Posts by Dr. John Ray, 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

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

What fast food does to girls


29 February, 2012

Mother love gives kids a head start?

Groan! More epidemiological naivety. Middle class mothers probably treat their kids better and also have higher IQs. And high IQ tends to go with bigger brain size. No effect of "mother love" is shown in this research at all

THE power of a mother's love is so great it can cause a child's brain to grow larger. Scientists found that love and nurturing in a child's first years can be measured in the size of the hippocampus, the brain's centre of learning.

That part of the brain, also linked to memory and dealing with stress, is up to 10 per cent larger in children raised in a loving environment.

Using MRI scans in a study of 92 children, US researchers from Washington University in Missouri found emotional support was "strongly predictive" of the size of the hippocampus by school age.

"The finding that early parenting support is directly related to healthy development of a key brain region opens an exciting opportunity to impact the development of children in a powerful and positive fashion," the study said.


Sleeping pill users 'up to five times more likely to die early'

Probably because people who are unwell to start with often need pills to get to sleep. Some healthy skepticism expressed towards the end of the article below

Sleeping pills used by millions of Britons may increase the risk of early death more than five-fold, warn researchers. The higher the dose, the greater the risk. Those on higher doses also have an increased risk of cancer.

But a study suggests even patients taking fewer than 18 pills a year are more likely to die prematurely than those not on medication.

The findings come from U.S. research, but most of the drugs involved are commonly prescribed in Britain. They include benzodiazepines such as temazepam and diazepam, newer sedative hypnotics zolpidem, zopiclone and zaleplon, and barbiturates and sedative antihistamines.

British experts said worried patients should not stop taking the pills but talk to their GPs first.

The study found those prescribed sleeping pills were 4.6 times more likely to die during a two-and-a-half-year period compared with those not on the drugs.

Those taking the lowest doses – four to 18 pills a year – had a 3.6 times higher risk of dying compared with non-users.

But the study, conducted by researchers at the Jackson Hole Centre for Preventive Medicine in Wyoming and the Scripps Clinic Viterbi Family Sleep Centre in California, found the risk was greater at higher doses.

Those taking 18 to 132 pills a year had a 4.4 times higher risk of dying, while those on more than 132 pills a year were 5.3 times more likely to die.

Those taking the highest doses each year accounted for 93 per cent of prescriptions in the study.

This group was also 35 per cent more likely to develop a major cancer. For the drug zolpidem, the risk of death was 5.7 times higher, and for temazepam 6.6 times higher.

The effects were greatest among 18 to 55-year-olds, although the reasons are not clear. Just over 10,500 patients taking sleeping pills were compared with 23,500 not on the drugs, and the study took into account pre-existing illnesses.

The researchers concluded non-drug treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy may be more successful and NHS guidance backing 'even short-term use of hypnotics' should be reconsidered. Writing in BMJ Open, they said: 'The meagre benefits of hypnotics, as critically reviewed by groups without financial interest, would not justify substantial risks.'

The journal's editor-in-chief Dr Trish Groves added: 'Although the authors have not been able to prove that sleeping pills cause premature death... these findings raise important concerns.'

Insomnia prescription figures show that in 2010 in England, 2.8million were given for temazepam and almost 5.3million for zopiclone. There were also more than 725,000 prescriptions for zolpidem and more than 9,400 for zaleplon.

Malcolm Lader, professor of clinical psychopharmacology at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, said patients should discuss any concerns they had with their GPs but 'should not under any circumstances stop taking their medication' suddenly.

He added: 'I agree these drugs do have problems, but I find some of these results difficult to accept. 'The main one is that with 18 doses a year you have three times the mortality – that's quite incredible, because you would have people dropping like flies. 'We need to hold judgment until we have further studies.'


28 February, 2012

Cellphones cleared again

Some pesky findings for the freaked-out brigade. Since 1987, brain tumors have actually DECREASED among young men, for instance -- despite the big rise in mobile phone use over that period. Maybe cellphones are actually GOOD for your health! Students of hormesis would find that plausible
Mobile Phone Use and Incidence of Glioma in the Nordic Countries 1979–2008: Consistency Check

By Deltour, Isabelle et al.


Background: Some case-control studies have reported increased risks of glioma associated with mobile phone use. If true, this would ultimately affect the time trends for incidence rates (IRs). Correspondingly, lack of change in IRs would exclude certain magnitudes of risk. We investigated glioma IR trends in the Nordic countries, and compared the observed with expected incidence rates under various risk scenarios.

Methods: We analyzed annual age-standardized incidence rates in men and women aged 20 to 79 years during 1979–2008 using joinpoint regression (35,250 glioma cases). Probabilities of detecting various levels of relative risk were computed using simulations.

Results: For the period 1979 through 2008, the annual percent change in incidence rates was 0.4% (95% confidence interval = 0.1% to 0.6%) among men and 0.3% (0.1% to 0.5%) among women. Incidence rates have decreased in young men (20–39 years) since 1987, remained stable in middle-aged men (40–59 years) throughout the 30-year study period, and increased slightly in older men (60–79 years).

In simulations, assumed relative risks for all users of 2.0 for an induction time of up to 15 years, 1.5 for up to 10 years, and 1.2 for up to 5 years were incompatible with observed incidence time trends. For heavy users of mobile phones, risks of 2.0 for up to 5 years' induction were also incompatible.

Conclusion: No clear trend change in glioma incidence rates was observed. Several of the risk increases seen in case-control studies appear to be incompatible with the observed lack of incidence rate increase in middle-aged men. This suggests longer induction periods than currently investigated, lower risks than reported from some case-control studies, or the absence of any association.

Epidemiology. 23(2):301-307, March 2012.

How walking the dog can be harmful to your health: 'Man's best friend' may cause high number of injuries

I don't this will make many dog-owners give up their dog, however. I must say, though, that tripping over cats and dogs is a regular hazard if you have them around the house

The regular walks and companionship that come with owning a dog are known to aid fitness and wellbeing. But it turns out that man’s best friend may be more likely to harm health than help it.

They may be responsible for a worryingly high number of injuries needing emergency hospital treatment, researchers say.

Over only two months, doctors at one hospital noted 37 cases of patients needing treatment for broken bones, soft tissue injuries and head wounds caused by dogs.

Sixteen of them needed surgery. Most were pulled over by their pet while it was on a lead, while others tripped while out walking, fell over leads or were knocked over as their dog ran towards them.

Doctors were so surprised by the results – which suggest the hospital deals with more than 200 dog-related injuries a year – that they concluded the risks to dog owners’ health may ‘offset any benefits’.

‘We have shown that dog-related injuries are common, particularly in the elderly,’ said Dr Henry Willmott of the Conquest Hospital in Hastings, East Sussex.

‘The presence of a dog in the house should be taken into consideration when the risk of falls is being assessed and dog obedience training should be considered. I am sure that this is a common phenomenon across the UK.’

He added: ‘Elderly women walking their dog on uneven ground were most at risk of injury. Some of the injuries were serious and resulted in considerable morbidity.’

Dr Willmott suggested more elderly women than men were hurt because they are more likely to have weaker bones due to osteoporosis.

The study, published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, is the first to look at how many injuries – other than biting – dogs cause. Previous research has shown owning a dog can ward off depression, lower blood pressure and even combat obesity.

Dogs have been shown to reduce the risk of developing eczema and may be able to sniff out cancer before symptoms develop.


27 February, 2012

Fish oil could save billions (?)

This just assumes what it has to prove

GIVING fish oil supplements to patients with cardiovascular disease could save the economy up to $4.2 billion, an economic report from Deloitte Access Economics says.

Researchers analysed the cost benefit of using fish oil supplements taking into account the cost to the economy of the number of years lost due to ill health, disability or death.

The Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia, which commissioned the report, believes the findings will help make the case for making fish oil exempt from GST or a candidate for subsidy under the federal government's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

"Fundamentally that would be a very good outcome for the general population health and a great outcome for the health budget," the council's consumer affairs director, Justin Howden, said. No complementary therapies are GST free or available on the PBS.

The Deloitte report, which will be released on Tuesday, found that patients spent an average of $112.15 a year on fish oil treatments.

Mr Howden acknowledged that a PBS subsidy or GST exemption for complementary medicines would require a radical shift in government policy. "This report is just part of public policy discussion," he said. "It is the start of a very long process, probably up to five years."

Dr Steve Hambleton, the president of the Australian Medical Association, said the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee would require conclusive evidence that fish oil supplements work before considering them for inclusion in the scheme.

Organisations that have endorsed the cardiovascular benefits of fish oil include the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the National Heart Foundation of Australia, and the WHO.


Workers who burn calories at the gym are less depressed

Exercise does seem to have an antidepressive effect but the study below is just epidemiology so doesn't prove it. Some people who did little exercise were probably in poor health -- and that can be pretty depressing

The last thing you may want to do after a long day at work is to pull on your tracksuit and pound out a few miles on the treadmill. But making the effort to head to the gym a few times each week can dramatically improve your mood on the job, say scientists.

A team from Tel Aviv University found that employees who managed to exercise for a few hours a week were half as likely to experience a decline in mental health than those who did no physical activity.

The researchers, led by Dr Sharon Toker, discovered that working out for four hours a week provided the most benefit in reducing the risk of burning out or developing depression.

Depression is a clinical mood disorder while burnout is defined by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. However, Dr Toker said both contribute towards a 'spiral of loss' where the loss of one resource, such as a job, could have a domino effect and lead to the loss of other resources such as one's home, marriage, or sense of self-worth.

The research, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, assessed the personal, occupational, and psychological states of 1,632 healthy Israeli workers in both the private and public sectors.

The participants were divided into four groups: one that did not engage in physical activity; a second that did 75 to 150 minutes of physical activity a week; a third that did 150 to 240 minutes a week; and a fourth that did more than 240 minutes a week.

They completed questionnaires when they came to medical clinics for routine check-ups and had three follow-up appointments over a period of nine years.

Depression and burnout rates were clearly the highest among the group that did not participate in physical activity. The more physical activity that participants engaged in, the less likely they were to experience elevated depression and burnout levels during the next three years.

The team found those who engaged in at least four hours of exercise displayed almost no symptoms of mental strain. But Dr Toker said even 150 minutes a week helped workers improve their self-esteem and ability to work.

She added that far-sighted employers would benefit by building a gym on company grounds or subsidising memberships to gyms in the community, and by allowing for flexible work hours to encourage employees to make physical activity an integral part of their day.

Such a strategy, she concluded, pays business dividends in the long run.


26 February, 2012

Nursing a broken heart? How taking a paracetamol could dull the pain of rejection

I've heard of people taking aspirin to get to sleep but this is a surprise. The evidence they offer seems fairly good but a lot more exploration would seem needed

It's what songwriters have been saying for years, and now scientists agree – love really does hurt. But what the ballads don’t tell us is that a simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.

The rather prosaic cure emerged in a study by neuroscientists which found that emotional pain is processed in the same area of the brain as physical pain. They also discovered that hurt feelings – such as being dumped by a partner – can respond to painkillers.

In a three-week trial at the University of California, 62 people were told to take either Tylenol – the American name for paracetamol – or a placebo and then record how they felt every night.

The study found those who took 1,000mg of the painkiller, or around two tablets, showed a ‘significant reduction in hurt feelings’ compared to those taking the placebo.

Another test involved participants taking part in a computer game which was devised to make some of them feel rejected.

At the same time they had brain scans, which showed the pain of being socially rejected was processed in the same area of the brain as physical pain – in the anterior cingulate cortex.
noticed a correlation between brain activity in people who had experienced social rejection and others who had experienced physical pain.

The scientists saw a correlation in the brain activity of people who had experienced social rejection and physical pain. The test was then repeated, with some of the group on painkillers. This group had less pain-related activity in their brains than those on a placebo.

Dr Naomi Eisenberger, an assistant professor of social psychology, said: ‘Rejection is such a powerful experience for people. If you ask people to think back about some of their earliest negative experiences, they will often be about rejection, about being picked last for a team or left out of some social group.

‘It follows in a logical way from the argument that the physical and social pain systems overlap, but it’s still kind of hard to imagine. We take the drug for physical pain; it’s not supposed to work on social pain.’

While the findings could help develop treatment for bereavement, for example, Dr Eisenberger said we should not start taking painkillers after a traumatic experience. Emotional pain is probably a healthy response which tells us not to repeat the behaviour, she said, and dulling it could impair recovery.


A natural recovery from spinal injury!

A teenager who feared she would never walk again, is now preparing for a ballet exam after her spine miraculously healed itself.

Megan Kershaw, 14, was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer in 2008, which caused her to collapse at school. During a nine-hour operation to remove three-quarters of the tumour, doctors discovered the cancer had spread to her spine, causing spinal fractures, and for years she was confined to a wheelchair.

It was during treatment that Professor Nick Bishop from Sheffield Children’s Hospital suggested they should try and let the spine heal naturally. Now Megan's back is fully healed and doctors have been amazed by her speedy recovery.

Professor Nick Bishop said: 'The speed of recovery is fantastic and just shows how well children’s bones can recover in this kind of situation. 'Her spine is healing itself without any special treatment from us. The spine’s building blocks, the vertebrae, have growth plates on their upper and lower surfaces. “It is these growth plates that have restored Megan’s vertebral architecture in such an exemplary fashion. 'Megan no longer needs to see me now her spine has healed.'

Her mother Deborah, 48, from Misson, near Doncaster said: 'She is a miracle. It is incredible what has happened and what the body can do. 'She’s back to being a normal healthy child and can do all the things her friends do. 'She has shown tremendous courage through everything and she’s back to her dancing which has helped her very much.'

Megan still needs regular check-ups and is having a scan at the end of March to check on her progress.

The youngster previously hit headlines when Simon Cowell paid for her to go on a trip to Disneyland in Florida for her 13th Birthday. He stepped in when he heard she had made a 'wish board' that included meeting him, Girls Aloud and the dream trip to Disney.

Megan is now preparing for a Royal Academy of Dance ballet exam next month.


25 February, 2012

How eating oranges and grapefruit can cut the risk of a stroke by their anti-inflammatory properties

This appears to be just data dredging. "The researchers did not find a beneficial association between total flavonoid consumption and stroke risk", so they looked and looked until they found just one flavonoid with a significant correlation -- which was probably just a random fluctuation

Eating oranges and grapefruit could cut your risk of stroke, claim researchers. Both the whole fruit and breakfast juices appear to protect against having a ‘brain attack’, probably due to their high content of a certain type of antioxidant.

A new study looked at citrus fruit for the first time, rather than a range of fruit and vegetables which have been linked to stroke protection.

The study involved thousands of women taking part in the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study in the US, but experts believe the benefits may also apply to men.

Every year in the UK, approximately 120,000 people have a stroke and 20-30 per cent die within a month, while 300,000 people are living with disabilities as a result.

A research team based at Norwich Medical School in the University of East Anglia investigated the strength of protection from flavonoids, a class of antioxidant compounds present in fruits, vegetables, dark chocolate and red wine.

The study used 14 years of follow-up data provided by 69,622 women who reported their food intake, including details on fruit and vegetable consumption every four years.

The research team examined the relationship of the six main subclasses of flavonoids - flavanones, anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, flavonoid polymers, flavonols and flavones - with risk of ischemic, hemorrhagic and total stroke.

The researchers did not find a beneficial association between total flavonoid consumption and stroke risk, as the biological activity of the sub-classes differ.

But women who ate high amounts of flavanones in citrus had a 19 per cent lower risk of blood clot-related (ischemic) stroke than women who consumed the least amounts.

The highest level of flavanones was around 45mg a day compared with 20mg a day. A glass of commercial orange juice can provide 20-50mg depending on processing and storage conditions.

In the study, reported in the medical journal Stroke flavanones came primarily from oranges and orange juice (82 per cent) and grapefruit and grapefruit juice (14 per cent).

However, researchers recommended that consumers wanting to increase their citrus fruit intake should eat more whole fruit rather than juice, due to the high sugar content of commercial fruit juices.

Lead researcher Aedin Cassidy, proessor of nutrition, said ‘Studies have shown higher fruit, vegetable and specifically vitamin C intake is associated with reduced stroke risk.

‘Flavonoids are thought to provide some of that protection through several mechanisms, including improved blood vessel function and an anti-inflammatory effect.”

A previous study found that citrus fruit and juice intake, but not intake of other fruits, protected against risk of ischemic stroke and intracerebral hemorrhage.

Another study found no association between yellow and orange fruits and stroke risk, but did link increased consumption of white fruits like apples and pears with lower stroke risk.

An additional study found that Swedish women who ate the highest levels of antioxidants - about 50 percent from fruits and vegetables - had fewer strokes than those with lower antioxidant levels.

More studies are needed to confirm the association between flavanone consumption and stroke risk, and to gain a better understanding about why the association occurs, said Prof Cassidy.

Dr Sharlin Ahmed, Research Liaison Officer at The Stroke Association said ‘We all know that eating plenty of fresh fruit and veg is good for our health. This study suggests that eating citrus fruits in particular, such as oranges and grapefruits, which are high in vitamin C could help to lower your stroke risk.

‘However, this should not deter people from eating other types of fruit and vegetables as they all have health benefits and remain an important part of a staple diet.

'More research is needed in this area to help us understand the possible reasons why citrus fruits could help to keep your stroke risk down.

‘Everyone can reduce their risk of stroke by eating a healthy balanced diet that is low in saturated fat and salt, exercising regularly and ensuring that your blood pressure is checked and kept under control.’


The moron act of branding normal healthy kids as "obese" has now spread to Australia

A MELBOURNE mother is horrified after a child and maternal health nurse labelled her healthy three-year-old daughter "obese".

Helen Karalexis said the incident occurred when she took Viktoria to the Sunshine Child and Maternal Health clinic for a routine check-up on Wednesday.

Ms Karalexis was concerned this was not an isolated case, and that it was sending children the wrong messages.

Her daughter is 108cm tall and weighs 21.1kg - when the nurse put these measurements into the computer, she told her Viktoria was obese. "I said, 'how can you tell me my daughter is obese? Look at her'," Ms Karalexis said. "She's very energetic, she's always outside playing, she's got a lot of muscle, which is heavier than fat."

The nurse recommended Ms Karalexis switch her daughter to low-fat milk, reduce her meal portions and not give her any cordials, soft drinks or fruit juice. "She almost convinced me my daughter was obese," Ms Karalexis said.

Nurses should not be relying solely on a computer program to determine whether a child was obese, but also use discretion and common sense, she said. "It's hard enough trying to get kids to eat as it is, but this could make them start thinking 'I can't eat this because I'm going to get fat'," she said.

Ms Karalexis urged parents suffering a similar experience to seek a second opinion.

A Brimbank City Council spokesman said discussions were being held with Isis Primary Care, which provides maternal and child health services in the area on its behalf, over Ms Karalexis's allegations.

Isis director of community services Michael Girolami said body mass index (BMI), which took into account a child's age, height and weight, was used to determine if a child was in a healthy weight range.

The online BMI assessment tool was available from the US Government's National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Mr Girolami said. "In this particular case, the child was placed in the 95th percentile, which is defined as "obese" in the chart," he said.

Dietitian Karen Inge said the BMI system had limitations because it measured only height and weight, not body composition, and muscle weighed more than fat.


24 February, 2012

Damn your low fat diet: How a reformed vegan gorges on all the foods his granny enjoyed... and has never felt better

As the kitchen filled with the smell of caramelised meat, my mouth watered in anticipation of the coming feast: a thick cut of tender steak, fried in butter and olive oil. This was not a regular treat. In fact, for the previous 26 years I’d been a vegan, eschewing not just meat but all animal products.

My diet was an extreme version of the NHS Eat Well regime, which recommends lots of starchy foods and smaller quantities of saturated fats, cholesterol, sugar and red meat.

According to government advice, I was doing everything right — and yet my health had never been worse. My weight had crept up over the years, until in 2008 I was 14½ stone [203lb] — which is a lot of blubber for someone who is 5ft 10in — and was classified as clinically obese.

I waddled around, sweating and short of breath, battling extremely high cholesterol and suffering from chronic indigestion. I was always tired and needed to take naps every afternoon. I had constant headaches and swallowed paracetamol and sucked Rennies like they were sweets.

Worst of all, I had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which left me feeling as if I had lead weights in my gut. My belly was bloated and distended after every meal. I was, to use a technical term, knackered.

But that was about to change. In 2010, I decided to give up my supposedly healthy lifestyle and embrace good old-fashioned meat.

From that day on, I ate red meat four or five days a week. I gobbled the fat on chops, chicken skin and pork crackling. I feasted on everything we’re told to avoid. The effects were instant.

Twenty-four hours after eating meat again, all my IBS symptoms had gone. As the weeks and months passed, every aspect of my health improved dramatically. I became leaner, shedding body fat and becoming stronger and fitter. My headaches went away, never to return. Even my libido increased.

It felt like being young again, like coming back to life. But though I felt energised, I was also furious. Furious with myself for sticking to the ‘healthy’ eating advice, which was actually far from a sensible diet. But also furious with the so-called experts who have been peddling this low-fat, high-carbohydrate claptrap for so long that no one thinks to question it.

My maternal grandmother would certainly have challenged it. Like my grandfather, she was born into a poor family in East Yorkshire at the turn of the century and their eating regime was simple: meat and at least two vegetables at every meal, lots of butter and full-cream milk (they would have scorned yogurt as little more than ‘off’ milk), bread, potatoes, cake and puddings.

Nothing would have swayed them from that lifestyle. Had a low-fat diet been suggested by a doctor, Gran would have told him to his face that it was all rubbish and that you needed fat to ‘keep the cold out’.

If she could have seen people buying skimmed milk today, she would have thought they had lost their minds. Getting rid of the best bit of milk? Lunacy.

Late in her life, I recall her scorning the advice on limiting the consumption of eggs because of concerns about cholesterol. On one occasion, she watched in astonishment as a celebrity TV chef made an egg-white omelette. ‘He’s a bloody fool, that man,’ she said.

She was right to be sceptical, it turns out. For years the authorities told us cholesterol-rich foods would kill us — but we’ve since learned that is utter drivel.

While Ancel Keys, the scientist whose research in the Fifties first raised concerns about cholesterol levels, suggested that heart disease was linked to large amounts of cholesterol in the blood, he never claimed those levels were linked to the amount of cholesterol we eat.

‘There’s no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in blood,’ he said in a magazine article in 1997. ‘And we’ve known that all along.’

Since then, the NHS’s paranoia about cholesterol in food has been replaced by concerns about saturated fat — found in everything from butter, cheese and cream to pies, cakes and biscuits.

They suggest saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. But this is open to debate. France has the lowest rate of death from coronary heart disease in Europe, yet the country has the highest consumption of saturated fats.

Gran survived into her 80s and Grandad into his 70s, despite labouring down the pit his whole working life. Did they achieve this by gobbling low-fat spreads, soya oil or skimmed milk? No, they lived on old-fashioned foods such as butter, lard and beef fat. Indeed, a growing body of opinion suggests that the factory-made products that have replaced these staples — vegetable oils, polyunsaturated margarine and spreads — are the real cause of the degenerative diseases that are so common today.

Findings by the Weston A. Price Foundation, a non-profit-making research organisation in America, show most cases of heart attack in the 20th century were of a hitherto little-known form known as myocardial infarction (MI) — a huge blood clot leading to the obstruction of a coronary artery.

MI was almost non-existent in the U.S. in 1910 and was causing no more than 3,000 deaths a year by 1930. However, by 1960, there were at least 500,000 MI deaths a year across the country. It surely can’t be a coincidence that this happened as the U.S. embraced a new diet based on increasingly large portions of highly processed foods and vegetable oils?

Similar changes in the national diet took place in Britain during the early years of my life and I can’t help wondering whether my father might still be alive today if it had not been for this shift.

I grew up in the North-East during the Sixties and had no idea about ‘healthy eating’. Those few people who did fret about their diet were thought of as fussy.

No one thought food was a problem, unless the chip shop ran out of battered sausage on a Friday. We ate suet puddings every week, our bacon and eggs were fried in lard, milk was full-fat — I’m not sure skimmed milk even existed in the Sixties — and we ate eggs every day.

Then, in the Seventies, things changed. We got wealthier and food became cheaper. Mam began buying more cakes and confectionery instead of home-baking. We ate more shop-bought food in general.

She also stopped using lard in the chip pan, opting for Spry Crisp ’n Dry instead. Gran wasn’t pleased. She thought vegetable oil was a new-fangled fad — it was, and that was precisely why Mam liked it. She saw it as moving on, modern and fashionable.


Hope for Hep C vaccine

Hepatitis C is mostly a disease of druggies so there is already a good way to avoid it -- stick to legal highs

The disease has caused a 'silent epidemic' in western countries. Figures published yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed more people died as a result of Hepatitis C than from Aids in the U.S in 2007. 'One of every 33 baby boomers are living with hepatitis C infection,' said CDC's Dr John Ward.

Left untreated it can cause scarring of the liver and ultimately to life-threatening cirrhosis. The U.S figures revealed there were 15,000 deaths related to the condition in 2007 - three-quarters of whom were middle aged.

The condition is unpredictable - while some may live with the condition their whole lives with only mild symptoms, others can develop serious liver disease even with treatment.

There is currently no vaccine in use to prevent infection in the first place. But, speaking at the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Summit in Vancouver yesterday, Dr Houghton revealed his team is just five years away from creating a useable vaccine.

Dr Houghton and his co-investigator John Law discovered that they could use a single strain of the virus to draw out broad cross-neutralising antibodies against all the different major strains. 'This tells us that a vaccine made from a single strain can indeed neutralize all the viruses out there,' he said.

'It really encourages the further development of that vaccine. This is a really a big step forward for the field of HCV vaccinology.'

Hundreds of thousands of people are infected with hepatitis C annually around the world, with between 20 to 30 per cent developing some form liver disease.

However, Dr Houghton cautions that further testing is required, meaning that it may be five to seven years before the vaccine receives approval.

He added that while it may make some difference in those currently suffering from hepatitis C, the vaccine will mainly be a preventative measure against acquiring the disease.

Lorne Tyrrell, director of the Li Ka Shing Institute at the University of Alberta, said: 'We have a long way to go, but this is a great step.'


23 February, 2012

Study questions antidepressant-suicide link

I have always thought this is a problem of taxonomy. Drugs that perk up true depressives may perk up anxious depressives far too much, worsening rather than alleviating their symptoms. So Prozac etc should be given to true depressives only. That it is sometimes foolishly given to anxious depressives as well therefore explains the conflicting findings about suicide etc. A study that made sure that only true (sluggish) depressives got Prozac (etc) would likely show benefit at all ages

The Food and Drug Administration has a blanket warning on antidepressant medications stating they increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors among kids and young adults, but a new review of clinical data finds no link between suicide and at least two of the medications.

The new analysis, based in part on previously unpublished data, also concludes that treatment with antidepressants decreases the risk of suicide among adults of all ages.

“These results have to instill some additional confidence that prescribing these medications is not necessarily going to lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior,” said Robert Gibbons, a professor at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study, published in Archives of General Psychiatry.

The findings — based on data for kids and adults using fluoxetine (Prozac) and for adults on venlafaxine (Effexor) — are not enough to change everyone’s view of the risks of antidepressants, especially to kids.

“The authors in this study examined the risk of suicidal thinking or behavior associated with one drug, fluoxetine,” said Jeff Bridge, a researcher at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “My view is that the weight of evidence shows a small but significant increased risk of suicidal ideation/suicidal behavior in pediatric patients treated with antidepressants.”

Bridge’s position is in line with the FDA’s current stance on suicide risk for children taking antidepressants.

In 2004, the agency asked manufacturers of antidepressants to include what’s called a “black box” warning on its packaging for the medications, alerting physicians, patients and parents to an increased risk of suicide among children taking the drugs. Three years later, the FDA expanded that warning to include young people up to age 25.

Gibbons has long been opposed to the labeling. As an advisory board member to the FDA, he voted against adding the warning to antidepressant packaging. “I didn’t think the data were very convincing, and I was concerned physicians would stop prescribing antidepressants,” he told Reuters Health.

The FDA had looked for any reports of suicidal thinking or action among 4,400 children who were in clinical trials comparing an antidepressant drug to a fake drug called a placebo.

They found that suicidal thoughts or attempts were twice as common among the kids taking an antidepressant, although none of the children had committed suicide.

To get a better handle on the risk of suicide over the course of treatment, Gibbons’ team gathered data from experiments that compared the antidepressants to placebo and that had measured suicide risk from the get-go.

Some results came from a study of adolescents by the National Institute of Mental Health and the rest came from two drug makers, Eli Lilly, which markets Prozac, and Wyeth, whose parent company markets Effexor.

The authors have served as consultants or have received research money from drug makers in the past, but Gibbons said neither company had access to this study — which was funded by the federal government — before it was published.

The analysis found that among the 708 children in the reviewed studies, the risk of having suicidal thoughts or attempts after eight weeks was no different between the kids who took Prozac and the kids who took the placebo.

Although fluoxetine is the only antidepressant drug approved for use in children, doctors can prescribe other drugs “off-label” to treat depression in kids.

“I think it’s premature to extrapolate these findings to other antidepressants,” Bridge told Reuters Health in an email.

The studies in the FDA review that found an increased risk of suicide looked at fluoxetine and eight other drugs.

In Gibbons’ review, treatment with fluoxetine or venlafaxine resulted in a 90 percent decreased risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors after eight weeks among adults and the elderly, compared to a 79 percent decrease after eight weeks of taking a placebo.

Gibbons said the drop in suicide risk seen in adults was tightly linked to the improvement in depression symptoms. “What that means — and it’s not a surprising result – is if you don’t treat depressive severity, you continue to have a high rate of suicide,” he said.

At the beginning of the studies, children had higher rates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors overall than adults; about 20 percent of kids and three to five percent of adults started out thinking about or attempting suicide.

Gibbons said it was interesting that the kids’ suicide risk didn’t fall like the adults’ did, even though the results indicated the antidepressants did work to relieve the kids’ depression symptoms too. “Suicide and depression are very strongly linked in adults and the elderly, and apparently not so strongly linked in children,” he said.

Bridge said he’d like to see future studies examine whether antidepressants are tied to behavioral problems, such as hostility and agitation, and if an increased risk of those behaviors is related to more suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

As for the black box warning, Gibbons said he would support the FDA in gathering more data to better evaluate whether the warning is warranted, but he would not say whether it should be removed.

The FDA did not respond to requests for comment.

Keri McGrath-Happe, a communications manager at Eli Lilly and Company, wrote in a statement to Reuters Health that “at this time, we do not plan to discuss this matter further with the FDA.”

She added that “some depressed individuals, on treatment and off, have worsening suicidal ideas and acts. It is prudent for clinicians and patients to remain vigilant for this possibility.”


When it comes to food, think global

Becoming a ‘locavore’ won’t save the planet, make you healthier, revive communities or improve food security

Earlier this month, spiked’s deputy editor Rob Lyons took part in a debate at the Canadian Food Summit on the motion ‘The local food movement: good for us and good for the environment’. The other panelists were New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, author and food blogger Sarah Elton, and business journalist Andrea Mandel-Campbell. This is an edited version of Rob’s opening comments.

Let me state my position baldly: there is no problem to which local food - or at least buying your food within some predetermined distance of home - is a good solution. Despite the claims of some campaigners, local food won’t save the planet, it won’t make us healthier, it won’t restore traditional communities and it doesn’t offer greater food security.

The big claim usually made in terms of the environment and local food is that we should be trying to reduce our ‘food miles’. It seems to make sense that the shorter the distance between fork and fork - between the one in the soil and the one on our plate - the better. The trouble with that theory is that transport from field to warehouse to shop is just one small part of the total environmental impact of our food.

Insisting on local food could actually increase the environmental impact of what we eat. Frequently, less energy is used when producing a food crop under ideal growing conditions and then transporting it long distances rather than using extra energy to produce it locally. The classic example is New Zealand lamb, which is produced in that country’s plentiful pasture and then shipped to the UK. Lamb produced in the UK often needs to be fed with grain when pasture is inaccessible, which adds to the cost and environmental impact. On the other hand, filling a huge container ship with frozen lamb and shipping it round the world means the fuel costs for each unit of lamb are actually small. As a result, New Zealand lamb probably has a lower environmental impact than the UK variety and is cheaper, too. Another example would be tomatoes that are grown in hot countries and then shipped to countries with temperate climates. The energy required to grow tomatoes in the UK is often greater than the energy required to ship them from Spain, for example.

Some locavores respond by giving up food that doesn’t grow well in their neck of the woods. Fine, but if you live in a big city like London, for example, you need a pretty broad definition of what ‘local’ means in order to feed yourself. If you come from a region with great agricultural variety that might not be too bad, but the truth is that any local diet must forgo some kinds of food or simply not be terribly local. I’m not aware that Canada or the UK are big producers of tea, coffee, bananas, spices and a whole variety of other foods.

Would people who really care about food, who revel in the joy of discovering new foods from around the world, really now turn their noses up at food products because those foods come from too far away? That seems mad.

This speaks to a major problem with environmentalism, which approaches environmental problems by simply insisting we stop doing certain things, whatever the advantages. In this case, because food that has been transported a long way is seen as a problem, we should just stop importing it. A far better approach is to find ways of getting the advantages without the side effects. If greenhouse gas emissions really are going to become a major problem in the future – and my feeling is that the problem has been overstated – we need to find ways of transporting goods with fewer emissions or adapting to rising temperatures. Sadly, greens seem more intent on finding problems caused by humanity than in finding solutions.

One more thing on this point: if we don’t have specialisation of production, then a return to localised food production would mean using more land to grow food. If we’re not growing food in the most ideal conditions, then to get the same amount of food would mean using more land. That’s particularly true if we also have a return to organic farming methods and crop rotations, as many environmentalists and local-food advocates call for. Where would that land come from? Bringing uncultivated land into production seems to fly in the face of allowing nature to flourish. What’s so ‘green’ about that?

But isn’t local food healthier? Some claim that if you buy direct from the farmer, for example, then perhaps the food is fresher and that may have benefits in terms of retaining nutrients. However, the fact is that those of us who live in countries with cold (or coldish) winters cannot eat fresh food all year round if we restrict ourselves to what can be produced locally. Most of the food we eat is harvested and stored in one way or another for at least three months per year when little food production is possible.

As it happens, freshness is the least significant factor in nutrition. Most people in the developed world have no problem getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, even from that ‘industrialised’ food some people seem to hate. Nutrition is not an issue if people get enough to eat and have some reasonable variety in their diet. It really doesn’t matter how far the food travelled or whether it came from the supermarket or the farm shop. The question of whether food is local or not is a side issue when it comes to health.

Of course, it would clearly be difficult to eat a lot of processed foods if you only did your shopping at the farm gate or the farmer’s market, so you could cut out a lot of sugary, stodgy food in favour of more fruit and vegetables. But if that was a concern for you, it would still be easier and cheaper to cook from scratch using supermarket food. There’s mountains of fruit, vegetables, meat and other ingredients in every store. There’s nothing that is inherently healthier about local food.

But what about local food as a way of reviving community? It just sounds so great: you get together with your neighbours to grow food or to develop relationships with food suppliers and producers and in the process gain a sense of belonging. No more would you be dependent on The Man. Working together with other people towards common goals can be a very liberating thing. But do we really need to get together around food, a problem most people would see as solved by a weekly and relatively inexpensive trip to the supermarket? Why would you spend more money or devote more time and energy to something that already works well?

Moreover, this reveals a narrow conception of community, which ties it to a particular geographical area rather than around sharing ideas and common interests. While many people would like to feel a stronger connection with other people in society, simply rehashing old forms of community seems like a backward step to me.

A good example of this is The People’s Supermarket. This is a store near where I work in London which was set up with great fanfare and a four-part TV series. The idea was to try a different model of shopping. People who live in the local area staff the shop and get discounts in return for their work. It’s modelled on the Park Slope Co-op in New York. The trouble is that people can get those low prices and a wider selection of foods at the branches of mainstream supermarket chains like Tesco, Sainsburys and Waitrose that already operate nearby. Where is the material incentive for people to work to get what is, to all intents and purposes, a poorer service?

Despite the fact that The People’s Supermarket has received not inconsiderable public subsidy, it is struggling to survive because it can’t staff itself from the local community it claims to represent. On the other hand, there are people who hate the supermarkets and Big Food who are prepared to travel from further afield to work there or to support The People’s Supermarket in different ways. In other words, they share a common interest in changing the way we buy food that can’t be reduced to a particular geographical area. Once again, ‘local’ is a side issue.

But what about food security? If we can grow all our own food, then why wouldn’t we? That would make us secure, no matter what else went on in the world, right? Yet we have far more food security now than we did in the past precisely because we trade with the rest of the world. In recent years in the UK, we’ve had summers with low rainfall, so crops were parched and harvests reduced. In years with floods, crops have rotted in the fields under water. In those circumstances, it’s rather a good thing to be able to buy food from places that had better harvests. It is poverty and a lack of access to markets that really create food insecurity.

There’s another important question underlying the debate motion: who, exactly, is ‘us’? Does ‘us’ include, for example, the Kenyan farmer producing green beans for export to the UK or a Caribbean banana grower sending fruit to Canada? If those people do count as ‘us’, then banning imports of their products won’t be very good for ‘us’ at all. In the long run, it is better for farmers in poorer countries to produce valuable food crops for export, and use the money to help develop their own farms and their societies, than to demand that they go back simply to feeding themselves.

To me, locavorism is like survivalism for eco-warriors, though at least you avoid the hassle of learning to use a crossbow or hiding in the woods. Locavorism seems to me to be a backward idea, a way of running away from the world rather than embracing the best aspects of globalisation and trying to solve the teething troubles that arise. Going local certainly won’t ‘save the planet’ and it definitely isn’t good for anyone.


22 February, 2012

Drinking four cups of coffee a day 'cuts risk' of developing diabetes

The Journal article is Coffee consumption and risk of chronic disease in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)–Germany study.

The effects observed were small and were obtained only by comparing extreme quartiles -- a rather desperate type of analysis that ignores curvilinearity and most of the data. The obvious inference is that there was no overall relationship between coffee consumption and anything else.

And the basic dietary data was from a self-report questionnaire! Not findings to be taken seriously. Epidemiology at its most rubbishy

Moderate consumption of coffee - four to five cups of coffee a day - may lower the chances of developing type 2 diabetes compared with those drinking it occasionally or not at all. A new study suggests a cut in risk of around 30 per cent from regular consumption of coffee - whether it was caffeinated or decaffeinated.

The findings, which are the latest from a major European investigation into the effects of diet and lifestyle on health, also reveal that coffee drinking does not appear to increase the risk of heart disease or cancer.

Altogether 42,659 people taking part in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Germany study were followed up for almost nine years on average.

During that time, there were 1,432 cases of type 2 diabetes diagnosed, 394 heart attacks, 310 strokes cases and 1,801 cancer cases.

Drinking more than four cups of coffee a day - caffeinated and decaffeinated - compared with less than one cup was not linked to a higher risk of developing a chronic disease.

A lower risk of 20-30 per cent of developing type 2 diabetes was linked to moderate consumption of both kinds of coffee, says a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Ten countries contribute to the EPIC study, including two centres in Germany which carried out the latest analysis.

It had been previously thought diabetes risk may be cut by drinking coffee but there have been conflicting results on whether it protects or promotes chronic diseases such as heart problems and cancer.

Research last year suggested each additional cup of coffee a day was linked to a cut of seven per cent in risk of diabetes and four cups a day equivalent to a cut of around 25 per cent compared with those drinking no coffee.

Studies on decaffeinated coffee have made similar findings with the protective effect due to ‘direct biological effects’ such as antioxidants and magnesium. Because of the benefits from decaffeinated coffee, it is unlikely caffeine is solely responsible for the effect.

Dr Euan Paul, executive director of the British Coffee Association, said: ‘This study adds to the growing scientific data that suggests moderate coffee consumption, four to five cups of coffee per day, is safe and does not increase the risk of a range of chronic disease.

‘It is particularly encouraging to see that coffee consumption may lower the risk of type II diabetes given that around 90 per cent of all adults in the UK with diabetes have type 2 diabetes.’

He pointed out that pregnant women are advised to reduce caffeine intake during pregnancy to 200mg a day from all sources. This includes caffeine intake from tea, coffee, cola, and chocolate.


Super avocado could help combat antibiotic-resistant infections in hospitals

A very early announcement based on research in laboratory glassware only but we can certainly wish that it eventually pans out in humans

A Chilean avocado may contain the secret to fighting aggressive, antibiotic-resistant infections in hospitals all over the world. A natural substance found in the Chilean rainforest fruit blocks yellow staphylococci bacteria's ability to reject antibiotics.

These specific bacteria are the most common cause of infection in wounds from an operation. They develop a resistance particularly quickly - strains that do not respond to treatment have already been found in the USA and Greece.

PhD student Jes Gitz Holler, from the University of Copenhagen, worked with the Mapuche people in Chile to make the discovery. He said: 'I have discovered a natural substance in a Chilean avocado plant that is active in combination treatment with traditional antibiotics.

'Resistant bacteria have an efflux pump in their bacterial membrane that efficiently pumps out antibiotics as soon as they have gained access. 'I have identified a natural substance that inhibits the pumping action, so that the bacteria's defence mechanisms are broken down and the antibiotic treatment allowed to work,' explains Jes Gitz Holler.

The student gathered specimens of the plant in Chile, where the Mapuche people use the leaves of the avocado to heal wounds. The results have been published in the Journal of Microbial Chemotherapy.

Gitz Holler said: 'The natural compound has great potential and perhaps in the longer term can be developed into an effective drug to combat resistant staphylococci. 'At this time there are no products on the market that target this same efflux-inhibitor mechanism.

'We want to improve the active substance using synthetic chemistry in the laboratory. That will also ensure sustainable production of a potential drug while protecting rainforest plants.'

The student emphasises that a commercial product will also benefit the Mapuche people. At present there is a written agreement between the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences and the representative of the Mapuche people, Alfonso Guzmán, PhD, who helped procure the plant material.

Yellow staphylococcus – Staphylococcus aureus – is the most common cause of infection in wounds from an operation. However, the bacteria can be the cause of many diseases, from abscesses and food poisoning to life-threatening infections such as infective endocarditis and sepsis.

The bacteria have been a major problem in hospitals worldwide since the 1940s, and up to now the drug industry has managed to develop new antibiotics in step with the increasingly aggressive behaviour of the bacteria.

Unfortunately, that development appears to be turning: 'For all intents and purposes, the drug industry is not pursuing research into new antibiotics. It is simply too expensive relative to possible earnings, and there is more money in drugs to treat chronic diseases such as diabetes.

'Therefore, the bacteria are winning the race – resistance increases and treatment options are scarce. Research will have to find new paths and natural substances are one of them,' writes Gitz Holler.


21 February, 2012

Three cups of tea a day ‘protects against heart problems and diabetes’

This appears to be a rather casual look at existing epidemiological findings, and the authors themselves note the limitations in drawing inferences from such data. And the blather about antioxidants is just fashionable crap that goes against the evidence. A not very impressive job of work on behalf of the tea industry but it's probably the best they could do

Drinking just three cups of tea a day may protect against heart attacks and type 2 diabetes, claim researchers. A review shows regular drinking of black tea, with or without milk, can reduce the risk of heart problems by cutting levels of bad cholesterol and blood sugar.

Experts say the benefits of tea are largely due to the flavonoid content – antioxidant ingredients that counteract cardiovascular disease.

One cup of tea provides 150-200mg of flavonoids and it is the best source of antioxidants in the nation’s diet. In terms of the delivery of antioxidants, two cups of tea is equivalent to five portions of vegetables.

A review in the journal Nutrition Bulletin found drinking three or more cups of black tea a day protects against heart disease and two or more cups a day may protect against type 2 diabetes.

In addition, a 12-week study in 87 volunteers found that drinking three cups of tea a day produced a significant improvement in various cardiovascular risk factors.

Almost 80 per cent of Britons are tea drinkers and 165million cups are drunk every day.

Overall, flavonoids found in tea are thought to control inflammation, reduce excess blood clotting, promote blood vessel function and limit furring up of the arteries.

Nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton, co-author of the latest review and a member of the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel (TAP), said: 'There is far more to the nation's favourite drink than we realise. 'With its antioxidant flavonoids, black tea packs a powerful punch with many health benefits particularly for the heart. And recent studies show that the flavonoids work their magic whether or not we choose to add milk.'

Dr Tim Bond also from TAP, added: 'Black tea flavonoids are thought to be the compounds responsible for the protective effects of black tea on health. 'Chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes are associated with inflammatory processes and the presence of excessive pro-oxidant free radicals in the body. 'The proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of black tea flavonoids may therefore be responsible for the positive health effects of black tea.'

Is black tea consumption associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes?

C. H. S. Ruxton & P. Mason


Type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease represent major causes of morbidity, which impact greatly on healthcare expenditure. Clinical studies suggest that ingestion of black tea, which contains a range of bioactive compounds, can inhibit oxidative damage and improve endothelial function. The objectives of this review are to: (1) evaluate observational evidence linking black tea consumption with the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes; (2) consider the mechanisms by which black tea may have a protective effect; and (3) examine the potential role of tea drinking in relation to public health.

The findings from epidemiological studies suggested a significant association between regular black tea consumption and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease at around three or more cups per day. For diabetes risk, the data are restricted to a few large cohort studies that suggested a beneficial association at one to four cups daily. These findings need to be confirmed by intervention trials. While some studies suggest that drinking black tea may reduce the risk of stroke, likely mechanisms remain unclear, highlighting the need for more human intervention studies. Disparities found involving studies may have been influenced by variations in reported tea intakes, limited sample sizes in intervention trials and inadequate control of confounders. In conclusion, drinking black tea may have a role in lowering the risk of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Future research should focus on controlled trials and studies to elucidate likely mechanisms of action.


Study: Diet soda tied to heart attack, stroke

Pesky! But it's just working class habits being picked up again

Diet soda may benefit the waistline, but a new study suggests that people who drink it every day have a heightened risk of heart attack and stroke.

The study, which followed almost 2,600 older adults for a decade, found that those who drank diet soda every day were 44 percent more likely than non-drinkers to suffer a heart attack or stroke.

The findings, reported in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, don’t prove that the sugar-free drinks are actually to blame. There may be other things about diet-soda lovers that explain the connection, researchers say.

“What we saw was an association,” said lead researcher Hannah Gardener, of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “These people may tend to have more unhealthy habits.”

She and her colleagues tried to account for that, Gardener told Reuters Health. Daily diet-soda drinkers did tend to be heavier and more often have heart risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes and unhealthy cholesterol levels.

That all suggests that people who were trying to shed pounds or manage existing health problems often opted for a diet soda over the sugar-laden variety.

But even after the researchers factored in those differences — along with people’s reported diet and exercise habits — they found that daily diet soda was linked to a 44-percent higher chance of heart attack or stroke.

Nevertheless, Gardener said, it’s impossible for a study to capture all the variables that could be at work.

The findings do build on a few recent studies that also found diet-soda drinkers are more likely to have certain cardiovascular risk factors, like high blood pressure or high blood sugar.

This is the first study, Gardener said, to look at actual “vascular events” — that is, heart attacks, strokes and deaths from cardiovascular causes.

The findings are based on 2,564 New York City adults who were 69 years old, on average, at the outset. Over the next decade, 591 men and women had a heart attack, stroke or died of cardiovascular causes.

That included 31 percent of the 163 people who were daily diet-soda drinkers at the study’s start. In contrast, 22 percent of people who rarely or never drank diet soda went on to have a heart attack or stroke.

There was no increased risk linked to less-than-daily consumption. Nor was regular soda tied to heart attacks and strokes.

If diet soda, itself, somehow contributes to health risks, it’s not clear how, Gardener said.

There’s research in rats suggesting that artificial sweeteners can end up boosting food intake and weight. But whether results in rodents translate to humans is unknown.

“I don’t think people should change their behavior based on this study,” Gardener said. “And I wouldn’t advocate drinking regular soda instead.”

Regular soda is high in calories, and for people who need to shed pounds, experts often suggest swapping regular soda for the diet version.

A study out this month found that the advice may be sound. Obese people who were randomly assigned to drink water or diet drinks in place of sugary ones lost about five pounds over six months.

Gardener said that further studies such as hers are still needed to confirm a connection between diet soda and cardiovascular trouble.

Ultimately, she noted, clinical trials are considered the “gold standard” for proving cause-and-effect. That would mean randomly assigning people to drink diet soda or not, and then following them over time to see if there were differences in their rates of heart problems or stroke.

A study like that, Gardener said, would be “difficult and costly” — since it would have to follow large groups of people over many years, and rely on people to stick with their assigned beverages.

SEE: Journal of General Internal Medicine, online January 27, 2012.


20 February, 2012


Big meals correlate with "mild cognitive impairment" in the elderly. I am glad to see that there is some humility below in interpreting the correlation concerned. I would suspect that the "mild cognitive impairment" is nothing more than low IQ and that class is again the mediator. Lower class people eat more and have lower IQ. I also note that food intake appears to have been judged from a dietary questionnaire -- which is pretty low grade data that may have a very shaky link to reality

A link between memory loss and a high calorie diet has been suggested by researchers in the US. They were investigating mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which can be an early sign of dementia.

Research, presented at a conference, claimed a high calorie diet was linked to having twice the risk of MCI, compared with a low calorie diet.

Alzheimer's Research UK said a healthy lifestyle was known to help protect against dementia.

Mild cognitive impairment has become increasingly interesting to researchers as it may help predict who will go on to develop dementia, such as Alzheimer's.

A team at the Mayo Clinic in the US has investigated the effect of diet in 1,233 people aged between 70 and 89. None had dementia, but 163 were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

The patients were divided into low calorie intake (600 to 1,526 calories a day), middle (1,526 to 2,142.5) and high (2,142.5 to 6,000) and the incidence of mild cognitive impairment was compared.

The results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. They showed no difference in the low and middle groups, however, the high intake group had more than double the incidence of MCI.

Researcher Dr Yonas Geda said: "We observed a dose-response pattern which simply means; the higher the amount of calories consumed each day, the higher the risk of MCI."

The study cannot say that a high calorie diet causes MCI, people who are cognitively impaired could end up eating more food or there could be another factor involved which increases the risk of both. It has also not yet been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

But Dr Geda did suggest there was potential for therapy: "Cutting calories and eating foods that make up a healthy diet may be a simpler way to prevent memory loss as we age."

Dr Marie Janson, from Alzheimer's Research UK, said the findings were interesting, and fitted in with "the bigger picture of a healthy lifestyle preventing Alzheimer's in later life".

She said it was "difficult" to work out what a mechanism linking calories and cognitive impairment would be. But she added: "We know that age is one of the greatest risk factors for dementia, but adopting a healthy lifestyle including a balanced diet and regular exercise, is beneficial in protecting against dementia along with a number of other chronic diseases."


Stem cell therapy could regenerate damaged heart muscle after heart attacks

This is very preliminary research but would be a huge advance if it pans out

A promising stem cell therapy approach could soon provide a way to regenerate heart muscle damaged by heart attacks.

Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and The Johns Hopkins University harvested stem cells from the hearts of 17 heart attack patients and after prepping the cells, infused them back into the patients' hearts. Their study is published in the current issue of The Lancet.

The patients received the stem cell infusions about three months after their heart attacks.

Researchers found that six months after treatment, patients had significantly less scarring of the heart muscle and also showed a considerable increase the amount of healthy heart muscle, compared to eight post-heart attack patients studied who did not receive the stem cell infusions. One year after, scar size was reduced by about 50 percent.

"The damaged tissue of the heart was replaced by what looks like healthy myocardium," said Dr. Peter Johnston, a study co-author and an assistant professor of medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "It's functioning better than the damaged myocardium in the control subjects, and there's evidence it's starting to contract and generate electrical signals the way healthy heart tissue does."

While this research is an early study designed to demonstrate that this stem cell therapy is safe, cardiologists say it's an approach that could potentially benefit millions of people who have suffered heart attacks. Damage to the heart muscle is permanent and irreparable, and little can be done to compensate for loss of heart function.

"In the U.S., six million patients have heart failure, and the vast majority have it because of a prior heart attack," said Johnston. The damaged scar tissue that results from a heart attack diminishes heart function, which can ultimately lead to enlargement of the heart.

At best, Johnston said, there are measures doctors can try to reduce or compensate for the damage, but in many cases, heart failure ultimately sets in, often requiring mechanical support or a transplant.

"This type of therapy can save people's lives and reduce the chances of developing heart failure," he said.

Cardiac Regeneration A Promising Field

Other researchers have also had positive early results in experiments with stem cell therapy using different types of cells, including bone marrow cells and a combination of bone marrow and heart cells. "It's exciting that studies using a number of different cell types are yielding similar results," said Dr. Joshua Hare, professor of cardiology and director of the University of Miami Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute.

The next steps, he said, include determining what the optimal cell types are and how much of the cells are needed to regenerate damaged tissue. "We also need to move to larger clinical trials and measure whether patients are improving clinically and exhibiting a better quality of life after the therapy."

In an accompanying comment, Drs. Chung-Wah Siu amd Hung-Fat Tse of the University of Hong Kong wrote that given the promising results of these studies, health care providers will hopefully recognize the benefits that cardiac regeneration can offer.

And Hare added that someday, this type of regeneration can possibly offer hope to others who suffered other types of organ damage. "This stategy might work in other organs," he said. "Maybe this can work in the brain, perhaps for people who had strokes."


19 February, 2012

Food Fascism still hitting little NC kids

Harassing little kids is really reprehensible. But everyone is ducking for cover. No one will own up to having done it

North Carolina officials have said there was a misunderstanding when a preschooler’s homemade lunch was sent home for not meeting certain nutritional requirements, but now a second mother from the same school has come forward exclusively to The Blaze to say the same thing happened to her daughter.

Diane Zambrano says her 4-year-old daughter, Jazlyn, is in the same West Hoke Elementary School class as the little girl whose lunch gained national attention earlier this week. When Zambrano picked Jazlyn up from school late last month, she was told by Jazlyn’s teacher that the lunch she had packed that day did not meet the necessary guidelines and that Jazlyn had been sent to the cafeteria.

The lunch Zambrano packed for her daughter? A cheese and salami sandwich on a wheat bun with apple juice. The lunch she got in the cafeteria? Chicken nuggets, a sweet potato, bread and milk.

“She never eats breakfast or lunch at the school,” Zambrano said of her daughter during an interview with The Blaze. “We always wake up early and make her lunch.”

That day, Zambrano said she picked Jazlyn up from school and asked if she ate her lunch. “She’s not picky about food but you have to be on top of her,” she explained.

When Jazlyn said she didn’t eat what her mother had made her, Zambrano went to her teacher and demanded to know what happened. She said the teacher told her an official had come through that day to inspect students’ lunches and that those who were lacking certain food groups were sent to the cafeteria. After she received her cafeteria food, the teacher told Zambrano, Jazlyn was told to put her homemade lunch back in her lunchbox and set it on the floor.

Zambrano said the teacher told her it was not the first time student lunches have been inspected, and that officials come “every so often.”

The policing of children’s food at West Hoke has been portrayed as an isolated incident, but a curious memo Jazlyn brought home to her mother seems to point to something more.

The memo Jazlyn brought from the school outlines the necessary nutritional requirements students’ homemade lunches must contain: two servings of fruit or vegetables, one serving of dairy, one serving of grain and one serving of meat or meat substitute. Included with the memo was a separate sheet, this one a bill for the cafeteria food Jazlyn was served.

The memo, dated Jan. 27 with the subject line “RE: Healthy Lunches,” was signed by school principal Jackie Samuels and said, while “we welcome students to bring lunches from home … it must be a nutritious, balanced meal with the above requirements. Students, who do not bring a healthy lunch, will be offered the missing portions which may result in a fee from the cafeteria.”

Zambrano, who’s volunteered at the school in the past, said she was never told about any such nutritional requirements before her daughter’s lunch was replaced.

“That‘s not really the school’s responsibility,” she said, adding she’s extremely health-conscious and doesn’t feed her daughter junk food or let her drink soda — or even eat the tater tots or other fried foods often served in the cafeteria. “They give the choice of pizza and hot donuts…none of that is healthy,” Zambrano said.

According to the program requirements for North Carolina’s pre-kindergarten program, schools “must provide breakfast and/or snacks and lunch meeting USDA requirements during the regular school day.”

The partial or full cost of meals, the requirements state, “may be charged when families do not qualify for free/reduced price meals.
When children bring their own food for meals and snacks to the center, if the food does not meet the specified nutritional requirements, the center must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements.”

The school’s reaction

Reached Friday morning, a representative from the Hoke County School Superintendent‘s office denied knowing anything about what happened with Jazlyn’s lunch and said they had no record of a complaint. Reached again, a different representative said they had “no information at this time” about the situation. A West Hoke Elementary official similarly denied any knowledge and referred all questions to the school district.

Principal Samuels previously told the Carolina Journal he “didn’t know anything about” parents being charged for cafeteria meals after the first preschooler’s mother — who has not been identified — came forward.

Bob Barnes, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, told the McClatchy News Service Thursday that the first preschooler to make headlines just misunderstood her teacher when she thought she was told to ditch her homemade lunch for one from the cafeteria: the cafeteria items were only meant to supplement the food groups missing from the homemade lunch.

“We are not the lunch bag police,” Barnes told McClatchy. “We would never put a child in any type of embarrassing situation. But we are responsible to see that every child gets a nutritious meal.”

Barnes confirmed there was an agent from Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Child Development and Early Education at the school Jan. 30 who examined six student lunches and determined one did not make the nutritional cut — presumably the first little girl whose story made news.

Zambrano said she‘s not positive which day Jazlyn’s lunch was inspected, whether it was Jan. 27 — the date the memo was issued — or Jan. 30. Either way, one of two conclusions seem plausible: more than one student’s lunch was changed, or an official inspected student lunches on more than one occasion — which Zambrano said Jazlyn’s teacher told her had been the case.

In a statement to The Blaze, the Division of Child Development and Early Education said it is investigating what happened but flatly denied any of its employees or contractors “instructed any child to replace or remove any meal items.” The division issued a similar statement to McClatchy even after Barnes said it was one of their agents who examined the lunches.

“It is not DHHS’ policy to inspect, go through or question any child about food items brought from home. The facts we have gathered confirm that no DHHS employee or contractor did this,” the statement said.


'Grief is not a mental illness that should be treated with pills': Doctors hit back at creeping medicalisation of life events

Grief is not a mental illness that should be treated with anti-depressants, experts say. In an unsigned editorial in the influential medical journal The Lancet, experts argue that grief does not require psychiatrists and that 'legitimising' the treatment of grief with antidepressants 'is not only dangerously simplistic, but also flawed.'

The debate follows a decision by the American Psychiatric Association to classify grief as a mental illness in a bid to allow to doctors to be more flexible about how early patients can be treated for depression after the death of a loved one.

The lead editorial states: 'Grief is not an illness; it is more usefully thought of as part of being human and a normal response to the death of a loved one.'

The Lancet's comments follow the APA's decision to add grief reactions to their list of mental illnesses in their fifth edition of the psychiatry 'bible', Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-5), which is due out in 2013.

But The Lancet, along with many psychiatrists and psychologists have called for the changes to be halted - saying they would lead to a 'tick box’ system that did not consider the wider needs of patients but labelled them as 'mentally ill’.

They agree that in rare cases, bereavement will develop into prolonged grief or major depression that may merit medical treatment. However, they suggested that for the majority of the bereaved, 'doctors would do better to offer time, compassion, remembrance and empathy, than pills.'

The DSM-5 proposal - which has been opposed by The Lancet's editorial writers - would eliminate the so-called 'grief exclusion.' This 'exclusion' means that anyone who has experienced bereavement cannot be diagnosed as depressed for a certain period of time. In a previous edition, DSM-III, that period of time was set at one year. The DSM-IV reduced that period to two months and DSM-5 plans to reduce the period to just two weeks.

Although the proposed changes to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) would not directly affect clinical practice here, where doctors tend to use different international guidelines, experts say it would eventually influence research and thinking in the field.

Defending the change in timeframe, Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, a member of the DSM-5 Mood Disorder Working Group, said it would allow for an earlier diagnosis but would by no means force it.

Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, said 'We need to be very careful before further broadening the boundaries of illness and disorder.'

'Back in 1840 the Census of the United States included just one category for mental disorder.

'By 1917 the American Psychiatric Association recognised 59, rising to 128 in 1959, 227 in 1980, and 347 in the last revision. Do we really need all these labels? Probably not. And there is a real danger that shyness will become social phobia, bookish kids labelled as Asperger’s and so on.’

Whereas people who are bereaved are currently given help where necessary, in future they might find themselves labelled as having a depressive disorder if their symptoms lasted longer than a certain period of time, he added.

Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Head of Institute of Psychology, University of Liverpool, said 'It will exacerbate the problems that result from trying to fit a medical, diagnostic, system to problems that just don’t fit nicely into those boxes.

'Perhaps most seriously, it will pathologise a wide range of problems which should never be thought of as mental illnesses. Many people who are shy, bereaved, eccentric, or have unconventional romantic lives will suddenly find themselves labelled as 'mentally ill’.

Dr. Arthur Kleinman, a Harvard psychiatrist, social anthropologist and global health expert, says that the main problem is the lack of 'conclusive scientific evidence to show what a normal length of bereavement is.'

According to the Lancet writers, 'it is often not until 6 months, or the first anniversary of the death, that grieving can move into a less intense phase.' They added that grieving is individual, shaped by age, gender, religious beliefs and the strength of the relationship with the lost loved one.


18 February, 2012

Just 40 hours of video gaming 'can cure cataracts', claims psychologist

What rubbish! When the lens of your eye goes cloudy instead of clear you have to replace it. What this woman may have done is to teach people to make better use of what vision they have left

Playing video games could improve the vision of people born with cataracts, according to new research.

Surgery and contact lenses do not always work - and people experience visual difficulties into adulthood. However, some of these effects can be reversed if the individual follows a short course of 'game therapy'.

Doctor Maurer, of McMaster University in Canada, said: 'After playing an action video game for just 40 hours over four weeks, the patients were better at seeing small print, the direction of moving dots, and the identity of faces.' Psychologist Daphne Maurer has researched how vision develops in individuals born with cataracts in both eyes.

Previous research found that a 40-hour 'course' of video gaming could be used to treat 'lazy eye' or amblyopia, a brain disorder in which the vision in one eye fails to develop properly. 'Those improvements tell us that the adult brain is still plastic enough to be trained to overcome sensory deficiencies,' says Maurer.

Dr Maurer is internationally known for her work on "synaesthetes" - a condition that makes people's brains link different senses.

Dr Maurer is due to present her findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, in a session called The Effects of Early Experience on Lifelong Functioning: Commitment and Resilience.


Aspirin may have a role in stopping the spread of cancers

This is early-stage research so should be treated with caution

THE humble aspirin may be a powerful weapon against cancerous tumours. Melbourne scientists have discovered how non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin prevent tumours spreading.

The breakthrough by Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre researchers paves the way for new treatments to halt cancer in its tracks.

Co-lead author Dr Tara Karnezis said tumours secreted proteins and compounds called growth factors attracting blood and lymphatic vessels to their vicinity, allowing the cancer to flourish and spread. These growth factors also encouraged lymphatic vessels - or "supply lines" - to widen, which enabled the spread of cancer, Dr Karnezis said.

"But a group of drugs reverse the widening of the supply line and make it hard for the tumour to spread - at the end of the day that's what kills people," he said.

"This discovery unlocks a range of potentially powerful new therapies to target this pathway in lymphatic vessels, effectively tightening a tumour's supply lines and restricting the transport of cancer cells to the rest of the body."

While oncologists may include aspirin in patients' treatment, this discovery enabled the development of better and more efficient drugs, she said. While the benefits of non-steroid anti-inflammatories on cancer were known, the biological processes involved had never been fully understood.

This breakthrough would create new directions for research and management of cancer patients. "I hope this information is one bit of the puzzle that will lead to a cure for cancer," Dr Karnezis said.

The research is published in the journal Cancer Cell.


17 February, 2012

Mediterranean diet can cut risk of developing age-related brain disorders, says new study (?)

Diet questionnaires are about as low-grade data as you can get. This proves nothing. Being conducted in Manhattan, there could have been in this study a sub-population of Ashkenazi Jews in the sample and they are known for good health into late old age despite smoking and other "incorrect" behaviours. If anything, it may simply be their diet that was being detected and associated with good mental functioning -- which they tend to have anyway

Eating a Mediterranean-style diet helps keep the brain healthy, reducing age-related damage, say researchers. Brain scans suggest a diet rich in plant foods and fish, along with moderate drinking, cuts the risk of developing lesions that are linked to the development of cognitive disorders including Alzheimer’s.

The Mediterranean diet is regarded as the classic eating habits of populations from countries such as France, Greece, Spain and Italy.

It has been thought to improve heart health and stave off cancer because it is high in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and ‘healthy’ fats such as those in olive oil, while low in red meat and dairy products.

But a new US study shows further benefits to the brain where it is linked to lower levels of white matter hyperintesity volume, a marker of damage to the small vessels.

Some researchers believe the diet keeps the grey cells healthy by cutting inflammation, while others say the high intake of antioxidant vitamins may also protect the brain.

A report in the Archives of Neurology medical journal examined for the first time the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and lesions in the brain, known as white matter hyperintensities (WHM).

Study leader Hannah Gardener of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and colleagues looked at data on almost 1,000 people with an average age of 72 years taking part in the Northern Manhattan Study.

Participants were given a food frequency questionnaire to assess dietary patterns during the previous year, and answers were used to determine a score from 0-9 indicating how much they stuck to a Mediterranean diet, with a higher MeDi score showing greater compliance.

The volume of chronic age-related white matter damage was measured using brain MRI scans.

Results of the survey showed that 11.6 per cent of participants scored 0 to 2 on the MeDi scale, 15.8 per cent scored 3, 23 per cent scored 4, 23.5 per cent scored 5, and 26.1 per cent scored 6 to 9.

Women had lower scores than men and those engaged in moderate to heavy levels of physical activity had higher scores. Those scoring 6 or higher also had lower Body Mass Index scores, suggesting healthier weights.

The results show a lower burden of WMHV among people sticking to a Mediterranean diet, even after allowing for risk factors including physical activity, smoking, blood lipid levels, hypertension, diabetes, history of cardiac disease and BMI.

The only component of the MeDi score showing independent benefit with less brain damage was higher consumption of monounsaturated fat such as olive oil compared with saturated fat, including butter.

Dr Gardener said ‘Although diet may be an important predictor of vascular disease, little is known about the possible association between dietary habits and WMHs.

‘Studies have suggested that consumption of a Mediterranean Diet is associated with a reduced risk of the metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease, stroke and cognitive disorders, but no studies to date, to our knowledge, have examined the association with WMH volume.’

She said: ‘In summary, the current study suggests a possible protective association between increased consumption of a MeDi and small vessel damage.’

The results suggests the overall dietary pattern, rather than any of the individual components, was the most important factor, said the report. Eating healthy monounsaturated fats such as olive oil is known to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, but in the UK higher levels of animal or saturated fats are eaten.

Olive oil contains omega-6 fats, a form of ‘healthy’ polyunsaturates which blocks the body’s response to inflammation in chronic conditions such as heart disease and arthritis. It also reduces blood pressure and improves the ratio of good to bad blood fats.

Dieticians say the Mediterranean diet also appears to improve vascular function, the flexibility of cells lining the walls of blood vessels, particularly in the heart and circulatory system.

The diet is known to fight inflammation and repair oxygen-related cell damage.

Previous research has found strict adherence to a Mediterranean diet could help stave off memory loss and Alzheimer’s. Even those people already suffering from memory loss were half as likely to develop full-blown Alzheimer’s if they stuck to a Mediterranean-style diet.


Eating curry could stave off dementia

If you are a fruit-fly

Few of us need too much encouragement when it comes to heading off to the curry house. But scientists have come up with one of the best excuses ever: a spicy ingredient in curry could be an effective treatment for Alzheimer's disease.

Tests on fruit flies with a nervous disorder similar to the neurodegenerative illness found those given curcumin - the key chemical in turmeric used in everything from mild Kormas to the hottest Vindaloos - lived 75 per cent longer.

Alzheimer's is linked to the build up of knots of protein in the brain called amyloid plaques, damaging the wiring in brain cells.

The findings, published in the journal PLoS One, could help explain why rates of dementia are much lower among the elderly in India than in their Western peers. Previous research has found Alzheimer's affects just one per cent of people over the age of 65 living in some Indian villages.

Drugs with similar properties to curcumin could potentially be used as preventative treatments.

In the study Professor Per Hammarstrom and colleagues also found five groups of fruit flies genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer's-type symptoms manipulations maintained their mobility longer when given curcumin.

The scientists saw no decrease of amyloid in the brain or eyes of the insects.

Curcumin did not dissolve the plaque, but accelerated the formation of nerve fibres by reducing the amount of their precursor forms, known as oligomers, from which they were formed.

Prof Hammarstrom, of Linkoping University in Sweden, said: 'The results confirm our belief that it is the oligomers that are most harmful to the nerve cells.'

Several theories have been established about how oligomers can instigate the disease process. According to one hypothesis they become trapped at nerve junctions inhibiting impulse signals. Others claim they destroy brain cells by puncturing membrane.

Curcumin is extracted from the root of turmeric and has been used as medicine for thousands of years. It aids digestion, helps fight infection and guards against heart attacks. More recently it has been tested against pain, thrombosis and cancer.


16 February, 2012

Prevention and treatment of Parkinson's Disease: ECT, nicotine, caffeine

The article below is by a Professor of Theoretical Medicine and, as for most medical people, his villain is "Big Pharma". I doubt that. The manic enthusiasm for new "discoveries" I see in the medical literature is the coloured person in the woodpile, as far as I can see. Aside from that one tic, however, the article seems of great interest

Some reflections on Parkinson's disease, and the related Lewy body dementia; which are the second most common cause of degenerative brain disease (after Alzheimer's) - increasingly common in the developed world, probably due to the 'ageing population'.

The current medical treatment of Parkinson's disease seems to be extremely poor.

It is based around L-dopa, which seems to be a miracle cure at first, for a short time, but then almost always produces severe side effects and/or loses its effect.

It looks as if L-dopa is just too powerful a drug (almost a pure neurotransmitter), and the brain responds by 'fighting' the drug - i.e. the brain's homeostatic mechanisms are seriously destabilised by L-dopa, and the patient veers between hyperstimulation and 'freezing'.

On the other hand, electroconvulsive therapy/ ECT/ electroshock has been shown to be effective in some patients with Parkinson's disease in numerous trials - yet this fact is virtually unknown.

ECT is a much safer treatment than L-dopa. And even if it wasn't, Parkinson's is an extremely severe and debilitating illness - indeed people have had experimental brain surgery and transplant procedures (albeit with little success) for Parkinson's.

So there seem no valid reason not to try a course of ECT in Parkinson's, and maintenance ECT if it produces significant benefit.

There is very strong evidence (mostly from studies of tobacco smoking) that nicotine is preventive of Parkinson's disease, and sometimes helps treat it. This is rational, given that nicotine indirectly increases dopamine activity.

Nicotine can be safely given with skin patches with minimal side effects (for most people).

Why is nicotine not used in prevention/ early-treatment of Parkinson's? Why is it not even tried?

There is also evidence that caffeine (coffee) is preventive of Parkinson's disease, and there is also a rationale for this because caffeine is a mild psychostimulant with dopamine boosting actions.

So, in Parkinson's disease we have a very serious and common disease with hopeless conventional treatment - we have in ECT a powerful treatment which almost certainly helps some people, even with severe PD - and we have in nicotine and caffeine two non-prescription treatments which almost certainly prevent the illness, and improve the early stage of the illness.

Why are they virtually unknown, why don't people try them?

Obviously, if they are tried and they don't work, or make things worse; then stop. But why not try, especially when current treatment is so bad?

With ECT there is a very obvious prejudice against the treatment - a fear and horror which is ignorantly and dishonestly stimulated.

At root, probably this is because ECT is opposed by Big Pharma who want people to take ineffective/ harmful medication instead of an effective physical treatment. Drugs are marketed to the tune of 1000 dollars per head of population in the USA. IN a competitive world, with a rate of turnover and change, simply by not being marketed, agents drop out of use.

With nicotine and caffeine there is the problem (folk belief, media manipulation) that these drugs are supposed to be 'bad for you' according to the mainstream mass media ideas of 'health promotion'. There is therefore an underlying discomfort in recommending for health reasons a lifestyle or treatment associated with smoking and drinking strong coffee.

Whatever the reasons, the complete uninterest in effective treatment for people with very severe, common, debilitating, distressing, progressive disease is altogether typical of modern society.

Contrary to what might be imagined, modernity cares little for functionality, is all-but indifferent to effectiveness.

So it really is possible for effective, safe and available treatments of a common and severe illness to languish, unused; despite that anyone with Google Scholar could find out about them in five minutes...

This is the actuality of the information revolution: knowledge hidden in plain sight.


N.C. Food ‘Inspector’ Sends little girl‘s Lunch Home After Determining It’s Not Healthy Enough

Scum who pick on little kids deserve the severest punishment

A North Carolina mom is irate after her four-year-old daughter returned home late last month with an uneaten lunch the mother had packed for the girl earlier that day. But she wasn’t mad because the daughter decided to go on a hunger strike. Instead, the reason the daughter didn‘t eat her lunch is because someone at the school determined the lunch wasn’t healthy enough and sent it back home.

Yes, you read that right.

The incident happened in Raeford, N.C. at West Hoke Elementary School. What was wrong with the lunch? That’s still a head-scratcher because it didn’t contain anything egregious: a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice. But for the inspector on hand that day, it didn’t meet the healthy requirements.

See, in North Carolina, all pre-Kindergarten programs are required to evaluate the lunches being provided and determine if they meet USDA nutrition guidelines. If not, they must provide an alternative.

But that’s not the worst of it. Instead of being given a salad or something really healthy, the girl was given chicken nuggets instead. On top of it, her mother was then sent a bill for the cafeteria food.

Sara Burrows from the Carolina Journal explains:

The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the agent who was inspecting all lunch boxes in her More at Four classroom that day.

The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs — including in-home day care centers — to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.

When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones.

The girl’s mother — who said she wishes to remain anonymous to protect her daughter from retaliation — said she received a note from the school stating that students who did not bring a “healthy lunch” would be offered the missing portions, which could result in a fee from the cafeteria, in her case $1.25.

“I don’t feel that I should pay for a cafeteria lunch when I provide lunch for her from home,” the mother wrote in a complaint to her state representative, Republican G.L. Pridgen of Robeson County, reports the Journal.

“What got me so mad is, number one, don’t tell my kid I’m not packing her lunch box properly,” the girl’s mother told the Journal. “I pack her lunchbox according to what she eats. It always consists of a fruit. It never consists of a vegetable. She eats vegetables at home because I have to watch her because she doesn’t really care for vegetables.”

The Journal provides a copy of the state regulation:

“Sites must provide breakfast and/or snacks and lunch meeting USDA requirements during the regular school day. The partial/full cost of meals may be charged when families do not qualify for free/reduced price meals.

“When children bring their own food for meals and snacks to the center, if the food does not meet the specified nutritional requirements, the center must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements.”

But what was so wrong with the lunch the mother provided? Nothing apparently. A spokesowman for the Division of Child Development explained that the mother’s meal should have been okay.

“With a turkey sandwich, that covers your protein, your grain, and if it had cheese on it, that’s the dairy,” Jani Kozlowski, the fiscal and statutory policy manager for the division, told the Journal. “It sounds like the lunch itself would’ve met all of the standard.”

It‘s unclear from reports who determined the lunch wasn’t healthy enough. The Carolina Journal refers to the person as a “state agent,” while the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls the persona “state inspector” who was checking lunches that day. In an email to The Blaze, Caroline Journal reporter said the inspector was “an employee of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Child Development and Early Education.”

The school denied knowledge of the incident and said it’s looking into it.

“While I share concerns about childhood obesity, I still remain uncertain of the right role for schools,” writes the Journal-Constitution’s Maureen Downey. “This story clearly exemplifies the wrong role.”


15 February, 2012

How eating too much could double risk of memory loss

Sounds like the old old story of lower class people being more careless about what they eat and also generally less healthy. So it is lower class that causes memory loss, not the overeating.

Good to see that the authors did adjust for education but that is only one component of class. There are "skidders" (educated bums) and climbers (poorly educated high achievers) who make education only a partial class indicator

IQ is quite a powerful predictor of some health-related behavior and that is very rarely controlled for

Overeating could more than double the risk of memory loss among elderly people, a study has found. Researchers discovered that those who consumed more than 2,100 calories a day were far more likely to have 'mild cognitive impairment' than those who ate less.

The findings suggest that keeping to a low-calorie diet in old age could keep the mind sharp – and may even prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists in the U.S. looked at the eating and drinking habits of 1,200 people aged 70 to 89 who did not have dementia, and gave them memory tests.

They found that 163 had developed memory problems – and the risk was more than twice as high for those who consumed the most calories.

The connection was clear even after the scientists had adjusted the data to account for other factors that could influence memory loss, such as educational levels or a history of strokes, diabetes or depression.

The researchers had divided the study participants into three groups: one included people consuming 600 to 1,500 calories a day, with another for those consuming 1,500 to 2,100, and a third for those consuming 2,100 to 6,000.

No significant difference was found between the two lower groups, which suggests that consuming fewer than 2,100 calories does not raise the risk of memory problems.

Study author Dr Yonas Geda, from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, said the research linked high calorie intakes with mild cognitive impairment – the stage between the normal memory loss that comes with ageing, and the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease.

'We observed a dose-response pattern, which means: the higher the number of calories consumed each day, the higher the risk,' he said. 'Cutting calories and eating foods that make up a healthy diet may be a simpler way to prevent memory loss as we age.'

The findings are yet to be published, but will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual conference in April.

Dr Marie Janson, of Alzheimer's Research UK, said there is a 'desperate need' for more research into possible risk factors for dementia. 'It would be interesting to see how many of these people go on to develop dementia in the future, to see if there is link to Alzheimer's disease,' she said.

'We know that age is one of the greatest risk factors for dementia, but adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, is beneficial in protecting against dementia along with a number of other chronic diseases.'

Researchers looking at the onset of memory loss in old age are becoming increasingly interested in the role played by diet and exercise.

A small-scale study two years ago found that people with the genes associated with obesity tended to have smaller brains, giving them an increased risk of dementia.

People who do regular physical exercise and brain-training puzzles have also been found to stave off the effects and retain a stronger memory.


Gorging on chocolate is not always bad for you: Teenager with liver disease life is saved by "junk" food

A teenager who was told she could die in six months if she failed to get a liver transplant has defied the odds after she was saved by gorging on chocolate. Elle Wilkinson was warned by doctors that she had between six and 12 months to live is she didn't find a donor to cure her liver failure.

But the 16-year-old, from Bridlington, East Yorkshire, shocked doctors when her condition rapidly improved as a result of a high-carbohydrate diet - which includes copious amounts of chocolate.

After the continued diet, which also includes crisps and biscuits, as well as set medication her miraculous recovery now seem complete after doctors officially removed her from the liver transplant list.

Schoolgirl Elle said 'My friends can't believe it - eating chocolate and crisps and all sorts of junk food, and not having to worry about the consequences. 'It is weird having to eat all these foods excessively when we are told to eat in them only in moderation or risk becoming fat - but I'm not complaining.'

Elle added: 'The doctor said I could have had the liver problems for three to five years before we even realised. 'But we didn't know that because every symptom I had was what every teenager would go through, such as coughs and colds. 'It was all pretty scary.'

Elle's problems began in August last year when she began vomiting heavily and was rushed to hospital. Tests revealed she was seriously ill and her liver was failing, so doctors quickly added her to the national transplant list.

The radical diet - which included chocolate, biscuits, bread and cheese - has been credited with giving her body extra energy, calories and protein - often lacking in people diagnosed with liver failure.

And amazingly, if Elle doesn't eat enough she could suffer muscle-wastage - forcing her to continue scoffing the delicious treats high in calories. The starchy carbohydrates break down into sugar acting as her body's main source of energy.

Elle's mother, Pam Wilkinson-Brown, 50, said 'She is on a high-carbohydrate diet. 'Her life is very different to the life of an average teenager. 'Elle will never be able to drink alcohol because it could kill her. 'She loses energy all the time, but carbohydrates give you energy. She should be eating pasta and rice, but she doesn't like it. 'She eats lots of cheese, bread, chocolate and shortbread. 'For Elle, that's a healthy diet.

'She needs the carbohydrates to give her the energy. The diet is playing a big factor in controlling the illness. But she will never be fully out of the woods, even if she had a transplant.'

Elle was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis, a disease which occurs when the body's immune system attacks cells of the liver, and her liver was failing. And while she is currently suspended from the transplant list doctors have warned Elle she may still need a new liver in the future.

Pam said doctors want to try to keep Elle as well as possible in case they have to consider a transplant. She said she could not thank hospital staff in Scarborough and Leeds, where Elle was treated, enough. Pam added: 'It has been awful, but you get on with it because you have to remove yourself from it. We are very proud of her.

'People automatically think it's just caused through drink, but it's not. 'If we hadn't taken her to hospital, she wouldn't be here now.'


14 February, 2012

Study: Smoking speeds up male cognitive decline

This is somewhat of a surprise. There have been a lot of reports stating that nicotine has a protective effect against dementia. That they found the effect among men only is also strange -- and suggests that there was more going on than they were aware of. Perhaps the smokers were more stressed, for instance

A male regular smoker has a higher risk of rapid cognitive decline, compared to his counterparts who do not smoke, researchers from University College London, England, reported in Archives of General Psychiatry. The authors add that the evidence has been mounting regarding the link between smoking and dementia in elderly individuals - smoking has been found to push up the total number of patients with dementia around the world.

Séverine Sabia, Ph.D., and team set out to determine what impact smoking might have on men during their transition from middle age to old age. They gathered data from the Whitehall II cohort study, which was based on people who worked in the British Civil Service. They analyzed data on 2,137 females and 5,099 males whose average age at their first cognitive assessment was 56 years.

They specifically looked at six assessments of individuals' smoking status over a 25-year-period, as well as three cognitive assessments which took place over a decade.

The researchers found that:

Males smokers had a higher risk of accelerated cognitive decline
Those men who carried on smoking after follow-up had even greater cognitive decline, according to the test results

Even the regular smokers who had quit during the 10 years before their first cognitive assessment still have a higher-than-average risk of suffering cognitive decline, particularly in executive function. Executive function refers to such cognitive processes as working memory, attention, solving problems, verbal reasoning, mental flexibility, multi-tasking, inhibition, and monitoring of actions.

Long-term ex-smokers had the same risk of cognitive decline as lifetime non-smokers. The authors wrote:

"Finally, our results show that the association between smoking and cognition, particularly at older ages, is likely to be underestimated owing to higher risk of death and dropout among smokers."

The same associations were not found in women, and the authors are not sure why. They suggest that perhaps adult males are generally heavier smokers than adult females.

In an Abstract in the same journal, the researchers concluded:

"Compared with never smokers, middle-aged male smokers experienced faster cognitive decline in global cognition and executive function. In ex-smokers with at least a 10-year cessation, there were no adverse effects on cognitive decline."


Yoga can hurt you -- with a particular risk of stroke

And stroke is very nasty indeed

Downward dog for back pain, sun salutations for an energy boost - yoga has become the workout for a healthy mind and body, and is the exercise of choice for endless celebrities including Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. But is the ancient art form as healthy as we’d like to think?

On yesterday’s Today programme on Radio 4, New York Times science writer William Broad, the author of a controversial new book, The Science Of Yoga: The Risks And Rewards, asked whether yoga - when taught incorrectly - might actually have the potential to kill.

During his research Broad - who himself practised yoga for many years before getting injured doing it in 2007 - uncovered endless documented examples of injuries to backs and limbs such as strains, broken bones and trapped sciatic nerves.

He also found to his ‘horror’ that while some poses were low risk others could have extremely serious consequences. These risks, he says, occur as a result of hyper-extension - over-stretching - of the head and neck.

It’s not just doing advanced postures such as headstands, where you balance your legs straight up in the air, resting on just your head and hands, that are risky, says Broad.

He’s gathered evidence that even traditional yoga moves, or asanas, practised at beginner and intermediate level, can lead to serious problems.

‘This is not anecdotal and they are not freak accidents,’ he says. ‘Postures like the shoulder stand, in which you lie on your back and raise your legs into the air, and the plough, in which you lie on your back and put your feet over your head on the floor behind you, that are widely performed can crank the neck around in a risky way.’

Reductions of blood flow in one of the vertebral arteries, called the basilar artery, are known to cause strokes in some people and can be fatal. ‘If the clots that form go to the brain, you can have a stroke,’ Broad says. ‘And one in 20 people who have these vertebral artery problems can die.’

He explains that the first real evidence of yoga injuries was initially published in credible medical journals several decades ago. As long ago as 1972, a respected Oxford University neurologist, Professor Ritchie Russell, wrote an article in the British Medical Journal arguing that some yoga postures had the potential to cause strokes in healthy, young people.

He had found evidence that yoga students typically turned their necks as far as 90 degrees, double what is considered a normal, healthy rotation.

Such excessive extension of the head and neck, Russell said, could harm the fragile arteries running along the neck, causing clots, swelling and constriction. In theory, he said this could produce serious problems in the brain.

In 1973, a spinal rehabilitation expert at Cornell University Medical College described the case of a 28-year-old woman who suffered a stroke while doing a yoga move known as the wheel or upward bow in which a person lies on their back and then lifts their body into an arc, balancing on the hands and feet in a sort of back-bend.

Instead of allowing the head to hang in this position, many people tense and move their necks in an attempt to create balance, a move which can dangerously backfire.

A few years later another paper, this time in the Archives of Neurology Journal, detailed the case of a 25-year-old man who was rushed to hospital with loss of control in the left side of his body and blurred vision. Again, yoga was to blame.

The patient had been performing daily asanas every morning, including spinal twists in which participants lie or sit on the floor and twist their upper body in the opposite direction to their lower body to stretch the spine, as well as shoulder stands, often maintaining the positions for five minutes. Doctors wrote that a series of bruises down his lower neck were a result of trauma ‘caused by repeated contact with the hard floor surface on which he did his yoga exercises’.

Examinations revealed he had suffered a stroke after his left vertebral artery became blocked, preventing blood from reaching his brain. While he recovered the ability to walk, his hand function remained damaged.

Over the years, Broad says that there is an increasing amount of ‘real data that medical and government communications have gathered’ confirming yoga’s risks...

But is Broad being alarmist? In the UK, the growth in the number of people taking part in yoga - it is now thought to be close to one million - has predictably led to a growth in related injuries, according to the Society of Sports Therapists, but there are no reported cases of anyone suffering a stroke as a result of yoga exercises.

Defenders claim its links to injury and pain can mostly be caused by poor teaching. Yoga is woefully unregulated in the UK and anyone can become an instructor after completing a weekend course.

Pierre Bibby, chief executive of the British Wheel of Yoga, the national governing body says: ‘Yoga is not bad for you, but bad teaching is.’ The BWA’s own instructors undergo a minimum of two to four years’ tuition.

Others blame the fact that yoga has become too competitive. ‘People push themselves too far,’ says Mollie McClelland, a yoga teacher at the Alchemy Centre in London. ‘And there are such huge egos in yoga that everyone wants to prove a point.’

Broad agrees that yoga does have benefits. It can relieve stress and decrease pain, but it can be a disappointment for those expecting it to bring miraculous changes to body and mind.

It was while doing the extended-side-angle pose, a posture hailed as a cure for many diseases, that Broad’s own back ‘gave way’ five years ago. ‘With it,’ he says, ‘went my belief, naďve in retrospect, that yoga was a source of only healing, never harm.’

More here

13 February, 2012

We're all doomed!

Sugar is going to kill us! And this time it's not the fructose demonized by the obsessive Lustig but ordinary table sugar.

But not to worry. It's a nonsense study supported by a Danish milk supplier. But that does not bias the report of course. Oh no!

Ad homs aside, however, the experimental design is ludicrous. They took a small group of fatties and then subdivided them into four even smaller groups -- leaving subgroups with averages that are likely to be extremely unstable and unreplicable

But here's the fun: All four groups ended up equally fat. It was only the distribution of the fat around the body that differed. Do we now have a doctrine about where your fat must be?

But to complete the laughter at this piece of nonsense, notice that they are giving a guernsey to Aspartame -- the most demonized sweetener there is. The anti-Aspartame brigade will be outraged!
Sucrose-sweetened beverages increase fat storage in the liver, muscle, and visceral fat depot: a 6-mo randomized intervention study

By Maria Maersk et al.


Background: The consumption of sucrose-sweetened soft drinks (SSSDs) has been associated with obesity, the metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disorders in observational and short-term intervention studies. Too few long-term intervention studies in humans have examined the effects of soft drinks.

Objective: We compared the effects of SSSDs with those of isocaloric milk and a noncaloric soft drink on changes in total fat mass and ectopic fat deposition (in liver and muscle tissue).

Design: Overweight subjects (n = 47) were randomly assigned to 4 different test drinks (1 L/d for 6 mo): SSSD (regular cola), isocaloric semiskim milk, aspartame-sweetened diet cola, and water. The amount of intrahepatic fat and intramyocellular fat was measured with 1H-magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Other endpoints were fat mass, fat distribution (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and magnetic resonance imaging), and metabolic risk factors.

Results: The relative changes between baseline and the end of 6-mo intervention were significantly higher in the regular cola group than in the 3 other groups for liver fat (132–143%, sex-adjusted mean; P < 0.01), skeletal muscle fat (117–221%; P < 0.05), visceral fat (24–31%; P < 0.05), blood triglycerides (32%; P < 0.01), and total cholesterol (11%; P < 0.01). Total fat mass was not significantly different between the 4 beverage groups. Milk and diet cola reduced systolic blood pressure by 10–15% compared with regular cola (P < 0.05). Otherwise, diet cola had effects similar to those of water.

Conclusion: Daily intake of SSSDs for 6 mo increases ectopic fat accumulation and lipids compared with milk, diet cola, and water. Thus, daily intake of SSSDs is likely to enhance the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. This trial is registered at as NCT00777647.


Anti-obesity propaganda blamed for new eating disorder among children

DOCTORS have started treating a new type of eating disorder, warning aggressive anti-obesity campaigns are driving healthy children to starvation.

The phenomenon has been seen by Victoria's three leading paediatric services, with doctors hospitalising children who have lost up to a third of their body weight over a few months in an irrational desire to stay thin.

Royal Children's Hospital chair of adolescent health Susan Sawyer said this eating disorder, affecting children at the upper end of the healthy weight range, was only starting to be documented.

"When you're older and overweight it's a very simple message that weight loss is good for you," Prof Sawyer said. "The difficulty with young people is that even if they are moderately overweight, they are still growing height-wise and are at risk of over-interpreting public health messages of 'low fat is good' to suggest that 'no fat is better'.

"For all intents and purposes, these adolescents have anorexia nervosa in terms of how unwell they are, the distorted body image and the amount of weight loss, but they are at a normal weight. "This is very new."

Austin Hospital's medical director of mental health, Richard Newton, said he believed some of the nine and 10-year-olds being treated were becoming ill from "the panic" created by anti-obesity campaigns. "We need to be giving healthy weight messages that don't vilify fatness, but actually encourage health," Associate Prof Newton explained. "Some of the health messages we give create panic.

"We have to reassure young people that if they do have a weight problem, it doesn't mean that makes them a bad person. "We need to encourage people to not just consider physical health, but emotional wellbeing as well."

Monash Children's head of adolescent medicine Jacinta Coleman said children developing this type of eating disorder could become sick quickly. "The kids we're seeing are at the upper end of their healthy weight range, not necessarily obese but on the more overweight side, and there is so much pressure on kids to lose weight," Dr Coleman said.

"They need to understand that you can be healthy even at a heavier weight, as long as you're active, eating nutritious food. "I think that's where the message is getting misinterpreted."


12 February, 2012

Facebook is GOOD for you: Social networks relax the heart rate and trigger 'a natural high'

Another nasty one for "Baroness" Greenfield

Websites like Facebook may actually be good for you, according to the latest psychological study on users. Researchers found using social networks can spark a natural high leading to a relaxed heart rate and lower levels of stress and tension.

While it seems like a solitary activity, the interaction with others via these networks has a positive effect on body and mind, said joint American and Italian research.

And that buzz could explain the massive success of social networking in general and Facebook in particular.

University researchers in Milan wired up 30 students aged 19-25, monitoring the reactions of their brain, blood pressure, skin conductance, pupil dilation and heart rate. These readings show levels of arousal, excitement, stress and relaxation said the study for online journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking.

The students were then given three minute exercises - either looking at panoramic landscapes, a short time on Facebook or a complicated mathematical task.

Not surprisingly the first made the students the most relaxed and the maths test made them the most stressed.

But the Facebook time threw up a whole new set of unexpected results that were neither stressed out or over relaxed. Instead they found it brought out reactions suggesting the person had found high levels of attractiveness and arousal.

The research was conducted jointly by the Auxologico Italian Institute, the Catholic University, both in Milan, and the famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It found: 'The success of social networking sites might be associated with a specific positive affective state experienced by users when they use their account.'


Facebook can produce "natural highs" in users - study. Social website "makes users more healthy, joyful"

Another report of the study above

USING Facebook is like attending an online party, mental-health experts say.

Until now the popular social-networking site has been blamed for all manner of ills - bullying, depression and antisocial behaviour. But scientists have now discovered it can also produce "natural highs" in many users, lowering levels of anxiety and stress.

The so-called buzz created by the site could help explain the massive success of social networking, and of Facebook in particular, according to a new study for online journal Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking.

The Italian study monitored 30 regular Facebook users' physical reactions, such as their pupil dilation, blood flow and breathing, while they were on the site and concluded it made them more healthy, "joyful" and "intellectually aroused".

Melbourne psychologist Dr Simon Crisp said using Facebook provided an interesting social challenge for its users. "It is like an online party, and the more it gets closer to that type of interaction, the greater the engagement is likely to be and therefore the greater the enjoyment for people," Dr Crisp said.

With 845 million people using Facebook regularly, it is little wonder more people are joining the party.

Rowville's Lynn Bain, 46, spends about eight hours a day on Facebook catching up with friends and family. "If you post something, usually you will get a response quickly and usually it is a positive response," she said.

Social networking is also a constant companion for the stay-at-home mum while her husband is at work and her two sons are at university. "It is someone to talk to because I am home alone. It makes me feel good knowing that there is someone there to talk to," Ms Bain said.

Science has proven happiness is a mouse-click away.


11 February, 2012

The ever-broadening definition of mental illness

What's next? Will religion be declared a mental illness? How about climate skepticism? American psychiatrists would be at home in the old Soviet Union

Childhood shyness could be reclassified as a mental disorder under controversial new guidelines, warn experts. They also fear that depression after bereavement and behaviour now seen as eccentric or unconventional will also become ‘medicalised’. Internet addiction and gambling might also become forms of illness.

The threat comes in the form of proposed changes to a U.S. manual of mental disorders, viewed as a bible by some in the field.

Although the changes to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders would not directly affect clinical practice here – where doctors tend to use different guidelines – experts say it would eventually influence thinking.

Millions of people, including Britons, could be given a psychiatric diagnosis which could ruin their lives, warn psychiatrists and psychologists here.

The DSM5 changes are also opposed by many experts in the U.S., some of whom claim they reflect efforts by drug companies to sell more products.

Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, said: ‘We need to be very careful before further broadening the boundaries of illness and disorder.

‘Back in 1840 the census of the United States included just one category for mental disorder. ‘By 1917 the American Psychiatric Association recognised 59, rising to 128 in 1959, 227 in 1980, and 347 in the last revision. Do we really need all these labels?

‘Probably not. And there is a real danger that shyness will become social phobia, bookish kids labelled as Asperger’s and so on.’

Peter Kinderman, head of the Institute of Psychology, University of Liverpool, said: ‘It will exacerbate problems that result from trying to fit a medical, diagnostic, system to problems that just don’t fit nicely into those boxes.

‘It will pathologise a range of problems which should never be thought of as mental illnesses. Many who are shy, bereaved, eccentric, or have unconventional romantic lives will suddenly find themselves labelled as “mentally ill”. ‘This isn’t valid, isn’t true, isn’t humane.’

Paraphilic Coercive Disorder – becoming aroused by sexual coercion – is one condition proposed for inclusion in DSM5. Professor Kinderman said there was a danger that rapists diagnosed with it would use it as an excuse.

He added that there were ‘huge concerns’ about the changes, which are opposed by the British Psychological Society.

Other experts say the guidelines will straitjacket clinicians into ‘ticking boxes’ that lead to a prescribed diagnosis. Dr Felicity Callard, of King’s College, warned: ‘People’s lives can be altered profoundly – and sometimes ruinously – by being given a psychiatric diagnosis.’

Among the U.S. psychiatrists against the changes is Allen Frances, of Duke University, North Carolina. He warned: ‘DSM5 will radically and recklessly expand the boundaries of psychiatry. Many millions will receive inaccurate diagnosis and inappropriate treatment.’

David Elkins, of Pepperdine University, Los Angeles, said individuals could be ‘labelled with a mental disorder for life and many will be treated with powerful psychiatric drugs’.

Defenders of the American Psychiatric Association guidelines say they will make diagnosis more accurate and scientific.


Skin cancer drug 'clears Alzheimer's protein from the mouse brain'

A promising start

A skin cancer drug could prove to be a precious weapon in the fight against Alzheimer’s. In tests, bexarotene rapidly improved brain health, memory and behaviour of mice genetically engineered to develop the disease.

Researchers described the effect as unprecedented and ‘tremendously exciting’. But others cautioned against raising hopes, pointing out that what works in laboratory mice doesn’t always work in humans.

The researchers, from Cape Western Reserve University in the U.S., used bexarotene to break down amyloid, the toxic protein that clogs the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. Within just six hours of giving the drug to the mice, levels of one type of amyloid fell by a quarter, according to the study detailed in the journal Science.

Levels of another form halved in three days. Memory and behaviour also rapidly improved with treated mice eagerly building nests – an instinct lost by the poorly animals.

Researcher Daniel Wesson said: ‘The results of this study, showing the preservation of behaviour across a wide spectrum, are tremendously exciting and suggest great promise.’

However, Professor Derek Hill, of University College London, warned: ‘Demonstrating that potential drugs for Alzheimer’s are safe and effective takes many years, and requires trials on thousands of patients.’

Dr Anne Corbett, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This exciting study could be the beginning of a journey towards a potential new way to treat Alzheimer’s disease.’

She added that focusing on existing drugs rather than trying to invent new ones should speed the development of treatments.

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.


10 February, 2012

Nanoparticle scare could lead to skin cancer

"Nanoparticles" are the latest hysteria among health freaks

SUNLOVERS may be raising their risk of skin cancer by avoiding sunscreen due to unfounded fears over nanoparticles, according to a federal government study. One in four Australians who had heard stories about the risks of nanoparticle-based sunscreens felt it was safer to use no sunscreen at all, the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education (DIISRTE) study found.

The findings, released at the International Conference on Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in Perth, were based on an online poll of 1000 people last month.

According to the poll, one in three Australians had heard or read stories about the risks of using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them. Of these, 13 per cent were concerned or confused enough about the issue that they would be less likely to use any sunscreen - whether or not it contained nanoparticles.

The study also found one in five respondents would go out of their way to avoid using sunscreens with nanoparticles in them, while three in five wanted more information before deciding.

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, according to Cancer Council Australia, with more than 1700 people dying and 440,000 receiving medical treatment each year.

According to DIISRTE, the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration has previously stated that "the current weight of evidence suggests titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles do not reach viable skin cells, rather, they remain on the surface of the skin and in the outer layer of the skin".


Revolutionary putty could heal bone fractures in days rather than months, claim scientists

This is brilliant news if it lives up to its initial promise

Anyone who has broken a bone knows how long and arduous the recovery period can be. Now scientists say they have created a revolutionary 'putty' that can put the healing process into super-drive.

Scientists from the University of Georgia Regenerative Bioscience Center used adult stem cells to produce a protein involved in bone healing and generation. They then incorporated them into a gel, combining the healing properties into something they labelled 'fracture putty.'

Working with Dr John Peroni from the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine the team used a stabilising device and inserted putty into fractures in rats. Video of the healed animals at two weeks shows the rats running around and standing on their hind legs with no evidence of injury. The RBC researchers are testing the material in pigs and sheep, too.

'The small-animal work has progressed, and we are making good progress in large animals,' study leader Dr Steve Stice said.

The researchers hope the putty will revolutionise fracture treatment for injured soldiers. 'Complex fractures are a major cause of amputation of limbs for U.S. military men and women,' Dr Stice said. 'For many young soldiers, their mental health becomes a real issue when they are confined to a bed for three to six months after an injury. 'This discovery may allow them to be up and moving as fast as days afterward.'

However, more animal trials will need to before it can be tested on humans.

'The next step is to show that we can rapidly and consistently heal fractures in a large animal,' Dr Peroni said, 'then to convert it to clinical cases in the UGA clinics where clinicians treat animals with complex fractures all the time.'

Between 2009 and 2011 the group were awarded $1.4million from the U.S Department of Defense for testing the putty in sheep. This year, they revealed bone can be generated in the animals in less than four weeks.

However, the scientists may have to find new funding as the Department of Defense may cut the grant for biomedical work.

The team said they aren't the only group working on a faster fix for broken bones. 'Our approach is biological with the putty,' Dr Stice said.

'Other groups are looking at polymers and engineering approaches like implants and replacements which may eventually be combined with our approach. We are looking at other applications, too, using this gel, or putty, to improve spinal fusion outcomes.'

One of the best hopes for the fracture putty is in possible facial cranial replacements, an injury often seen on the battlefield.

The project ends in mid-2012. 'By then we are to deliver the system to the DOD,' Dr Stice said.


9 February, 2012

Aspirin 'not to blame' for stomach bleeding - that's due to a bug, say scientists

This is a rather exciting challenge to some long-accepted wisdom

Thousands of patients are unable to take daily aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke, because of the risk of stomach bleeding. Instead, they have to be given more expensive and sometimes less effective treatments.

But, now, scientists have identified what they think is the real cause of stomach bleeding linked to aspirin — a common stomach bug. This new theory could transform the way many people with cardiovascular disease are treated.

It also opens up the possibility that otherwise healthy people, who are currently advised not to take a daily aspirin, because of the risk of bleeding, might be able to take it safely for its cancer-preventing benefits.

Low-dose daily aspirin is a lifesaver, helping to prevent blood clots in the arteries supplying the heart and brain.

It is also prescribed for problems such as atrial fibrillation, a common condition that causes an irregular heartbeat, as this can also lead to the formation of blood clots. More recently, the drug has also been linked to a lower risk of cancers.

However, it does carry the risk of abdominal pain and stomach bleeds, and for this reason many patients are advised not to take it.

This risk was thought to be due to aspirin directly irritating the stomach lining and causing an ulcer. Now researchers from Nottingham University believe that helicobacter pylori bacterium (H. pylori), a common stomach bug, may in fact be responsible for the ulcers — and that aspirin merely exacerbates them.

The scientists think treating this problem at the source by eliminating the bacteria would leave more people able to tolerate aspirin, and so reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke.

One in four people is infected with H.pylori at some point, and though many people show no symptoms, it is thought to be the principal cause of stomach ulcers: about three in 20 people infected with it develop a stomach ulcer.

Now research has also linked the bacterium to bleeding from aspirin. In a study by Nottingham University, 60 per cent of patients who suffered internal bleeding while taking low-dose aspirin tested positive for the bacterium (H.pylori is detected using a breath test).

As the researchers explained: ‘Our hypothesis is that H.pylori causes the ulcer, and aspirin, by thinning the blood, makes it bleed. 'If the bacterium is eradicated, the patient will not get an ulcer and therefore there is no increased bleeding risk with aspirin.’

Now a new trial of 40,000 UK patients will investigate this. Doctors at five universities across the UK — Oxford, Durham, Southampton, Birmingham and Nottingham — will carry out the trial, the Helicobacter Eradication Aspirin Trial, starting next month and ending in March 2016.

In the study, patients aged 60 and over who are taking low-dose aspirin will first be given the breath test for the H.pylori bacterium.

Those found to be infected will receive a one-week course of eradication drug treatment of strong antibiotics, or a placebo treatment.

Commenting on the study, Dr Jonathan Lyne, a consultant cardiologist who practises in London and at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin, said: ‘Aspirin is a cornerstone of treatment in almost all patients with vascular disease.

‘Concern in using this drug in those with a history of stomach ulceration and bleeding has always led to consideration of not using it in these patients, or using alternative drugs that may be more expensive and potentially not as effective.

‘Furthermore, the potential cost savings in preventing hospital admissions, investigations and treatments related to ulcers and bleeding caused by aspirin and H.pylori would be welcome not just to patients but to the NHS as a whole.’


Zinc supplements 'can triple the survival chances of young children with pneumonia'

These kids probably had a very poor diet in many ways. It should not be assumed that people on normal Western diets would benefit from taking zinc. Overdoses could well lead to side-effects

Zinc supplements can triple the survival chances of young children with pneumonia who are deficient in the mineral, a study has found. Taking zinc had a dramatic effect on death rates - even though it did not shorten the time severely ill children took to recover.

The metal is found in shellfish, meat, egg yolks and seeds and supports a wide range of functions in the body and is vital to the immune system.

However, many people are deficient in the mineral, both in rich and poor countries.

The new research, involving young children aged six months to five years, was conducted in Uganda where zinc deficiency is rife.

Scientists studied 352 children with severe pneumonia who were all being treated with antibiotics.

Half the children were given additional therapy in the form of 10 milligram or 20 milligram zinc supplements, depending on age.

The researchers found no difference between the two groups in the time it took to recover from infection. But the risk of dying was very different. Just 4 per cent of children taking zinc died compared with 12 per cent of those not taking zinc.

For children infected with the Aids virus, HIV, the supplements had a really dramatic impact. In this group, an extra 26 out of every 100 children had their lives saved by zinc.

Study leader Professor James Tumwine, from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, said: 'Zinc is known to bolster the immune system and zinc deficiency is rife all over the developed, and developing, world.

'In Uganda, where this study was performed, zinc deficiency in some areas can be as high as 70 per cent. 'We would only need to give 13 of these children with pneumonia zinc on top of their antibiotics to save one life. This equates to about four US dollars (£2.50) - a small price to pay.'

The findings are published in the online journal BMC Medicine.

The researchers pointed out that the HIV-infected children suffered a double disadvantage. Their immune systems were compromised both by HIV infection and zinc deficiency.

Taking zinc supplements was thought to give a big boost to the immune systems. Yet the scientists were unable to explain why the mineral failed to speed up recovery time.

They wrote: 'What is clear is that we have unearthed a very interesting, yet contradictory phenomenon, that seems to be related to HIV infection and severe zinc deficiency. It calls for further studies on the interaction among HIV, zinc and severe pneumonia.'


8 February, 2012

Playing in the sun ‘reduces risk of eczema and food allergies in children’ (?)

This sounds plausible at first sight but I have some reservations. Is it true that Southern Australia gets less sun? They certainly get less sun in winter but make up with longer days in summer. In the warm North summer and winter days are more even.

Though it is true that sunlight is more direct and hence less filtered by the atmosphere in the tropics. And about a third of Australia is tropical. There are no large cities in the tropics, however.

The writers have absolutely no proof that vitamin D is the intervening factor. It's just their theory. A much more obvious North/South difference than insolation is warmth. The North is undoubtedly much warmer, whether or not it has more sunny days. I would think that a theory linking greater warmth to less autoimmune disease should not be too hard to devise. People do after all often move to warmer climates for the sake of their health generally. The exodus from NYC to Boca Raton is a case in point.

Playing in the sunshine reduces the risk of children developing eczema and food allergies, researchers claim. Those living in areas with lower levels of sunlight are at greater risk of developing food allergies and the skin condition, compared to those in areas with higher UV.

Scientists used data from analysis of Australian children and how rates of food allergies, eczema and asthma varied throughout the country.

On average children in the south of the country were twice as likely to develop eczema as those in the north. There was also a link between latitude and allergies to peanuts and eggs.

Sunlight is important because it provides the fuel to create vitamin D in the skin.

Australia is a particularly good place for this type of study as it spans nearly 3,000 miles from north to south, with a large variation in climate, day length and sun strength.

Dr Nick Osborne, who led the researchers at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, a joint initiative between Plymouth and Exeter universities, warned: 'This investigation has further underlined the association between food allergies, eczema and where you live.

'We’re now hoping to study these effects at a much finer scale and examine which factors such as temperature, infectious disease or vitamin D are the main drivers of this relationship. 'As always, care has to be taken we are not exposed to too much sunlight, increasing the risk of skin cancer.'


Two glasses of wine a night triples risk of mouth cancer, Government warns

Another rotation of the merrygoround! Wine is both good and bad for you, apparently. No science is cited below so I have my doubts about this latest pronunciamento. Mediterranean people drink a lot of wine and they are usually held up as a good diet example. Do they have runaway rates of oral cancer? I think we would have heard of it if they do

Drinking two large glasses of wine a day triples the risk of developing mouth cancer, a government campaign will warn. Television adverts which start running on Sunday evening will say that drinking "just a little bit more" than recommended daily limits for alcohol increases the risk of serious health problems.

Government advice states that men should drink no more than four units a day and women should have no more than three. A large 250ml glass of wine is classed as three units, as is a pint of continental lager.

The adverts will say that those who regularly drink six units in a day double their chance of high blood pressure and triple the risk of developing mouth cancer.

Mouth cancer is diagnosed in more than 5,000 people a year, leading to about 1,800 deaths, while about 12 million people have high blood pressure, increasing their chances of strokes and heart attacks.

The adverts, run under the Change4Life banner, will encourage drinkers to cut down by having alcohol-free days, not drinking at home before going out, swapping to low or alcohol-free drinks and using smaller glasses.

Mouth cancer, also known as oral cancer, is uncommon, but cases have risen by 20 per cent in the past three decades. It affects twice as many men as women.

High blood pressure is far more common, with about 12 million sufferers in the UK, about 7 million of whom are diagnosed.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, said the campaign was being launched "to alert people that it is not just binge drinkers who damage their health".

David Cameron has recently indicated that he might back a minimum alcohol price in England to deter excess consumption, overruling the advice of Mr Lansley, who believes the move would have little impact.


7 February, 2012

Cancer 'slowed by cooked tomatoes' (?)

This is a very preliminary finding from a study in laboratory glassware only

A nutrient in cooked tomatoes has been shown in laboratory studies to slow the growth of - and even kill - prostate cancer cells, scientists said today.

Dr Mridula Chopra and colleagues at the University of Portsmouth tested the effect of the nutrient lycopene on the simple mechanism through which cancer cells hijack a body's healthy blood supply to grow and spread. They found that lycopene, which is what gives tomatoes their red colour, intercepts cancer's ability to make the connections it needs to attach to a healthy blood supply.

The researchers, from the university's School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, are now calling for tests to check if the same reaction occurs in the human body.

Director of the research Dr Chopra said: "This simple chemical reaction was shown to occur at lycopene concentrations that can easily be achieved by eating processed tomatoes."

Lycopene is present in all red fruits and vegetables, but its concentrations are highest in tomatoes and it becomes more readily available and biologically active when it comes from processed tomatoes with a small amount of cooking oil added.

Dr Chopra said: "I stress that our tests were done in test tubes in a laboratory and more testing needs to be carried out to confirm our findings, but the laboratory evidence we have found is clear - it is possible to intercept the simple mechanism some cancer cells use to grow at concentrations that can be achieved by eating sufficient cooked tomatoes."

The research, which is published in the British Journal of Nutrition, was part-funded by Heinz after the food manufacturer asked for more research to follow up earlier studies by the same researchers which showed a significant increase in lycopene levels in blood and semen samples after subjects ate 400g (14oz) of processed tomatoes for two weeks.

Dr Chopra and her colleagues Simone Elgass and Alan Cooper said they had a firm agreement they would publish their results irrespective of the outcome.

Cancer cells can remain dormant for years until their growth is triggered through the secretion of chemicals which initiate the process of linking cancer cells with endothelial cells which act as healthy gatekeeper cells lining blood vessels. This allows the cancer cells to reach out and attach to the blood supply.

In the laboratory experiments, lycopene was shown to disrupt this linking process, without which cancer cells cannot grow.

The researchers explained that all cancer cells use a similar mechanism (angiogenesis) to "feed" upon a healthy blood supply.

They said there was added importance of this mechanism for prostate cancer because lycopene tends to accumulate in prostate tissues.

Dr Chopra said: "The important thing is for sufficient lycopene to reach where it can matter. We know that in case of prostate tissues it gets there. "We have tested this in the labs but we don't yet know if the same action will happen in the body.

"Individuals will vary in how much lycopene their bodies make available to fight cancer cell growth and the ability of lycopene to 'intercept' in this way in the body is likely to vary between tomato products - both processing and cooking with fat have previously been shown to make lycopene more effective biologically.

"The type of tomatoes which offer the most effective lycopene also differs and more tests need to be done to find the best breed of tomato for this purpose."

It was suggested in their previous research that smokers might have to consume more tomatoes than non-smokers to achieve the benefits of lycopene due to the presence of high oxidative stress in smokers.

Eleanor Barrie, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Some existing cancer drugs target the formation of new blood vessels, but more research is needed to show how they could be used to help cancer patients.

"This small study doesn't directly tell us if lycopene has any effect against cancer, but research like this can help us to understand more about how the chemical affects blood vessel formation."


Ideology marches on: U.S. School lunches to have more vegetables, fruits

The usual faith that they can identify what is healthy food. They can't. Do they know of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of vegetables have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer, for instance? Do they know that the best evidence shows that there is no health advantage in a low fat diet and that a low salt diet is actually dangerous to you? Etc., etc.

The school lunch is poised for a big makeover. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday unveiled new nutrition standards that will require schools to add more fruits and vegetables to lunch while gradually reducing the amount of sodium and trans fat. The rules also set calorie limits for the millions of meals served annually through the National School Lunch Program.

The changes, which will be phased in over three years beginning July 1, are the first major revisions the agency has made to the federal lunch program in more than 15 years.

The switch is part of a national focus on childhood obesity and the associated risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. While the federal government has tried to make lunches more healthful over the years, an analysis by the USDA shows the meals are still generally high in sodium and saturated fat.

"These are final standards now that make the kind of changes that we attempt to do in our own homes and our own households," said Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

One controversial proposal is not in the final rules. The USDA originally wanted to limit starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, to no more than one cup a week. But the agency backed off after potato growers lobbied heavily against it.

The USDA also wanted to require schools to serve a higher minimum of fruits and vegetables. But food-service officials warned the requirement would lead to more wasted food, as many students would just dump it in the trash. In response, the agency lowered the minimum but still requires schools to "offer" a larger portion of fruits and vegetables.

Around the nation and in Arizona, school food-service directors are poring over the new rules.

"We'll be analyzing them and taking a look at the current menu and seeing what we need to change," said Linda Jeffries, a spokeswoman for the Alhambra Elementary School District in central Phoenix, where about 92 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

On Tuesday, second-graders at Westwood Primary School near 23rd Avenue and Camelback Road filed through the lunch line, picked up cartons of milk and grabbed lunch trays with a wheat roll, baked beans, a cookie, a chicken drumstick and a scoop of fruit cocktail.

Exactly how this menu would fare under the new rules isn't clear; Alhambra officials still need to evaluate them. But the fruit cocktail and baked beans may need a makeover. Students got only 1/3 cup of each side dish. Under the new rules, the school would likely need to offer ¾ cup of the beans and ½ cup of fruit. If students wanted a smaller portion, they could take ½ cup of one or the other.

The school also would need to make sure it served a dark green and red or orange vegetables and beans or peas weekly. Other parts of the menu may be fine. For example, the school already serves the fat-free and 1 percent milk that will be required under the new rules.

Some parents say the new rules will restrict choice, and more children will just bring their own lunch to school as a result.

"The kids want variety," said Scott Kelly, who has two boys, ages 7 and 13, in Kyrene Elementary School District.

Food-services officials say that because the changes will be phased in over a couple of years, students may not notice many changes next year.

In addition, the state already has additional nutrition standards for public schools that, in some cases, are stricter than what the federal government requires. For example, the federal guidelines allow schools to serve whole milk; Arizona schools can serve milk with no more than 2 percent fat. The new federal rules will limit milk to fat free or 1 percent fat.

The National School Lunch Program has been around since 1946, but the nutrition requirements have changed over time based on the latest science about diet and health-related risks. Schools that take part get cash and free agricultural commodities, like meat and cheese. In return, lunches must meet federal nutrition requirements, and they must offer free or reduced-price lunches to lower-income families.

While there is no federal mandate that schools must be part of the National School Lunch Program, Arizona law requires district elementary and junior highs to participate. That could change if a bill recently introduced in the Arizona Legislature becomes law. Schools would be able to opt out of the federal program.

Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said he sponsored the legislation because state law requires K-8 district schools to take part while excluding charter and high schools. He believes everyone should be treated the same. He also said the new standards could be too onerous, and schools will have no recourse.

Critics of the bill, such as the Arizona Education Association, worry the legislation would result in students not receiving lunch. The state's largest teachers union wants to add language to the bill that would require schools to serve lunch , even if they aren't part of the federal program.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, a Maryland-based group of food-service professionals, said: "These standards will make sure every student has access to healthy meals when they go into the cafeteria."


6 February, 2012

Vitamin D could help combat the effects of aging in eyes

If you are a mouse. Since mice have short lives and we have long ones, studying aging in mice and hoping it will generalize to humans is considerable optimism

Researchers funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have found that vitamin D reduces the effects of ageing in mouse eyes and improves the vision of older mice significantly. The researchers hope that this might mean that vitamin D supplements could provide a simple and effective way to combat age-related eye diseases, such as macular degeneration (AMD), in people.

The research was carried out by a team from the Institute of Ophthalmology at University College London and is published in the current issue of the journal Neurobiology of Ageing.

Professor Glen Jeffery, who led the work, explains "In the back of the eyes of mammals, like mice and humans, is a layer of tissue called the retina. Cells in the retina detect light as it comes into the eyes and then send messages to the brain, which is how we see. This is a demanding job, and the retina actually requires proportionally more energy than any other tissue in the body, so it has to have a good supply of blood. However, with ageing the high energy demand produces debris and there is progressive inflammation even in normal animals. In humans this can result in a decline of up to 30% in the numbers of light receptive cells in the eye by the time we are 70 and so lead to poorer vision."

The researchers found that when old mice were given vitamin D for just six weeks, inflammation was reduced, the debris partially removed, and tests showed that their vision was improved.

The researchers identified two changes taking place in the eyes of the mice that they think accounted for this improvement. Firstly, the number of potentially damaging cells, called macrophages, were reduced considerably in the eyes of the mice given vitamin D. Macrophages are an important component of our immune systems where they work to fight off infections. However in combating threats to the aged body they can sometimes bring about damage and inflammation. Giving mice vitamin D not only led to reduced numbers of macrophages in the eye, but also triggered the remaining macrophages to change to a different configuration. Rather than damaging the eye the researchers think that in their new configuration macrophages actively worked to reduce inflammation and clear up debris.

The second change the researchers saw in the eyes of mice given vitamin D was a reduction in deposits of a toxic molecule called amyloid beta that accumulates with age. Inflammation and the accumulation of amyloid beta are known to contribute, in humans, to an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the largest cause of blindness in people over 50 in the developed world. The researchers think that, based on their findings in mice, giving vitamin D supplements to people who are at risk of AMD might be a simple way of helping to prevent the disease.

Professor Jeffery said "When we gave older mice the vitamin D we found that deposits of amyloid beta were reduced in their eyes and the mice showed an associated improvement of vision. People might have heard of amyloid beta as being linked to Alzheimer's disease and new evidence suggests that vitamin D could have a role in reducing its build up in the brain. So, when we saw this effect in the eyes as well, we immediately wondered where else these deposits might be being reduced."

Professor Jeffery and his team then went on to study some of the blood vessels of their mice. They found that the mice that had been given the vitamin D supplement also had significantly less amyloid beta built up in their blood vessels, including in the aorta.

Professor Jeffery continues "Finding that amyloid deposits were reduced in the blood vessels of mice that had been given vitamin D supplements suggests that vitamin D could be useful in helping to prevent a range of age-related health problems, from deteriorating vision to heart disease."

Professor Jeffery thinks that this link between vitamin D and a range of age-related diseases might be linked to our evolutionary history. For much of human history our ancestors lived in Africa, probably without clothes, and so were exposed to strong sunlight all year round. This would have triggered vitamin D production in the skin. Humans have only moved to less sunny parts of the world and adopted clothing relatively recently and so might not be well adapted to reduced exposure to the sun. Secondly, life expectancy in the developed world has increased greatly over the past few centuries, so reduced exposure to vitamin D is now coupled with exceptionally long lifespan.

Professor Jeffery said "Researchers need to run full clinical trials in humans before we can say confidently that older people should start taking vitamin D supplements, but there is growing evidence that many of us in the Western world are deficient in vitamin D and this could be having significant health implications."

Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said "Many people are living to an unprecedented old age in the developed world. All too often though, a long life does not mean a healthy one and the lives of many older people are blighted by ill health as parts of their bodies start to malfunction.

"If we are to have any hope of ensuring that more people can enjoy a healthy, productive retirement then we must learn more about the changes that take place as animals age. This research shows how close study of one part of the body can lead scientists to discover new knowledge that is more widely applicable. By studying the fundamental biology of one organ scientists can begin to draw links between a number of diseases in the hope of developing preventive strategies."


Drinking three cups of tea a day 'can lower your blood pressure'

"Our objective was to assess the effects of regular black tea consumption (3 cups/d) for 6 months on 24-hour ambulatory BP"

But the effect they found was really tiny, possibly due to chance alone in such a small sample. Journal article here

It's good news for the two-thirds of Britons who have a cup of tea every day - enjoying a brew may significantly reduce your blood pressure. Scientists at The University of Western Australia and Unilever discovered that drinking three cups of tea a day lowers systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

However, researchers based their findings on drinking black tea and the effect of drinking tea with milk is not known.

Tea is the world's second-most popular drink, after water. It is full of polyphenols, antioxidants that have been shown to stop cancer cells from growing. Another study from Harvard University found the drink could boost immune function.

Now researchers have found more proof that it keeps the heart healthy. Lead author Research Professor Jonathan Hodgson said: 'There is already mounting evidence that tea is good for your heart health, but this is an important discovery because it demonstrates a link between tea and a major risk factor for heart disease.'

Blood pressure measurement consists of two numbers. The first is the systolic and measures blood pressure when the heart beats, or contracts to push blood through the body. The second number is the diastolic and measures the amount of pressure in between beats, when the heart is at rest.

In the small study, 95 Australian participants aged between 35 and 75 were recruited to drink either three cups of black tea or a placebo with the same flavour and caffeine content, but not derived from tea.

After six months, the researchers found that compared with the placebo group, participants who drank black tea had a lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure of between 2 and 3 mmHg (millimetres of mercury).

The authors believe a 2 to 3mmHg drop in blood pressure across the board would lead to a 10 per cent drop in the number of people with hypertension and heart disease.

Dr Hodgson wrote: 'A large proportion of the general population has blood pressure within the range included in this trial, making results of the trial applicable to individuals at increased risk of hypertension.'

He added that more research is required to better understand how tea may reduce blood pressure, although earlier studies reported a link between tea drinking and the improved health of people's blood vessels.

The study is published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Tracy Parker, Heart Health Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), told Mail Online: 'It is important to understand that a cuppa won't cancel out a poor diet or lifestyle. There is evidence that antioxidant properties in tea could provide heart health benefits, but more research is required to better understand how tea may reduce blood pressure.

'In the meantime, cutting down on salt and alcohol, eating more fruit and vegetables, and keeping physically active are all well established ways of lowering your blood pressure.'


5 February, 2012

Sunny break may be alternative to IVF: How the sunshine vitamin can help boost fertility

Amazing. There is absolutely no proof that vitamin D was the key factor in the results below. Darkness has direct mood effects of its own (Google "Seasonal Affective Disorder") regardless of vitamin D and it seems likely that all we see below are mood effects.

I think I might explode one day from sheer disgust at the drivel that constantly gets put out in the name of medical research

Couples trying for a baby should take a sunshine holiday – and not just because it may put them in a more romantic mood. Sunlight boosts fertility in both men and women by increasing their levels of vitamin D, a study has found.

Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is also key to balancing sex hormones in women and improving sperm count in men, according to researchers.

The findings mean that some couples may be undergoing unnecessary and costly fertility treatment when spending time in the sun could be the answer.

For women, vitamin D helps boost levels of the female sex hormones progesterone and oestrogen by 13 per cent and 21 per cent respectively, regulating menstrual cycles and making conception more likely.

Fathers-to-be increase their fertility by going into the sun, too – because vitamin D is essential for the healthy development of each sperm’s nucleus.

It also increases levels of the male sex hormone testosterone, improving a man’s libido, according to the review of several studies, published this week in the European Journal of Endocrinology.

The vitamin’s effect on both male and female sex hormones may explain why conception rates fall in the winter and peak in the summer in Northern European countries, say the researchers at the Medical University of Graz in Austria.

In their own study of nearly 2,300 men, they also found that levels of testosterone and vitamin D peaked in August and were lowest in March, just after the winter.

Women have been found to ovulate less – and their eggs have a reduced chance of implanting in the womb – in the winter months.

The link between sunshine and fertility has also been found in animal studies, the review states. Female rodents kept in total darkness have been found to be less fertile and have more pregnancy complications. In male rats raised with no sunlight, the number of successful matings drops by 73 per cent.

Fertility problems affect one in seven couples in the UK. In four out of ten cases, the difficulty lies with the male partner.

Scientists found the fertility of men and women increased after spending time in the sun which could mean some couples would not need to resort to IVF to conceive

Although vitamin D can be obtained in small quantities by eating oily fish, eggs and liver, about 80 per cent of the amount the body needs is obtained via a chemical process that happens when the UVB rays in sunlight are absorbed by the skin.

Those living in Britain tend to be particularly prone to having lower levels because there is so much cloud cover, even in summer.

Lead author Dr Elisabeth Lerchbaum stressed that while sunshine appears to improve fertility, it is important couples don’t overdo it because of the risk of skin cancer from over-exposure. She said: ‘People could either spend more time outside in the sun – or they could take vitamin D supplements, which are a safe and cheap way to increase levels.’

Oliver Gillie, director of the Health Research Forum, which is campaigning for better health advice on vitamin D, said: ‘The vast majority of people in this country – around 86 per cent – are getting less than the optimum levels. In Britain almost no vitamin D is generated in the skin during the winter months.

‘I would say to couples hoping to get pregnant to arrange a sunshine holiday, or get into the garden in the summer as often as they can...before you go down the route of expensive IVF treatment.’

The findings are the latest good news about vitamin D. Recent research has found that it may also play a part in reducing cases of sudden infant death syndrome – and also cutting mental health problems in children.


Drinking just one glass of milk a day could boost your brain power

This is VERY low-grade research: Self report questionnaires, probably unvalidated. It could be the old class effect again: Middle class people saw milk drinking as more correct and so said the drank more of it (whether they did or not) and middle class people are healthier anyway

Milk has long been known to help build healthy bones and provide the body with a vitamin and protein boost. But now it’s being hailed as a memory aid after a study found those who regularly have milk – and other dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese and even ice cream – do better in key tests to check their brainpower.

Scientists asked 972 men and women to fill in detailed surveys on their diets, including how often they consumed dairy products, even if only having milk in their tea and coffee.

The subjects, aged 23 to 98, then completed a series of eight rigorous tests to check their concentration, memory and learning abilities.

The study, published in the International Dairy Journal, showed adults who consumed dairy products at least five or six times a week did far better in memory tests compared with those who rarely ate or drank them.

The researchers said: ‘New and emerging brain health benefits are just one more reason to start each day with low-fat or fat-free milk.’

In some of the tests, adults who rarely consumed dairy products were five times more likely to fail compared with those who had them between two and four times a week.

The researchers, from the University of Maine in the U.S., believe certain nutrients in dairy products, such as magnesium, could help to stave off memory loss.

They also suspect dairy foods may help protect against heart disease and high blood pressure, which in turn maintains the brain’s ability to properly function.

Some experts have disputed this, however, claiming dairy products increase the likelihood of heart disease and strokes as they are high in saturated fat.


4 February, 2012

Taking fish oil during pregnancy 'protects babies from eczema'

The great fish oil religion again. This is actually a fairly dishonest piece of work. As you will see from the appended journal article there was NO DIFFERENCE in overall allergy sensitivity at the end of the experiment.

But a bit of data dredging turned up a couple of reactions which looked marginally significant. If they had used the proper experiment-wise error-rate approach to significance testing even those effects would have vanished, however.

Taking fish oils during pregnancy could protect your unborn baby from eczema, scientists say. In tests, children whose mothers took omega 3 supplements were a third less likely to develop the dry skin condition. They were also 50 per cent less likely to develop an intolerance to eggs before their first birthdays.

The Australian scientists believe that omega 3 fatty acids passed on to via the placenta affect the unborn baby’s immune system which protects against eczema.

Researchers at Adelaide University studied 706 pregnant women with a family history of allergies. Half were given fish oil supplements to take three times a day from 21 weeks into the pregnancy until the birth. The others were given vegetable oil.

More research is needed to see if fish oils protect against asthma and hay fever, the British Medical Journal reported.

The Government advises pregnant women not to eat more than four portions of fish a week as high levels of mercury can be dangerous to the baby.


Journal article follows:


Effect of n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in pregnancy on infants’ allergies in first year of life: randomised controlled trial

By D J Palmer et al.


Objective: To determine whether dietary n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA) supplementation of pregnant women with a fetus at high risk of allergic disease reduces immunoglobulin E associated eczema or food allergy at 1 year of age.

Design: Follow-up of infants at high hereditary risk of allergic disease in the Docosahexaenoic Acid to Optimise Mother Infant Outcome (DOMInO) randomised controlled trial.

Setting: Adelaide, South Australia.

Participants: 706 infants at high hereditary risk of developing allergic disease whose mothers were participating in the DOMInO trial.

Interventions: The intervention group (n=368) was randomly allocated to receive fish oil capsules (providing 900 mg of n-3 LCPUFA daily) from 21 weeks’ gestation until birth; the control group (n=338) received matched vegetable oil capsules without n-3 LCPUFA.

Main outcome measure: Immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease (eczema or food allergy with sensitisation) at 1 year of age.

Results: No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups (32/368 (9%) v 43/338 (13%); unadjusted relative risk 0.68, 95% confidence interval 0.43 to 1.05, P=0.08; adjusted relative risk 0.70, 0.45 to 1.09, P=0.12), although the percentage of infants diagnosed as having atopic eczema (that is, eczema with associated sensitisation) was lower in the n-3 LCPUFA group (26/368 (7%) v 39/338 (12%); unadjusted relative risk 0.61, 0.38 to 0.98, P=0.04; adjusted relative risk 0.64, 0.40 to 1.02, P=0.06). Fewer infants were sensitised to egg in the n-3 LCPUFA group (34/368 (9%) v 52/338 (15%); unadjusted relative risk 0.61, 0.40 to 0.91, P=0.02; adjusted relative risk 0.62, 0.41 to 0.93, P=0.02), but no difference between groups in immunoglobulin E associated food allergy was seen.

Conclusion: n-3 LCPUFA supplementation in pregnancy did not reduce the overall incidence of immunoglobulin E associated allergies in the first year of life, although atopic eczema and egg sensitisation were lower. Longer term follow-up is needed to determine if supplementation has an effect on respiratory allergic diseases and aeroallergen sensitisation in childhood.


Drug addiction 'may be hereditary' as siblings have brain abnormality which makes self-control difficult

Drug users hooked on crack cocaine may have inherited their vulnerability to addictive behaviour, scientists claimed yesterday.

Researchers found that drug addicts and their non-addicted siblings share certain features of the brain, meaning it may be hard-wired for addictive behaviour.

Scientists who scanned the brains of 50 pairs of brothers and sisters of whom one was a cocaine addict found that both siblings had brain abnormalities that made self-control more difficult.

The findings increase understanding of why some people with a family history of drug abuse have a higher risk of addiction than others. The study could also help vulnerable people lean how to take control before addictions set in.

However, the work by the University of Cambridge also suggested that although there may be a genetic base for addiction, some people can overcome this predisposition to stay off drugs.

A study in the Lancet medical journal in January said that as many as 200 million people use illicit drugs worldwide each year, with use highest in wealthy countries.

Unhealthy addictions can also range from narcotics and prescription medicines to legal substances like cigarettes and alcohol and lifestyle factors such as over-eating or gambling.

Scientists have noticed brain differences in drug addicts before, but as yet they were not sure whether those differences came before the drug use, or were as a result of it.

Karen Ersche of the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at Britain's Cambridge University led a team of researchers who got around this problem by studying pairs of biological siblings - one addicted and one with no history of chronic drug or alcohol abuse - and comparing both siblings' brains to those of other healthy people.

Their results, published in the journal Science, showed that both addict and non-addict siblings shared the same abnormality in the parts of the brain linked to controlling behaviour - regions known as the fronto-striatal systems.

'It has long been known that not everyone who takes drugs becomes addicted, and that people at risk of drug dependence typically have deficits in self-control,' said Ersche.

'Our findings now shed light on why the risk of becoming addicted to drugs is increased in people with a family history:... Parts of their brains underlying self-control abilities work less efficiently.

Paul Keedwell a consultant psychiatrist at Britain's Cardiff University, who was not involved in the research but was encouraged by its findings, said: 'If we could get a handle on what makes unaffected relatives of addicts so resilient we might be able to prevent a lot of addiction from taking hold.'


3 February, 2012

Statins give you diabetes?

The study below is large so the results should be fairly robust. And the effect was fairly large as such effects go. These results may go some way towards explaining the apparent rise in diabetes incidence in recent years. The doctors hand out statins like jellybeans these days.

Given the pervasive side-effects of statins, it seems likely that the statins did cause the increase in diabetes observed but it must be noted that we are again here dealing with correlational data -- which is not capable of supporting causal inferences by itself
Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(2):144-152.

Statin Use and Risk of Diabetes Mellitus in Postmenopausal Women in the Women's Health Initiative

By Annie L. Culver et al.


Background: This study investigates whether the incidence of new-onset diabetes mellitus (DM) is associated with statin use among postmenopausal women participating in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI).

Methods: The WHI recruited 161 808 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79 years at 40 clinical centers across the United States from 1993 to 1998 with ongoing follow-up. The current analysis includes data through 2005. Statin use was captured at enrollment and year 3. Incident DM status was determined annually from enrollment. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate the risk of DM by statin use, with adjustments for propensity score and other potential confounding factors. Subgroup analyses by race/ethnicity, obesity status, and age group were conducted to uncover effect modification.

Results: This investigation included 153 840 women without DM and no missing data at baseline. At baseline, 7.04% reported taking statin medication. There were 10 242 incident cases of self-reported DM over 1 004 466 person-years of follow-up. Statin use at baseline was associated with an increased risk of DM (hazard ratio [HR], 1.71; 95% CI, 1.61-1.83). This association remained after adjusting for other potential confounders (multivariate-adjusted HR, 1.48; 95% CI, 1.38-1.59) and was observed for all types of statin medications. Subset analyses evaluating the association of self-reported DM with longitudinal measures of statin use in 125 575 women confirmed these findings.

Conclusions: Statin medication use in postmenopausal women is associated with an increased risk for DM. This may be a medication class effect. Further study by statin type and dose may reveal varying risk levels for new-onset DM in this population.


Now it's sugar fanaticism

Sugar 'is toxic and must be regulated just like cigarettes', claim some scientists. A common food suddenly morphs into a poison!

Lustig has long been quite obsessed by fructose but it seems that he is now down on all sugars. I guess that's because a good answer to his anti-fructose campaign is that all sugars contain it. There's a more balanced article here, though it is more respectful of epidemiology than it should be

Sugar is a poison and its sale should be as tightly regulated as cigarettes and alcohol, scientists say. They warn that sugary foods and drinks are responsible for illnesses including obesity, heart disease, cancer and liver problems.

And they claim it contributes to 35million deaths a year worldwide and is so dangerous it should be controlled through taxation and legislation.

In an article entitled The Toxic Truth About Sugar, published in the journal Nature, the scientists add: ‘A little is not a problem but a lot kills – slowly.’

The U.S. authors warn obesity is now a bigger problem than malnourishment across the world, and that sugar not only makes people fat but also changes the body’s metabolism, raises blood pressure, throws hormones off balance and harms the liver.

The damage done mirrors the effects of drinking too much alcohol – which the scientists point out is made from distilling sugar.

The authors, led by Robert Lustig, a childhood obesity expert at California University, say that, like alcohol, sugar is widely available, toxic, easily abused and harmful to society.

They say teaching children about diet and exercise is unlikely to be effective and instead the answer lies in taxes and restricting availability.

The study recommends using taxation to double the price of fizzy drinks, restricting their sale to those over 17 or 18, and tightening regulations covering school vending machines and snack bars.

Dr Laura Schmidt, also of California University, said: ‘We’re not talking about prohibition. We’re not advocating a major imposition of the government into people’s lives. ‘What we want is actually to increase people’s choices by making foods that aren’t loaded with sugar comparatively easier and cheaper to get.’

The article also reveals that consumption of sugar has tripled in the past 50 years and that there are now more obese people than malnourished ones across the world.

It concludes that responsibility lies with the food companies, saying that while they may resist change, shifts in policy are possible if the pressure is great enough. Examples include the ban on smoking in public places and the fitting of airbags in cars.

The article ends: ‘These simple measures are taken for granted as tools for our public health and well-being. It’s time to turn our attention to sugar.’

However, other scientists have described the essay as ‘puritanical’, saying sugar is only toxic when eaten in unrealistic amounts.

Barbara Gallani, of the Food and Drink Federation, which represents the UK food and drink industry, said that while urgent action was needed to beat heart and other diseases, it was wrong to focus on sugar alone. She added: ‘The causes of these diseases are multi-factorial and demonising food components does not help consumers to build a realistic approach to their diet.

‘The key to good health is a balanced and varied diet in a lifestyle that includes plenty of physical activity.’


2 February, 2012

Complementary medicine courses in universities: how I beat the varsity quacks

The teaching of complementary medicine has no place in British universities, says David Colquhoun. David Colquhoun is professor of pharmacology at University College London

What would you think if your child went off to university to be taught that amethyst crystals “emit high yin energy”? Or that cancer can be cured by squirting coffee up the fundament? What if they were told in a lecture that the heart is not, as medical science has believed for centuries, a pump for circulating blood around the body but instead “the governor of our rational thought and behaviour”? Well, you’d probably want your tuition fees back for a start.

For more than a decade, “facts” such as these have been peddled by more than a dozen fully accredited, state-funded British universities: the above examples come from the University of Westminster and Edinburgh Napier University. Indeed, since the mid-1990s, such ideas have been presented and taught as if they were real medicine.

The teaching of “complementary” (that is, non-evidence-based) medicine is something about which scientists and rationalist campaign groups have been raising havoc for years. It may seem harmless and even a welcome alternative to traditional perspectives. But teaching people that homoeopathy is evidence-based when it isn’t, and encouraging students to distrust the scientific method, not only runs counter to reason, but can be dangerous.

“Complementary” medics can cause harm by persuading patients to shun medicines that can cure or alleviate their condition. In extreme cases – such as the prescription of herbal remedies for potentially fatal diseases such as Aids – it can kill. Steve Jobs, for example, might still be alive if he had not initially decided to treat his pancreatic cancer via diet, rather than radiotherapy.

As a senior scientist in one of Britain’s biggest and most respected universities, I was bemused when I first learnt of the existence of these bizarre courses. After all, we are beset by a plethora of regulatory agencies that are meant to put a stop to worthless degrees. Moreover, these bodies are supposed to guarantee that students are paying for accredited academic courses, not ones that professional scientists would dismiss as teaching ''magic’’.

The sad fact is that none of these regulators did anything to stop the infiltration of the mainstream. The Quality Assurance Agency has ticked its boxes and rubber-stamped these dubious courses. The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority has allowed the misleading labelling of quack medicines. Trading Standards has been useless. The Department of Health has vacillated, and will not allow Nice (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) to investigate, despite many requests to do so. Parliament has been unhelpful (perhaps not surprising, when one MP, David Tredinnick, got into trouble for buying astrology software on expenses).

The only organisation that has done anything sensible is the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which has said – for example – that advertisements placed by homeopaths cannot name particular diseases that they purport to treat. The ASA also reprimanded Boots for misleading claims on its homoeopathic “remedies”.

The true villains of the piece, however, are the vice-chancellors, who must take responsibility for what is taught at their university. In 2008, I wrote to the then vice-chancellor of the University of Wales, Marc Clement. I asked him, as a physicist, what his opinion was of this statement: “Implosion researchers have found that if water is put through a spiral, its field changes, and it then appears to have a potent, restorative effect on cells.”

This was written by the course leader for an MSc in “Nutrition” run by the Northern College of Acupuncture, but validated by the University of Wales. The validation committee did not appear to have noticed it. And Prof Clement did not reply to my request for an opinion about the wonders of “spiralised water”. The consequence of this, and hundreds of other “validations” conducted by the University of Wales, was that it was abolished, thanks to Welsh education minister Leighton Andrews. Yet action was only taken after the scandal was flagged up first by bloggers, and then in two programmes by BBC Wales. There is, surely, something very wrong when academic standards have to be maintained by online amateurs and local broadcasters.

What is encouraging, however, is that the tide appears to have turned. At the beginning of 2007, 16 universities offered 45 BSc degrees in make-believe medicine. There were even five degrees in homoeopathy (the medicine that contains no medicine). Now there are none. Likewise, degrees in naturopathy, reflexology and aromatherapy have all vanished from Britain’s universities. “Nutritional therapy” has almost gone, too.

This is especially good news, since the people who deal sensibly with nutrition are called dieticians. Anyone can be a self-styled “nutritionist”: the terms “nutritional therapy” or “nutritional medicine” usually refer to an individual who claims to be able to cure almost anything by diet, but whose aim is to sell you expensive and unnecessary – or even harmful – supplements. This practice was exposed in a recent investigation by Which? magazine, in which 14 out of 15 consultations were deemed “fails” and six out of 15 gave dangerous advice.

There are two obvious reasons for this welcome return to sanity. One is that the Freedom of Information Act allows anyone to find out what’s being taught to students. Universities have fought tooth and nail to hide the information, but they were overruled by the Information Commissioner, who decided that taxpayers should be able to see how their money was spent. The internet has also been a factor: vice-chancellors don’t like it when Googling their names produces references to “yin energy”.

But a more positive explanation may be that we seem at last to be emerging from the age of what we can call the “endarkenment”. People are less willing to believe things that aren’t true – whether it’s the presence of WMD in Iraq, the effectiveness of bankers’ derivatives, or the power of homoeopathy. They are also less willing to pay for them. The huge rise in tuition fees will cost the taxpayer money (through the loan scheme), but at least it may put the last nail in the coffin of quackery. Vice-chancellors seem remarkably insensitive to the contents of what’s taught, but they care a great deal about the money.

In terms of the remaining degrees, the courses that are predominantly in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Chinese remedies are almost completely untested, and they are frequently contaminated and dangerous. They also contribute to the slaughter of rhinos, tigers and bears.

Acupuncture is more interesting. There is no doubt that it has had, in the past, greater acceptance by the medical establishment than other forms of alternative medicine. One welcome consequence is that there has been a lot more research into this practice than others. However, almost all of it points to the conclusion that it is no more than a theatrical placebo.

If you get yourself poked with needles, and the next day you feel better, there are two possible reasons. One is that you are experiencing a placebo effect. The other is the “get better anyway” effect or, in scientific parlance, “regression to the mean”. Acupuncture might sit at the respectable end of the fruitloopery spectrum, but I believe it has no place in a university, other than as a good example of how easy it is to fool yourself.

Over the past few years, bloggers and campaigners have made an enormous contribution to the resurgence of rational thinking. It is a shame that the official bodies that are supposed to protect us from the snake-oil salesmen have not done such a good job.


Club drug ketamine 'could offer almost instant remedy for severe depression'

It's a dangerous drug but if the alternative is suicide, it would be a great help

A prescription drug that is also used as a powerful horse tranquiliser could offer an almost instant remedy for people suffering from depression, say scientists.

Doctors at Ben Taub General hospital in Houston, Texas, are testing the effect of ketamine on patients with a severe form of the condition.

The Class C drug, which is illegal to possess or sell, can cause a loss of feeling in the body and paralysis of the muscles sometimes giving users a feeling of being separated from reality. It is popular with clubbers because of its hallucinogenic effects.

However, mental health researchers were alerted to reports that the drug could also make depression 'vanish' almost instantly. Current anti-depressants take at least a few weeks to kick-in, leaving a dangerous period when many patients feel suicidal. Ketamine could therefore be used to bridge that gap.

Scientists at the Neuro Psychiatric Center attached to the Ben Taub General are giving trial patients one infusion of either ketamine or a normal sedative and comparing the results.

One trial patient, mother-of-three Heather Merrill, believes she had been administered with the ketamine. She told National Public Radio ( in the U.S that 24-hours after her treatment: 'It was almost immediate, the sense of calmness and relaxation.

'No more fogginess. No more heaviness. I feel like I'm a clean slate right now. I want to go home and see friends or, you know, go to the grocery store and cook the family dinner.'

Dr Asim Shah, director of the mood disorder programme in Ben Taub, added: 'She looks like a person who is genuinely happy, whereas before the study, she looked very down, very withdrawn, almost tearful.'

Researchers said the consistent patient reactions have made it hard to prevent doctors and patients from working out who has been given the drug, and who has had the placebo.

If the trial proves successful the researchers will then administer the drug three times a week to patients to test the long-term effects.

Ketamine can cause serious bladder problems and there are suggestions it could make some existing mental health problems worse and cause heart problems.

The scientists are hoping patients in the second trial will experience a radical mood boost that will last for a few months. They are also looking at developing a pill form of the intravenous infusion.

If all studies prove successful it will be at least two years before the drug is approved for use.


1 February, 2012

Fried food heart risk 'a myth'

This study is a step forward into reality but the claim that it applies only to foods cooked in vegetable oils is only an assumption. They have no evidence for it.

And any mention of the Mediterranean diet always amuses me. I think of all the nonagenarians tottering around Australia who have lived almost all of their lives eating various forms of red meat fried in dripping (rendered down beef fat). That does not count as evidence, apparently

It is a "myth" that regularly eating fried foods causes heart attacks, researchers have found, as long as you use olive oil or sunflower oil. They say there is mounting research that it is the type of oil used, and whether or not it has been used before, that really matters.

The latest study, published in the British Medical Journal, found no association between the frequency of fried food consumption in Spain - where olive and sunflower oils are mostly used - and the incidence of serious heart disease.

However, the British Heart Foundation warned Britons not to "reach for the frying pan" yet, pointing out that the Mediterranean diet as a whole was healthier than ours.

Spanish researchers followed more than 40,000 people, two-thirds of whom were women, from the mid 1990s to 2004.

At the outset they asked them how often they ate fried foods, either at home or while out. They then looked to see whether eating fried foods regularly increased the likelihood of falling ill from having coronary heart disease, such as a heart attack or angina requiring surgery.

Dividing participants into four groups, from lowest fried food intake to highest, they found no significant difference in heart disease.

There were 606 incidents linked to heart disease in total, but they were split relatively evenly between the four groups.

The authors concluded: "In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death."

Commenting on the findings in the BMJ, Professor Michael Leitzmann of the University of Regensburg in Germany said two other studies - one from Costa Rica and another by an international team - had also failed to find strong evidence of a link. He said: "Taken together, the myth that frying food is generally bad for the heart is not supported by available evidence.

"However, this does not mean that frequent meals of fish and chips will have no health consequences."

Fried food did contain more calories, he said, while it had also been linked to high blood pressure and obesity.

The authors of the Spanish study noted that the findings could only really be extrapolated to other Mediterranean countries with similar diets, whose people tended to fry 'fresh' with olive and sunflower oil.

Fried foods from modern American-style takeaways were different, they argued, because these tended to have been cooked in re-used oils, higher in transfats. In addition, such takeaways tended to contain much more salt, known to increase blood pressure and heart disease risk.

However, more and more people in Britain are now frying with olive oil or sunflower oil. Britain now consumes around 28 million litres of olive oil a year - double that sold a decade ago.

Half British households now use it regularly in some way, although not necessarily for frying, compared to a third 10 years ago.

Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Before we all reach for the frying pan it's important to remember that this was a study of a Mediterranean diet, rather than British fish and chips.

"Our diet in the UK will differ from Spain, so we cannot say that this result would be the same for us too.

"Participants in this study used unsaturated fats such as olive and sunflower oil to fry their food.

"We currently recommend swapping saturated fats like butter, lard or palm oil for unsaturated fats as a way of keeping your cholesterol down and this study gives further cause to make that switch.

"Regardless of the cooking methods used, consuming foods with high fat content means a high calorie intake. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

"A well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and veg and only a small amount of high fat foods, is best for a healthy heart."


Active brain may ward of Alzheimer's

This is still all correlational but it may be a straw in the wind

A LIFETIME of daily intellectual stimulation could help prevent the formation of plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

Although previous research has suggested that engaging in mentally demanding activities - such as reading, writing and playing games - may help stave off the disease, a new study identifies the biological target at play.

The study, led by researchers at the University of California, says the discovery could guide future research into effective prevention strategies.

"Rather than simply providing resistance to Alzheimer's, brain-stimulating activities may affect a primary pathological process in the disease," said principal investigator Dr William Jagust of UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute.

"This suggests that cognitive therapies could have significant disease-modifying treatment benefits if applied early enough, before symptoms appear," he said.

In the first study of its kind, researchers used brain scans to examine the amount of beta amyloid deposits in the brains of healthy seniors with no signs of dementia.

Beta amyloid - the protein fibres folded into tangled plaques that accumulate in the brain - is the top suspect in the pathology of Alzheimer's disease.

But the buildup of amyloid can also be influenced by genes and aging.

People who reported doing daily brainy activities from age six onward had very low levels of amyloid plaque - on par with an average person in their early 20s. Those who never or rarely engaged in these activities had higher plaque levels.

"This is the first time cognitive activity level has been related to amyloid buildup in the brain," said study scientist Susan Landau of the Neuroscience Institute.

Amyloid is believed to start accumulating many years before symptoms appear - so by the time patients have memory problems, there is little that can be done. Scientists hope to intervene sooner, so it's important to identify whether lifestyle factors might help.

The study was published in the January 23 issue of the Archives of Neurology.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like