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

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

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

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

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

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

What fast food does to girls


31 December, 2011

Rubbished! Stars who peddle 'silly science' to cure our ailments

Their day jobs involve looking glamorous and posing for the cameras – and perhaps they should stick to them. When celebrities turn their attention to solving our health problems, a report suggests, their contribution is, at best, questionable.

Tamara Ecclestone, Suzi Quatro, Gwyneth Paltrow and even the Duchess of Cambridge and her little sister Pippa are among those named and shamed for peddling what the report calls ‘silly science’.

The organisation Sense about Science highlighted Miss Quatro’s claim that her sore throats were cured by a ‘colon cleansing’ powder. The American singer-songwriter said: ‘I used to get a lot of sore throats and then one of my sisters told me that all illnesses start in the colon. I started taking a daily colon cleaner powder mixed with fresh juice every morning and it made an enormous difference.’

But Dr Melita Gordon, a consultant gastroenterologist, said: ‘Sore throats do not come from your colon; they are caused by viruses that come in through your nose and mouth. The colon...certainly is not the cause of all illnesses.’

Pippa Middleton was abruptly corrected after crediting her glossy hair to rinsing it in cold water. Miss Middleton, 28, claimed: ‘It closes the pores and gives it a lift and shine... it really works.’ Sense about Science pointed out that hair does not have pores, and its smoothness is unaffected by water, hot or cold.

Her sister Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, featured in the report for saying that spending more time with horses had made her less allergic to them. Dr Pamela Ewen, of the allergy department at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge, conceded that, in cases of mild allergy, Kate might be right. But she added: ‘If the allergy is more severe, re-exposure usually makes it worse.’

Heiress Miss Ecclestone came under fire for saying acupuncture stopped her getting ill. She said: ‘I have acupuncture to boost my immune system every month or so.’ Professor Peter Lachmann, an immunologist at Cambridge University, said: ‘There are ways to enhance different types of immune response – though acupuncture is not one of them.’

Gwyneth Paltrow, who has previously made comments about shampoo causing cancer and is a fan of a bizarre Chinese medicine treatment called ‘cupping’, was also on the hitlist for claiming that a ‘detox diet’ helped her liver and gave her ‘mental clarity’.

Simon Cowell also featured for saying that he found vitamin injections ‘calming’. And Snooki Polizzi, star of U.S. reality TV show Jersey Shore, claimed whale sperm was what made the sea salty.

Tracey Brown, of Sense about Science, said: ‘It’s tempting to dismiss celebrity comments on science and health, but their views travel far and wide and, once uttered, a celebrity cancer prevention idea or environmental claim is hard to reverse.’

The charity did congratulate one celebrity for making a helpful contribution. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was praised for her comments in the Daily Mail about the link between a poor diet and osteoporosis. The duchess said: ‘What particularly concerns me is the rise of osteoporosis in young people and its link with eating disorders.’

Sian Porter, of the British Dietetic Association, said: ‘It is very important to strengthen bones in the first 30 years of life to “stockpile” calcium and other minerals. Her Royal Highness is clearly well informed. ‘Unfortunately this is not the case with many celebrities who give advice.’


Study warns against pet cats

Tempted by the playful antics of that adorable kitten in the pet shop? If you've never had a cat before you may want to think again, especially if you have other allergies, researchers warn.

And if you do acquire a feline, keep it out of your bedroom.

While having a cat as a child may protect against future allergies, getting one in adulthood nearly doubles the chances of developing an immune reaction to it - the first step towards wheezing, sneezing and itchy eyes, a European study found.

The same study, which covered thousands of adults and was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that people with other allergies were at extra high risk of reacting to a new feline in the house.

"Our data support that acquiring a cat in adulthood nearly doubles the risk of developing cat sensitisation," wrote Mario Olivieri, from the University Hospital of Verona in Italy. "Hence, cat avoidance should be considered in adults, especially in those sensitised to other allergens and reporting a history of allergic diseases."

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 6000 adult Europeans twice over nine years, taking blood samples. None of the participants had antibodies to cats in their blood to start with, meaning they were not sensitised to the animal's dander.

Sensitisation can be measured in a skin prick test. It does not necessarily lead to symptoms, but in many cases it is the harbinger of full-blown allergies.

About three per cent of people who did not have a cat at either time of the survey became sensitised over the course of the study, compared to five per cent of those who acquired a cat during those nine years.

Four in 10 of the newly sensitised also said they experienced allergy symptoms around animals, four times the rate seen among people without antibodies against cats.

It also turned out that only people who let their pet into the bedroom became sensitised.

"If you are an adult with asthma and/or allergies, you should think twice about getting a cat and particularly, if you do so, letting it into your bedroom," said Andy Nish of the Allergy and Asthma Care Centre in Gainesville, Georgia, who wasn't involved in the study.

The researchers did find, however, that people who had had a cat in childhood had a much smaller risk against becoming sensitised to it than those who were new cat owners.

"We thought that having a cat in early childhood may be protective against the development of cat allergy in childhood, but this study seems to indicate that protection extends into adulthood," Nish told Reuters Health in an email.

Noting that he always recommends keeping cats out of the bedroom, he added: "It is remarkable that none who did not allow the cat in the bedroom became sensitised."

For people who have a cat and have become allergic, he recommended finding a new home for the pet, followed by keeping the cat outdoors at all times. "If it comes in even occasionally, its dander will remain in the house for months. If the cat needs to be indoors, at least keep it out of your bedroom, consider a HEPA filter for your bedroom, and consider washing the cat at least once a week," he added.


30 December, 2011

Can coffee prevent cancer?

Here we go again! Refreshing to see a bit of humility this time, however (in red)

There's good news on the horizon for coffee lovers, with research suggesting that it can reduce the risk of developing endometrial cancer by up to 25 per cent.

Originating in the lining of the uterus, endometrial cancer is the most common invasive gynaecological cancer in Australia and affects one in 69 women under the age of 75. According to statistics gathered by Cancer Australia, six women were diagnosed with the disease each day in 2010 and it's responsible for an estimated 69 deaths in the country each year.

In the US, where the research was conducted, the National Cancer Institute estimated that more than 46,000 new cases of the cancer would be seen in 2011 and 8000 people would die of the disease.

High levels of oestrogen and insulin are associated with an increased risk of the disease but researchers involved in the Nurses' Health Study from the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health have discovered that high-coffee-consuming women have lower levels of these hormones, compared with those who drink little or no coffee.

"This is an observational study – coffee intake is self-selected, not randomised – so our study cannot prove causal relationship between coffee and endometrial cancer risk, but we found an inverse association between coffee and endometrial cancer risk," reported study author Youjin Je, doctoral student at the Harvard School of Public Health.

"Four or more cups of coffee may contribute to lower risk of endometrial cancer by lowering levels of oestrogen and insulin which are related to endometrial carcinogenesis due to increased cell proliferation and reduced cell death."

To obtain their results researchers followed 67,470 women aged 34 to 59 from 1980 to 2006 and asked that they report every four years how frequently, on average, they consumed coffee over the previous year. They then calculated cumulative average coffee intake to represent long-term consumption patterns for the individual subjects and found that those consuming four cups per day on average were 25 per cent less likely to develop the cancer.

And it's not just the caffeine that helps decrease the risk, with participants who drank two or more cups of decaffeinated coffee per day seeing a 22 per cent decrease. Though Je points out that the data is less stable due to the low incidence of frequent use of decaf coffee and that both the caffeine and coffee itself is thought to work together to produce maximum benefits.

"We found an inverse association with two or more cups of decaf per day, although the link was less robust, and we did not find any association with caffeine containing tea consumption," she said. "Thus, the benefit of coffee is likely linked to several bioactive compounds in coffee that act as antioxidants, reduce inflammation, and regulate insulin. Caffeine also seems to be partly responsible for the risk reduction by increasing oestrogen metabolism."

But before you run down to the coffee cart to order a full-cream double shot with two sugars be warned that a high intake of sugars and fats can counteract the proposed benefits of consumption.

"Based on scientific evidence, substantial amounts of sugar or cream can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance, which is related to increased risk of endometrial cancer," said Je. "Thus, women who typically added lots of sugar and cream to coffee may not have any benefits from coffee drinking against endometrial cancer."

Though consuming four cups of coffee each day is not advised for pregnant women, those controlling their blood pressure or with a sensitivity to caffeinated beverages, scientists say that it is perfectly safe for the rest of the population.

In addition to the reduced risk of endometrial cancer laboratory testing has found that coffee has strong antioxidant properties that protect cells, protein and DNA against oxidative damage by directly neutralising reactive oxidants or by modulating gene expression contributing to oxidative stress. Which, in layman's terms, means that coffee has the potential to prevent a number of chronic diseases.

Research over the past few years suggests that coffee consumption may protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cirrhosis of the liver, depression in women and other cancers – including aggressive prostate cancer. However, the aforementioned groups who need to monitor or reduce their caffeine intake aren't entirely out of the loop with study authors recommending they drink decaf to get at least some of the benefits of coffee components.

"It's not at the stage where we would recommend women who don't drink coffee to start drinking," said Je. "More large prospective studies should be done to further clarify the role of coffee among different subgroups. But, yes, women consuming coffee should feel reassurance that coffee in general is not a harmful substance, and may even offer some health benefits."


Cut-price test that 'can dramatically boost IVF chances' will be available in 18 months

A cut-price test that could dramatically increase the chances of having a healthy baby through IVF could be available within 18 months.

Oxford University researchers say their test could ‘revolutionise’ the treatment as it is half the price of existing tests and may be just as effective.

It may be cheap enough for use by the Health Service. And, unlike existing tests, it does not involve the potentially risky step of taking a sample of cells from the egg or fledgling embryo, making it safer and more ethically acceptable.

Instead, it works by analysing a ‘cloud’ of cells that nurture and feed the egg. These are normally thrown away in IVF treatment but fertility doctors Dagan Wells and Elpida Fragouli believe they hold important clues to the health of the egg.

Keeping and analysing these cells could help clinics select the best eggs for fertility treatment. It should also spare would-be parents the emotional and financial heartache of going through repeated unsuccessful IVF treatments.

Analysing these ‘cloud’, or cumulous, cells is also likely to be much cheaper at £1,000 or less compared with the £2,000 cost of other techniques, bringing the technology within range of many more couples.

Despite IVF’s reputation as an insurance policy, the treatment works in less than a quarter of cases, and many of the failures are because of problems with the eggs’ chromosomes.

There are already several ways of checking the chromosomes, but they require a small sample from the egg or embryo and so are not completely without risk to the unborn child.
Oxford University researchers say their test could reolutionise the treatment as it is half the price of existing tests and could be just as effective

Oxford University researchers say their test could reolutionise the treatment as it is half the price of existing tests and could be just as effective

The cumulous cells, however, can be studied without harming the egg. These cells grow and mature with the egg and so any problems that damage the egg, such as a poor blood supply, should also show up in the cells.

The doctors have carried out a small-scale study that has shown that certain genes being over or under-active in the cumulous cells is a sign of abnormal eggs.

Calculations suggest that using the technique to pick out the healthiest eggs would boost a woman’s odds of having a baby. Existing tests can double or triple the odds of IVF success, and it is hoped the new test will be just as good.

Dr Wells said: ‘The number of patients we looked at is very small. This is very much a work in progress, but there is good reason for optimism at this point.’

A larger-scale study is planned, and if that goes well the technique could be trialled on women for the first time in the summer of 2012. If it proves to be safe and effective, it could be in widespread use early in 2013.


29 December, 2011

Hating your mother means you're twice as likely to grow up fat

It's difficult evaluating a study that is not yet online but this could easily be a social class effect. The underclass often have poor relationships with their children and also tend to be fat and have fat children. That could be controlled for by partialling out parental weight from the correlations but who knows if that was done? There is an extensive summary of the study here and no controls are mentioned. More magic knowledge of the causal chain apparently. The title of the journal article is: "Quality of early maternal-child relationship and risk of adolescent obesity"

Children who have a poor emotional relationship with their mother are more than twice as likely to become obese, research claims.

A study found toddlers who struggle with their mothers are at higher risk of being grossly overweight by the time they are 15. Those who had the worst emotional relationship were almost two-and-half times more likely to be obese at 15 than those with a strong bond. Meanwhile, only 13 per cent who had close bonds in their formative years became obese.

U.S. researchers studied nearly 1,000 toddlers and their mothers at play then rated how strong the bond was between mother and child.

The participants were then assessed for obesity at 15. The prevalence of obesity in adolescence was 26.1 per cent among children with the poorest early maternal-child relationships according to the research, which will appear in the online Journal of Paediatrics next month.

Ohio State University epidemiology professor Sarah Anderson said eating comfort food throughout childhood could be linked to youngsters not being given the right tools to deal with stress.

She said: ‘It is possible childhood obesity could be influenced by interventions that try to improve the emotional bonds between mothers and children rather than focusing only on children’s food intake and activity.

‘We need to think about how we can support better-quality maternal-child relationships because that could have an impact on child health.

'A well-regulated stress response could influence how well children sleep and whether they eat in response to emotional distress – just two factors that affect the likelihood for obesity.’


A CDC Recommendation Could Save Children’s Lives

Meningococcal meningitis: This is a dreaded disease that can be lethal within hours of the onset of symptoms. For those who survive, it can have very serious consequences such as blindness, deafness, and even amputation of arms and legs.

Fortunately, in April 2011 the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine for this disease for children aged 9 months through 23 months. A vaccine for use in older children was previously approved.

However, for the age group of 9 months to 23 months, the Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that only children with certain risk factors receive the vaccination. These include children with immune deficiencies, those traveling to countries in which the disease is epidemic, and those in a defined risk group during a community or institutional outbreak.

Although rare, the disease is endemic in the United Sates and springs up without warning. Those who are not vaccinated when it initially presents in a community will be the first to contract it. This is analogous to the situation with airplane passengers. Airline accidents or high-turbulence incidents are rare, but when they do occur, those passengers not properly restrained are at highest risk of injury or even death.

In such cases, it’s essential to measure any potential inconvenience against the likely risks. The side effect of taking this vaccine is some skin irritation, but vaccination is the only way to prevent this type of meningitis. In the past, when vaccines received approval from the FDA indicating they were safe and efficacious, the CDC would review them and ultimately add them to its recommended vaccine list. The CDC is moving much more slowly on this vaccine, and there is fear it will be recommended only for the high-risk children when indeed all unvaccinated children are at risk.

If the vaccination is not placed on the recommended list, pediatricians are unlikely to recommend it to parents, and many won’t even notify them of its existence. Thus parents won’t even have the option of choosing it for their child.

The CDC should give parents the choice of whether to immunize their children aged 9 months through 23 months against meningococcal meningitis. Placing it on the recommended list is the only way to do that.


28 December, 2011

Parents Should Heed Ben Franklin’s Vaccination Story

New data indicate increasing conflict between parental rights advocates and vaccination experts. To avoid the return of preventable disease, both sides would be wise to begin a more open and educational dialogue with each other.

According to a study published recently by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a significant number of parents are ignoring the advice of vaccine experts. The study calculated 13 percent of U.S. parents are following an alternative vaccination schedule. This is not just a matter of temporary delays in immunization: 53 percent of these parents refused some vaccines entirely, and 17 percent refused to vaccinate their children at all.

Even among those parents who kept to the recommended vaccine schedule, 28 percent told researchers they believe an alternate schedule that spaces out vaccines is safer.

A new analysis by the Associated Press found this is having a marked effect on young children’s vaccination status. After surveying eight different state elementary school systems, AP found one in every 20 public school kindergarteners did not have the vaccinations required by law to attend school.

Politicians such as presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) have not helped matters. She engaged in severe scaremongering regarding the Gardisil vaccine against the human papillomavirus when she suggested, in claims repeated on national television, that a woman’s child had “suffered mental retardation” as a result of the vaccination.

The failure to vaccinate can have serious consequences. In Europe, preventable diseases have been making a comeback in recent years, with major outbreaks of mumps and measles in the wake of fraudulent reports of connections between vaccines and autism. Here in the U.S., we may be seeing the beginning of the same trend. Last year brought the largest outbreak of whooping cough in a half-century, resulting in the deaths of ten infants.

In refusing to vaccinate because of scare stories, parents are making a foolish choice. But it should be their choice. Parents have the right to opt their children out of vaccinations as they see fit. It is their child, after all, not the government’s.

But when this happens, it must be understood as an act of self-segregation. Parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated must understand they are deciding to teach their children at home or in schools that will allow unvaccinated children to enroll. The rest of the community should not have to bear the risk of a rise in preventable disease.

The role of government in the matter should be to ensure people aren’t allowed to impose their choices on others, which means if we’re going to have public schools and children are required to attend, we can’t allow them to admit unvaccinated children.

All parents would do well to consider the words of Benjamin Franklin, who wrote movingly on the topic, from personal experience:

“In 1736, I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox,” Franklin wrote. “I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it, my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

As Franklin acknowledges, the choice here belongs to the parents, and it ought to. But every choice has consequences, and those with knowledge of the risks and rewards must educate and inform parents of what the consequences of refusing vaccination can be for their child and their neighbors’ children as well.


Taking multi-vitamin pills 'does nothing for our health'

New research shows that taking supplements can actually harm you

They are a daily essential for millions of Britons hoping to ward off ill-health. But despite the millions of pounds spent on vitamin pills, they do nothing for our health, according to a major study.

Researchers spent more than six years following 8,000 people and found that those taking supplements were just as likely to have developed cancer or heart disease as those who took an identical-looking dummy pill.

And when they were questioned on how healthy they felt, there was hardly any difference between the two groups.

Experts said the study – one of the most extensive carried out into vitamin pills – suggested that millions of consumers may be wasting their money on supplements.

Many users fall into the category of the ‘worried well’ – healthy adults who believe the pills will insure them against deadly illnesses – according to Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London. She said: ‘It’s the worried well who are taking these pills to try and protect themselves against Alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks and strokes. ‘But they are wasting their money. This was a large study following people up for a long period of time assessing everything from their mobility and blood pressure to whether they were happy or felt pain.’

Multi-vitamin supplements have become increasingly popular as a quick and easy way of topping up the body’s nutrient levels. But a series of studies have indicated that, for some people, they could actually be harmful.

Two studies published last year suggested supplements could raise the risk of cancer.

One found pills containing vitamin E, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc increased the risk of malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, four-fold. The other discovered women on a daily multi-vitamin pill increased their risk of breast cancer by up to 20 per cent.

While the evidence that vitamins can do harm is still limited, the latest study seems to confirm that many people are at the very least taking them unnecessarily.

A team of French researchers, led by experts at Nancy University, tracked 8,112 volunteers who took either a placebo capsule, or one containing vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc, every day for just over six years.

They assessed the state of their health at the beginning and end of the trial, taking a quality of life survey designed to measure everything from mobility and pain to vitality and mental health.

When researchers analysed how many in each group had gone on to develop serious illnesses over the years, they found little difference. In the supplement group, 30.5 per cent of patients had suffered a major health ‘event’, such as cancer or heart disease. In the placebo group, the rate was 30.4 per cent.

There were 120 cases of cancer in those taking vitamins, compared to 139 in the placebo group, and 65 heart disease cases, against 57 among the dummy pill users.

In a report on their findings, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers said: ‘The perception that supplementation improves general well-being is not supported by this trial.’

Miss Collins said the results of the study ‘reinforce the idea that if you’re worried about your health and start taking multi-vitamins, you will still be worried about it six years later’.

But the Health Supplements Information Service, which is funded by supplements manufacturers, said the finding that vitamins had no impact on how people perceived their health was ‘to be expected’.

Spokeswoman Dr Carrie Ruxton said: ‘The role of vitamin supplements is to prevent deficiencies and make sure people are receiving their recommended levels.

‘They won’t have a measurable impact on how you feel on a day-to-day basis but what they are doing is topping up your recommended levels to the right amount. They are not meant to be a magic bullet.’


27 December, 2011

Pizzas, French fries a security risk?

Are pizzas and french fries in school lunch programs a security risk?

When Congress decided to override the Obama Agriculture Department's school lunch standards back in November by keeping pizza and french fries on the menu they were only doing what they always do, the bidding of lobbyists representing food companies, the salt industry and potato growers.

The government dietary dictate was, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, needed to reduce childhood obesity.

People like some conservatives and all libertarians weren't outraged over this, instead reinforcing the point that government has no business telling children what to eat.

Some people, the usual ruling class authoritarians, were outraged. These included the bureaucrats at the USDA, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, and Nutrition advocate Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, among many other professional social engineers.

An AP article on the issue did not record any comments from First Busybody Michelle Obama, who has little better to do than romp around the world on hundred-thousand-dollar junkets and nag people about what to feed their children.

But unexpected outrage came from a gaggle of retired generals calling themselves Mission: Readiness. Seems they advocate healthier school lunches because "obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service."

In short, the fact that kids are too fat to fight is a security risk. "Children are our most valuable natural resource," declared Herbert Hoover. To the ruling class, children are valuable natural resources like oil, gas, coal, timber, ore, and our tax money.


Woman left a virtual recluse by Tourette's syndrome 'cured' by electrodes implanted in brain

A woman with Tourette's syndrome who suffered such terrible spasms she became a virtual recluse, has been given her life back following pioneering surgery. Jayne Bargent, 55, said she has been effectively cured of the uncontrollable and violent tics that left her unable to read, cook or walk in a straight line.

She had suffered from Tourette's syndrome since childhood but over the past few years medication taken to treat the condition had started to make it worse.

Doctors at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Bloomsbury implanted two tiny electrodes into her brain which were then connected up to a pacemaker battery in her chest.

The battery delivers mild electrical pulses via the electrodes to parts of the brain which control movement. The procedure, known as deep brain stimulation, or DBS, has already proved effective for other movement disorders including Parkinson's.

It is not known exactly how the stimulation works but it is thought to harmonise the electrical circuitry in the brain.

Within an hour of the electrodes being switched on this week, Ms Bargent, from Hampshire, was showing dramatic improvement. Doctors said she would continue to get better over the coming weeks.

She said: 'It's amazing - I just don't feel like the same person. This is going to give me my life back. I've had three years of getting gradually worse and they press a few little buttons and everything improves dramatically.

'We had stopped socialising. I wouldn't eat in front of anyone because the food would fall out of my mouth. I couldn't even lie on the bed to relax if I was having a bad day because I would still be twitching and have pain in my neck. I couldn't imagine living the rest of my life that way. 'But now I'll be able to phone people, go for walks and start riding again. It's going to totally change my life.'

Her partner Mark Trick said: 'I'm astounded by the difference in Jayne. I cannot thank the hospital enough.'

The hospital and the UCL Institute of Neurology are carrying out the UK's first trial to evaluate the impact of DBS on Tourette's, which occurs mainly in childhood. Only a small percentage of sufferers shout inappropriate comments. Most, like Ms Bargent, suffer from involuntary movements.

The trial is taking place at the Unit of Functional Neurosurgery which is backed by the Parkinson's Appeal, the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation and the Monument Trust.


26 December, 2011

Going to church is good for you: Services lower blood pressure, research finds

This is in line with other reports of longer and healthier lives among the religiously committed, Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons particularly

Going to church at Christmas may have been good for the soul, but scientists have discovered that it may also be good for the body. Researchers found that attending services lowers blood pressure – and the more often you go the lower it becomes.

Previous studies in the U.S. suggested the link, but as 40 per cent of Americans regularly go to church its health benefits were treated as a coincidence. So the Norwegian researchers, who had just four per cent of churchgoers among their 120,000 participants, were surprised to see they too had lower blood pressure.

Torgeir Sorensen, from the School of Theology and Religious Psychology Centre at Sykehuset Innlandet said: ‘We found that the more often the participants went to church the lower their blood pressure.

‘Previous research from the United States has shown that there is a possible link between people who attend church and blood pressure. ‘About 40 per cent of the U.S. population goes to church on a weekly basis, while the corresponding figure in Nord-Trondelag County, where the research was carried out, is 4 per cent. 'For that reason, we did not expect to find any correlation between going to church and blood pressure in Nord-Trondelag.

'Our findings, however, are almost identical to those previously reported from the United States, so we were really surprised.’

The early results mean that it will now be studied further to determine the extent that religious beliefs can affect general health, and if other religions have the same effect.

Mr Sorensen added: 'The study of the relationship between religion and health has rarely focused on other religions, such as Judaism and Islam. 'It is therefore difficult to say anything about whether or not this same association can be found in these communities.’

Professor Jostein Holmen from the Faculty of Medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and one of the authors of the study, said: ‘The research into lifestyle and health issues mainly comes from the United States, while information from Europe is very limited.

‘Earlier studies have shown a positive correlation between humour and good health, and participation in different cultural activities and good health. ‘It would appear that the data we have been recording about religious beliefs is actually relevant to your health. 'The fact that churchgoers have lower blood pressure encourages us to continue to study this issue. 'We’re just in the start-up phase of an exciting research area.’

However, the type of study which was carried out means that some other explanations may emerge from further research.

He said: ‘Since this is a cross-sectional study, it is not possible to say whether it was a health condition that affected the participants’ religious activity, or whether it was the religious activity that affected the state of participants’ health.

‘A cross-sectional study says something about a group of people at a given time, but can say nothing about causation. 'In order to determine what causes the effect, we need new studies that look at the same people at different times.’

The research was published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine.


Overconfident doctors visit mayhem on innocent parents

Taking your child to hospital can leave you open to being accused of causing their injuries

Parents nowadays are inundated with so much well-meaning advice from so many sources, it seems almost impertinent to proffer any more. But they do need to be aware of how to combat the hazards, when taking their children to hospital, of being accused of having caused their injuries.

Six years ago in this column, I described the case of a young couple, Mary and Andrew, who took their four-week-old son, Josh, to hospital after noting while changing his nappy that there was something “funny” about the upper part of his leg. This was duly X-rayed, revealing not just a fractured femur but several more around the growing ends of his bones, or metaphyseal fractures.

The police were summoned and the couple taken to the local station, where they were locked in separate cells and charged with assault and grievous bodily harm. Their son’s injuries, they learnt, were apparently “characteristic” of being deliberately inflicted by violent shaking and wrenching and twisting of the limbs.

Josh, however, was clearly not a battered baby in any commonsensical understanding of the term, being well cared for by affectionate parents and without the slightest hint of the sort of circumstantial evidence – bruising, pain and swelling of the limbs – that might reasonably be expected were these fractures caused by excess physical force.

The pattern of injuries is much more suggestive of some unknown, undiagnosed or overlooked disturbance of bone development in the early weeks of life. But the parents’ protestations of innocence naught availeth against the medical experts and, as with so many others similarly accused, they were convicted and their son taken into foster care.

And so it has gone on, causing more grief and suffering than can be imagined to all concerned – until a landmark trial at the Old Bailey earlier this month involving another young couple, Rohan Wray and Chana Al-Alas, who were accused of murdering their four-month-old son Jayden. Concerned he was not well, they had initially taken him to casualty at London’s University College Hospital where they were told he had flu, then to their GP three days later, who could find nothing seriously amiss but advised they take him back to hospital – which they duly did.

Soon after, he had a prolonged seizure before lapsing into a coma. Further investigations revealed a fracture of the skull, a number of several metaphyseal fractures, and swelling and bleeding on the surface of the brain. His condition deteriorated further and he was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where he died two days later.

The parents were duly charged with having deliberately caused these fatal injuries in the short period between taking him to their GP and then on to hospital for the second time. The implausibility of this scenario, and the suspicion that there might be something else to account for his injuries, was heightened with the surprise finding of the autopsy that he had rickets, the widespread softening of the bones due to vitamin D deficiency.

The trial opened at the beginning of October and ran for six weeks, with 60 medical and professional witnesses giving evidence. The jury heard of the good moral standing of the couple, the lack of circumstantial evidence of neglect, how lack of oxygen during his seizure could have damaged the brain – and, most significantly, how recent research in the United States has confirmed that vitamin D deficiency can indeed result in those “characteristically abusive” metaphyseal fractures.

The case collapsed and, with the charges withdrawn, the couple walked free. No medical experts are going to admit they might have been wrong, for to do so would be to concede that they had been instrumental in so many other miscarriages of justice in the past. But it would be good to think that the outcome at the Old Bailey might finally signal the end of these wrongful accusations – a cheery note on which to close the year.


Fuller coverage of the Wray case here.

An earlier similar case here.

25 December, 2011

Food in Scotland should be laced with vitamin D to stave off MS, experts say

I am surprised that this is not done already. Vitamin D supplementation in butter etc. practically eradicated rickets in the 1940s. Any supplementation should however be clearly identified on the label so that those wishing to avoid the supplement can do so. There are some dangers in high doses of vitamin D

Scotland's food supply should be laced with vitamin D in a bid to cut the high rate of multiple sclerosis (MS) in the sun-deprived region, experts have said. Scotland has some of the highest MS levels in the world and many experts believe vitamin D deficiency is a contributing factor.

Vitamin D deficiency is caused by a lack of sunlight and for half of the year no one living in Scotland gets enough UBV rays from the the sun on their skin to make adequate levels of the vitamin D, it has been reported.

In addition, many do not eat enough of the foods that contain it, such as oily fish, which has led to international health experts calling for the food supply in the Scotland to be fortified with the vitamin.

Oxford academic Professor George Ebers says the evidence of the link between MS and vitamin D deficiency is so strong it warrants fortifying food with it, the Guardian reported.

Professor Ebers, from the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, and his team this month published their findings of a genetic link between MS and an uncommon inability for the body to produce vitamin D.

He told The Guardian: 'Now the question is, can we finally persuade the public health authorities that they should supplement the population?'

There have long been theories that high numbers of people with MS live in areas deprived of sunshine - while low levels of those in countries with year-round sunshine. However, the authors of this new report claim it offers strong scientific evidence. About 10,000 people in Scotland have MS.

Scotland's chief medical officer said this sort of change would only be considered after 'broader scientific consensus'.

Sir Harry Burns told The Guardian: 'It is important to remember that dietary supplements can have harmful as well as positive consequences and recommendations need to be made on the basis of evidential benefit in well conducted randomised studies in large populations. 'Mass medication of the Scottish population without such evidence would be considered irresponsible by the public health community.'

The MS Society in Scotland is championing a campaign launched by a 13-year-old boy whose mother had the disease diagnosed. Shine on Scotland is teenager Ryan McLaughlin's response to vitamin D deficiency. His mother, Kirsten McLaughlin, is very ill in hospital with MS. The campaign has seen Ryan meet with Government officials to appeal for vitamin D-fortified food.

The youngsters father, Alan, revealed that the campaign had persuaded Kellogg's to add the vitamin to cereals.


Viagra touted as life-saving heart treatment - after scientists find it makes heart muscles LESS stiff

Viagra helps ailing hearts to recover in a surprising way - by making them less stiff, scientists have learned.

The drug was first developed as a heart disease treatment - it's more well-known use was simply a lucky side-effect. But now it seems that it might help heart patients after all.

The impotency drug causes too-rigid heart chamber walls to become more elastic.

The drug was initially developed as a heart treatment - but was thought not to work. Now it's surprising 'relaxing' effect might say lives, say scientists

The research explains how Viagra might benefit patients with diastolic heart failure. People with the condition have abnormally inflexible ventricles, the heart's major pumping chambers, that do not fill sufficiently with blood.

This leads to blood ‘backing up’ in the lungs and breathing difficulties. Scientists found that Viagra activates an enzyme that causes a protein in heart muscle cells to relax. The effect was seen in dogs with diastolic heart failure within minutes of the drug being administered.

Study leader Professor Wolfgang Linke, from the Ruhr Universitat Bochum in Germany, said: ‘We have developed a therapy in an animal model that, for the first time, also raises hopes for the successful treatment of patients.’

Viagra has a similar effect on blood vessels, which is why it was originally developed as a treatment for high blood pressure and heart disease. The drug's active ingredient, sildenafil, inhibits an enzyme involved in the mechanism that regulates blood flow. However, the enzyme is slightly different in different parts of the body.

The British scientists behind Viagra found to their initial disappointment that it was not a great help to patients with high blood pressure. But it had a miraculous effect on men with erectile dysfunction.

The drug successfully suppressed the enzyme phosphodiesterase in the penis, increasing blood flow to the organ.

Prof Linke's team found that it worked on the same enzyme in heart cells. This had the effect of causing a cardiac muscle protein called titin to become more elastic. ‘The titin molecules are similar to rubber bands,’ said the professor. ‘They contribute decisively to the stiffness of cardiac walls.’

The research is published today in the journal Circulation.

Almost half of emergency patients admitted to hospital with heart failure have a diastolic condition. Diastolic heart failure affects the ‘diastole’ half of the cardiac cycle, when the heart's chambers have finished contracting and are re-filling with blood.


24 December, 2011

How the Mediterranean diet can add 3 years to your life... even if you don't start until you're 70 (?)

A load of old cobblers in the article below. Difficult to know where to start but I was amused to read in the journal abstract (also below) that they got their results by using "a refined version of the modified Mediterranean diet index". First you modify your index then you refine it to get the results you want, apparently.

I was however impressed that they went to great trouble to validate their diet questionnaire. Validation is routine in psychology but rare in medicine. None of the validation methods used would have distinguished Mediterranean from non-Mediterranean diets, however. The authors themselves admit the fallibility of their methods by excluding some "implausible" diet claims from their analysis. One wonders if some bias might have crept into that process.

Anyway, as usual, the results are explicable by social class. Middle class Swedes are more likely to say they eat the "correct" foods (whether they do or not) than working class ones are. And middle class people have better health anyway.

I note also that the failed but indestructible antioxidant theory is invoked.

And finally, how do they explain the fact that a traditional Australian diet is about as "incorrect" as you can get yet Australians live longer than Greeks? There are an amazing number of nonageneraians tottering around Australia who grew up on very fatty food accompanied by a few vegetables that had been boiled to death.

The traditional diet favoured in Greece, Spain and Italy provides a great health boost no matter when you switch. No one doubts that following a Mediterranean diet is the healthy option.

But researchers have calculated the regime could add an extra three years to your life. They say it is a rich source of chemicals called anti-oxidants that fight cancer, heart disease and can slow the ageing process.

Scientists who studied the eating habits of 1,200 over-70s found that those following a Mediterranean-style diet tended to live for two or three years longer. They examined surveys which had been carried out by all the adults on their eating habits.

This contained details of how much fruit, vegetables, cereals, meat and fish they ate as well as how much alcohol they drank.

Elderly men and women have been recruited for the rolling research programme since the 1970s. Those taking part were contacted by researchers every few years to find out about their general health.

The team from Sweden’s University of Gothenburg found participants whose eating habits followed a Mediterranean style diet were 20 per cent more likely to be alive eight years later. They calculated that on average these individuals lived for between two and three years longer than those who had a different eating regime.

The diet was inspired by traditional eating habits of Greece and Southern Italy, hence its name.

Does the Mediterranean diet predict longevity in the elderly? A Swedish perspective

By Gianluca Tognon et al.


Dietary pattern analysis represents a useful improvement in the investigation of diet and health relationships. Particularly, the Mediterranean diet pattern has been associated with reduced mortality risk in several studies involving both younger and elderly population groups. In this research, relationships between dietary macronutrient composition, as well as the Mediterranean diet, and total mortality were assessed in 1,037 seventy-year-old subjects (540 females) information. Diet macronutrient composition was not associated with mortality, while a refined version of the modified Mediterranean diet index showed a significant inverse association (HR=0.93, 95% CI: 0.89; 0.98). As expected, inactive subjects, smokers and those with a higher waist circumference had a higher mortality, while a reduced risk characterized married and more educated people. Sensitivity analyses (which confirmed our results) consisted of: exclusion of one food group at a time in the Mediterranean diet index, exclusion of early deaths, censoring at fixed follow-up time, adjusting for activities of daily living and main cardiovascular risk factors including weight/waist circumference changes at follow up. In conclusion, we can reasonably state that a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet pattern, especially by consuming wholegrain cereals, foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, and a limited amount of alcohol, predicts increased longevity in the elderly.

Age (Dordr). 2011 September; 33(3): 439–450.

Michelle Obama's Unsavory School Lunch Flop

The road to gastric hell is paved with first lady Michelle Obama's Nanny State intentions. Don't take my word for it. School kids in Los Angeles have blown the whistle on the east wing chef-in-chief's healthy lunch diktats. Get your Pepto Bismol ready. The taste of government waste is indigestion-inducing.

According to a weekend report by the Los Angeles Times, the city's "trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop." In response to the public hectoring and financial inducement of Mrs. Obama's federally subsidized anti-obesity campaign, the district dropped chicken nuggets, corn dogs and flavored milk from the menu for "beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads."

Sounds delectable in theory. But in practice, the initiative has been what L.A. Unified's food services director Dennis Barrett plainly concludes is a "disaster." While the Obama administration has showered the nation's second-largest school district with nutrition awards, thousands of students voted with their upset tummies and abandoned the program. A forbidden-food black market -- stoked not just by students, but also by teachers -- is now thriving. Moreover, "(p)rincipals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away."

This despite a massive increase in spending on nutritional improvements -- from $2 million to $20 million alone in the last five years on fresh produce.

This despite a nearly half-billion-dollar budget shortfall and 3,000 layoffs earlier this year.

Earlier this spring, L.A. school officials acknowledged that the sprawling district is left with a whopping 21,000 uneaten meals a day, in part because the federal school lunch program "sometimes requires more food to be served than a child wants to eat." The leftovers will now be donated to nonprofit agencies. But after the recipients hear about students' reports of moldy noodles, undercooked meat and hard rice, one wonders how much of the "free" food will go down the hatch -- or down the drain. Ahhh, savor the flavor of one-size-fits-all mandates.

There's nothing wrong with encouraging our children to eat healthier, of course. There's nothing wrong with well-run, locally based and parent-driven efforts. But as I've noted before, the federal foodie cops care much less about students' waistlines than they do about boosting government and public union payrolls.

In a little-noticed announcement several months ago, Obama health officials declared their intention to use school lunch applications to boost government health care rolls. Never mind the privacy concerns of parents.

Big Government programs "for the children" are never about the children. If they were, you wouldn't see Chicago public school officials banning students from bringing home-packed meals made by their own parents. In April, The Chicago Tribune reported that "unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria." The bottom line? Banning homemade lunches means a fatter payday for the school and its food provider.

Remember: The unwritten mantra driving Mrs. Obama's federal school lunch meddling and expansion is: "Cede the children, feed the state." And the biggest beneficiaries of her efforts over the past three years have been her husband's deep-pocketed pals at the Service Employees International Union. There are 400,000 workers who prepare and serve lunch to American schoolchildren. SEIU represents tens of thousands of those workers and is trying to unionize many more at all costs.

In L.A., the district's cafeteria fund is $20 million in the hole thanks to political finagling by SEIU Local 99. The union's left-wing allies on the school board and in the mayor's office pressured the district to adopt reckless fiscal policies awarding gold-plated health benefits to part-time cafeteria workers in the name of "social justice." As one school board member who opposed the budget-busting entitlements said: "Everyone in this country deserves health benefits. But it was a very expensive proposal. And it wasn't done at the bargaining table, which is where health benefits are usually negotiated. And no one had any idea where the money was going to come from."

Early next year, Mrs. Obama will use the "success" of her child nutrition campaign to hawk a new tome and lobby for more money and power in concert with her husband's re-election campaign. It's a recipe for more half-baked progressivism served with a side order of bitter arugula.


23 December, 2011

Breastfeeding children 'cuts risk of obesity and diabetes in later life'

Ho hum! This mystical epidemiological knowledge never stops.

I have no doubt that breast feeding is a generally good thing but saying which of the effects described below is due to breast feeding is impossible. There are strong social class effects on breastfeeding, with lower class mothers less likely to do it. 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, in theory, ALL of the differences below could simply be a reflection of the fact that lower class people have generally poorer health and that high IQ people have generally better health

Note further that the study had NO data on whether breastfeeding children cuts the risk of obesity and diabetes in later life. That is just their theory. As the article below says, it is what the authors "believe"

Breastfeeding could help to prevent children developing diabetes and becoming obese later in life, scientists believe. New research shows that breastfed babies follow a different growth pattern to those who drink formula milk, which is likely to have future health benefits.

Breast milk lowers levels of the growth hormone IGF-1 and insulin in the blood, which slows the rate of growth even after the child has started on solid foods. Slower weight gain is known to encourage healthier eating patterns. By contrast, formula milk may increase the production of fat cells, which encourages weight gain throughout childhood.

The findings from LIFE – the Faculty of Life Sciences at Copenhagen University in Denmark – also suggest that the longer the period of breastfeeding, the lower a child’s weight at the age of 18 months.

The results come from analysis of a wider study of diet and wellbeing following 330 children at nine, 18 and 36 months. Anja Lykke Madsen, a member of the research team, said: ‘We can see that breastfeeding has a significant, measurable effect on the important growth regulators in the blood, IGF-I and insulin. The more times the child was breastfed, the lower the hormone levels.

‘This suggests that the child has a slightly lower risk of becoming overweight later in childhood.’ Research shows that breast milk protects babies against stomach bugs, chest infections, asthma, eczema, and allergies, and appears to bring general health advantages in later life. 'The longer the children were breastfed, the lower their weight at 18 months. It’s as simple as that'

More here

Meet the extreme breast-feeders

One uses her nanny as a wet-nurse. Another took drugs to fool her body into producing milk. How the 'breast is best' mantra can become an obsession

Sarah Hastings came across a problem familiar to many new mothers when her daughter was six months old. Desperate as she was to persuade her baby Zoe to take a bottle instead of being breast-fed so she could get back to work, the little girl refused to do so.

What might not be so familiar to other mothers was 46-year-old Sarah’s solution — having another woman suckle her child instead.

Her nanny Mary, who was still breast-feeding her own 18-month-old daughter at the time, was only too happy to step into the breach. ‘With this solution it meant I could get back to work with much less worry and guilt,’ says Sarah, a professional singer married to Martin, a 50-year-old school chaplain.

‘People are astonished when I tell them my child-minder also breast-fed Zoe — but why is that considered so very odd? In previous centuries, wet nursing was very common indeed, especially among the upper classes.’

It may sound strange but in what experts are now calling ‘extreme breast-feeding’, many mothers are going to extraordinary lengths to make sure their babies get the best possible start in life.

Take Cass Fisher, from Epsom, Surrey. Having adopted a ten-month-old girl from India — who until then had spent her entire life feeding from a bottle in a foster home — she was determined to breast-feed her new daughter.

So, months before the adoption had even gone through, she used an electric breast pump four times a day to kick-start milk production. She took herbal supplements known to boost lactation and later, a high dose of a drug called domperidone, which is sometimes given to mothers of newborns because it increases the levels of the breast-feeding hormone prolactin and stimulates lactation.

Then, when her daughter finally arrived, she bought a ‘milk supplementer’ to wean the child from bottle to breast. This £20 contraption is essentially a bottle with an attached tube. It can be filled with either formula or expressed milk by the mother who places the tube over her nipple so that when the baby sucks, it receives milk from both the breast and the bottle.

All this required hours of patience and a fierce determination but Cass, who’s in her mid 40s, insists it was worth it. ‘The benefits are so obvious,’ she stresses. ‘I see my daughter becoming more attached to me and feeling more safe and secure and I know that breast-feeding is a big part of that. It’s a lovely, enjoyable thing for us to share that I never thought I would be able to do with an adopted child.’

Though Cass can only be commended for her perseverance, her decision to trick nature to such a degree is clearly controversial. There are concerns in some quarters about the long-term health risks of tampering with hormone levels, particularly as studies show that some breast cancers are fed by hormones.

‘A woman who has not gone through the hormonal changes of pregnancy is forcing the body to do something it is not prepared for,’ warns Dr Marilyn Glenville, who specialises in natural alternatives to hormone treatments. ‘I always think there could be a consequence to doing something against nature and nobody has done this for long enough to monitor the long-term effects on the mother or baby.’

Breast-feeding counsellor Clare Byam-Cook, meanwhile, is concerned that women are putting themselves under intolerable emotional pressure to nurse a baby against all the odds. Though a passionate advocate for breast-feeding, she is deeply troubled that some are prepared to go to what she describes as ‘extraordinary lengths’ to do it.

‘Women are being brain-washed into thinking that breast-feeding is the only way they will bond with their babies and guarantee their perfect health,’ she says. ‘They feel they must go to these extraordinary lengths — even if it is to the detriment of their baby’s happiness and wellbeing. ‘There’s an entire industry today based around creating breast milk which is not naturally present, and putting even more pressure on women.’

Clare has noticed a rise in adoptive mothers who feel compelled to breast-feed. ‘A few years ago two sisters from London asked me to help them breast-feed their babies, which they had each adopted from America,’ she says.

‘I was astonished to find they were older women in their 50s. They had filled themselves up with hormones and artificial supplements to try to stimulate their milk production but their milk supply was still inadequate and their babies looked miserable and underweight. ‘It was awful watching them desperate to breast-feed and seeing their tiny babies crying and pulling away as they were forced to suck on an empty breast — it must have been torture for all of them.

‘Eventually I suggested they gave the babies a bottle of formula milk, which they immediately gulped down and then fell into a contented sleep for the first time in their young lives.’

Lynn Adams was diagnosed with a condition called mammary hypoplasia after her daughter Mailey, now three, was born. It meant she couldn’t produce enough of her own milk to feed her daughter who, after ten days, was so dehydrated she had to be treated in hospital.

Most mothers would have given up but not 34-year-old Lynn, from Chatham, Kent. She spent £90 on a lactation consultant, and was then prescribed domperidone by her GP to boost her milk supply.

She also used a milk supplementer system while nursing to boost the baby’s consumption.

Occupational therapist Lynn used expressed milk with Mailey, her first child, and, while she found it fiddly and rather time consuming, relished the opportunity it gave her.

‘To me, there is so much more to breast-feeding than just the milk,’ she says. ‘You establish such a close bond and there are so many health benefits to the baby.’

While Lynn, who also used the same method after giving birth to her six-month-old son Robin, is delighted with the results, Clare Byam-Cook is not convinced it would work for everyone.

‘I think that many of the artificial devices are tiring and stressful for a new mother and frequently don’t solve the problem,’ she warns. ‘I cannot see how it can be good for you to fill yourself up with artificial hormones to boost a naturally low milk supply. ‘If breast-feeding isn’t working, I’d much rather women bottle-fed their babies and were relaxed and happy.’

The sad fact is, thought, that for many, turning to a bottle goes hand in hand with a crushing sense of guilt.


22 December, 2011

Why a mushroom omelette could cut pancreatic cancer risk - selenium and nickel-rich diet has a protective effect

The results sound like what one expects of data dredging to me. Not to be taken seriously at this stage. The journal article is here but I can see no mention of how well the patients and controls were matched on (say) social class -- which renders interpretation speculative. I imagine that there are class differences in diet in Spain as elsewhere

High levels of the trace elements selenium and nickel may help cut the risk of deadly pancreatic cancer, according to new research. The elements, which are found in certain foods, appear to offer a protective effect against the disease.

Pancreatic cancer is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage and kills 80 per cent of people in under a year. Only five per cent of patients are still alive five years after diagnosis.

The latest study, published in the journal Gut, focused on patients with exocrine pancreatic cancer, the most common form of the disease. Researchers found high levels of selenium and nickel could lower the risk whereas high levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium could boost the chances of developing the disease.

Nickel influences the amount of iron the body can absorb from food and is thought to be important in making red blood cells.
Good food sources include lentils, oats and nuts.

Selenium plays an important role in immune system function and reproduction and also helps prevent damage to cells and tissues. Good food sources include Brazil nuts, bread, fish, meat and eggs.
According to the Department of Health, people should be able to get enough of these elements from their diet.

In today's research, experts assessed 12 trace element levels in the toenails of 118 patients with pancreatic cancer and compared them with 399 hospital patients without cancer.

Levels of certain trace elements were found to be significantly higher or lower among the cancer patients than among those in the comparison group.

Patients with the highest levels of arsenic and cadmium in their nails were between two and 3.5 times more likely to have pancreatic cancer than those with the lowest levels. And those with the highest levels of lead were more than six times as likely to have the disease.

But those with the highest levels of nickel and selenium were between 33 per cent and 95 per cent less likely to have the disease compared with those with the lowest levels.

Foods rich in nickel include asparagus, beans, mushrooms, pears, peas and tea. Foods rich in selenium include brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, eggs and oily fish like tuna and sardines.

Tobacco contains cadmium, an element that has previously been associated with pancreatic cancer. Studies have also linked arsenic to pancreatic cancer. Overall, smoking is thought to account for around a third of all cases of pancreatic cancer.

The experts, from the US and Spain, said the findings may have an impact on clinical practice in future.

Selenium intake could be tested in clinical trials as a preventative measure for people at high risk of pancreatic cancer, they said. They added: 'Our results support an increased risk of pancreatic cancer associated with higher levels of cadmium, arsenic and lead, as well as an inverse association with higher levels of selenium and nickel.

'These novel findings, if replicated in independent studies, would point to an important role of trace elements in pancreatic carcinogenesis.'

Alex Ford, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: 'With 7,600 people being newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year, Pancreatic Cancer UK welcomes the publication of these findings, which show that these trace elements might play an important role in the development of pancreatic cancer.

'We hope that the results will encourage the research community to further investigate the role of these and other trace elements with a view to testing whether they could be used in some way to help prevent the development of pancreatic cancer in people who have a high risk of developing the disease.'

Professor Alan Boobis, from the department of medicine at Imperial College London, said: 'Whilst this paper raises some interesting hypotheses regarding the role of trace metals in pancreatic cancer, it is too early to determine where the concern lies.'

He said the results would need to be confirmed again in other studies. 'The decrease in risk from nickel is unexpected and again points to the need for additional information.'


A happier menopause: Hormone pill could ease hot flushes AND it gives your sex life a boost

But there is some indication that taking it may give you cancer!

A hormone pill may help women through the menopause and give their sex lives a boost, claim researchers. Doctors are calling for tests to determine whether it could eventually become an alternative to Hormone Replacement Therapy for menopausal problems.

The call comes after a study showed for the first time that low doses of DHEA, a hormone created in the body, can improve women's sexual satisfaction. It can also ease symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats.

Levels of the hormone in the body peak around the age of 25 and extra supplies have to come in the form of tablets, patches or injections used under medical supervision.

Dr John Stevenson, consultant metabolic physician at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and chairman of the charity Women's Health Concern, said: 'These are interesting findings and we now need a bigger study. 'There is a demand for alternatives to HRT caused by safety fears which have since been overturned.

'But it's not possible yet to know whether DHEA is as safe as HRT or carries more risks, which is why we need larger trials.'

Italian researchers carried out the latest study with 48 women suffering from menopausal symptoms. Of these, 12 took only vitamin D and calcium to improve their bone strength because they did not want HRT.

The remaining 36 were split into a group of 12 taking DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), and two others given standard HRT containing oestrogen and progesterone, or the synthetic steroid tibolone, also known as Livial.

The women's menopausal symptoms and sexual interest and activity were then measured using standard questionnaires.

After 12 months, all women receiving hormone-replacement supplements showed improvements in menopausal symptoms, while those taking vitamin D and calcium did not show any significant improvement.

At the start of the trial, all groups had similar levels of sexual activity. After a year, women taking calcium and vitamin D had a McCoy score – measuring aspects of sexuality likely to be affected by changing sex-hormone levels – of 34.9, while those using DHEA reached 48.6.

The higher score indicates that women on DHEA had a statistically significant elevation in sexual interest and activity. The results for women using HRT were similar.

Sexual activity was also higher with tibolone, but this was not statistically significant, says a report in Climacteric, the journal of the International Menopause Society.

Study leader Professor Andrea Genazzani, of the University of Pisa, said: 'This is a small study, a proof of concept. What we need to do now is to look at a larger study, to confirm these initial results are valid.'


21 December, 2011

Why coffee is GOOD for you and natural sea salt is a waste of money: New book unravels diet and nutrition myths

This book is a step in the right direction but still has a way to go. For instance, it is not the sodium content that is at issue in table salt. It is whether the salt is iodized or not. Sea salt should contain some iodides but mined salt may not. Iodine deficiency can cause serious health problems.

In some countries however (such as Australia) ALL salt sold in the supermarkets is sea salt so people there who make a point of buying salt specifically labelled as sea salt are wasting their money

Any salt can however be iodized by government decree and I gather that most Western countries do that. So that is another reason why buying "sea salt" is pointless

You've bought the 'super-food' açai berries, thrown away the 'less healthy' table salt and for years have steered away from 'harmful' MSG.

But your efforts may be in vain. A new book unpicks the veracity of a host of popular food beliefs, delivering verdicts on a swathe of commonly held nutrition myths - and the results are surprising.

Coffee is good for you, by Robert J Davis PhD, aims to deliver an unbiased take on the hard-to-navigate, and constantly growing, ocean of scientific data that is used to sell us our daily bread every day.

Out in January, it is a foray into the ever-vocal, big budget world of diet and nutrition claims, providing a crash-course in how to decipher confusing research.

The constant bombardment of new information - often completely contradictory to that preceding it - means that most of us are none the wiser when it comes to the everyday foods in our lives. As Davis puts it: 'Though food is supposed to be one of life's simple pleasures, few things cause more angst and confusion.'

But the health writer, self-styled 'umpire' in the book, is sanguine about the thousands of (often corporately funded) scientific studies in the field, and rather than focusing on isolated findings, has taken into account a wealth of data and statistics, testing each claim on his own 'truth-scale.'

The results, which aim to be the unbiased 'bottom line,' are certainly food for thought.

Take coffee, the inspiration of the book's title. Often associated with an increased risk of heart disease and pancreatic cancer, coffee is also at the mercy of caffeine's bad press. Davis writes that not only do coffee drinkers have no greater risks of heart attacks or strokes, but they 'appear to have a slightly lower risk' than coffee abstainers.

Add to this his evidence that overall, research shows that coffee does not increase the risk of cancer, instead lowering its odds in some cases and the outlook for coffee drinkers is far from all bad.

Just make sure to avoid the blended, sugary, milky hot drinks at some coffee chains - the extra calories from those drinks, he says, are likely to cause more health issues than the coffee itself.

The founder and lecturer at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health explains why it is untrue that carbs make you gain weight - news to many thousands of bread and pasta-shunning women - but also goes on to unravel why it is not true that eating carbohydrates will help you to lose weight.

It may also surprise some that organic foods are not necessarily better for you, or that MSG is in fact not harmful. And, for those who have been happily sprinkling expensive sea salt flakes onto their dishes, ordinary table salt contains the same amount of harmful sodium.

The best way to approach restaurant menus, grocery shopping and, of course, coffee shops, is, Davis says, to embrace ambiguity. Avoid fads and fixations and ignore health claim ads on foods - unlike coffee, nutrition answers are 'not black or white.'

Most of all, he says, enjoy food and drink. 'While following sound nutrition advice is important for your good health, it need not spoil your dinner.'


Ultraviolet rays could prevent chickenpox

And give people skin cancer instead!

ULTRAVIOLET rays could help prevent the spread of the common childhood disease chickenpox.

New research suggests people in temperate zones are more at risk of catching the disease. It is hoped the research will lead to new ways of preventing chickenpox and its more severe relative, shingles.

Dr Phil Rice, a virologist at the University of London, found chickenpox was much less common in places with high UV ray levels.

UV light is known to deactivate some viruses, and Dr Rice believes his findings show UV rays could deactivate the varicella-zoster virus - responsible for chickenpox and shingles - on the skin before it transmits to another person.


20 December, 2011

'You're bordering on obese': What active 7-year-old girl was told by British busybodies

She is a budding gymnast and table tennis player who often comes home with bruises on her knees after rough-and-tumble games with her friends. So Libbie Boardman’s parents were shocked to be told that their active, healthy seven-year-old had been classified as ‘borderline obese’.

She and her classmates had their height and weight measured by NHS staff to calculate their body mass index as part of a scheme aimed at cracking down on childhood obesity. But several parents have reacted with outrage at the results, saying they are clearly misleading – and could result in their children developing eating disorders.

Libbie’s father, Paul Boardman, said: ‘I do not know how they can be saying that she is overweight. ‘You just have to look at her to think, “Where the heck have they got that from?”’

For adults, BMI is measured by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. The calculation for children begins the same way, but the result is then compared with those of others of the same age and sex to calculate the child’s ‘centile’ – or position relative to others on a scale of one to 100.

Libbie, who is 4ft 2in tall and weighs 5st 5lb, was described as being at the top end of the overweight category by NHS Bolton, bordering on clinically obese. She has a BMI ‘centile’ of 97 – meaning she is in the top 3 per cent. Between 91 and 97 is classed as overweight, and 98 and above is clinically obese.

Her parents were sent the results in a letter, along with a booklet of healthy eating tips.

They took her to her GP, who said the numbers were right but that there was nothing to worry about as Libbie was perfectly healthy.

Mr Boardman, 43, said: ‘She has been saying things like she does not want any tea. ‘But I said “Don’t be silly”. She doesn’t have junk food, just the odd treat now and again. She is active and is what I would describe as a rough-and-tumble type.’

Critics have pointed out that crude interpretation of BMI figures ignores differences in build.

Mr Boardman, a window cleaner who also has a 13-year-old daughter, Sophie, with his office manager wife Louise, said the scheme should be scrapped. ‘If they are going to do it, they need to tailor it to the individual,’ said Mr Boardman, of Farnworth, Greater Manchester.

There are understood to have been at least four complaints about the scheme from parents of children at Highfield Primary School in Farnworth, which Libbie attends.

The initiative was launched in a bid to tackle the high obesity rate in parts of Bolton, where one in three youngsters are overweight when they reach the age of 11.

NHS Bolton said BMI had been found to be the most appropriate way to judge a child’s weight and took into account their age and sex. But a spokesman admitted: ‘A few children might show up as underweight or overweight when they are actually perfectly healthy.’


Finnish officials mull taking children into care over low-carb diet

If there is clear evidence of harm to the children this could be justified but not otherwise. Eslimos live on a similar diet with no evidence of harm

Finnish officials have told a family of low-carbohydrate enthusiasts that their children would be taken into care if they failed to heed nutrition advice, provincial paper Iisalmen Sanomat reported Sunday.

Ursula Schwab, a clinical nutrition specialist at the University of East Finland, said at least one family had received such an ultimatum after parents ignored healthcare staff's warnings about the dangers of an imbalanced diet for children.

"If a child's growth slows down because of a poor diet, one must send a wakeup call to parents," Schwab told the Finnish News Agency. "Should this prove ineffective, the child must be moved to a place where he receives enough nutrition."

Schwab added that she knew of parents who had put toddlers on so-called low-carb diets. "A strict low-carb diet is very fatty, and it suppresses hunger. If you down eggs and bacon for breakfast it will take hours before you can even imagine eating again."

"A growing child needs a varied diet."


19 December, 2011

Daily dose of Vitamin B 'can fight memory loss and help protect against Alzheimer's' (?)

This appears to be an unpublished study carried out by food freaks. It is not even mentioned on the HSIS site. I wouldn't like to vouch for its replicability by more disinterested researchers

A daily dose of vitamin B can dramatically combat memory loss in old age and even protect against Alzheimer's, a study has found. People taking the pill had lower levels of a brain protein known to lead to a rise in the risk of dementia. Researchers found it also slowed mental decline in older people who have slight problems with their memory.

More than 800,000 people in Britain suffer from dementia and the number is forecast to double within a generation, but previous drug trials have been unsuccessful. Around a sixth of people over 70 are thought to suffer from mild cognitive impairment and about half develop dementia, usually within five years of diagnosis.

The research suggested dementia could be treated with a food supplement rather than by taking complicated medicines.

More than 250 people took part in the study, at Oxford University, including people with mild cognitive impairment who were aged 70 years or older. They were given vitamin B - found naturally in food such as beans, meat, wholegrains and bananas - or a placebo over a two-year period. Taking the food supplement appeared to help maintain mental processes, such as planning, organising and recalling information.

An earlier study showed B vitamins slowed the rate of brain shrinkage compared with a group receiving a placebo.

Dr Carrie Ruxton of the Health Supplements Information Service told the Daily Express: 'The findings from these two reports should be of interest to clinicians.'


Two deaths from brain-eating amoeba linked to sinus remedy for colds

Rather alarming

A sinus-flushing device used to relieve colds and allergies has been linked to a deadly brain-eating amoeba. Louisiana's state health department issued a warning about neti pots - which look like mini watering cans, that are used by pouring salty water through one nostril.

It follows two recent deaths - a 51-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man from the 'brain-eating amoeba' Naegleria fowleri. It is thought the amoeba entered their brains when they used the devices. Both victims are thought to have used tap water, instead of distilled or sterilised water as recommended by the manufacturers.

Dr Raoult Ratard, Louisiana State Epidemiologist, said: 'If you are irrigating, flushing, or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution. 'Tap water is safe for drinking, but not for irrigating your nose.'

He added that it is important to rinse the irrigation device after each use and leave open to air dry.

The very rare infection typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater lakes and rivers. In very rare instances, health experts said such infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources, such as from an inadequately chlorinated swimming pool or when people irrigate their sinuses with devices like neti pots.

According to The Department of Health and Hospitals in Louisiana, the amoeba causes the disease primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue.

In its early stages, symptoms may be similar to symptoms of bacterial meningitis and can include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and stiff neck. Later symptoms include confusion, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.

After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within one to 12 days.

A spokesman from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the Louisiana cases are still being investigated.


18 December, 2011

Children whose father smoked at time of conception have 15% greater risk of developing leukaemia

This is almost certainly a social class effect. Smoking is correlated with all indices of social disadvantage and the poor are less healthy anyhow so it is most likely poverty rather tham smoking that creates the association with leukaemia

Children whose fathers smoke around the time of their conception have a 15 per cent higher risk of developing the most common form of childhood cancer, a type of leukemia, say researchers. The study credits a number of factors in children developing acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and follows others that have also found an increased risk.

'Study results suggest that heavier paternal smoking around the time of conception is a risk factor for childhood ALL,' wrote researchers led by Elizabeth Milne at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Australia. The findings were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Although ALL is the most common childhood cancer, it is still rare, affecting about three to five children out of every 100,000. The researchers surveyed the families of nearly 300 children with ALL, asking about the smoking habits of both parents. They also compared these families to those of more than 800 children of similar ages who did not have leukemia.

The mothers' smoking behaviour had no impact on the children's risk of developing the cancer, but children whose fathers smoked at all around the time of their conception were 15 per cent more likely to develop leukemia. Those whose fathers smoked at least 20 cigarettes per day around that same time were 44 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.

Of nine earlier reports the researchers used in their comparison with the current study, six also found an increased risk.

'The importance of tobacco exposure and children's cancers has been overlooked until recently,' said Patricia Buffler, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the study. She added that since tobacco is full of toxins, including carcinogens, it was possible that there could be damage in the cells that produce sperm.

Milne agreed, noting: 'Sperm containing DNA (damage) can still reach and fertilize an ovum, which may lead to disease in the offspring.'

But she added that the study did not prove that DNA damage in the sperm caused ALL in the children, since the disease was likely to be caused by a number of factors. Other environmental factors tied to a greater chance of developing childhood leukemia are ionizing radiation such as x-rays, and the mother's exposure to paint or pesticides while pregnant.


Iron supplements 'could help stave off DVT and other life-threatening blood clots'

This concerns people with one particular disease only. It may have no application to others

Iron supplements could be used to prevent deep vein thrombosis and other life-threatening blood clots, new research shows.

Each year, one in 1,000 people in Britain is affected by clots that form in the veins, and scientists now believe the risk could rise in those with a lack of iron. DVT is often associated with long distance air travel and other situations that involve being immobile for long periods of time.

Clots frequently form in the legs causing painful swelling and, in some cases, a danger that lumps of blood will dislodge and travel to the lungs with fatal results.

Researchers at Imperial College London studied 609 patients with blood vessel disease haemorrhagic telangiectasia, who have a higher risk of blood clots. They found that this increased risk disappeared when the HHT sufferers took iron supplements. Many of the patients had low iron levels, because of iron loss through excessive bleeding - a symptom of HHT.

The study, published in the journal Thorax, found that a blood-iron level of six micromoles per litre compared with the normal mid-range figure of 17 micromoles led to a 2.5-fold increase in venous thrombosis risk.

Lead researcher Dr Claire Shovlin, from the university's National Heart and Lung Institute, said: 'Our study shows that in people with HHT, low levels of iron in the blood is a potentially treatable risk factor for blood clots. 'There are small studies in the general population which would support these findings, but more studies are needed to confirm this. 'If the finding does apply to the general population, it would have important implications in almost every area of medicine.'

Iron deficiency anaemia is thought to affect at least one billion people worldwide. Its association with clotting may have been missed before because blood iron levels fluctuate during the day. Other markers of iron deficiency can go unnoticed if certain medical conditions are present.

The scientists said that obtaining reliable data depended on consistent timing of blood samples.

Low iron levels were associated with higher levels of Factor VIII, a blood protein which promotes normal clotting. This in turn was a strong risk factor for blood clots. Making the blood clot more easily after losing iron might be an evolutionary trick to aid survival, suggested Dr Shovlin.

She added: 'We can speculate that in evolutionary terms, it might be advantageous to promote blood clotting when your blood is low in iron, in order to prevent further blood loss'.


17 December, 2011

Widowers 'need to find a new partner to stave off mental illness'

Or is it that the mentally unstable have more trouble finding a partner?

Finding love again after the death of a partner really can help heal a broken heart and stave off mental illness, scientists claim. New findings reveal that widowers who remain single for years after their partners’ death are more likely to succumb to mental illness.

Swedish researchers say that men who managed to find a new partner were more likely to move on and recover from their grief.

However, those who remained alone were at ‘far greater’ risk of conditions such as depression, anxiety or insomnia, and were also more likely to use anti-depressants or sleeping pills.

The study was the first of its kind to look at how losing a long-term partner affects men, with previous research on widows already establishing the increased risk of mental and physical illness among those who struggle to move on.

Researchers from the University of Gothenburg questioned almost 700 men who’d lost their wives to cancer.

Results showed that widowers who’d found a new partner four or five years after the death of their wives ‘managed to deal with their loss relatively well.’

Study author Professor Gunnar Steineck, whose work was supported by the Swedish Cancer Society, said: 'Previous studies have shown that people who lose their partner are at greater short-term poor mental health.

'Our study is the first to show that the risk of poor mental health last for many years but, on the average, the risk is restricted to those who don’t find a new partner.'

Asked if the results proved that ‘love heals’ he said: 'We need more research to understand the underlying mechanisms, but yes, emotional support from a new partner does probably help to process grief and protect against mental illness.

'But it could also be the case that those men who cope best with their loss are more likely to show an interest in finding a new partner.'


NTSB Recommends Useless National Ban on All Mobile Phone Use while Driving

The war on cellphones continues

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) yesterday called on all states to ban “the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.” This was in response to a August 2010 three-collision accident in Missouri involving two school buses traveling in a convoy, a pickup, and a truck-tractor. The accident killed two people and injured 38. It went like this:

Collision 1: The pickup driver, who was engaging in a text-message conversation, rear-ended the truck-tractor after failing to notice that it had slowed or stopped.

Collision 2: The first school bus, whose driver was distracted by a passenger bus pulled over on the side of the road, then struck the pickup, killing the pickup driver.

Collision 3: The second school bus, following the first bus too closely, was unable to stop in time to avoid the collision, killing a high school student seated in the rear of the first bus.

There were multiple factors involved: the pickup driver was distracted by his cell phone, the pickup driver was fatigued, the first school bus driver was distracted by the other passenger bus on the side of the road, and the second school bus driver failed to follow at a safe distance. However, it was the inattention and unsafe behavior of the school bus drivers that ultimately resulted in fatalities, and these collisions involved external, rather than internal factors. It is worth noting that at the time of the accident, Missouri had a law on the books that banned texting while driving for drivers under 21. The texting driver of the pickup was 19 years old.

After studying the causes of the accident, NTSB issued a number of recommendations, one of which is garnering a significant amount of media attention: calling on the states to institute bans that would include texting while driving, use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving, and use of a hands-free mobile phone while driving.

Distracted driving is certainly a problem, although it is not responsible for as many fatalities and injuries as drunk driving, speeding, or aggressive driving [Figure 7]. But calling on states to institute bans on cell phone use will do little to reduce distracted-driving deaths. First, these bans are extremely difficult to enforce, particularly if the driver is using a hands-free device. Second, most distracted driving accidents are not caused by cell phone use. In fact, drivers distracted by conversations with passengers is a factor in far more crashes than cell phone use [Figure 1].

Obviously the NTSB isn’t going to call for bans on speaking in motor vehicles or isolating the driver from the rest of the cab with soundproofing technology. But there are plenty more potential internal distractions to worry about: watching your kids in the backseat through the rear-view mirror, reading a map, eating and drinking, smoking, grooming, adjusting the stereo, using a navigation device, adjusting climate controls, retrieving objects from seats or the floor, etc.

All of these internal distraction factors are primarily or partially responsible for some accidents. Rather than instituting bans on what drivers may or may not be doing inside their automobiles, licensing and testing authorities ought to be educating drivers on safe driving behaviors. Multitasking while driving naturally increases crash risk, but does anyone for a minute believe that prohibiting all multitasking (whatever that even means) would be enforceable or even beneficial?

But even if distraction bans could be enforced, they likely wouldn’t work. According to research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute, hardly a pro-distraction outfit, state bans on hand-held phone use while driving do not reduce crash risk [PDF] and state bans on texting while driving may actually increase crash risk [PDF]. “[C]learly drivers did respond to the bans somehow, and what they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal. This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.”

The move by NTSB is clearly political and lacks any rational basis. Given their limitations and not wanting to appear useless, as is often the case for nanny state bureaucrats, they must do “something” — even if that “something” will fail to achieve what its backers claim. If states are serious about improving highway safety, they ought to ignore NTSB’s recommended bans and work on improving their driver education programs. NTSB’s handwaving is nothing more than a distraction from a very serious issue.


16 December, 2011

Paracetamol kills mother who took a 'few extra’ pills a day

I have been warning of the dangers of paracetamol for years so it is very sad to read this. She should have been encouraged to take a combination medicine like Di-Gesic -- as its smaller paracetamol content and greater efficacy make it much safer. So guess which one of those two is at present being banned around the world? It is Di-Gesic!

Desiree Phillips, a young mother who took “a few extra” paracetamol tablets to relieve the pain of a minor operation died after suffering irreversible liver damage.

The death of Desiree Phillips, 20, follows studies showing that “staggered overdoses” of paracetamol over the course of a few days can be more dangerous than a single, massive overdose.

Miss Phillips, of Llanelli, South Wales, had a routine procedure to remove several benign lumps on her breast earlier this year.

Doctors prescribed antibiotics and over-the-counter paracetamol to help her cope with the discomfort.

Nine days after the operation, she was taken to hospital in excruciating pain and diagnosed with liver failure. She underwent a liver transplant but died a week later at Birmingham Queen Elizabeth hospital.

Her father, Des, said he believed his daughter had been taking only “a few extra tablets” than the recommended dose of eight every 24 hours.

“She seemed fine to us, then out of the blue her boyfriend found her stretched out on the sofa and he rang an ambulance. The whole thing came as a terrible shock. When we heard she was in hospital we never expected that she might die.

“People don’t realise – they think an extra two won’t harm, that extra two over a period of time can harm your liver if you keep taking that over two to three weeks,” said Mr Phillips.

Last month research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that taking just a few extra paracetamol tablets a day can be fatal. The study of 663 patients with paracetamol-induced liver injury found that those who took “staggered overdoses” over the course of several days were a third more likely to die than those who took a single overdose of pills.

Dr Kenneth Simpson, of the University of Edinburgh, who led the research, said: “Those who’ve taken a staggered overdose do worse, paradoxically, than the people who’ve tried to kill themselves.”

Although an inquest is yet to be held into Miss Phillips’s death, her family has spoken out in the hope of preventing similar tragedies.

Mr Phillips , a chef, said: “If a painkiller is that dangerous, it should be prescribed. You should not be able to buy them over the counter. Cigarettes have a label saying 'smoking kills’. Paracetamol can be fatal, but when you look at the packets, they don’t look dangerous.”

Miss Phillips’s one-year-old son, Jayden, is now being cared for by his father, Simon Dewi-Jones. Mr Phillips added: “It was awful, in the end she couldn’t even give him a cuddle goodbye. He’s too young to know what happened now, but I’m sure it will be something that affects him in the future.”

Miss Phillips’s mother, Ayshea, 38, said: “Desiree was taking painkillers because she had three lumps removed from her breast and she was in pain. She didn’t know what was going to happen. Jayden doesn’t deserve to be growing up without a mum because of this.”

A spokesman for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said: “Paracetamol is a safe and effective painkiller for a range of conditions when used correctly and when the dosage recommendations are followed.”


Simple blood test could spot Alzheimer's five years before it kicks in

This is still very speculative

A simple blood test could spot Alzheimer’s at least five years before symptoms start to show. The test’s creator hopes it will be in widespread use within three years.

Quicker detection of the disease would allow earlier treatment and, with the help of new drugs, those who test positive may never fully develop it.

Those given early warnings could also take preventative measures, such as changing their diet and taking more exercise.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect more than 800,000 Britons. The figure is set to double in a generation. Currently, sufferers are only diagnosed after the disease has already caused significant damage to the brain.

But the new test aims to detect signs of Alzheimer’s years earlier by distinguishing between mere forgetfulness and the more dangerous memory lapses that signal dementia in its earliest stages. Spotting Alzheimer’s early on would have ‘immense’ benefits for the elderly, the test’s inventor said last night.

Professor Matej Oresic made the breakthrough after analysing the blood of 226 men and women in their late sixties and seventies and then tracking their health for an average of five years.

At the start of the study, 37 had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; of the others, 46 did not have any memory problems but 143 were suffering from forgetfulness. By the end of the study, 52 of that 143 had also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Comparing their blood samples with samples from those who were still merely forgetful revealed clear differences in the concentration of three metabolites – chemicals produced by reactions in the body.

Working out how these chemicals relate to the progression of Alzheimer’s could help develop new treatments for the disease. Testing for them in elderly people suffering from forgetfulness could lead to valuable early warnings of the onset of dementia, the journal Translational Psychiatry reports.

Those found to have memory problems related to Alzheimer’s could do mental and physical exercises and change their diet in an attempt to keep their brain healthy for as long as possible.

Professor Oresic, of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, said delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s in older people ‘is almost as good as preventing it’, adding: ‘A delay of even a couple of years would immensely improve quality of life.’

He said that more work is needed to show just how accurate his test is – but he hopes the kit will be in small-scale use within a year, and widely used in two or three.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of re- search for the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said Professor Oresic’s work had seen ‘promising early results’.

He added that the chemicals produced by the billions of reactions that occur in the body present a ‘gold-mine’ of potentially useful information for scientists.

If research on such chemicals leads to the development of drugs that can stop the progression of Alzheimer’s, those who receive an early positive on Professor Oresic’s test may never go on to fully develop the disease after all.


15 December, 2011

Statisticians can prove almost anything, a new study finds

The research flaws described below are well known in academe and I have made multiple references to some of them -- but it is good to see attention being drawn to them

Catchy headlines about the latest counter-intuitive discovery in human psychology have a special place in journalism, offering a quirky distraction from the horrors of war and crime, the tedium of politics and the drudgery of economics.

But even as readers smirk over the latest gee whizzery about human nature, it is generally assumed that behind the headlines, in the peer-reviewed pages of academia, most scientists are engaged in sober analysis of rigorously gathered data, and that this leads them reliably to the truth.

Not so, says a new report in the journal Psychological Science, which claims to show “how unacceptably easy it is to accumulate (and report) statistically significant evidence for a false hypothesis.”

In “False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant,” two scientists from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and a colleague from Berkeley, argue that modern academic psychologists have so much flexibility with numbers that they can literally prove anything.

In effect turning the weapons of statistical analysis against their own side, the trio managed to to prove something demonstrably false, and thereby cast a wide shadow of doubt on any researcher who claims his findings are “statistically significant.”

In “many cases, a researcher is more likely to falsely find evidence that an effect exists than to correctly find evidence that it does not,” they write.

Defined as “the incorrect rejection of a null hypothesis,” a false positive is “perhaps the most costly error” a scientist can make, they write, in part because they are “particularly persistent” in the literature.”

False positives also waste resources, and “inspire investment in fruitless research programs and can lead to ineffective policy changes.” Finally, they argue, a field known for publishing false positives risks losing its credibility.

Psychology, especially the branch of social psychology that merges with economics, is particularly sensitive to this criticism. It is a field in which reputations can be made with a single mention on the Freakonomics blog, and book deals signed based on single headlines.

One example of this trend is described in the December issue of The Atlantic magazine, in which David B. Klein, a libertarian economist at George Mason University in Virginia, retracts the claim he made last year in the Wall Street Journal, that left-wingers do not understand economics.

As quirky headlines go, it is hard to imagine a better one for the conservative Wall Street Journal than “Study Shows Left Wing Wrong About Economy” (In fact, the headline was “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” which Klein acknowledges carried the implication that left-wingers are not.)

Citing his own “myside bias,” otherwise known as confirmation bias, or the tendency to favour ideas that fit with one’s settled positions, Prof. Klein now admits that, according to the data he used, the ignorance he attributed to the left is also true of the right, and so the headline should have been less dramatic, something closer to “Nobody Understands Economics: Study.”

The problem, as Prof. Klein puts it, was the hidden bias in his own use of the data, and in the decisions he made about how to analyze it.

These decisions about data use are not usually made in advance of the research, based on rigid principles, according to the authors of the Psychological Science paper. Rather, they are dealt with as they arise, and it is common and accepted practice “to explore various analytical alternatives, to search for a combination that yields ‘statistical significance,’ and then to report only what ‘worked.’ ”

The authors — Joseph P. Simmons, Leif D. Nelson and Uri Simonsohn — describe this flexibility as “researcher degrees of freedom,” and suggest that too much of it leads to bias at best, and nonsense at worst.

As a remedy, they offer a series of proposed guidelines for researchers and reviewers, but it was their somewhat cheeky experiment that brought the problem into the starkest relief.

As ever in social psychology, the experiment began with a room full of undergraduate guinea pigs, in this case paid for their attendance at a lab at the University of Pennsylvania. In the first of two separate trials, 30 students listened on headphones to one of two songs: either Kalimba, “an instrumental song by Mr. Scruff that comes free with the Windows 7 operating system,” or Hot Potato, performed by the children’s band The Wiggles.

Afterwards, they were asked to fill out a survey including the question, “How old do you feel right now: very young, young, neither young nor old, old, or very old.” They were also asked their father’s age, which allowed the researchers to control for variation in baseline age across participants.

Using a common statistical tool known as analysis of covariance, or ANCOVA, which measures one set of numbers against another, the authors were able to show that, on average, listening to the children’s song made people feel older than listening to the control song.

A second experiment aimed to extend these results with a song about getting old, When I’m Sixty-Four, by the Beatles, with Kalimba again as the control song. But this time, instead of being asked how old they felt, they were asked for their actual birthdate, which allowed precise calculation of their age.

An ANCOVA analysis, controlling for their father’s age, showed a statistically significant but logically impossible effect: listening to When I’m Sixty-Four made people 16 months younger than listening to Kalimba.

Listening to a song obviously has no bearing on how old you actually are. This nonsensical result, they argue, was merely an artifact of flawed analysis within a scientific culture that permits all kinds of relevant details to be excluded from the final publication.

Under their proposed guidelines, though not under current accepted scientific practices, the authors would have been required to disclose that they in fact asked participants many other questions, and did not decide in advance when to stop collecting data, which can skew results. They also would have been obliged to disclose that, without controlling for father’s age, there was no significant effect, and the experiment was more or less a bust.

“Our goal as scientists is not to publish as many articles as we can, but to discover and disseminate truth,” they write. “We should embrace these [proposed rules about disclosing research methods] as if the credibility of our profession depended on them. Because it does.”


Report: Studies overstated cellphone crash risk. Maybe no added risk at all

Another battle in the war on cellphones. Everything popular must be BAD!

So-called "distracted driving" has become a big public health issue in recent years. The majority of U.S. states now ban texting behind the wheel, while a handful prohibit drivers from using handheld cellphones at all (though many more ban "novice" drivers from doing so).

But studies have reached different conclusions about how much of an added crash risk there is with cellphone use.

In the new report, Richard A. Young of Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit finds that two influential studies on the subject might have overestimated the risk.

The problem has to do with the studies' methods, according to Young. Both studies a 1997 study from Canada, and one done in Australia in 2005 were "case-crossover" studies.

The researchers recruited people who had been in a crash, and then used their billing records to compare their cellphone use around the time of the crash with their cell use during the same time period the week before (called a "control window").

But the issue with that, Young writes in the journal Epidemiology, is that people may not have been driving during that entire control window.

Such "part-time" driving, he says, would necessarily cut the odds of having a crash (and possibly reduce people's cell use) during the control window and make it seem like cellphone use is a bigger crash risk than it is.

The two studies in question asked people whether they had been driving during the control windows, but they did not account for part-time driving, Young says.

So for his study, Young used GPS data to track day-to-day driving consistency for 439 drivers over 100 days. He grouped the days into pairs: day one was akin to the "control" days used in the earlier studies, and day two was akin to the "crash" day.

Overall, Young found, there was little consistency between the two days when it came to driving time.

When he looked at all control windows where a person did some driving, the total amount of time on the road was about one-fourth of what it was during the person's "crash" day.

If that information were applied to the two earlier studies, Young estimates, the crash risk tied to cellphone use would have been statistically insignificant.

That's far lower than the studies' original conclusions: that cellphone use while driving raises the risk of crashing four-fold.

And, Young says, the results might help explain why some other studies have not linked cell use to an increased crash risk.

A researcher not involved in the work said that the two earlier studies may well have overstated the crash risk from using a cellphone.

But that doesn't mean you should feel free to chat and text away at the wheel, according to Fernando Wilson, an assistant professor at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth.

A number of other studies, using designs other than case-crossover, have suggested that cellphone use, and particularly texting, is hazardous on the road, Wilson told Reuters Health.

"In wider policy, I don't think this study is going to change the conversation about distracted driving," Wilson said. "Most of the conventional thinking is that we need to do something to reduce it."

In his own study published last year, Wilson looked at information from a government database that tracks deaths on U.S. public roads. He found that after declining between 1999 and 2005, deaths blamed on distracted driving rose 28 percent between 2005 and 2008.

And the increase seemed to be related to a sharp rise in texting. ("Distracted driving" refers to anything that takes the driver's attention off the road, from fiddling with the radio to talking to other people in the car.)

Other studies, Wilson noted, have used mounted cameras to show that drivers' behavior becomes more risky when they are using cellphones.

All of those studies have limitations, and cannot pinpoint just how big a risk driving-while-texting (or talking) might be. Wilson said the current study highlights a limitation in case-crossover studies.

But the new study, itself, has shortcomings. Applying the GPS findings from this study to the two earlier ones, done with different drivers, in different countries, is tricky, both Young and Wilson point out. "It's possible that the (earlier) study findings were overstated," Wilson said, "but it's difficult to know by how much."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 450,000 Americans were injured in crashes linked to distracted driving in 2009. Another 5,500 were killed.


14 December, 2011

New super vaccine could tackle 70% of lethal cancers and is better than 'wonder drug' Herceptin

Bright eyed hopes like this tend not to survive the test of time but you never know. When even effective drugs that have been in common use for decades eventually end up banned, pessimism would seem in order

A vaccine that could deal a serious blow to seven in ten lethal cancers has been developed by scientists.

In tests, it shrunk breast tumours by 80 per cent, and researchers believe it could also tackle prostate, pancreatic, bowel and ovarian cancers.

Even tumours that resist treatment with the best medicines on the market, including the ‘wonder drug’ Herceptin, may be susceptible to the vaccine.

The experiments done so far have been on mice, but researchers hope to pilot the drug on people within two years. If all goes well, the vaccine – one of the first to combat cancer – could be on the market by 2020.

More than 300,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed in Britain each year and the disease kills around half this number annually.

Rather than attacking cancer cells, like many drugs, the new treatment harnesses the power of the immune system to fight tumours.

The search for cancer vaccines has until now been hampered by fears that healthy tissue would be destroyed with tumours. To get round this, researchers from the University of Georgia and the Mayo Clinic in the United States focused on a protein called MUC1 that is made in bigger amounts in cancerous cells than in healthy ones. Not only is there more of it, but a sugar that it is ‘decorated’ with has a distinctive shape.

The vaccine ‘trains’ the immune system to recognise the rogue sugar and turn its arsenal against the cancer.

Researcher Professor Sandra Gendler said: ‘Cancer cells have a special way of thwarting the immune system by putting sugars on the surface of tumour cells so they can travel around the body without being detected. ‘To enable the immune system to recognise the sugar, it took a special vaccine that had three parts to it. ‘That turned out to be a winning combination.’

Her co-author Professor Geert-Jan Boons said: ‘This vaccine elicits a very strong immune response. ‘It activates all three components of the immune system to reduce tumour size by an average of 80 per cent.’

The misshaped MUC1 sugar is found in 90 per cent of breast and pancreatic cancers and around 60 per cent of prostate cancers, as well as many other tumours. The researchers believe more than 70 per cent of all cancers that kill may be susceptible to the vaccine.

Despite their excitement, the work is still only at an early stage. After the ‘dramatic’ results of the tests on mice with breast tumours, the researchers now plan to try the drug on human cancer cells in a dish.

Years of large-scale human trials would need to follow before the drug was judged safe and effective for widespread use in hospitals. It could then be used with existing drugs to boost treatment and given to prevent tumours from coming back after surgery.

Men and women known to be at high risk of cancer because of their genes could also be vaccinated in an attempt to stop tumours from appearing.

Dr Boons, who has founded a biotech company to commercialise the vaccine, said: ‘We are beginning to have therapies that can teach our immune system to fight what is uniquely found in cancer cells. ‘When combined with early diagnosis, the hope is that one day cancer will become a manageable disease.’

The drug is one of several treatments in the pipeline that work by triggering the immune system to attack and kill cancer cells.

Dr Caitlin Palframan, of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘This exciting new approach could lead to treatments for breast cancer patients who have few options. ‘It also opens up the possibility of vaccinating high-risk women against breast cancer in the future. ‘However, we need to see this approach trialled in cancer patients before we know its full potential.’

Oliver Childs, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘These researchers are not alone in trying to harness the body’s immune system to fight cancer – it’s a key area of research interest around the world.

‘This study is interesting, but a long way from a vaccine for cancer patients at the moment. ‘The next step is to see if this work can be repeated in human cells in the lab and then in larger trials with patients.’


Steve Jobs a victim of homeopathy, says expert

ALTERNATIVE medicine is unethical, criminal and likely contributed to the death of Apple boss Steve Jobs, visiting professor Edzard Ernst says. The world's first professor of complementary medicine was in Adelaide yesterday to speak at the Australasian Pharmaceutical Science Association conference at UniSA.

Famous for causing an uproar when, in July, he labelled Prince Charles a "snake oil salesman" for his dandelion and detox remedy, Prof Ernst yesterday spoke of the dangers of unproven complementary medicine.

"They mislead people to the point of being quite dangerous, all of this is idiotic rubbish," he said, calling for more rigorous testing of claims. "Australia is one of the highest user groups globally. About 50 per cent of the general population use some form of complementary medicine."

While he supports evidence-based complementary medicines such as St John's wort, Prof Ernst took aim at homeopathy, aromatherapy, herbal remedies, Bach flower remedies and magnetic therapies.

He said the plethora of misinformation about homeopathy - which treats "like with like" through the dilution of elements - had contributed to deaths, likely including that of Mr Jobs, who died from pancreatic cancer in October.

In his biography of the Apple founder, Walter Isaacson details Jobs' regrets that he turned to alternative therapies when first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003. “I didn’t want my body to be opened…I didn’t want to be violated in that way,” Jobs told Isaacson.

Prof Ernst said too many people were similarly relying on "unproven treatments" for fatal diseases. "Homeopathy is totally under-investigated," he said. "Look at Steve Jobs' cancer death, which is totally tragic."

The problem, he said, was the "monstrous" amount of available misinformation and a lack of regulation and clinical testing. "They should be tested in exactly the same way which we test any other treatment," he said. "There's only one science and there is no alternative to science."

Professor Ernst said claims that these therapies worked, made without proof, were "irresponsible and criminal". He said the science did support specific therapies which were backed by evidence, such as St John's wort.

The professor was this year forced into an early retirement from Exeter University, where he set up the Complementary Medicine and Rehabilitation Department in 1993, after an earlier stoush with the Prince over a confidential report.


13 December, 2011

The 'detox delusion': Health claims 'at best unfounded and at worst dangerous', argues professor

They promise to help you shed weight and purge your body of chemicals that are poisoning your body and mind. But the only thing that detox products will help you lose is money, a scientist said last night.

From diets based on raw fruit and vegetables, to foot spas and colonic hydrotherapy, there are dozens of treatments and products that claim to boost health by cleansing the body of chemicals.

Marketing is likely to become particularly fierce in the next few weeks, as millions who over-indulge during the Christmas period make New Year’s resolutions to be healthier.

But detox diets and other treatments are not the answer, an expert has warned. David Bender, an emeritus professor of nutritional biochemistry, said the body is perfectly capable of detoxing itself without any extra help. What is more, he says the claims made about detoxing are at best unfounded and more likely undeniably false. Some detox methods may even be dangerous, he claims.

In an article written in Society of Biology magazine The Biologist, he argues that the term detox has gone from being applied to a chemical reaction involved in the production of urine, to ‘a meaningless marketing term’. His piece, entitled The Detox Delusion, picks apart the claims made by those promoting detox diets.

Such diets usually involve eating large amounts of fruit, vegetables and juices, while drinking large amounts of water and steering clear of caffeine, sugar and alcohol.

They purport to boost health in a variety of ways, from raising energy levels to allowing the body to focus on self-healing. Professor Bender, of University College, London, writes: ‘I am not sure what “self-healing” is and the idea of “raised energy levels” is nonsense.

‘The whole philosophy of detox is based on the unlikely premise that accumulated toxins cause a sluggish metabolism, weight gain, general malaise and so on. ‘Weight gain is due to an imbalance between food consumption and energy expenditure. There is no magic shortcut for weight loss – you have to eat less and exercise more. It’s that simple.’


Gene therapy on course to claim a first

Sounds promising but at a very preliminary stage

MEDICAL researchers have successfully treated six patients suffering from the blood-clotting disease known as haemophilia B by injecting them with the correct form of a defective gene.

Haemophilia B is the first well-known disease to appear treatable by gene therapy.

The general concept of gene therapy - replacing the defective gene in any genetic disease with the intact version - has long been alluring. But carrying it out in practice, usually by loading the replacement gene onto a virus that introduces it into human cells, has been a struggle.

The immune system is all too effective at killing the viruses before the genes can take effect.

The success with haemophilia B, reported online in The New England Journal of Medicine, embodies several minor improvements.

Haemophilia B is caused by a defect in the gene for factor IX and is fatal if untreated.

Patients were treated by infusing the delivery virus into their veins. The virus homes in on the cells of the liver, and the gene it carries then churns out correct copies of factor IX.

Four of the six patients could stop the usual treatment, injections of factor IX concentrate prepared from donated blood.

Treating a patient with concentrate costs $300,000 a year but the single required injection of the new delivery virus costs $30,000.

The disease occurs almost only in men because the factor IX gene lies on the X chromosome, of which men have a single copy.

Women who carry a defective gene on one X chromosome can compensate with the good copy on their other X chromosome, but they bequeath the defective copy to half their children.


12 December, 2011

Two-day diet could reduce breast cancer risk

This is pure speculation. The diet does seem to be one way to achieve weight loss but there is NO data on its effect on cancer incidence

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See the links in the sidebar here

Women can lower their risk of breast cancer by 40 per cent by following a two-day ‘life saver diet’ it has been claimed.
Two-day diet could reduce breast cancer risk

Researchers at the University Hospital in South Manchester are claiming that observing a strict two-day diet, rather than trying to constantly cut calories, is a more effective way to loose weight.

The study, lead by Dr Michelle Harvie, and presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, found that women who followed a diet for just two days of the week lost more weight than those practising a full-time diet.

The researchers put 100 overweight female volunteers on one of three diets. The first diet consisted of consuming just 650 calories a day for several days of the week, with carbohydrates such as potatoes and bread cut out. For the remaining five days of the week the participants, whilst encouraged to eat healthily, could consumer whatever they liked.

Although volunteers on the second diet were also banned from eating carbohydrates for two days in a week, they were not set a specific calorie limit.

They were also allowed to eat as much as they wanted for the remainder of the week. The third and final group followed a more conventional diet, which included avoiding high-fat foods, alcohol and sticking to approximately 1,500 calories every day.

The results of the study showed that after three months the women on the two day diets had lost an average of nine pounds, compared to five pounds of those on the full-time diet.

Volunteers who had followed the two day diet had lost nearly twice the amount of weight of those on the more traditional full-time diet, and recorded significant improvements in three key areas linked to breast cancer. Their levels of hormone leptin dropped by 40 per cent.

Research professor Gillian Haddock, who also took part in the study herself, has said she would recommend the diet to friends and that she found it an easier diet option.

Mrs Haddock said: "I used to follow the 650-calorie diet on a Monday and Tuesday and it was great because I knew that by Wednesday I would be eating normally.

"It really suited me, I did it on my busiest work days and I would mainly have the milky drinks while I was at work so I didn't have to worry about shopping or taking in a specially prepared packed lunch."

The research, conducted at the Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Centre at UHSM, was published in the International Journal of Obesity.

Pamela Goldberg, chief executive of the Breast Cancer Campaign said: "There are many breast cancer risk factors that can't be controlled, such as age, gender and family history - but staying at a healthy weight is one positive step that can be taken.

"This intermittent dieting approach provides an alternative to conventional dieting which could help with weight loss, but also potentially reduce the risk of developing breast cancer."


The scent of a man? It could be an STD, say scientists

Sounds reasonable

Women wondering whether or not to take the next step with a new man in their life should heed the advice of Russian scientists - and take a deep whiff.

Sniffing a potential partner’s scent could tell if Mr Right has a sexually transmitted disease, according to a new study.

The research found that gonorrhea-infected men smelt 'putrid' to women, reports

'Our research revealed that infection disease reduces odor attractiveness in humans' wrote Mikhail Moshkin, a professor at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Russia, and the lead author of research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The off-putting scent may be subtle, more a chemical warning than a stench of body odor, but it does have some effect, according to the experiment conducted by Moshkin and his colleagues.

The researchers had already observed that certain animals, such as mice and rats, were not as attracted to the scents of those that were infected with disease, reports

They investigated if humans would also be turned off by the scent of an infected person, particularly one with an STD.

The researchers took samples of armpit sweat and spit from 34 Russian men aged between 17 and 25. The group included 13 young men with gonorrhea, 16 who were healthy and five who had had the disease but were successfully treated.

Then 18 female students aged 17 to 20 were asked to sniff the samples.

They obtained sweat samples by dressing the men in tight-fitting T-shirts with cotton pads sewn into the armpits. After an hour of sweating, men bagged their shirts and the pads were placed in glass vials for the women to sniff.

The women ranked the infected men less than half as high as healthy or recovered guys on a 'pleasantness score' that assessed scent. And when they were asked to describe the scent, the women said that nearly 50 percent of the infected men’s sweat smelt 'putrid'.

The researchers said the study indicates that humans, like other animals, might use scent to sniff out appropriate mates.

'We can conclude that unpleasant body odor of infected persons can reduce the probability of a dangerous partnership,' the scientists say in the report.


11 December, 2011

Diabetes risk of two takeaways in a week (and women are more in danger)

The finding below is almost certainly a social class effect. Many middle class people "wouldn't be seen dead" in McDonalds whereas working class people tend to appreciate its good value. The fact that the McDonald's munchers were also fatter also suggests that it is the characteristics of working class people that are showing up here, not the effects of diet. That poorer people have worse health is one of the most replicated findings in epidemiology

Two takeaways a week are enough to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease, research shows. Young adults were more likely to have hidden health problems if they treated themselves to fast food on a twice-weekly basis, the study found.

Additionally, women appear to be more susceptible to the dangers. They had more warning signs, such as high blood sugar levels and increased insulin than men.

The results suggest many young professionals who are too busy to cook may be setting themselves up for serious health problems. Diabetes affects an estimated 2.5million Britons. Around 10 per cent of cases are due to type one, which is thought to be caused by a faulty immune system.

The remaining 90 per cent are type two, which is closely linked to unhealthy diet and lifestyle. The condition occurs when the body loses its ability to make use of glucose, a type of sugar that is released when we eat.

As levels rise, circulation suffers and blood vessels can be damaged. Left untreated, type two diabetes can raise the risk of heart attacks, blindness and amputation.

Researchers from the University of Tasmania and two other Australian science institutions studied the diet and lifestyles of 1,896 men and women aged 26 to 36. Almost 40 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women ate a takeaway twice a week or more.

The volunteers underwent a range of medical checks, including tests for glucose and insulin levels. High levels of both mean the body is heading for type two diabetes.

Researchers found women who had takeaways twice or more a week had significantly higher blood sugar levels than those who ate them once a week or less. They also had higher insulin and scored much higher on a test for signs of becoming resistant to the hormone – a warning sign of diabetes. Although men in the study also showed damage, the effects were much less severe.

Researchers said it was hard to tell if it was the fast food or excess weight caused by poor diet and lack of exercise that caused the problems.

They added: ‘It is unclear whether the differences [between one takeaway a week and two] are clinically significant. But they may represent an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type two diabetes.’

The survey was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In 2008, a Which? study found a single Indian takeaway contained 23.2 grammes of saturated fat – more than a woman’s entire daily allowance.


Cherry juice helps you to sleep?

It could bve true but it's a very tiny study for a very short time period

Two glasses of cherry juice can help you sleep nearly 40 minutes longer, research shows.

People who drank two glasses of tart cherry juice also napped less often in the day and had increased ‘sleep efficiency’ – the ratio of time spent in bed to time spent sleeping. They slept an average of 39 minutes longer.

Researchers found that Montmorency cherry juice – a variety of sour cherry – significantly increases the body’s level of melatonin, a powerful antioxidant that is critical in regulating sleep.

The 20 participants were given two 30ml servings of the juice diluted with half a pint of water, or an alternative fruit drink, for seven days – once when they woke up and another before bed.

The researchers at Northumbria University, whose findings were published in the European Journal of Nutrition, then tracked their sleep habits using actigraphs – watches that sense movement – and sleep diaries.

They found that healthy adults who had two daily glasses of the juice had longer sleep time, less daytime napping and up to a 6 per cent increase in sleep efficiency.

Researcher Jason Ellis said: ‘When darkness falls, the body produces melatonin to signal it is time to sleep. The juice provides an additional service to what we already have to strengthen the internal signal of the body clock.

‘It would definitely be beneficial to people with jet lag or coming off shift work – anywhere your internal clock has been fighting the external world.’


10 December, 2011

Drugs reduce stroke risk in patients with above average blood pressure (?)

This is a prime example of the medication madness that doctors blame on drug companies but which is in fact thoroughly iatrogenic -- originating from the doctors themselves. Doctors like writing prescriptions for magic bullets.

By definition, half the population is above average so if the proposal is to dose up people whose blood pressure is above average, that amounts to a call to put half the population on blood pressure drugs. The drug companies will no doubt be rubbing their hands with glee at such folly but everybody else should need a lot of convincing.

There has already been over the years a substantial lowering of the blood pressure level that is regarded as dangerous and this would appear to be the next step in that direction

The study was a meta-analysis so is hard to evaluate (I know from knowledge of my own research field that meta-analyses sometimes leave out stuff that doesn't suit the author) but for what it is worth, we read in the journal article that "To prevent 1 stroke, 169 patients had to be treated with a blood-pressure-lowering medication for an average of 4.3 years" -- so benefit from the medication was rare

Blood pressure medication could lower the risk of stroke in people whose readings are above average without being considered dangerously high, according to research.

Patients with hypertension, or chronic high blood pressure, are often given drugs to lower their risk of heart disease and stroke but the medication could also benefit a wider group of patients.

Researchers found that people with prehypertension, where blood pressure is higher than normal but not as severe as in hypertension, had a 22 per cent lower risk of stroke if they took the drugs.

An analysis of 16 studies, covering 70,664 patients, found that treating 169 prehypertensive people with blood pressure-lowering medication for 4.3 years would prevent one stroke from happening.

High blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for stroke, and an estimated 40 per cent of strokes could be prevented if people took steps to control their blood pressure levels.

US data shows that about 10 per cent of Americans have prehypertension, with a blood pressure between 120/80mm Hg and 139/89mm Hg – higher than the upper boundary of "normal" but below the lower limit of hypertension.

Ilke Sipahi of the Harrington-McLaughlin Heart and Vascular Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, who led the study, published in the Stroke journal, said patients would be better off trying to lower their blood pressure through a healthy diet and physical activity than by taking pills.

He said: "We do not think that giving blood pressure medicine instead of implementing the lifestyle changes is the way to go ... however, the clear-cut reduction in the risk of stroke with blood pressure pills is important and may be complementary to lifestyle changes."

Dr Sharlin Ahmed of The Stroke Association said: “Making a few simple lifestyle choices, such as eating a healthy diet low in salt, giving up smoking, and exercising regularly can help to keep your blood pressure under control and can reduce your risk of stroke.

"As highlighted in this study, it may also be beneficial for some people with borderline high blood pressure to take blood pressure lowering medication, however this needs to be discussed with your GP.”


Unhealthy lifestyle responsible for 'half of cancers' (?)

Prof. Parkin is an industrious little blighter. He has taken seventeen supposed risk factors one by one and done a meta-analysis of the effects of each one. So he has a total of seventeen journal articles in the one issue of the British Journal of Cancer.

His industry did not however seem to include any critical thought. His conclusions are simply reinforcement of the conventional wisdom and he pays no heed to the elementary truth that correlation is not causation -- preferring to rely instead on the speculations of epidemiologists. He even makes significant use of heavily criticized analyses from the sensationalist WCRF -- e.g. here. Some of his conclusions may be correct but we have no means of knowing which they are. Many of the factors he identified could well in fact be social class effects

Almost half of cancers are caused by an unhealthy lifestyle that could be avoided by quitting smoking, losing weight, exercising and drinking less alcohol, the most comprehensive study of its kind has found.

Around 134,000 cancers each year are the result of a poor lifestyle, Cancer Research UK has found.

In the most wide reaching study yet conducted into the issue, it was found that 14 different lifestyle factors ranging from smoking, to lack of exercise, eating too much salt, not having babies, drinking too much and being overweight contributed to four in every ten cancers diagnosed in the UK.

The findings expose the myth that developing cancer is 'bad luck' or down to your genes, the researchers said.

Previous studies had suggested around 80,000 cancers a year could be prevented but they did not take into account occupational exposures to things like asbestos, infections that can cause cancer and sunburn as the latest research has.

In a complex set of research studies, scientists calculated how many cancers and of what type could be attributed to each of the 14 lifestyle factors. The findings were published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Smoking was the biggest factor, causing nearly one in five of all cancers.

But Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said most people would not know that a quarter of all breast cancer cases could be prevented along with half of colorectal cancers.

He added: "Leading a healthy lifestyle doesn't guarantee that someone will not get cancer but doing so will significantly stack the odds in your favour."

Dr Kumar said tackling unhealthy lifestyle factors linked to cancer would also reduce the risk of a host of other killer diseases such as heart disease, respiratory problems, kidney disease and others.

Professor Max Parkin, a Cancer Research UK epidemiologist based at Queen Mary, University of London, and study author, said: “Many people believe cancer is down to fate or ‘in the genes’ and that it is the luck of the draw whether they get it.

“Looking at all the evidence, it’s clear that around 40 per cent of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change. “We didn’t expect to find that eating fruit and vegetables would prove to be so important in protecting men against cancer. And among women we didn’t expect being overweight to have a greater effect than alcohol."

The study found that alcohol was responsible for 6.4 per cent of breast cancers and almost one in ten liver cancers.

Three quarters of stomach cancers could be avoided, mostly by not smoking, eating too much salt and consuming more fruit and vegetables.

Red meat consumption led to 2.7 per cent of cancers, almost 8,500 cases. Obesity was linked to more than five per cent of cancers or almost 18000 cases, including a third of womb cancers.

Lack of breastfeeding was linked to 3.1 per cent of breast cancers and 17 per cent of ovarian cancers.

The study did not examine how many cancer deaths would be prevented with a healthier lifestyle.

Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, said: “We know, especially during the Christmas party season, that it is hard to watch what you eat and limit alcohol and we don’t want people to feel guilty about having a drink or indulging a bit more than usual. But it’s very important for people to understand that long term changes to their lifestyles can really reduce their cancer risk.”

The World Cancer Research Fund did a similar exercise in 2007 coming up with recommendations to individuals on how to reduce their cancer risk by eating less red meat, taking more exercise and staying slim.

Dr Rachel Thompson, Deputy Head of Science for World Cancer Research Fund, said: "This adds to the now overwhelmingly strong evidence that our cancer risk is affected by our lifestyles.

"We hope this new study helps to raise awareness of the fact that cancer is not simply a question of fate and that people can make changes today that can reduce their risk of developing cancer in the future."

Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: "No one chooses to have cancer and it would be wrong to blame people for making wrong lifestyle choices.

"For a long time, people have been told that eating healthily, not smoking and exercising regularly can benefit them, and these figures show again the impact a healthy lifestyle can have. Yet these healthy lifestyle messages are clearly not reaching enough people. They also need to be made more relatable to people’s everyday lives.

"There needs to be a cultural change, so that people see physical activity as an integral part of their lives, not just a optional add-on.”

Public Health Minister Anne Milton said: "We all know that around 23,000 cases of lung cancer could be stopped each year in England if people didn't smoke.

"By making small changes we can cut our risk of serious health problems - give up smoking, watch what you drink, get more exercise and keep an eye on your weight."


9 December, 2011

Atheist kids better at sports: Swiss study

One wonders what the intervening variables were. A direct effect of religion is improbable. Does changing your religion make you run faster? I don't know enough about Winterthur to know what characterizes atheists there. Maybe they play sport instead of going to church.

The finding that education and income predict better performance is expected. Higher class people are generally fitter and healthier

Results of a study of 600 children conducted by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EHT) have shown that religion has an effect on sporting ability, with Muslim girls the least skilled.

For the study, first grade school children in Winterthur in northern Switzerland underwent regular tests to measure their strength, coordination and agility.

After four years of following their development, the ETH's Institute for Movement Sciences and Sport cross-referenced the data with information about the origin of their parents, their native language and their religion.

Results showed that children with no religious background tend to be the most skilful athletes. These are followed by Protestants and Catholics. At the opposite end of the spectrum are Muslim children, who performed well below the average, especially girls.

According to the director of the school, Stefan Fritschi, Muslim girls are often reluctant to participate in sports that involve bodily contact with other children. Similarly, swimming lessons are problematic, as Muslim families try to remove their daughters from the classes.

Language also plays a role. German-speaking students show much better results than children with other first languages, such as Bosnian and Albanian.

"The differences are considerable, but not really surprising,” the head of the study, Andreas Krebs, told newspaper Tages Anzeiger. “Parents from south-eastern Europe often have a different level of access to sports. There's also a different beauty ideal,” he added.

However, for Krebs, the most important differences relate to the social status of the family. The richer and more educated they are, the better their children do in sports tests.


Put down that Diet Coke! Low calorie substitutes might actually fool your body into GAINING weight

Rodent study only but it is an interesting warning

Low calorie fat substitutes used in snacks for dieters may actually make them pile on the pounds, scientists claim.

They discovered that when you taste them your bodies gears up to expect calories, so when it only gets a low-calorie hit it gets confused, making you eat more.

An American research team from Purdue University in Indiana carried out a series of experiments on laboratory rats.

Professor of psychological sciences Susan Swithers said: 'Substituting a part of the diet with a similar tasting item that has fewer or zero calories sounds like a common-sense approach to lose weight, but there are other physiological functions at work.

'These substitutes are meant to mimic the taste of fat in foods that are normally high in fat while providing a lower number of calories, but they may end up confusing the body.

'Tastes normally alert the body to expect calories, and when those calories aren't present we believe the systems become ineffective and one of the body's mechanisms to control food intake can become ineffective.

'When the mouth tastes something sweet or fatty it tells the body to prepare for calories, and this information is key to the digestive process.

'This is a reminder to not discount the roles that taste and experience with food play in the way the body's systems work together.'

Professor Swithers, based at the Ingestive Behaviour Research Centre, added: 'We didn't study this in people, but we found that when rats consumed a fat substitute, learned signals that could help control food intake were disrupted, and the rats gained weight as a result.'

Researchers fed laboratory rats with crushed crisps as a supplement to their diet, and they were then divided into two groups that were given either a low-fat diet or a high-fat diet.

These groups were then each split into two smaller groups. One group on each diet was fed a mixture of high-fat crisps and the fat-substitute crisps, containing olestra, which is a synthetic fat with no calories, while the other group received only high-fat crisps.

After 28 days the rats maintained on the high-fat diet gained more weight and developed more fatty tissue when they were given fat-substitute crisps compared to the animals that ate only regular high-fat crisps.

Study co-author Professor Terry Davidson said: 'We are looking at an animal model, but there are similarities for humans, and based on what we found, we believe that our findings question the effectiveness of using fat substitutes as part of a long-term weight loss strategy.'

The findings appear online in Behavioural Neuroscience, which is published by the American Psychological Association.


8 December, 2011

Young women 'could reduce their heart disease risk by 90 per cent by eating fish once a week' (?)

Ya gotta laugh. The large effect reported in the article below immediately seemed fishy to me (pardon the pun) so I looked up the original journal article (Abstract also below). So I am now in a position to rephrase the first sentence below more accurately: "Young women who SAY THEY regularly eat oily fish are less prone to heart disease".

Unvalidated self-report data is of notoriously low quality so what the finding below most probably shows is that smart middle class people who are aware of the unremitting propaganda about the glories of fish oil SAY they eat oily fish whether they do or not. So it is simply the generally better health of middle class people that this study is again recording

Young women who regularly eat oily fish are less prone to heart disease say scientists. A groundbreaking study has found that a fish-rich diet could cut the risk of heart attack and stroke by 90 per cent.

Traditionally findings have highlighted the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, mackerel and sardines for men. However it is now believed because of gender differences fish oil might be even more beneficial for women of a child-bearing age, boosting blood pressure, cardiac and blood vessel function.

Lead researcher Dr Marin Strom, from the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen said: 'Our study shows that for younger women, eating fish is very important for overall health.'

The study involved 49,000 Danish women aged 15 to 49 whose health was monitored for eight years. Over the period their diet, lifestyle and family history were assessed, while 577 cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes were recorded, five of which resulted in death.

Researchers found women who rarely or never ate fish had 90 per cent more cardiovascular problems than those who ate oily fish every week. Dr Strom added: 'To our knowledge this is the first study of this size to focus exclusively on women of child-bearing age. 'Even though we found cardio-protective effects at relatively modest dietary levels, higher levels may yield additional benefits.'

The team now hope that the findings, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, will encourage younger populations to eat more oily fish.

The NHS recommends that a healthy diet should include at least two portions of fish a week, including one of oily fish. However, pregnant women should have no more than two portions a week.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the UK's biggest killer, causing around 94,000 deaths every year and around one in seven women die from the disease.

Symptoms can include chest pain (angina), palpitations and heart attacks but in some cases, people may not present any symptoms before diagnosis.


Fish, n-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Diseases in Women of Reproductive Age: A Prospective Study in a Large National Cohort

By Marin Strom, et al


Previous studies have indicated a protective effect of long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCn3FAs) against cardiovascular disease; however, women are underrepresented in cardiovascular research. The aim of this study was to explore the association between intake of LCn3FAs and the risk of cardiovascular disease in a large prospective cohort of young women (mean age at baseline: 29.9 years [range: 15.7-46.9]). Exposure information on 48 627 women from the Danish National Birth Cohort was linked to the Danish National Patients Registry for information on events of hypertensive, cerebrovascular, and ischemic heart disease used to define a combined measure of cardiovascular diseases.

Intake of fish and LCn3FAs was assessed by a food-frequency questionnaire and telephone interviews. During follow-up (1996-2008; median: 8 years), 577 events of cardiovascular disease were identified. Low LCn3FA intake was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (adjusted hazard ratio for women in lowest versus highest LCn3FA intake group: 1.91 [95% CI: 1.26-2.90]). Restricting the sample to women who had consistently reported similar frequencies of fish intake across 3 different dietary assessment occasions tended to strengthen the relationship (hazard ratio for lowest versus highest intake: 2.91 [95% CI: 1.45-5.85]).

Furthermore, the observed associations were consistent in supplementary analyses where LCn3FA intake was averaged across the 3 dietary assessment occasions, and the associations were persistent for all 3 of the individual outcomes. Our findings based on a large prospective cohort of relatively young and initially healthy women indicated that little or no intake of fish and LCn3FAs was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.


Your regulators will protect you -- NOT

Feds Allow Arsenic in Apple Juice!

This past year, I started writing a health and fitness column through, titled "C-Force." It is no surprise that in researching for that column, I've discovered repeat offenses of food and beverage tampering by the federal government. But arsenic in apple juice?

Dr. Oz received significant flak when he reported in September that "some of the best-known brands of apple juice contain arsenic." Since then, however, Oz has been redeemed and his claims substantiated!

After Oz's initial comments, Dr. Richard Besser, a 13-year veteran of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ABC News' chief health and medical editor, publicly lambasted Oz and his warnings as "extremely irresponsible" and "fear-mongering" and equated them to yelling "'Fire!' in a movie theater." Amid the public debate, the Food and Drug Administration tried to steady the apple cart by saying that consumption of apple juice "poses little or no risk."

But just a few days ago, I watched a humbled Besser on "Good Morning America" recant his fury against Oz's conclusions, saying instead that new studies have just confirmed arsenic is indeed in many popular apple juices.

ABC News reported that Consumer Reports tested 88 samples of popular brands of grape and apple juice sold in the U.S., including Welch's, Minute Maid and Mott's. The results revealed that 10 percent of the juices "had total arsenic levels greater than the FDA's standard for drinking water of 10 parts per billion (ppb), while 25 percent of juices also had lead levels higher than the FDA's bottled water limit of 5 ppb."

Furthermore, data on arsenic in adult urine from the CDC demonstrated that men and women who drank apple or grape juice in a 24-hour period "had, on average, about 20 percent higher levels of total urinary arsenic than those subjects who did not."

Consumer Reports went on to report that the arsenic tested and detected is inorganic and a human carcinogen. CR further explained that there is "mounting scientific evidence suggesting that chronic exposure to arsenic and lead even at levels below federal standards for water can result in serious health problems, especially for those who are exposed in the womb or during early childhood. FDA data and other research reveal that arsenic has been detected at disturbing levels in other foods as well." So who wants organic or inorganic arsenic in his water, juice and food? (Oz further notes that though many say organic arsenic is safe, there is clear evidence that both forms are ultimately hazardous to our health.)

Tragically teetering on a huge U.S. health cover-up, the FDA posted eight "previously undisclosed test results" for apple juice samples from across the country that had arsenic levels that superseded even its own "level of concern" for inorganic arsenic. Two of those eight samples had an arsenic level of 27 ppb. One had a level of 42 ppb, and two others were at 45 ppb.

What's even worse is that the samples were discovered in 2008. And we're just finding out about them now? Such undisclosed elevated levels of arsenic give a whole new meaning to the saying, "Quit drinking the feds' Kool-Aid!"

Strangely, the FDA has limits for arsenic in water (including bottled) but no such regulations on fruit juices. At the very least, the FDA should not allow more arsenic in apple juice than it allows in Americans' drinking water. Until then, tides of arsenic will continue to flow from foreign produce fields into American bloodstreams. (If you want to weigh in on this issue, contact the FDA at or call 888-463-6332.)

Dr. Urvashi Rangan, director of consumer safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports, rightly delivered this staunch warning: "We're concerned about the potential risks of exposure to these toxins, especially for children who are particularly vulnerable because of their small body size and the amount of juice they regularly consume."

With apple juice lacing children's cereals, snack bars and holiday party tables, we need to heed this countrywide health warning and blow the trumpet to our neighbors. The fact is that the U.S. is getting more and more of its fruits and vegetables from other countries, and many of them do not preclude or limit arsenic in their pesticides or even their water supplies as the U.S. does. Oz reported that apple concentrate comes from up to seven countries; 60 percent of it is imported from China alone.

I agree with Oz, Rangan and Consumer Reports; it's best for consumers to reduce their exposure to these juices. CR is recommending, until this juice fiasco is remedied, that you not give any type of juice to infants younger than 6 months. Also, no more than 6 ounces daily should be given to children up to 6 years old, and older children should have no more than 12 ounces daily.


7 December, 2011

Crap drug research: Two thirds of published claims cannot be reproduced

Two years ago, a group of Boston researchers published a study describing how they had destroyed cancer tumors by targeting a protein called STK33. Scientists at biotechnology firm Amgen Inc. quickly pounced on the idea and assigned two dozen researchers to try to repeat the experiment with a goal of turning the findings into a drug.

It proved to be a waste of time and money. After six months of intensive lab work, Amgen found it couldn't replicate the results and scrapped the project.

"I was disappointed but not surprised," says Glenn Begley, vice president of research at Amgen of Thousand Oaks, Calif. "More often than not, we are unable to reproduce findings" published by researchers in journals.

This is one of medicine's dirty secrets: Most results, including those that appear in top-flight peer-reviewed journals, can't be reproduced.

Researchers at Bayer's labs often find their experiments fail to match claims made in the scientific literature. "It's a very serious and disturbing issue because it obviously misleads people" who implicitly trust findings published in a respected peer-reviewed journal, says Bruce Alberts, editor of Science. On Friday, the U.S. journal is devoting a large chunk of its Dec. 2 issue to the problem of scientific replication.

Reproducibility is the foundation of all modern research, the standard by which scientific claims are evaluated. In the U.S. alone, biomedical research is a $100-billion-year enterprise. So when published medical findings can't be validated by others, there are major consequences.

Drug manufacturers rely heavily on early-stage academic research and can waste millions of dollars on products if the original results are later shown to be unreliable. Patients may enroll in clinical trials based on conflicting data, and sometimes see no benefits or suffer harmful side effects.

Unlike pharmaceutical companies, academic researchers rarely conduct experiments in a "blinded" manner. This makes it easier to cherry-pick statistical findings that support a positive result. In the quest for jobs and funding, especially in an era of economic malaise, the growing army of scientists need more successful experiments to their name, not failed ones. An explosion of scientific and academic journals has added to the pressure.

When it comes to results that can't be replicated, Dr. Alberts says the increasing intricacy of experiments may be largely to blame. "It has to do with the complexity of biology and the fact that methods [used in labs] are getting more sophisticated," he says.

It is hard to assess whether the reproducibility problem has been getting worse over the years; there are some signs suggesting it could be. For example, the success rate of Phase 2 human trials—where a drug's efficacy is measured—fell to 18% in 2008-2010 from 28% in 2006-2007, according to a global analysis published in the journal Nature Reviews in May. "Lack of reproducibility is one element in the decline in Phase 2 success," says Khusru Asadullah, a Bayer AG research executive.

In September, Bayer published a study describing how it had halted nearly two-thirds of its early drug target projects because in-house experiments failed to match claims made in the literature.

The German pharmaceutical company says that none of the claims it attempted to validate were in papers that had been retracted or were suspected of being flawed. Yet, even the data in the most prestigious journals couldn't be confirmed, Bayer said.

In 2008, Pfizer Inc. made a high-profile bet, potentially worth more than $725 million, that it could turn a 25-year-old Russian cold medicine into an effective drug for Alzheimer's disease.

The idea was promising. Published by the journal Lancet, data from researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and elsewhere suggested that the drug, an antihistamine called Dimebon, could improve symptoms in Alzheimer's patients. Later findings, presented by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles at a Chicago conference, showed that the drug appeared to prevent symptoms from worsening for up to 18 months.

"Statistically, the studies were very robust," says David Hung, chief executive officer of Medivation Inc., a San Francisco biotech firm that sponsored both studies.

In 2010, Medivation along with Pfizer released data from their own clinical trial for Dimebon, involving nearly 600 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease symptoms. The companies said they were unable to reproduce the Lancet results. They also indicated they had found no statistically significant difference between patients on the drug versus the inactive placebo.

Pfizer and Medivation have just completed a one-year study of Dimebon in over 1,000 patients, another effort to see if the drug could be a potential treatment for Alzheimer's. They expect to announce the results in coming months.

Scientists offer a few theories as to why duplicative results may be so elusive. Two different labs can use slightly different equipment or materials, leading to divergent results. The more variables there are in an experiment, the more likely it is that small, unintended errors will pile up and swing a lab's conclusions one way or the other. And, of course, data that have been rigged, invented or fraudulently altered won't stand up to future scrutiny.

According to a report published by the U.K.'s Royal Society, there were 7.1 million researchers working globally across all scientific fields—academic and corporate—in 2007, a 25% increase from five years earlier.

"Among the more obvious yet unquantifiable reasons, there is immense competition among laboratories and a pressure to publish," wrote Dr. Asadullah and others from Bayer, in their September paper. "There is also a bias toward publishing positive results, as it is easier to get positive results accepted in good journals."

Science publications are under pressure, too. The number of research journals has jumped 23% between 2001 and 2010, according to Elsevier, which has analyzed the data. Their proliferation has ratcheted up competitive pressure on even elite journals, which can generate buzz by publishing splashy papers, typically containing positive findings, to meet the demands of a 24-hour news cycle.

Dr. Alberts of Science acknowledges that journals increasingly have to strike a balance between publishing studies "with broad appeal," while making sure they aren't hyped.

Drugmakers also have a penchant for positive results. A 2008 study published in the journal PLoS Medicine by researchers at the University of California San Francisco looked at data from 33 new drug applications submitted between 2001 and 2002 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency requires drug companies to provide all data from clinical trials. However, the authors found that a quarter of the trial data—most of it unfavorable—never got published because the companies never submitted it to journals.

The upshot: doctors who end up prescribing the FDA-approved drugs often don't get to see the unfavorable data.

"I would say that selectively publishing data is unethical because there are human subjects involved," says Lisa Bero of UCSF and co-author of the PLoS Medicine study.

In an email statement, a spokeswoman for the FDA said the agency considers all data it is given when reviewing a drug but "does not have the authority to control what a company chooses to publish."

Venture capital firms say they, too, are increasingly encountering cases of nonrepeatable studies, and cite it as a key reason why they are less willing to finance early-stage projects. Before investing in very early-stage research, Atlas Ventures, a venture-capital firm that backs biotech companies, now asks an outside lab to validate any experimental data. In about half the cases the findings can't be reproduced, says Bruce Booth, a partner in Atlas' Life Sciences group.

There have been several prominent cases of nonreproducibility in recent months. For example, in September, the journal Science partially retracted a 2009 paper linking a virus to chronic fatigue syndrome because several labs couldn't replicate the published results. The partial retraction came after two of the 13 study authors went back to the blood samples they analyzed from chronic-fatigue patients and found they were contaminated.

Some studies can't be redone for a more prosaic reason: the authors won't make all their raw data available to rival scientists.

John Ioannidis of Stanford University recently attempted to reproduce the findings of 18 papers published in the respected journal Nature Genetics. He noted that 16 of these papers stated that the underlying "gene expression" data for the studies were publicly available.

But the supplied data apparently weren't detailed enough, and results from 16 of the 18 major papers couldn't fully be reproduced by Dr. Ioannidis and his colleagues. "We have to take it [on faith] that the findings are OK," said Dr. Ioannidis, an epidemiologist who studies the credibility of medical research.

Veronique Kiermer, an editor at Nature, says she agrees with Dr. Ioannidis' conclusions, noting that the findings have prompted the journal to be more cautious when publishing large-scale genome analyses.

When companies trying to find new drugs come up against the nonreproducibility problem, the repercussions can be significant.

A few years ago, several groups of scientists began to seek out new cancer drugs by targeting a protein called KRAS. The KRAS protein transmits signals received on the outside of a cell to its interior and is therefore crucial for regulating cell growth. But when certain mutations occur, the signaling can become continuous. That triggers excess growth such as tumors.

The mutated form of KRAS is believed to be responsible for more than 60% of pancreatic cancers and half of colorectal cancers. It has also been implicated in the growth of tumors in many other organs, such as the lung.

So scientists have been especially keen to impede KRAS and, thus, stop the constant signaling that leads to tumor growth.

In 2008, researchers at Harvard Medical School used cell-culture experiments to show that by inhibiting another protein, STK33, they could prevent the growth of tumor cell lines driven by the malfunctioning KRAS.

The finding galvanized researchers at Amgen, who first heard about the experiments at a scientific conference. "Everyone was trying to do this," recalls Dr. Begley of Amgen, which derives nearly half of its revenues from cancer drugs and related treatments. "It was a really big deal."

When the Harvard researchers published their results in the prestigious journal Cell, in May 2009, Amgen moved swiftly to capitalize on the findings.

At a meeting in the company's offices in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Dr. Begley assigned a group of Amgen researchers the task of identifying small molecules that might inhibit STK33. Another team got a more basic job: reproduce the Harvard data.

"We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in downstream investments" if the approach works," says Dr. Begley. "So we need to be sure we're standing on something firm and solid."

But over the next few months, Dr. Begley and his team got increasingly disheartened. Amgen scientists, it turned out, couldn't reproduce any of the key findings published in Cell.

For example, there was no difference in the growth of cells where STK33 was largely blocked, compared with a control group of cells where STK33 wasn't blocked.

What could account for the irreproducibility of the results? "In our opinion there were methodological issues" in Amgen's approach that could have led to the different findings, says Claudia Scholl, one of the lead authors of the original Cell paper.

Dr. Scholl points out, for example, that Amgen used a different reagent to suppress STK33 than the one reported in Cell. Yet, she acknowledges that even when slightly different reagents are used, "you should be able to reproduce the results."

Now a cancer researcher at the University Hospital of Ulm in Germany, Dr. Scholl says her team has reproduced the original Cell results multiple times, and continues to have faith in STK33 as a cancer target.

Amgen, however, killed its STK33 program. In September, two dozen of the firm's scientists published a paper in the journal Cancer Research describing their failure to reproduce the main Cell findings.

Dr. Begley suggests that academic scientists, like drug companies, should perform more experiments in a "blinded" manner to reduce any bias toward positive findings. Otherwise, he says, "there is a human desire to get the results your boss wants you to get."

Adds Atlas' Mr. Booth: "Nobody gets a promotion from publishing a negative study."


Call for council 'diet police' to inspect private sector employees in Britain

What evidence do they have that lectures on diet would reduce illness?

Council inspectors should start monitoring what private sector employees eat at work in order to help improve the country’s health and to reduce sickness rates, a report has concluded. Drastic action is needed to halt the cycle of ill health amid an alarming “sick note culture”, it found.

The report from 2020Health, a think tank, found that the economy is losing tens of billions of pounds in productivity because of a high number of sick days.

The report recommended the role of council “diet police” be increased to offer advice to the private sector. The authors said the proposals in the report, released today, would help reduce the “sick note culture”.

The suggestion is likely to lead to claims of more “meddling” from council inspectors.

Latest figures show that up to three per cent of the active workforce is off sick at any one time. About 175 million working days are lost each year due to ill health, costing the economy more than £100 billion.

Among the report’s recommendations is a move to allow the role of local authority health and safety inspectors to be expanded. This would mean better advice and information on private sector employee diets, the set-up of workstations, and the importance of exercise could be given, the report says.

It also recommended that the private sector be able to increase the amount of “home-based working” for those recovering from ill health, and be able to stipulate a “workplace health” clause when awarding building contracts.

The report’s authors called for services provided by the NHS to reduce illness such as increased cancer and cardiac screening in the workplace.

The report also said people should be allowed to register with health services that are close to their workplace. The authors said that their recommendations were put forward to “complement the Government’s recent announcements on getting the sick back to work”.

It is estimated that about 3.4 million working days could be saved annually in the NHS, Europe’s largest employer, alone if it improved the health of its workforce.

Julia Manning, the think tank’s chief executive, said: “Our proposals would go a long way towards repairing both the nation’s health and its economic fortunes. The importance of health to economies is well established. “Good health improves educational outcomes, enhances performance at work, increases savings rates and reduces the burden on the public purse by decreasing the demand for health services and benefits payments.”

Earlier this month, an independent review for the Government recommended that independent assessment of sickness claims be introduced.

David Cameron has warned that Britain's sicknote culture in the workplace was acting as a "conveyor belt to a life on benefits". The Prime Minister said he would act on expert advice that recommended that family doctors should be stripped of the power to sign people off work long-term.

"‘Of course some of these people genuinely can’t work, and we must support them. That’s only fair," the Prime Minister said. "But it’s also fair that those who can return to work should be supported to do so. We need to end the something for nothing culture.

"‘While 90 per cent of sickness cases are short-term – that stomach bug or flu that we all suffer from occasionally – nearly half of all days lost to sickness absence are because of cases that last four weeks or more."

Ministers believe that about one in five of those who are absent on long-term sick leave should either never have been signed off in the first place or could go back to work.

The expert report, commissioned for Downing Street, suggested more than three-quarters of GPs admitted they had signed people off sick for reasons other than their physical health.

Mr Cameron said he was alarmed by evidence of the scale of the problem from a report by Dame Carol Black, an expert on health at work, and David Frost, the former director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.


6 December, 2011

Fascist Britain

Child of five taken from parents for being obese: Social workers say they didn't do enough to control weight. "Danger to health" is given as the reason but the obese live roughly as long as slim people so that is fraudulent

A five-year-old has become one of the youngest children to be taken into care for being obese, it emerged last night. Social workers decided the parents were doing too little to bring the youngster’s weight under control.

The child, whose identity is protected by law, had a body mass index of 22.6 – clinically obese for a five-year-old. He or she is thought to have weighed around 4st 4lb – a stone and a half more than average.

The decision was taken by officials at Tameside Council in Greater Manchester. The local authority has also taken a 14-year-old into care, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The teenager had a BMI of 30.3, giving a weight of 13 stone – five stone more than average.

Another child was removed by Sunderland council, but officials refused to provide details of their age or weight, claiming it would breach data protection laws.

The Freedom of Information request sent to all local authorities asked how many children, in the past financial year, have been taken into care where obesity was cited as a contributing factor. The vast majority responded and where care proceedings were instigated, gave general neglect as the reason.

In the previous year, 2009/10, four children were taken into care for obesity reasons: three from the London borough of Lewisham aged three, ten and 15, and an 11-year-old from Northumberland.

In September this year, social workers in Dundee provoked outrage by removing four obese children from their parents. Three girls aged 11, seven and one and a boy of five were placed into care to be ‘fostered without contact’ or adopted.

The most recent NHS figures show that one in ten children starting primary school is obese. Overweight children are at far higher risk of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, asthma and cancer in later life.

Experts predict that obesity will cost the Health Service up to £6.3billion a year by 2015.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the former Chief Medical Officer, warned in 2006 that healthcare chiefs would look at removing children from their families if they became so obese their health was at risk.

The first reported case came in 2007 when an eight-year-old girl from West Cumbria was taken into care weighing ten stone.

In 2008, seven children were removed from homes in England. These included a six-year-old boy from Derby, an eight-year-old girl from Cumbria who had to wear size 16 clothes, and children from Lincolnshire, Wolverhampton and Tower Hamlets in London.

A spokesman for the National Obesity Forum said it supported placing obese children into care, but only after everything possible had been done to try to reduce their weight.

Social workers use their professional judgment about how best to keep children from harm’ ‘We sincerely hope that such occasions would be rare…but make the point that this would be the automatic response to a child at the other extreme – severe malnutrition,’ the spokesman said.

A spokesman for Tameside Council said: ‘The point at which obesity turns into a child-protection issue is a complex and difficult area, and in these two cases there were other determining factors that led to the children being placed in local authority care.

‘Parents should be supported to address their child’s obesity, and social workers should only act if parents fail to engage with the proposed plan to improve their child’s safety and wellbeing.’

David Simmonds, of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: ‘Social workers use their professional judgment about how best to keep children from harm.’


Australia: Queensland Government plan for fast-food calorie counts to beat obesity

The evidence that this has zero effect on what people eat doesn't bother anyone, of course

FAST-FOOD chains will be forced to display the calorie count of every burger, fries and soft drink in the latest attack in the war against obesity.

New rules to be announced today will give customers the chance to weigh up the nutritional value of meals before ordering their meal over the counter - and whether their waistlines can handle the super-sized option.

The legislation being drafted by the Bligh Government means fast-food outlets must display the energy content of all items on their menus. The scheme has targeted super-sized servings that can almost chew up the recommended daily energy intake in one meal.

Customers will be confronted with the daunting kilojoule content - the energy value of food - of items under new-look menu boards in a bid to drive them towards healthier meal choices.

Some meal deals contain more than half the average adult daily limit of 8700 kilojoules. Kilojoule counts would be listed beside every item of sale, including meal deals. The average daily kilojoule limit must also be displayed on menus.

The recommended average energy intake for a six-year-old is about 6700 kilojoules a day, and about 7600 kilojoules a day for a 10-year-old. A Happy Meal at McDonald's can contain up to 2800kj.

It is expected the law will apply to fast-food and snack food chains with more than 20 outlets in the state, or 50 outlets nationally.

Health Minister Geoff Wilson said it was about helping people eat healthier, with obesity rates now as high as one in five Queenslanders. "If current trends continue, it is expected that about two- thirds of Queensland adults will be overweight or obese by 2020," he said.

Heart Foundation chief executive Cameron Prout said the move would help people make more informed choices. "It is not just the usual suspects in terms of offering unhealthy meals," he said. "There are a lot of meals that people think are healthier but might be surprised when they see how many kilojoules are in them."

The laws will be introduced early next year, but the Heart Foundation hopes the plan would gain support from both main parties in the case of an early election.

More than four million Australians buy from fast food outlets each day and many already feature some nutritional information.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Richard Kidd urged lawmakers to go even further by forcing fast-food chains to list items such as fat content on menu boards. "The AMA along with a lot of other health groups is very concerned at the epidemic of obesity, particularly in our children, and we are now seeing Type 2 diabetes appearing in our children, which is just dreadful," he said.

"It doesn't matter what age you are, by the time you develop diabetes your risk of having a heart attack is the same as someone who has already had a heart attack and we are inflicting this on our children now."

Childhood obesity expert Professor Geoff Cleghorn, from the University of Queensland, said the plan was a positive step forward in the battle of the bulge.


5 December, 2011

Federal effort to commandeer the nation’s salt shakers is based on bad science

"Put down the salt shaker and back away from the table. And don't even think about going for the chips." Those are lines you may hear on a TV police drama of the future, when the federal drive to curb salt consumption reaches cruising speed.

Last year, the government's Institute of Medicine urged the Food and Drug Administration to "gradually step down the maximum amount of salt that can be added to foods, beverages, and meals." The FDA is listening. In September, it published a notice concerning issues "associated with the development of targets for sodium reduction in foods to promote reduction of excess sodium intake."

It is currently focusing on voluntary steps to "promote gradual, achievable and sustainable reduction of sodium intake over time." But if it doesn't get its way, it may go beyond gentle encouragement. "Nothing is off the table," a spokesperson declared last year.

Salt has always been prized as a culinary marvel —perking up flavors, masking bitter elements and preventing spoilage. Soup without salt is excellent for nourishing your garden, but unfit to eat. Any number of dishes taste better with a dash or two.

But many experts and public health organizations see salt as a killer, which in excess amounts causes high blood pressure and heart disease. They think we would all be better off eating less, and they want the government to make sure we do. Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, says that "we must treat sodium reduction as a critical public health priority."

But this clear certitude keeps getting clouded by confounding evidence. "For every study that suggests that salt is unhealthy, another does not," an article this year in Scientific American noted.

The Journal of the American Medical Association has reported that people who consume less salt are actually more likely to die of heart disease. Recently, a study in the American Journal of Hypertension found that reducing dietary sodium can cause a harmful response from the body. "I can't really see, if you look at the total evidence, that there is any reason to believe there is a net benefit of decreasing sodium intake in the general population," the chief researcher told Reuters.

Nor is it clear that third parties can get people to reduce their ingestion of sodium. We have been hearing for decades about the alleged hazards of a high-salt diet, and anyone looking for alternatives can easily find them. But today, Americans consume the same amount of salt as they did 50 years ago, when bacon, eggs and hash browns were regarded as a wholesome breakfast.

One survey of 33 countries found that despite vast differences in cuisine, people generally take in about 3,700 milligrams of sodium a day, well above what the FDA recommends, decade after decade.

How come? The theory is that we are all biologically predisposed to seek out that much and no more. The Salt Institute, which represents salt companies, makes the argument —self-serving but not implausible— that if it is reduced in food, people will up their calorie intake to satisfy their craving.

But even if we assume too much salt is a bad thing, federal regulators have no grounds to dictate how much our food may contain. Any consumers who want less sodium, after all, are free to spurn restaurant meals and grocery items laden with heavy doses.

Food companies don't use salt because they like it but because their customers do. If consumer preferences change—say, in response to incessant warnings from medical groups—food products will change as well.

Classifying excess sodium consumption as a "public health" danger mutilates a useful concept. Air pollution, West Nile virus, and E. coli are matters of public health because they inflict harm on broad groups of people against their will and often without their knowledge. No one, however, ingests salt without raising fork to mouth.

If I burn toxic waste in my yard, I may force you to inhale compounds that cause illness or death. If I make a meal of pretzels and Virginia ham, by contrast, I pose no hazard to anyone but myself. You can avoid this "public health" threat without the FDA barging into your kitchen. Eating foods with salt is not a public decision but a private one. That's private, as in: Keep out.


New IVF technique helpful in certain cases

Microarray comparative genomic hybridisation, or CGH, involves a full chromosome count of embryos and allows doctors to ensure only the healthiest embryos are implanted. Fertility clinic Genea will today release data showing almost nine out of 10 patients aged under 38 whose embryos underwent CGH achieved a pregnancy with a foetal heartbeat seen at seven weeks gestation.

The data, to be presented at the World Congress on Human Reproduction in Melbourne this week, shows a success rate of 65 per cent for women older than 38.

Fertility specialist Dr Devora Lieberman said random chromosome abnormalities were one of the main causes of failed IVF cycles and of repeated miscarriages in women who conceive naturally. By using CGH, only embryos containing the correct number and sequence of chromosomes were considered.

Dr Liberman said CGH, which adds about $3000 cost to a cycle of IVF treatment, was not recommended for all IVF patients. "It most appropriate for women who have had multiple, unexplained miscarriages," she said. "Those women often have a "quality control" problem which allows embryos with chromosome abnormalities implant, but they generally go on to miscarry."


4 December, 2011

Dads pass on obesity to children

There is a claim below that you can alter your genetics by what you eat. Have they resurrected Trofim Lysenko? The academic article behind the report below is not listed on the website of Robinson Institute Research Centre for Reproductive Health, where it allegedly came from

CHILDREN inherit obesity from overweight fathers, with daughters particularly at risk, new research has found. Sperm from overweight fathers carried a molecular signal that causes their children to become obese, researchers at the University of Adelaide have discovered.

A team from the university's Robinson Institute Research Centre for Reproductive Health made the find as part of a study looking at reproduction and obesity.

The team tested two groups of mice - one fed a high-fat diet and the other a balanced diet. Offspring from fat males were regularly obese and suffered from diabetes and infertility, with researchers tracking the trigger to a class of genes in sperm known as microRNAs.

"In the group fed the high-fat diet we discovered that male obesity alters the microRNA profile of sperm, resulting in obesity in offspring," researcher Maria Teague said.

But changes to sperm resulting from obesity were non-genetic, indicating that would-be fathers who slimmed down before trying for a child could avoid triggering obesity in their children.


Jab that may halt Alzheimer's before it can destroy lives

A jab that could transform millions of lives by tackling Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages is being tested on British patients. Some 50 men and women with mild memory problems will be given monthly injections of a drug described as their best chance of warding off the disease.

The first jabs have just been given and there is still time for volunteers to join the trial. It could be in widespread use in five years.

Unlike other drugs, which are given once dementia has taken hold, the new medication is designed to set to work when symptoms are confined to slight memory lapses. The drug, called gantenerumab, is not expected to be a cure, but slowing the development of dementia would allow people to live normally for longer, delaying the time when they have to give up work and perhaps go into care.

Experts say this would be ‘life-changing’, and estimate that delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years could halve the number who die with the condition, currently a third of over-65s.

Dr Richard Perry, the Alzheimer’s expert leading one of the British trials, said: ‘There is no guarantee but this is the best chance of a medication that is going to affect the underlying condition at the earliest stage.’

Current drugs tackle the symptoms of Alzheimer’s rather than the underlying damage, and are given once it has taken hold. They do not work for everyone and the effects wear off after time. In contrast gantenerumab, made by Roche, is designed to be given up to four years before the disease has been diagnosed. It is aimed at people with memory problems that have caused them concern but who are still able to go about their day-to-day lives.

It contains an antibody that homes in on amyloid, the toxic protein that clogs the brain in Alzheimer’s, and speeds up its clearance from the body.

In small-scale early trials on men and women who already had Alzheimer’s, it cut the amount of amyloid in the brain by up to a third in just six months, the journal Archives of Neurology reports.

It is hoped that giving it earlier would be even more effective and the drug is now being tested on 360 people in 15 countries with mild memory problems that are expected to progress to dementia.

To take part in the trial, people must be aged between 50 and 89 and have memory problems that are causing them concern. A lumbar puncture will confirm that amyloid is building up in their system, although they have yet to be diagnosed with dementia. Those taking part in the Scarlet Road Study trial will be given gantenerumab every month for two years, or a dummy drug.

Dr Perry, a consultant neurologist at London’s Charing Cross Hospital and at the Re:Cognition Health memory clinic, said: ‘We know that the amyloid is there for many years beforehand and it is thought that if you are going to reduce the amounts to have an effect, we have got to do that before people have significant damage.’

Barbara Sahakian, a professor at Cambridge University’s psychiatry department, said she was ‘thrilled’ by the launch of the trial. She said: ‘The implications are far-reaching. ‘On a personal level, being able to stay at work and maintain your family life and all your hobbies and interests would be just fabulous.

‘There are also great implications for relatives and for society. Institutional care is extremely expensive and if we had effective treatments, we could use that money in a different way.’

Dr Marie Janson of Alzheimer’s Research UK said: ‘Although research into gantenerumab is still in its early phases, initial results have looked promising.’


3 December, 2011

Happy Meals live on in SF

I protested when San Francisco began cracking down on Happy Meals with its cleverly worded edict to prohibit restaurants from giving away toys aimed at children with food that did not satisfy its nutritional standards. But perhaps I despaired too soon. As it turns out, the magic of the market, the ingenuity of McDonald’s, and the incompetence of lawmakers have liberated the Happy Meal toy from the clutches of the paternalistic progressives posing as public health promoters.

The fast-food chain has figured out how to comply with the ordinance while giving customers what they want: From now on, the restaurant will charge ten cents for the Happy Meal toy, giving the proceeds to the Ronald McDonald House charity. What a heroic way of dealing with those pesky local planners! Parents win. Kids win. McDonald’s wins. And charity gets a boost as well!

Liberty has still suffered, however, since now customers are forced to buy the food if they want the toy. Before, parents could purchase a Happy Meal toy by itself for a little over $2. Because of the way the law is written, this option is now gone—another unintended consequence of a bad law, since now, on the margin, customers will sometimes opt to buy the greasy food targeted by the law just so they can get the toy, when before they would have not bought the food.

Still, the Happy Meal lives, and this is just one more reminder that the market will outsmart the state in ways even those of us always on the lookout will miss. Last year, I was enraged that San Francisco (and my home county of Santa Clara) would wage war on American childhood in this manner. Yet I should have stopped and realized that as horrible as this law was, it was not going to stop the wonders of the market from bringing a smile to all those children.

How excellent that, just in time for Christmas, we once again see the market triumph over the efforts of politicians to destroy what fun is left in this country. To all the Hamburglers and Grinches in the world, I plead that you join in the holiday spirit of commerce and voluntarism, and reject the Scroogish sanctimony of socialistic city planning. Do I believe in magic? Of course I do. We see it every day in the glory of the market economy.


Could a simple pill costing 30p a day be the answer to getting pregnant?

A small study on an a-typical group

A 30p multi-vitamin pill could more than double a woman’s chance of having a baby, according to a study. It found that 60 per cent of those taking the supplements while undergoing IVF became pregnant compared to just a quarter who did not take them.

Researchers say the pills contain nutrients that may boost fertility such as vitamins A, C and E, zinc and selenium, that are often absent from our diets.

The study carried out at University College London involved 56 women aged 18 to 40, who had all tried unsuccessfully to fall pregnant using IVF for at least a year.

Half were given a multi-nutrient pill to take every day and the other half given folic acid pills to take daily. The micronutrient pill also contained folic acid which prevents birth defects and has also been shown to help boost fertility.

The team found that 60 per cent of women taking the multi-nutrients fell pregnant, and did not miscarry in the first three months when it is most common.

This compared to 25 per cent of women in the group taking folic acid who were still pregnant after three months.

The study published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine also found that women taking the micronutrients needed far fewer attempts to become pregnant. Of those who fell pregnant, 75 per cent conceived in the first course of IVF.

By comparison just 18 per cent of those on folic acid who became pregnant did so after the first IVF course.

The particular pill, Vitabiotics Pregnacare-Conception,contains folic acid, vitamin B, vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, selenium and some antioxidants. It costs just over £10 over the counter for a month’s supply.

Lead researcher Dr Rina Agrawal said: 'The implications of this study are far reaching as they suggest that prenatal micronutrient supplementation in women undergoing ovulation induction improve pregnancy rates. 'There is a large body of evidence establishing the relationship between placental development, foetal growth, pregnancy outcomes and adequate nutrition, particularly vitamin intake.'

But other scientists pointed out that the study was very small so the results should not be taken too seriously.

Dr Allan Pacey who specialises in fertility at the University of Sheffield said: 'The influence of nutrition on our fertility is of general interest to the public and professionals, but there are relatively few studies which have examined this systematically and few which have shown direct benefits of taking supplements to enhance things.'

'Therefore, on the face of it, this study is interesting but we should acknowledge that this is a relatively small number of patients and the study would need to be repeated in a larger trial before we could be certain of the results.'

A woman’s fertility is known to be affected by a number of factors including her age, weight, alcohol consumption, whether she smokes. High levels of stress and even drinking too much coffee have also been shown to reduce the chances of falling pregnant.


2 December, 2011

Government meddling with what people eat goes back a long way

As early as 1886, Washington took a hand in what Americans could, and supposedly should, eat. That year lawmakers passed the “Oleomaragerine Act” as a sop to the butter industry. Oleo was subject to a two-cent per pound tax, and anyone who aimed to make or sell the butter substitute was required to obtain a margarine license.

Eventually, 32 states would pass laws preventing margarine makers from coloring their product yellow, and the federal government chipped in with a higher tax on yellow margarine than on the white version.

According to the exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” at the National Archives, violators were subject to harsh penalties. It “includes the story of felons convicted of violating sections of the Oleomargarine Act and sent to the Federal prison at Leavenworth. Some tried to pass the margarine off as butter; others tried to evade the tax by reusing tax stamps again and again.”

The exhibit is funded, in what may be an ironic twist, “in part by Mars, Inc.” Keep in mind that, “The U.S. government has devotedly jacked up American sugar prices far above world market prices since the close of the War of 1812,” as author James Bovard noted in 1998. Last year, “the price per pound of raw sugar in the U.S. was 78 percent higher than the global price,” the CATO Institute reports.

Oddly, there’s nothing in the exhibit about how federal subsidies and tariffs have driven up the price of sugar, a crucial ingredient in Mars’ candy products, although it does mention sugar beets, which enjoyed some $242 million in federal subsidies through the early-2000s.

“What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” shows that the government has long been concerned about what Americans eat. W.O Atwater was the U.S. Department of Agriculture's first chief of nutrition investigations. The exhibit says he “concluded in 1890 that Americans eat too much fat and sweets and do not get enough exercise.” Some things, apparently, never change.

Of course, the exhibit makes clear that Washington’s policies have often led to poor eating habits. During World War II the government encouraged children to eat doughnuts (donuts without the “dough” hadn’t been invented yet, apparently) fortified with Vitamin B1. No doubt they’d have tasted even better had they been topped with oleo, but you can’t have everything, I guess.

The display glosses over one of the most destructive federal interventions, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933. At the height of the depression, Washington paid farmers to not grow crops and to slaughter livestock. It’s axiomatic, of course, that you cannot feed people by destroying crops. The government’s moves were aimed at increasing the price of food, although that seems an odd goal at a time when unemployed Americans were starving in the streets. Maybe those who are today advocating for higher natural gas prices could explain.

As the exhibit makes clear, the turning point for federal intervention in our food supply came after Upton Sinclair published his gut wrenching book “The Jungle.” Sinclair showed how the sausage was being made, and Americans were appalled. The Archives’ exhibit contains a long letter from Sinclair to President Theodore Roosevelt calling for federal intervention.

After the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the exhibit notes, “the government found itself in the business of protecting Americans from unsafe steak, misbranded mushrooms, and tainted tomatoes.” Some intervention may have been necessary 100 years ago, but these days the free market would do a much better job of protecting us against tainted meat.

Remember the Topps Meat Company of New Jersey? Probably not.

In the fall of 2007 it shipped frozen hamburgers tainted with E. coli. It recalled the meat, but ended up shutting down almost immediately. “In one week we have gone from the largest U.S. manufacturer of frozen hamburgers to a company that cannot overcome the economic reality of a recall this large,” COO Anthony D’Urso announced. No government bureaucracy could react that quickly or decisively. No doubt other meat companies took note.

The lesson of “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” is that federal intervention warps our food supply in many ways. We’d all be better off if Washington got out of the kitchen and let the free market provide what we want to eat.


Australian Federal Government rejects traffic light food labelling

HEALTH groups have reacted angrily after the Federal Government rejected traffic light food labelling.

The Gillard government reported back on 61 recommendations in an independent review of the nation's food labelling laws. Generic health warning labels on alcohol were also rejected, but it will be mandatory within two years to caution pregnant women against its dangers.

Fast food chains will have to declare kilojoule content on their menu boards, and the standard of health claims on foods will improve.

The Government said there wasn't enough evidence that traffic light labelling would be effective. The system uses traffic light colours - green, orange or red - to indicate whether the levels of fat, sugar and salt in a product are low, medium or high.

But Obesity Policy Coalition senior policy adviser Jane Martin accused the Government of bowing to food industry pressure and ignoring evidence that traffic light labelling helped people make healthy choices. "There is evidence it changes consumer behaviour in a real world situation," she said. "Traffic light labelling has been found to be the most effective scheme in helping people understand the nutritional content of food."


1 December, 2011

Fish could protect against Alzheimer's (?)

As it has not yet been through peer review or published, it is very hard to follow this report below about some very elderly people. The article below makes much of the fish not being fried but the research itself does not appear to have examined that. The study appears to be of regular fish eaters without reference to how the fish was cooked. So does the study itself contradict the assertions in the article below? It would seem so.

And note that the fish-eating was ascertained by self report. Knowing that fish-eating is often recommended, it might have mostly been the savvy oldsters who said they ate a lot of fish, whether they did or not. So being more switched on to start with may have been what retarded the development of Alzheimers.

Just the usual epidemiological crap

Eating fish could protect against Alzheimer's disease and memory loss – but only if it is baked or grilled, researchers have claimed.

A study by US scientists found that elderly people who eat fish at least once a week are three to five times less likely to develop the conditions than people who did not.

But it is essential that the fish is cooked in a manner that preserves the vital Omega-3 fatty acids which help protect the brain, researchers said.

Grilling or baking the meat provides the maximum levels of Omega-3, which increase blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation and limit the build-up of harmful plaques which precedes Alzheimer's.

In contrast fried fish has very low amounts of Omega-3 and consequently offers no protection whatsoever against dementia and age-related memory loss, known as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh studied a group of 260 healthy volunteers with an average age of 76.

In a study to be presented at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting tomorrow (WED), they questioned the participants about how regularly they ate fish.

Brain scans carried out ten years later showed that those who did not eat fish regularly had suffered much more shrinkage in key areas of the brain linked to working memory.

A further five years on, they found that 31 per cent of non-regular fish eaters had gone on to develop Alzheimer's or MCI, compared with between three and eight per cent of those who ate fish at least once a week.

Dr Cyrus A. Raji, who led the study, said further studies could help identify whether Omega-3 supplements yielded similar effects, and whether some types of fish offered better protection than others.

He said: "We know from other studies that salmon gives the maximum amount of Omega-3 fatty acids so it is very possible, but we did not look at which fish people were eating in the study.

"Studies like this definitely justify trials that will look at Omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Having said that, I would speculate that taking supplements is no substitute for a lifetime of eating fish."

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: "This study suggests that eating fish on a weekly basis may reduce the risk of cognitive decline, but it is not clear whether other underlying factors may have contributed to the lower risk in people who eat fish.

"As a number of controlled studies using fatty acids from oily fish have failed to show benefits for dementia, there is a clear need for more conclusive research into the effects of dietary fish on our cognitive health."

Dr Anne Corbett, research manager of the Alzheimer's Society, added: "This moderately sized study adds weight to existing evidence suggesting that eating fish reduces your risk of developing cognitive decline.

"However, this research did not account for lifestyle factors such as other foods or exercise which could also have had an effect. The best way to lessen your chance of developing dementia is to eat a healthy diet including fruit and vegetables along with taking regular exercise and giving up smoking."


Radiation from WiFi connections can reduce sperm activity in up to a quarter of men, study finds

This was research done under totally unnatural conditions so is more of a stunt than a serious study. Any effect was probably due to heat, not the wireless signal. Laptops do get hot to a degree

Working on a laptop wirelessly may hamper a man’s chances of fatherhood. In a study, sperm placed under a laptop connected to the internet through wi-fi suffered more damage than that kept at the same temperature but away from the wireless signal.

The finding is important because previous worries about laptops causing infertility have focused on the heat generated by the machines.

In the latest study, researchers took sperm from 29 men aged 26 to 45 and placed them either under a wi-fi connected laptop or away from the computer. The laptop then uploaded and downloaded information from the internet for four hours. At the end of the experiment, 25 per cent of the sperm under the laptop had stopped moving and 9 per cent showed DNA damage.

By comparison, just 14 per cent of samples kept away from the wi-fi stopped moving. And just 3 per cent suffered DNA damage, the journal Fertility and Sterility reports.

The wireless connection creates electromagnetic radiation that damages semen, the scientists, from the United States and Argentina, believe.

Lead researcher Conrado Avendano, of Nascentis Medicina Reproductiva in Cordoba, said: ‘Our data suggest that the use of a laptop computer wirelessly connected to the internet and positioned near the male reproductive organs may decrease human sperm quality.

‘At present we do not know whether this effect is induced by all laptop computers connected by WiFi to the internet or what use conditions heighten this effect.’

A separate test with a laptop that was on, but not wirelessly connected, found negligible EM radiation from the machine alone.

The findings fuel concerns raised by a few other research teams. Some have found that radiation from mobile phones creates feeble sperm in the lab, for example.

And last year urologists described how a man sitting with a laptop balanced on his knees can crank up the temperature of his scrotum to levels that aren't good for sperm.

So between the heat and the radiation from today's electronic devices, testicles would seem to be hard-pressed.

However, Dr Robert Oates, the president of the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology, has managed to father two kids despite having both a laptop and an iPad. He told Reuters Health he doesn't believe laptops are a significant threat to male reproductive health.

Remarking on the new study, he said: ‘This is not real-life biology, this is a completely artificial setting. ‘It is scientifically interesting, but to me it doesn't have any human biological relevance.’

He added that so far, no study has ever looked at whether laptop use has any influence on fertility or pregnancy outcomes.

‘Suddenly all of this angst is created for real-life actual persons that doesn't have to be,’ said Oates, also of Boston Medical Center. He added: ‘I don't know how many people use laptops on their laps anyway.’

According to the American Urological Association, nearly one in six couples in the U.S. have trouble conceiving a baby, and about half the time the man is at the root of the problem.

While the impact of modern technology is still murky, lifestyle does matter, researchers say.

Earlier this month, a report in Fertility And Sterility showed that men who eat a diet rich in fruit and grains and low in red meat, alcohol and coffee have a better shot at getting their partner pregnant during fertility treatment.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

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

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

"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

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like