Monitoring food and health news

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

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

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

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


28 February, 2010

Toward a Hair-Shirt Army?

In the middle of the Marja offensive, General Stanley McChrystal has turned his attention to what seems to me to be a non-problem. He just ordered commercial fast food establishments at American bases in Afghanistan to shut, along with many stores selling non-essential items.

“MWR should never be the distracter that changes the focus of the mission,” General McChrystal stated, using the military acronym for “morale, welfare and recreation”. I’m not sure how the amount of activity I’ve seen at the half dozen fast food outlets at Kandahar Airfield (KAF) could impair readiness – much less the scene at the solitary little Subway at the Salerno Airfield in Khost.

According to Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall another item that’s to go is first-run film screenings. The argument is that they will “free up much-needed storage facilities” in Bagram and Kandahar to make room for additional equipment to support the surge troops.

How much space does a film reel take up? Seeing a movie in a public screening room is a communal, social experience; watching on your laptop in your bunk is not. A real screening is a harmless plus in a war zone.

I myself avoid fast food to the point of preferring to go hungry, but banning it strikes me as silly —and culturally fascinating. It’s all about a new monasticism, exemplified by the General himself, who only eats one meal a day. It’s about ideology rather than practicality. And it’s historically at odds with the culture of soldiering, which until well into the 20th century still retained the raffishness of both its aristocratic and its ruffian origins.

My guess is that this new monasticism is another way the American public has outsourced our wars: Our soldiers should be ascetics, with lots less opportunities for fun or relaxation than they used to have, while citizens at home become more and more coddled, unfit, and unwilling to defend their country.

The typical enlisted soldier in the American Army in Afghanistan doesn’t have a cushy life. He lives in a remote combat outpost—and enjoys it. But he also gets homesick. It gets old patrolling a muddy little bazaar where the most exciting thing on offer is off-brand Pakistani chips, and there is nothing like civil society: No art, culture, or sports. Maybe once a month, this 20-year-old man gets to go on a convoy to one of the bigger bases—perhaps Salerno or KAF. Why is McChrystal so keen to deprive him of the pleasure of a Whopper and shake?

I read that significant numbers of soldiers are prescribed anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds, and weird drug abuse like inhaling canned air is apparently rife, so isn’t keeping the harmless little indulgences of life a more reasonable option?

To be fair, Hall promises improvements in gym facilities and more bandwidth for “more affordable (perhaps even free) Internet services.” This is a good step. While gyms at the bases in regional headquarters are excellent, they become much less impressive as you move to more provincial capitals like Qalat or Mehtar Lam. And in a tiny, remote outpost like Nawbahar, Zabul, the gym is outdoors and consists of pretty beat up old equipment. Yet it’s in places like this that a higher level of fitness is needed. Staff officers at KAF aren’t going to be running in full battle gear across a 6,500-feet elevation plateau chasing the Taliban.

Some would go further than I in rewarding our troops. A retired Army lieutenant colonel and Vietnam vet, Charles Krohn, recently published an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that we should bring back the Vietnam-era two-beer-a-day ration as a way of preventing binge drinking. As to readiness issues, he wrote of Vietnam in a private e-mail to me that “the issue was irrelevant when soldiers went to the field: (1) we had enough to carry and (2) field operations were life and death, and we all wanted to load the odds in our favor.”

Afghanistan can be a strange place to be deployed; in many areas, there is no shooting war, but then you drive your Humvee down the road one day and your legs are blown off. The young men and women who volunteer to serve there deserve some consolations. They aren’t to blame for the fact that the generals have not won the war —and taking away their little comforts isn’t a substitute for a strategy.


Medical "experts" proved wrong again

THEY have proved all the doomsayers wrong. It's a quarter of a century since retired Brisbane surgeon Russell Strong attracted fierce controversy, giving two-year-old Rhonda Natera a new liver - and with it, a new life. Ms Natera, Australia's first child liver transplant recipient, is now a healthy 27-year-old, and Professor Strong has since been described by colleagues as "Australia's greatest living surgeon", celebrated around the world.

But the opposition to liver transplants in children could not have been more hostile in the lead-up to Prof Strong operating on Rhonda, who was dying of bilary artresia, in 1985.

The procedure had been successfully performed overseas but one Australian ethicist proclaimed it would result in "stunted" children, incapable of living a normal life, and described the surgery as "bordering on obscenity".

The then editor of the Medical Journal of Australia was also scathing in his opposition. "No doubt the surgeons are really nice people, kind to dogs, cats and their own children – once they take off their masks and leave the supercharged atmosphere of the operating room," he wrote at the time. "But then, away from the laboratory, probably Dr Mengele was kind to children, too. "The medical profession in Western nations must act to curb the extravagant behaviour of its super technologists, whose manual dexterity has far outgrown their vestigial senses of judgment."

But history has proved the critics misguided. Ms Natera is now the mother of two boys, Maleque, 8, and Kyzark, 4, and she lives a "pretty normal life" with partner Presley. "I'm still going fine. I rarely get sick," she said yesterday. "I'm just grateful. Before the donor organ became available I was pretty much on the way out."

In the years after the groundbreaking surgery, Prof Strong earned international acclaim for his advances in the liver transplant field. In 1987 he revolutionised liver transplant surgery in children by cutting an adult liver down to fit inside a dying little girl – an idea initially derided by many of his international colleagues. "I just remember them saying, 'this is a nonsense'," Prof Strong said. "They just laughed at me."

The procedure has since been referred to internationally as "the Brisbane technique" and has saved the lives of thousands of children. "'Now, about 75 per cent of all children's transplants are done by the Brisbane technique around the world and in children less than three years of age, it's over 90 per cent," Prof Strong said.

In 1989 Prof Strong used it to perform the first successful live donor liver transplant, saving the life of a Japanese boy who received a portion of his mother's liver.


27 February, 2010

How a happy marriage can cut stroke risk

There may be something in this but it could equally be that healthier men have happier marriages. Basing any conclusions on just 3.6% of your sample seems a bit wacky, though. That 3.6% might have had other things wrong with them other than being dissatisfied with their marriage. Perhaps they were just generally dissatisfied and unhappy etc.

Happily-married men are much less likely to suffer a stroke than their single or unhappily married friends, according to research. Single men and those in unsuccessful marriages were 64 per cent more likely to have a stroke than men in successful marriages. Scientists said having an unhappy marriage or being single was as big a risk to men's chances of having a stroke as suffering from diabetes.

Their research followed 10,059 civil servants and council workers who completed the Israeli Ischaemic Heart Disease Study in 1963. They tracked the men to 1997 to check their cause of death. In 1965, two years after the first study, the participants were asked to rate their marriages as successful or unsuccessful, or to say if they have never married.

Dr Uri Goldbourt, of Tel Aviv University, who carried out the study, said: 'An analysis of the 3.6 per cent of men who had reported dissatisfaction in their marriage found the adjusted risk of a fatal stroke was 64 per cent higher, compared with men who considered their marriages very successful. 'I had not expected that unsuccessful marriage would be of this statistical importance.' Dr Goldbourt said the risk of stroke was just as high for single men as it was for those stuck in dead end marriages.

He reached his conclusions after making statistical adjustments for factors such as social class, obesity, blood pressure, smoking habits and family size, as well as existing diabetes-and heart disease. The study did not look at whether women's chance of suffering strokes was reduced if they had a happy marriage.

Dr Goldbourt admitted his research had several limitations. 'There was a lack of data on nonfatal versus fatal strokes and on participants' medical treatment after the first five years of the initial study,' he said. 'Women also weren't included.'


The Danger of Daily Aspirin

If you're taking a daily aspirin for your heart, you may want to reconsider. For years, many middle-aged people have taken the drug in hopes of reducing the chance of a heart attack or stroke. Americans bought more than 44 million packages of low-dose aspirin marketed for heart protection in the year ended September, up about 12% from 2005, according to research firm IMS Health.

Now, medical experts say some people who are taking aspirin on a regular basis should think about stopping. Public-health officials are scaling back official recommendations for the painkiller to target a narrower group of patients who are at risk of a heart attack or stroke. The concern is that aspirin's side effects, which can include bleeding ulcers, might outweigh the potential benefits when taken by many healthy or older people.

"Not everybody needs to take aspirin," says Sidney Smith, a professor at the University of North Carolina who is chairing a new National Institutes of Health effort to compile treatment recommendations on cardiovascular-disease prevention. Physicians are beginning to tailor aspirin recommendations to "groups where the benefits are especially well established," he says.

Doctors generally agree that most patients who have already suffered a heart attack or ischemic stroke, the type caused by a clot or other obstruction blocking an artery to the brain, should take regular low-dose aspirin. But for people without heart disease, the newest guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force spell out much more clearly than before when aspirin should be administered.

The guidelines, announced last year, suggest aspirin for certain men 45 to 79 years old with elevated heart-disease risk because of factors like cholesterol levels and smoking. For women, the guidelines don't focus on heart risk. Instead, the task force recommends certain women should take aspirin regularly if they are 55 to 79 and are in danger of having an ischemic stroke, for reasons that could include high blood pressure and diabetes.

The panel urged doctors to factor in conditions that could increase a patient's risk of bleeding from aspirin, which tends to rise with age. The group didn't designate a dose, but suggested that an appropriate amount might be 75 milligrams a day, which is close to the 81mg contained in low-dose, or "baby," aspirin. The task force didn't take a position on aspirin for people who are 80 and older because of a lack of data in this age group.

The task force issued its latest guidelines after reviewing the evidence from a number of studies on aspirin's benefits and risks. The recommendations update the panel's previous guidelines from 2002, which were more broadly written. Those suggested aspirin use for people of any age who were at elevated risk of heart disease.

"We would like doctors to re-look at their patients who are on aspirin and consider recommending stopping it where the chance of harm outweighs the benefit," says Ned Calonge, a Colorado public-health official who serves as the task force's chairman. He notes, however, that in studies of healthy people taking aspirin, the actual rates of bleeding and of prevented heart attacks were very low.

Not all patients accustomed to taking aspirin will want to stop. Maxine Fischer, 55 years old, recently figured out that under the new U.S. guidelines, she wouldn't be encouraged to continue with the drug. Using an online calculator, which factored such data as her age, blood pressure and medical history, she learned she had just a 1% likelihood of a stroke in the next 10 years. Under the guidelines, only women in her age group with at least a 3% or higher stroke risk should take aspirin.

Ms. Fischer, who works as a manager for seniors' lobby AARP in San Diego, has taken aspirin daily for two years after reading it could reduce the risk of stroke. For the moment, she says she'll keep it up, partly because she's more worried about strokes than ulcers. Strokes are "the big scary thing," she says.

Other patients say they would stick with aspirin because of other benefits attributed to the drug; past research has suggested that regular aspirin may reduce the risk of colon cancer, for instance. Virginia Douglas, 64, a retired trade-association executive, takes aspirin a few times a week. In addition to the possibly reduced risk of stroke, Ms. Douglas hopes to avoid colon cancer, which affected her father and grandfather. "There's always a new study with a new recommendation," says Ms. Douglas, of Sacramento, Calif. "You have to do what's best for you."

In a separate analysis, published in medical journal Lancet last May, an international group of scientists reached a broadly similar conclusion as did the U.S. task force—that doctors may have been recommending aspirin too widely. "You really have to have a clear margin of benefit over hazard before you should be treating healthy people," says Colin Baigent, a professor at Oxford University who coordinated the Lancet analysis.

Still, the Lancet authors disagreed with the U.S. panel on some important details, particularly about who should be taking aspirin. The two groups examined evidence largely from the same studies of the drug, although the international team analyzed the data differently. In the end, the international team of scientists, unlike the U.S. officials, concluded that aspirin's effects on men and women were mostly the same.

Another disagreement between the two groups also emerged: The U.S. task force said that age is the biggest factor determining a person's risk of internal bleeding from aspirin. But the international team said other factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, also play a significant role. Unfortunately, the scientists noted, the same factors that increase patients' risk of bleeding also increase their risk of developing heart disease. This, in turn, can make it more difficult to calculate whether the benefits of aspirin would outweigh the risks of side effects.

The U.S. task force responded with a letter to the Lancet, defending its finding that men and women's results did appear different. There is a "wealth of evidence that men and women have different cardiovascular disease manifestations and respond differently to aspirin," the letter said. The panel also reiterated its position that bleeding risk is best parsed by age.

Amid the debate, some individual doctors are finding their own position. Rodney Hayward, who codirects a Veterans Affairs research center in Ann Arbor, Mich., says he's not convinced that aspirin's effects on men and women are so different. He says he continues to recommend aspirin for certain patients of both sexes with significant heart risk.


26 February, 2010

Marks drop as kids fail fitness test

I am pleased to see that age, social and economic status, gender, ethnicity, and body size were allowed for: A rare degree of sophistication. Given such controls, the study is some confirmation for the notion of general biological fitness (as shown in the fact that high IQ people tend to be healthier and live longer). One would of course expect physical fitness to be part of general biological fitness. Putting the cause the other way around and saying that fitness increased IQ is most unlikely and certainly speculative. All controlled attempts to raise IQ have found it to be most intractable

GETTING students to exercise more might not just address obesity issues, but also improve their grades. A US study found physically fit students scored higher in tests than their less fit peers. Test scores dropped more than one point for each extra minute it took middle and high school students to complete a 1600m run/walk fitness test, according to Dr William J McCarthy and colleagues at the University of California in Los Angeles. For optimal brain function "it's good to be both aerobically fit and to have a healthy body shape", Dr McCarthy said.

Dr McCarthy's team compared physical fitness and body weight measures with scores on California's standardised maths, reading, and language tests among 749 fifth-graders, 761 seventh-graders, and 479 ninth-graders who attended schools between 2002 and 2003.

About half of the students were girls, 60 per cent were white, 26 per cent were of Hispanic ethnicity, and about 7 per cent each were African American and Asian/Pacific Islander. Almost 32 per cent of the students were overweight and about 28 per cent were obese, the researchers reported in The Journal of Pediatrics.

The researchers estimated students' aerobic fitness according to their times on a flat track. With a 15-minute maximum allowed time to complete the test, the boys averaged slightly less than 10 minutes, while the girls averaged a little less than 11 minutes.

Mr McCarthy's team found that nearly two-thirds of the students (65 per cent) fell below the state fitness standard for their age and gender. Compared with these students, students who met or exceeded fitness standards had higher average test scores. Allowing for age, social and economic status, gender, ethnicity, and body size did not significantly alter this association.

Compared with students of desirable weight, overweight and obese students also scored significantly lower on tests, the researchers found.


Proposed Soda Taxes Fall Flat, Says Black Activist, Calls Demonization of Carbonated Beverages Yet Another Progressive Attack on Liberty

Proposed soda taxes fall flat, according to Deneen Borelli, a fellow with the Project 21 black leadership network, who says the demonization of carbonated beverages is just another example of the progressive attack on liberty. "After the Obama Administration tried to put itself between me and my doctor with its health care plan, the White House - along with Governor David Paterson and Mayor Gavin Newsom - now want to come between me and my can of soda," said Borelli.

"Raising taxes during hard economic times is a horrible idea and it's doomed to failure," added Borelli. "Elected officials should be focused on lowering taxes to getting our economy growing in order to stimulate job growth. Instead you have Mayor Newsom in San Francisco and Governor Paterson in New York using the 'obesity card' to make up for their budget shortfalls. Punishing consumers, beverage companies, bottling companies and small business owners will only add to our economic troubles. These politicians need to put themselves on a spending diet and worry about their bloated budgets and let me worry about my waistline."

Borelli continued: "And then you've got Michelle Obama and the Obama Administration leaning on schools and on the beverage and snack food industries to reform their wicked ways. In spreading their gospel against sugary treats, they will hurt the ability of Paterson and Newsom to reap their sin taxes. It's clear the progressives can't have it both ways despite their ambitions. The only one harmed in the end will be the American consumer."

In New York, Governor David Paterson (D) has reintroduced a $1.28 per gallon tax on sugared sodas - a proposal he first proposed and later abandoned in 2009. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) has announced his intention to introduce legislation to impose a undisclosed fee on retailers selling sugary beverages. By targeting retailers, Newsom bypasses the need to subject the tax to a voter referendum.

At the same time, First Lady Michelle Obama is the public face of the Obama Administration's legislative drive to attack the presence of soda and snacks in schools. On February 9, she announced the "Let's Move" campaign to allegedly "end the American plague of childhood obesity in a single generation." While she asserted the role of the government would be "minor" in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" program, her husband is creating a federal task force on the issue charged with formulating a "long-term action plan." Additionally, Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on February 8 that he intends to ban candy and soda from schools. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) is expected to introduce legislation codifying this ban as part of the reauthorization of school meal programs.

"Social engineering is at the heart of the progressive movement," Borelli continued. "The Obama Administration sought a cap-and-trade emissions policy that would raise energy prices and thus force Americans to use less energy. Then it was government mandates on health issues. Now, it's discriminatory taxes on food and beverages. It seems there is nothing the so-called progressives will not tax and no liberty they will not assault to support their worldview."


Soda Bad, Juice Good?…

by John Stossel

My years of consumer reporting have taught me: often what you think you know… is not so. We’re told that soda is bad, if not evil. It’s loaded with sugar. Sugar makes people fat. Rots their teeth. It provide only empty calories. On the other hand, fruit is good… and therefore fruit juice is good. Give the kids fruit juice instead of soda. Juice ads brag that fruit juice is the “natural” drink.

What the ads don’t tell you is that fruit juice contains as much sugar as Coke and Pepsi: ten teaspoons of sugar in a 12 oz. glass. The Los Angeles Times explains that fruit juice can be more fattening, and maybe worse for you, than soda: "Ounce per ounce, it contains more calories than soda, though it tends to be consumed in smaller servings. A cup of orange juice has 112 calories, apple juice has 114, and grape juice packs 152, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The same amount of Coke has 97 calories, and Pepsi has 100… Making matters worse, the human body is ill-equipped to process the sugar that is concentrated in a glass of juice. When fructose is eaten in a piece of fruit, it enters the body slowly so the liver has time to convert it into chemical energy. But a single glass of apple juice has the fructose of six apples."

I asked Sarah Wally, who speaks for the Juice Products Association, why juice companies have the nerve to promote their products as healthy. Her answer: “We have to look at the nutrient content of 100% juice. And it’s supplying important vitamins and minerals and it’s supplying a full serving of fruit in just a half a cup of fruit juice.”

In fairness, fruit juice does give you some vitamins and nutrients. But just don’t forget that it also gives you 10 teaspoons of sugar.


25 February, 2010

Doctors Urging for a Safer, Choke-Free Hot Dog

Why not safer candy, gum, coins, carrots, grapes, apples, popcorn, peanuts, marshmallows and balloons too? Kids have choked on all of those. And let's ban steaks too. Lots of people choke on steak. Let's all eat ground beef only, with tofu on the side

When 4-year-old Eric Stavros Adler choked to death on a piece of hot dog, his anguished mother never dreamed that the popular kids' food could be so dangerous. Some food makers including Oscar Mayer have warning labels about choking, but not nearly enough, says Joan Stavros Adler, Eric's mom.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. The nation's largest pediatricians group is calling for sweeping changes in the way food is designed and labeled to minimize children's chances for choking.

Choking kills more than 100 U.S. children 14 years or younger each year and thousands more — 15,000 in 2001 — are treated in emergency rooms. Food, including candy and gum, is among the leading culprits, along with items like coins and balloons. Of the 141 choking deaths in kids in 2006, 61 were food-related.

Surveillance systems lack detailed information about food choking incidents, which are thought to be underreported but remain a significant and under-appreciated problem, said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Smith is lead author of a new policy report from the pediatrics academy that seeks to make choking prevention a priority for government and food makers. The report was released Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Doctors say high-risk foods, including hot dogs, raw carrots, grapes and apples — should be cut into pea-sized pieces for small children to reduce chances of choking. Some say other risky foods, including hard candies, popcorn, peanuts and marshmallows, shouldn't be given to young children at all.

Federal law requires choking warning labels on certain toys including small balls, balloons and games with small parts. Unless food makers voluntarily put more warning labels on high-risk foods, there should be a similar mandate for food, the pediatrics academy says.

Adler, a Warren, N.J. attorney who pushed for more warning labels after her son died in 2001, says she hopes the academy's efforts will work. Several efforts to pass federal legislation for labels have failed in Congress....

Adler considered herself educated about children's safety. Her son had eaten hot dogs before without any problem. Hot dogs are "almost as American as apple pie," she said. "You really don't know how horrible it can be."


Federal Racketeering Lawsuit Stuns HSUS

You may have missed our New Year’s Eve exposé covering the dismissal of a federal lawsuit pushed by a consortium of animal rights groups that included the deceptive Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The groups alleged that Feld Entertainment (the parent company of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus) mistreated elephants in violation of the Endangered Species Act, but in December a judge tossed out the lawsuit.

Now the plot thickens: The circus is suing HSUS, two HSUS lawyers, and a number of other animal rights organizations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. (The lawsuit is exclusively available at

The original animal rights lawsuit, filed more than nine years ago, was based on information provided by a former Ringling elephant “barn helper” named Tom Rider. After Rider left his circus job, he was paid by animal rights groups to testify about the supposedly “bad” treatment of elephants there. In all, the original lawsuit’s plaintiffs paid Rider more than $190,000 —his sole source of income for years— while the litigation made its way through the court system.

Sound a bit like pay-for-play? As Judge Emmet Sullivan noted in his December ruling that dismissed the animal rights groups’ lawsuit: “The Court finds that Mr. Rider is essentially a paid plaintiff and fact witness who is not credible, and therefore affords no weight to his testimony…. [T]he primary purpose [for the payments] is to keep Mr. Rider involved with the litigation…”

Based on Judge Sullivan’s finding, Feld is suing everyone who played a part in this collaborative scheme (hence the “racketeering” aspect). This includes Rider and a nonprofit “Wildlife Advocacy Project” charity that the Washington, DC law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal allegedly used to launder money between their plaintiff clients and Rider.

One of these clients putting up dough to support Rider was the Fund for Animals, which merged with HSUS in 2004.

Feld is leveling bribery, fraud, obstruction of justice, and money laundering charges against HSUS and two of its corporate attorneys, three other animal rights groups, Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, and all three of that firm’s named partners. It’s an earth-shattering lawsuit. Today we’re telling the media:
America’s farmers, ranchers, hunters, fishermen, research scientists, fashion designers, and restaurateurs have seen for decades how the animal rights movement can behave like a mobbed-up racket. But it’s still shocking to see the evidence laid out on paper. In a treble-damage lawsuit like this, a jury could actually do the humane thing and finally put HSUS out of business completely.
You can read the full, 135-page lawsuit over at HumaneWatch. It’s worth more than a glance. If these allegations are proven true, HSUS employees might be finding themselves walking the same breadline they’ve tried to put so many others in.


24 February, 2010

Red wine and dark chocolate cancer killers (?)

This is all just assertion. Where are these findings in the published literature? I know of no double blind studies supporting these alleged therapeutic effects of food in humans. On the Angiogenesis Foundation site, all the reported studies about food are just said to be "suggestive"

Red grapes and dark chocolate join blueberries, garlic, soy, and teas as ingredients that starve cancer while feeding bodies, Angiogenesis Foundation head William Li said at a prestigious TED Conference. "We are rating foods based on their cancer-fighting qualities," Li said. "What we eat is really our chemotherapy three times a day."

The Massachusetts-based foundation is identifying foods containing chemicals that evidently choke-off blood supplies to tumors, starving them to death. Li cited a Harvard Medical School study showing that men who ate cooked tomatoes several times weekly were 30 to 50 percent less likely to have prostate cancer.

"There is a medical revolution happening all around us," Li said. "If we're right, it could impact on consumer education, food service, public health, and even insurance agencies."

About a dozen drugs are already in use to deprive tumors of blood supplies in a treatment tactic called "anti-angiogenesis. The foundation pitted some foods against approved drugs and found that soy, parsley, red grapes, berries and other comestibles were either as effective or more potent in battling cancer cells. Eaten together, the foods were even more effective in fighting cancer.

"We discovered that Mother Nature laced a large number of foods and herbs with anti-angiogenesis features," Li said. "For many people around the world, dietary cancer treatment may be the only solution because not everyone can afford cancer drugs." The foundation also discovered that anti-angiogenesis properties of foods melt away fat, which relies heavily on blood flow to sustain itself.

Tests showed that mice genetically prone to be chubby could be trimmed to average mouse size using the approach. "It got weight down to a set point for normal mice," Li said. "In other words, we can't create supermodel mice."


Having a nap after lunch can increase your intelligence, a new study claims

As I am an inveterate napper, I am not going to argue with this one. It seems a good study anyway

Researchers have found that sleeping for an hour in the afternoon boosts brain power and dramatically increases its ability to learn new facts and tasks. On the other hand, the more hours we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become and the less able to absorb new information. "Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap," said Professor Matthew Walker, who led the study at the University of California.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Prof Walker said the results support previous research that found “pulling an all-nighter” – or cramming for exams reduced ability to learn new facts by 40 per cent. The reason was due to a shutdown of parts of the brain regions due to sleep deprivation and the filling up of the short term memory that was usually filed and emptied during periods of sleep.

Scientists have long suspected that there is a link between sleep and memory and have suggested that it acts like a sort of filing system, enabling the brain to distinguish between important and useless information.

In the latest study, 39 healthy young adults were divided into two groups – nap and no-nap. At noon, all the participants were subjected to a rigorous learning task intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain where fact-based memories are first stored. Both groups performed at comparable levels.

At 2 pm, the nap group took a 90-minute siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. Later that day, at 6 pm, participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn.

These findings reinforce the researchers' hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain's short-term memory storage and make room for new information, said Prof Walker. Prof Walker said that fact-based memories are temporarily stored in the hippocampus before being sent to the brain's prefrontal cortex, the filing cabinet of the mind. "It's as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you're not going to receive any more mail,” said Prof Walker. “It's just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder.”

In the latest study, Prof Walker and his team have broken new ground in discovering that this memory-refreshing process occurs when nappers are engaged in a specific stage of sleep.

Electroencephalogram tests, which measure electrical activity in the brain, indicated that this refreshing of memory capacity is related to Stage 2 non-Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, which takes place between deep sleep (non-REM) and the dream state known simply as REM.

Previously, the purpose of this stage was unclear, but the new results offer evidence as to why humans spend at least half their sleeping hours in Stage 2, non-REM, Prof Walker said. "I can't imagine Mother Nature would have us spend 50 percent of the night going from one sleep stage to another for no reason," Prof Walker said. "Sleep is sophisticated. It acts locally to give us what we need."

Prof Walker and his team will go on to investigate whether the reduction of sleep experienced by people as they get older is related to the documented decrease in our ability to learn as we age. Finding that link may be helpful in understanding such neurodegenerative conditions as Alzheimer's disease, Prof Walker said.


23 February, 2010

The Great Asbestos Hysteria: The BBC, profiteering firms and politicians have exaggerated the dangers

Yesterday saw the launch of yet another scare campaign. As so often before championed by the BBC, it warned us again of the deadly dangers posed by asbestos - this time in Britain's schools.

In the past 30 years, it was claimed on Radio 4's Today programme, 178 teachers have died of asbestos-related diseases - and their numbers are rising all the time. Indeed, according to a new study backed by the teaching unions and cited by the Today programme report, three-quarters of our schools contain asbestos - and almost none of it is being properly 'managed' as the law dictates.

It sounds horrific, as though hundreds of thousands of children and their teachers are being daily put at risk by exposure to a substance as deadly as anthrax. Yet the truth is that this is just the latest in a series of attempts to whip up mass hysteria over the dangers of asbestos in schools, which are, in reality, all but non-existent.

No one would deny that asbestos, which has been used as a heat retardant and binding agent for centuries, can cause serious health problems. The fibres of some types of asbestos have been linked to various forms of cancer. But too often the scare stories are based on fiction, not fact.

A few years ago, for example, much publicity was given to a similar bid to alarm Britain's parents. This one centred on a claim by a Michael Lees, whose teacher wife had supposedly died of an asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. It claimed that 'death-trap classrooms' were 'riddled with asbestos' and had claimed the lives of no fewer than 147 teachers between 1991 and 2000.

When Mr Lees's claim was investigated by the Health and Safety Executive - the Government agency responsible for enforcing asbestos regulation - however, it found his belief that 'the number of deaths of primary school teachers from mesothelioma was disproportionately high' was 'not borne out by the facts'. The death rate among female teachers, it turned out, was no higher than for the rest of the female working population - and was anyway extremely low.

It is true that most older school buildings contain asbestos products of one kind or another, such as asbestos cement roof slates or ceiling tiles. But almost all of these products contain relatively harmless white asbestos, encapsulated in cement or other materials, from which it is virtually impossible to extract even a single dangerous fibre. The dangers from such products are so vanishingly small - as many scientific studies have shown - that, in the cautious words of a report by the HSE itself, they are 'insignificant'. The risks of their causing lung cancer are 'arguably zero'.

This is why the HSE correctly advises school authorities to leave asbestos products in place and intact wherever they are serving a useful purpose - such as minimising the risk of fire or providing effective roofing.

So why these repeated attempts to whip up people's fears over what all the evidence reveals to be a non- existent problem? Part of the problem is that there is money to be made from fuelling asbestos hysteria. First, licensed asbestos removal contractors can all too often charge exorbitant sums for handling and disposing of this 'deadly' material. Second, a new breed of law firm, which specialises in compensation claims and takes a healthy cut from any successful cases, is keen to tout for custom. They will even pay commissions to trade unions, such as those representing teachers, for any potential 'clients' passed on to them.

And both benefit from a general ignorance of what asbestos really is. The word 'asbestos' is, in fact, a non- scientific term used to cover two very different substances. It is now more than 50 years since the iron silicate minerals known as 'blue' and 'brown' asbestos were discovered to be highly dangerous, killing tens of thousands of people in very unpleasant ways. Their use amounted to one of the nastier public health disasters of the 20th century and was a terrible tragedy for all those who suffered. On the back of this, compensation claims - particularly in America - amounted to many billions of dollars.

But the devil got into the story when this justified concern was then used, by sleight of hand, to demonise a quite different mineral: 'white' asbestos, which is used to make more than 90 per cent of all the asbestos products in the world. For ' white' asbestos, as even the HSE has acknowledged, is 500 times less dangerous than the 'blue' form, because its soft magnesium silicate fibres rapidly dissolve in the human lung. And when it is encapsulated in cement, as it most often is, it is virtually impossible for those fibres to escape and be breathed into the lungs at all.

Shamefully, however, our gullible lawmakers have allowed themselves to be talked into confusing the genuinely dangerous forms of asbestos with those that pose no risk - simply because they share the same general name. And this has paved the way for these two commercial rackets.

The new army of specialist asbestos removal contractors, the only professionals now allowed to handle asbestos, certainly have a vested interest in exaggerating the dangers of products which are, in effect, harmless. As does the ' compensation' industry, which makes a fortune from claims.

No one could be more deserving of sympathy than the genuine-victims of asbestos-related diseases, the vast majority of whom were dockyard workers, electricians and plumbers, exposed to the dangerous forms of asbestos in the years before those risks were properly recognised. But this genuine concern has now been used to whip up unjustified alarm over products which are safe, leaving us to face yet another of those damaging and unnecessary 'scares' of which our society has seen too many in recent years.

And make no mistake: it is costing us a fortune. Indeed, many people are so confused that they can be fooled into imagining that a harmless asbestos roof might somehow pose a lethal danger - and duped into paying through the nose to have it replaced.

Even the once sensible HSE has been drawn into supporting the scare machine, so that it was recently forced by the Advertising Standards Authority to withdraw a series of commercials claiming that mesothelioma is now killing 4,500 people a year. When John Bridle, the whistleblower who brought this successful complaint against the HSE for ludicrously exaggerating its figures, he did so simply by producing the evidence of the HSE's own published statistics, which showed the figure was closer to 2,000 at the very worst.

The contractors, lawyers and the BBC might want to scaremonger with this latest attempt to frighten us into imagining our children are dying from exposure to the roof on a school classroom - but it's time the truth came out. Or we're going to unnecessarily scare an awful lot of people and be left picking up a very large bill.


SOME IVF children have higher risk of infertility, obesity and diabetes

"In terms of absolute numbers this is not very important". It does seem clear, however, that the more risky ICSI procedure is overused

Britain faces an infertility timebomb because a generation of IVF babies may have inherited their parents' inability to conceive, a leading doctor has warned. More than 260,000 children born from IVF treatment in the UK are at greater risk of health problems than naturally conceived youngsters, a conference heard yesterday. And as the generation of IVF children reaches adulthood, many will discover they too are unable to have babies naturally.

IVF pioneer Dr Andre van Steirteghem also accused clinics of putting patients at unnecessary risk by 'overusing' a technique he invented for male infertility more than two decades ago. 'There are genetic causes of infertility that you can pass on,' said Dr Van Steirteghem. 'It means that the next generation may be infertile as well and this is something all clinics should mention to the patients - that if there is a genetic origin that this genetic origin of infertility may be transmitted to the next generation.'

IVF - or in vitro fertilisation - is one of the fastest and most profitable branches of medicine. Last year, the £500million fertility industry used it to produce more than 13,000 babies. Fertility treatment is so common that one child in every primary school year group is thought to have been conceived in a fertility clinic.

But the growth of IVF may have come at a cost to a small, but significant, minority of children. Studies have shown that test-tube babies are slightly more likely to suffer from birth defects. Because so many are twins and triplets, they are also at greater risk of low birth weight, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure later in life. Doctors fear many IVF babies will also inherit the genetic mutations that caused their mother or father's infertility.

Dr Van Steirteghem, of the Brussels Free University Centre for Reproductive Medicine, said most parents accepted the risk that their children could have fertility problems - and that future doctors would be able to treat them. 'Overall these children do well,' he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Diego. 'Are there any negative things? Yes. There are a few more problems with these children. In terms of absolute numbers this is not very important.

'If you talk about malformation rate this will go from a background of 3.5 per cent of all births after spontaneous conception to about 4 per cent to 5 per cent and there may be some other problems as well. We have to follow up these children to see what will happen later on. It's important to know.'

The risks of birth defects are higher for babies born using ICSI - or intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection - a treatment for infertile men in which an individual sperm is selected and injected directly into an egg. In Britain, it is used in around 43 per cent of fertility treatment cycles, while the rate in some private clinics is 77 per cent. Dr Van Steirteghem, who invented ICSI in the 1980s, called for clinics to cut down on its use. Some studies have shown it leads to slightly lower pregnancy rates, while it costs twice as much as standard IVF.

There are also concerns ICSI uses sperm that would normally be too unfit to fertilise an egg, increasing the risks of genetic defects in the child. 'When you have a method like conventional IVF which is certainly less invasive than ICSI and that can help couples with female factory infertility where the sperm count is normal, I don't see any reason why ICSI should be used,' he said.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority recommends that ICSI should be used only when there are problems with a man's sperm or when past attempts at IVF have failed.

The doctor's comments came as Dr Carmen Sapienza of Temple University Medical School in Philadelphia showed that dozens of genes involved in growth, metabolism and obesity behaved differently in IVF babies. But he stressed the risks of birth defects was small and that 90 per cent of children in the IVF group were within the normal range of activity of genes. 'If you look at kids born through assisted reproduction, by and large they are just fine,' he said.

Doctors are unsure whether the fertility treatment is to blame for the increase in health problems - or whether they are inherited problems from an infertile parent.

A spokesman for the HFEA said it was important that long term research was carried out into all forms of assisted reproduction so clinicians and patients had the best information available when making decisions about treatment.


22 February, 2010

The internet will make you smarter, experts say

The brown-nosed "Baroness" Greenfield won't like this. It's just opinion but so is what she says

An online survey of 895 web users and experts found more than three-quarters believe the internet will make people smarter in the next 10 years. Most of the respondents also said the internet would improve reading and writing by 2020, according to the study, conducted by the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University in North Carolina and the Pew Internet and American Life project. "Three out of four experts said our use of the internet enhances and augments human intelligence, and two-thirds said use of the internet has improved reading, writing and the rendering of knowledge," said study co-author Janna Anderson, director of the Imagining the Internet Center.

But 21 per cent said the internet would have the opposite effect and could even lower the IQs of some who use it a lot. "There are still many people... who are critics of the impact of Google, Wikipedia and other online tools," she said.

The web-based survey gathered opinions from scientists, business leaders, consultants, writers and technology developers, along with internet users screened by the authors. Of the 895 people surveyed, 371 were considered experts. It was prompted in part by an August 2008 cover story in the Atlantic Monthly by technology writer Nicholas Carr headlined: "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

Carr suggested in the article that heavy use of the web was chipping away at users' capacity for concentration and deep thinking. Carr, who participated in the survey, told the authors he still agreed with the piece. "What the 'net does is shift the emphasis of our intelligence away from what might be called a meditative or contemplative intelligence and more toward what might be called a utilitarian intelligence," Carr said. "The price of zipping among lots of bits of information is a loss of depth in our thinking."

But Craigslist founder Craig Newmark said, "People are already using Google as an adjunct to their own memory." "For example, I have a hunch about something, need facts to support and Google comes through for me," he said.

The survey also found that 42 per cent of experts believed that anonymous online activity would be "sharply curtailed" by 2020, thanks to tighter security and identification systems, while 55 per cent thought it would still be relatively easy to browse the internet anonymously in 10 years.


Hope for children with peanut allergy as desensitization treatment is tested

Systematic desensitization is an old idea. The disgrace is that it has not been applied sooner

More than 100 British children with severe peanut allergies are to be treated with an experimental desensitising therapy that has had promising early results. The study, in which children are given small daily doses of peanut flour to build tolerance to the potentially deadly allergen, is to begin next month at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge after scientists were awarded a £1 million grant by the National Institute for Health Research.

It follows successful preliminary research, published a year ago, in which 21 of 23 children treated for peanut allergy showed substantial improvements over six months. By the end of their therapy the children could eat up to 12 nuts a day. “The families involved say that it’s changed their lives,” Andrew Clark, a consultant in paediatric allergy who leads the project, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in San Diego.

“Before they were checking every food label every time they ate food. They would worry it would cause a reaction or even kill them, but now they can go out and eat curries and Chinese food. “They can eat everyday snacks and treats. For their birthday they can have chocolate cake and chocolates without any fear of reactions. So that's our real motiviation — to try to develop that as a clinical treatment that we could spread to the rest of the country.”

Peanut allergy affects an estimated 2 per cent of British children and is becoming more common. Effects range from mild itching and rashes to breathing difficulties and the severe reaction anaphylaxis.

The experimental treatment involves adding small amounts of peanut flour to yoghurt, but starting with a dose of just 5 milligrams. Over six months it is increased to 800mg a week – the equivalent of five peanuts, or 160 times the dose the children can initially tolerate. “This is going to be the largest trial of its kind in the world and it should give us a definitive idea of whether it works and whether it’s safe,” Dr Clark said. He emphasised that parents should not try the treatment without medical supervision.

“I think in two or three years time we will be in a position where we have a treatment that works but we are still working on a long-term cure. “It’s likely to be a treatment that lasts at last two or three years, and we hope that once that's over we can withdraw the treatment and maintain long-term tolerance, but we need a long-term study to find out.”


21 February, 2010

Child obesity: It's the TV food ads, not the TV, study finds

Knowing the usual prejudices of Left-leaning academics, I would be amazed if they found anything else! It's garbage, of course. Poor people are fatter and poor people watch more commercial TV -- hence the finding that commercial TV watching "causes" obesity. Note the patronizing advice about "steering" children to "quality" programs -- with "quality" no doubt being content approved by Leftists. How about "quality" being that which entertains people the most?

To head off obesity in your kids, you don't have to prohibit TV, some scientists are advising. Instead, they say, steer youngsters toward programming without junkfood commercials, such as educational channels or DVDs. That's because a new study indicates the link between TV and childhood obesity has more to do with the number of spots pushing junk food than with the amount of TV watching itself.

University of California Los Angeles researchers gathered data from primary caregivers of 3,563 children, ranging from infants to 12-year-olds, in 1997. Through timeuse diaries, study respondents reported their children's activities, including TV viewing, throughout a full weekday and weekend day. Caregivers were also asked to report the format -- TV programs, DVDs or videos -- and the names of the programs watched. This data was used to classify viewing into either educational or entertainment, and to find out whether it contained advertising or product placement.

A followup was conducted in 2002. The analysis accounted for the amount of physical activity and the children's gender, age, ethnicity, mother's weight status, education and sleep time. Commercial viewing was significantly associated with higher body mass index, a standard measure of obesity, the study found; the effect was stronger for children under seven.

The results suggest "the association between commercial television viewing and obesity does not arise solely or even primarily because heavier children prefer commercial television," said Frederick J. Zimmerman, chair of Health Services at the university's School of Public Health and the study's lead author.

Noncommercial viewing, including DVDs or educational television, had no significant association with obesity, the authors added. The findings, they said, also suggest that steering children away from commercial television may be effective in reducing childhood obesity, given that food is the most-advertised product on children's television and that almost nine in 10 children start watching the tube regularly before age two.

By the time they're five, children have seen an average of more than 4,000 food commercials annually, the researchers noted; and during Saturday morning cartoons, children see an average of one food ad every five minutes, mostly for junk food. "Commercial television pushes children to eat a large quantity of those foods they should consume least: sugary cereals, snacks, fast food and soda pop," Zimmerman said.

The authors conclude that the availability of high-quality, enjoyable and educational programs for all ages on DVD should make it relatively easy for health educators and care providers to nudge children's viewing toward content that's healthier for mind and body. "Just as there are far better and more nutritious foods than those advertised on television, there are also far better and more interesting shows on television than those supported by advertising," Zimmerman said. "Educational television has come a long way since today's parents were children, and there are now many fantastic shows on commercial-free television and, of course, wonderful content available on DVD."

The study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.


Can Chocolate Lower Your Risk of Stroke?

Good to see that the researchers were not dogmatic about the direction of causation

Eating chocolate may lower your risk of having a stroke, according to an analysis of available research that was released February 11 and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 62nd Annual Meeting in Toronto April 10 to April 17, 2010. Another study found that eating chocolate may lower the risk of death after suffering a stroke.

The analysis involved reviewing three studies on chocolate and stroke. "More research is needed to determine whether chocolate truly lowers stroke risk, or whether healthier people are simply more likely to eat chocolate than others," said study author Sarah Sahib, BScCA, with McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Sahib worked alongside Gustavo Saposnik, MD, MSc, where the study was completed at St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto.

Chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids, which may have a protective effect against stroke, but more research is needed.

The first study found that 44,489 people who ate one serving of chocolate per week were 22 percent less likely to have a stroke than people who ate no chocolate. The second study found that 1,169 people who ate 50 grams of chocolate once a week were 46 percent less likely to die following a stroke than people who did not eat chocolate.

The researchers found only one additional relevant study in their search of all the available research. That study found no link between eating chocolate and risk of stroke or death.


Now bananas and mangoes are bad for you (?)

Claim from Australia

EATING too many bananas and mangoes can make you gain weight rather than lose it, a weight loss expert has warned. Queensland Health recommends adults eat at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables a day, to help prevent heart disease and other health conditions.

But Dr Leon Massage, who operates a private weight loss clinic in Melbourne, has warned not all fruits are good for weight loss, particularly bananas and mangoes, The Cairns Post reports. "The tropical fruits tend to be more high in glycaemic index and more high in their calorie content," Dr Massage said. "So they are healthy, but you have to eat them in moderation."

Dr Massage, who was in Cairns this week to present a workshop on weight loss and nutrition, said dieters often made the mistake of eating larger amounts of fruit than necessary. "People often make the mistake in having large volumes of fruit, which can be a problem on their own," he said.

Cairns Base Hospital dietician Simone Conchin said it was nutritionally important to regularly eat different types of fruit and vegies. But she said people need to stick to eating two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables and make sure they exercise.


20 February, 2010

Rhubarb crumble - the new cancer-busting superfood?

The usual polyphenol nonsense. Speculation based on observations in laboratory glassware, apparently. No double blind trial in humans. Double blind trials can be SO disappointing to deductions based on observations of events in laboratory glassware

Rhubarb crumble can help fight cancer, claim scientists. Researchers have found that the traditional favourite, like many red vegetables, contains cancer killing chemicals. And baking the plant for 20 minutes - like in a crumble or pie - dramatically increases their concentration. Now it is hoped that extracting the substances from the plant could come up with new drug treatments for cancers such as leukaemia.

The findings showed the chemicals, called polyphenols, could kill or prevent the growth of cancer cells and could be used to develop new, less toxic, treatments for the disease. It could even be used in cases where cancers had proved resistant to other treatments.

The study, by Sheffield Hallam University, is the first time the benefits of British garden rhubarb, specifically a variety grown in south Yorkshire, have been studied. Previous research focused on Oriental medicinal rhubarb, which has been recognised for its health benefits and used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Academics now hope to discover the best combination of rhubarb's polyphenols and chemotherapy agents needed to kill leukaemia cells.

Dr Nikki Jordan-Mahy, of Sheffield Hallam University's biomedical research centre, said: "Our research has shown that British rhubarb is a potential source of chemicals that may be used to develop new anti-cancerous drugs. "Rhubarb has been shown to have some very interesting polyphenols that have anti-cancerous properties. Eating a nice crumble will be good for you.

"But if we can extract the polyphenols they may be useful in helping to fight cancer along with chemotherapy. "Current treatments are not effective in all cancers and resistance is a common problem as is toxicity. "Cancer affects one in three individuals in the UK so it's very important to discover novel, less toxic, treatments, which can overcome resistance."

The research, jointly carried out by the Scottish Crop Research Institute, is published in the journal Food Chemistry.


A Stimulus for Food Cops' Appetites

In case you missed it, we noted last week that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (an economic "stimulus" bill passed by Congress last year) includes hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to decrease the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. New York (home of the self-anointed Big Apple food police) will receive $259,931 to "reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages." And $1,198,785 is earmarked for Colorado to, among other things, reduce soft drink consumption. In other words, the federal government is using taxpayer dollars to tell taxpayers what not to buy. (Clearly, this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind.)

It's hard to see how this part of the "recovery" plan helps regular Americans get healthier. For one, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is not associated with youth weight gain, according to a growing body of academic research. There are also serious doubts about the reliability of contradictory research supposedly proving a "link" between soft drink consumption and obesity. So reducing consumption isn't likely to have positive health effects.

These "recovery" grants may simply be a new food-police approach to the familiar goals of unpopular soft drink taxes- the supposed "solution" to the soda "crisis." Both Colorado and New York are considering similar taxes. (One plan just squeaked through the Centennial State's legislature.) Both have drawn severe criticism-including a protest at an Empire State bottling plant-on the basis that the taxes will cost jobs by shrinking businesses. One estimate puts the job loss at up to 800 in Colorado alone.

Federal government grants could have the same effect on employment if they were to actually succeed in their goal to reduce soft drink consumption. It's hard to see how job loss fits into the feds' plan for economic "stimulus." Maybe the grants are just a way to help diet dictators "recover" from bingeing on heavy-handed naysaying-and stay gainfully employed.


New class of antibiotics could treat drug-resistant infections

The popular article below is rather strange. They tout the antibiotic as useful against a wide range of bacteria, whereas the abstract says the opposite

Scientists have developed a new class of antibiotics that could help to overcome the growing problem of drug-resistant infections in hospitals. The compound, POL7080, could enter clinical trials in the UK this year. A study published today in the journal Science says the new drugs could be effective against infections such as E. coli and helico bacteria. Widespread use of antibiotics has led many bacteria to evolve resistance to multiple versions of drugs.

If the new treatment provs to be effective in people, it will be a major medical advance. According to the scientists behind the study, the last time an entirely novel antibiotic was developed was in 1962. In principle, the antibiotics should be effective for all infections caused by the gram negative group of bacteria, which includes E. Coli, helico bacteria and a variety of urinary tract and digestive infections.

In the study, the drug was optimised to treat a dangerous bacteria, called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, that is one of the most common hospital infections and can be life-threatening for patients with pneumonia or cystic fibrosis. The treatment was effective in protecting mice against a lethal P. aeruginosa infection. "This is a very promising candidate for a life-threatening condition with serious drug-resistance problems," said Professor Jeff Errington, director of the Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences at the University of Newcastle.

Conventional antibiotics target infections by entering the bacterial cell and attacking it from within. Penicillin, for instance, works by entering the cell and blocking the action of an enzyme required to strengthen its cell walls. However, widespread use of antibiotics has led many bacteria to evolve resistance to multiple versions of drugs, meaning that some infections are now virtually untreatable. Some bacteria have developed extra-thick membranes, preventing the drugs from penetrating the bacteria, while others have developed "pump" systems in their walls that flush any foreign bodies out of the cell's interior.

The POL7080 drug disables from the outside, a completely new approach that bacteria have had no chance to build up immunity against. It works by attaching itself to a site on the outer membrane of the bacteria that is involved in generating proteins needed to build the outer cell wall. "Our compound blocks the assembly of the outer layer, meaning that the cells can't divide and multiply," said Professor John Robinson, a biological chemist at the University of Zurich, who led the research.

All gram-negative bacteria feature a thick outer membrane of a similar structure meaning that while the drug was optimised for P. aeruginosa it is likely to be effective for other gram-negative infections. Gram-positive-type bacteria, including MRSA and C. Difficile, do not have an outer membrane, making them unlikely targets for the new drug.

P. aeruginosa is the most common cause of infections of burn injuries and is the most frequent coloniser of medical devices such as catheters. It is also the most common cause of death for cystic fibrosis patients and can cause pneumonias and blood infections in individuals with compromised immune systems.

Polyphor, a Swiss biotech company that was involved in the study, is now working to develop the compound into a dosage and form suitable for people. "You have to bear in mind that drug development is where a lot of things fall down. But this work is a very promising first step," said Professor Errington.

A spokeswoman for the Health Protection Agency said: "The HPA has been warning for some time of the risk from infections which are more difficult to treat due to antibiotic resistance, in particular about harder-to-treat infections caused by gram negative bacteria for which there are few antibiotics available."



Peptidomimetic Antibiotics Target Outer-Membrane Biogenesis in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

By Nityakalyani Srinivas et al.

Antibiotics with new mechanisms of action are urgently required to combat the growing health threat posed by resistant pathogenic microorganisms. We synthesized a family of peptidomimetic antibiotics based on the antimicrobial peptide protegrin I. Several rounds of optimization gave a lead compound that was active in the nanomolar range against Gram-negative Pseudomonas spp., but was largely inactive against other Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. Biochemical and genetic studies showed that the peptidomimetics had a non–membrane-lytic mechanism of action and identified a homolog of the ?-barrel protein LptD (Imp/OstA), which functions in outer-membrane biogenesis, as a cellular target. The peptidomimetic showed potent antimicrobial activity in a mouse septicemia infection model. Drug-resistant strains of Pseudomonas are a serious health problem, so this family of antibiotics may have important therapeutic applications.

Science 19 February 2010: Vol. 327. no. 5968, pp. 1010 - 1013

19 February, 2010

Happy and enthusiastic people less prone to heart disease, say researchers

The usual confusion of cause and effect. What the findings most parsimoniously imply is that healthy people are happier

People who are typically happy and enthusiastic are less likely to develop heart disease than those of a gloomier disposition, researchers say. An increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke has previously been linked to getting angry or stressed, but a study by American researchers, published in the European Heart Journal, claims to be the first to show an independent link between emotions and coronary heart disease.

The findings suggest that it may be possible to help to prevent heart disease by boosting a person's mood, says the lead researcher, Karina Davidson, of Columbia University, New York. "Everyone should try and inject some fun into their daily routines to counteract any effects of stress on their health, rather than waiting for holidays," she said. "Some people wait for their two weeks of vacation to have fun, and that would be analogous to binge drinking. "Essentially, spending some few minutes each day truly relaxed and enjoying yourself is certainly good for your mental health, and may improve your physical health as well."

Over ten years Dr Davidson and colleagues tracked the health of 1,739 adults who participated in a 1995 health survey in Nova Scotia, Canada. Nurses assessed participants' risk of heart disease and measured symptoms of depression, hostility, anxiety and their degree of positive emotions, referred to as "positive affect".

Writing in the European Heart Journal, the researchers define positive affect as the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment. Although these feelings can be transitory or short-lived, they can also represent stable character traits, particularly in adulthood, they add.

The study participants were awarded a score out of five for positive affect, varying from "none" to "extreme" depending on their answers to questions on how they responded to stressful situations or expressed their emotions. After taking account of age, sex and cardiovascular risk factors, the researchers found that, over the ten-year period, people with increased scores for positive affect were less likely to suffer a fatal or non-fatal heart attack or stroke. "Participants with no positive affect were at a 22 per cent higher risk of heart disease than those with a little positive affect, who were themselves at 22 per cent higher risk than those with moderate positive affect," Dr Davidson said. "We also found that if someone who was usually positive had some depressive symptoms at the time of the survey, this did not affect their overall lower risk of heart disease.

She suggested there could be several possible explanations for the link, including typically happy people having longer periods of rest or relaxation, or being able to recover more quickly from stress or anxiety. They may also not spend as much time "re-living" or dwelling on depressing events, "which in turn seems to cause physiological damage," she added.

Dr Davidson said that to improve mood and relaxation, people should devote time daily to a hobby or preferred leisure pursuit. "If you enjoy reading novels, but never get around to it, commit to getting 15 minutes or so of reading in. If walking or listening to music improves your mood, get those activities in your schedule.

She added that more studies were needed to confirm the link between mood and physical health: "We desperately need rigorous clinical trials in this area." "If the trials support our findings, then these results will be incredibly important in describing specifically what clinicians and patients could do to improve health."

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said that the charity was funding ongoing research to "unravel the biology" that underlies the link between happiness and health. But she warned that existing risk factors such as obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise or smoking should not be discounted. "Today's study used an experimental design that is great for observing trends and associations, but doesn't prove cause and effect or tell us for sure whether changing our mood can definitely reduce our risk of heart disease," she added.

"This research suggested that those who naturally had a `glass half-full' mood seemed to be most protected from disease. But we're not all like that, and we know that improving your mood isn't always easy - so we don't know if it's possible to change our natural levels of positivity. "We would of course recommend that people take time to indulge in healthy activities that can lift their mood, but trying to keep established risk factors under control remains really important."


Now gas stoves are bad for you

This is all just theory

Frying meat on a gas hob may increase your risk of cancer, researchers claim. They found fumes from steak pan-fried on a gas flame contained more cancer-causing particles than those from an electric hob. Scientists believe hotter gas flames release more harmful chemicals from oil in the cooking process and warn that chefs may be particularly at risk.

Their research follows findings that eating overcooked or burnt red meat increases the risk of tumours due to the creation of carcinogenic compounds called acrylamides.

The latest study simulated a typical Western European restaurant kitchen, frying 17 pieces of steak in either margarine or soya bean oil for 15 minutes on gas and electric hobs. Experts then examined the fine and ultra-fine particles in fumes produced by the cooking.

Their findings published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded frying with a gas flame increased the exposure to toxic chemicals called mutagenic aldehydes and heterocyclic amines. These have been judged 'probably carcinogenic' by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It is not yet known what level of exposure to these components is safe, the researchers said.

They believe the higher temperature of gas, compared with electric hobs, leads to more potentially harmful breakdown products from oils. The gas flame may also lead to more ultra-fine particles.

Dangerous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have also been found in cooking fumes from vegetable oils, such as soya bean and rapeseed oils as well as lard. But the authors say levels of PAHs found during this study were below safety thresholds.

The team at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in Trondheim, said: 'Exposure to cooking fumes should be reduced as much as possible.' Their article concluded: 'The measured levels of total particles and PAHs for the cooks in our study are far below Norwegian occupational exposure limits.'

Dr Deborah Jarvis, of the National Heart and Lung Institute, said the study could help shed light on previous research that sought to link frying with gas to breathing problems - such as coughs, infections and asthma - but proved inconclusive. She added: 'The health message to the public remains the same - keep your kitchen well-ventilated when cooking, and make sure all your gas appliances are well maintained.'


Miscarriages: A good news story from Britain

A woman who suffered 18 miscarriages has given birth to a healthy baby girl named Raiya, thanks to a pioneering technique of diagnosing and treating multiple miscarriages developed at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Angie Baker (33) had been trying to have a baby for 13 years, but although doctors could not diagnose what was causing it, she repeatedly suffered a miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy. But Angie refused to give up hope. She said: "I just knew that I was meant to be a mother. Every time I miscarried I felt more determined. I never felt like giving up. "Even though doctors couldn't tell my why it was happening, I felt sure there was a cure. I just knew I had to persevere."

After years of trying and 17 miscarriages, Angie read about Dr Hassan Shehata, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Trust, who has spent the last ten years researching and helping women who suffer recurrent miscarriages. She got in touch and made an appointment with him.

Dr Shehata had been working with an immunologist at the Trust, Dr Amolak Bansal, to find out why some women's bodies reject their pregnancies. Their work focused on 'natural killer cells', which are found in everyone's white blood cells (which defend your body against infections and foreign bodies).

They found that some women's natural killer cells are so aggressive they attack the pregnancy, which is exactly what was happening to Angie.

Dr Shehata said: "About ten years ago, a doctor in the states proved that there was a link between these natural killer cells and infertility. I became interested in the subject and we began work to further study the link. "After three years of hard work, we mastered it. We knew how to test the function of the natural killer tests to see how aggressive they were and we knew how to treat it. By giving suitable women steroids, we can lower the number of natural killer cells and increase their chances of having a baby."

Speaking about Angie's experience, Dr Shehata added: "Angie is an amazing woman. She is a very strong woman, and had such a great sense of belief. The odds of having so many miscarriages are miniscule, but she was so determined to carry on. I am so happy that she has got her dream - a healthy daughter.

Angie added: "I can't explain how I feel. I have to pinch myself sometimes because I just can't believe it's happened - she's perfect in every way. Being a mum is everything I thought it would be, and I'm just so happy that Dr Shehata could help me. I cannot thank him enough."


18 February, 2010

Aspirin cuts breast cancer deaths, 30-year study claims

SO: Nurses who took a lot of aspirin got less cancer -- but why? Third factors cannot be ruled out. Perhaps people who use a lot of aspirin are less likely to use illegal drugs -- which can be very harmful. It took me a whole two minutes to think of that alternative explanation. Why can medical researchers not do the same?

WOMEN with breast cancer who take aspirin at least twice a week can more than double their chance of surviving, researchers say. The greatest protection comes from taking the drug two, three, four or five times a week, a study has found. They cut the risk of dying by 71 per cent and the risk of the cancer spreading by 60 per cent. Taking aspirin on six or seven days cut the death risk by 64 per cent, but the risk of spreading fell only 43 per cent.

The findings of the U.S. study provide the most compelling evidence yet of the power of the cheap painkiller, The Daily Mail reports. Previous research has suggested that aspirin can protect against bowel cancer, although results for other cancers, such as breast and prostate, were less clear-cut.

The latest dramatic results came from a 30-year project tracking the health of 238,000 nurses. Lead researcher Dr Michelle Holmes, of Harvard Medical School, said: "This is the first study to find that aspirin can significantly reduce the risk of cancer spread and death for women who have been treated for early-stage breast cancer. 'If these findings are confirmed in other clinical trials, taking aspirin may become another simple, low-cost and relatively safe tool to help women with breast cancer live longer, healthier lives.'

Drugs in the same class as aspirin, including ibuprofen and naproxen, also lowered the risks, but paracetamol did not.

Experts warned, however, that aspirin can have serious side effects, including stomach irritation that can lead to ulcers and even fatal bleeding. For some people the risk of harm is greater than potential benefits.

Women newly diagnosed with breast cancer are advised not to take aspirin for the first 12 months as it can cause side effects while they undergo chemotherapy or radiation. Researchers are uncertain exactly how aspirin affects tumours but it could be by lowering inflammation. The study found that there were no beneficial effects for people who took aspirin only once a week....

Most of the women in the new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, were taking aspirin to prevent heart disease. The Harvard team identified 4,000 breast cancer patients between 1976 and 2002 and followed them until their deaths or the end of the study in June 2006. Altogether 341 women died from the cancer.

The Harvard study falls short of the research 'gold standard', however, because the women reported their aspirin use in questionnaires, rather than going through a controlled clinical trial.


"Cholesterol-busting" statins increase diabetes risk

Yet another unhealthy side-effect. How odd that there is no mention below of other common statin side effects -- such as muscle pain, muscle weakening and muscle wasting. See here for more statin skepticism

Cholesterol-busting wonder drugs taken by millions to prevent a heart attack also increase their chances of developing diabetes, according to a new study. A comprehensive review of the available evidence shows that statins raise the risk of becoming diabetic by around 9 per cent.

However, experts warn that the absolute risk of developing the condition remains low and is heavily outweighed by the protection from heart problems provided by the drugs. Around 2.5 million people in Britain currently take the medication every day.

Lauded as a “wonder” drug, statins work by reducing cholesterol levels in the body, a major risk factor for heart attacks. Studies have shown that they can also dramatically reduce the risk of suffering a blood clot and there have even been suggestions that they could be used as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

However, researchers who looked at 13 studies involving more than 91,000 patients found that there was also a small increased risk of developing diabetes associated with the drugs. The increased risk mainly affected the over 60s.

However, the authors of the review, from the University of Glasgow, warn that people prescribed statins should not stop taking their medication. They write: “In view of the overwhelming benefit of statins for reduction of cardiovascular events, the small absolute risk for development of diabetes is outweighed by cardiovascular benefit in the short and medium term in individuals for whom statin therapy is recommended."

That view was backed by diabetes and heart charities. Dr Iain Frame, from Diabetes UK, said: "This small increased risk is heavily outweighed by the benefits of statins in those at high risk of heart problems. “This research, therefore, should on no account be taken as a reason for those over 60 at high risk of heart disease to stop taking statins."

The findings, published by The Lancet medical journal, show that 255 patients would have to be treated with statins for four years to result in one extra case of diabetes. In the same group of patients over that time around five deaths or heart attacks would have been prevented and around the same number of strokes.

The authors stress that their findings do not show any biological reason why statins increase the chances of developing of diabetes, although they say it is possible that there is one. They suggest that older people on the drugs be monitored by their doctor for warning signs that they are developing the condition. The increased risks should also be taken into account if doctors are considering prescribing statins to those at a low risk of heart problems.

In Britain only those at high risk of developing heart disease are prescribed the medication. However, some experts have suggested that statins could be included in a so-called polypill, a five-in-one drug which would also include aspirin and three blood pressure-lowering medications and which could be given even to healthy people to help protect them.

More than 2.5 million people in Britain are thought to have diabetes, although experts predict that that could rise to as many as four million by 2050 because of lifestyle factors, including obesity.


Prostate cancer breakthrough drug 'to be available next year'

A prostate cancer 'wonder pill' could be on the market next year. Abiraterone hit the headlines two years ago, with stunning trial results in which it shrank tumours in 80 per cent of men whose cancer had spread throughout their body. The once-a-day drug also eased pain in many and was hailed as the biggest breakthrough in the field for 60 years.

Now further tests have underlined its potential and larger trials are under way. If they are successful, it could be prescribed to men in the advanced stages of the disease as early as next year, giving them the hope of precious extra months with their families.

Abiraterone is a 'home-grown' drug, discovered by scientists funded by Cancer Research UK and working at the Institute for Cancer Research at London's Royal Marsden Hospital. It works by blocking testosterone, including any made by the tumour itself, from fuelling the cancer's growth. In the latest study, it was given in pill form to 47 men in advanced stages of the cancer who had exhausted all other treatment options, including a drug called docetaxel.

Researcher Johann de Bono said: 'Docetaxel is an important drug but it extends life for an average of just two to three months, so there is a desperate need to improve options for late-stage patients. Abiraterone shrank or stabilised tumours for an average of almost six months, which is a very impressive result.'

Levels of PSA, a blood protein used as a measure of tumour growth and spread, fell in 75 per cent of the men, the Journal of Clinical Oncology reports. Any sideeffects were mild and easily treated.

Dr Helen Rippon of the Prostate Cancer Charity, which is also funding research into the drug, said: 'These findings are particularly important as they offer new hope to men who can quickly run out of treatment options once their tumour stops responding.'

Prostate is Britain's most common cancer among men and the second highest killer, after lung cancer. Some 35,000 people a year are diagnosed with it - and 12,000 die. There are two types, aggressive and non-aggressive. Two-thirds of victims have the non-aggressive variety and can often lead a healthy life. But those with the aggressive version usually die within 18 months of diagnosis. Abiraterone can shrink aggressive tumours, although the effect does not last indefinitely.


17 February, 2010

More evidence that there is a general syndrome of good (or bad) biological function

Mental fitness and physical fitness are linked again. The correlation is far from 100% but seems strong nonetheless. The other side of the report below is that high IQ people tend to be healthier and live longer

Babies who are unable to crawl at nine months face falling behind at school and struggle to get on with their classmates, a study has revealed. It found that an inability to reach milestones such as sitting upright or crawling is linked to learning and behaviour problems.

The researchers, who tracked 15,000 children over the first five years of their lives, said a simple screening test before a child reaches their first birthday could prove crucial in preventing youngsters falling behind.

The finding comes from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is looking at 18,818 babies born between 2000 and 2001. The study by the University of London, Institute of Education, has already shown children from poor families are a year behind their wealthier counterparts when they start school. Now it has revealed for the first time in the UK that developmental problems are directly linked to success at school, and can be identified at a young age.

Academics performed a series of simple tests on babies aged nine months to check both their gross and fine motor skills. Youngsters who struggled with tasks such as crawling had a significantly increased risk of falling behind at school when they were five

A motor skill is an action that involves muscles in your body. Gross motor skills are larger movements including crawling and running, while fine motor skills are smaller actions such as picking up an object between the thumb and finger. In tests of gross motor skills, 96 per cent were able to sit up without support, 92 per cent were able to crawl and 69 per cent could stand up if they were holding on to something. Only 4 per cent could take a few steps.

In the assessment of fine motor skills, 99 per cent of children were able to grab an object, 95 per cent could pass a toy from one hand to the other, and 89 per cent could pick up an object using their forefinger and thumb.

The researchers concluded developmental 'delays' affected about 10 per cent of children. Youngsters who struggled with the tasks had a significantly increased risk of falling behind at school when they were five. They were also more likely to demonstrate anti-social behaviour such as refusing to share.

Professor Ingrid Schoon, who led the study, said that all children develop at different rates and some who are struggling to sit or crawl may simply catch up. However, in other cases, the problems can point to a developmental delay that may need specialised help, she added. 'Each child is different,' she said. 'All children have their own developmental pace. If parents are concerned they should go to their GP or health visitor.'


Myths about sugar and water

The idea that sugar causes hyperactivity is a myth. “The research is very clear,” said Cathy Nonas, a dietician at New York’s North General Hospital. “Sugar does not make a child ‘hyperactive.’”

Many studies back her up. In one, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, some kids ate sugared foods while others got foods with artificial sweeteners. Their parents and the researchers didn’t know who was eating sugar and who wasn’t. The researchers monitored the kids for things like irritability and hyperactivity. They found no difference. “There is no such thing as a ’sugar high,’” Nonas said. “And there is no such thing, as ’sugar making you nuts.’ There just isn’t.”

I found that hard to believe. I’ve seen kids go crazy at parties. Isn’t that because the sugar kicks in? Nope. As one parent put it. “They are hyper because they are excited. Because they have freedom. Because there is 20 kids, crowding around each other.” In other words, because it’s a party.

The studies also say that if food has any effect, it could be the caffeine in chocolate and soda that’s giving you the buzz, not the sugar. Still, even older students swear sugar helps them in school.

But the opposite is likely to be true. Said Nonas: “We tell kids, if they want to do well on a test, not to eat sugar. Even though it increases your blood sugar, which is why I think there is some confusion — it drops it down, pretty quickly, so that you have this kind of ‘lull.’” As one man put it, “Once it’s over, you kind of, like, crash.” That’s right: Some research shows that instead of jacking you up, sugar may actually calm you down.

And the mantra of the health and beauty world, “eight by eight,” which means you should drink eight 8 oz. glasses of water every day? Lots of people believe it. Some schools require kids to carry bottled water around with them. But it’s another myth. Dr. Heinz Valtin, professor emeritus of the Dartmouth Medical School, spent his life studying the right balance of water in our bodies, so there’s no evidence that supports the “8 x 8? idea. “I drink about five or six glasses per day — only one of them is water,” he said.

Much of the fluid we need comes from, of all things, food. “Even a slice of white bread is more than 30 percent water,” he said. “It’s lots of water, 80 to 90 percent in vegetables and fruits.”

Valtin acknowledges that drinking water is not a bad idea. “What’s wrong with the myth is that the recommendation is universal that every last one of us, including, as one article said, couch potatoes, must drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses per day,” he said.

The Institute of Medicine’s food and nutrition board agrees with Valtin. It says drinking eight glasses of water is not necessary, because we get plenty of fluid from our food. When your body does need more fluid, it has a marvelous mechanism for telling you to drink up. It’s called “thirst.”


16 February, 2010

Cocktail of five vitamins may give cancer patients an extra two years (?)

No control group! This garbage should never have been published in an academic journal. I seem to recollect seeing previous garbage from this "London Metropolitan University". It does resist outside evaluation

Cancer patients with terminal disease who take a daily cocktail of vitamins could extend their lives by two years or even longer, claim researchers. Three out of four in a pilot study survived an average of five months longer than the expected one year, and some were still alive three years after treatment started.

Dr Bob Lister, co-author of the study by British and Danish researchers, said the results were similar to the survival gains from new drugs and in some cases better. But the important difference was there were no side effects reported by patients taking vitamins, he said.

Dr Lister, chairman of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University, said: 'We believe these results are meaningful and justify trying to get backing for a proper clinical trial.

'People with cancer are constantly asking what can we do, not necessarily to beat the cancer but to have a better quality of life whatever the length of survival. 'Most importantly, taking these supplements is extremely safe, and there were no adverse reactions among the patients.'

The study followed patients suffering from breast, lung, brain, colon and other forms of cancer in Denmark between 1990 and 1999 who continued taking conventional cancer medication.

During the nine-year period, the patients were treated with coenzyme Q10 - a vitamin-like compound-essential for producing energy made naturally in the body - and six other antioxidants including vitamins A, C and E, selenium, folic acid, and beta carotene (which was not given to lung cancer patients for safety reasons). The patients were predicted to live for an average of 12 months, but 76 per cent lived an average of five months longer. The doses of the supplements, supplied by manufacturers Pharma Nord, were large but were within recommended safety limits, said Dr Lister. In addition, patients received small amounts of other nutrients including fish oil and B vitamins.

The findings are published in the Journal of International Medical Research.

However Dr Joanna Owens of Cancer Research UK said: 'This very small study tells us nothing new about supplements and cancer. 'All the patients in this study took the supplements so it is impossible to judge if they had any effect. 'It is no surprise that in a group of people with different types of cancer, some survived for longer than might have been expected, while others sadly did not.

'As yet, there is not enough evidence to know whether supplements are helpful or harmful during cancer treatment. 'We know that high doses of some supplements can increase the risk of cancer and it's possible that high doses of antioxidants can make treatment less effective. 'Until we know for sure, our advice is to try to get the vitamins you need through a balanced and varied diet rather than through vitamin supplements.'


More evidence that the poor are less healthy -- quite a bit so, in fact

With some predictable spin by the Marmot

People living in the poorest areas of England can expect to suffer about 17 more years of ill health and disability than those in wealthier areas, a major review of health inequalities concludes today. The tax and benefits system “needs overhauling” in order to encourage more people to find and stay in work, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, according to Professor Sir Michael Marmot, who led the Government-commissioned review.

Sir Michael, a Professor of Public Health at University College London and an advisor to the World Health Organisation, found that the equivalent of up to 2.5 million years of life are being lost through people dying prematurely in England each year. But people are more likely to suffer illness or an early death if they are unemployed or poorly educated, so getting people into work is of “critical importance” to reducing the gap in outcomes between rich and poor.

Life expectancy in Britain is now 77.4 years for men and 81.7 years for women, but people in the most deprived neighbourhoods die on average seven years younger than those in the richest.

The report said between £31 and £33 billion worth of productivity losses each year is down to poor health while up to £32 billion is lost in taxes and in making higher welfare payments. While tax credits have lifted half a million children out of poverty since 1998, it is “imperative” the benefits system does not act as a disincentive to working, it adds. The income tax system should be revised, with possible cuts to encourage more people on low incomes to work.

Another recommendation is for parents to be at home in the first year of a child’s life, perhaps by the mother taking six months of paid leave, followed by six months for the father.

The Fair Society, Healthy Lives review was commissioned by the Department of Health after slow progress towards a target to reduce health inequalities — defined by life expectancy rates and infant mortality — by 10 per cent this year. Although average life expectancy for the worst off has improved in the last decade — by an extra 2.9 years — Sir Michael adds that more needs to be done to offer children a fair start in life, adults a chance at fair employment and pensioners a long and active retirement. “Reducing health inequalities is a matter of fairness and social justice,” it says. “In England, the many people who are currently dying prematurely each year as a result of health inequalities would otherwise have enjoyed, in total, between 1.3 and 2.5 million extra years of life.”

The review highlights the effect of education on health — predicting there would be 202,000 fewer premature deaths each year if everyone over 30 without a degree had their death rate reduced to that of people with degrees.

Sir Michael also suggests developing standards for a minimum income for health — which could include the cost of a healthy diet, opportunities to exercise or money for telephone rental. Other recommendations are for more work-based learning schemes alongside closer links between schools, families and the community.

Ministers welcomed the report, but made no commitments on its “challenging” recommendations.Experts writing today in the British Medical Journal questioned whether “there is sufficient genuine and sustainable political will to tackle health inequalities.”

David Hunter, Professor of Health Policy at Durham University and colleagues warn there are few votes to be gained in public health, and “although the report is at pains to point out, as others have, that we are all adversely affected and our lives diminished by the growing health gap, this message could easily get lost.”

Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, warned that continued investment for midwives, health vistors, community nurses and other areas was needed to bring about improvements. “As a nation we simply must not tolerate the difference in life expectancy shown in this report, or the many years spent in preventable poor health,” he said. “Of course individuals need to make healthy choices for themselves, but to tackle this inequality government, public services and communities need to work together.”

An editorial by the Lancet comments: “The Marmot Review is a pivotal document for future policy on health equity. The question for voters later this year in the UK’s general election is what sort of society do they want?”


15 February, 2010

Abnormal mice helped by special diet

I am not sure I should be commenting on this at all. It borders on nutcase stuff. It is the free radical religion on steroids. But "Science" takes it seriously enough to summarize it. Clearly, however, its distance from generalizability to normal human beings is great -- despite claims to the contrary. "Science" headlines their report as "Dietary Formula That Maintains Youthful Function Into Old Age". Spare us!
A Dietary Supplement Abolishes Age-Related Cognitive Decline in Transgenic Mice Expressing Elevated Free Radical Processes

J.A. Lemon, D.R. Boreham and C.D. Rollo

We previously found that transgenic mice overexpressing growth hormone (TGM) have elevated and progressively increasing free radical processes in brain that strongly correlates with reduced survivorship. Young mature TGM, however, displayed vastly enhanced learning of an eight-choice cued maze and qualitatively different learning curves than normal controls. Here we document the age-related patterns in learning ability of TGM and normal mice. Learning appeared inferior in both genotypes of very young mice but TGM were confirmed to be superior to normal mice upon maturity. Older TGM, however, showed rapid age-related loss of their exceptional learning, whereas normal mice at 1 year of age showed little change. The cognitive decline of TGM was abolished by a complex "anti-aging" dietary supplement formulated to promote membrane and mitochondrial integrity, increase insulin sensitivity, reduce reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, and ameliorate inflammation. Results are discussed in the context of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, long-term potentiation, learning, aging and neuropathology, based on known impacts of the growth hormone axis on the brain, and characteristics of TGM.


Açaí: The Ponzi Berry

Offers for açaí juice and supplements have flooded the nation’s email boxes and airwaves. Don’t get hoodwinked by the claims and "free trials."

Açaí berries are a dietary staple in Brazil and have also been used medicinally by Amazonian tribes. Açaí juice was introduced in the U.S. in 2001, and there are now dozens of food and drink products containing açaí. As a juice, pulp, powder, or capsule, açaí is marketed as a magic path to weight loss, a wrinkle remover, a way to cleanse the body of "toxins," and indeed just a plain old miracle cure.

On the Internet you’ll find a bouquet of endorsements for açaí from such celebrities as Oprah and Rachael Ray (the TV chef), plus statements by these same celebrities denying any such endorsement. You will also find a war of words among makers of açaí products, each one claiming safety and effectiveness for its particular formulation, and warning of scams by others.

Since açaí came on the market there have been a few studies pointing to potential benefits. Like many other fruits, açaí berries are high in antioxidants and other interesting compounds. But these were lab studies, and the results may not apply to humans. There is no scientific basis for weight-loss claims or any other health claims for açaí.

Consumer protection groups and the Better Business Bureau have now come out against açaí marketers. "If Bernard Madoff were in the food business," said one nutritionist, "he’d be offering 'free' trials of açaí-based weight-loss products." Online ads regularly promise a free trial of açaí, saying that all you have to pay is shipping and handling. The catch is that you must supply your credit card number, and you’ll automatically be signed up for $50 monthly shipments that will prove hard to cancel.

We urge you not to give your credit card number to anybody selling açaí products. Hundreds of complaints have been registered, and you may never get your money back.

There is no magic berry for weight loss or good health. Açaí berries are no doubt a good food, like other berries, but why pay a fortune for them or supplements containing them?


14 February, 2010

Nasal spray gives hope on autism

Small sample, no control group

Scientists have found that some symptoms of autism can be alleviated by a nasal spray containing oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone. People with autism who inhaled the spray altered their behaviour temporarily, becoming more sociable and trusting.

Autism and Asperger’s, a related syndrome, impede the ability to communicate or form relationships. Many people with the conditions find it difficult even to meet someone else’s eye.

The research, which has been peer-reviewed, was carried out on 13 patients with high-functioning autism, defined as those of normal or above-normal intelligence. After inhaling the hormone, the patients rapidly became more open. “Under oxytocin, patients with high-functioning autism respond more strongly to others and exhibit more appropriate social behaviour,” wrote Elissar Andari, of the Institut des Sciences Cognitives, a French government centre for neuroscience research, in a summary of a recent conference presentation.

Such a therapy would be a key breakthrough, if proven. About 500,000 Britons have autism or Asperger’s syndrome, with many suffering exclusion from school and long-term unemployment because of the associated behavioural problems.

In a summary of her presentation to the Mediterranean Conference of Neuroscience, held in Egypt, Andari said the results “suggested a therapeutic potential of oxytocin through its action on a core dimension of autism”. The researchers point out that the effects of the nasal spray are transient and the findings do not mean that a therapy is imminent. Any proposed medication would have to undergo extensive testing, which could take years.

In the study, Andari and her colleagues asked their 13 subjects to inhale oxytocin and then to undergo two tests to see if the hormone had altered their behaviour. One test involved playing a simulated ball game on a computer with three virtual players. After inhaling oxytocin, the 13 patients could work out which of the virtual players was most co-operative and trustworthy much more effectively than subjects who had received a placebo.

The 13 subjects were next asked to look at pictures of faces to test their ability to look into people’s eyes. Andari wrote: “Oxytocin selectively increased patient’s gazing time on the socially informative region of the face such as the eyes.”

Dr Gina Owens, research leader at the National Autistic Society, said: “Further rigorous scientific evaluation is necessary before we can fully assess any potential benefits. As autism affects people in very different ways, any intervention that may help one person may not be effective for another.”


Psychiatrists inventing new "illnesses"

There's not much science in psychiatry -- but plenty of politics. Homosexuality was for a long time listed as a psychiatric illness but that disappeared a few decades ago

PSYCHIATRISTS are to give official recognition to dozens of new mental disorders, including a condition nicknamed “Mary Whitehouse syndrome” — the thrill of being appalled by pornography and other obscenities. Absexuality appears to have been inspired by the zeal of Whitehouse, the campaigner who railed against smut on television. The condition is one of many mood disorders and personality traits that are likely to be added to the next edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the psychiatrists’ bible.

The disorders, which also include hypersexuality — the desire for multiple partners, perhaps characterised by the golfer Tiger Woods — reflect changing social patterns. Critics believe, however, that their classification as psychiatric problems may lead them to be exploited for profit by drug companies.

Other new conditions include sluggish cognitive tempo disorder, which some would regard as simple laziness, and relational disorder, in which two people — often a separating couple — struggle to get on. People who whinge constantly may be suffering negativistic personality disorder. Intermittent explosive disorder — otherwise known as adult tantrums — is also defined for the first time.

The conditions are named in a draft version of the manual, a key reference book for psychiatrists for more than 50 years. Their inclusion is under discussion by an international panel. Most are expected to be included in the final edition when it is published in 2013.

Although there is no evidence that Whitehouse got a kick out of salacious viewing, there is no disputing her passion for attacking broadcasters if she felt their standards had slipped. She was so outraged when Kenneth Tynan said “f***” in a live television debate in 1965 that she wrote to the Queen suggesting the theatre critic should have his bottom spanked.

Sex features prominently in the draft of the fifth edition of the manual. According to the document, published last week, the absence of a sex drive can no longer be viewed as a normal state. It is defined as sexual arousal disorder.

Darrel Regier, research director of the American Psychiatric Association and a member of the taskforce working on the manual, said: “One of the reasons for doing this is that we are concerned about establishing better thresholds of diagnosis for people with a genuine disorder.” He denied that revisions were influenced by new developments by drugs companies.

Richard Bentall, professor of clinical psychology at Bangor University, in north Wales, said: “Most of these diagnoses are meaningless and have no basis in science. But the more disorders there are, the more private business psychiatrists get.”


13 February, 2010

Saffron 'could stop you going blind'

A very small sample -- and strange that the effect is temporary

It is one food colouring that you won't mind giving to the family. Research has shown that saffron, which gives chicken korma and paella their yellow colour, helps keep vision sharp. Test findings suggest the spice reverses age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, the most common cause of blindness in old people.

'Patients' vision improved after taking the saffron pill,' said Professor Silvia Bisti, of the University of Sydney, who carried out the research. 'When they were tested with traditional eye charts, a number of them could read one or two lines smaller than before, while others reported they could read newspapers and books again.' The finding is timely as it is thought the number of AMD sufferers will treble in the next 25 years as the population ages. It currently affects a quarter of over-60s in the UK and more than half of over-75s. There are few treatments for the condition - and no cure. While peripheral vision is not affected, the damage to central vision leads to many sufferers being registered as blind or partially sighted.

Saffron has actually been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a range of ailments, though Professor Bisti is the first to look at its effects on eyesight. In tests carried out in Italy - where saffron is widely cultivated - pensioners with AMD were given a daily saffron pill for three months followed by a dummy drug for a further three months. A second group took the supplements in the reverse order. Twenty-five took part in all.

'All patients experienced improvements in their vision while taking the saffron pill,' Professor Bisti said. 'But when they stopped taking it, the effect quickly disappeared.' She added: 'The chemistry of saffron is quite complex. It is well-known as an anti- oxidant but no one has explored its effects on eyesight before.' She believes saffron, which is widely used in Spanish and Indian cooking, affects the amount of fat stored by the eye, making vision cells 'tougher and more resilient'.

Saffron is used in traditional medicine for treating conditions including cancerous tumours and depression. The spice also has properties which encourage oxygen flow and prevents cell death. Researchers are now hoping to discover the ideal dosage. They will also look at saffron's ability to treat genetic eye diseases that can cause life-long blindness.


Personal Responsibility Still Ahead?

By now, you’ve probably heard about the new White House initiative to combat childhood obesity, spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama. It’s a noble goal. In anticipation of this announcement, Forbes columnist and American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Karlyn Bowman took a look on Monday at where the public stands regarding obesity, and found that Americans overwhelmingly support personal responsibility:
People see personal responsibility as key. In the CBS poll, 89% said obesity can mostly be controlled with diet and exercise, while 7% said it is out of our hands. This emphasis may be one reason Americans are not enthusiastic about new taxes on unhealthful behaviors.

In a Harris Interactive/Tax Foundation online poll from early 2009 on general tax attitudes, 36% favored a tax on sugary drinks, while 58% were opposed to it. Twenty-three percent favored a tax on foods with salt (71% were opposed), and 39% for junk food in general (56% opposed). On all three items, the opposition was strong: Of the 58% who were opposed to the tax on sugary drinks, for example, 41% were strongly opposed….

Other recent surveys have tied these taxes to health care reform costs, and this impacts the numbers. In an April 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 52% favored increasing taxes on unhealthy snack foods to "help pay for health care reform and provide coverage for more of the uninsured," but a strong 46% were opposed.
The ending serves as a warning that Americans are more willing to support taxes on “bad” foods if they’re couched as “helping” health care reform. And while the Los Angeles Times reported last week that soft drink taxes are dead federally, soft drink tax crusader Kelly Brownell brags that “We're getting contacted by a new city or state almost every day who are seriously thinking about the idea of a tax.”

The political pendulum is certainly swinging. But with the vast majority of Americans believing in personal responsibility when it comes to weight control, the ploys of self-anointed “food police” who practice social engineering via the tax code face an uphill battle.


12 February, 2010

War on obesity futile

First lady Michelle Obama isn't the first national leader to try to get America's kids off the couch. President Dwight D. Eisenhower tried more than 50 years ago, and it's been a losing battle since.

Childhood obesity has been on the rise in recent decades, with 17 percent of children considered obese and about one in three of them overweight. Which means Mrs. Obama has her work cut out for her, much as Eisenhower did when he created the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in 1956. The presidents who followed him took on the struggle as well.

"Efforts like the president's council have been overwhelmed over the years by trends in society that push kids in the other direction," said Russell Pate, a professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina. He cited a "triple whammy" _ the advent of video games, the reliance on cars to get around and the rise of a high-fat, fast-food diet _ that undermines a healthy lifestyle for kids.

In announcing her "Let's Move" campaign Tuesday, Mrs. Obama made clear that physical fitness is key to what she's trying to do and that there is a role for the Eisenhower-era fitness council. The administration will upgrade the council's Physical Fitness Challenge, she said, and give awards to kids who engage in physical activity five days a week for six weeks.

Besides getting kids to exercise, Michelle Obama's campaign aims to help parents and schools make better food choices and make healthy food more available and affordable. The fitness council's 20 volunteer members are charged with encouraging physical activity, fitness and sports programs. Like his predecessors, President Barack Obama has preserved the council, although he has not named any members yet. Obama also created a child obesity task force that will work alongside it. "Obesity has been recognized as a problem for decades, but efforts to address this crisis to date have been insufficient," Obama said Tuesday.

Tom McMillen, a former congressman, NBA player and co-chairman of the fitness council, said the presidential council, with its $1.2 million budget, has been unable to really make a dent in childhood obesity because it lacks sufficient funding. Adding to the problem, McMillen said, is that unlike most nations, the U.S. lacks a ministry of sports. "What we've done instead is build stadiums. There's been nothing for the grass roots," McMillen said. "And the council, with its small size and budget, has been a non-factor."

Eisenhower, alarmed by 1950s research that showed American youth lagging in a host of fitness measures, convened a White House event with government officials, medical researchers and sports personalities. The White House gathering led to the President's Conference on Fitness of American Youth, held at the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1956. The following month, Eisenhower created the President's Council on Youth Fitness, which eventually was renamed the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

John F. Kennedy, who brought a youthful athleticism to the White House, sounded an even more foreboding tone as president-elect in "The Soft American," a December 1960 cover story he penned for Sports Illustrated. Kennedy linked Americans' lack of physical fitness to the Cold War, calling it "a menace to our security." During his presidency, the council ran advertisements encouraging people to exercise, including one that showed a man with a bulging belly next to the headline, "Is this the shape of things to come?"

"Under President Kennedy, the president's council had a lot of pizazz to it," said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who has sponsored legislation that would establish a nonprofit charitable foundation to raise private funds for the fitness council, a move long advocated by McMillen. "It's been less appreciated while the problem has grown exponentially."

Over the years, the president's council has been led by celebrities from legendary Oklahoma University football coach Bud Wilkinson under Kennedy to Arnold Schwarzenegger under President George H.W. Bush. Schwarzenegger, now governor of California, bought a private jet and flew around the country at his own expense, making a point of visiting all 50 states.

Richard Nixon, who as Eisenhower's vice president was the first council chairman, told delegates at the 1956 conference, "We are not a nation of softies, but we could become one if proper attention is not given to the trend of our time, which is toward the invention of all sorts of gadgetry to make life easy." Along came video games, smart phones and iPods.


Is this the cure for osteoporosis? Scientists discover pill that heals brittle bones -- in rats

An easily administered, once-a-day drug that makes brittle bones strong again has been discovered by scientists. Given daily for six weeks, it fully cured osteoporosis in some cases and stopped it developing in others. The tests were carried out on animals but the researchers believe the treatment could one day help humans with fragile bones. Importantly, and unlike most of the osteoporosis drugs already in use, it builds new bone, rather than simply slowing the breakdown of old bone.

At present, only one drug, teriparatide, builds new bone, but it has to be injected. But the new drug, known only as LP533401, could be given in pill form, making it a much more attractive option. Researcher Professor Gerard Karsenty said: `With tens of millions of people worldwide affected by this devastating and debilitating bone loss, there is an urgent need for new treatments that not only stop bone loss, but also build new bone. `Using these findings, we are working hard to develop this type of treatment for patients.' With 230,000 Britons breaking weakened bones each year and 1,150 dying each month after fracturing a hip, better treatment of osteoporosis could have profound consequences.

The U.S. breakthrough comes from a discovery about serotonin, the `feelgood' chemical that is usually associated with the brain and mood. Despite its role in brain function, 95 per cent of the body's serotonin is found in the gut, where it has the effect of blocking the formation of new bone. The researchers, from New York's Columbia University, showed that a drug developed to tackle bowel problems stopped serotonin from working in the stomach, which caused bone strength to be boosted.

The researchers looked at what happened when they gave small amounts of the serotonin-blocking drug to female rats that had gone through the menopause. The rodents were treated once a day for six weeks, the journal Nature Medicine reports. Given shortly after menopause, it stopped osteoporosis from developing. Given later on, it returned the fragile bones to full strength. The studies showed that is was just as good as teriparatide, which is used to treat severe osteoporosis, at strengthening bones.

Professor Karsenty said: `The two drugs essentially worked equally well. The difference is that PTH (teriparatide) is injected, whereas the drug we use could be a once-a-day pill. `A once-a-day pill to increase bone formation is the luxury the field has been looking for.'

The need for further research means it will be at least 10 years before the drug is in widespread use. Professor David Reid, an Aberdeen University expert in brittle bones, said fractures could have a huge impact on self-confidence and quality of life. He described the research as `intriguing' and added: `If you could block serotonin and release the bone to form a bit more vigorously that would potentially be rather good for osteoporosis.'

Dr Claire Bowring, of the National Osteoporosis Society, said: `If the results seen in the lab do translate to the real world, this could lead to a new way of treating osteoporosis but we need to keep in mind that this is still early days and the theory hasn't been tested in humans.'


11 February, 2010

Isn't that "alternative" medicine great?

A civil servant suffered cancer and kidney failure after taking pills containing a banned substance sold by a Chinese herbal shop to clear up spots on her face, a court heard today. Patricia Booth took the medicine bought at a shop in Chelmsford, Essex, for five and a half years, a jury was told. The Chinese Herbal Medical Centre advertised its products as ‘safe and natural and without side effects’, the Old Bailey heard.

But Mrs Booth was taken ill just months after she stopped taking the pills, which were found to contain the banned substance aristolochic acid, the court was told. Mrs Booth's health deteriorated to such an extent that her kidneys ‘were destroyed’, she developed cancer, and suffered a heart attack. She now visits hospital three times a week for dialysis and was be unable to attend court, instead giving evidence via videolink, jurors heard.

Ying ‘Susan’ Wu, 48, of Holland-on-Sea, Essex, denies a series of charges relating to the sale of the medicine to Mrs Booth. She and shop owner Thin ‘Patrick’ Wong, 47, of Southend, deny further counts of possession of medicines without authorisation.

Julian Christopher, prosecuting, said Wu was employed as a ‘Chinese doctor’ at the shop, which was in business from late 1996 until August 2003. He said: ‘The case is concerned with pills which the prosecution allege were given by Susan Wu to one particular patient to take every day to clear up spots on her face and which the patient continued to take for five and a half years. ‘They did indeed clear up her skin but turned out to have disastrous consequences. They completely destroyed her kidneys and gave her cancer.’

Mr Christopher said Mrs Booth was in her mid-40s when she first started taking the pills in 1997. ‘She was the manager of a Government office in charge of 50 to 60 people and in good health save that she was troubled by unsightly patches of spots similar to acne," he said. ‘She had seen various NHS doctors but all they could offer was more antibiotics and she didn't like the idea of taking antibiotics long term.’

He said Mrs Booth was walking past the Chinese medicine shop when she saw a leaflet advertising its products. The court heard that in February 1997 she and her husband went into the premises for a consultation and met Wu. Mrs Booth was taken to a consultation room where an elderly Chinese man was introduced to her as a doctor. He asked her questions in Chinese, translated by Wu, jurors were told.

The court heard she was given herbs to boil up and drink but did not like the ‘horrible’ taste and on returning to the shop was given some pills instead by Wu, and did not see the elderly male ‘doctor’ again. She was told by Wu to take a cap full - about 30 pills - three times a day, Mr Christopher said.

‘The pills did clear her spots and she went back to the shop again every 10 days or so, buying two or three bottles each time from Susan Wu, with the dose decreasing over time as her skin got better.’ Mrs Booth carried on taking them until around November 2002, the court heard.

Mr Christopher said: ‘She wasn't feeling well then. She thought she had flu and she hadn't been feeling well for some considerable time. ‘She didn't get better and went to hospital in February 2003 for a blood test. There it was discovered she was suffering from chronic long-term kidney failure. Sadly her condition has got worse since then.’ Mrs Booth has been on dialysis since 2003, the court heard.

She was initially supposed to have the treatment at home and was put on the list for a kidney transplant until 2006, when she developed cancer, Mr Christopher said. Mrs Booth had to have ‘major surgery’ to remove her urinary tract and kidneys, the court was told. She must now go to hospital three times a week for dialysis, and in August 2008 had a heart attack. She has undergone further surgery and is still waiting to go back on the kidney transplant list, jurors heard.


It's genes, not diet or lifestyle, that lead to longevity

A US study looked at 500 Ashkenazi Jews living in New York with an -average age of 100. They were chosen after previous studies found the group to have a very specific genetic footprint because their bloodline had been kept very pure.

Although a third were obese or had smoked two packets of cigarettes a day for more than 40 years, they shared three "super-genes" that extended life expectancy.

Two genes produced "good" cholesterol, which reduced the risk of heart disease and strokes, while a third gene protected against diabetes. Those with the longevity genes had a one in 500 chance of reaching 100, compared with a one in 10,000 chance in the rest of the population.

Dr Barzilai, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said: "Because our centenarians have -longevity genes, they are protected against many effects of the environment. "That's why they do whatever they want to do and they get through anyhow."

He said two of the genes "increase good cholesterol in a -significant way". He added: "There's no drug that does it so effectively."

The specific genotype that seemed to protect against diabetes also appeared to radically cut that person's chances of developing Alzheimer's.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: "I think it's optimistic to say we're going to have pills in three years but it would certainly add -significantly to the ways in which we can help -prolong life. "It's perfectly logical that if you have heart disease, you're likely to live less long so if you stop that happening, you might live longer."


10 February, 2010

The Olympics: Top people dominate in sport too

Interesting analysis by Matthew Syed -- a British table tennis champion -- below. He has Labour party sympathies but it is amusing that he himself is an example of that which he describes. He got a First in PPE from Balliol. His explanation for the high sporting achievements of rich people is reasonable but probably incomplete. There does seem to be a syndrome of general biological fitness such that intelligence and good health go together and usually lead to material success -- much of which is hereditary and thus leads to an upper class of broad accomplishments overall. Shockingly "incorrect" of course

I am often asked what it is like to be a part of Team GB at the Olympic Games. My answer is always the same. Look beyond the obvious stuff — the rivers of testosterone, the insane ambition and the lust for glory. Look beyond the postcompetition fraternising, so widespread and competitive that it could be a medal event all on its own. Look beyond that and what are you left with? Well, in a word, Posh. With a capital P.

How can I describe it? Imagine a strawberry and Pimm’s garden party with lots of oversized pectorals and gluteals bustling for space and you get a sense of the ambience in the Great Britain section of the athletes’ village. I played at my first Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 and the pre-competition reception hosted by the Princess Royal was more formal than a Bullingdon Club bash. This may sound a little strange if you accept the notion that sport has nothing to do with social class; that the Olympics is a meritocracy in which individuals succeed on the basis of hard work and talent rather than cash and privilege.

But look at the statistics and you will see instantly the connection between Posh and podium. According to a report leaked last week, more than a third of British competitors at the London Olympics in 2012 will hail from private schools — a staggering number when you consider that only 7 per cent of children are educated in the independent sector. But consider this, too: a full 58 per cent of athletes who won gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens were educated at private schools, including a good few from the super-elite public schools such as Eton.

I’m sure we are all terribly proud of our medal-winners wherever they hail from, but isn’t it extraordinary that state schools are so chronically underrepresented? Isn’t it disquieting that, after hundreds of millions of pounds have been splurged in an attempt to get kids from inner-city comprehensivess on the podium in 2012, the whole thing is still dominated by the fee-paying minority? Isn’t it curious that an arena as seemingly transparent and objective as sport is as class-ridden as the judiciary?

Although the figures for the Winter Olympics this month have not been published, one imagines that things are not so terribly different in Vancouver, where the Games start at the weekend — at least in the blue-riband event of Alpine skiing.

It is estimated that the hotel, travel and coaching costs of Chemmy Alcott, Britain’s best-known skier and a medal prospect, are about £300,000 a year — not a figure easily affordable for most Brits (Alcott, incidentally, went to a private school, Surbiton High). Of the top under-16 skiers, one is a relative of the former England cricket captain David Gower and another is the son of an hereditary peer. If the Olympic slopes are not quite Méribel, perhaps they are not far off.

Even the bureaucrats at the British Olympic Association are super-posh. The chairman is Colin Moynihan, a decent cove otherwise known as the 4th Baron Moynihan. Simon Clegg, the long-serving chef de mission who left the organisation a year or so ago, is a public school-educated former military man. And its president is the ultimate blue-blood: the Princess Royal, winner of the European Eventing Championships in 1971 and mother of Zara Phillips, who is one of the leading contenders for gold in 2012 (Zara was educated at Gordonstoun, the Scottish boarding school, since you ask).

I remember arriving at the Team GB block of the Olympic village in Barcelona in 1992 and having the impression that I had walked into an Oxford or Cambridge college (in fact, the Oxbridge intake is more socially balanced than Team GB’s Athens gold medal-winners, with about 60 per cent of students coming from the state sector). It was all very pleasant and polite, with lots of joshing and laughter — but, as a product of the comprehensive education system, I couldn’t suppress the feeling that this fine group of athletes was unrepresentative of our nation. And to be honest, despite my respect for them all, I couldn’t help feeling just a little sad about that.

So, the question is: why are those who went to state schools failing to punch their weight in Team GB? Is there an inherent bias in the selection policy? Has some super-sporty genetic mutation spread among the private schools without touching the comps?

In fact, the answer is both simple and depressing: the Olympic Games is chock-full of rich men’s sports — the kind that are difficult to play and all but impossible to excel in without oodles of cash.

More here

Low intelligence among top heart health risks

Wow! I never thought I would have a report from Reuters agreeing with me. I seem to remember reading good stuff from David Batty before, though. He's not so batty. The idea of programs to increase IQ is a big laugh, though. It would have been done ages ago if it were possible. There have been attempts, but any improvements have been transitory. See HERE

Intelligence comes second only to smoking as a predictor of heart disease, scientists said on Wednesday, suggesting public health campaigns may need to be designed for people with lower IQs if they are to work. Research by Britain's Medical Research Council (MRC) found that lower intelligence quotient (IQ) scores were associated with higher rates of heart disease and death, and were more important indicators than any other risk factors except smoking.

Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women Europe, the United States and most industrialised countries. According to the World Health Organisation, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes accounted for 32 percent of all deaths around the world in 2005.

It is well known that people with poorer education and lower incomes often face higher risks of ill health and a range of diseases. Studies have pointed to many likely reasons, including limited access to healthcare and other resources, poorer living conditions, chronic stress and higher rates of lifestyle risk factors like smoking.

The MRC study, which analysed data from 1,145 men and women aged around 55 and followed up for 20 years, rated the top five heart disease risk factors as cigarette smoking, IQ, low income, high blood pressure, and low physical activity.

The researchers, led by David Batty of the MRC and Social and Public Health Science Unit in Glasgow, Scotland, said there were "a number of plausible mechanisms" which might explain why lower IQ scores could raise the risk of heart disease -- in particular a person's approach to "healthy behaviour." Those who ignored or failed to understand advice about the risks of smoking or benefits of good diet and exercise for heart health would be more likely to be at higher risk, they wrote in a study in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention.

Batty said it was important to recognise the public health implications of the findings -- that skills reflected in a person's IQ may be important for managing heart disease risk. "From a public health perspective, there is the possibility that IQ can be increased, with some mixed results from trials of early learning and school readiness programmes," he said.

Ioanna Tzoulaki, a lecturer in epidemiology from Imperial College London, agreed the public health impact was important. "Public health campaigns should focus on early life factors that have been shown to influence IQ levels and tackle social inequalities," she said in a comment on the study. "At the same time, the public health messages for known risk factors such as diet may need to be simplified."


9 February, 2010

Soft drinks boost pancreatic cancer risk (?)

Here we go again. More epidemiological speculation. At least there is one comment below showing an awareness that correlation is not causation

People who drink at least two soft drinks a week nearly double their risk of developing pancreatic cancer, a study has revealed. Researchers collected data on the consumption of soft drinks, juice and other dietary items, as well as lifestyle and environmental factors of 60,524 people who were part of the huge Singapore Chinese Health Study, following up with study participants for up to 14 years.

The research found there was a 87 per cent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer for those who drank two or more soft drinks per week. No link was found between drinking fruit juice and developing pancreatic cancer, said the study which was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention said. "The high levels of sugar in soft drinks may be increasing the level of insulin in the body, which we think contributes to pancreatic cancer cell growth," lead researcher Mark Pereira of the University of Minnesota said. Insulin helps the body metabolise sugar, and is produced in the pancreas.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer, and only 5 per cent of people who are diagnosed are known to survive five years later, according to the American Cancer Society.

Doctor Pereira says the findings would apply to western countries as well. "Singapore is a wealthy country with excellent healthcare. Favourite pastimes are eating and shopping, so the findings should apply to other western countries," he said. He said that while sugar may be to blame, those who drink sugar-sweetened soft drinks often have other poor health habits.

The Singapore Chinese Health Study enrolled Singapore Chinese people who lived in government housing estates - as nearly nine in 10 people in Singapore do - and looked at their diets, physical activity, reproductive history, occupational exposure and medical history.


Here's a finding I won't criticize!

Drinking beer especially pale ale strengthens your bones and could stop them becoming brittle, a study suggests. Researchers found that the drink contained a substance that boosts bones and could mean they are less likely to suffer from osteoporosis. They discovered that beer, especially pale ales, contains high levels of silicon known to slow down the bone thinning that leads to fractures and boosting the formation of new bone. The finding, published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, backs up previous research which also showed that the drink was good at fending off brittle bones - especially in women.

"The factors in brewing that influence silicon levels in beer have not been extensively studied", said Dr Charles Bamforth, lead author at the University of California. They found that lighter beers with a greater use of hops had the most silicon. Silicon is present in beer in the soluble form of orthosilicic acid (OSA), up to half of which can be absorbed by the body making beer a major contributor to silicon intake in the Western diet. Based on these findings, some studies suggest moderate beer consumption may help fight osteoporosis, a disease of the skeletal system characterised by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue.

The researchers found that the extra heat used in malting darker beers tended to destroy some of the silicon. Beers with more hops naturally had more silicon they found.

Osteoporosis or low bone density is often described as a silent epidemic of the 21st century. In the UK alone it results in more than 200,000 fractures annually and costs the NHS more than œ1 billion a year. Three million Britons are affected by osteoporosis.

The actual biological role of silicon in bone health and formation is not known though it is thought to help manufacture collagen, one of its major components.

"Beers containing high levels of malted barley and hops are richest in silicon," concludes Dr. Bamforth. "Wheat contains less silicon than barley because it is the husk of the barley that is rich in this element. While most of the silicon remains in the husk during brewing, significant quantities of silicon nonetheless are extracted into wort and much of this survives into beer."

Dr Claire Bowring, National Osteoporosis Society, said the research did not mean that people head for the pub. "These findings mirror results from previous studies which concluded that moderate alcohol consumption could be beneficial to bones," she said.

However, while the National Osteoporosis Society welcomes measures to improve bone health we do not recommend anyone increases their alcohol consumption on the basis of these studies. While low quantities of alcohol may appear to have bone density benefits, higher intakes have been show to decrease bone strength, with an alcohol intake of more than two units per day actually increasing the risk of breaking a bone. "There are also many other health concerns linked with alcohol which cannot be ignored."


8 February, 2010

Boredom shortens life expectancy, scientists say

It would be more reasonable to conclude from the findings that less healthy people have fewer options and are hence more likely to be bored

Boredom could be shaving years off your life, scientists have found. Researchers say that people who complain of boredom are more likely to die young, and that those who experienced "high levels" of tedium are more than 2½ times as likely to die from heart disease or stroke than those satisfied with their lot.

More than 7000 civil servants were studied over 25 years – and those who said they were bored were nearly 40 per cent more likely to have died by the end of study than those who did not. The scientists said this could be a result of those unhappy with their lives turning to such unhealthy habits as smoking or drinking, which would cut their life expectancy.

Specialists from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London looked at data from 7524 civil servants, aged between 35 and 55, interviewed between 1985 and 1988 about their levels of boredom. They then found out whether they had died by April last year. Those who reported feeling a great deal of boredom were 37 per cent more likely to have died by the end of the study.

Researcher Martin Shipley, who co-wrote the report to be published in the International Journal of Epidemiology this week, said: "The findings on heart disease show there was sufficient evidence to say there is a link with boredom."


Forget drugs, a jab of water helps ease birthing pain

This sounds like very good news

INJECTIONS of tiny amounts of water into the lower back are giving women drug-free pain relief during childbirth. Reynieze Petersen Leota, 17, who delivered her first baby Geoita at the Mater Mothers' Hospital in Brisbane yesterday, said an injection of sterile water during labour relieved her back pain for about six hours. "The pain was really bad. I couldn't handle it and then the midwife told me about the water injections," she said. "The pain went away straight away."

The Mater Mothers' Hospital has offered the injections since last year and has launched a study to investigate the most effective technique for delivering them. Midwife Nigel Lee, of the Mater Mothers' Research Centre, said the treatment, involving less than 1 ml of water being injected just under the skin, provided fast relief from back pain to about 85 per cent of women who received it.

He said the injections worked by stimulating nerve transmitters, blocking pain signals being sent to the brain. Mr Lee said they had benefits over traditional drug treatments, such as epidurals and laughing gas, although he stressed the water injections only worked to relieve back pain.

"The woman can still walk around. She doesn't have to stay on the bed," he said. "We can repeat it, as needed. There's no side effects because it's effectively just water. There's no effects on the baby at all." He said they had been available for years in Northern Europe, but the Mater Mothers' Hospital was one of the few facilities in Australia offering them on a routine basis to expectant mothers.


7 February, 2010

Exercise 'can fight ageing' (?)

Good to see two commenters express some caution about the direction of causation

Long-term physical activity has an anti-ageing effect at the cellular level, a German study suggests. Researchers focused on telomeres, the protective caps on the chromosomes that keep a cell's DNA stable but shorten with age. They found telomeres shortened less quickly in key immune cells of athletes with a long history of endurance training. The study, by Saarland University, appears in the journal Circulation.

In a separate study of young Swedish men, cardiovascular fitness has been linked to increased intelligence and higher educational achievement.

Telomeres are relatively short sections of specialised DNA that sit at the ends of all our chromosomes. They have been compared to the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces that prevent the laces from unravelling. Each time a cell divides, its telomeres shorten and the cell becomes more susceptible to dying.

The researchers measured the length of telomeres in blood samples from two groups of professional athletes and two groups of people who were healthy non-smokers, but who did not take regular exercise. One group of professional athletes included members of the German national track and field athletics team, who had an average age of 20. The second group was made up of middle-aged athletes who had regularly run long distances - an average of 80km a week - since their youth.

The researchers found evidence that the physical exercise of the professional athletes led to activation of an enzyme called telomerase, which helped to stabilise telomeres. This reduced the telomere shortening in leukocytes, a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in fighting infection and disease. The most pronounced effect was found in athletes who had been regularly endurance training for several decades.

Lead researcher Dr Ulrich Laufs said: "This is direct evidence of an anti-ageing effect of physical exercise. "Our data improves the molecular understanding of the protective effects of exercise and underlines the potency of physical training in reducing the impact of age-related disease."

Professor Tim Spector, an expert on genetics and ageing at Kings College London, said other studies had suggested more moderate exercise had a beneficial effect on ageing. He said: "It is still difficult to separate cause and effect from these studies - as longer telomeres may still be a marker of fitness. "Nevertheless - this is further evidence that regular exercise may retard aging."

Professor Kay-Tee Khaw, of the University of Cambridge, an expert on ageing, said: "The benefits of physical activity for health are well established from many large long-term population studies. "Even moderate levels of physical activity are related to lower levels of many heart disease risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol and lower risk of many chronic diseases associated with ageing such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers."

In the second study, published in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, a team from the University of Gothenburg analysed data on more than 1.2 million Swedish men born from 1950-1976 who enlisted for military service at age 18. They found that good heart health was linked to higher intelligence, better educational achievement and raised status in society.

By studying twins in the study, the researchers concluded that environmental and lifestyle factors were key, rather than genetics. [An enigmatic statement]

They said the findings suggested that campaigns to promote physical exercise might help to raise standards of educational achievement across the population. Lead researcher Professor Georg Kuhn said cardiovascular exercise increased blood flow to the brain, which in turn might help forge more and stronger connections between nerve cells. However, he said it was also possible that intelligent people tended to do more exercise.


The war on salt is just one battle in a larger war

The war has been going on for thousands of years. It comes up again and again. It manifests itself as a war on drugs, a war on terror, a global warming crisis. It is the war amongst those who would rule everyone else asserting that they know better how to run your life and it is the war against you. The war on salt is just one aspect of this same, tired, ancient, boring, despicable, and horrid war—a war with billions of casualties, a war against human spirit, a war on possibility. It is the war that doesn't give you a walk-on role in the world, only a lead role in a cage.

What I'm talking about is the war on the future we were promised, with flying cars, much longer lives, colonies in space, hotels in the Moon, terraforming of Mars. It is the war which impoverishes nearly everyone, the war which enriches only the cronies of big government, the war which opposes cheap air travel, cheap space travel, food that tastes good, drugs that relieve pain, a free market, free choices, free love, free thought, free people.

It is the same war that sent armies rampaging across Europe to slaughter Protestants and Catholics, the same war that sent Inquisitors to mock Galileo and thwart scientific reason, the same war that imprisons millions of Americans annually for non-violent non-crimes of possessing or selling or making herbs that God granted (Genesis 1:29) to all mankind to be as meat. Plato declared this war in his rotten book "The Republic" and acknowledged that nobility was a lie, that everyone was basically the same, but by diet, training, education, and preferential treatment, perhaps a race of philosopher kings might be bred, he hoped, to savagely rule, rape, and pillage everyone else.

How do I know that Mayor Bloomberg's war on salt is the same war that has been fought time and time again? I remember an album cover from 1972 for the Steeleye Span album Below the Salt. An old and excellent teacher of mine explained that the phrase "below the salt" represented the caste system in England. "At that time the nobility sat at the 'high table' and their commoner servants at lower trestle tables. Salt was placed in the centre of the high table. Only those of rank had access to it. Those less favoured on the lower tables were below (or beneath) the salt," Gary Martin writes. Until the 1600s when salt was mined near Cheshire, the objective of the wealthy classes was to deprive the poor of good tasting food and also deny them an essential nutrient for physical labor.

Why? One would think that better tasting food and necessary nutrients would have motivated more and better work. But it is exactly the same sort of reasoning that one gets from these class system brutes—the "reasoning" applied to depriving people of laudanum, opium, morphine, and other herb derivatives, the "reasoning" used to excuse depriving people of the pain relieving and pleasure giving properties of hemp, the "reasoning" used to claim a false and vindictive "authority" to spy on every telephone conversation in the world simultaneously.

In the death camps in Germany the answer was always the same. "Hier ist kein Warum." Here there is no why.

No, it isn't reasonable for Mayor Bloomberg to announce that restaurants have to cut back on the amount of salt they use in the dishes they serve. It is not reason. It is power madness. He has been told, perhaps, that salt is bad for people. Of course, restaurants use salt, and offer it to their customers on the table, because it makes food taste better. It makes food taste good, just as fat, butter, sugar, and many other ingredients are savory, precisely because the body needs it as an essential nutrient.

Deny salt to people who engage in physical labor, whether gardening, shoveling, walking, running, or "working out" in a gym, and you can kill them. Which is precisely Mayor Bloomberg's objective. He represents the wealthy, the powerful, those above the salt, those who sit at high table. And, of course, he's "educated" by elitists at Johns Hopkins and Harvard to believe that he knows better than everyone else how to live, what to eat, what is good for and bad for others. He's one of the richest men in the world with a net worth of $16 billion.

He made his first golden parachute of $10 million being fired from Salomon Brothers, a Wall Street firm where he was involved in equity trading and systems development. Then he developed systems that are used, today, by traders around the globe. Don't suppose that his fortune is a free market one, though, as the sources of data from the markets and the regulatory environment of those markets are part of what makes his business possible. Nor is he a nice guy in business, having been repeatedly accused of sexually harrassing male and female employees. He's been sued over saying "kill it" about a pregnant woman's baby, he's been sued by the EEOC on behalf of three women, and apparently on behalf of 72 plaintiffs who took maternity leave.

He's been a Republican, a Democrat, and an "independent" at various times in his political career. The evidence against his having any libertarian inclinations include his brutal treatment of subordinates in his company, his vicious attacks on out-of-state gun shops, his involvement as head of one of the largest bureaucracies in any city in the world, and his current fetish war on salt. His city government is as involved as any in the war on terror, routinely violating the privacy and civil liberties of individuals in many parts of the world.

But he isn't exactly the poster boy for the worst evil of the war on salt. Remember, the war on salt is the war over who gets to run your life: you or those who claim to know better.

More here

6 February, 2010

Possible cancer cure found in blushwood shrub

Claims like this are a dime a dozen but there is a tiny percentage that does pan out

CANCER patients are offering themselves as human guinea pigs as researchers investigate a possible cure for cancer found in north Queensland rainforests. Scientists have identified a compound in the fruit of the native blushwood shrub that appears to "liquefy and destroy cancer with no side-effects", according to latest research.

Found deep in the remnants of a 130 million-year-old rainforest, the fruit extract may yet hold the secret antidote to Australia's No.1 killer disease. Victoria Gordon, of EcoBiotics, an Atherton Tableland-based company, said they hoped to go to human clinical trials later this year. Dr Gordon said a single dose injection of the extract, known as EBC-46, had been effective in 50 critically ill dogs and about a dozen cats and horses.

"This is proving to be something exceptional," she said. "The tumour literally liquefies. "There is a rapid knock-down of the tumour, it disintegrates within 24 hours and we have a rapid healing response. "The biggest tumour we treated was the size of a Coke can in a dog, and that animal is fully healed and healthy." Dr Gordon said it had worked on skin cancers, such as carcinomas and melanomas, and bone cancer, and was a possible treatment for breast, colon and prostate cancer.

But she warned wannabe human guinea pigs against seeking under-the-table treatment. She said it was "immoral, illegal, and unscientific" to seek to be administered the drug before approval, likely to take up to seven years, by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. "We have been inundated with calls – it shows there is such a need for a breakthrough in anti-cancer treatment," she said. "Most people understand when we explain the situation."

Former breast cancer sufferer Mena Crew, 65, said many dying of cancer would "do anything for a miracle cure". "We would all like a magic cure, that would be wonderful, and I hope in my lifetime we find it," the breast cancer support volunteer said. She has worked with more than 200 sufferers and some victims in her role with the Cancer Council Queensland.

"I don't want to kill the enthusiasm of all the wonderful research, but until it is proven it will do the job, we recommend they go with proven and conventional treatments," she said. "It is good, however, to think the secret antidote may be growing in the jungle above Cairns."


Dangerous recreational use of painkillers

Young people are dosing up on over-the-counter painkillers in a worrying trend that can burn holes in their stomachs and require them to use colostomy bags, health professionals have warned. has been told young people regularly walk into chemists, buy "75-packs" of Nurofen Plus - which contain 12.5 grams of the narcotic codeine - and then pop up to 40 tablets with coffee and alcohol over a day.

One inner-city chemist, who did not want to be named, said the practice was quite common among young people. "They come into the shop and you warn them that they [the tablets] can burn through their stomach linings if they take so many, but they just don't believe you," the pharmacist said. "I didn't think it was so bad until I was sitting with my partner recently having a coffee and I saw two young girls go over to a chemist buy a pack of Nurofen Plus and then come back and have four tablets with a cup of coffee. "It is just ridiculous."

Clinical director of the Gold Coast Drug Council Julie Fox said young people taking vast quantities of Nurofen Plus, which also contains ibuprofen, was the "emerging trend" of the Gold Coast drug scene. Ms Fox said some women were taking up to 40 to 50 tablets at a time, getting high from the codeine, completely unaware of the medical implications. "I mean, you end up with young people having colostomy bags," she said.

"It is cheap and it is really easy to get. They are taking very large amounts and the medical consequences are absolutely horrendous." From May 1, tighter controls of the over-the-counter analgesics come into force, meaning people could only buy a maximum of 30 tablets at a time. But Pharmacy Guild of Australia communications director Greg Turnbull said nothing would stop them moving to the next chemist shop and simply buying more over the counter.

Mr Turnbull said the Guild wanted sales of drugs containing codeine, including Nurofen Plus, to be registered in the same way as pseudoephedrine sales. "We think that the technology is there now for the real-time monitoring of products containing codeine, which would alert pharmacists that a person had bought a large packet of these medicines at a pharmacy down the road," he said. Mr Turnbull said they should not be made "prescription only", because it forced the legitimate users of the medicine to go to a doctor to get a prescription for a drug which was safe when taken as directed.

The Royal Brisbane and Womens Hospital's director of addictive psychology, Doctor Mark Daglish, said the trend towards non-prescription drug abuse was frightening. "The two common ones would be paracetamol and codeine - so the Panadeine and Panadeine Forte - and the ibuprofen-based ones, like Nurofen Plus," he said.

Dr Daglish agreed that people had no idea of the consequences of taking 40 tablets. "You would get a reasonable opiate hit and a huge ibuprofen overdose," he said. "And in overdose they are particularly dangerous because they tend to burn a hole through your stomach lining, or they can rot your kidneys." Dr Daglish supported any plan to restrict the sales of the drugs.


5 February, 2010

Fat kids, junk food and emotion

By Luke Malpass

Every time you open a newspaper or watch the news, you find yourself being bombarded with the news that junk food creates fat kids, and for the crime of unleashing a childhood obesity epidemic on innocent parents and children, the fast food industry should be punished or at least have their commercial activities severely curtailed. Individual or parental responsibility plays no role; it is all the evil ‘fast food industry.’

At least this is what the concerned stakeholders (government funded lobby groups) think. However, in the never-ending competition to see who’s more publicly caring, rational discussion often gets tossed aside.

Takeaways are labelled as ‘bad,’ ipso facto those who sell them are also ‘bad.’ Disagreeing with this lands any dissenter ‘on their side’ and sees them denounced as ‘uncaring’ about poor, innocent fat, diabetic kids.

In Crikey (4 February 2010), Jane Martin from the Obesity Policy Coalition wrote an article bemoaning self regulation in ‘the fast food industry.’ She cites an advertisement for chicken nuggets/soft drink/free toy combo that Hungry Jack’s has been offering as an example of ‘the fox looking after the henhouse.’

The advertised meal may not be the healthy option. But does it make fast food chains somehow predatory and evil? No. Does it mean fast food chains are responsible for childhood obesity rates? No. Does it somehow mean parents hold less responsibility to feed their children a balanced diet? No.

The power of claims about the inherent ‘badness’ of the fast food industry lies not in the assertion but in the appeal to emotion, to good and evil, to right and wrong, of some cosmic battle between money hungry capitalists and fearless defenders of the poor downtrodden, burger-loving proles.

This plays to emotions such as compassion and fear, and it is as professional as it is effective. In both New Zealand and Australia, the heads of major obesity action groups are professionals many of whom formerly led anti-smoking groups: another good versus evil campaign.

With the ‘sin’ of smoking now largely purged from public sight, it makes you wonder which is more important: the cause or the battle against some invented goliath?

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated February 5. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Aerobic exercise can be 'a waste of time'

Once again, it all depends on your genes

MILLIONS of people who try to keep fit by jogging, cycling or going to the gym could be wasting their time, a study revealed today. The international research, led by the University of London, found that aerobic exercise does not benefit everyone in equal measures, and its usefulness is determined by a person's genes. According to the results, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology today, 20 per cent of people do not receive any health benefits from aerobic exercise.

The study, which stretched from London to Ontario, saw an international team of researchers from 14 institutions examine the human genome to find a way of predicting who would benefit the most from exercise. The work built on the belief among researchers that one of the best predictors of health was a body’s ability to take in and use oxygen during maximum exercise. In theory the more blood a heart can pump, and the more oxygen muscles use, the less risk there would be of early disease and death.

James Timmons of the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London, who headed the study, said aerobic exercise would not help certain people ward off heart disease, diabetes and other potential ailments.

Mr Timmons argued this new research could help advance and improve healthcare. “If a patient is not likely to benefit much from aerobic exercise, the physician could turn to other types of exercise or alternative therapies. This would be one of the first examples of personalised, genomic-based medicine,” he said. Alternative types of exercise include anaerobic pursuits such as weightlifting, push-ups and pull-ups.

Participants in the study were asked to undergo rigorous aerobic training, while researchers took muscle tissue samples before and after. Using new procedures the team then identified a set of about 30 genes that predicted the increase of oxygen their body consumed. By the end of the study 20 per cent saw their maximum oxygen increase by less than five per cent. About 30 per cent showed no increase in insulin sensitivity, meaning that the exercise did not reduce their risk of diabetes.

“We know that low maximal oxygen consumption is a strong risk factor for premature illness and death, so the tendency is for physicians and public health experts to automatically prescribe aerobic exercise to increase oxygen capacity," Mr Timmons said. "Our hope is that before too long, they will be able to target that prescription just to those who may stand a greater chance of benefiting, and prescribe more effective preventive or therapeutic measures to the others,” he added.


4 February, 2010

Study links excessive internet use to depression

Good to see some skepticism about the direction of causation

PEOPLE who spend a lot of time surfing the internet are more likely to show signs of depression, British scientists said today. But it is not clear whether the internet causes depression or whether depressed people are drawn to it.

Psychologists from Leeds University found what they said was "striking" evidence that some avid net users develop compulsive internet habits in which they replace real-life social interaction with online chat rooms and social networking sites. "This study reinforces the public speculation that over-engaging in websites that serve to replace normal social function might be linked to psychological disorders like depression and addiction," the study's lead author, Catriona Morrison, wrote in the journal Psychopathology. "This type of addictive surfing can have a serious impact on mental health."

In the first large-scale study of Western young people to look at this issue, the researchers analysed internet use and depression levels of 1,319 Britons aged between 16 and 51. Of these, 1.2 percent were "internet addicted", they concluded. These "internet addicts" spent proportionately more time browsing sexually gratifying websites, online gaming sites and online communities, Morrison said. They also had a higher incidence of moderate to severe depression than normal users.

"Excessive internet use is associated with depression, but what we don't know is which comes first -- are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression?," Morrison said. "What is clear is that for a small subset of people, excessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies."

Morrison noted that while the 1.2 percent figure for those classed as "addicts" was small, it was larger than the incidence of gambling in Britain, which is around 0.6 percent.


Laser zaps fat instantly without scars: "Scientists have invented a laser which zaps away fat cells instantly. The Sun reports patients using the technique can drop two dress sizes in just two weeks - without having to exercise or diet. The painless Zerona treatment costs $1500 for six 40-minute sessions. It works via a laser that passes over the skin and ruptures fat cells, which are expelled from the body. The procedure has been used by US stars to quickly slim for upcoming events as no recovery time is needed and there are no scars. "It's the invention every woman has been waiting for," Tatiana Karelina, who runs the Laser Lounge in Kensington, West London, said. US safety regulator the Food and Drug Administration found the average patient lost nine centimetres from the waist, hips, and thighs. Some lost 23cm. However, the laser doesn't work on obese people - as it can't cut through the layers of fat." [Sounds dubious]

3 February, 2010

Too little too late: Irresponsible medical journal retracts MMR scare paper

Peer review? What peer review? The tiny sample size -- if you can call it a sample -- made the purported observations no more than anecdotal

A leading medical journal has officially retracted the discredited study which sparked a health scare over the MMR vaccine. The Lancet said it now accepted claims made by the researchers which linked MMR to bowel disorders and autism, were "false". It comes after Andrew Wakefield, the lead researcher in the 1998 paper, was ruled last week to have been irresponsible and dishonest in carrying out the original study on 12 children.

MMR is the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine which was introduced in 1988. The fall-out from the research, first published in February 1998, caused vaccination rates to plummet and has been blamed for a resurgence of measles in Britain.

The General Medical Council (GMC) ruled last week that Wakefield showed a "callous disregard" for the suffering of children and that two fellow authors of the paper also "failed in their duties" as responsible doctors in carrying out the study. Invasive procedures were carried out on the 12 children without proper ethics committee approval and without due regard to their clinical needs, the GMC found.

Wakefield was also found to have received 50,000 pounds from the Legal Aid Board to carry out the research on behalf of parents who believed their children had already been harmed by MMR. Wakefield and two former colleagues, John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch, now face being struck off the medical register if they are found guilty of a further charge of serious professional misconduct later this year.

The three doctors deny any wrongdoing. The Lancet had already issued a partial retraction of the paper in 2004, rejecting the interpretation that the vaccine could be linked to health problems. This was signed by ten of the 13 original authors of the study, including Professors Walker-Smith and Murch. At the time, The Lancet argued it had been right to publlish the study as the journal was there to "raise new ideas".

But it said yesterday that in light of the conflict of interest and other charges found proved by the GMC: "We fully retract this paper from the published record." Leading doctors welcomed the decision, although some complained it was ten years too late. Professor Adam Finn, Professor Of Paediatrics at University of Bristol Medical School, added: "This is not before time. Let's hope this will do something to re-establish the good reputation of this excellent vaccine. And I hope the country can now draw a line under this particular health scare and move onto new opportunities for vaccination."


Report: cancer studies used wrong cells

Another reason to be skeptical about in vitro findings

More than 100 published studies and two clinical trials involving esophageal cancer are based partly or wholly on research that mistakenly used cells from other types of cancer, a report claims. Its authors suggest the findings may reflect a wider problem in cancer research -- that cells thought to be from one type of cancer actually come from a totally different type.

The report, by Winand N.M. Dinjens of Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and colleagues, appears Jan. 14 online in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. In the case of esophageal cancer, the authors said, their investigation revealed that three often-used cell lineages were actually from colon, lung or gastric cancer. The lineages were thought to be tumor cells from esophageal adenocarcinoma, one of two main types of esophageal cancer. More generally, among lineages of tumor cells used in basic cancer research, "it has been estimated that up to one-third. have an origin other than that supposed," they wrote.

The report appears Jan. 14 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. "In the past, the scientific community has recognized this problem, but decisive action has not been taken," they continued. The report attributed the mistakes to "cross-contamination between cell lines and mislabeling of cultures." "Widespread use of contaminated cell lines threatens the development of treatment strategies for [esophageal adenocarcinoma]," the authors wrote.

They also noted that 11 patents to date are based on the erroneous studies. Two clinical trials in the United States are partly or wholly thrown into question by the findings, they added. The first, a University of Chicago trial entitled The Effects of Sorafenib on Molecular Barrett's Esophagus Cancer, is currently recruiting patients, with a goal of obtaining 15 volunteers. The second seeks to enroll 85 patients, but other types of cancer are also included. The study, sponsored by Geron Corp., is entitled Safety and Dose Study of GRN163L Administered to Patients With Refractory or Relapsed Solid Tumor Malignancies.

The first of these trials should be "reconsidered," Dinjens and colleagues wrote. But Robert Shoemaker, a scientist at the National Cancer Institute at Frederick, Md., disagreed. He said that the rationale behind the University of Chicago study is based on a chemical pathway common to many tumor types. Thus it doesn't necessarily depend on a specific type of cancer cell having been used in the original studies. Moreover, because even a single tumor contains different cell types, "one might question the rationale for any therapeutic maneuver that is based on studies conducted on a single cell line," he wrote, in an editorial accompanying Dinjens' report in the journal.


2 February, 2010

Fat parents to blame for childhood obesity epidemic by over-feeding under-fives, British study claims

Complete and utter garbage. The most obvious conclusion from the findings is in fact that weight is genetically determined -- which we already know to be so

Overweight parents who simply feed their children too much at a young age are to largely blame for Britain’s childhood obesity crisis, a report will warn this week. The study claims that the Government may be misguided in its policy of trying to tackle the problem through expensive projects aimed at persuading children in primary school to eat healthily and exercise mored. Instead, the report suggests, they should focus on educating new parents and parents-to-be to feed their children less before they start school, so they do not become overweight in the first place. Parents must learn to reduce portion sizes it suggests.

The findings from one of the few long-term studies on childhood obesity in Britain show that daughters of overweight mothers are 10 times more likely to be obese by the time they reach the age of eight than a daughter born to a slim mother. [Which is entirely to be expected given the highly heredity determination of weight] Sons of obese fathers are six times more likely to be overweight, according to the research from scientists working on the EarlyBird Diabetes Project at the medical school in Plymouth.

Children of fat parents tended to be over-fed and under-exercised, setting them on a trajectory towards obesity, it found. The chief cause of weight gain, the report said, was “over-nutrition” of children by their parents.

One of the report’s co-authors, Terry Wilkin, Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Peninsula Medical School, told The Daily Telegraph that the results showed "physical activity will help a child’s fitness but not his or her fatness”. Prof Wilkin, together with Dr Linda Voss from the school, said in the report: “We have found no evidence that physical inactivity precedes obesity, but good evidence that obesity precedes inactivity. “A picture is emerging from the EarlyBird study to suggest that weight gain trajectories are set early in life, perhaps very early, by some behavioural sympathy between obese parents and their same-sex offspring.”

More than 2.3million children in Britain are estimated to be overweight or obese and many under-12s already show signs of high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and liver disease. The Government has spent nearly £2billion over the past decade tackling obesity levels, with a large part of the money being spent on encouraging children to lead healthier lives. The figures include £733million on school sport, £650million on school food and £235million on play facilities.

However, the scientists said “the implications are clear [from the research] - strategies aimed at increasing physical activity, even if they ever achieved the increase, are unlikely to reduce BMI [Body Mass Index]. “The observation is important, because it may turn the causality of childhood obesity on its head. A large amount of money and effort has been directed at children in the belief that the prevention of childhood obesity would reduce adult obesity.

“Importantly the factors popularly associated with childhood obesity - poor school meals, lack of playing fields, insufficient PE at school, too much screen watching - appear to have little impact, at least at primary school age.”

The report said that while eight out of 10 obese adults were not overweight as children, “a high proportion of obese children are the offspring of overweight/obese adults. Maybe the focus of childhood obesity prevention should be on parents-to-be”.

The findings have been drawn from the EarlyBird research project, which has been taking blood tests, weight measurements and low level X-rays of the same group of 300 children for the past 10 years. This week's new "pointers" report, which is being published on the medical school's website, is the first time the scientists have started to draw conclusions from the long term study. Earlier research published in 2008 by the same scientists showed that more than 90 per cent of excess weight gained by girls before puberty is before they are five years old. The figure is 70 per cent for boys.

The project is due to complete in 2013 but there are now fears that the project could end this September because of lack of funds. Prof Wilkin said he had applied for further funding from the Government, but was turned down because EarlyBird is an observational project, rather than interventionist scheme.

A Department for Health spokesman said: "Our Change4Life campaign is aimed at families - parents and their children. Supporting them to eat better and move more to live longer and healthier lives. "As part of this, our Start4Life campaign launched in December, will support pregnant women and parents of babies give their families a 'good start for a healthier life'."


Stress may cause cancer in fruit-flies, study suggests

Stress may cause cells to become cancerous, Yale University scientists have found, in a study that also suggests new ways to attack the deadly disease

Until now, most researchers thought more than one cancer-causing mutation had to occur in the same cell to make tumors grow. But the Yale team, led by geneticist Tian Xu, found this can occur even if the mutations arise in different, nearby cells. "The bad news is that it is much easier for a tissue to accumulate mutations in different cells than in the same cell," said Tian, whose research was published online Jan. 13 in the journal Nature.

His team worked with fruit flies to study the activity of two genes involved in cancer: a gene called RAS that has been implicated in 30 percent of cancers, and a tumor-suppressing gene called scribble, which contributes to tumor development when mutated. Neither defective gene alone can cause cancer. Researchers in the Xu lab previously showed that a combination of the two within the same cell could trigger malignant tumors. The Yale team has now found these mutations need not coexist in one cell to cause tumors. A cell with only mutant RAS can develop into a malignant tumor if helped by a nearby cell with defective scribble.

The group also found stress conditions such as a wound could trigger cancer formation. For instance, RAS cells developed into tumors when a wound was induced in the tissue. The culprit underlying both phenomena turned out to be a chemical signaling process called JNK, which is activated by environmental stress conditions, Xu explained. "A lot of different conditions can trigger stress signaling: physical stress, emotional stress, infections, inflammation," Xu said. It's more "bad news for cancer," he added.

But the good news is that the research also identifies new targets to prevent and treat one of the deadliest diseases in the developed world, Xu said. The Yale team found that the JNK stress signaling travels from one cell to the next, but that the propagation can be blocked. "Better understanding of the underlying mechanism causing cancer always offers new tools to battle the disease," Xu said.


1 February, 2010

After the war on salt, the battle against butter

Healthy-living killjoys now even want to ban the yellow creamy stuff that makes food so tasty and enjoyable. ‘By banning butter and replacing it with a healthy spread, the average daily sat-fat intake would be reduced by eight grams. This would save thousands of lives each year and help to protect them from cardiovascular disease - the UK’s biggest killer.’

So said London-based heart surgeon Shyam Kolvekar last week. He, along with many others, is offering us out-of-date advice that would rob us of one of life’s great pleasures.

The theory is that a diet high in saturated fats will lead to atherosclerosis - so-called ‘furry’ arteries. This narrowing and hardening of the arteries in turn is thought to make it more likely that we will suffer a clot in one of the blood vessels leading to the heart, causing a ‘heart attack’ as that vital organ is deprived of oxygen.

It’s the story we’ve been told for decades now. Rich, animal-derived foods like butter and other dairy products, eggs and meat are little more than a ‘heart attack on a plate’. Butter - with a saturated fat content of 50 per cent - is a prime target for health campaigners, and manufacturers of spreads with low levels of saturated fats make great play on how they are heart-healthy.

It certainly seems to be the case that eating more saturated fat increases the amount of cholesterol in your blood. It’s the cholesterol - or more particularly these days, the so-called bad cholesterol - which is deemed to cause those furry arteries. The trouble is that intervening in diet doesn’t seem to make a great deal of difference. In the early Eighties, a massive intervention trial called MRFIT reduced cholesterol and saturated fat intake for a large group of Americans. If the theory was right, the result should have been a sharp drop in heart attacks. The actual result? No change. The kind of dietary changes that people are constantly told to make had no effect on the risk of having a coronary. Incredibly, however, this negative result had no effect on the popularity of the diet-causes-heart-attacks thesis, either.

In 1998, the Danish doctor and cholesterol sceptic Uffe Ravnskov noted: ‘The crucial test is the controlled, randomised trial. Eight such trials using diet as the only treatment have been performed but neither the number of fatal or non-fatal heart attacks was reduced.’ Indeed, as Gary Taubes notes in his book The Diet Delusion, there was initially a lot of scepticism about the idea that cholesterol was a killer and it was only when the idea got the official stamp of approval from the US government in the 1960s that it became regarded as common sense; as Taubes shows, the epidemiological evidence for the theory was full of holes. (For a review of the book, see The Copernicus of the diet debate? by Rob Lyons.)

Kolvekar’s comments last week represent just the latest in a long line of attacks on the basic pleasures of food. If it’s not butter that’s going to kill us, apparently it will be salt or bacon or anything else that actually tastes of something. Time and again the evidence for these assertions turns out to be as feeble as the flavour of the salad we’re supposed to be munching instead. It’s all reminiscent of an old joke. A doctor advises his patient to stop smoking, drinking or eating rich foods. ‘Will this mean I’ll live longer?’, asks the patient. ‘No, but it’ll seem longer’, came the reply.

Even if there were some risk attached to eating butter, would we really want to do without it? In Kitchen Confidential, the American chef and writer Anthony Bourdain is forthright in his defence of butter: ‘I don’t care what they tell you they’re putting or not putting in your food at your favourite restaurant, chances are you’re eating a ton of butter. In a professional kitchen, it’s almost always the first and last thing in the pan… Margarine? That’s not food. I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter? I can.’ Even the Italians, says Bourdain, famed for their olive-oil heavy diets, are in fact whacking loads of that yellowy, creamy nectar into the pasta, risotto and veal chop.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, known as much for his health crusades as his cooking, knows which side his bread is buttered on. A spokesman told the Daily Mail: ‘He is completely against a ban on butter. He uses butter in his recipes, for example for roasting potatoes in his Christmas programme. He doesn’t like the whole kind of food police, we must ban everything, point of view.’ That last statement is a little hard to swallow, given some of the claims made in Oliver’s own TV shows, but he’s not so stupid that he thinks you can cook good food without butter.

It’s not even the case that butter is all that important as a source of fat in our diets. As Felicity Lawrence points out in the Guardian, ‘Butter and fat spreads between them make up just one-eighth of our total fat intake’, with meat, dairy products and even cereal products like bread and biscuits being more important. Unfortunately, Lawrence can’t help but see the whole affair as a scam on the part of food manufacturers who produce those ‘heart-healthy’ spreads, insinuating that the tentative links between the heart surgeon Kolvekar and food giant Unilever amount to a conflict of interest. But while manufacturers have undoubtedly pumped up advice in order to flog their products - and some cholesterol-lowering products come at a 300 per cent mark-up - the real source of confusion has been the willingness of some noisy doctors and health authorities to overstate the case against certain foods in order to influence how we live.

This has produced some notable ironies. For example, polyunsaturated fats have in the past proven difficult to use in certain situations like baking and high-temperature frying. The furore over saturated fats three decades ago led many manufacturers, particularly in the US, to replace products rich in saturated fat, like butter and lard, with partially-hydrogenated vegetable fats. In recent years, however, these new fats - which contain so-called ‘trans fats’ - have been claimed to be even worse than saturated fat for causing heart disease. It may well be that the case against trans fats is as ropey as the evidence linking butter with heart disease has proven to be. But whatever the truth is, a little more scepticism and careful evaluation of the evidence, rather than a hysterical leaping from one killer food to another, would make more sense.

Those who claim that our food is killing us are not averse to laying it on a bit thick when it comes to scare stories. But the only thing we should be laying on thick is that lovely, creamy butter.


Neuron breakthrough offers hope on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Neurons have been created directly from skin cells for the first time, in a remarkable study that suggests that our biological makeup is far more versatile than previously thought.

If confirmed, the discovery that one tissue type can be genetically reprogrammed to become another, could revolutionise treatments for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, opening up the possibility of turning a patient’s own skin cells into the neurons that they need.

The study by scientists from Stanford University, California, also suggests that skin cells could be reprogrammed to provide a limitless supply of blood or bone marrow for personalised transfusions.

Until now, the consensus was that only master cells from embryos, or adult cells that have been ‘rewound’ into an embryo-like state — a process that takes several weeks — have the ability to form all the different types of tissue in the body.

The latest study, carried out in mice, reveals that while cells choose and maintain their speciality during the earliest phase of development, they retain an underlying flexibility. Provided that the correct genes are turned on or off they could potentially be turned into any other variety of tissue in the body.

The work has been hailed as a huge conceptual leap forward in fundamental biology. “The possibility that cells could be directly reprogrammed is something that people had thought about, but to see it in black and white is still slightly shocking,” said Professor Jack Price, a neurobiologist at King’s College London. “This suggests that there are no great rules — you can reprogramme anything into anything else.”

The finding will address some of the ethical objections of groups who oppose embryonic stem-cell research, in which the embryo is destroyed. And the new process is much quicker than the alternative method, where adult cells are “rewound” to create versatile master cells, known as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

In the study, published in the journal Nature, skin cells were infected with a genetically modified virus that inserted genes into the cells’ DNA. The researchers began by introducing 19 genes that are known to be switched on when mice stem cells first differentiate into neurons during embryonic development.

Using a mix-and-match approach, the researchers found that of the 19 genes initially tested, only three were truly necessary to get the skin cells to develop into neurons. When these three genes were switched on, 20 per cent of the skin cells had turned into fully functioning neurons in less than a week. The neurons were able to make connections with and signal to other nerve cells — critical functions if the cells are eventually to be used as therapy for Parkinson’s disease or other disorders.

“We were very surprised by both the timing and the efficiency,” said Irving Weissman, a stem cell expert at Stanford University in California, who led the research. "This is much more straightforward than going through iPS cells, and it’s likely to be a very viable alternative.”

In terms of clinical applications, a further advantage of skipping out the intermediate iPS state is that it is known that iPS cells promote cancers. Many researchers believe it would be difficult to obtain a license for the use of cells that are grown from iPS cells.

“People have been saying that iPS cells could be used therapeutically in the near future, but frankly they’ve been lying,” said Professor Price. “These cells don’t go through a tumourigenic phase, which means it would be much easier to get a licence to use them.”

The Stanford group are now working to reproduce the finding using human cells, but say that there is no reason to expect it should not apply to most species.

A further question is why, if cells retain an underlying versatility, they don’t switch between cell types throughout our life. One possible explanation is that genes interact via “see-saw” mechanisms, whereby when one set of genes are switched on, they automatically keep other genes switched off unless an artificial intervention is made.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


More on salt (See point 5 above): Salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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