protrude like tags or book marks from the promoter region, preventing gene expression.

"Our new finding is that having high levels of folate in the blood, as observed in a sensitive measure of red blood cell (RBC) folate, is related to higher levels of DNA methylation," Issa said.

Folate is a naturally occurring B-vitamin that plays a role in DNA creation, repair and function as well as red blood cell production. Pregnant women who have a folate deficiency are at elevated risk of giving birth to a child with neural tube defects, which are caused by the failure of the spinal cord or brain to fully close during development.

Folate is found in leafy vegetables, fruits, dried beans and peas. Since 1998 its synthetic version, folic acid, has been added to breads cereals, flours, pastas, rice and other grain products under order from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This has driven down the rate of neural tube defects in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Folate also is taken as a dietary supplement. The recommended daily requirement is 400 micrograms for adult men and women and an additional 400 for women capable of becoming pregnant.

Folate's effect on cancer, once thought to be mainly preventive, has become less clear in recent years, with scientists finding cancer-promoting aspects of folate intake in colorectal, prostate and other cancers.

The research team analyzed the association between folate blood levels and dietary and lifestyle factors on DNA methylation in normal colorectal tissue. They enrolled 781 patients from a parent clinical trial that compared folate to aspirin in the prevention of precancerous colorectal polyps.

They gathered demographic, lifestyle and dietary information and compared methylation of two tumor-suppressing genes between the first colonoscopy and one three years later.

The genes, ER? and SFRP1, are expressed in normal colorectal tissue but silenced by methylation in colon cancer. The two genes also have been found to be methylated in breast, prostate and lung tumors.

Age was strongly associated with increased methylation – a finding that confirmed longstanding research. Methylation levels also varied between the rectum and right colon and among different ethnic groups for each gene.

Neither folate nor aspirin treatment were significantly associated with methylation levels. However, RBC folate was associated with methylation of both genes with significant differences emerging between the top quarter of patients with the highest RBC folate count and the bottom quarter with the lowest. RBC folate levels closely reflect long-term folate intake.

"These differences were not trivial, they were the equivalent of 10 years of extra aging for those with high RBC folate counts," Issa said.

"Today it's worrisome that taking extra folate over the long term might lead to more DNA methylation, which then might lead to extra diseases including potentially an increased chance of developing cancer and other diseases of aging," Issa said.

"The data for folate supplementation right now are very ambiguous and I personally think people taking folate should think twice about it," Issa said. "Also, these findings, added to other data, should trigger a rethinking of the U.S. position that everyone should be taking extra folate."


Secret to a smooth hangover – honey on toast

If you are planning to overindulge this Christmas then it would be a good idea to stock up on bread and honey as well as booze. Scientists claim that the natural sweetener is a great way to help the body deal with the toxic effects of a hangover.

The Royal Society of Chemistry claim that the fructose in the honey – which is also found in golden syrup – is essential to help the body break down alcohol into harmless by-products.

The reason why hangovers are so painful is that alcohol is first broken down into acetaldehyde, a substance which is toxic to the body, claimed Dr John Emsley of the Royal Society. This is then converted – using fructose – into acetic acid which is then burned during the body's normal metabolic process and broken down into carbon dioxide which is breathed out of the body. Serving the honey on toast adds potassium and sodium to the meal which is also helps the body cope with the alcohol.

Dr Emsley said: “The happiness comes from alcohol. The hangover comes from acetaldehyde. "This is the toxic chemical into which alcohol is converted by the body and it causes a throbbing headache, nausea, and maybe even vomiting. "The hangover disappears as the acetaldehyde is slowly converted to less toxic chemicals."

Dr Emsley, author of the Consumer’s Good Chemical Guide, said that the time was the greatest healer of a hangover but there were also ways to minimise it. He said that drinking a glass of milk first, sticking to clear alcohols such as gin and mixing in the occasional soft drink were helpful as was sinking a pint of water before you go to bed.

He said: "The milk slows down the absorption of alcohol, which means there is less acetaldehyde for the body to deal with at any one time.

"Gin is alcohol twice purified by distillation and the botanical flavours it contains are mere traces. Avoid dark coloured drinks which contain natural chemicals that can adversely affect you.

"Alcohol increases water loss, hence the frequent trips to the loo. This dehydration makes a hangover worse, so moderate your drinking with a soft drink now and again, and drink a large glass of water before you go to sleep."

He said that the traditional "hair of the dog" only worked if you have drank so much alcohol you suffer withdrawal symptoms, which suggests you are becoming addicted.


23 December, 2010

"Complementary" medicine 'can be lethal for children'

Using complementary medicine on children can be fatal, experts warn today. Parents can be misled into believing treatments such as homeopathy are more ‘natural’, with fewer side effects than conventional drugs. But they may have direct dangerous effects, and even lead to death, when substituted for effective conventional medicines, according to a study.

It found the deaths of four children could be blamed on parents failing to use orthodox treatments for illness and using alternative remedies instead.

The study team from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, used data from 2001 to 2003 showing 39 separate incidents of side effects in children up to the age of 16 thought to be linked with complementary treatment, whether used as a substitute or alongside conventional medicine.

In three-quarters of cases the issues were ‘probably or definitely’ related to complementary medicine. In 25 cases (64 per cent), the adverse effects were rated as severe, life-threatening or fatal. In almost half of cases, including the four deaths, the patient was harmed by a failure to use conventional medicine.

One involved an eight-month-old admitted to hospital with malnutrition and septic shock following naturopathic treatment with a rice milk diet from the age of three months for constipation.

‘Another death involved a ten-month-old with septic shock following treatment with homeopathic medicines and dietary restriction for chronic eczema,’ said the report in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

The third death was sudden in a child who had presented with multiple seizures. ‘A number of different complementary and alternative medicine therapies had been used instead of anti-convulsant therapy due to concerns about potential drug side effects,’ the report said.

The fourth death was of a child who needed blood-clotting drugs but was given complementary medicine instead.

Other reactions to complementary medicines included constipation, pain, seizures, vomiting, infections and malnutrition.

The report said: ‘Many of the adverse events associated with failure to use conventional medicine resulted from the family’s belief in complementary and alternative medicine and determination to use it despite medical advice.’

Alternative treatments are not subject to pharmaceutical testing as they are classified as food supplements. In the UK, homeopathy has been funded on the NHS since 1948. The Commons Science and Technology Committee earlier this year criticised state funding, saying it conferred scientific legitimacy.

Doctors at the British Medical Association’s annual meeting voted 3-1 in support of removing ‘scarce’ NHS funding for homeopathy, despite protests from patients.

Professor Edzard Ernst, from the department of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, said parents must be very careful. ‘The ethics of using alternative remedies in children are complex,’ he added.

Cristal Sumner, of the British Homeopathic Association, said: ‘With millions in Britain using complementary medicines (CAM), this study only emphasises the importance of CAM being integrated into the healthcare system and delivered by statutorily regulated health professionals. ‘Most of the risks from CAM come from the failure to responsibly integrate therapies appropriately rather than a direct risk from treatments.’


Will Mrs. Obama Downsize Your Kid?

The first lady got a bit of a bum rap last week when some on the right wrenched her comment on the new school lunch program out of context. Justifying an expanded federal program to feed kids healthy breakfasts and lunches at school, Michelle Obama said, "We can't just leave it up to the parents." Some radio shouters let fly at her for that. But immediately before that statement, Mrs. Obama had said, "I meet parents who are working very hard to make sure that their kids are healthy ... They're trying to teach their kids the kind of healthy habits that will stay with them for a lifetime. But ... it's clear that we as a nation have a responsibility to meet as well. We can't just leave it up to the parents."

This is not to suggest that Mrs. Obama's initiative, which will cost an additional $4.5 billion over the $13 billion we're already spending, is a good idea. The thrust of the new federal law is to bring the wisdom of the federal government to the task of helping kids become healthier. The terms "wisdom" and "federal government" make uncomfortable sentence mates. Certainly, there is a problem to be addressed. Some 31 percent of children and teens, reports the CDC, are overweight or obese, triple the rate of 30 years ago. It isn't even crazy to suggest, as Mrs. Obama has, that when "one in four young people are unqualified for military service because of their weight, childhood obesity isn't just a public health threat, it's not just an economic threat, it's a national security threat as well." And yet, it requires a certain kind of stubborn obtuseness to ride into battle carrying the flag of subsidized school lunches when the problem was partly created by ... subsidized school lunches!

Mrs. Obama is correct that school meals are loaded with saturated fat, salt, and sugar. She notes that children receive half of their daily calories from school lunches. Most kids don't eat breakfast at school, which means that school lunches are larded up with calories.

How did this happen? Was it just that before the Obamas came to town, the feds were misguided about what was good for kids? Or was it something about the way government operates?

Is it an accident that school lunches are so heavy on cheese and meat? No. The National School Lunch program, enacted in 1946, was devised with two goals in mind. The first was to subsidize farmers by purchasing huge blocs of "excess" commodities in order to keep prices up. Only secondarily did the government intend to help feed hungry children. Subsidies are, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the closest thing to immortal life in this world. So while America's children were getting heavier and heavier, particularly low-income children, federal programs continued to heap pizza, French fries, and cheeseburgers onto their plates.

There have been episodic and quixotic efforts to kill the subsidies. In 2007, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.; and Ron Kind, D-Wis., offered an amendment to the farm bill that would have reduced subsidies for unhealthy commodities like meat and cheese, cut subsidies to millionaire farmers, and increased funding for nutritional services to poor children. But Speaker Pelosi, fearing that her farm state members would pay a political price, urged a "no" vote.

Some 30 million American children (about 83 percent of the total) eat subsidized school lunches in America's schools, though only 17.4 million are low income. Mrs. Obama's reform will increase spending on the grounds that healthy foods are more expensive than unhealthy ones. But $2.2 billion of the $4.5 cost of the new program is to be offset by reductions in the Food Stamp program. Bad idea.

The amount of all of this food that winds up uneaten in the trash can only be guessed at (though anecdotal evidence abounds). Wouldn't it make more sense, economically, nutritionally, and (importantly) socially to eliminate school lunches altogether? Parents can pack a highly nutritious turkey, tuna, or peanut butter sandwich with an apple or an orange. Poor parents can afford to do this with help from the Food Stamp program. The older kids can pack their own lunches. (A child who repeatedly showed up at school without lunch would receive attention from child protective services.) Most of the parent-supervised lunches would be superior in nutrition and taste to anything the government could serve (some kids might even find an affectionate note from mom or dad in their lunch boxes). But more importantly, the principle that parents are responsible for their children would be ratified.


22 December, 2010

Vitamin pills could damage your health by making misleading claims, says British watchdog

People who pop vitamin pills in an effort to boost their health could be jeopardising their wellbeing as well as wasting their money, according to the consumer watchdog.

A survey by Which? found two-thirds of us have taken supplements in the past year. But on closer study many products were found labelled with misleading or insufficient information.

Researchers who visited supermarkets, chemists and smaller health shops in London in October found numerous examples of unsubstantiated claims on supplements.

Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith said the worst culprits were those that claimed to maintain healthy bones and joints. Claims about key ingredients including glucosamine and long chain omega-3 fatty acids have all been turned down by the European Food Safety Authority. However, until the regulations have been fully implemented they will still appear on bottles.

Mr Vicary-Smith added: 'Researchers also found high-strength supplement products containing vitamin B6 and beta-carotene on sale, without the recommended warnings that taking too much of them could be harmful.'

In addition to visiting retail outlets, Which? conducted an online survey of 1,263 supplement takers across the UK. 'A third didn't realise that taking too much of some supplements could damage your health,' Mr Vicary-Smith said.

He called on the European Commission to address the issue. 'We're concerned that people are being taken for a ride, needlessly paying a premium for many products on the basis of health claims that haven't been backed up by scientific evidence,' he said. 'We want to see the European Commission release a list of accepted and rejected claims as soon as possible, so consumers won't continue to be bamboozled by health claims they can't trust.'

The NHS advises to always seek medical advice before taking supplements, stick to the recommended daily intake and don’t take them for too long. A spokesman added: 'Vitamin and mineral tablets are no substitute for a healthy diet. We tend to absorb nutrients more effectively if they’re in our food, rather than taken via a tablet.'

You can see which supplement health claims have been accepted or rejected at the EFSA website


New Drug May Ease Social Impairment of Autism

Since autism seems to be caused by some structural abnormality in the brain, I doubt that much will come of this

Researchers have launched a pilot clinical trial of a new medication aimed at relieving the sociability problems of adolescent and young adult patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The medication used, D-Cycloserine, originally was developed to treat tuberculosis, but previous studies showed, by chance, that it might change social behavior.

”What makes this important is you might have someone with a 125 or 130 IQ who’s unemployable” because of their social impairments, said lead investigator Maria R. Urbano, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). Their difficulties in social functioning significantly reduce quality of life for those with ASD.

Researchers say that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders are either disinterested in social interactions or find them unpleasant. “They often don’t understand what other people are thinking or feeling and misinterpret social cues,” said Stephen I. Deutsch, M.D., Ph.D., of EVMS. ”Sadly, persons with autism spectrum disorders are often painfully aware of their limited sociability, which can lead to profound feelings of sadness and frustration.”

The trial will show whether the medication, which is already known to be safe for use in humans, has similar effects on the sociability deficits of persons with autism as it does in mice. As part of their research, EVMS scientists verified that is a valid animal model of the limited sociability seen in persons with ASD.

EVMS scientists found that in the presence of another mouse, a specific mouse strain known as the BALB/c mouse moves as far away as possible and does not interact as normal mice do — just as people with autism often avoid making social contact with other people.

This finding gave researchers a way to test whether D-Cycloserine can alter the function of certain receptors in the brain known to affect sociability and help the animals be more at ease around others.

In preliminary studies at EVMS, the medication appeared to resolve the Balb/c mouse’s deficits of sociability; it behaved as a normal mouse would when placed near another.

EVMS’ laboratory studies with the Balb/c mouse led investigators to hypothesize that D-Cycloserine could ease the impaired sociability of people with autism, such as avoiding eye contact and personal interaction. Those traits can severely limit the possibility of employment and independent living.


21 December, 2010

Echinacea does not ward off colds according to research

On to the next fad!

The herbal remedy echinacea, which is taken to stave off colds, does not work, say leading doctors. They suggest that the plant extract has little or no effect on the length or severity of symptoms including coughs and sneezes.

Increasing numbers of Britons take echinacea supplements every year at the first sign of a cold in the hope that they will help boost their immune system. But a major study suggested that its effects are ‘minimal’, and for many people it will not work at all.

The research by the American College of Physicians compared the effects of the extract on 719 people experiencing the first sign of a cold. Half were given echinacea tablets to take once a day for five days and the other half took placebos and recorded their symptoms for a week.

Symptoms of the common cold – congestion, sore throat and fever – usually resolve within seven to ten days. The length of illness among the volunteers who took the echinacea was shorter by between seven and ten hours – a ‘statistically insignificant’ result, the experts said. The herb had no effect on severity of the symptoms.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, concluded that, for most people, taking the supplement was not ‘worthwhile’.

The team, led by Professor Bruce Barrett at the University of Wisconsin concluded: ‘Any underlying benefit of echinacea is not large and was not demonstrated by our results. Individual choices about whether to use echinacea to treat the common cold should be guided by personal health values and preferences.’

The herb, derived from a flowering plant native to North America, has become increasing popular in the past decade. It was first used by American Indians to treat snake bites.


Chemical in cocoa could be turned into a anti-cough medicine

Theobromine has caffeine-like stimulant effects and that may not be good at all in ill people

Chocolate could provide the key to tackling a persistent cough, researchers claim. They are carrying out the final stages of clinical trials on a drug that contains theobromine, an ingredient naturally present in cocoa and chocolate. If the trials are successful, the drug could be on the market within two years.

More than seven million Britons suffer from a persistent cough, defined as one that lasts for more than two weeks. Some have asthma-like symptoms while others suffer from heartburn.

But most widely available cough products soothe the symptoms rather than deal with the cause, and have been criticised for side effects such as drowsiness. There are safety concerns about side effects from other products that are codeine-based, which use a chemical called an opioid.

Previous research by London’s National Heart and Lung Institute found that theobromine is 33 per cent more effective than codeine at stopping coughing. It works directly on the vagus nerve, which is responsible for persistent coughing.

Research in South Korea has shown that theobromine has none of the side effects associated with standard drug treatments for persistent cough.

Professor Alyn Morice, a leading expert in the treatment of cough who is head of the Hull Cough Clinic, said: ‘Thousands of people across the UK suffer from persistent cough, and due to the drawbacks of current opioid drugs such as codeine, we are in desperate need of a non-opioid treatment with a drastically improved side effect profile for patients.’

A research project set to begin next year will be the final phase of clinical trials of a drug called BC1036. The drug is being developed by SEEK, a leading UK privately-owned drug discovery group.

Manfred Scheske, CEO of consumer health at SEEK, said: ‘Persistent cough is a very common condition, often lasting for weeks after a viral infection. It can be difficult to treat, especially since it is not possible to give large doses of opiate-based medication to patients due to side-effect issues.

‘This drug has the potential to dramatically impact the treatment of persistent cough and could greatly benefit the quality of life of persistent cough sufferers.’


20 December, 2010

Beetroot juice could give the elderly a new lease of life, say "experts"

It does appear that nitrates in beetroot juice induce temporary vasodilation but lots of things do that -- including alcohol. I know which one I would rather drink

Drinking beetroot juice could help the elderly lead more active lives, it has been found. In tests, they required less energy to carry out low-intensity exercises after drinking the juice. The amount of effort it took to walk was reduced by 12 per cent. This could enhance their lives by allowing the elderly to carry out tasks they might not otherwise attempt, the researchers said.

Beetroot juice widens blood vessels and reduces the amount of oxygen needed by muscles during activity. As people age, or if they develop conditions that affect the cardiovascular system, the amount of oxygen taken in during exercise can drop dramatically.

Writing in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Katie Lansley said: ‘What we’ve seen in this study is that beetroot juice can actually reduce the amount of oxygen you need to perform even low-intensity exercise.’

A team from Exeter University and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry gave subjects normal beetroot juice or juice with the nitrates removed. Professor Andy Jones said: ‘Each time the normal, nitrate-rich juice was used, we saw a marked improvement in performance which wasn’t there with the filtered juice – so we know the nitrate is the active ingredient.


Breastfeeding 'could make boys more intelligent'

This is an old one and again it is epidemiological speculation. More intelligent mothers are more likely to be conscientious about breastfeeding (We read: "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order") and such women would also have more intelligent sons. Why the effect was observed in boys only on this occasion also has to be speculative. Note that other studies such as the one linked above have found NO effect when IQ and other confounders are controlled for. One does rather wonder why this old ground is being replowed

Breastfeeding your baby could help them achieve academic success by the age of 10, a study has found. Researchers found that children who were predominantly breastfed for six months did better in mathematics, reading, writing and spelling. The effect was strongest in boys.

It is thought that the bonding between mother and baby fostered during breastfeeding may mean mothers are more attentive and supportive of their children. Boys are more responsive to maternal attention when learning which could explain why breastfeeding had a greater effect on them, the researchers said.

The authors, from University of Western Australia, also suggested that there may be substances in breastmilk that help the brain develop. This effect may be more pronounced in boys because they lack the female hormones which are known to protect the brain.

Women in Britain are recommended to exclusively breastfeed for six months but many drop it within the first month saying they lacked support when they had difficulties.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, said: "By looking at boys and girls independently, we found that predominant breastfeeding for six months or longer was significantly associated with increased mathematics, reading, writing, and spelling scores for boys, but no effect of breastfeeding was apparent on the educational attainment of girls for any subject. "We found significant interactions for mathematics and spelling revealing that boys were more likely than girls to have improved academic scores if they were breastfed for a longer period. "On average, boys had poorer numeracy and literacy scores than girls; however, the scores were improved if the child was breastfed for six months or longer."

Just over 1,000 children were involved in the study and were followed from when their mothers were 18 weeks pregnant until they reached ten years of age when they were assessed using standard mathematics, reading, writing and spelling scores.

The authors adjusted for other factors that could influence educational attainment, including mother's education and household income. However they could not fully account for mother's intelligence.

Lead author Dr Wendy Oddy, from the Centre for Child Health Research at University of Western Australia, in Perth, wrote in the journal: "The positive effect of predominant breastfeeding for six months or longer on academic achievement can be viewed as shifting the mean population score upward, particularly for boys. "Our study adds to growing evidence that breastfeeding for at least six months has beneficial effects on optimal child development. Mothers should be encouraged to breastfeed for six months and beyond."

Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: "This is a difficult area to research because of the need to allow for all of the possible variables that influence educational attainment. "However this study has controlled for these as far as possible and adds to the growing body of evidence that breast feeding is the best way to feed babies from birth to six months of age and beyond.

"It is vital that in the light of this evidence women and their families are given the highest quality of information antenatally and excellent support to breast feed postnatally. It is worrying that recent reviews of the support women are getting suggest that this is one aspect of maternity services where resources are lacking and care provision needs to improve."


19 December, 2010

The magic of Mistletoe

It's possible that there's something in this but we have no way of knowing at this stage

According to folklore, mistletoe 'magic' may seal romance, bestow fertility and bring peace to warring spouses. The plant has also been credited with the power of healing - an attribute currently being harnessed by a new outpatient unit at the independent Raphael Medical Centre in Kent, which offers integrated cancer care.

The centre uses mistletoe (known by its Latin plant name, viscum album) to combat undesirable effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, such as fatigue, nausea, weight loss, low mood and infections.

Advocates believe the herb boosts the immune system and may even help kill tumour cells - particularly breast, gynaecological, colo-rectal, pancreatic and lung cancer, along with lymphomas and leukaemia.

Results have been so promising that Professor Gene Feder, a GP and Professor of Primary Care at Bristol University, is initiating the UK's first pilot study.

From his GP experience he says: 'Patients receiving mistletoe during and after radiotherapy or chemotherapy appear to tolerate those treatments better. The university is planning a pilot double-blind randomised controlled trial, and hope to start recruiting in Bristol in April.'

Treatment is usually by injections - two a week for two years. Patients inject at home after initial treatment by medical staff to monitor effects.

Dr Maurice Orange MSc, who heads the integrated cancer care clinic at Raphael, explains: 'We look for inflammation at the injection site.

This may be itchy, tender or painful for a day or two. Like after-effects of a bee sting, redness indicates the body's immune response. For this treatment that's desirable. After weeks or months of treatment it settles down.

'Similarly, within 24 hours of an injection we expect patients to feel off-colour, fatigued, headachy with bodily aches and pains, and possibly raised body temperature - like mild flu, but lasting about 12 hours. Again it's a positive sign. The immune system is firing into action. Depending on reactions we adjust doses, increasing as patients get used to it.'

Dr Orange stresses that mistletoe is an adjunct to conventional cancer treatment. While patients sometimes want to avoid orthodox treatment, he sees his job as discussing best treatments, often referring patients to sympathetic oncologists.


The magic of garlic

Just epidemiological speculation so far

It may do no favours for your breath, but enjoying a diet rich in garlic, onions and leeks could reduce your risk of developing the most common form of arthritis. Researchers at King’s College London and the University of East Anglia investigated possible links between diet and the painful joint disease. They found that women who ate a lot of allium vegetables (in the garlic family) had lower levels of hip osteoarthritis.

The findings, published in the BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders journal, show the great potential garlic compounds have in developing new treatments for the disease. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in adults, affecting around 8 million people in the UK, with women are more likely to develop it than men.

It causes pain and disability by affecting the hip, knees and spine in the middle-aged and elderly population. Currently there is no effective treatment other than pain relief and, ultimately, joint replacement.

A relationship is known to exist between body weight and osteoarthritis but this was the first study to delve deeper into how diet could impact on development and prevention of the condition.

The study, funded by Arthritis Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and Dunhill Medical Trust, looked at over 1,000 healthy female twins, many of whom had no symptoms of arthritis. The team carried out a detailed assessment of the diet patterns of the twins and analysed these alongside x-ray images, which captured the extent of early osteoarthritis in the participants’ hips, knees and spine.

They found that in those who consumed a healthy diet with a high intake of fruit and vegetables, particularly alliums such as garlic, there was less evidence of early osteoarthritis in the hip joint.

To investigate the potential protective effect of allium vegetables further, researchers studied the compounds found in garlic. They found that that a compound called diallyl disulphide limits the amount of cartilage-damaging enzymes when introduced to a human cartilage cell-line in the laboratory.

Dr Frances Williams, lead author from the Department of Twin Research at King’s College London, says: 'While we don't yet know if eating garlic will lead to high levels of this component in the joint, these findings may point the way towards future treatments and prevention of hip osteoarthritis. 'If our results are confirmed by follow-up studies, this will point the way towards dietary intervention or targeted drug therapy for people with osteoarthritis.’

Professor Ian Clark of the University of East Anglia said: ‘Osteoarthritis is a major health issue and this exciting study shows the potential for diet to influence the course of the disease. 'With further work to confirm and extend these early findings, this may open up the possibility of using diet or dietary supplements in the future treatment osteoarthritis.’


18 December, 2010

The BPA hysteria spreads

On the basis of "possible risks". They are not even sure it is a risk, let alone a real danger

The Massachusetts Public Health Council voted unanimously yesterday to ban the sale and manufacture of baby bottles and sipping cups containing the chemical BPA, but turned aside a push by environmental activists for more sweeping restrictions on use of the chemical linked to possible health risks in children.

Bisphenol A is used in a wide variety of products, including plastic bottles, children’s sipping cups, and the lining of canned food containers. Children and adults can ingest tiny amounts of BPA when they drink or eat from the containers, and studies of laboratory animals have suggested that the chemical could cause developmental problems for children if they are exposed to small quantities early in life.

Last year the state Department of Public Health warned parents of young children not to store infant formula or breast milk in plastic bottles containing the chemical and urged pregnant or breast-feeding women to avoid using food and drink containers made with it.

The US Food and Drug Administration has said there is some concern that the chemical could be harmful to children, and the federal government has launched a $30 million study of its health effects. Results are not expected until 2012.

The new state ban targets bottles and cups likely to be used by children 3 years old and under. It will take effect Jan. 1 for manufacturers and July 1 for retailers. There are no makers of these baby products in the state, but council member Paul Lanzikos suggested that the new date, earlier than the proposed date of April 1, as a symbol of the seriousness of the issue. To enforce the regulation, the state will conduct spot checks at stores and test any bottles or cups suspected to contain the chemical.

Environmental activists had urged a more comprehensive ban that included containers in which baby formula and food is sold, as well as anything a child could eat or chew on. They were disappointed after the vote.

“This regulation is a wholly inadequate response from the Patrick administration and will do little to protect children’s health,’’ Elizabeth Saunders, legislative director of Clean Water Action, said in a statement. “Manufacturers have largely removed BPA baby bottles and cups from the marketplace. This is a missed opportunity.’’

But Department of Public Health specialists said they presented a ban based on what science has shown about possible harms. “The Public Health Council is convinced that the scientific evidence is strong about the health impacts for infants and young children,’’ Geoffrey Wilkinson, senior policy adviser to the public health commissioner, told the council, an appointed panel of doctors, disease trackers, and consumer advocates.

“This is clearly a limited ban, and we know that this is much farther than industry would have preferred that the state go at this time,’’ Wilkinson said. “But it’s nowhere near as far as public health and environmental health advocates wanted the state to go. We think it is important to look at the research and to wait before considering further steps until research that is under way is reported.’’

Seven other states regulate the chemical, including Connecticut, whose ban also covers baby formula containers.

To critics who contend that bottles and sipping cups that contain the chemical have already been removed from store shelves, Wilkinson said that that may be true at large retail outlets, but is not necessarily the case at smaller stores in poorer neighborhoods. “This really extends the protection as a matter of policy, so it provides equal protection and addresses disparities that we are concerned may exist,’’ he said in an interview.


Junk food fan? Drinking tea could keep the pounds at bay -- if you are a mouse

Drinking tea may prevent weight gain caused by a junk food diet. Researchers found regular consumption of tea also suppressed damaging changes in the blood linked to fatty foods that can lead to type 2 diabetes. They said the research on mice could signal another set of health benefits from tea drinking if they are confirmed in trials on humans.

In the study some mice were given a high fat diet and others a normal diet. Each of these two groups were then split into smaller groups and given water, black tea or green tea for 14 weeks. Both types of tea suppressed body weight gain and the build-up of belly fat linked to a fatty diet.

But black tea, which is used in most ordinary cuppas, also counteracted the harmful effects on the blood normally associated with a high-fat diet. These included increases in cholesterol, high blood glucose and insulin resistance – a precursor to type 2 diabetes where the body does not efficiently use the insulin it produces. Rising obesity levels in Western countries have resulted in many more people having insulin resistance.

The study at Kobe University, Japan, was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Eight out of ten Britons drink tea. Dr Carrie Ruxton from the industry backed Tea Advisory Panel said: ‘This study is good news for tea drinkers, particularly those who drink black tea. ‘Though the findings need to be confirmed in human studies, this study found that tea helped to prevent weight gain and adverse changes in blood glucose, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and lipid regulation evoked by a high fat diet. ‘Black tea had particularly favourable effects on blood cholesterol and insulin resistance.’

Tea drinking has already been linked with lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Other research shows drinking tea on a regular basis for ten or more years may improve bone density.

...but there's no miracle in goji berries. Trendy goji berries are not especially good for you – unless you believe in their healing powers. The goodness from the berries is mostly the result of a placebo effect, say researchers.

Hailed as a super food, their popularity has soared on the back of claims of anti-ageing and cancer-preventing properties but they have not yet been proven.

The berries do have the same nutrients as other fruits and vegetables, but the difference is the effect on those who truly believe in their wonder properties.

Professor Emilio Martinez de Victoria Muqoz at the University of Granada warned that the berries were simply ‘another fad’, adding: ‘Goji berries will not have any positive effect on people who do not follow a balanced diet’.


17 December, 2010

McDonald's sued over Happy Meals

Happy Meals are again under attack, this time in court. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a lawsuit against McDonald's Corp., claiming that the company's meals with toys unfairly entice children into eating food that can do them harm.

The Washington advocacy group warned McDonald's in June that it would sue if the company did not stop providing toys with children's meals that have high amounts of sugar, calories, fat and salt. The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, seeks class-action status.

"McDonald's offerings consist mostly of fatty meat, fatty cheese, French fries, white flour, and sugar — a narrow combination of foods that promotes weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease — and may lead to a lifetime of poor diets," Michael Jacobson, the group's executive director, said in a news release.

The lead plaintiff in the suit is Monica Parham, a mother of two from Sacramento who said the company "uses toys as bait to induce her kids to clamor to go to McDonald's," the organization said.

McDonald's spokeswoman Bridget Coffing said Happy Meals offer quality foods in smaller portions that are appropriate for children.

As the debate over Happy Meals and childhood obesity has raged in recent months, McDonald's has consistently pointed out that parents can choose apple slices instead of French fries for their children, and order milk instead of soda. "We are proud of our Happy Meals and intend to vigorously defend our brand, our reputation and our food," Coffing said Wednesday.

"We listen to our customers, and parents consistently tell us they approve of our Happy Meals," Coffing said. "We are confident that parents understand and appreciate that Happy Meals are a fun treat, with quality, right-sized food choices for their children that can fit into a balanced diet."

Last month, San Francisco banned promotional toys served with meals that don't meet nutritional standards. This was widely seen as an attack on Happy Meals.


Another reversal in official British health advice

Going out in the midday sun without sunscreen is good for you, health experts have said. The latest advice recommends ten to 15 minutes’ exposure to help boost vitamin D levels. It runs contrary to previous warnings over the dangers of spending time in the sun when it is at its strongest.

The change of opinion comes amid concern that people may not be getting optimal levels of vitamin D – around 90 per cent of the body’s supply comes from the action of sunlight on the skin..

Experts have long warned the risk of skin cancer from UV rays outweighs any potential good. However, the latest advice from a range of health charities says exposure to the sun at midday during summer months can help build a store of the essential vitamin. And it reverses warnings about using suntan cream with a high sun protection factor before going outside and avoiding exposure between 10am and 2pm.

The new message from Cancer Research UK is ‘Never be red at the end of the day’

Experts have reacted in response to the growing number of children developing rickets, which is caused by lack of vitamin D. Deficiency has also been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and several cancers, as well as bone softening in adults.

According to a consensus statement from seven charities and professional bodies, in the summer people should expose their face, arms and legs for ten to 15 minutes, three times a week.
It is best done around noon, when the sun’s UVB rays are most effective at synthesising vitamin D.

In the winter, eating foods such as oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals and bread can provide enough of the vitamin alongside the body’s own stores, says the Department of Health.

The body needs vitamin D for the absorption of calcium and maintaining strong bones and teeth. It is also important for the function of the immune system.

The organisations signing up to the consensus statement are the British Association of Dermatologists, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Heart Forum, the National Osteoporosis Society and the Primary Care Dermatology Society.

Professor Rona Mackie pointed out that the intensity of the sun’s rays in Australia, where the sun avoidance message originated, was not found in the UK. Oliver Gillie, who runs Health Research Forum, said: ‘The public has been seriously misled by advice to avoid the sun.’


16 December, 2010

Smoking 'causes a third of severe rheumatoid arthritis cases' (?)

I've got no time for smokers but the report below seems rubbish. Smoking is correlated with all indices of social disadvantage -- including low IQ -- and high IQ people are known to be healthier and live longer. So was IQ controlled for? I doubt it. Just mentioning IQ would probably be classed as hate speech in nutty Sweden. So I suspect that all we have here is yet another example of the most reliable finding in epidemiology: That lower social class goes with poorer health.

The journal article is: "Smoking is a major preventable risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis: estimations of risks after various exposures to cigarette smoke"

Smoking is responsible for a third of all cases of severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to a study of more than 2,000 people. In people who are genetically predisposed towards the debilitating condition it accounts for more than a half of cases, the Swedish study found.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the painful swelling of the joints, thought to be caused by the body's own immune system attacking itself. It often begins to affect people between 40 and 60, and is three times more common in women than in men. About 400,000 people suffer from it in Britain.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm asked 1,200 people with RA about their smoking habits, as well as almost 900 people without it. Both sets were matched for age, sex, and other factors.

They found people who had smoked heavily throughout their lives - at least 20 a day for at least 20 years - were more than two-and-a-half times as likely to test positive for a type of antibody, called the anticitrullinated protein/peptide antibody (ACPA), that is now closely associated with the most common and severe form of RA.

Based on this and other figures, they calculated that smoking accounted for 35 per cent of ACPA-positive cases of RA, and a fifth of cases of the disease overall.

Among people who were genetically susceptible to the disease, the researchers concluded that smoking was responsible for more than half (55 per cent) of ACPA-positive cases.

However, they found that in all but the heaviest smokers, the risk of developing RA diminished once a person stopped smoking.

The report is published today (TUES) online in the British Medical Journal's Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Jane Tadman, from Arthritis Research UK, commented: "We’ve also known for some time that lifestyle factors such as smoking, and also eating a lot of red meat and drinking large amounts of caffeine may also affect the risk of developing the disease.

"As there is little you can do about changing your genetic make-up, it seems sensible to reduce the other risk factors that you actually have some control over. So stopping smoking would be one obvious way of doing this."


Why can't I enjoy a glass (or three) of wine without the pregnancy police telling me I'm evil?

A well-informed mother battles the myths

Now, what can I get you?’ asked my friend politely. ‘Tea? Coffee ­­— decaf, of course? Or a soft drink?’ ‘Actually, I’ll have a glass of the red, please,’ I replied and, instantly, the room took on a decidedly Arctic chill. After a long silence my friend looked at me quizzically, not sure if I was joking or not.

It wasn’t ten o’clock in the morning and neither was I a recovering alcoholic ­threatening to fall off the wagon. No, it was far worse than that… I was at a dinner party and I’m eight months pregnant.

And before I’m reviled, hated and ­condemned as being a selfish woman who doesn’t care about the health of her unborn child, let’s have a grown-up conversation about it, shall we? Because the reality is you’ll struggle to find anyone without a medical licence who knows more than me about drinking during pregnancy.

I’m a proud 31-year-old mother of two wonderfully healthy, happy, smart and ­mischievous boys — Eddie, six-and-three-quarters (he’d kill me if I didn’t include the three quarters), and Sammy, aged two.

I drank through each of their pregnancies, mostly one glass of wine in the evening after dinner but, sometimes — if it was a ­special occasion — I would have two or three over the course of a meal.

I’m not advocating that pregnant women get drunk, just that they be allowed to drink responsibly without any inciting hysteria.

I’ve read practically every piece of ­literature and study on the effects of ­drinking during pregnancy and have come to the educated ­conclusion that my alcohol intake during each of my three ­pregnancies has not adversely affected either of my two children and won’t affect my third, due next month. In fact (as I’ll explain later), it may even have contributed to them being so bright.

In 2006, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists concluded there was no ­convincing evidence of adverse affects of ­prenatal alcohol exposure at low to moderate levels of alcohol ­consumption — moderate being 10.5 units or seven small glasses of wine a week. Which means I can drink two glasses of wine with dinner at least three nights a week, or drink a glass or so a day, and do myself or my baby no harm.

Another study, carried out in October this year by University ­College London, monitored ­children over five years and ­concluded that light drinking in pregnancy does children ‘no long term harm’. So, if it’s OK with you, I’ll take the advice of medical experts rather than a bunch of hysterical ­housewives

Besides if we did­ ­everything to ‘be on the safe side’ we’d never leave the house in case we got hit by a bus. We’d never go on holiday in case the plane crashed and we’d never let our children play outside for fear of them being kidnapped.

The feeling of being collared by the self-appointed ‘pregnancy police’ will be familiar to Caroline Williams from Hove, Sussex. Last year, on a hot summer’s night, a six-months-pregnant ­Caroline thought she’d order a nice, cooling half pint of beer. The bar staff refused to serve her. When Caroline pointed out she was a paying customer and would like her beer, they threw her out. ‘I’m a respectable woman. I’ve never been thrown out of an ­establishment before in my life,’ said Caroline. ­‘I felt so humiliated.’

Every mother who’s ever thought about drinking ­during pregnancy is aware of Fetal ­Alcohol Syndrome — a mental and ­physical disorder which permanently affects the ­central nervous system of the ­developing foetus.

There’s no cure and it’s caused by excessive alcohol consumption d­uring pregnancy — meaning a large intake of ­alcohol over a sustained period of time. We’re talking a bottle a day, not a bottle a week. No study has ever found a ­correlation between the diagnosis of the condition and light to moderate alcohol ­consumption in expectant ­mothers.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have all three doctors I’ve seen through each of my pregnancies tell me the truth; the current UK ­medical advice to abstain entirely comes from the medical ­profession’s distrust for the public.

In short, pregnant women aren’t trusted to know when light to ­moderate drinking stops and heavy drinking begins.

I could pretend that I drink ­during pregnancy to give my kids a higher IQ — one study found the children of mothers who drank moderately during pregnancy had a higher one than those that abstained.

I find it depressing that Myleene Klass’s agent felt compelled to deny she was drinking after she was ­spotted at Piers Morgan’s CNN party recently with a wine glass in her hand at six months pregnant. The pregnancy police were assured ‘it was 100 per cent Diet Coke’. Phew. Cancel that call to social services.

And when Gwyneth Paltrow dared to admit she was drinking Guinness and was spotted sipping red wine in 2006 while pregnant with her second child, Moses, she was lambasted.

All this hysteria does is encourage the evangelists who make pregnant women feel guilty about so much as sniffing a ­barmaid’s apron.

But I’m not a one-woman-­campaign against the Temperance League, out to advise all expectant mums to crack open the Sancerre and put their feet up. Far from it. I’d just like every mum to do their own research and come to their own — informed — conclusion. So you may not feel like drinking during your pregnancy. That’s fine — I’m not standing in judgment. All I ask is that you afford me the same courtesy.


15 December, 2010

A drug that could give you a longer healthy life?

Given its close similarity to thalidomide, I don't think anybody should be cheering yet

Until now it has merely been the stuff of fairy tales and science fiction. But a ‘fountain of youth’ drug which could help pensioners stay fit and healthy long into old age has been unveiled by doctors.

In tests, tiny amounts of the drug lenalidomide massively boosted immune system chemicals key to fighting off invaders from bugs to tumours. Concentrations of one of the protective compounds rose more than 100-fold.

Bolstering the body’s defences could also make vaccines such as the flu jab more effective in those whose immunity has weakened with age. The final years would be healthier and so theoretically happier and more productive.

Dr Edward Goetzl, who has hailed the drug as a ‘fountain of youth pill’, said: ‘We are definitely aiming for longer healthy lifespan and a shorter period of frailty.’

If the drug worked particularly well, users could work longer, removing some of the economic burden of an ageing society and lightening the care-giving load for their children.

And the minuscule amounts of the drug needed mean that treatment is likely to be side-effect free, the doctors behind the breakthrough believe.

Dr Goetzl, of the University of California, began by studying levels of immune system chemicals called cytokines in a group of elderly adults. He found that amounts in healthy pensioners mirrored those of much younger people. But in frail pensioners vulnerable to infection, levels were low. Further work showed that lenalidomide could raise their levels in a way that no other pill or potion could.

Dr Goetzl said: ‘No one is talking about longevity and lifespan now but about “health span”. ‘If, at age 50, your cytokine levels are the same as they were at 25, you’ll probably stay healthy as you age. ‘But if they’re heading downhill, we need to do something about it. ‘If you could take a low dosage pill with no side-effects, wouldn’t you do it?’

In the tests, tiny doses of lenalidomide boosted production of the cytokine interleukin-2 by 120 times, restoring concentration to youthful levels. The drug also raised levels of interferon-gamma, a second protective cytokine, the journal Clinical Immunology reports.

But Dr Goetzl said it would not automatically mean people living longer. Rather, their later years would be healthier.

Large-scale trials are planned for next year with a view to prescribing the drug widely in years to come. Dr Goetzl envisages it initially being given to men and women aged 65 and above when they receive vaccines such as the winter flu jab.

But its similarity to thalidomide, the most notorious drug of the 20th century, means that any such health drive is likely to be subject to tight controls. Thalidomide was marketed as a ‘wonder cure’ for morning sickness but withdrawn in 1961 after 10,000 babies were born with missing or deformed limbs and damaged organs. In some cases, their mothers had taken the drug just once.

Lenalidomide is a more modern drug and is considered safer than thalidomide. But its close structural similarity means that women of child-bearing age must use contraception while taking it. Dr Goetzl says that while the very low doses needed should not produce any side-effects, he would never advise giving the drug to young women.


Pomegranate juice 'could slow the spread of cancer'

An old faithful is trotted out again. The "new" findings sound speculative to me but I will await their passage through peer review

Scientists have found components in the juice which stop the movement of cancer cells, and weaken their attraction to chemical signals which cause them to spread. They found that particular ingredients in the juice - such as fatty acids - slowed the spread of the disease from prostate cancer to the bone.

The team from the University of California hope the fruit will have a similar effect on other cancers.

Previous research that claimed pomegranate juice could slow the disease was controversial as the UCLA researchers did not define the biological mechanism behind the the effects.

In September this year, the US Federal Trade Commission charged Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate company which supplied the juice for the research, with making false and misleading claims about the effect on health.

But the authors of the latest study said they had now identified the beneficial components which impact on cell adhesion and migration.

Presenting the findings at the American Society of Cell Biology's 50th annual meeting, Dr Manuela Martins-Green said: 'This is particularly exciting because we can now modify these naturally occurring components of the juice to improve their functions and make them more effective in preventing prostate cancer metastasis.

'Because the genes and proteins involved in movement of prostate cancer cells are essentially the same as those involved in movement of other types of cancer cells, the same modified components of the juice could have a much broader impact in cancer treatment.'


14 December, 2010

Think yourself thinner with the fantasy diet

Interesting findings but I note that displacement effects were not allowed for. Eating less of one food might well mean that you eat more of another

Researchers have found that fantasising about your favourite food really can help you avoid eating it. Scientists showed day dreaming of a delicious meal actually reduces one's desire for it. The trick is to visualise gorging non-stop on the food, rather than conjuring up an appetite-whetting single image. This feeds into natural mechanisms that control consumption and prevent overindulgence, said the researchers.

Dr Carey Morewedge, the study leader from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said trying to suppress thoughts of desired foods to curb cravings was a "fundamentally flawed strategy".

"Our studies found that instead, people who repeatedly imagined the consumption of a morsel of food – such as an M&M or cube of cheese – subsequently consumed less of that food than did people who imagined consuming the food a few times or performed a different but similarly engaging task."

The researchers conducted tests in which groups of volunteers were asked to imagine repetitively placing coins into a laundry machine or popping M&Ms – sugar-coated chocolate buttons – into their mouths. Both involve similar actions and involved repetitions of around 30.

Some participants had to imagine eating more M&Ms while inserting fewer coins, while others did the reverse or only imagined inserting coins.

Later all the volunteers were presented with a bowl of the sweets and invited to eat their fill. Those who had previously imagined swallowing M&Ms many times over helped themselves to half as many sweets from the bowl than did members of the other groups.

Further experiments were carried out substituting cheese cubes for M&Ms. They confirmed that the effect was food specific – if volunteers thought about eating M&Ms or cheese cubes they were put off eating that food. But thinking of M&Ms did not reduce their appetite for cheese, and thinking of cheese did not lessen consumption of M&Ms.

The findings, published in the journal Science, showed that thoughts of eating a particular food tapped into a psychological effect called "habituation" which reduces motivation. "Across the experiments that measured actual consumption, we saw an approximate decrease of 50 per cent," said Dr Morewedge.

"That said, I do not want to blow out of proportion the efficacy of the imagery induction, as this meant that participants tended to eat 2-6 grams of candy when they imagined eating the food or cheese rather than 4-12 grams of candy or cheese.

"Our findings show that repeatedly imagining the consumption of a food reduces subsequent actual consumption of that food because imagining its consumption reduces one's appetite for it–how much one wants to eat more of the food at that particular moment."

The landmark discovery seems to reverses decades-old assumption that thinking about food causes you to eat more.


The Holy Grail in sight? A drug that makes hair grow!

All medicines have ­side-effects. These are often ­perceived as a bad thing, but sometimes they can bring unexpected benefits. When beta-blockers were first used to treat heart disease in the Sixties, patients who also suffered from migraines noticed a sharp drop in the number and severity of their attacks. As a result, beta-blocker drugs are prescribed for migraines.

Then there’s the story of Viagra, which started life as a potential angina treatment. When men involved in clinical trials reported pleasant side-effects, the manufacturer Pfizer developed it as a treatment for impotence.

Could drops used to treat the common eye condition glaucoma help women with alopecia? ­Luscious eyelashes emerged as an unexpected extra in patients using latanoprost eyedrops.

The drops work to tackle the pressure within the eyeball, a characteristic of ­glaucoma that causes visual distortion and blindness.

But in some patients, the drops also stimulated the growth of longer, thicker and darker lashes and eyebrows. Further research is under way in the hope that one day it may lead to new alopecia treatments.


13 December, 2010

Wholegrains reduce stroke by as much as drugs (?)

This small study is interesting but does not really encourage direct replication. The most marked change in symptoms that they observed was a 6 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure. A drop as small as that would certainly have no effect on mortality at all in most cases. By way of comparision, systolic blood pressure categories normally move upwards in steps of 20 mmHg. If the finding had emerged from a study of high-risk individuals, it would have been more impressive. But it did not. It concerned normals. Generalizing results obtained with normals to high-risk individuals may not work at all

Eating more whole-grain bread, rice and oats could be as effective at drugs at reducing the risk of stroke, research by Aberdeen University has found.

Researchers asked 200 people to eat a diet with three portions of whole grains per day or none. A diet high in fibre is known to reduce blood cholesterol and improve digestive health. It was found that the diet rich in wholegrains reduced blood pressure.

Dr Frank Thies, Senior Lecturer at The Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health University of Aberdeen, who led the study, said: "We observed a decrease in systolic blood pressure in the volunteers who ate the whole-grain foods, and this effect is similar to that you might expect to get from using blood pressure-lowering drugs.

“This drop in systolic blood pressure could potentially decrease the incidence of heart attack and stroke disease by at least 15 and 25 per cent respectively."

A portion is counted as around 13 to 16g of whole grains, the equivalent of around half a cup of oats or brown rice or a slice of whole-grain bread.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Effect of increased consumption of whole-grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle-aged persons: a randomized controlled trial

By Paula Tighe et al.


Background: Three daily portions of whole-grain foods could lower cardiovascular disease risk, but a comprehensive intervention trial was needed to confirm this recommendation.

Objectives: We aimed to assess the effects of consumption of 3 daily portions of whole-grain foods (provided as only wheat or a mixture of wheat and oats) on markers of cardiovascular disease risk in relatively high-risk individuals.

Design: This was a randomized controlled dietary trial in middle-aged healthy individuals. After a 4-wk run-in period with a refined diet, we randomly allocated volunteers to a control (refined diet), wheat, or wheat + oats group for 12 wk. The primary outcome was a reduction of cardiovascular disease risk factors by dietary intervention with whole grains, which included lipid and inflammatory marker concentrations, insulin sensitivity, and blood pressure.

Results: We recruited a total of 233 volunteers; 24 volunteers withdrew, and 3 volunteers were excluded. Systolic blood pressure and pulse pressure were significantly reduced by 6 and 3 mm Hg, respectively, in the whole-grain foods groups compared with the control group. Systemic markers of cardiovascular disease risk remained unchanged apart from cholesterol concentrations, which decreased slightly but significantly in the refined group.

Conclusions: Daily consumption of 3 portions of whole-grain foods can significantly reduce cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged people mainly through blood pressure–lowering mechanisms. The observed decrease in systolic blood pressure could decrease the incidence of coronary artery disease and stroke by ≥15% and 25%, respectively.


Vitamin D and plenty of sun give a ray of hope in the breast cancer fight

This is rather a wacky set of results. It tells you that pill popping won't help you unless you live in the sunnier parts of France. Since the sunnier parts of France are more desirable we may therefore simply be seeing that richer and healthier people move there. There is a considerable association between wealth and health

An unmentioned implication of the finding is that, given the overall lack of association between pills and health, the benefit in sunnier areas must indicate that pill popping is BAD for you in the gloomier part of France. All rather absurd

A diet packed with Vitamin D combined with high levels of sunlight could reduce the risk of breast cancer in women by 43 per cent.

A new study of 70,000 women conducted over ten years revealed that a diet high in Vitamin D had no effect on its own. One theory is that consuming a diet rich in Vitamin D makes a difference only when there is already a sufficient amount produced from sun exposure. Therefore, when sun exposure is low, diet intake does not make any difference to risk of disease.

However, the study concludes that an increase in overall Vitamin D intake should be encouraged, including fortifying foods with it - a practice already under way in America.

Laboratory studies have suggested that Vitamin D may have a number of anti-cancer effects and has been shown to slow the spread of cancer cells.

Researchers at the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France tracked 67,721 women aged 41 to 72 for a decade to see who developed breast cancer. Their diets and ultraviolet levels where they lived were then analysed to calculate the risks. At the end of the ten-year period 2,871 breast cancers had been diagnosed.

Some 45 per cent of their dietary Vitamin D came from fish and seafood, 16 per cent from eggs, 11 per cent from dairy products, ten per cent from oils and margarine, and six per cent from cakes.

Living in regions with the highest ultraviolet levels was associated with a significant - nearly ten per cent - reduced risk compared to those women in the areas with the lowest UV.

But the biggest effects were seen when the researchers examined the impact of both sources of the vitamin. In regions which had the highest level of daily ultraviolet, the women with higher level of Vitamin D in their diets or who took supplements had a breast cancer risk 32 to 43 per cent lower compared with those with the lowest vitamin intake. 'Our findings support a protective effect of sun exposure on the risk of breast cancer,' says Dr Pierre Engel, who led the study.

'It is difficult to have a simple public-health message without thinking about the risk of skin cancer. We must be very cautious but we think that increased Vitamin D levels by reasonable sun exposure and higher dietary intakes should be encouraged.

'As suggested by our results, diet alone seems unable to provide an adequate amount of Vitamin D.'

High dietary and supplemental Vitamin D intakes are associated with a reduced risk in women living in areas with higher UV exposure. When a sufficient Vitamin D level is secured through UV exposure, variations in dietary intake may become of importance. When the underlying level of Vitamin D photosynthesis is low, variations in dietary intake are insufficient to make any difference in disease risk.

'These results confirm other work we have carried out showing that women with high blood Vitamin D levels are at reduced risk of breast cancer compared to those who have very low levels,' adds Dr Engel.


12 December, 2010

Fury over $500 KFC gift cards as nation battles obesity crisis

The headline above is as it appears in the original article. It is worthy of Dr. Goebbels. Australia is NOT battling anything. Australians are enjoying their food and plenty of it. And it's not Australia that is furious. It is a few fanatics. KFC products ARE fatty but the best medical research shows that a low-fat diet has NO health benefits. And it's not a crisis. It is people of middling weight who live longest. Where's the crisis in that?

FAST-food giant KFC has sparked outrage from health experts by offering Christmas gift cards worth up to $500 as the nation battles an obesity crisis. KFC outlets have been promoting the cards, ranging in value from $10 to $500 and to be used within 12 months, as a "thoughtful gift idea for any occasion".

A $500 card could purchase a fat banquet of 14 buckets of "Original Recipe" chicken pieces, containing 4.5kg of fat and 1.8kg of saturated fat; 63 maxi serves of "Popcorn Chicken" (2.8kg of fat and 1.25kg saturated fat) or 78 "Original Works Burgers" (1.6kg fat, 592g saturated fat).

The "tasty new gift idea" has attracted outrage and disbelief from health experts in Queensland struggling to combat a growing obesity epidemic. About 55 per cent of adult Queenslanders, and about a quarter of children aged five to 17, are considered obese or overweight. An average of 60 people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes every day around the state.

Preventative Health Taskforce chair Professor Rob Moodie said he was shocked when he learned about KFC's latest marketing ploy. "It's marketing gone berserk," he said. "This stuff is fine if it's just once a month. But if it's twice a week, or $500 a year, it's completely different."

Prof Moodie said aggressive fast-food marketing was the last thing parents needed as they struggled to teach children proper eating habits. "We know that advertising for fast food just works. Never before in the history of man has so much food been made so available for so many. We're shoving more calories down our throats than ever before."

Brisbane-based nutritionist and dietitian Trudy Williams said the gift cards were "worrying". "There are much healthier choices that parents could be guiding their kids with, like a voucher to go indoor rock-climbing or sports gear. Clearly, we're eating far too much food as it is."

Ms Williams, who wrote the award-winning nutrition guide This=That Child Size, said parents should think twice about fast-food Christmas treats. "Certainly, the rates of obesity in kids appear to be increasing," she said. "Parents are really bad judgers of whether their child is overweight or not. They're too close to the coalface, particularly if they are overweight themselves."

Diabetes Australia Queensland CEO Michelle Trute said gift cards made poor eating choices easy. "I would still remind people that food like KFC is occasional food," she said. "Having a gift certificate that you know you can redeem at any time just makes it easy to make bad choices."


Limited reassurance about the safety of folic acid fortification of foods

The study rules out one source of concern fairly decisively but does not address others -- such as increased risk of coleorectal cancer in men

Supplements containing folic acid, a key recommendation for women of child-bearing age, do not produce an accumulation of un-metabolized folic acid in the fetus, says a new study from Germany.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, support the safety of folic acid, with no accumulation of folic acid measured in 87 pregnant women, 29 cord blood samples, and 24 mother-infant pairs.

“Our findings in this non-fortified population imply that most of the folic acid in the region of 400 micrograms folic acid given to pregnant women was converted to active folates in most individuals,” wrote researchers led by Rima Obeid from the University Hospital of Saarland.

In an accompanying editorial by Arthur Beaudet and Robin Goin-Kochel from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, the study was described as “relatively reassuring with regard to the possibility of harm through accumulation of un-metabolized folic acid”.

An overwhelming body of evidence links folate deficiency in early pregnancy to increased risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) - most commonly spina bifida and anencephaly - in infants.

This connection led to the 1998 introduction of public health measures in the US and Canada, where all grain products are fortified with folic acid - the synthetic, bioavailable form of folate.

Preliminary evidence indicates that the measure is having an effect with a reported 15 to 50 per cent reduction in NTD incidence. A total of 51 countries now have some degree of mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.

However, similar measures in other countries have been opposed by concerns that the folate/folic acid may mask vitamin B12 deficiency, which leads to a form of neurological problems.

Concerns had also been raised for a potential build up of folic acid in the fetus, and the effects of this are unknown.

“The question of whether folic acid supplementation during pregnancy might cause the accumulation of un-metabolized vitamin in maternal or fetal circulation is a very important issue,” explained the researchers.

The new study was located in Germany – a population that does not have mandatory fortification with folic acid, and that relies on recommendations for folic acid supplementation to increase intake levels.

Study details

The German researchers investigated levels of total folate, folic acid, tetrahydrofolate (THF), 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF), formyl-THF, and 5,10-methenylTHF in the blood of 87 pregnant women, 29 umbilical cords, and 24 mother-infant pairs.

Results showed that “concentrations of folic acid were non-significantly higher in cord blood from supplemented women than in cord blood from non-supplemented women”, while “proportions of folic acid to total folate in cord serum did not differ according to maternal supplement usage”.

The researchers noted that, while folic acid is “not likely” to accumulate in the fetus, 5-MTHF and THF are likely to accumulate in the fetus.

“Our results show that concentrations of 5-MTHF and THF, but not of folic acid, were higher in cord than in maternal serum,” wrote the researchers. “Maternal folic acid supplement use did not explain the detection of un-metabolized folic acid in maternal blood or cord blood.”


In the editorial, Beaudet and Goin-Kochel said that the German study “provides reassuring information that suggests that unmetabolized folic acid does not accumulate substantially in the cord blood of newborns; this reduces concern regarding the possible toxicity of unmetabolized folic acid”.

“The likelihood that increased intake of folic acid has harmful effects is low but perhaps not zero,” they added. “Most important, increased intake of folic acid definitely reduces the incidence of NTDs and therefore has a major, well-documented benefit.

“Thus, there should be no argument for decreasing intake of folic acid, but perhaps more research is needed regarding the small possibilities of harm or of additional benefits,” they concluded.


11 December, 2010

Let me meditain you

WHEN FOX News reported the link between depression and chocolate consumption, I knew medical research had finally jumped the shark. Apparently, having more than 8.5 servings of chocolate a month indicates profound depression. Huh? By that definition, my husband and I should be on suicide watch. Color me psychic, but soon Cambridge will be wresting Kit Kats from vending machines and moving chocolate behind the pharmacy counter. Can a ballot question be far behind?

Our seemingly insatiable thirst for health programming, or "meditainment," has catapulted shows like "The Dr. Oz Show" and "The Doctors" to the top of the charts. But the content is often confusing. For example, "Dr. Oz" reports that an inseam measurement less than 29 inches indicates childhood malnutrition and possible organ damage. As a petite woman, I thought it indicated short parents and the need for a good tailor.

In recent years, Reservatrol has been labeled "the fountain of youth." And, according to Dr. Oz, you can get it from red wine. Wrong. Turns out wine hasn’t enough Reservatrol to matter, and I only look younger if my husband drinks it.

Sometimes the shifting research is gratifying. I’m delighted that green tea does not reduce cancer risk as previously thought. Imagine the "healthier than thou" Whole Foods shoppers learning green tea bags don’t prevent cancer but green shopping bags, containing lead, cause it!

I recently heard that exercise works better on an empty stomach. Really? I generally down a meatloaf with a gallon of True Moo before a run. I find the cramping and nausea motivating. I’m surprised these researchers didn’t drown as children.

I’m sick of TV "sexperts." Like the specialist who recommends eating oats and beans for for "optimum performance." On what planet does excess fiber lead to connubial bliss?

And enough of the hype! Everything is billed as "shocking" or news that could "literally save your life!" Was anyone else shocked to learn that the best day to start a diet is Saturday? Shocking is the FBI catching Whitey Bulger or Sarah Palin looking up from grizzly wrestling to confess latent Democratic leanings. Starting a diet on Saturday? Nope. And everyone knows the best day to start a diet is tomorrow!

Have you heard about the "triangle of death," the dangerous area around the nose? Studies warn that exploration of nasal cavities can lead to fatal brain hemorrhaging. As a former kindergarten teacher, I can assure you that were this true, no child would make it to first grade.

But even if you avoid TV, radio, and magazines, there’s still Web MD, which makes everyone an armchair cardiologist and brain surgeon, happy to diagnose and treat your every symptom. I’m all for medical research and many of these broadcasts, articles, and websites contain helpful information. But it’s difficult to separate help from hype and a self-diagnosis can be a dangerous hobby. As everyone knows, the consumer who treats himself has a fool for a patient.


Banned food list has gone nuts in Australia

SCHOOLS have banned lunchbox staples such as egg, mayonnaise, Nutella, peanut butter, kiwi fruit and bananas to protect a handful of students with severe food allergies. Children are not allowed to share food and have to wash their hands and face after recess and lunch to prevent cross-contamination.

While the number of Australian children suffering from food allergies is on the rise, official guidelines on anaphylaxis in schools do not recommend blanket bans.

Many schools forbid all nut products, but some have gone further, to include eggs and egg-based mayonnaise, fish products, fruits and chocolate that may contain traces of nuts. Canteens do not sell the offending products and parents are told not to pack them in their child's lunchbox.

Medical experts, parents and interest groups oppose the bans, arguing they pander to anxious parents and create a false sense of security when a risk-management strategy would be more effective. "There is no scientific evidence to suggest banning a food from a school is helpful in reducing risk of anaphylaxis," NSW Department of Education and Training guidelines say.

Milk and egg are the most common food allergens in children, but many outgrow their allergy by the time they start school, leaving peanuts and tree nuts as the most dangerous culprits.

Associate Professor Dianne Campbell, a staff specialist in immunology at The Children's Hospital at Westmead said it is almost impossible to have an anaphylactic shock from touching a contaminated surface. They could, however, get a localised reaction such as hives or welts.

"But unless you've eaten it or absorbed it onto a mucosal surface like your mouth or eye, you can't actually have a systemic reaction, ie anaphylaxis," she said. "If someone is eating an egg sandwich or having mayonnaise and they're four lunchboxes away from you and you're not touching them or sharing food, you really shouldn't be able to have a dangerous reaction from that. But it's very anxiety provoking for the parents."

NSW Primary Principals Association president Geoff Scott said schools were "allergy aware" and vigilant but bans were impossible. "Banning of a product in another child's lunch prepared at home is a bit problematic as it's very difficult for a school to check 800 lunches to find out what's in each," he said.

"Obviously, no school lives in a bubble and, for those children who are anaphylactic, you just put in place as much risk-management as you can."

Croydon Public School principal David Horne said all nut products were banned including Nutella and marzipan, the canteen did not sell egg or egg-based mayonnaise, and parents were asked not to send egg products and kiwi fruit to school. "If a child comes with those foods, they need to inform their teacher and wash face and hands immediately after eating it," he said.

A Canberra school visited last month by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd warned journalists who had eaten a banana in the previous 12 hours they were not permitted to cover the visit due to allergy concerns.

Anaphylaxis Australia president Maria Said said she knew of independent, Catholic and government schools that had imposed food bans but they were overreacting. "Have hand-washing procedures, have children eat at designated times, no sharing of food, make sure teachers are trained and children have awareness of food allergy - those strategies will work much more effectively than saying we have a blanket ban on kiwi fruit or mayonnaise," she said.


10 December, 2010

Another reversal of medical advice?

Doctors to re-think benefits of HRT after study shows oestrogen may protect women against breast cancer

Using HRT could protect some women against breast cancer rather than trigger the disease, according to controversial new research. It suggests a certain form of Hormone Replacement Therapy lowers the risk of the disease by at least a third.

The findings from researchers at a U.S. conference have been criticised for causing potential confusion among women who have been warned for several years that HRT causes a slight rise in the chances of developing breast cancer.

The latest research investigated the effect of using oestrogen only HRT, which is prescribed to women who have had their womb surgically removed. A new analysis of previously collected data shows that women with no strong family history of breast cancer who are taking oestrogen only HRT may be at a 30 to 40 per cent lower risk of cancer.

The findings were presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Lead researcher Joseph Ragaz, medical oncologist and clinical professor in the faculty of medicine, School of Population and Public Health at The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada, said: 'Our analysis suggests that, contrary to previous thinking, there is substantial value in bringing HRT with oestrogen alone to the guidelines.

'The data show that for selected women it is not only safe, but potentially beneficial for breast cancer, as well as for many other aspects of women's health. 'These findings should intensify new research into its role as a protective agent against breast cancer.'

Prof Ragaz and colleagues reanalysed data from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) hormone replacement therapy trials. The WHI study was launched in 1991 and included more than 161,000 U.S. women aged 50 to 79 years.

Prof Ragaz said many women had been deterred by WHI results showing more heart disease, stroke and cancer among HRT users, even though later analysis changed some of them. 'The WHI results as originally interpreted led to a major pendulum swing against HRT' he said.

About one million British women currently use HRT to combat symptoms of the menopause, down from the peak of three million women a decade ago.

The re-analysis found that sub-groups of women with no strong family history of breast cancer who received oestrogen alone had a significantly reduced risk of getting breast cancer. In addition, the 75 per cent of women without benign disease prior to the trial enrolment also had a lower risk.

Prof Ragaz said 'Reduction of rates of breast cancer in the majority of women who are candidates for oestrogen-based HRT is a new finding because oestrogen was always linked with a higher incidence of breast cancer.'

The paradox was caused by the fact that oestrogen helped drive the development of breast cancer when the hormone was produced by the body, yet did not do so when administered through HRT. Oestrogen given in this way 'is actually protective for most women' he said.

'The recommendations based on prior analyses of the results of the WHI HRT studies was not to use HRT, but we are optimistic this will change' he said. 'Our conclusion, based on the data presented, should enhance considerations for an early approval of HRT based on oestrogen-alone for the majority of selected women suffering with menopausal symptoms and galvanise new research on HRT for individual women.'

More than half of women taking HRT need to use another hormone called progestogen at the same time because it protects the womb against cancer. But these women appear to lose any breast cancer protection from HRT and may even run a higher risk of the disease.

Dr Tim Byers, professor of preventive medicine and biometrics at the University of Colorado in Denver, said the findings could create 'confusion' for patients and doctors.

Dr Susan Love, president of the California-based Susan Love Research Foundation, said: 'The application of this study would not be as broad as the authors suggest because it would apply only to women who have had their womb removed and are low risk for breast cancer.'

Dr Sarah Rawlings, Head of Policy at Breakthrough Breast Cancer said: 'We’ve known for some time that HRT can affect breast cancer risk and this effect is different depending on the type of HRT used. 'Although further research is needed, these findings are interesting as they suggest that oestrogen only HRT may reduce breast cancer risk in some women.

'We’d encourage women to talk to their doctors about the risks and benefits of taking HRT and make a decision that is suitable for them.'


Peanut allergy treatment breakthrough

AUSTRALIAN scientists have identified "fragments" of a peanut's make-up that could underpin the world's first treatment for the often lethal food allergy. The research identified peanut proteins that lab tests showed were able to interact with immune cells from an allergic person, and so build tolerance, but they showed no sign of triggering anaphylaxis.

"These dominant fragments are the best candidates for a peanut allergy vaccine," said Professor Robyn O'Hehir who led the research at Melbourne's The Alfred hospital and Monash University.

"Immunotherapy is commonly used to treat people who are allergic to wasp and bee stings (where) protein extracts from the venom are given in increasing doses to desensitise the individual. "Until now, peanuts have been regarded as too dangerous an allergy-provoker to try immunotherapy, however the latest discovery overcomes this problem."

Professor O'Hehir said the peanut proteins could be translated into a therapy able to be go into clinical trials within three years and, if proven safe and effective, a world-first treatment could follow "within five to seven years". It would not be a once-off jab but instead people with the potentially lethal allergy would have a series of injections, over weeks or months, to gradually increase their tolerance.

The same research team has also made recent headway with grass pollen, with a desensitising therapy now in a clinical trial in the US.

Peanut allergy is the most common cause of life-threatening food reactions, including anaphylaxis. Professor O'Hehir said about one in every hundred in the population have peanut allergy and, of these, about one in four can have a life-threatening reaction. "We also know this is a growing problem but we don't know why peanut allergy is becoming more common," she said.

"It is a huge burden on the community - I think everybody knows somebody with a peanut allergy - and there are certainly more foods with hidden peanuts. "So this would be a huge benefit to patients, to have an effective and safe vaccine to treat peanut allergy."

The only approach now available to these people was to avoid all food containing peanuts and to carry an emergency dose of adrenaline should they accidentally eat the wrong thing.

The research was supported by the Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation, and is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.


9 December, 2010

Treating people like lab rats

When it comes to UK health policy, dodgy Nudge-style psychology is just as oppressive and poorly-founded as New Labour nannying

Last week, the health secretary for England, Andrew Lansley, published a White Paper that reflects the triumph of hope over experience. That’s because its theoretical foundation is ‘nudging’, the in-vogue American social policy tool that has long infatuated prime minister David Cameron and has now captured Lansley’s policy heart, too.

In Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein candidly describe how nudging works. As most of us act irrationally (and predictably so) much of the time, it takes an elite group of rational thinkers to design choices that encourage the rest of us to choose the ‘right’ option. Hence Cameron and Lansley are determined to shepherd us towards ‘good’ decisions through nudges.

What they ignore, however, is that the behavioural economics research that nudging relies upon is closer to science fiction than first-class science. The vast majority of its conclusions come from laboratory experiments that are completely artificial in their construction, as Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker, among many others, has cautioned.

Still, the White Paper assures us that government intervention will be based ‘on a rigorous assessment of the evidence’. Yet the same document then proposes plain packaging for cigarettes - for which there is absolutely no compelling evidence - and procrastinates over whether to implement a tobacco retail display ban, despite a plethora of sound studies finding that there are no public-health benefits.

The White Paper is also full of contradictions. So while warning that lifestyle-driven health problems such as obesity are at alarming levels, it confirms that ‘people in England are healthier and are living longer than ever’, and that ‘life expectancy is expected to continue to rise for both men and women’. Furthermore, ‘although we are living longer, there is no strong evidence that the burden of health conditions has increased’. In addition, the reader is correctly informed that childhood obesity rates are leveling off, and that the majority of the population either doesn’t drink or drinks in sensible moderation.

A flimsy theoretical foundation, compounded by a series of contradictory statements, is further tarnished by a litany of nonsensical assertions that reveal either the Department of Health’s stunning ignorance of the research evidence or a political decision to present a particular side of the argument to further a preordained policy agenda. The faulty policies and misinformation contained in the White Paper include the following:

An expansion of the ludicrous Change4Life programme

This policy assumes that government-directed, population-wide behavioural change with respect to diet, weight and physical activity levels is possible. Interventions based on creating such behavioural change almost always rely on theories, such as cognitive learning and the theory of planned behaviour, that have rarely been subjected to rigorous evaluation; where they have, they have generally been found to be spectacular failures. There is considerable evidence that community-level interventions designed to modify physical activity and food consumption patterns have been unsuccessful.

Eating ‘five a day’ will keep the doctor away

According to the White Paper, only three out of every 10 adults eat the recommended ‘five a day’ servings of fruits and vegetables. The White Paper assumes that ‘eating better’ can reduce the risk of disease and death. But there is little evidence from randomised clinical trials that supports any of the claims that reductions in fat and calories and increases in fibre, fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of certain diseases, delay death, or prevent weight gain. Indeed, some of the largest of these trials, such as the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial, found no statistically significant differences in the risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, or cardiovascular disease (CVD) between the intervention and control groups.

If we ‘move more’ we will lose weight and live longer

There is no compelling evidence that such exhortations have any efficacy in terms of weight loss or longevity in either adults or children. For example, Yale University professor of epidimeology, Dr Loretta DiPietro, notes that, based on the long-term evidence, ‘It is not clear that increased physical activity prevents or reverses age-related weight gain at the population level’. The evidence is even less compelling with children. Numerous studies have failed to find a link in children between physical activity levels, food intake, and obesity. In fact, there is considerable evidence that neither better sports and physical education facilities, nor improved programmes or increased hours of physical education in schools, will reduce childhood overweight and obesity.

Most serious illness is lifestyle-related

Two out of three British adults are either overweight or obese and the government assumes that the overweight and obese are at risk of premature death. The government also assumes that most serious illness is lifestyle-driven: ‘a substantial proportion of cancers and… deaths from circulatory disease could be avoided.’

Neither of these assumptions is true. A rigorous academic study by Dr Katherine Flegal and her colleagues found the weight group with the lowest death rate was overweight, while Dr Jerome Gronniger’s analysis found negligible differences in risk of death among people with body mass index (BMI) values from 20 to 35 (that is, from ‘normal’ right through to ‘mildly obese’). Flegal et al’s seminal study reported no relationship between overweight and excess mortality for cardiovascular disease (CVD) or coronary heart disease. For cancer there was no relationship between excess mortality and overweight and obesity. In the Million Women Study, for all the cancers studied overweight was not associated with a statistically significant mortality risk, while with obesity the association was a barely significant 1.1 (in other words, a 10 per cent increase in risk).

In fact, being overweight actually increased one’s chance of living longer. And for all other diseases other than CVD and cancer, obesity up to a BMI of 35 was modestly protective – that is, being plump seems likely to result in a longer life. The US data was confirmed last year by a rigorous Statistics Canada study of the Canadian population.

Huge savings would accrue to the NHS from less obesity and fewer smokers

The stubborn fact is that preventing obesity and smoking doesn’t save taxpayers’ money. It costs more to care for healthy people who live years longer, according to an economic study led by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. The researchers found that the health costs of thin and healthy people in adulthood are more expensive than those of either fat people or smokers.

Tougher anti-drinking measures are necessary

This is despite the fact the UK recently recorded the biggest fall in alcohol consumption in 60 years, according to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA). The BBPA’s new Statistical Handbook reveals that there was a six per cent decline in alcohol consumption in 2009 – the sharpest decrease since 1948. It was also the fourth annual decline in five years; British drinkers are now consuming 13 per cent less alcohol than in 2004. Alcohol consumption in the UK remains below the EU average.

There’s also one assumption that is missing, but well supported by the research evidence…

Those who don’t drink tend to die sooner than those who do

A new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that abstaining from alcohol tends to increase one’s risk of dying even when you exclude former drinkers. In fact, abstainers’ mortality rates are also higher than those of heavy drinkers. Moderate drinking is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies.

The overall implications of the White Paper’s glaring deficiencies are significant. They suggest that a good deal of the government’s public-health message lacks a credible scientific basis. Consequently, Cameron and Lansley’s kinder, gentler Nudge State will not succeed where the coercive Nanny State has demonstrably failed.


Blood test can predict heart attacks years in advance

The relationship reported does seem to be a strong one

A simple blood test can predict if someone is going to have a heart attack up to six years before it occurs, researchers have said. A team in America have adapted a test normally used to establish if someone if having a heart attack to predict one years in advance. The development could allow those at high risk to take action such as adopting a healthier lifestyle and taking drugs to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

The more sensitive test identified proteins in the blood that signal heart cells have been dying in seemingly healthy people with no outward signs of heart disease.

It was found that where the protein called troponin T were present, the patient was seven times more likely to die from heart disease within the next six years.

Dr James de Lemos, associate professor of internal medicine at Southwestern Medical Centre, at University of Texas and lead author of the study said: "This test is among the most powerful predictors of death in the general population we've seen so far.

"It appears that the higher your troponin T, the more likely you are to have problems with your heart, and the worse you're going to do, regardless of your other risk factors."

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and follow on from an earlier study which suggested the protein could also predict heart failure, a condition where the organ fails to pump strongly enough causing breathlessness and fatigue.

The latest study involved more than 3,500 healthy people and 25 per cent were found to have detectable levels of troponin T.

They provided blood samples and underwent multiple body scans to examine their hearts and internal organs.

They found older people, men and African-Americans had the highest levels of troponin T along with those showing signs of thickening or weakness of the heart muscles.

They were then tracked for an average of seven years from 2000 to 2007 to establish how many people died, of what and when.

The more sensitive test can detect circulating protein levels in almost everyone with chronic heart failure and chronic coronary artery disease, the authors said.

Dr de Lemos said: "Because this test seems to identify cardiovascular problems that were previously unrecognised, we hope in the future to be able to use it to prevent some death and disability from heart failure and other cardiac diseases."

Currently doctors use computer software calculations called the Framingham Score and Qrisk to identify people at high risk of heart disease who could benefit from preventive treatments. The calculations take into account family history, smoking history, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and age.

The earlier study, published in the same journal last month, found that troponin T levels could predict the chance of heart failure up to 15 years in advance. Until now, no blood test has been able to give an indication of a person's risk of heart failure.

The study conducted by University of Maryland involved 4,000 people whose blood was taken in 1989.

Prof Christopher deFilippi, the lead researcher, said: "We found that the higher the level of troponin T, the greater the individual was at risk for symptoms of heart failure or death from cardiovascular disease over the next 10 to 15 years."

He added that those with the highest levels of troponin T were four to five times more likely to develop heart failure than those with the lowest detectable levels. People whose levels dropped over time appeared to reduce their risk of heart failure.


8 December, 2010

Can EPA regulators “solve” the obesity problem?

The "obesogen" scare

Your New Year resolution might involve diet and exercise but according to news sources, that might not shrink your waistline. They say man-made chemicals called “obesogens” may be responsible for the “obesity epidemic,” and regulators are gearing up to address this issue. Yet if people trust the hype, we can expect to become a fatter, less healthy nation.

In “Born to be Big,” Newsweek reporters tell us “environmental chemicals may well account for a good part of the current epidemic.” CBS’s The Early Show reports “Chemicals in Food Can Make You Fat,” and the United Kingdom’s Mail Online reports: “Water CAN make you fat: How chemicals in drink[s] can trigger weight gain and fertility problems.” Even diet and health gurus have jumped on the bandwagon, including TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz. “We blame weight gain on eating too many burgers and burning too little fat, but scientists are discovering that chemicals we’re exposed to everyday could be a big part of the obesity epidemic,” reads Oz’s website.

Obesogens are just one of the topics of study in a scientific field called “epigenetics.” Epigenetics studies “gene expression” which involves changes to genes that don’t affect underlying DNA sequence but do affect how genes eventually express themselves. It is an extremely fascinating and complicated field of research. Apparently, such changes can be passed from one generation to the next. “Environmental epigenetics” focuses on how chemicals might impact gene expression.

The term “obesogen” was coined by Biologist Bruce Blumberg, who has done some interesting research in this field on rodents. In the past, most researchers referred to these substances as endocrine-mimicking substances or “endocrine disruptors.” The National Research Council uses a more neutral term: “hormonally active agents.” Blumberg’s terminology fuels media hype and further politicizes this body of research.

Not surprisingly, regulators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently held a meeting on the issue to discuss “actions” (i.e., regulatory intrusions in the marketplace) they can take. Greenwire reports: “The researchers talked of chemicals that may be triggering the rise in obesity in the country; agents that promote cancer; and the need to quickly go through a list of about 200,000 chemicals in a European library of commercial compounds called REACH, to determine their toxicity.” REACH stands for “registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals” — the name of a massively bureaucratic program in the European Union. The EPA wants Congress to use it as a model for revisions to the Toxics Substances Control Act — and they even have started working on their version of the program while pushing for congressional authorization.

Chemical regulations won’t reduce obesity, but they might contribute to the problem. Governmental and media hype under the rubric of “obesogens” sends the message that obesity is the result of forces beyond our control, reducing incentives for individuals to take control and responsibility with diet and exercise.

These individuals would be abandoning proven methods because of an unproven and unlikely theory. Medical researcher and obesity specialistDr. Randy Seeley — explained to The Wall Street Journal that the research is too weak to draw conclusions. He echoes what scientific panels around the world have been saying about studies allegedly linking the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) to obesity (for example, see page 30 of this National Institute of Health publication). BPA is used to make hard clear plastics and resins used in steel and aluminum food and beverage containers.

Chemist Joe Schwarcz of Canada’s McGill University points out further that human exposure to man-made obesogens is too low to have any impact. In fact, if humans were at all sensitive to these agents we should fear very similar ones manufactured by Mother Nature. “Every day people are exposed to hundreds of thousands of natural and artificial chemicals which would show very similar effects if run through these sensitive tests,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

Indeed, substances called phytoestrogens occur naturally in many foods and have the same endocrine-related effects, but we don’t worry about them making us fat or sick. You will find them in fruits, vegetables and grains, and they are particularly concentrated in legumes, such as soy. As part of major review of the issue in 1999, National Research Council reported that daily exposure to phytoestrogens is tens of thousands of times higher than man-made chemicals, with an estimated daily total exposure of 1,000,000 micrograms per day (expressed as ug/d). Compare those levels to the just 6.3 ug/d from BPA in food cans. You can see the chart from this the National Research Council study online. For more details, see Nature’s Hormone Factory and the listing this website.

Dr. Goutham Rao, MD of the Weight Management and Wellness Center at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and author of Child Obesity: A Parent’s Guide to a Fit, Trim, And Happy Child says that obesogens are low on his list of concerns. As a specialist helping children address obesity problems, his experience in the field proves that behavior modification (outlined in his book) that largely involves reducing consumption of high-calorie junk food and increasing physical activity is what works. His weight loss center also conducts examinations to identify any potential for endocrine-related or other biological explanations for each patient’s obesity issue, but they rarely find such problems. The cause is usually clear: low activity levels and overeating.

Even if chemicals — man-made or natural — have an impact on weight, the impact is likely tiny, particularly compared to known factors related to weight gain: over eating and low activity levels. In fact, as the nation has grown fatter, it is no coincidence that portion sizes have grown larger. On the positive side, our weight problem reflects our growing wealth. We simply need to better manage our food consumption, which is something that only individuals — rather than bureaucracies — can do.


Was Prohibition repealed?

The 21st amendment gives States the right to control alcoholic beverages. No mention of the FDA

This Sunday, December 5, many people will raise their glasses and celebrate Repeal Day — the anniversary of the end of Prohibition, a day when Americans regained a measure of individual freedom. However, some recent actions by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggest that aspects of Prohibition linger on nearly 80 years after the passage of the 21st Amendment. As a result, consumers are witnessing a dwindling variety of products and entrepreneurs are seeing their dreams and businesses washed down the drain.

On November 17, after a handful of irresponsible college students poisoned themselves with alcohol, the FDA issued warning letters to four brewers of beverages that contained caffeine and alcohol, giving them 15 days to either reformulate their product or take it off shelves. In the letters, the FDA concluded that the combination of caffeine and alcohol could result in “central nervous system effects,” which “may result in adverse behavioral outcomes.”

The FDA stated that it was unaware of publicly available data that would demonstrate the safety of caffeine added directly to alcoholic beverages — but it provided no evidence indicating that caffeine mixed with alcohol was unsafe. Yet for all of the agency’s scare mongering, people have been combining the two ingredients for decades in various forms, including liqueurs like Kahlua and mixed drinks like Irish coffee and rum and Coke — and more recently in hard teas, Red Bull and vodka, and coffee- or chocolate-flavored beers.

Of the four companies to which the FDA sent warning letters, three caved and said they would reformulate their products without caffeine. Only one brewery has refused to comply with the FDA’s arbitrary demands. New Century Brewing Company was founded in 2004 by Rhonda Kallman, co-founder of the Boston Brewing Company, which makes Samuel Adams beer. After 15 years with Boston Brewing, Kallman set out on her own to make a brew with caffeine called Moonshot.

Unlike Four Loko, the drink that kicked off the FDA’s witch hunt, Moonshot has a modest amount of alcohol — 5 percent ABV — and less caffeine than a half of a cup of coffee — 69 milligrams. Yet, for some reason, Kallman’s beer was lumped in with the candy-flavored alcohol energy drinks that have 12 percent ABV and over 200 milligrams of caffeine. Things did not go smoothly for New Century.

As a one-woman operation run out of her Massachusetts home, Rhonda Kallman has had to fight plenty of battles, concerning regulations, competition, and funding. In 2009 she also battled with breast cancer, a fight that forced her to take her beer off of the market in order to focus on recovering. After beating cancer, reformulating her beer, and receiving regulatory approval from government agencies, Kallman was able to get Moonshot back on shelves by late 2009. And then came the Four Loko scare.

Four Loko, like many other alcoholic energy drinks, has a purpose — to be exceedingly drinkable, get you wired, and get you drunk. These drinks are cheaper and more readily accessible than their immediate predecessor — vodka and Red Bull. While thousands of adults drink these products responsibly without negative effects, earlier this year several youths drank enough Four Loko to end up in the hospital. As a result of Four Loko’s popularity among the young and the uncertainty about its effects, there has been a widespread call around the nation for policy makers to “do something.”

After several state attorneys general sent letters to the FDA requesting a ban on the product, the agency cracked down on all caffeine-alcohol combinations and sent out the warning letter mentioned above. It was enough to convince three of them to reformulate their products to exclude caffeine. It wasn’t enough for Rhonda Kallman.

“Moonshot is water, barley, hops and caffeine — less caffeine than a half of a cup of coffee. Without that though what makes it different from the other pilsners on the market? How am I supposed to compete with the 1,600 other breweries in the U.S.?” asks Kallman. “As a citizen I’m confused…as an entrepreneur I’m flabbergasted.”

New Century Brewing company has one full-time employee — Rhonda Kallman — and is lucky if it makes $25,000 a year. Kallman says that even if she does manage to keep Moonshot on the shelves, her product’s reputation will be difficult to repair following the FDA’s unwarranted questioning of its safety.

Nearly 80 years after the 21st Amendment repealed prohibition, we are supposed to be free to make our own decisions about what we choose to drink. It’s about time the FDA got the message.


7 December, 2010

Cellphone warning for mothers: Using phone while pregnant associated with behavioural problems in offspring

But is it the fault of the phone or the fact that the mothers who use them a lot have an inert lifestyle with little exercise (for example). Lots of similar skepticism expressed below

Pregnant women who regularly use mobile phones could increase the risk of their children behaving badly, claims a startling survey. If their offspring then start using the devices at an early age, the chance of problems climbs to 50 per cent, according to researchers.

They found those exposed to mobile phones in the womb had a 30 per cent rise in behavioural difficulties at the age of seven. But those exposed before birth and in their childhood, were 50 per cent more likely to have behavioural problems than those exposed to neither. Children who used mobiles, but were not exposed in the womb, were 20 per cent more likely to display abnormal behaviour.

The findings by researchers in California are likely to reinforce warnings that children should not use mobile phones. However, some British scientists were sceptical, saying the findings may be due to lifestyle factors rather than mobiles.

In the study of 29,000 youngsters, mothers provided details of their lifestyle, diet and environment during and after pregnancy.

Information on their children’s health and mobile phone use was also recorded. Around three per cent of children scored abnormal on behavioural issues, with another three per cent ‘borderline’.

The study found that more than ten per cent of children exposed to mobile phones in the womb had mothers who spoke on them at least four times a day.

Nearly half of the mothers had their phones turned on at all times while around a third of children were using a mobile phone by the age of seven.

The findings published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health mirrored an earlier study by the survey team.

Researcher Dr Leeka Kheifets said both sets of results ‘demonstrated that cell phone use was associated with behavioural problems at age seven years’.

The scientists said social factors, such as mothers paying more attention to mobiles than their children, were only partly to blame. Dr Kheifets added: ‘We are concerned that early exposure to cell phones could carry a risk.’

In Britain, Professor Lawrie Challis, a leading government adviser on the radiation effects of mobile phones, has gone on record saying children should not use them until aged at least 12. But more than half of under-tens own a mobile.

Patricia McKinney, emeritus professor of paediatric epidemiology at the University of Leeds, said it was difficult to see how mobile use could affect an unborn baby. She said: ‘Exposure to radiofrequency radiation from mobile phones is highly localised to the part of the head closest. There is no evidence to suggest that other parts of the body are affected. ‘We also have no evidence that a pregnant mother’s behaviour is related to her mobile phone use and thereby affecting her baby.’

Professor David Spiegelhalter, from the University of Cambridge, was also ‘sceptical’ of the results. He said: ‘One finding is that very young children who use mobile phones show more behavioural disorders. But is it plausible that the first causes the second?’

Professor David Coggon, from the University of Southampton, said: ‘The pattern of results suggests the increase in behavioural problems may have been caused by factors other than mobile phone use.’

In May, the largest study of its kind said that using a mobile does not appear to increase the risk of certain types of brain cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer analysed data for more than 10,000 people and found no link between years of use and risk.


Study sheds new light on sunscreen's link to cutting melanoma

Journal article here. The numbers below are small (fortunately for the people concerned) and hence on the borderline of statistical significance. So they are not very decisive.

A large omission would seem to be a failure to classify skin types adequately. Very fair people get a lot of BCCs and SCCs but not much melanoma. Melanomas are more common in people with an olive skin. A breakdown into skin types might produce more informative results

An Australian study appears to have answered the burning question at the core of sun safety - can sunscreen actually help to prevent melanoma?

Despite evidence that sunscreen can protect against less lethal forms of skin cancer, its effect on the incidence of rarer but often deadly melanoma has remained unclear. Complicating the research is the fact very fair-skinned people, who have the most cases of melanoma, were also most likely to heed the warning and so routinely slop on their sunscreen.

"People who are at naturally higher risk of melanoma are also naturally the people who use sunscreen," said Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) Professor of Epidemiology Adele Green. "You can imagine then, this is very hard to disentangle whether there is a protective effect of sunscreen on melanoma. "There can even be this confusing effect where ... there's more melanoma among people who use sunscreen."

So while sunscreen has long been recommended as a "precaution" against all skin cancers, the science on its effect on melanoma alone has remained "highly controversial".

That was until Prof Green's unique study, which tracked a group of just over 1600 residents in Nambour, Queensland, and it showed how wearing sunscreen every day cut their incidence of melanoma in half.

The adults were randomly allocated to either a control group - who continued as per normal and wore as much or as little sunscreen as they liked - or a group given an unlimited supply of sunscreen.

Those provided with free sunscreen were asked to apply it every morning to their head, neck, arms and hands and the trial ran for five years to 1996. Monitoring over the next 10 years identified 22 cases of melanoma in the control group, and 11 cases among those who wore sunscreen every day.

Prof Green said while the result appeared to be conclusive it was too early to declare the sunscreen-melanoma debate as over. "I wouldn't say that on the strength of one study but this has to be reassuring at this stage," she told AAP. "... To medical professionals, public health authorities and the general public, that the regular application of sunscreen is likely to be beneficial with regard to melanoma protection."

There are three major types of skin cancer, with melanoma the least common but most often lethal as the cancer could spread from its initial site on the skin to generate tumours elsewhere in the body.

The other types - basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma - were more regularly seen but were less likely to spread and so were not usually life-threatening if detected early.

There are more than 10,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed every year in Australia, which shares the world's highest incidence of melanoma along with New Zealand. More than 430,000 Australians are treated every year for non-melanoma skin cancer.

The paper is published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.


6 December, 2010

Eating Marmite good for diabetes

Very few American readers will understand what this is about but both Marmite in Britain and a similar product in Australia (Vegemite) are popular sandwich spreads based on yeast extracts. Very few Americans seem to be able to abide the taste but it is given to children from an early age in Britain and Australia and that seems to evoke a lifetime of devotion to it among many. In Australia, a kid with black smears around his mouth (Vegemite is black) is regarded as a proper little kid enjoying himself.

The study below is only a rodent study, however, so must be regarded as very preliminary

Heart attack victims could boost their chances of ­survival thanks to a vitamin in everyday foods such as Marmite, experts believe. A derivative of vitamin B1 speeds up the healing of tissue following heart damage, a study suggests.

Separate research found the substance – called benfotiamine – can prevent heart failure as a complication of diabetes. The discoveries mean a supplement containing benfotiamine could become part of diabetes treatment, researchers said.

Vitamin B1 is also known as ­thiamin and is found in many common foods. Good sources other than Marmite include the ­vegetarian ingredient Quorn, pork, milk, cheese, eggs, dried and fresh fruits and wholegrain breads.

Both pieces of research were by a team from Bristol University. They gave benfotiamine to mice, some of which had diabetes and some of which did not.

In the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology, the researchers said treatment ‘markedly improved the survival of both non-diabetic and diabetic mice’ compared with those given no treatment.

In the separate study, the team found that treating ­diabetic mice with benfotiamine from the early stages of the condition could delay progression to heart failure.


More FDA authority won’t improve food safety

In its rush to enact sweeping new food safety legislation during the lame-duck session, Congress hit a procedural roadblock that may put the bill off for at least another year. User fees added to the Senate version run afoul of a constitutional requirement that tax measures originate in the House. That's good news for consumers because this expansion of Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority would waste billions of taxpayer dollars without making our food supply any safer.

With as many as 5,000 Americans dying every year from food-borne illnesses, consumers would obviously benefit from a safer food supply. Unfortunately, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act won't help us reach that goal.

Among other things, the legislation would increase the frequency of inspections, extend special risk reduction rules to farms and other food producers, and give the FDA authority to mandate product recalls.

More frequent inspections may seem superficially appealing because current law only requires facilities to be inspected at least once every 10 years. But the new law would merely require inspections for most facilities every five years, and once every three years for identified "high-risk" facilities.

Doubling the rate of inspections of the tens of thousands of food production facilities in the U.S. would account for most of the bill's $1.4 billion four-year cost. But does anyone really believe that a single inspection every three to five years would do much to catch unsafe producers?

Even if they occurred more often, the usefulness of inspections is limited by a practical inability to detect microbial pathogens.

Inspectors work by looking around to see whether a facility is clean and examining the producer's records of its own risk reduction efforts. But records are only as good as the record keeper, and a producer trustworthy enough to keep perfect records doesn't need frequent inspections.

More important, a facility that looks clean can still harbor pathogens, while one cluttered with debris can be sterile. There is simply no feasible way for a visual inspection to tell the difference, and random testing misses way too much. That's the main reason why meat and poultry account for about half of all the food-borne illness outbreaks even though slaughterhouses may not legally operate without USDA inspectors on the premises at all times.

As a consequence, the real meat of the food safety legislation is its expansion of risk reduction rules called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), which already apply to meat, poultry and seafood producers.

HACCP programs were first developed within the food industry and only imposed by regulation years later. They require companies to examine their production streams, identify points where pathogens or other hazards may enter the system, and take steps to make those processes safer.

As originally envisioned, the concept is highly flexible and lets producers tailor risk-reduction efforts to their individual circumstances. And, at the margin, HACCP probably has resulted in modest safety improvements for meat, poultry and seafood. So, in theory, expanding HACCP to more facilities seems to make sense.

As implemented by regulators, however, HACCP tends to smother firms in paperwork and impose rigid, costly and out-of-date practices that simply have not kept up with changes in the food industry. That rigidity also discourages firms from developing innovative new processes and practices that could deliver real food safety improvements.

Complying with HACCP rules is also hugely expensive, which may be one reason why the country's biggest food producers support the legislation. Big companies already have their own voluntary HACCP programs. But the new law would force those costs on smaller competitors and shift substantial quality control responsibilities onto the small farms and other producers that feed their supply chains.

A last-minute amendment to the bill would exempt the smallest producers, but would leave tens of thousands of small and mid-sized farms and food stands to be crushed under the weight of rules designed for some of the world's largest food processors.

Finally, granting FDA the power to order product recalls is a solution in search of a problem. Supporters would be hard pressed to identify a single case in which producers refused to honor a recall request based on evidence that a product was actually or likely to be tainted.

But with public and media pressure for authorities to "do something" any time there is a food-borne illness outbreak, an FDA with unlimited power could be expected to order recalls on countless products that are perfectly safe, with predictable impacts on prices and consumer choice.

Recall what happened in June 2008, when the FDA encouraged a voluntary recall of tomatoes seemingly linked to that year's major salmonella outbreak. Countless supermarkets, restaurants and consumers threw out crates of tomatoes in a scare that cost the industry an estimated $100 million in losses before the FDA realized the problem was actually tainted jalapeño peppers.

In the end, increasing the FDA's regulatory authority in this way would waste taxpayer money on activities unlikely to improve safety, while driving many small and medium-sized producers out of the market and raising the cost of the food we eat.


5 December, 2010

It had to happen eventually: Roast dinners now under attack

This is all just theory by "campaigners". There is absolutely no evidence of harm coming from roast dinners. But there IS harm coming from low salt usage. Salt is an important preservative and one of the safest. Food can spoil without it

High levels of salt in Sunday roasts are putting Britons at risk of deadly heart disease and strokes, according to a study by health campaigners. A survey of 600 roast lunches in supermarkets and pub chains found that they can contain up to one and a half times the maximum recommended adult daily intake of salt.

"Sunday lunch is an iconic British meal but filling it with salt puts both adults and children at risk of developing high blood pressure," said Professor Graham MacGregor, a leading expert in cardiovascular medicine and chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH), which carried out the research. "I don't want supermarkets and restaurants to add the unnecessary amounts of salt still being hidden in our food."

He said eating one less gram of salt per day would save 6,000 lives a year.

The study found that a 'peppered beef brisket joint with mustard & pepper stuffing' from Asda's new 'Chosen By You' range contains 2.3g of salt per portion, one third of the recommended adult daily maximum of 6 grams and more than the 2.1g found in a McDonald's Big Mac.

A large half roast chicken meal from a J D Wetherspoon pub contains eight grams of salt. Even a children's roast chicken breast meal contains four grams close to the recommended daily maximum for a 7-10-year-old of five grams.

Pre-prepared vegetable dishes contained up to 1.6g of salt per portion (Tesco Finest root vegetable mash) and roast potatoes contained up to 1.3g of salt per portion (Tesco Finest goose fat roast potatoes).

A portion of Morrisons or Tesco English Mustard contains 0.5g of salt – as much as a packet of crisps.

If the saltiest ingredients found in the survey were used to make a Sunday lunch it would add up to 9.6g per person, 60 per cent higher than an adult's recommended daily maximum.

However, Peter Sherratt, of the Salt Association, which represents the salt industry, described CASH as "extremists", adding: "There is not enough evidence to prove a link between salt and high blood pressure. "Besides, one of the great enjoyments in life is food and the way it tastes and that sometimes means seasoning."

But Katharine Jenner, campaign manager for CASH said: "With all we know about the dangers of salt on our health, it is disappointing that a portion of vegetables or a small amount of mustard could still contain more salt than a packet of crisps."

Julian Hunt, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation said: "This research does a huge disservice to a great British tradition. The Sunday roast is a time when families sit together to enjoy a hearty and healthy meal compiled from a wide range of fresh ingredients.

"British food manufacturers are leading the world when it comes to changing the recipes of their products to contain less salt. Those who want a lower salt option can find one simply by looking at the labels."

A spokeswoman for Asda said: "We all love a traditional Sunday roast, especially now the weather has got a bit nippy. We always clearly label all our food so customers can see at a glance what's in it. "We all need to watch the amount of salt we eat and we have worked hard to ensure that all our own-label food is not only delicious but adheres to the FSA targets on salt content, which we achieved two years ahead of the 2010 deadline.

"In 2008, we removed 280 tonnes of fat, 284 tonnes of saturated fat, 521 tonnes of sugar & another 83 tonnes of salt from our food."

A spokesman for JD Wetherspoon said: "We are working closely with food suppliers, development chefs and the Food Standards Agency to reduce the amount of salt in all of our meals."


Test for autism is most promising yet, claims study

This looks very interesting

A foolproof test for autism in adults and children is "a major step" closer after scientists claim to have developed a brain scan that can detect the condition with almost 100 per cent accuracy.

The diagnosis, which uses scans to measure deviations in brain circuitry, could some day replace the current questionnaire tests now used to identify those with the disorder. It could also lead to a better understanding of autism and to earlier and better management and treatments of affected individuals.

Researchers at Harvard University's McLean Hospital and the University of Utah claim they have developed the best biologically based test for autism to date. The test was able to detect the disorder in individuals with 94 per cent accuracy – even in those that have a milder form of the disorder.

"This is not yet ready for prime time use in the clinic yet, but the findings are the most promising thus far," said Professor Nicholas Lange, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School."

The researchers used the test on two groups of subjects. One group consisted of individuals who had previously been diagnosed with so-called "high-functioning" autism using the standard subjective scoring system. That system is based on assessing patients and questioning their parents about their abilities at a variety of areas including language, social functioning, and behaviour.

The second group studied was a control group consisting of normally developing individuals.

The subjects were put in an MRI scanner that was programmed to measure microscopic features of the brain's circuitry. By measuring six aspects of the brain's circuitry, the test was able to correctly distinguish those who had previously been diagnosed with autism with 94 per cent accuracy.

"It provides pictures and measurements of the microscopic fibre structures of the brain that enable language, social and emotional functioning, which can reveal deviations that are not found in those without autism," Prof Lange said. "There is less directional flow to and from brain regions where there should be more information exchange."

A repeat study using two different sets of subjects showed the same high level of performance.

Future studies will look at patients with high-severity autism, younger children, and patients with brain disorders such as developmental language disorders, ADHD and OCD, who do not have autism.

If the test demonstrates further success, it could someday replace the current subjective system of diagnosing autism, which is not biologically based. "It could also someday lead to pinpointing how autism develops," said Dr Janet Lainhart at the University of Utah.

"We can gain a better understanding of how this disorder arises and changes over the lifetime of an individual, and derive more effective treatments."


4 December, 2010

Some sanity about "Frankenfood" in Britain

Ministers want to allow the unrestricted sale of meat and milk from so-called Frankenfarm animals. They are ready to reject the idea of a ban as ‘disproportionate in terms of food safety and animal welfare’.

The move was immediately condemned by campaigners who warned that cloning poses a serious threat to animal welfare.
Ministers are backing unrestricted sale of meat and milk from Identical cloned cows like these on Scotland's Isle of Skye

Ministers are backing unrestricted sale of meat and milk from cloned cows like these on Scotland's Isle of Skye

It will also trigger a fierce consumer backlash, with evidence that the vast majority of people oppose clone farming on welfare and ethical grounds. Many are also fearful about eating clone food amid concerns there has been too little research to guarantee its safety. The RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming point to high levels of miscarriage, organ failure and gigantism among new-born clones.

The policy, drawn up on the orders of the controversial Conservative Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, would also rule out labelling. The details emerged in a document published by the Food Standards Agency. It revealed: ‘The Government considers that a ban or a temporary suspension on cloning, the use of cloned animals and the marketing of food from cloned animals would be disproportionate in terms of food safety and animal welfare.’

This is the first time the new Coalition government’s policy, supporting clone farming, has been made public.

Its position would effectively allow the most radical shift in British food and farming in a generation. In theory, meat and milk from clones and their offspring could go on sale legally within a matter of months.

Clone animals would be used for food and to breed herds of unnatural, supersize animals capable of producing vast quantities of meat and milk.

The policy has been adopted by ministers without any public consultation. The only surveys of UK consumers carried out by the FSA and the European Food Safety Authority have demonstrated massive opposition.

Despite this, Mrs Spelman plans to lobby the EU and other governments to effectively abandon any regulation.

The European Commission recently proposed a temporary five-year ban on the sale of meat and milk from clones. But to the disappointment of campaigners, it backed allowing food from the offspring of clones to go into supermarkets.

The documents published by the FSA make clear the Government wants no restrictions. They state: ‘The Government recognises that cloning is a relatively new technique and that the welfare of clones and of their surrogate dams must be protected.’

But it argues that existing laws are sufficient to deal with the welfare of animals and there is ‘insufficient evidence’ to justify a ban.

Recently, a Government advisory committee said that, in its view, there was no difference in meat and milk from clone animals. The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes advised it was ‘unlikely to present any food safety risk’.

However, the experts admitted there was a lack of safety research. The committee also noted consumers would want to see any food from clone animals labelled. This would not happen if the UK gets its way.

A study by the FSA in 2008 found consumers do not want clone food on their plates. The majority considered it a dangerous manipulation of nature and potentially harmful.

The FSA study was conducted by analysts at Creative Research. Its director, Dr Steve Griggs, said ‘the more consumers learned about cloning, the greater and more widespread were the objections’. Mrs Spelman appears to have overridden these concerns.

However, she will not have the final say as other European governments are highly sceptical about the technology and will argue for tough controls.

Chief policy adviser to Compassion in World Farming, Peter Stevenson, said he was ‘bitterly disappointed’ by Mrs Spelman’s position.

‘This Coalition pledged to give a high priority to animal welfare, yet supporting cloning does completely the opposite. The Government also presents itself as a champion of honest labelling, yet it is proposing a clone food free for all without any requirement for labels.’


Biggest ever IVF study reveals fertility treatment does NOT increase risk of cancer

This will disappoint the haters who think everything popular is bad

Fertility treatment such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) does not increase a woman's risk of cancer despite the hormones used, researchers have found.

Some previous studies had suggested that fertility drugs might be linked with breast, uterine and ovarian cancers.

However, a large study from the University of Lund in Sweden found far fewer women developed one ore more cancers following IVF compared to those who had not had such treatment.

In research reported in 'Human Reproduction,' scientists analysed data from 24,000 women who gave birth after IVF between 1982 and 2006.

They compared rates of cancer in these women to 1.4 million women in the general Swedish population who also gave birth over that period.

Fewer than two per cent of women in the IVF group developed one or more cancers during an average follow-up period of 8 years, compared to close to five per cent of the other group.

After accounting for maternal age, the number of previous pregnancies and smoking status, the overall risk of cancer was about 25 per cent lower for women who had IVF.

'A couple who needs IVF does not have to be afraid that the hormone treatment used - at least those used in Sweden - will carry a risk for the woman to develop cancer,' study leader Dr Bengt Kallen said.

While the risk of ovarian cancer was more than twice as high in the women who had IVF as those who didn't, Dr Kallen suggested that this may be due to abnormalities in ovarian function that could both increase the risk for cancer and the risk for infertility, thus the need for IVF. 'The risk for two common cancers, breast and cervical, was significantly lower than expected,' he said.

He added that this might be due to women who get IVF being healthier than average or, more likely, that IVF-treated women may undergo more cervical and mammography exams.


3 December, 2010

Anti-epileptic drug 'doubles spina bifida risk in babies'

For once they've got an effect strong enough to be identified as causative and they downplay it! Nonetheless they are right to do so as the incidence is so small in absolute terms. And Phenytoin (Dilantin) is a more frequent teratogen, though again at low incidence

It could however be argued that the deformities associated with Dilantin (facial deformities such as cleft lip) are susceptible to surgical correction, whereas spina bifida is not.

The major omission below is that they fail to mention that there are many disorders other than epilepsy for which Tegretol is prescribed: e.g. manic depression, tic douloureux, ADHD and PSD

Epileptic women who take a popular drug to control their fits during pregnancy are more than twice as likely to give birth to a baby with spina bifida as those that don't, research shows.

Those who took carbamazepine [Tegretol] during the first three months of pregnancy were 2.6 times more likely to give birth to a baby with spina bifida, than those who took no anti-epileptic drug, the pan-European study of 98,000 births of babies with major defects found.

Spina bifida - which means 'split spine' - develops in early pregnancy, when one or more of the spine's 33 vertebrae does not form properly. Nerves can be exposed leading to mobility, bladder and bowel problems.

Writing in the British Medical Journal today (FRI), the authors noted that carbamazepine was one of the most commonly used anti-epilepsy drugs in Europe among women of child-bearing age.

However, they also emphasised: "Although most antiepileptic drugs taken during pregnancy significantly increase the risk for one or more specific congenital malformations, the occurrence of these malformations is nevertheless rare … most exposed pregnancies result in a baby without malformation."

About one in 1,000 babies born in Britain has spina bifida.

In an accompanying editorial, Prof Irena Nulman of Toronto University, said that of all the anticonvulsant drugs, "carbamazepine is associated with the lowest rate of morphological defects ... and should therefore be considered the drug of choice in pregnancy".


US Congress passes school nutrition bill

The meddling in people's lives marches on. Feds can now dictate what food is available in schools

US politicians have passed a $US4.5 billion bill that will give more kids school meals and let the Government set child nutrition guidelines.

First Lady Michelle Obama, who this year launched a campaign against child obesity, called the bill a "groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation that will significantly improve the quality of meals that children receive at school and play an integral role in our efforts to combat childhood obesity".

The bill pledges the $US4.5 billion over 10 years to child nutrition programs, increases to the reimbursement paid to schools by the Federal Government for free meals provided to children, and expands access to school lunches and after-school meals.

It also allows the US Department of Agriculture to set nutrition guidelines for foods sold in schools, including in coin-operated vending machines, and provides money for school gardens and farm-to-school programs.

House Republicans tried to block the bill by introducing a last-minute amendment that would have barred the Government from giving funds to schools and other care facilities that hire workers who refuse to submit to or lie about background checks.

If their move had succeeded, the bill would have gone back to the Senate and would not have been voted on until the next session of Congress starts in January, with the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives.


2 December, 2010

Five a day 'will not stop cancer'

Another blow at an official myth. The report below is still a bit credulous but it's a move in the right direction

Eating fresh fruit and vegetables will not protect you from cancer as they have little effect compared with alcohol and obesity, a study finds. Official guidelines recommend at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day in order to be healthy but new research has found that this may not have a substantial effect on cancer.

The science suggests that people should be told that cancer risk is much more related to how much you eat and drink rather than what you eat.

The review, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looks at a decade of evidence on the links between fruit and vegetables and the development of cancer, but it concludes that the evidence is still not convincing. The only diet-related factors that definitely affect cancer risk are obesity and alcohol, they discovered.

Tobacco is still the single biggest cause of cancer. While smoking increases the risk of cancer by as much as 50 fold, even large consumptions of fruit and veg will only reduce the risk by a maximum of 10 per cent.

Professor Tim Key, an epidemiologist from Oxford University, said that while there are undoubted benefits in eating fruit and vegetables there is little hard evidence that they protect against cancer. But the evidence is indisputable that cancer is strongly linked to being overweight or obese, and drinking more alcohol than the recommended daily limits.

He said: “Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and a good source of nutrients. "But so far the data does not prove that eating increased amounts of fruit and vegetables offers much protection against cancer. “But there’s strong scientific evidence to show that, after smoking, being overweight and alcohol are two of the biggest cancer risks.”

Overweight people produce higher levels of certain hormones than people of a healthy weight and this can contribute to an increased risk of breast cancer. Being overweight can increase your risk of other common cancers like bowel and also hard-to-treat forms of the disease like pancreatic, oesophageal and kidney cancer.

When alcohol is broken down by the body it produces a chemical which can damage cells increasing the risk of mouth, throat, breast, bowel and liver cancers. In the UK 15,000 cases of cancer are caused by alcohol, it is believed, and 19,000 cases of cancer are caused by being overweight or obese.

Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Too few people know about the significant cancer risks associated with obesity and drinking too much alcohol. "While stopping smoking remains the best way to cut your chances of developing cancer, the importance of keeping a healthy weight and cutting down on alcohol shouldn’t be overlooked. “Keeping alcohol intake to a maximum of one small drink a day for women and two small drinks per day for men and keeping weight within the healthy limits can have an enormous impact.”

The British research mirrors the findings of an American study published in April. For every extra two portions consumed the risk of cancer reduced by just three per cent, the research conducted by a team at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York suggested.


Finger length is a marker for risk of prostate cancer

This does seem a bit bizarre but finger length has long been known to relkate to various indices of masculinity

Men whose index fingers are longer than their ring fingers are much less likely to develop prostate cancer, a new study suggests. The association is so strong that researchers believe the simple test could be part of a screening process for the disease.

The study led by The University of Warwick and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) found men whose index finger is longer than their ring finger were one third less likely to develop the disease in their lifetime than men with the opposite finger lengths.

When it comes to the risk of developing the disease before they are 60 the link was even greater with longer index fingered men having 87 per cent less chance. “Our results show that relative finger length could be used as a simple test for prostate cancer risk, particularly in men aged under 60,” said the joint author Professor Ros Eeles from the ICR and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. “This exciting finding means that finger pattern could potentially be used to select at-risk men for ongoing screening, perhaps in combination with other factors such as family history or genetic testing.”

For a 15 year period from 1994 to 2009, the researchers quizzed more than 1,500 prostate cancer patients along with more than 3,000 healthy cases. The men were shown a series of pictures of different finger length patterns and asked to identify the one most similar to their own right hand. The most common finger length pattern, seen in more than half the men in the study, was a shorter index than ring finger.

Men whose index and ring fingers were the same length (about 19 per cent) had a similar prostate cancer risk, but men whose index fingers were longer than their ring finger were 33 per cent less likely to have prostate cancer, a disease which kills 10,000 people a year in Britain. Risk reduction was even greater in men aged under 60 years– these men were 87 per cent less likely to be in the prostate cancer group.

The relative length of index and ring fingers is set before birth, and is thought to relate to the levels of the sex hormone testosterone the baby is exposed to in the womb. Less testosterone equates to a longer index finger, the researchers now believe that being exposed to less testosterone before birth helps protect against prostate cancer later in life.

Previous studies have found a link between exposure to hormones while in the womb and the development of other diseases, including breast cancer (linked to higher prenatal oestrogen exposure) and osteoarthritis (linked to having an index finger shorter than ring finger). Testosterone is known to be a driver of prostate disease once it has taken hold but this suggests it is also a major cause.

Professor Ken Muir, co-author from the University of Warwick, said: "Our study indicates it is the hormone levels that babies are exposed to in the womb that can have an effect decades later. "As our research continues, we will be able to look at a further range of factors that may be involved in the make-up of the disease."

Emma Halls, Chief Executive of Prostate Action, which helped fund the work published in the British Journal of Cancer, said: "This research brings us another step closer to helping determine risk factors for prostate cancer, which is possibly the biggest issue in current thinking about preventing and treating the disease. "However, we are still a long way from reducing the number of men who die of prostate cancer every year and need more research and education in all areas to achieve this."


1 December, 2010

Commonly used antidepressants may raise heart disease risk

I don't really understand it but I can tell almost from reading the title of a medical research report whether or not it is going to be B.S. I must have an inbuilt B.S. detector. It went off when I saw the article below.

When I read the article, however, I was surprised. It seemed quite strong methodologically. Most unusually strong, in fact. So then I looked at the journal article, as I usually do. And I find this sentence: "Neither class of drug was associated with all-cause mortality risk"

What a laugh! The tricyclics MAY give you heart disease but apparently they protect you from other causes of death! There's still no fault in my B.S. detector! No wonder there were some rather cautious comments toward the end of the article!

Why are people so regularly misled?

Old style anti-depressant drugs were linked with a 35 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the study found. However, newer drugs were not associated with a rise which may signal that the older drugs may be causing the effect rather than the depression itself.

The research conducted by University College London involved nearly 15,000 people in Scotland and the results were published in the European Heart Journal.

Dr Mark Hamer, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at UCL (London, UK), said: “Our study is the first to contain a representative sample of the whole community, including elderly and unemployed participants, men and women, etc.

"Therefore, our results can be generalised better to the wider community. Given that antidepressants are now prescribed not only for depression, but for a wide range of conditions such as back pain, headache, anxiety and sleeping problems, the risks associated with antidepressants have increasing relevance to the general population.”

The study compared people on the old-style drugs called tricyclic antidepressants to those on the newer ones called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs and those on none.

There were around 12m prescriptions dispensed in England for tricyclic antidepressants last year compared with more than 21m SSRIs.

Dr Hamer said: “Our findings suggest that there is an association between the use of tricyclic antidepressants and an increased risk of CVD that is not explained by existing mental illness. This suggests that there may be some characteristic of tricyclics that is raising the risk.

"Tricyclics are known to have a number of side effects; they are linked to increased blood pressure, weight gain and diabetes and these are all risk factors for CVD.”

He added: “It is important that patients who are already taking antidepressants should not cease taking their medication suddenly, but should consult their GPs if they are worried. There are two important points to be made. First, tricyclics are the older generation of antidepressant medicines and we found no excess risk with the newer drugs (SSRIs).

"Secondly, people taking the antidepressants are also more likely to smoke, be overweight, and do little or no physical activity – by giving up smoking, losing weight, and becoming more active a person can reduce their risk of CVD by two to threefold, which largely outweighs the risks of taking the medications in the first place. In addition, physical exercise and weight loss can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety."

Amy Thompson, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “The results of this research should be interpreted with caution. The study wasn’t originally set up to assess the effect of antidepressants on heart disease risk, but it raised some questions.

“We know that findings like these can turn out to be red herrings, so before firm conclusions can be drawn there needs to be more research looking closely at the effects of these drugs on your heart.

“Anti-depressants are beneficial for many people and so it would be unwise for anyone taking them to stop based on the results of this study alone.

“We already know that people with depression are more likely to have unhealthy habits, like smoking, eating junk food and not getting enough physical activity. By addressing these lifestyle factors you can lower your risk of heart disease and help keep your heart healthy.”


The remarkable potato

Potatoes occasionally come under fire from food freaks (after all, what would a Big Mac be like without fries?) so one guy decided to show 'em

AN American man is preparing himself for a change of diet, after successfully eating his 1200th potato to as part of a 60-day challenge.

Chris Voigt, the executive director of the Washington Potato Commission wrote on his website that he took up the challenge to "remind the public about the nutritional value of potatoes," and show it was possible to live healthily off potatoes alone for an extended period of time.

Beginning on October 1 and ending today, Mr Voigt ate nothing but 20 potatoes a day - the only allowance being cooking oil and a light topping of seasonings or herbs.

For Thanksgiving, he ate his holiday meal with a twist - mashed potatoes fashioned into a "turkey", fake gravy care of a bouillon cube and potato starch and for dessert, fake pumpkin pie.

During his challenge, Mr Voigt said he lost 9.5 kilograms, his cholesterol level went from 214 to 147, and his glucose dropped from 104 to 94.

On his 20potatoesaday blog, he wrote: "I'm thinking about what tomorrow [Tuesday] will look like... all of a sudden I get this weird vibe like I'm not going to be able to break away from my potato diet!"


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.

Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here

This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.

I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.