FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC ARCHIVE
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
These kids are all "obese" according to Britain's moronic National Health Service
28 February, 2014
Breast milk is 'no better for a baby than bottled milk' - and it INCREASES the risk of asthma, expert claims
A new round in the great breastfeeding war. This study measured IQ as a confounder -- rarely done but important. So I think its conclusions are the best yet
The benefits of breastfeeding have been exaggerated, a new study has suggested. A comparison of siblings fed differently during infancy suggests breast milk is no better than bottled milk at improving long-term health.
Dr Cynthia Colen, from Ohio State University, said her findings are not meant to challenge established ideas, but could prevent women who cannot breastfeed from feeling stigmatised.
Those promoting the 'breast is best' message, including the Department of Health, say a mother's milk wards off a host of ills. NHS leaflets given to pregnant women and new mothers claim breastfeeding protects against obesity, allergies, asthma and diabetes.
But Dr Colen's research suggests breastfed children perform no better than their siblings who are bottle-fed.
It showed they are no more likely to be obese and that they do not perform better academically.
Dr Colen also claims that children who are breastfed are more likely to develop asthma than those who are bottle-fed.
She said: `Many previous studies suffer from selection bias. They either do not or cannot statistically control for factors such as race, age, family income, mother's employment - things we know that can affect both breast-feeding and health outcomes.
`Mums with more resources - with higher levels of education and higher levels of income - and more flexibility in their daily schedules are more likely to breastfeed their children and do so for longer periods of time.'
Dr Colen said: `I'm not saying breastfeeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns.
`But if we really want to improve maternal and child health, let's also focus on things that can really do that in the long term - like subsidised day care, better maternity leave policies and more employment opportunities for low-income mothers that pay a living wage, for example.'
She used data from the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative sample of young men and women.
She analysed a total of 8,237 children made up of 7,319 siblings and 1,773 `discordant' sibling pairs, where one was breastfed with the other given a bottle.
The study measured BMI (body mass index), obesity, asthma, hyperactivity, parental attachment and behaviour as well as scores predicting academic achievement in vocabulary, reading, maths, intelligence and scholastic competence.
Across all of the families, breastfeeding resulted in better outcomes in BMI, hyperactivity, maths, reading recognition, vocabulary word identification, digit recollection, scholastic competence and obesity.
But when restricted to siblings differently fed within the same families, scores reflecting breastfeeding's positive effects on 10 of the indicators were closer to zero and not statistically significant - meaning any differences could have occurred by chance.
The researchers believe this means the siblings who were all breastfed probably performed better because of other factors, such as socioeconomic status.
The most surprising finding was that children who were breastfed were at greater risk of asthma.
However, this could be because the data relied on whether people said they had asthma, rather than whether they had been formally diagnosed with the condition.
Dr Colen said: `Instead of comparing across families we are comparing within families completely taking into account all of those characteristics - both measured and unmeasured - that differ by family such as parental education, household income and race/ethnicity.
`If breastfeeding doesn't have the impact we think it will have on long-term childhood outcomes then even though it's very important in the short-term we really need to focus on other things.
`We need to look at school quality, adequate housing and the type of employment parents have when their kids are growing up.
`We need to take a much more careful look at what happens past that first year of life and understand breastfeeding might be very difficult, even untenable, for certain groups of women.
`Rather than placing the blame at their feet let's be more realistic about what breastfeeding does and doesn't do.'
When an abject failure becomes a success
When I was young enough still to consider myself rational, I was irritated by patients who tried any remedy in desperation to save themselves from their fatal disease. I have long since mellowed and when an acquaintance of mine with glioblastoma, a rapidly fatal brain tumor, decided recently to go to India to try Ayurvedic medicine, all I could do was wish him luck - sincerely so. After all, the scientific medicine - which he would continue to take while there - offered him little enough hope, a few months at most. (This case, incidentally, illustrates an important point: alternative medicine, so called, is not generally alternative, it is additional.)
Two trials of a very expensive monoclonal antibody, bevacizumab, in glioblastoma, published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, make disappointing or even dismal reading. This antibody is directed at vascular endothelial growth factor that promotes the growth of new blood vessels; glioblastoma is a tumor particularly rich in new blood vessels, and so it was hoped that by preventing them from forming, tumor growth would either be prevented or at least slowed. Early results were promising but as has so often been the way in the history of medicine, early promise is not fulfillment of promise.
In one trial, for example, 637 patients with this terrible tumor were randomized to conventional treatment plus placebo and conventional treatment plus bevacizumab. Although the latter had a slightly longer period free of progression of the tumor, their overall length of survival was not increased, and indeed they suffered so many more side effects that the overall quality of their lives was worse. The patients taking bevacizumab survived on average 15.7 months; those taking placebo survived 16.1 months. The authors of the paper end:
"In conclusion, we did not observe an overall survival advantage first-line use of bevacizumab in patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma. Furthermore, higher rates of neurocognitive decline, increased symptom severity, and decline in health-related quality of life were found over time among patients who were treated with bevacizumab."
This makes rather odd the concluding words of an editorial that accompanies the trials in the Journal:
"Finally, it is worth noting that despite its limitations, bevacizumab remains the single most important therapeutic agent for glioblastoma since temozolemide. Ongoing and future trials will better define how and when it should be used in this population of patients for whom so few treatment options currently exist."
27 February, 2014
Taking paracetamol during pregnancy 'may raise the risk of a child developing ADHD'
Another bit of the conventional wisdom crumbles. Paracetamol/Tylenol was always promoted as a "safe" alternative to aspirin. It never was but that is increasingly becoming known
Using paracetamol during pregnancy may raise the risk of children developing ADHD, warn researchers.
Around half of women take over-the-counter painkillers during pregnancy, usually for headaches.
Researchers found that taking paracetamol (know as acetaminophen in the U.S. and the main ingredient in Tylenol) increased the risk of hyperactivity disorders by up to a third.
The risk was higher in mothers taking the painkillers for long periods while pregnant.
The international team of researchers behind a new study warn that widespread use mean the results are important but need to be confirmed by further investigations.
Paracetamol, known as acetaminophen in some countries, may act as a hormone disruptor in the womb, interfering with normal brain development.
NHS advice to pregnant women needing short-term pain relief is to take paracetamol at the lowest dose for the shortest period of time.
NHS Choices states: `There is no clear evidence that it has any harmful effects on the unborn baby.'
But the new study suggests taking the over-the-counter pills in pregnancy could be linked to ADHD, which stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
ADHD is the term given to a collection of behavioural problems linked to poor attention span including impulsiveness, restlessness and hyperactivity.
An estimated 400,000 British children have ADHD, with many prescribed drugs to try and improve their concentration at school.
The new study looked at data on more than 64,000 children and mothers in Denmark between 1996 and 2002, while parents reported behavioural problems on a questionnaire.
More than half the mothers reported using paracetamol while pregnant.
Its use was linked with a 37 per cent higher risk of hyperkinetic disorders - a severe form of ADHD.
Children of women using the painkiller were 29 per cent more at risk of eventually taking drugs to control ADHD, and 13 per cent more likely to have ADHD-like behaviours at the age of seven.
There were higher risks for the children of women who used the drug for six months or more while pregnant and higher amounts.
Taking paracetamol during pregnancy could increase the risk of ADHD by up to a third
Taking paracetamol during pregnancy could increase the risk of ADHD by up to a third
The risk of hyperkinetic disorders almost doubled and the risk for receiving ADHD drugs rose 50 per cent, says a report in JAMA Pediatrics.
Dr Zeyan Liew of the University of California, Los Angeles, who led the team, said: `Some recent studies have suggested that acetaminophen has effects on sex and other hormones, which in turn can affect neurodevelopment and cause behavioural dysfunction.
`Because the exposure and outcomes are frequent, these results are of public health relevance but further investigations are needed.'
About half of women take over-the-counter painkillers while they are pregnant
About half of women take over-the-counter painkillers while they are pregnant
Previous research has suggested painkillers including paracetamol in pregnancy may harm development of the sex organs in unborn boys.
A study found prolonged use of painkillers - two weeks or more - may contribute to an increased risk in boys born with undescended testicles.
Dr Kate Langley, Developmental and Health Psychology, Cardiff University, and co-author of an editorial on the latest research, said: `This is an interesting but preliminary study which requires further investigation to see if there really is a causal link between taking paracetamol during pregnancy and ADHD in childhood.
`These findings should therefore be taken with caution and should not change practice.
`There are many reasons why women take paracetamol during pregnancy and it is possible that it is one of those factors, rather than the taking of paracetamol itself, which leads to a higher risk of childhood ADHD.
`It may be important to take medications such as paracetamol during pregnancy and pregnant women should continue to follow advice from their own healthcare professionals.'
Professor Jim Stevenson, Emeritus Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Southampton said: `The study on a large sample of Danish mothers was carefully conducted and analysed. However, as the authors recognise, and the accompanying editorial makes plain, an association in such an observational study cannot establish a causal link.
`The study should be used as basis for further experimental research not least because exposure to paracetamol during pregnancy is so common.'
Surviving Whole Foods
My post about Whole Foods yesterday hit the spot in certain quarters so I thought an even more disrespectful post might please -- JR
Whole Foods is like Vegas. You go there to feel good but you leave broke, disoriented, and with the newfound knowledge that you have a vaginal disease.
Unlike Vegas, Whole Foods' clientele are all about mindfulness and compassion... until they get to the parking lot. Then it's war. As I pull up this morning, I see a pregnant lady on the crosswalk holding a baby and groceries. This driver swerves around her and honks. As he speeds off I catch his bumper sticker, which says 'NAMASTE'. Poor lady didn't even hear him approaching because he was driving a Prius. He crept up on her like a panther.
As the great, sliding glass doors part I am immediately smacked in the face by a wall of cool, moist air that smells of strawberries and orchids. I leave behind the concrete jungle and enter a cornucopia of organic bliss; the land of hemp milk and honey. Seriously, think about Heaven and then think about Whole Foods; they're basically the same.
The first thing I see is the great wall of kombucha -- 42 different kinds of rotten tea. Fun fact: the word kombucha is Japanese for 'I gizzed in your tea.' Anyone who's ever swallowed the glob of mucus at the end of the bottle knows exactly what I'm talking about. I believe this thing is called "The Mother," which makes it that much creepier.
Next I see the gluten-free section filled with crackers and bread made from various wheat-substitutes such as cardboard and sawdust. I skip this aisle because I'm not rich enough to have dietary restrictions. Ever notice that you don't meet poor people with special diet needs? A gluten intolerant house cleaner? A cab driver with Candida? Candida is what I call a rich, white person problem. You know you've really made it in this world when you get Candida. My personal theory is that Candida is something you get from too much hot yoga. All I'm saying is if I were a yeast, I would want to live in your yoga pants.
Next I approach the beauty aisle. There is a scary looking machine there that you put your face inside of and it tells you exactly how ugly you are. They calculate your wrinkles, sun spots, the size of your pores, etc. and compare it to other women your age. I think of myself attractive but as it turns out, I am 78 percent ugly, meaning less pretty than 78 percent of women in the world. On the popular 1-10 hotness scale used by males the world over, that makes me a 3 (if you round up, which I hope you will.) A glance at the extremely close-up picture they took of my face, in which I somehow have a glorious, blond porn mustache, tells me that 3 is about right. Especially because the left side of my face is apparently 20 percent more aged than the right. Fantastic. After contemplating ending it all here and now, I decide instead to buy their product. One bottle of delicious smelling, silky feeling creme that is maybe going to raise me from a 3 to a 4 for only $108 which is a pretty good deal when you think about it.
I grab a handful of peanut butter pretzels on my way out of this stupid aisle. I don't feel bad about pilfering these bites because of the umpteen times that I've overpaid at the salad bar and been tricked into buying $108 beauty creams. The pretzels are very fattening but I'm already in the seventieth percentile of ugly so who cares.
Next I come to the vitamin aisle which is a danger zone for any broke hypochondriac. Warning: Whole Foods keeps their best people in this section. Although you think she's a homeless person at first, that vitamin clerk is an ex-pharmaceuticals sales rep. Today she talks me into buying estrogen for my mystery mustache and Women's Acidophilus because apparently I DO have Candida after all.
I move on to the next aisle and ask the nearest Whole Foods clerk for help. He's wearing a visor inside and as if that weren't douchey enough, it has one word on it in all caps. Yup, NAMASTE. I ask him where I can find whole wheat bread. He chuckles at me "Oh, we keep the poison in aisle 7." Based solely on the attitudes of people sporting namaste paraphernalia today, I'd think it was Sanskrit for "go fuck yourself."
I pass the table where the guy invites me to join a group cleanse he's leading. For $179.99 I can not-eat not-alone... not-gonna-happen. They're doing the cleanse where you consume nothing but lemon juice, cayenne pepper and fiber pills for 10 days, what's that one called again? Oh, yeah...anorexia. I went on a cleanse once; it was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I detoxified, I purified, I lost weight. On the other hand, I fell asleep on the highway, fantasized about eating a pigeon, and crapped my pants. I think I'll stick with the whole eating thing.
I grab a couple of loaves of poison, and head to checkout. The fact that I'm at Whole Foods on a Sunday finally sinks in when I join the end of the line...halfway down the dog food aisle. I suddenly realize that I'm dying to get out of this store. Maybe it's the lonely feeling of being a carnivore in a sea of vegans, or the newfound knowledge that some people's dogs eat better than I do, but mostly I think it's the fact that Yanni has been playing literally this entire time. Like sensory deprivation, listening to Yanni seems harmless at first, enjoyable even. But two hours in, you'll chew your own ear off to make it stop.
A thousand minutes later, I get to the cashier. She is 95 percent beautiful. "Have you brought your reusable bags?" Fuck. No, they are at home with their 2 dozen once-used friends. She rings up my meat, alcohol, gluten and a wrapper from the chocolate bar I ate in line, with thinly veiled alarm. She scans my ladies acidophilus, gives me a pitying frown and whispers, "Ya know, if you wanna get rid of your Candida, you should stop feeding it." She rings me up for $313. I resist the urge to unwrap and swallow whole another $6 truffle in protest. Barely. Instead, I reach for my wallet, flash her a quiet smile and say, "Namaste."
Namaste is an Indian greeting/farewell
26 February, 2014
Cutting back on fry-ups 'reduces risk of dementia': Study finds
If you are a mouse. More information about the study here
A ‘compelling’ study has linked compounds found in fried meat and eggs with one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Bacon is particularly problematic and the suspect chemicals are also found in many cakes, biscuits and pastries.
The researchers said that reducing intake could help prevent the crippling condition – and may even help restore memory that has been lost.
The research, from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, focused on compounds called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs.
They are formed when fat, protein and sugar react on being heated and are found in particularly high levels in bacon, sausages, pizzas and burgers.
Frying and grilling is particularly bad, while boiling does not lead to them being made.
The researchers tracked the progress of a group of mice fed food containing levels of AGEs proportional to those in a Western diet and another group fed half the amount of the compound.
Their calorie intake was the same but only the mice on the AGE-rich diet suffered problems with memory, learning and co-ordination as they get older.
They also made less of an anti-ageing protein and their brains contained beta-amyloid, a sticky protein considered a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
Results of experiments on people were similarly striking. Tests on healthy pensioners showed that only those who had high amounts of AGEs in their diet became more forgetful over the coming months. [Small correlational study only]
More work is needed but the researchers said cutting back on the compounds might help improve mental sharpness and ‘combat the epidemic’ of Alzheimer’s disease.
Tom Dening, professor of dementia research at Nottingham University, said that the studies needed to prove that cutting back on AGEs helps prevent Alzheimer’s would be lengthy.
He said: ‘In the meantime, crunch those carrots and reach for the brown rice.’
Professor Derek Hill, of University College London, said: ‘These results are compelling. Because cures for Alzheimer’s disease remain a distant hope, efforts to prevent it are extremely important.’
Professor Simon Lovestone, of Oxford University, said that the solution will not be as simple as cutting back on one type of food and eating more of another.
Instead, he hopes that learning more about what goes wrong in the body and brain will lead to new drugs.
Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘This research is at an early stage, and continued investment in research is crucial to understand the significance of results like this.
‘The diseases that cause dementia are complex, and our risk of the condition is likely to be affected by a number of genetic and environmental factors that are not yet fully understood.
‘In the meantime, the best evidence suggests that a balanced diet can help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s, as part of a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and weight in check.’
Whole Foods: America’s Temple of Pseudoscience
Americans get riled up about creationists and climate change deniers, but lap up the quasi-religious snake oil at Whole Foods. It’s all pseudoscience—so why are some kinds of pseudoscience more equal than others?
If you want to write about spiritually-motivated pseudoscience in America, you head to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It’s like a Law of Journalism. The museum has inspired hundreds of book chapters and articles (some of them, admittedly, mine) since it opened up in 2007. The place is like media magnet. And our nation’s liberal, coastal journalists are so many piles of iron fillings.
But you don’t have to schlep all the way to Kentucky in order to visit America’s greatest shrine to pseudoscience. In fact, that shrine is a 15-minute trip away from most American urbanites.
I’m talking, of course, about Whole Foods Market. From the probiotics aisle to the vaguely ridiculous Organic Integrity outreach effort (more on that later), Whole Foods has all the ingredients necessary to give Richard Dawkins nightmares. And if you want a sense of how weird, and how fraught, the relationship between science, politics, and commerce is in our modern world, then there’s really no better place to go. Because anti-science isn’t just a religious, conservative phenomenon—and the way in which it crosses cultural lines can tell us a lot about why places like the Creation Museum inspire so much rage, while places like Whole Foods don’t.
My own local Whole Foods is just a block away from the campus of Duke University. Like almost everything else near downtown Durham, N.C., it’s visited by a predominantly liberal clientele that skews academic, with more science PhDs per capita than a Mensa convention.
Still, there’s a lot in your average Whole Foods that’s resolutely pseudoscientific. The homeopathy section has plenty of Latin words and mathematical terms, but many of its remedies are so diluted that, statistically speaking, they may not contain a single molecule of the substance they purport to deliver. The book section—yep, Whole Foods sells books—boasts many M.D.’s among its authors, along with titles like The Coconut Oil Miracle and Herbal Medicine, Healing, and Cancer, which was written by a theologian and based on what the author calls the Eclectic Triphasic Medical System.
You can buy chocolate with “a meld of rich goji berries and ashwagandha root to strengthen your immune system,” and bottles of ChlorOxygen chlorophyll concentrate, which “builds better blood.” There’s cereal with the kind of ingredients that are “made in a kitchen—not in a lab,” and tea designed to heal the human heart.
Whenever we talk about science and society, it helps to keep in mind that very few of us are anywhere near rational.
Nearby are eight full shelves of probiotics—live bacteria intended to improve general health. I invited a biologist friend who studies human gut bacteria to come take a look with me. She read the healing claims printed on a handful of bottles and frowned. “This is bullshit,” she said, and went off to buy some vegetables. Later, while purchasing a bag of chickpeas, I browsed among the magazine racks. There was Paleo Living, and, not far away, the latest issue of What Doctors Don’t Tell You. Pseudoscience bubbles over into anti-science. A sample headline: “Stay sharp till the end: the secret cause of Alzheimer’s.” A sample opening sentence: “We like to think that medicine works.”
At times, the Whole Foods selection slips from the pseudoscientific into the quasi-religious. It’s not just the Ezekiel 4:9 bread (its recipe drawn from the eponymous Bible verse), or Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, or Vitamineral Earth’s “Sacred Healing Food.” It’s also, at least for Jewish shoppers, the taboos that have grown up around the company’s Organic Integrity effort, all of which sound eerily like kosher law.
There’s a sign in the Durham store suggesting that shoppers bag their organic and conventional fruit separately—lest one rub off on the other—and grind their organic coffees at home—because the Whole Foods grinders process conventional coffee, too, and so might transfer some non-organic dust. “This slicer used for cutting both CONVENTIONAL and ORGANIC breads” warns a sign above the Durham location’s bread slicer. Synagogue kitchens are the only other places in which I’ve seen signs implying that level of food-separation purity.
Look, if homeopathic remedies make you feel better, take them. If the Paleo diet helps you eat fewer TV dinners, that’s great—even if the Paleo diet is probably premised more on The Flintstones than it is on any actual evidence about human evolutionary history. If non-organic crumbs bother you, avoid them. And there’s much to praise in Whole Foods’ commitment to sustainability and healthful foods.
Still: a significant portion of what Whole Foods sells is based on simple pseudoscience. And sometimes that can spill over into outright anti-science (think What Doctors Don’t Tell You, or Whole Foods’ overblown GMO campaign, which could merit its own article). If scientific accuracy in the public sphere is your jam, is there really that much of a difference between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, who seems to have made a career marketing pseudoscience about the origins of the world, and John Mackey, a founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who seems to have made a career, in part, out of marketing pseudoscience about health?
Well, no—there isn’t really much difference, if the promulgation of pseudoscience in the public sphere is, strictly speaking, the only issue at play. By the total lack of outrage over Whole Foods’ existence, and by the total saturation of outrage over the Creation Museum, it’s clear that strict scientific accuracy in the public sphere isn’t quite as important to many of us as we might believe. Just ask all those scientists in the aisles of my local Whole Foods.
So, why do many of us perceive Whole Foods and the Creation Museum so differently? The most common liberal answer to that question isn’t quite correct: namely, that creationists harm society in a way that homeopaths don’t. I’m not saying that homeopathy is especially harmful; I’m saying that creationism may be relatively harmless. In isolation, unless you’re a biologist, your thoughts on creation don’t matter terribly much to your fellow citizens; and unless you’re a physician, your reliance on Sacred Healing Food to cure all ills is your own business.
The danger is when these ideas get tied up with other, more politically muscular ideologies. Creationism often does, of course—that’s when we should worry. But as vaccine skeptics start to prompt public health crises, and GMO opponents block projects that could save lives in the developing world, it’s fair to ask how much we can disentangle Whole Foods’ pseudoscientific wares from very real, very worrying antiscientific outbursts.
Still, we let it off the hook. Why? Two reasons come to mind. The first is that Whole Foods is a for-profit business, while the Creation Museum is the manifestation of an explicitly religious and political movement. For some reason, there’s a special stream of American rage directed at ideological attacks on science that seems to evaporate when the offender is a for-profit corporation.
It wasn’t especially surprising that Bill Nye would go and debate Ken Ham; it would have been unusual had he, say, challenged executives at the biotech company Syngenta—which has seemingly been running a smear campaign against a Berkeley biologist—to a conversation about scientific integrity, or challenged Paleo Magazine’s editors to a debate about archaeology. For those of us outside the fundamentalist world, I imagine that the Creation Museum gift shop is the one part of the museum that makes some kind of sense. Well, okay, they’re trying to make money with this stuff. Meanwhile, Whole Foods responds to its customers, as any good business should.
And, second, we often have it stuck in our heads that science communicators have only failed to speak to the religious right. But while issues of science-and-society are always tied up, in some ways, with politics, they’re not bound to any particular part of the spectrum. Just ask Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., liberal political scion and vaccine skeptic extraordinaire, or Prince Charles, who pushed British health ministers to embrace homeopathic medicine.
Bringing sound data into political conversations and consumer decisions is a huge, ongoing challenge. It’s not limited to one side of the public debate. The moral is not that we should all boycott Whole Foods. It’s that whenever we talk about science and society, it helps to keep two rather humbling premises in mind: very few of us are anywhere near rational. And pretty much all of us are hypocrites.
25 February, 2014
Clean teeth can hold off arthritis: Scientists discover link between gum disease bacteria and early onset of the condition
On close reading, they do not appear to have discovered a link between teeth and arthritis. They have just found that the two share a bacterium
Brushing your teeth well could help prevent arthritis, scientists claim. Researchers found a link between the bacterium responsible for gum disease and earlier onset of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as faster progression and greater severity of the condition.
The bacterium produces an enzyme which reacts with the residue of certain proteins.
The body recognises these proteins as intruders, leading to an immune attack, the researchers from the University of Louisville’s School of Dentistry in Kentucky said.
In arthritis patients, the subsequent result is chronic inflammation responsible for bone and cartilage destruction within the joints.
Previous studies have indicated that gum disease is at least two times more prevalent in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
The bacterium, Porphyromonas gingivalis, produces a unique enzyme, peptidylarginine deiminanse (PAD).
They discovered that PAD changes residues of certain proteins into citrulline, and the body recognises these proteins as intruders, leading to an immune attack.
In rheumatoid arthritis patients, the subsequent result is chronic inflammation responsible for bone and cartilage destruction within the joints.
Researcher Dr Jan Potempa from the University of Louisville School of Dentistry Oral Health and Systemic Diseases said: 'Taken together, our results suggest that bacterial PAD may constitute the mechanistic link between P. gingivalis periodontal infection and rheumatoid arthritis, but this ground-breaking conclusion will need to be verified with further research.'
Dr Potempa and his team studied another oral bacterium, Prevotella intermedia for the same affect, but learned it did not produce PAD or the subsequent effects.
Writing in the study, published in PLOS Pathogens, Dr Potempa said he is hopeful these findings will shed new light on the treatment and prevention of rheumatoid arthritis.
Studies indicate that compared to the general population, people with periodontal disease have an increased prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis and periodontal disease is at least two times more prevalent in rheumatoid arthritis patients.
Other research has shown that a P. gingivalis infection in the mouth will precede rheumatoid arthritis and the bacterium is the likely culprit for onset and continuation of the autoimmune inflammatory responses that occur in the disease.
IVF children are just as healthy and smart as those conceived normally
And that is the usual finding -- despite attempts by haters to generate alarm
CHILDREN conceived using assisted reproductive technology (ART) grow to be as healthy and achieve similar educational outcomes to those conceived normally.
A new study comparing adult’s born through reproductive technologies, such as IVF, with non-ART adults found only minor differences between the groups.
ART babies are at increased risk of preterm birth, low birth weight and being small for gestational age. The study’s authors wanted to check whether this led to poorer physical health as they developed.
While the research found the ART group were twice as likely to be admitted to hospital in the first 18 years of life, it was not for serious illness.
“There were increased frequencies of dental extractions, tonsillectomies, hernia repairs and testicular erosion,” said the Murdoch Children’s Institute study.
However, the authors explain the discrepancy as “increased parental vigilance associated with perceived vulnerability in a much-wanted baby”.
The ART adults had an increased risk of asthma and hay fever, were slightly more likely to develop Type 1 diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome and lactose intolerance, says the research published in the journal Fertility and Sterility on Thursday.
However, the study concludes “we found little evidence of significant health disparities”.
A significant increase in attention hyperactivity disorder in ART offspring disappeared when the study accounted for the significance of male gender in the study.
There was no evidence of any difference in autism, speech or learning difficulties or in sexual maturation between the two groups.
Around 80 per cent of both groups completed Year 12 and there was no significant difference in their tertiary entrance scores.
By the time they reached their mid-to-late twenties 48 per cent of ART offspring had completed tertiary education compared to 41 per cent in the non-ART group.
“Most have grown into healthy young adults, with a quality of life and educational achievements similar to their non-ART conceived peers,” the study concludes.
Candice Reed, the first child conceived using ART in Australia, was born in 1980 and many of the children born using this method are now adults.
This study tracked 656 Victorian mothers who used ART and their 547 young adult offspring aged between 18 and 29 years.
It compared their outcomes to reports from 868 mothers and their 549 young adult offspring who were conceived without ART.
Around 3.8 per cent of Australian mothers use ART to help them conceive and every year over 30,000 babies conceived in this way are born.
More than 4.3 million children around the world have been conceived using the technology.
24 February, 2014
MEN are warned: Older dads are more likely to have 'mutant sperm'
This seems pretty dubious to me. Mutated sperm would be less fit and hence less likely to reach the egg first. Nature's own filtering system should take care of the problem proposed
The longer a man delays fatherhood, the more likely his sperm is likely to become 'mutant', researchers have warned.
They say that older fathers have a higher risk of fathering a child with a disorder such as autism or schizophrenia.
This is because mutations cause stem cells in the testicles to divide abnormally, resulting in an increasing proportion of mutant sperm as men age, New Scientist reports.
Some studies have even linked having an older father to Alzheimer's disease, bipolar disorder (previously known as manic depression), heart disease and cancer.
Now, scientists warn that a man in his 40s is twice as likely to pass down potentially disease-forming genetic mutations as a man in his 20s - indicating that the biological clock ticks for men, too.
Plenty of high-profile men have become late-life fathers, including Steve Martin at 67, David at 53 and Des O'Connor, who became a father for the fifth time at 72.
For decades, scientists have speculated about links between older fathers and birth defects. But it was only recently that a groundbreaking study, published in the respected journal Nature, proved that men undoubtedly pass on more genetic mutations to their children as they get older.
Researchers sequenced the DNA of 78 Icelandic parents and their children and found a direct correlation between the father's age and the number of mutations linked to autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia in a child's DNA.
The mother's age had no bearing on their risk - indeed, the team found that 97 per cent of all mutations in a child's DNA come from their father.
'Society has traditionally been very focused on the age of the mother,' says Dr Kari Stefansson, of Decode Genetics, a leading genetic research company, who led the study.
'But it seems that disorders such as schizophrenia and autism are actually influenced by the age of the father and not the mother.'
Dr Stefansson's report suggested that the apparently surging numbers of children diagnosed with autism may at least in part be explained by the ever-increasing age of fathers
It is thought that just as a man's memory and skin elasticity gets worse with age, the quality of his sperm seems to as well.
Crucially, unlike women who are born with a complete set of eggs, men continually make new sperm throughout their lifetime.
Every 16 days, cells in the testicles divide and the DNA in each cell is copied into a new one which is used to make new sperm.
The body is highly accurate at making an exact copy, but inevitably it sometimes makes mistakes. Some sperm will be made containing an error in the DNA - what's known as a genetic mutation.
As a man gets older, the copying process becomes tired and less efficient and his sperm contains more mutations.
And if mutated sperm is then used to form a foetus, there's more chance of problems in its development, says Professor Wilkie.
'It's a game of chance. It may be that this mutation does not occur in a critical place. But sometimes the game of chance is against you and the mutation hits a gene that will lead or predispose your child to a certain condition.'
So if the mutation is in the gene controlling brain development, for example, it can cause autism or schizophrenia.
And potentially if a mutation occurs in a gene affecting your risk of a type of cancer, it could increase the chances of the child getting it in later life.
Dr Allan Pacey, the country's leading authority on male fertility, says it's time for a wake-up call on the dangers of putting off becoming a dad. 'I can understand why couples do it, but it's bad biology.
My advice is for men to have children as young as possible - don't wait until you're in your 50s. It will make all the difference in the world to your children's health.'
Another great fad unwinds: Vitamin E supplements 'raise risk of prostate cancer by 20%... and have NO health benefits'
Men should not take high doses of vitamin E or selenium supplements because they have no health benefits and increase the risk of prostate cancer by up to a fifth, scientists have claimed.
Vitamin E, naturally found in nuts, spinach and broccoli, is taken to boost the body’s immune system and the mineral selenium, found in fish and meat, is taken to ward off heart disease.
But US researchers claim large doses of both can increase the risk of prostate cancer by 17 per cent.
This can rise to as much as 91 per cent if a man already has high levels of selenium before taking supplements.
The warning centres on high-dose supplements, with researchers saying there appear to be no risks from taking a standard multivitamin.
But nor were there any apparent benefits from the supplements.
Lead researcher Alan Kristal, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, said: ‘Men using these supplements should stop, period.
Neither selenium nor vitamin E supplementation confers any known benefits, only risks.’
The study looked in detail at a past trial, carried out to test whether extra vitamin E and selenium could help prevent prostate cancer.
But instead, researchers discovered more cases of prostate cancer among men taking 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E daily than those taking a placebo.
This is the equivalent of 363mg a day, which is 30 times the recommended daily amount.
Men with low levels of selenium were the most affected by extra vitamin E – with the supplements raising their prostate cancer risk by 63 per cent.
‘We know from several other studies that some high-dose dietary supplements – that is, supplements that provide far more than the daily recommended intakes of micronutrients – increase cancer risk.’
More than 35,000 healthy men in their 50s and older took part in the initial trial, which began in 2001. Further investigation of this data, published yesterday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, revealed the latest findings.
In the UK, the recommended daily amount of vitamin E is 12mg, and most multivitamin pills contain between 15mg and 30mg.
However, the UK Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals says the upper ‘safe’ limit is between 700 and 800mg a day – twice as much as taken in the trial.
Dr Matthew Hobbs, deputy director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said more studies were needed, but added: ‘If men are concerned about their prostate cancer risk, rather than worrying about selenium and vitamin E supplements, they should talk to a GP
23 February, 2014
I don't think that the writer below has got it completely right but the article does show the importance of skepticism
The seven foods below are ancient. But they’ve gone from being considered healthy (long ago) to unhealthy (within the last generation or two) to healthy again, even essential.
1) Coconut Oil
Old wisdom: Coconut oil is a saturated-fat body bomb that should be avoided.
New wisdom: Coconut oil can cure what ails you.
Talk about an about-face. Anyone who grew up eating such nutritious fare as SpaghettiOs, Nestle Quik and Bisquick—actually, anyone old enough to vote in the United States—probably doesn’t remember a jar of coconut oil in the cupboard, or anywhere in the family diet.
Why? Coconut oil was stigmatized after flawed studies decades ago tested partially hydrogenated coconut oil for its ill effects. Now, of course, we know that the chemical process of hydrogenation is what does a body ill. That’s true whether the oil consumed is coconut, corn, canola, soy or any other.
It turns out that unrefined coconut oil offers terrific health benefits. Yes, it is a saturated fat. But the scientific consensus on whether saturated fats are bad for us is changing. Now researchers are stressing that saturated fats like coconut oil actually lower bad cholesterol in our bodies. Studies of people in countries that consume high amounts of coconut oil have found fewer instances of heart disease than in nations, such as the United States, where coconut oil has not been a staple. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is known for its antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial properties. Coconut oil, the new wisdom says, is good for our bodies inside and out. Studies and anecdotal evidence across the blogosphere tout coconut oil as a wondrous beauty aid, which can and should be used as a moisturizer to reduce lines and wrinkles, a moisturizer for dry hair, a soap and mouthwash.
Old Wisdom: Coffee equals caffeine equals bad for you.
New Wisdom: Coffee is loaded with antioxidants and other nutrients that improve your health. Plus, a little caffeine makes the world go round.
Why? Actually, most of the world never bought into the whole caffeine/coffee scare that made so many Americans start to swear off coffee, or heaven help us, switch to decaf. But these days, the U.S., chock full of Starbucks, has come around. Several prominent studies conducted over the last few years unearthed a bounty of benefits in the average cup of joe. As everyone knows, caffeine boosts energy. Based on controlled human trials, it has also been proven to fire up the neurons and make you sharper, with improved memory, reaction time, mood, vigilance and general cognitive function. It can also boost your metabolism, lower your risk of Type II diabetes, protect you from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and lower the risk of Parkinson’s. Whew.
3) Whole Milk
Old wisdom: High-fat milk lead to obesity. Exposing children to lower-fat options keeps them leaner and healthier and instills the low-fat habit.
New Wisdom: Ha!
A study at Harvard University found that despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children drink skim or low-fat milk after age two, doing so did not make for leaner or healthier children. In fact, the study found the opposite. Kids who consumed skim milk were likely to be fatter than those who drank it whole. Turns out that skim drinkers were more likely to indulge in junk food, which spiked their blood sugar levels, leading to more cravings for junk. And so on and so on.
Old Wisdom: Salt kills. It raises blood pressures, causes hypertension and increases the risk of premature death.
New Wisdom: Salt is essential to health. Too little salt can actually lead to premature death.
The new wisdom is actually older than the old wisdom. Long before it became the number-one evildoer in the Department of Agriculture’s hit list, worse than fats, sugar and booze, salt was considered so valuable to body and soul that it was literally used as currency. Homer called it a “divine substance.” Plato described is as dear to the Gods. The Romans considered it the spice of life; a man in love was salax—in a salted state. Only fairly recently, in that oh-so-wise 20th century, did salt become the bad guy at the dinner table.
It turns out that high-sodium processed “food” is the real villain in our diets. Unrefined salt, such as Himalayan salt or raw sea salts, contain 60 or more valuable trace minerals. It supports thyroid function and a faster metabolism and speeds the elimination of cortisol, the stress hormone that causes weight gain. Did you know salt is also a natural antihistamine (a pinch on the tongue may stem an allergic reaction). Finally, unrefined salt is needed for good digestion.
Old Wisdom: Chocolate gives you pimples, makes you fat and creates heartburn.
New Wisdom: Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants.
Chocoholics of the world rejoiced when the food scientists started doing an about-face on chocolate. After a few decades on the vilified list, in 2001, scientists began doing a double take, with the New York Times reporting that the science on chocolate was up in the air. Ten years later, chocolate had moved squarely into the good-for-you column. A 2011 Cambridge University study concluded that chocolate “probably” lowers stroke rates, coronary heart disease and high blood pressure. A more recent study has found that regular chocolate consumers are often thinner than non-chocolate eaters.
No one is advising you to grab a Snickers bar for lunch, though. Eating chemically laden, sugar-bombed milk chocolate is still a no-no…for now, anyway.
Old Wisdom: Popcorn is junk food.
New Wisdom: Popcorn is a whole grain, loaded with nutrients.
Like most of the foods on this list, this one has caveats. If you consider popcorn something to douse with “butter-flavored topping” and shovel in your mouth at the multiplex, then keep it on the “bad” list. A study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest has concluded that movie theater popcorn—a medium tub, mind you—has 1,200 calories and 60 grams of the worst kind of saturated fat. And that’s before you add whatever it is that is supposed to taste like butter. That calorie count is the equivalent of three McDonald’s Quarter Pounders.
Microwave popcorn, laden with chemicals, is also bad. But homemade, air-popped (let’s add organic, for good measure) or made with good oil popcorn, well, that’s a snack of a different color. Last year, researchers at the University of Scranton revealed that homemade popcorn has more antioxidants—known as polyphenols—than fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancers.
If that isn’t enough to make popcorn addicts rejoice, popcorn is a great source of fiber (it’s a whole grain) and is low in calories. Air-popped popcorn is the healthiest of all, with only 30 calories per cup.
Old Wisdom: Eggs clog your arteries and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and early death.
New Wisdom: Nonsense! Eggs are very nearly the perfect food.
How did this one happen? A century ago, when our grandparents gathered their eggs from the backyard hens, there was no controversy. Then cholesterol became the big bugaboo, and all of a sudden, we were being lectured to limit our consumption of eggs to four a week, if any.
Last year, scientists decided to settle the matter once and for all. A meta-analysis of 17 studies on egg consumption and health discovered that eggs did not contribute—at all—to heart disease or stroke in healthy individuals. On the contrary, eggs raise our good (HDL) cholesterol numbers and change the bad (LDL) cholesterol from small and dense to large and benign. Eggs are also high in iron and protein and two antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthine, which protect against age-related eye disorders like macular degeneration and cataracts.
The key is to eat eggs from free-range, happy and healthy chickens, just like in the old days, and avoid eggs that come from sickly, antibiotic-soaked, factory farm hens.
Eating More Fat Could Save Your Life
Low-fat diets, as recommended in new obesity guidelines released last month, may actually be contributing to our nation’s obesity epidemic. Are high-fat diets the answer?
The first time I showed up at a patient’s house with a tureen of fatty bone broth, I was scared it might cause her to have a stroke. As a lifelong dieter, I firmly believed that saturated fat was the enemy. As a physician, I was trapped by dietary guidelines into recommending low-fat foods. But my patient wasn’t doing well and I had to do something radical. So I made her a big fatty meal and I hoped for the best.
What happened next won’t surprise anyone who’s ever been on the Atkin’s diet: My patient lost weight and her sugars got better. Even her asthma went away. Completely. That low-carb-high-fat (LCHF) diet saved her life.
So when the new obesity guidelines were released last month, I expected they might contain, well, some guidelines on when it’s appropriate to use a LCHF diet. But they say nothing of the sort. The new guidelines, brought to us by the same folks who delivered the now infamous cholesterol guidelines, primarily recommend calorie restriction and dietary counseling for anyone even slightly overweight—anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or more.
Yet it’s well established that calorie restriction causes rebound weight gain.
So, this recommendation could very well serve to make a nation of fat people even fatter. This is, after all, exactly what obese people tell us—the more they diet, the fatter they get. What’s more, many people now believe that along with the dangers of calorie restriction, low-fat diets themselves—the type the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends—might also be contributing to our obesity epidemic.
“While low-fat eating has increased, so have body weight and waistlines,” says Kerry Stewart, Professor of Medicine and Director of Clinical and Research Exercise Physiology at Johns Hopkins. “Based on what we know now about high carbohydrate eating, the obesity epidemic was predictable.”
And it is an epidemic (PDF): some 155 million Americans are overweight or obese (PDF).
This is a public health crisis that you might think would give us an all-hands-on-deck attitude. After all, if this were an infectious disease — a big collection of fat worms or something — it’s doubtful we’d keep recommending the same feeble treatment for decades and then blame the victims for not complying. No. We’d be scared. Scared for ourselves and our kids and our country.
We might even be frightened enough to reconsider our entire dietary approach. But the new obesity guidelines don’t address the low-fat/low-carb debate. Instead, they say there’s no good evidence to recommend any particular diet. (They say they reviewed 17 diets.) Yet, last month the Swedish obesity guidelines also came out, and after a review of 16,000 studies the Swedish committee endorsed LCHF diets as the most effective way to combat weight gain.
Our committee must have access to the same research the Swedes reviewed—so why there’s such a discrepancy is anybody’s guess. But some believe that our committee is under pressure to not reverse 30 years of AHA low-fat doctrine—even if it’s causing an epidemic. Instead, the committee took the almost comical stance of implicating practicing physicians in the obesity crisis. As the co-chair of the committee Donna Ryan, MD, explained, “primary care physicians have not been trained in obesity etiology or pathogenesis much less in its diagnosis and treatment”.
Not only is this statement somewhat laughable—last I checked, most doctors knew how to use scales — but it’s also off mark. Previous guidelines have urged doctors not to spend time on diet and lifestyle recommendations as they’re not terribly fruitful. Nevertheless, ignoring the guidelines, some doctors have found very effective ways to achieve long lasting weight loss using Atkins-type LCHF diets. And at this point good evidence is building up in their corner: LCHF diets lower blood sugar, insulin and triglycerides and raise good (HDL) cholesterol.
The improvements in cardiac risk factors notwithstanding, many physicians will remain cautious about recommending fatty diets because of the role fats may play in heart disease. After all, the only diets proven to open blocked arteries are no-added-fat vegetarian (Ornish-style) diets. Doctors are simply afraid that all that blubber is going to clog up our patients’ arteries, as I was when I threw caution to the wind and brought my patient a lamb chop and a mugful of saturated fat.
But a raft of studies now shows that saturated fat does not increase your likelihood of vascular or heart disease. And after many years, the results from the Women’s Health Initiative showed that women who ate higher levels of saturated fat actually had no increased risk of obesity or heart disease. What’s more, some doctors advocating high fat diets have shown individual reports of reversal of atherosclerosis.
This is not to say that LCHF diets will suit everyone.
Obviously, many people thrive on low fat diets. But while it’s pretty much universally acknowledged that we’re “supposed” to eat low fat diets, most Americans are overweight or obese. So it seems like low-fat diets are a prescription that most people can’t follow or won’t follow or follow and find that it just doesn’t work.
Why this is the case is a matter of both science and speculation. Some say that while giving lip-service to low-fat diets, we’ve actually increased our fat intake as our cheese and olive oil consumption have skyrocketed. But others say that overeating carbohydrates causes insulin to surge and essentially drives fat storage. This can explain why people who starve themselves can only lose minimal amounts of weight. Anyone who works with dieters—who doesn’t accuse them of lying about their food intake—will tell you that this is exactly what frustrated dieters report.
The fact that some people respond to low-fat diets and others to low carb is under active research. The current thinking is that it may be because most of us are over-producing insulin and that high levels of insulin may be causing the fat accumulation. In this case, a low-fat calorie restricted diet will be exactly the wrong prescription. On the other hand, insulin-sensitive people would account for those who respond well to low-fat diets.
At this late date, no one could possibly think this is the full story or be naïve enough to think that high-fat diets will be a panacea—and a one-size-fits-all approach might just get us into the kinds of trouble that high-carb diets have. We now know that obesity is complex — involving gut bacteria and cold viruses, hormones and sleep, culture and habit, good calories and bad calories. But it’s vital that physicians have up-to-date information to support patients as they strive to regain their health.
This is where a thoughtful set of obesity guidelines would have been helpful. Given the enormity of this problem, if there really is something that will work for even a significant portion of our people, the committee should be recommending it. The guideline committee has the ability to get the word out: for some patients, diets high in fats may be just what the doctor should order.
21 February, 2014
Our obsession with BACON could send us to an early grave, doctors warn
The usual epidemiological nonsense
Doctors have warned that our unwavering love of bacon could be sending us to an early grave. Figures released last week revealed that bacon sales in the U.S. rose by nearly 10 per cent last year to an all time record of $4 billion. And research by pork supplier supplier Smithfield found that 65 per cent of Americans were behind the idea of making bacon the country's 'national food'.
But medical experts have repeatedly warned of the dangers of eating too much processed meat, as it has been linked to cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Worse still, the legendary pairing of bacon and maple syrup is even more damaging, Harvard scientists have warned.
They say when bacon or sausages are combined with sugar, this makes our craving for the meat worse - a phenomenon known as 'food trifecta'.
This is defined as the irresistible trio of fat, salt, and sugar, Live Science reports.
Previous research has pinpointed the exact chemical reaction that makes bacon so smell so tempting. Called the Maillard reaction, it occurs between an amino acid and a reducing sugar when heated.
The acid and sugar react to release a huge amount of smells and flavour that make us salivate.
Another theory is that the meat has a special savoury taste called 'umami'. This is the Japanese word for the fifth basic sense of taste, after bitter, salty, sour and sweet - and is the main reason why we like foods such as cheese, bacon and soy sauce.
But experts are increasingly concerned about how much processed meat we are all eating.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have found that eating processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42 per cent higher risk of heart disease and a 19 per cent higher risk of Type 2 diabetes.
But they did not find any higher risk of heart disease or diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed red meat, such as from beef, pork, or lamb.
Researcher Renata Micha said: 'When we looked at average nutrients in unprocessed red and processed meats eaten in the United States, we found that they contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol.
'In contrast, processed meats contained, on average, four times more sodium (salt) and 50 per cent more nitrate preservatives.'
This suggests that differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats.'
Salt is known to increase blood pressure, a strong risk factor for heart disease.
In animal experiments, nitrate preservatives can promote hardening of the arteries and reduce glucose tolerance, effects which could increase risk of heart disease and diabetes.
To lower risk of heart attacks and diabetes, people should consider which types of meats they are eating, she said.
'Processed meats - such as bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and processed deli meats - may be the most important to avoid. Based on our findings, eating one serving per week or less would be associated with relatively small risk.'
Scientists discover the 'switch' that tells the brain to go sleep
If you are a fruit fly
Scientists think they have discovered the switch in the brain that tells our bodies when to go to sleep.
The discovery, made by neurologists at Oxford University, could pave the way for a treatment to combat sleep disorders such as insomnia.
The scientists think the switch works by regulating neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain. Described as a ‘homeostat’ which can tell when someone has been awake for too many hours, the mechanism fires when the body is tired.
Professor Gero Miesenböck, whose team conducted the research, said: ‘When you’re tired, these neurons in the brain shout loud and they send you to sleep.’
The researchers demonstrated the theory on fruit flies, removing the switch to create insomniac insects. They are convinced the same molecular system which forces neurons to fire works in the human brain.
Dr Jeffrey Donlea, who co-authored the study in the journal Neuron, added: ‘There is a similar group of neurons in a region of the human brain.
‘These neurons are also electrically active during sleep and, like the flies’ cells, are the targets of general anaesthetics that puts us to sleep.
‘It’s therefore likely that a molecular mechanism similar to the one we have discovered in flies also operates in humans.’
Researchers are now trying to find out how to activate the sleep switch is so that it can be used to treat insomnia.
20 February, 2014
Air pollution is more harmful than SMOKING for pregnant women: Exhaust fumes could cause dangerously high blood pressure
Epidemiological rubbish. Poverty not controlled for
Heavy intake of air pollutants from car exhausts could lead to an increased risk of developing high blood pressure disorders during pregnancy, according to a recent study
Scientists at the University of Florida said the worst offending pollutants include two specific types of particulate matter; carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide is emitted from power plants and industries, while most carbon monoxide is produced by car exhaust.
‘Fetal development is very sensitive to environmental factors,’ said Dr Xiaohui Xu, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the colleges of Public Health and Health Professions and Medicine.
‘That is why we wanted to do this research. Hypertension (high blood pressure), in particular, is associated with increased morbidity and mortality, causing a lot of problems for the mother and fetus, including pre-term delivery.’
Despite the serious risks to mother and baby, little is known about what specifically causes these conditions to develop in pregnant women, the researchers say.
To gain a better understanding, the researchers examined data from women who gave birth in Jacksonville, Florida, between 2004 and 2005 and environmental data from their communities. The sample included more than 22,000 pregnant women.
The researchers gauged how much pollution the women were exposed to throughout their pregnancies to measure the levels of several pollutants.
Among the sample of women, 4.7 per cent developed a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy.
Exposure to air pollutants throughout the first two trimesters of pregnancy increased women’s risk of developing one of these conditions, Dr Xu said.
They determined this after controlling other factors that could affect a woman’s risk for developing hypertension, such as socioeconomic status, exposure to co-pollutants and smoking during pregnancy.
But scientists said they could not determine conclusively whether exposure early in the pregnancy or late in the pregnancy was more likely to increase a woman’s risk for hypertension.
‘It looks like the whole period has impacts for hypertension,’ he said.
On the basis of these findings, the researchers say more air pollution control is necessary to prevent dangerous complications in pregnant women and babies.
The researchers now plan to expand their study throughout the state and also examine other conditions that could be affected by pollution.
‘We are trying to look at several outcomes,’ Dr Xu said.
‘We also want to look at preterm delivery and low birth-weight and find out what the effects of breathing contaminated air are on fetal development.’
Statins: Is the public starting to question mass medicalisation?
By James LeFanu
The drug companies will no doubt be delighted that “experts” such as Sir Rory Collins of Oxford University now recommend everyone over the age of 50 take cholesterol-lowering statins – and that, contrary to the experience of many Telegraph readers, the evidence for their many ill-effects – muscular aches and pains, memory impairment and so on – has “been refuted”.
There are encouraging signs of public resistance to this mass medicalisation, with some doctors, it would appear, having to resort to devious methods to foist drugs on their patients. Thus two readers report quite independently that their doctors did not mention the dread word “statin”, but rather suggested they take “lipid” tablets to lower their “borderline-high” cholesterol levels.
Meanwhile, inexcusable deviousness of a different sort is apparent in the efforts of family doctors to fulfil their quota for screening older patients for dementia, with one switched-on woman in her eighties being asked on two separate visits to the surgery to memorise a name and address – and then recall it at the end of the consultation. This, as it meant nothing to her, she was unable to do. “She is intimidated by these questions,” her cousin writes, “and worried she might be losing her mind.”
19 February, 2014
Cervical cancer could be prevented with an HIV drug: Tablet kills the virus that causes the disease
This was a very small trial in Africa so much more work will be needed to replicate the findings in the West. White and African reactions to drugs do sometimes differ
Cervical cancer could be prevented by a commonly-used HIV drug, scientists say. The medicine has been shown to kill-off the human papilloma virus (HPV) that leads to cervical cancer.
A husband and wife team from the University of Manchester treated women with lopinavir and found that it wiped out pre-cancerous cells in 90 per cent of trial participants with no side effects.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the name for a group of viruses that affect women's skin in their cervix, mouth and throat. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the virus. HPV is often spread during sex.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV, many of which are harmless. However, some types of HPV can disrupt the normal functioning of the cells of the cervix and can eventually trigger the onset of cancer.
Two strains of the HPV virus called HPV 16 and HPV 18 are known to be responsible for 70 per cent of all cases of cervical cancer.
These types of HPV infection have no symptoms, so many women will not realise they have the infection.
The findings, which will be presented at two conferences later this month, have been welcomed by scientists who think that in the future, women could be prescribed a drug to use at home, instead of enduring a biopsy or surgery to investigate any cervical abnormalities.
The trial took place at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) in Nairobi, Kenya.
Ian and Lynne Hampson, from the University of Manchester, joined Dr Innocent Orora Maranga at KNH, to examine 40 women with low-grade and high-grade stage pre-cancerous disease of the cervix.
The antiviral drug lopinavir is used orally to treat HIV but it was applied directly to the cervix as a pessary in the trial.
The women were treated with one capsule of the antiviral drug twice a day for two weeks. Repeat cervical smears showed a marked improvement within one month of the treatment and after three months, there was a ‘definite response’.
Out of 23 women initially diagnosed with high-grade disease, 19 returned to normal and overall there was a positive response in 91 per cent of patients.
Photographic images of the cervix before and after treatment showed clear regression of the cervical lesions and no adverse reactions were reported.
The researchers believe their findings offer a potentially cheap and self-administered treatment that could eliminate early-stage HPV infections before they have developed into cancers.
Feminists fume about euphoric properties of semen
I was originally intrigued by this story as just another confirmation of God’s good, all natural plan for human sexuality and procreation. That liberal feminists were angry about the study’s findings came as no surprise.
But then I stepped back. Really? Can nothing good come from a man, literally?
This debacle, which involves attempting to destroy a brilliant surgeon’s career without blinking, further exposes the incestuous and harmful relationship between the homosexual and population control ideologies.
The other side is all green, natural, organic, and environmentally friendly until it comes to sex. Then, they censor information if it elevates natural heterosexual sexual relations over homosexual and unnatural (contracepted) sexual relations.
The story goes that renowned surgeon Dr. Lazar Greenfield, inventor of the Greenfield Filter (which traps blood clots), wrote a piece in the February issue of Surgery News touting the positive properties of semen. According to the Huffington Post on April 25:
Dr. Greenfield noted the therapeutic effects of semen, citing research from the Archives of Sexual Behavior which found that female college students practicing unprotected sex were less likely to suffer from depression than those whose partners used condoms (as well as those who remained abstinent).
Presumably it was the closing line that caused the controversy: “So there’s a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates.”
The attempt at Jackie Mason-humor apparently didn’t sit well in certain quarters. Dr. Greenfield resigned as editor of the Surgery News and gave up his stewardship of ACS after learning that his article had spurred threats of protests from outside women’s groups….
Dr. Greenfield explained:
The editorial was a review of what I thought was some fascinating new findings related to semen, and the way in which nature is trying to promote a stronger bond between men and women. It impressed me. It seemed as though it was a gift from nature. And so that was the reason for my lighthearted comments.
Greenfield’s column has been retracted and scrubbed but can still be read here. I’m guessing his comparison of menstrual synchronization between lesbian and heterero cohabitators, in which he found the former wanting, also hurt him.
The study Greenfield cited found, according to Scientific American:
In fact, semen has a very complicated chemical profile, containing over 50 different compounds (including hormones, neurotransmitters, endorphins and immunosuppressants) each with a special function and occurring in different concentrations within the seminal plasma.
Perhaps the most striking of these compounds is the bundle of mood-enhancing chemicals in semen. There is good in this goo. Such anxiolytic chemicals include, but are by no means limited to, cortisol (known to increase affection), estrone (which elevates mood), prolactin (a natural antidepressant), oxytocin (also elevates mood), thyrotropin-releasing hormone (another antidepressant), melatonin (a sleep-inducing agent) and even serotonin (perhaps the most well-known antidepressant neurotransmitter)….
The most significant findings from this 2002 study… were these: even after adjusting for frequency of sexual intercourse, women who engaged in sex and “never” used condoms showed significantly fewer depressive symptoms than did those who “usually” or “always” used condoms.
Add to that, according to the same article:
Now, medical professionals have known for a very long time that the vagina is an ideal route for drug delivery. The reason for this is that the vagina is surrounded by an impressive vascular network. Arteries, blood vessels, and lymphatic vessels abound, and – unlike some other routes of drug administration – chemicals that are absorbed through the vaginal walls have an almost direct line to the body’s peripheral circulation system.
Oh, and there’s also sperm in there, the DNA-bearing courier. Sperm is less than 3% the total volume of semen. But as it turns out, the bath water is nearly as important as the baby.
This is all such interesting, helpful information, right? No. Greenfield’s playful Valentine’s Day column spotlighting the study’s findings was greeted by such outrage from feminist groups that, along with his other punishments, Greenfield was forced to resign as president of the American College of Surgeons on the day he was to assume the position, which they threatened to protest.
You see, lesbians hate the thought of better sex between heteros.
18 February, 2014
Type 2 diabetes may NOT be caused by suddenly piling on the pounds: Most patients 'have been overweight for years'
I have been challenging this supposed causal link for years
Type 2 diabetes might not be caused by piling on the pounds, new research suggests. Researchers discovered people who have been of a stable, but excessive, weight for many years are more likely to develop the condition than those who have recently gained a lot of weight.
As a result, they say the best way to reduce the number of cases of diabetes could be to focus on small weight reductions for the whole population rather than on major weight loss programmes for a few high-risk individuals.
Researchers at the Steno Diabetes Centre in Gentofte, Denmark, studied data from 6,705 participants of the Whitehall II cohort – a group of London-based civil servants who have been followed for more than 10 years. All of the volunteers were free of diabetes when the study started but after 10 years, 645 had been diagnosed with the disease.
The researchers looked back at recordings of their BMI during the 10 years of the study.
They discovered that the vast majority of those who had been diagnosed with diabetes – 606 people – had been overweight throughout the study. These people’s weight, however, had been stable.
Only 15 of the people who developed diabetes had gained weight continuously in the years before their diagnosis and just 26 were obese for the entire time they participated in the study.
The researchers admit that to confirm the findings they would have to study more diverse groups of people. However, they say their research gives an indication of how best to identify people at risk of diabetes.
The authors wrote: ‘Strategies focusing on small weight reductions for the entire population may be more beneficial than predominantly focusing on weight loss for high-risk individuals.’
The remarkable power of the placebo: Patients who had FAKE surgery for a broken back recovered just as well, documentary reveals
The power of suggestion has long been known to be enormous
We’ve all heard of placebos. They’re dummy pills. They can’t do anything real. After all, there’s nothing in them. At least, that’s what we thought.
But in recent years, evidence has built up to suggest that placebos can be highly effective – particularly in treating pain, depression, and even alleviating some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
And it isn’t just dummy pills that seem to be able to work: you could get life-changing improvements from a pretend potion that’s actually just water; or perhaps fake acupuncture with needles that don’t even puncture your skin.
The key is simply that you think it might help you.
But when it comes to placebos, it doesn’t get much more dramatic than what’s been called sham surgery – as Dr David Kallmes discovered a few years ago.
He’s a successful radiologist at the Mayo Clinic, one of the world’s leading hospitals – it’s where the Presidents of the United States often get treated.
For the past 15 years, he’s been fixing broken backs by injecting them with a special kind of medical cement.
Dr Kallmes regularly performed the procedure – called vertebroplasty – and found it hugely effective.
'We saw terrific results from the procedure, really amazing results,' he told me.
However, there were some questions as to exactly what was going on – because some people seemed to get better even when the operations went horribly wrong.
We’ve all heard of those calamitous procedures where someone has the wrong leg amputated. Well occasionally, people in need of vertebroplasty had the wrong vertebra filled with cement.
And yet it still worked.
As Dr Kallmes rather delicately puts it: 'There was some reason to suspect that there were numerous factors at play in the apparent effectiveness of the cement'.
He decided to do something very unusual – something that most doctors would be incredibly nervous about, but something that a good scientist can’t resist: he decided to conduct an experiment to see whether vertebroplasty was any more effective than a placebo.
He designed a trial in which some patients would be given genuine vertebroplasty, and some would be given a placebo.
But in this case the placebo couldn’t be a dummy pill, it would have to be a fake operation.
It was important that the 130 patients on the trial didn’t know whether they were having the real thing or the placebo.
This meant that Dr Kallmes had to develop an elaborate ruse to ensure that patients wouldn’t work out which group they were in.
All patients were prepared for their ‘operation’ in the same way; they were wheeled into theatre, and given a local anaesthetic in their back.
It was only at that stage that it was decided whether or not they’d have the placebo or the vertebroplasty, and it was a computer that randomly decided their future.
Even the doctors didn’t yet know whether they were about to perform a real procedure, or whether they’d just be pretending.
'In both cases,' says Kallmes, 'No matter how they were randomised [i.e. which operation they were having, the real or the fake], we then opened the cement, which has a very strong odour like nail polish remover, to really simulate it for everybody in the room.'
Half the patients then received the real operation; the other half experienced theatre, but not of the operating kind.
Dr Kallmes explains: 'If they were randomised to placebo, we had a script that we followed, we pressed on the back and said okay ma’am, the cement is going in now, everything’s going fine, things are going well, a few more minutes here, okay we're all done.'
It almost sounds like a child’s game of doctors and nurses.
For Bonnie Anderson, one of the patients on the trial, it would have seemed impossible that play-acting could give her the relief she needed.
After slipping in her kitchen, she’d cracked a vertebra and was in immense pain, barely able to move. 'I couldn’t stand up straight, I’d have to hold onto something. The pain was just very, very severe,' she said.
What’s more, Bonnie had actually had a real vertebroplasty the year before, when a different vertebra had fractured. She knew what to expect from the procedure. It wouldn’t be easy to fool her.
And yet for Bonnie, the effectiveness of the placebo – though she didn’t know that’s what it was – was clear. 'Within a week….I was able to play golf, I took it a little easy, but I was able to play golf almost every day.'
At 76 years old, as she was at the time of the trial, a game of golf every day suggests a fairly effective operation…
In fact, Bonnie noticed no difference in pain relief between the real thing, and the placebo.
And she wasn’t the only one for whom the pretend procedure was so effective. As Dr Kallmes sums up: 'There was no statistically significant difference in degree of pain relief between the patients who underwent vertebroplasty and placebo.
'And more importantly, there was no statistically significant difference in improvement in function between the patients who underwent vertebroplasty and placebo.'
To be clear, there’s no suggestion that the pretend operation was healing people’s broken bones.
The assumption is that it worked because it relieved patients of their pain long enough for the bone to then heal naturally.
Nonetheless, the results shocked the medical community – after all, doctors around the world had performed vertebroplasties on over a million people.
Coincidentally, at the same time as Dr Kallmes was doing his trial in the U.S., another scientist was doing a similar study in Australia. Once again, vertebroplasty failed to do better than a placebo.
Normally, if a pill or a procedure doesn’t beat a placebo, we’d assume that it doesn’t work – after all, it’s no better than a dummy pill, or a pretend procedure.
The difficulty here is that it wasn’t the case that neither vertebroplasty nor the placebo worked; rather, they both worked.
Patients who experienced vertebroplasty or the placebo both got better than if they’d had no treatment.
As Kallmes says, 'the drastic diminution in pain at 24 hours in our study suggests that the procedures had immediate benefit.
'We published the three-day outcomes, which also show marked decrease in pain.' That steep drop wouldn’t be expected if the patients had just been left to heal naturally.
The fact that a pretend procedure is considerably more useful than doing nothing at all has led to an interesting situation for Dr Kallmes and his colleagues: insurance companies are now reluctant to pay for the cost of a vertebroplasty – a few thousand dollars is a lot of money for a medical procedure that’s no more effective than something an actor could do.
And yet whether its effects are due to the cement or to the placebo effect, Dr Kallmes knows that vertebroplasty is still useful.
The fact is, there aren’t really any other options: he can’t perform the pretend procedures outside of the trial as it would be immoral to lie to patients and trick them about the treatment they’re receiving.
As Dr Kallmes acknowledges, 'We don’t have much else to offer these patients.'
And so even though he found it to be no more use than a pretend procedure, Dr Kallmes, is still performing vertebroplasties.
Amazingly, it isn’t the only surgical procedure that’s been found to be no more effective than a placebo.
A well-reviewed Finnish study recently found that one of the world’s most common orthopaedic operations – arthroscopic partial meniscectomy of the knee – is no more effective than ‘sham surgery’.
Surprising though this is, there’s certainly no suggestion that the benefits of many other surgeries might be entirely due to the placebo effect. No one would argue that a pretend operation could remove a tumour, for instance.
But doctors and scientists are starting to become more aware of the power of the placebo effect – particularly in surgery, where our hopes and expectations of a dramatic recovery are at their highest.
There’s no doubt that there’s still an enormous amount we don’t know about placebos and how they work. Why do some people respond so well, and others not at all? Do our genes play a role? What are the exact mechanisms through which placebos work?
But at least now, instead of seeing a placebo effect as a statistical tool to develop new drugs and treatments, scientists are starting to investigate how placebos work.
And the more we find out, the better our chance of harnessing their power, and making the most of our bodies’ abilities to heal themselves.
17 February, 2014
West Virginia chemical spill: We have enough information to manage the risk
In a prior post, I addressed the background related to the recent chemical spill that contaminated drinking water in West Virginia, and I highlighted why more regulation would not do much good. But we continue to hear that we need more regulation because we don’t have enough information about this chemical and thousands of others. Such claims divert our attention from the real issue: failure to properly implement the many emergency planning laws and programs on the books.
In any case, the claim is wrong. There is enough information about this chemical to manage the risks, and keep them low. But public officials did not effectively communicate the fact that it is the dose that makes the poison. Public exposure to the chemical mixture involved in this spill — crude MCHM — is too low to pose any long-term health risks, and worker exposure is managed by proper work practices regulated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). The only time the public experiences any exposure to this chemical — which is designed for industrial use only — is in the case of spills.
In this situation, public exposure was short-term, temporary, and quickly managed. Health effects involved temporary skin and eye irritations. Although official numbers are not yet available, Ken Ward of The Charleston Gazette reported that public officials said that the number of individuals affected was between 450 and 500 cases. If that is true, the spill resulted in short-term health effects among 0.17 percent of the population. There are likely no significant long-term risks from these exposures since health effects like cancer require relatively high, long-term exposures. It is also worth noting that this chemical has been used safely for decades without any evidence of serious health effects.
This perspective does not diminish the fact that thousands of people were inconvenienced and frightened and that many small businesses suffered adverse impacts. Unfortunately, poor communications from public health officials and politicians increased fear and made things worse.
Still the news stories focused on lack of information. Some said that the Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS), which employers must provide to workers on how handle chemicals per OSHA regulations, for crude MCHM is grossly inadequate. Supposedly, the data sheet lacked necessary details about all the potential risks, particularly the potential long-term risks and complete toxicological data that consumers and workers need. In reality, the MSDS contained enough information to ensure proper and safe handling of the chemical, which is what it is designed to do. It is inappropriate to use this document as “evidence” that we do not know enough about this chemical, because the MSDS is not designed to contain all that information. Rather, it is designed to communicate imminent hazards to workers and provide guidelines for chemical handing to minimize both short- and long-term health risks to workers.
The MSDS covering the chemicals in the crude MCHM mixture does in fact provide information about the hazards and clear guidelines on the risks to workers and methods to control them, including controlling exposure to prevent any problems. It is true that some lines in at least one version (there are several formats for these forms) of the MSDS say, “no data available,” but that does not mean no data exists about the mixture’s components or that we need to worry when exposure is controlled according to the guidelines in the data sheet.
And despite claims to the contrary, there is plenty of toxicological data to indicate that crude MHCM is relatively low risk. The manufacturer, Eastman Chemical, voluntarily submitted 13 studies on crude MCHM during the 1990s to the EPA. The company explains on its website that it did not originally release this data to the public because it was proprietary and it did not want to provide it to competitors for free. Eastman shared this data with public officials and in fact had communicated and explained it all to the local officials immediately when they were contacted after the release was discovered.
After the spill, Eastman made all of these studies publicly available on its website, perhaps because media hype wrongly suggested the company had done little to no research. However, this information is very technical and not particularly helpful to consumers anyway. It was always available to regulators who are equipped to understand and use it. It is worth noting that at any point in time, the EPA could have demanded more information on crude MCHM under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but it did not bother perhaps because of its relatively low risk and because it is only used inside industrial operations.
The federal government has also conducted research on the main chemical in the mixture, 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, which makes up 68 to 89 percent of the mixture. The U.S. National Library of Medicine lists the results of 86 tests, of which 78 found no significant toxicological effects on animal test subjects and the rest were inconclusive, underscoring the relatively low risk associated with this chemical. A summary of toxicological data is also available on the Library of Medicine’s Hazardous Substances Data Bank. This information may be technical and hard to understand for the average person, but that does not mean it doesn’t exist and isn’t available to the people who understand it and need it to protect the rest of us.
Number of chemicals linked to problems such as autism DOUBLES in just seven years
The number of industrial chemicals known to trigger brain development problems like autism has doubled in just seven years, experts warned today.
A new study suggests toxic chemicals may be triggering increases in neurological disabilities among children, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia.
The researchers warn that chemical safety checks need to be tightened up around the world to protect our vulnerable youngsters from a 'silent epidemic' of brain disorders.
Their work also found that the list of chemicals known to damage the human brain but not regulated to safeguard children had also risen from 202 to 214. These substances are found in everyday items including food, clothing, furniture and toys.
'The greatest concern is the large numbers of children who are affected by toxic damage to brain development in the absence of a formal diagnosis,' said Dr Philippe Grandjean, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. 'They suffer reduced attention span, delayed development, and poor school performance. 'Industrial chemicals are now emerging as likely causes.'
He and his co-authors are calling for universal legal requirements forcing manufacturers to prove that all existing and new industrial chemicals are non-toxic before they reach the market place.
In the EU, the Reach (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) regulations already impose such rules.
But without them being applied globally, the world faces a 'pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity', warned Dr Grandjean.
'Current chemical regulations are woefully inadequate to safeguard children whose developing brains are uniquely vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment,' Dr Grandjean pointed out.
Neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia and cerebral palsy affect one in six children worldwide.
Growing evidence strongly links these conditions to childhood exposure to hazardous chemicals such as mercury, lead, solvents and pesticides, say the scientists writing in the journal The Lancet Neurology.
Dr Grandjean and co-author Dr Philip Landrigan from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York believe this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The vast majority of the more than 80,000 industrial chemicals in widespread use in the US have never been tested for their toxic effects on the developing foetus or child, they argue.
'The only way to reduce toxic contamination is to ensure mandatory developmental neurotoxicity testing of existing and new chemicals before they come into the marketplace', said Dr Landrigan.
'Such a precautionary approach would mean that early indications of a potentially serious toxic effect would lead to strong regulations, which could be relaxed should subsequent evidence show less harm.'
A new international prevention strategy is needed that places the burden of responsibility on chemical producers rather than governments, say the experts.
The study outlines possible links between these newly recognised neurotoxicants and negative health effects on children.
Manganese is associated with diminished intellectual function and impaired motor skills, while solvents are linked to hyperactivity and aggressive behaviour and certain types of pesticides may cause cognitive delays.
They conclude: 'The total number of neurotoxic substances now recognised almost certainly represents an underestimate of the true number of developmental neurotoxicants that have been released into the global environment.
'Our very great concern is that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognised toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviours, truncating future achievements, and damaging societies, perhaps most seriously in developing countries.'
But Prof Andy Smith, senior scientist at the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit in Leicester, advised caution over the U.S. study's shocking findings.
'The epidemiological studies that this review looked at have reported links between toxicity of synthetic chemicals and brain development differences.
'However, these studies mostly identify associations rather than causal relationships. As usual thousands of chemicals of "natural" source are not considered.
'The implication that present exposure to minute levels of many thousands of synthetic chemicals, even as mixtures, are strong drivers of highly complex neurological disorders and intelligence should be considered with reservation.'
16 February, 2014
Here we go again …
The cult of the vicitim is alive and well in the US. It’s been fostered by politicians and lawyers who are open to the idea that one’s problems, whatever they are, are the fault of someone else.
And, given that doing so gives the pols more power (and the lawyers more money), the field is open for exploitation. Remember the tobacco settlement? Well guess who is next and why:
"Lawyers are pitching state attorneys general in 16 states with a radical idea: make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs.
It’s a move straight from the playbook of the Big Tobacco takedown of the 1990s, which ended in a $246 billion settlement with 46 states, a ban on cigarette marketing to young people and the Food and Drug Administration stepping in to regulate."
Yes, getting fat is the fault of “big food”. Being obese is just not your fault. So lets soak “Big Food” (and raise already high grocery prices through the roof, shall we?):
“I believe that this is the most promising strategy to lighten the economic burden of obesity on states and taxpayers and to negotiate broader public health policy objectives,” said Paul McDonald, a partner at Valorem Law Group in Chicago, who is leading the charge.
McDonald’s firm has sent proposals to AGs from California to Mississippi explaining how suing “big food” could help their states close budget gaps as billions in Medicaid expenditures eat a growing share of tax revenues.
In a letter to Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane last year, McDonald noted that the state faced a $3.7 billion budget shortfall in 2012 and had to cut back on certain services. The state’s total Medicaid burden that year was $10 billion — and getting a piece of that back could help close the gap."
Yes friends it is the “most promising strategy to lighten the economic burden on the states and taxapayers” … say what? Taxpayers? Aren’t they the one’s who will foot the bill for the “Big Food” pass-through of cost to litigate this idea and then, if the lawyers are successful, pay the settlement?
Name someone you know who isn’t a “food adicit” and doesn’t buy food from “Big Food”, will you? I’d be interested to meet them.
In the meantime, if this guy is successful in selling this to state AGs (and I’d not be surprised if they bit), the cost of food will go up as the cost of litigating this nonsense rises. After all, Big Government is now in charge of health care costs (something they’ve actually driven up) and are desperate for ways to make it cheaper.
You’re just a victim, slugger. And these guys have your best interests at heart, don’t you know? Let the demonization of Big Food begin.
As an aside, it is a bit ironic that the laywer pushing this full employment for lawyers scheme is named McDonald, no?
Harvard Study: Fluoride lowers children’s intelligence by 7 IQ Points
This is an old-old controversy and most of the "anti" arguments (mostly epidemiological) are rehearsed below. What it overlooks is that the average IQ in Western nations is remarkably uniform -- even though some nations use fluoride and some do not
The Harvard School for Public Health reports:
In a meta-analysis, researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and China Medical University in Shenyang for the first time combined 27 studies and found strong indications that fluoride may adversely affect cognitive development in children. Based on the findings, the authors say that this risk should not be ignored, and that more research on fluoride’s impact on the developing brain is warranted.
The study was published online in Environmental Health Perspectives on July 20, 2012.
Environmental Health Perspectives is a publication of the United States National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Harvard’s announcement continues:
The average loss in IQ was reported as a standardized weighted mean difference of 0.45, which would be approximately equivalent to seven IQ points for commonly used IQ scores with a standard deviation of 15. Some studies suggested that even slightly increased fluoride exposure could be toxic to the brain. Thus, children in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas. The children studied were up to 14 years of age, but the investigators speculate that any toxic effect on brain development may have happened earlier, and that the brain may not be fully capable of compensating for the toxicity.“Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other poisons that cause chemical brain drain,” Grandjean says. “The effect of each toxicant may seem small, but the combined damage on a population scale can be serious, especially because the brain power of the next generation is crucial to all of us.”
Indeed, the following video interviewing National Research Council scientists, a Nobel laureate in medicine, a professor of dentistry and other professionals summarizes the evidence fairly succinctly … and makes the case that our understanding of the damage fluoride can cause to our brains is like our growing understanding in the 1970s of the dangers of lead:
Numerous other government reports have shown fluoride’s adverse impacts on intelligence:
[A] 2006 National Academy of Science [report ] reviews the scientific studies which have been performed on fluoride, and concludes:
It is apparent that fluorides have the ability to interfere with the functions of the brain and the body by direct and indirect means. (bottom of page 222).
The NAS report also notes that fluoride may actually impair intelligence, and that more testing should be done in this regard.
Indeed, studies from around the world continue to find that exposure to sodium fluoride – especially in the very young – lowers IQ. See this and this. The same is true for rats exposed to fluoride. See this and this. And see the studies listed here.
Dr. Vyvyan Howard – a PhD fetal pathologist, who is a professor of developmental toxico-pathology at the University of Liverpool and University of Ulster, president of the International Society of Doctors for the Environment and former president of the Royal Microscopical Society and the International Society for Stereology, and general editor of the Journal of Microscopy – said in a 2008 Canadian television interview (short, worthwhile video at the link) that studies done in several countries show that children’s IQ are likely to be lower in high natural water fluoride areas.
He said that these studies are plausible because fluoride is known to affect the thyroid hormone which affects intelligence and fluoride is also a known neurotoxicant. Such studies have not been conducted in countries that artificially fluoridate the water such as the US, UK and Canada, but should be, he said.
And as the International Business Times noted last month on the newest Chinese study on fluoride:
Exposure to fluoride may lower children’s intelligence, says a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Fluoride is added to 70 percent of U.S. public drinking water supplies.
About 28 percent of the children in the low-fluoride area scored as bright, normal or higher intelligence compared to only 8 percent in the “high” fluoride area of Wamaio.
In the high-fluoride city, 15 percent had scores indicating mental retardation and only 6 percent in the low-fluoride city. The authors of the study eliminated both lead exposure and iodine deficiency as possible causes for the lowered IQs.
One scientist – Jennifer Luke – alleged in a 2001 scientific article that fluoride accumulates in the brain (specifically, in the structure of the pineal gland) more than it accumulates in our bones. In other words, she implies that fluoride may accumulate more in the brain than in the teeth, doing more harm than good (here’s Luke’s 1997 PhD dissertation on the topic.)
The 2006 National Academy of Sciences report corroborates some of Luke’s allegations:
As with other calcifying tissues, the pineal gland can accumulate fluoride (Luke 1997, 2001). Fluoride has been shown to be present in the pineal glands of older people (14-875 mg of fluoride per kg of gland in persons aged 72-100 years), with the fluoride concentrations being positively related to the calcium concentrations in the pineal gland, but not to the bone fluoride, suggesting that pineal fluoride is not necessarily a function of cumulative fluoride exposure of the individual (Luke 1997, 2001). Fluoride has not been measured in the pineal glands of children or young adults, nor has there been any investigation of the relationship between pineal fluoride concentrations and either recent or cumulative fluoride intakes.
Donald Miller – cardiac surgeon and Professor of Surgery at the University of Washington – alleges:
Fluoride … inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase in the brain, which is involved in transmitting signals along nerve cells.
Fluoride also damages the brain, both directly and indirectly. Rats given fluoridated water at a dose of 4 ppm develop symptoms resembling attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. High concentrations of fluoride accumulate in the pineal gland, which produces serotonin and melatonin.
People with Alzheimer’s disease have high levels of aluminum in their brains. Fluoride combines with aluminum in drinking water and takes it through the blood-brain barrier into the brain. Dr. Russell Blaylock, MD, a neurosurgeon, spells out in chilling detail the danger fluoride poses to one’s brain and health in general in his book Health and Nutrition Secrets that can Save Your Life (2002).
Time Magazine notes:
What has also changed is how much toxicologists know about the harmful effects of fluoride compounds. Ingested in high doses, fluoride is indisputably toxic; it was once commonly used in rat poison. Hydrogen fluoride is regulated as a hazardous pollutant in emissions from chemical plants and has been linked to respiratory illness. Even in toothpaste, sodium fluoride is a health concern. In 1997 the Food and Drug Administration toughened the warning on every tube to read, “If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a poison-control center right away.”
ABC News from Raleigh-Durham reports:
Study after study dating back to the 80s from respected academic and scientific institutions that connect fluoride to health dangers. Some of the studies were funded by the government. They suggest fluoride can be linked to brain, blood and bone deficiencies in humans.
“EPA’s drinking water standards are supposed to protect all persons against anticipated adverse health effects of the contaminant in question,” explained Kathleen Thiessen – one of the scientists who worked on the 400-page study. “And we concluded after three years worth of work that the drinking water standard for fluoride was not protected and cannot be assumed to be safe for humans.”
Thiessen said the EPA was warned about potential fluoride health dangers by one of its own chemists more than a decade ago. Dr. William Hirzy testified before a Senate subcommittee in 2000. He was representing the views of EPA scientists and staff who analyze hazards in the environment.
“In 1997, we voted to oppose fluoridation, and our opposition has grown stronger as more adverse data on the practice has come in,” said Hirzy.
“The CDC and others say whatever beneficial effect there is from fluoride is from topical use. It’s not from swallowing it. It never has been from swallowing it,” said Thiessen.
The I-Team discovered most western countries do not fluoridate their water. Dental records kept by the World Health Organization show tooth decay in those countries has declined at the same rate as here in the United States – where we do fluoridate our water.
Indeed, an overwhelming number of scientific studies conclude that cavity levels are falling worldwide … even in countries which don’t fluoridate water. Specifically, the scientific literature shows that – when fluoridation of water supplies is stopped – cavities do not increase (but may in some cases actually decrease). See this, this, this, this, this and this.
No wonder more and more countries are stopping fluoridation.
In fact, many prominent leaders of the pro-water fluoridation movement have recently admitted publicly that they were wrong. That includes:
John Colquhoun, DDS, Principal Dental Officer for Auckland, New Zealand and chair of that country’s Fluoridation Promotion Committee, reviewed New Zealand’s dental statistics in an effort to convince skeptics that fluoridation was beneficial and found that tooth decay rates were the same in fluoridated and nonfluoridated places, which prompted him to re-examine the classic fluoridation studies. He withdrew his support for it in “Why I Changed my Mind About Water Fluoridation” (Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 1997;41:29—44).
Richard G. Foulkes, MD, a health care administrator and former assistant professor in the Department of Health Care and Epidemiology at the University of British Columbia also switched from pro to anti-water fluoridation after studying the issue.
And Dr. Hardy Limeback PhD, DDS – one of the 12 scientists who served on the 2006 National Academy of Sciences review of fluoride, and Head of Preventive Dentistry at University of Toronto – wrote “Why I am Now Officially Opposed to Adding Fluoride to Drinking Water”
14 February, 2014
The great statins divide: As go-ahead's given for one in four adults to be offered heart drug, one doctor says this mass pill-popping is folly...
The man in my consulting room was in his mid-50s and had arrived complaining of severe chest pain. ‘I’ve had it for a while now, doctor,’ he said, grimacing, ‘it won’t go away.’
I glanced at his notes — an angiogram had showed that his heart was fine, while an endoscopy had revealed there was nothing untoward going on in his oesophagus or stomach. Then I asked what drugs he was taking regularly. ‘Well, nothing really?.?.?. just statins.’
That was almost certainly the culprit. I asked him to stop taking them for a fortnight, which, despite protests from his GP, he did and, lo and behold, two weeks later the patient was pain-free.
I recommended he embrace the so-called Mediterranean diet and exercise a little more, and he went away a happy and healthy middle-aged man.
If NICE (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence) gets its way, that scenario could be needlessly played out in GP surgeries and hospital consulting rooms hundreds of thousands of times a year. It would mean 12 million of us taking a little pill before bed, five million more than take statins today.
That’s five million more patients for the NHS to keep an eye on, five million more people who, despite the fact many will be in good health, have been well and truly ‘medicalised’ and face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives on daily medication.
In making its recommendation, NICE seems to be siding firmly with the drug companies and relying on industry- sponsored statistics which consistently under-report — some would even say hide — the risk of side-effects.
These statistics will tell you that perhaps one in 10,000 patients taking statins will suffer severe muscular pain as a side-effect.
In contrast, reliable data from the real world, published recently in the British Medical Journal and backed up by anecdotal evidence from my experience as a cardiac physician, suggests that the real figure for serious side-effects associated with statin use is closer to one in five.
In other words, if NICE succeeds in turning five million middle-aged and predominantly healthy men and women into statin-popping patients, then one million of them will be back — just like my fiftysomething patient — in surgeries and consulting rooms, complaining of side-effects that, as well as muscle pain, include digestive problems, short-term memory loss, erectile dysfunction, sleep disorders, cataracts (mainly in women) and even type 2 diabetes.
The drug companies will tell you how cheap statins are — just 10p a day — but that completely ignores the costs of the follow-up appointments and hospital investigations that patients suffering from such side-effects will require.
With even NICE admitting that 140 people will have to take statins to prevent just one of them having a heart attack or stroke, that’s 139 people taking them for no good reason, running the risk of unpleasant side-effects in the process while all the time taxpayers pick up the ever-growing bill for looking after them.
But NICE also seems to be ignoring serious doubts about how effective statins are.
Yes, they can lower cholesterol levels (they work by inhibiting an enzyme that produces cholesterol in the liver), but real-world data show they have absolutely no effect on either overall death rates or rates of serious illness.
The advocates of statins will point to falling death rates from heart attacks and strokes in recent years but many clinicians — myself included — believe that death rates are falling not because of the increased use of statins, but because of the decrease in smoking (a smoker is 50 per cent more likely to die from a heart attack than a non-smoker who’s had a heart attack) and more effective intervention in Accident and Emergency.
Good medicine involves the right treatment being given to the right patient at the right time, and I’m the first to admit that statins have an important role to play when it comes to the care of patients who have either had heart attacks or have been diagnosed with heart disease.
But giving them to millions of reasonably healthy people is not only medically dubious, it also risks sending out entirely the wrong message to those who, as they approach middle-age, ought to be giving very serious thought to their own diet and lifestyle.
The next big decrease in deaths from heart attacks won’t be brought about by doling out statins but by doing battle with the biggest — and still growing — health problem that we, in common with other Western nations, face: obesity.
Being overweight and having a poor diet causes more serious health problems than alcohol and smoking put together, with obesity associated with such serious conditions as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
My biggest worry about statins is that people will see them as a magic pill that allows them to tuck into three pizzas a night and umpteen hamburgers with impunity. But they aren’t. People who want to take care of their health, need to make changes themselves.
It’s not that difficult. The Mediterranean diet simply involves more olive oil, more nuts, two to three portions of oily fish a week and lots of fruit and vegetables, while cutting out refined sugars and carbohydrates (so no white bread, rice or pasta) and processed foods laden with fats and salt.
As for exercise, I’m not talking about training for a marathon — a brisk 20-minute daily walk will do great things for your cardiac health.
Make those sort of lifestyle changes and — whatever NICE says — you won’t need those statins at all.
£1-a-month drug could HALVE risk of prostate cancer: Heart failure medication 'stops cancer cells growing'
A drug that costs little more than £1 a month could reduce a man's chances of developing prostate cancer by half, new research shows.
The drug, called digoxin, is already widely used to treat thousands of patients with heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. It is made from chemicals originally derived from foxgloves, one of Britain's best-known flowering plants.
The latest breakthrough, by scientists in the U.S., suggests men who take the drug every day may be much less likely to develop a prostate tumour.
It's thought that digoxin stops prostate cancer cells from growing by lowering levels of a protein called HIF-1. This protein is vital for malignant cells to flourish because it controls the growth of new blood vessels that feed the tumour with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive.
The findings, published in the journal The Prostate, are in line with a 2011 study which found the same drug appeared to have a powerful effect on breast cancer - also by blocking the effects of the HIF-1 protein.
It could mean the drug, for which nearly five million NHS prescriptions are issued every year, could one day be used alongside other treatments in the early stages of cancer.
Nearly 40,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK and 10,000 men die from it - the equivalent of more than one an hour. The risks increase with age, with men over 50 more likely to develop a tumour, and there is a strong genetic element to it.
In a bid to find new ways of beating the disease, scientists have been exploring the powers of existing drugs - such as digoxin - that are already used for other diseases and are therefore cheap and readily available.
In 1785, country doctor William Withering noticed a remarkable improvement in a patient with congestive heart failure after they took a traditional herbal remedy made from foxglove.
He identified that the active ingredient was a substance called digitalis and wrote about his findings more than 200 years ago in a book entitled 'An account of the foxglove and some of its medical uses'.
Drug company giants like GlaxoSmithKline eventually turned it into a tablet called digoxin, used for heart failure as well as atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm that increases the risk of stroke. It has been used for decades on the NHS and has been taken by millions of patients with heart defects -costing around £1.30 for a 28-day supply.
Now the hope is it could tackle cancer too. However, the drug can have side effects such as nausea, headaches and breast enlargement in men and has even been linked with an increased risk of death from cardiac conditions in some people.
It's unlikely to be given to healthy men to prevent tumours but could be used alongside other treatments when cancer has first been diagnosed.
Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, both in Seattle, looked at just over 1,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer between 2002 and 2005.
They studied health records to see how many had been taking digoxin for heart conditions before they fell ill with cancer and compared the results with a similar-sized group of cancer-free men from the area.
The results showed that men on the drug were between 42 per cent and 56 per cent less likely to develop a prostate tumour, even when researchers allowed for other factors that might increase the risks - such as having a family history of the disease.
Their results also match those from a team at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who in 2011 found digoxin appeared to stop the growth of prostate cancer in nearly one in four men.
In a report on the latest data researchers said: 'These findings support the growing evidence that digoxin has potential anti-tumour activity. Larger studies are warranted to evaluate the potential role of the drug in relation to prostate cancer development and progression.'
Cancer Research UK said it was too early to say if the drug could be used to prevent prostate cancer and stressed the numbers involved in the study were small.
Health information officer Dr Indi Ghangrekar said: 'If men are worried about their risk of prostate cancer, or notice any unusual or persistent bodily changes, like difficulty passing urine or needing to urinate more often, they should talk to a doctor.'
13 February, 2014
The latest episode in bad official advice
Theory trumps the facts again
Twelve million people will be told to take statins under controversial new NHS guidelines.
Draft proposals from health watchdogs mean the vast majority of men aged over 50 and most women over the age of 60 are likely to be advised to take the drugs to guard against strokes and heart disease.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has cut the “risk threshold” for such drugs in half - meaning that millions more patients with a relatively low risk of heart disease will in future be urged to take cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Experts said the changes mean the number of patients advised to take the drugs is likely to rise from seven million to 12 million, leaving one in four adults on the medication.
Current medical guidance says anyone with a 20 per cent risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years should be offered statins.
Under the proposed changes, those with a 10 per cent risk of such disease within a decade will be advised by their GP to take the drugs.
Experts said this will mean that the vast majority of men in their 50s, and most women over 60, will meet the risk threshold.
Britain is already the “statins capital” of Europe - with the second highest prescribing levels in the Western world, amid spiralling obesity and aggressive prescribing of the medication by GPs, whose pay is linked to take-up of the pills.
The drugs are the most commonly prescribed medication in Britain, costing the NHS £450 million a year.
Studies suggest that 83 per cent of men aged 50 and 56 per cent of women aged 60 will meet the new risk threshold, which is calculated by assessing factors including age, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and weight.
Dr David Wald, a cardiologist at Queen Mary, University of London, said that it would be better to scrap the complex assessments proposed, and instead simply hand out pills on the basis of age.
He said: “The guidelines are too complicated. It would be simpler and less costly to offer preventive treatment once a person has reached a certain age - say age 50 or 55 - since almost all heart attacks and strokes occur over 50.”
Shah Ebrahim, professor of public health at the London School of Economics, said the recommendations were necessary - but a sad indictment of modern lifestyles in this country.
He said: “It is a concern to have to mass medicalise the whole of the British public in this way. A lot of this is about the food we eat - the saturated fat and processed foods and about the failure to control the food industry. In the long term, we need to move way from the idea that 'drugs for everybody’ is the way to tackle this problem,” he said.
In October, an analysis in the British Medical Journal cautioned against any expansion in prescribing.
One of its authors, Dr John D Abramson, clinical lecturer in primary care, from Harvard Medical School, last night said: “I think we have become victims of the drug companies. All the research is funded by them, and the really important message - that reducing your risk of heart disease is best done by an improved diet and lifestyle - is getting crowded out.”
Professor Sir Rory Collins, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, said: “The evidence supports the recommendations - the drugs are effective, they prevent cardiovascular events even in low-risk groups, and they are very well tolerated. There might be people who don’t like the idea of mass medication but the NHS recognises that it is cost-effective,”
Studies have suggested that up to one in five patients taking statins suffers some kind of ill-effect, including muscle aches, memory disturbance, cataracts and diabetes.
Sir Rory said many of the claims made about such side-effects had been refuted, or found to only be suffered by low numbers of patients, and outweighed by the benefits from the drugs, which cost around 10 pence per patient per day.
The Nice guidance also says GPs need to do much more to identify patients aged between 40 and 74 who may be at risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the UK, responsible for one in three deaths.
The proposals, which will go out to public consultation, follow new US guidelines which say that anyone with a 7.5 per cent chance of heart disease over 10 years should be considered for the drugs.
Mobile phone radio waves harmless, study finds
It's been the same finding for years but the scaremongers never give up
Mobile phone radio waves are harmless to humans, a group of British researchers have concluded. The researchers have been investigating the issue since 2001, publishing in the process close to 60 peer-reviewed papers.
The Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Program published its final report on Tuesday.
The report said they found no evidence that exposure to base station emissions during pregnancy affects the risk of developing cancer in early childhood. Nor was there any link between mobile phones and leukaemia.
Laboratory testing also showed radio waves had no effect on biological tissue at a range of frequencies.
David Coggan, the program's chairman and a professor of environmental medicine at Southampton University, said little was known about the possible health risks of mobile phones when the research started.
"We can now be much more confident about the safety of modern telecommunications systems," he said.
The research group was funded equally by the British government and the telecommunications industry, with an independent oversight committee ensuring neither could influence the studies.
The Australian Cancer Council says on its website there is no evidence of a link between cancer and mobile phone use.
It cautions, however, that studies have only assessed the effects up to 10 years of use, and that longer term use has not been fully evaluated.
An ongoing study of close to 300,000 European mobile phone users, called COSMOS, is underway in a bid to determine whether mobile phones have delayed health effects.
12 February, 2014
The proposed British ban on smoking in cars where children are present
The data on passive smoking indicate that it is not generally harmful but smoking in cars with children may be a special case. There appears to be no relevant research
The Commons will vote on whether to give the health secretary the power to impose a ban on smoking in cars, despite the opposition of some MPs including members of the Cabinet.
Steven Wibberley from the British Lung Foundation explained the health implications of smoking in cars.
"Because it's an enclosed environment, it concentrates the smoke and the toxins in that smoke and because children have got small underdeveloped lungs, that has a real impact on their health."
"It leads to things like asthma, chest infections, ear infections, but also even things like meningitis."
Downing Street has confirmed that Prime Minister would miss the vote, as he is staying in the South West overnight to visit areas affected by flooding, but indicated that he believes "the time has come" for a ban on smoking in cars containing children.
The unlikely new medicine... pickled cabbage: New research reveals it may help with allergies, coughs, colds and more
Koreans must be healthy. They eat pickled cabbage (Kim Chee) daily. I like it too
Sauerkraut, blue cheese and pickles hardly sound like the route to wellbeing. But fermented foods - left to age for anything from a few days to weeks before they're eaten - are the new health craze.
It comes from the U.S. of course, where it's become fashionable to ferment vegetables and drink kombucha - a fizzy, fermented tea drunk for centuries in China.
Now the science appears to back it up. Last week Cambridge University researchers reported that regular consumption of fermented low-fat dairy foods, such as yoghurt, fromage frais and cottage cheese, could reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 25 per cent over 11 years.
When certain foods are left to ferment, they are 'pre-digested' by good bacteria and yeast found naturally on the surface of the food. These microbes eat the food before you do, breaking down the sugars and starches and making the nutrients easier for the body to absorb.
Some also release lactic acid, a natural preservative, which acidifies the environment in the gut, stimulating the growth of good bacteria. The fermented food effectively becomes a natural probiotic supplement.
Bacteria's role in health has attracted much attention in recent years and experts welcome the new interest in 'living' foods, as fermented food is also known.
'Between 70 and 80 per cent of our immune cells are in the gut,' says Alison Clark, of the British Dietetic Association. 'Fermented foods stimulate bacteria that help with immunity.
'So for someone who suffers with lots of coughs and colds, they could help. We also know that a food that's high in probiotics could help control the symptoms of things such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, bloating, and flatulence.'
Respected U.S. food writer Michael Pollan has embraced fermentation, pointing out that in the body, microbes outnumber human cells ten to one.
'Much of public health has been obsessed with bacteria as the enemy,' he says. 'But 99.9 per cent are benign, and a great number of are also in a symbiotic relationship with us. They help us, and we need them.' The proponents of fermented food - 'fermentos' - claim that antibiotics and antibacterial cleansing products have depleted our levels of gut bacteria to the detriment of health.
They recommend a wide variety of fermented foods, including cured olives, meats and cheeses, to boost immunity, fight allergies and even help you lose weight -because they aid digestion, helping you feel full.
But those that seem to make a real difference are rich in Lactobacillus, which release lactic acid during fermentation.
A study in Critical Reviews in Microbiology in 2011 found that lactic acid bacteria can help, among other things, the immune system, protect against diarrhoea (yoghurt and fermented milk may be particularly protective for young children) and stomach ulcers, and may help reduce allergies.
Vegetables are a rich source of these bacteria - hence the sudden interest in sauerkraut and pickles.
But increasingly popular is kefir, a fermented milk that originated in Russia and Eastern Europe, and kombucha - these both contain lactic acid. Sourdough bread is enjoying a comeback, too. Made in the traditional way, the dough is left for several hours, fermented by 'wild' yeasts and bacteria found naturally on the grain.
One hundred and fifty years ago, all bread was made this way, but most modern loaves are now made by adding yeast to speed up the process. Donna Schwenk, author of Cultured Food For Life, first came across kefir in a book from a health food store.
At the time she was desperately worried about her ten-month-old baby, Holli, who was born prematurely and suffered from frequent colds as well being underweight. 'I began to add one or two teaspoons of kefir to Holli's bottles,' says Donna. 'In one month she gained four pounds.'
Donna, too, started drinking kefir every day and claims it's reduced her blood pressure, while tests show her blood sugar levels have dropped, too - her type 2 diabetes was starting to reverse.
Inspired, she started feeding her whole family kefir, kombucha and cultured vegetables, and claims the diet has eased her daughter's wheat intolerance and her own allergies.
Research is starting to bear out the benefits of a fermented diet.
A study by immunologists at Spain's University of Granada - published in 2006 in the Journal of Dairy Research - looked at people who ate at least five portions of yoghurt and cheese, and three other fermented foods such as cured meats and olives, each week.
When they were deprived of these for two weeks, the levels of good bacteria in their gut dropped, as did markers of a healthy immune system. After two weeks, they started eating yoghurt again, but their immunity didn't return to its original levels until they resumed eating a wide variety of fermented foods.
Then in November last year researchers writing in Letters in Applied Microbiology suggested that suguki - a Japanese pickled turnip - could protect against flu.
But not everyone is convinced by fermented foods. Peter Whorwell, gastroenterologist at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, says there's not enough proof.
He adds: 'How do we know these foods give a sufficient dose of bacteria? How do we know which types of bacteria they carry?'
And one worrying piece of research suggests that fermented foods - specifically, pickles - could be harmful. In 2011 the World Health Organisation classified pickled vegetables as 'possibly carcinogenic'.
This came after research showed high rates of throat and stomach cancer in parts of Asia where populations rely heavily on pickles.
Importantly, this link has only been found with pickles made the traditional way - fermented in their own brine.
Gherkins from supermarkets or served up in your hamburger are likely to have been made with vinegar, which kills all bacteria.
What's more, the correlation was only found in populations who ate almost no fresh vegetables.
Intuitively, it seems better to consume friendly bacteria through food than a tablet, but Glenn Gibson, professor of food microbiology at the University of Reading, urges caution.
He says: 'My worry is that the bacteria cultures in fermented foods are more complex, while in probiotic supplements the strains have been tested and the health benefits unravelled.'
11 February, 2014
Sugar: Scaremongers fail to mention that it also saves millions of lives
For some seriously ill children, sugar might be considered the most health-giving of all foods
There can’t be many, if any, readers of this paper who consume three cans of fizzy drinks a day, so the latest scare story – that such a level of consumption triples the risk of heart disease – will surely not apply.
However, this is just the latest scientific finding in a campaign to blame sugar for practically everything, particularly the so-called epidemic of diabetes and obesity. It is not necessarily that people are consuming more sugar, but rather, it is claimed by Californian endocrinologist and prominent anti-sugar evangelist Robert Lustig, the wrong sort: the cheap, high-fructose corn syrup often found in carbonated drinks that has replaced one third of our total sugar intake over the past 30 years.
The fact remains that sugar in any form has never been demonstrated to cause either obesity or diabetes as an independent factor distinct from total calorie consumption – that is, people eating more than they should.
Meanwhile, as the main constituent of oral rehydration therapy for children with severe diarrhoeal illnesses, sugar might be considered the most health-giving of all foods, saving an estimated two million lives a year.
Boy, 3, is cured of insomnia after eating just half a piece of the fruit before bed each night
A hint that may help some. I might try it myself
As plenty of parents will tell you, getting a toddler to sleep isn’t always an easy task. So spare a thought for Maryann Battersby, whose three-year-old son had barely ever slept through the night.
But after years trying of different methods to help Aaron sleep well, it seems his mother has finally found the solution – half a banana.
Aaron’s nights were so disrupted he would wake up screaming, complaining of monsters and spiders. He would jump out of bed full of life at 3am and charge around the house for the rest of the day, leaving his parents exhausted.
Miss Battersby and her partner Matthew Hopkins, both 34, dreaded the nights and tried everything to help their son get a normal night’s sleep.
Their GP and the Child Development Centre at their local hospital recommended a variety of ‘cures’ – ranging from soothing music and orange lights to putting a heavy quilt on Aaron’s bed and even changing the decor in his room – but none of them worked.
Aaron was also medicated with melatonin, a hormone normally produced by the body that regulates its daily cycle, but that failed too.
Still searching for a cure, Miss Battersby approached Vicki Dawson, a sleep expert based at Aaron’s nursery, the Arnold Centre in Rotherham, south Yorkshire.
Mrs Dawson, who had her own sleepless child, is founder of The Children’s Sleep Charity and invited the couple to a workshop at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
Miss Battersby was advised to give Aaron half a solid banana before bed – and his life suddenly changed.
Since the workshop on January 17, the restless youngster has been sleeping through the night, dozing off at 8pm and waking up at 7am.
Miss Battersby said: ‘It was amazing. Now we are a normal family. Aaron goes to bed and then me and Matthew can sit down together and have time together. ‘Aaron is amazing now – he’s a happy little boy.’
Miss Battersby, from Rotherham, added: ‘We were really at our wits’ end. ‘We’d done everything to try and get Aaron to sleep and I would dread what the nights would hold.
‘Matthew’s a roadworker and he would have to sleep on the settee or in the spare bed because he was working 12-hour shifts and I was constantly up and down.
‘The lack of sleep was also affecting his behaviour during the day. He would hit himself, headbutt people and scream. ‘He would also grind his teeth and fidget a lot – tell-tale signs of sleep deprivation.’
Aaron was born 14 weeks premature and had to be woken every hour in hospital for a feed. He was allowed home at the age of four months, but the sleepless nights continued.
By the age of one he was surviving on around four hours of sleep a night and would catnap during the day. ‘I would be in tears I was that tired,’ said Miss Battersby. ‘It was so hard. My only respite was once every three weeks or so he would be so exhausted that he would manage a full night.’
Mrs Dawson said: ‘I’m so pleased Aaron is now sleeping through the night. It’s wonderful to hear success stories and how the charity has improved parents’ lives.’
It is not known exactly why the banana has helped Aaron, but Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, author of Set Free to Live Free, said: ‘Bananas are an excellent source of magnesium and potassium, which help to relax overstressed muscles.
‘They also contain tryptophan, which convert to serotonin and melatonin, the brain’s key calming hormones.’
Experts said that as well as bananas, other slow-releasing energy foods such as wholemeal bread and peanut butter can help with restless nights.
10 February, 2014
After the little blue pill for men... a pink one for women: Herbal supplement dubbed 'female Viagra' goes on sale on High Street
Unlikely to help. No controlled trials against a placebo, apparently
Women can boost their sex lives with an over-the-counter herbal pill, scientists claim. They say Lady Prelox has been found to significantly raise a woman’s sexual pleasure.
Dubbed the ‘female Viagra’ after the little blue pills that treat erectile dysfunction in men, Lady Prelox is on sale at high-street chain Holland & Barrett.
But at £37.95 for a pack of 60 little pink tablets – which is only enough to last a month as women have to take two a day – the price tag alone is likely to cause a shriek.
Makers Pharma Nord claim a French pine bark extract called Pycnogenol improves poor circulation, which, they say, is linked to a weakened sex drive.
Scientists in Italy conducted studies on 40 volunteers in their late 40s and early 50s, and on another group of women aged 37 to 45. Both groups reported improvements in their sex lives after eight weeks, and scientists concluded the pill ‘significantly improves sexual function’.
Dr Graham Jackson, chairman of the Sexual Advice Association and a cardiologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals in London, said the circulation theory behind Lady Prelox may prove correct.
He added: ‘We know that in men sexual dysfunction is mainly a vascular problem. 'We don’t have any concrete evidence of this in women yet, but I suspect there may turn out to be a link.’
However, obstetrician and gynaecologist Andy Heeps said he remained unconvinced. ‘Female sexual dysfunction is a complex area. There’s no single cause and so there’s no single magic bullet,’ Mr Heeps added.
Dr Jackson also cautioned that such pills worked on the basis that desire was already there. ‘These aren’t aphrodisiacs,’ he warned. ‘If you’re not turned on by your partner, no amount of tablets will help.’
Lady Prelox is the female version of Prelox for men. Launched in 2010, annual European sales for Prelox now top £10?million.
Enjoy a yogurt at school? Hard cheese, says EU: Eurocrats want to ban snacks in 'healthy eating' campaign
What crazy theory is behind that? You can bet that the fat Belgian bureaucrats in Brussels eat plenty of cheese and yogurt themselves
Brussels bureaucrats want to stop British children being given cheese and yogurt at school. The European Union says the move is part of a healthy-eating campaign designed to tackle obesity.
But UK health experts and farmers have attacked the plan, saying the EU is wrong to ‘demonise’ dairy products.
Brussels provides £8million a year for UK school breakfast clubs, morning snacks and lunch, and children can be given milk, yogurt, cheese and fruit. If the change is implemented, however, only milk and fresh produce will be on the menu.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos says that it is an ‘important measure for bringing about sustained changes in children’s eating habits’.
But Jenny Stratford, president of the Women’s Food and Farming Union, said cheese and yogurt were a vital part of a healthy diet.
Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘Cheese is hugely beneficial for children. It gives them calcium and helps with bone development. ‘Yogurt can have high levels of sugar but if it’s low fat and low sugar, it’s fine.’
The proposal is included in a shake-up of European programmes which subsidise school food. The EU wants the £190?million annual grant, shared by all member states, to focus on fruit and vegetables.
But Conservative MP and Devon farmer Neil Parish said: ‘If you don’t give children food they like at school they are more likely to eat takeaways. 'We’ve got too hung up about fat and sugar content. Children need them for energy, and cheese and yogurt provide that.’
Judith Bryans, chief executive of Dairy UK, added: ‘It seems wrong that children who may not be milk drinkers and prefer to consume yogurt or cheese may not have access to these products.’
9 February, 2014
Yoghurt slashes diabetes risk: Daily pot can reduce chance of developing Type 2 by a quarter, claims researchers
This is another correlational study but it seems better controlled than most so there may be something in it. Yoghurt is easy to digest so may ease strain on the pancreas
Eating a pot of yoghurt a day may help keep diabetes at bay, claim researchers. Regular consumption of yoghurt cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than a quarter, according to a new study.
Similar health benefits come from other low-fat fermented dairy foods, such as fromage frais and cottage cheese.
Taken together, eating modest amounts of yoghurt and low-fat cheeses reduced the chances of becoming diabetic by 24 per cent over an 11-year period.
The greatest gain came from just 4.5 standard 125g pots of yoghurt a week, which resulted in a 28 per cent cut in risk of diabetes.
Scientists at Cambridge University said it was the first study of its kind, where dietary habits were recorded in advance to determine whether they could affect diabetes risk.
Lead scientist Dr Nita Forouhi, from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge University, said 'This research highlights that specific foods may have an important role in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and are relevant for public health messages.
'At a time when we have a lot of other evidence that consuming high amounts of certain foods, such as added sugars and sugary drinks, is bad for our health, it is very reassuring to have messages about other foods like yoghurt and low-fat fermented dairy products, that could be good for our health.' The number of Britons diagnosed with diabetes is over three million - equivalent to almost one in 20 of the UK's population.
Most have type 2 which is strongly linked to lifestyle factors such as being overweight or obese, leading a sedentary lifestyle and eating an unhealthy diet.
It occurs when the body gradually loses the ability to process blood sugar, leading to high levels which can damage body organs and years of ill-health.
The new research involved participants in the large Epic-Norfolk study looking at links between diet and cancer in more than 25,000 men and women living in Norfolk.
Researchers compiled a detailed daily record of all the food and drink consumed in the course of a week by 4,255 participants, including 753 who developed type 2 diabetes over 11 years.
Previous studies have suggested dairy products might have a protective effect on the risk of diabetes.
Consumption of total dairy, including high-fat dairy and low-fat dairy foods, was not associated with new cases of diabetes once factors such as healthier lifestyles, education, obesity, other eating habits and calorie intake were accounted for.
But people with the highest consumption of low-fat fermented products were more than a fifth less likely to develop diabetes than non-consumers.
Yoghurt made up more than 85 per cent of the fermented dairy products studied and when examined separately, it was linked to a 28 per cent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
The effect was seen in individuals who consumed an average of four-and-a-half standard 125 gram pots of yoghurt per week.
Consuming yoghurt in place of a snacks such as crisps was also found to reduce diabetes risk.
The analysis covered all kinds of low fat yoghurt - up to 3.9 per cent fat content - including those with added sugar.
The findings appear in the latest edition of the journal Diabetologia published by the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.
The research used food diaries compiled in advance which is more specific about beneficial foods than asking volunteers to remember what they ate, and less likely to be affected by memory lapses.
The researchers believe beneficial probiotic bacteria and a special form of vitamin K in fermented dairy products may help to explain the results.
Because these products are low energy-dense foods - naturally low in fat and high in water content - they have an independent effect on diabetes risk, it is thought.
Could a cure for type 1 diabetes be in sight? Scientists discover how to turn ordinary skin cells into those that produce insulin
Certainly a great leap forward if it works in humans
A diabetes cure could be in sight after scientists transformed ordinary skin cells into pancreatic cells producing insulin.
Scientists used a step-by-step technique to reprogramme skin cells called fibroblasts taken from mice. At the end of the process they created immature precursors to pancreatic beta cells, the body's insulin 'factory'.
When these cells were injected into mice genetically engineered to mimic symptoms of diabetes, the animals' blood sugar levels returned to normal.
The U.S. research is a major step forward in the hunt for a stem cell solution to type 1 diabetes, caused by the body's own immune system attacking and destroying insulin-making beta cells.
Around 300,000 people in the UK have type 1 diabetes, which is distinct from the much more common type 2 version of the disease.
Type 1 diabetes usually strikes in childhood and dooms sufferers to a lifetime of self-administered insulin injections, without which their blood sugar would reach lethal levels.
Earlier attempts at using stem cells to replenish lost pancreatic beta cells have been largely disappointing.
Professor Sheng Ding, from the Gladstone Institutes and University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), said: 'The power of regenerative medicine is that it can potentially provide an unlimited source of functional, insulin-producing beta cells that can then be transplanted into the patient.
'But previous attempts to produce large quantities of healthy beta cells - and to develop a workable delivery system - have not been entirely successful. So we took a somewhat different approach.'
A major challenge to generating large quantities of beta cells is that they have a limited regenerative capacity. Once they mature, it is difficult to increase their numbers.
Professor Ding's team overcame this obstacle by stepping further back in the cell's development.
The researchers first collected fibroblast skin cells from laboratory mice, then used a cocktail of chemicals to reprogramme them into immature 'endoderm-like' cells.
Endoderm cells are stem cells from one of the three primary layers of an early stage embryo. They eventually mature into the body's major organs, including the pancreas.
A second chemical cocktail was used to nudge the endoderm-like cells into a further stage of development, causing them to take on the properties of early pancreas-like cells, or PPLCs.
'Our initial goal was to see whether we could coax these PPLC's to mature into cells that, like beta cells, respond to the correct chemical signals and, most importantly, secrete insulin,' said co-author Dr Ke Li, also from the Gladstone Institutes in California.
'And our initial experiments, performed in a petri dish, revealed that they did.'
The scientists then injected the PPLCs into mice modified to have high levels of blood sugar, a key indicator of diabetes.
One week later, the animals' blood sugar began to decrease until it approached normal levels. When the transplanted cells were removed, there was an immediate glucose 'spike', showing a direct link between the treatment and blood sugar control.
Two months after the cell injections, the PPLCs had given rise to fully functional insulin-secreting beta cells in the mice.
The ground-breaking research is published online in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
'These results not only highlight the power of small molecules in cellular reprogramming, they are proof-of-principle that could one day be used as a personalised therapeutic approach in patients,' said Dr Ding.
7 February, 2014
How smearing micro-fat on your joints can ease arthritis
A radical new treatment for arthritis has just appeared on local pharmacy shelves - a gel that contains no medication.
It is smeared, not rubbed, on to the skin, where it apparently slides through the pores and into the painful joint, where it begins to replace the natural lubrication lost through the disease.
It takes around a week to provide relief - about the time it takes you to use up a single tube on one joint.
The gel, Flexiseq, contains tiny spheres made of the same sort of fat, called phospholipid, that lubricates joints and allows them to move freely.
It's the fat, and not any drug, that brings the benefit.
The design of the spheres has implications beyond this one treatment and could mark a new way of carrying drugs into the body, reducing the need for injections.
Arthritis affects around nine million people in the UK and is a major cause of pain and disability. It's caused by wear and tear on the joints, specifically the cartilage. It also leads to the synovial fluid, a jelly-like substance which is secreted by the membrane that surrounds the joint, becoming thin and less elastic.
'The lubrication in it is provided by the same type of fat that Flexiseq is made from,' says Dr Liam O'Toole, of the charity Arthritis Research UK.
'The gel could be particularly useful for patients on blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin who are advised not to take standard treatments such as non?steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers.'
Any new treatment for arthritis is to be welcomed, according to Dr John Dickson, a GP from Yorkshire and founder of the Primary Care Rheumatology Society, which educates GPs about arthritis and encourages research.
'NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as aspirin and Celebrex - often used for arthritis - come with a nasty range of potential side-effects, including severe internal bleeding, and they don't tackle the underlying problem,' says Dr Dickson, who suffers from arthritis in his hands.
A review of trials involving 4,000 people, by Professor Philip Conaghan, of the Leeds Institute of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Medicine, published last year, reported that Flexiseq was as effective as Celebrex capsules in reducing pain and improving movement.
The only side-effect some people reported was mild inflammation where the gel had been applied.
Now, scientists are trying to use the technology behind this new gel to help develop treatments for other conditions.
Flexiseq is the first over-the-counter product to make use of nanotechnology. It uses tiny balls of fat known as liposomes. These are so small they don't even show up under powerful microscopes. In Flexiseq, the liposomes are made of phospholipids, the fat also found in joints.
In future, this type of liposome could transport the likes of insulin and some cancer drugs right through the skin, cutting out the need for injections.
Packaging a toxic drug in a liposome means you need less of it because it can be delivered directly to the cells you want to treat, such as a tumour or the liver.
This is done by adding a protein marker to the liposome's surface, so only those particular protein cells in the tumour or liver, say, would absorb them.
The liposomes in Flexiseq are able to pass through the pores of the skin but don't end up in the bloodstream because they are too big to get into the tiny blood vessels just below the surface. However, they can enter the membrane surrounding the joint, which has bigger pores.
Already, two new liposome-drug combinations targeting skin conditions are in the pipeline.
'The skin is a very effective barrier, which is why getting medicines and cosmetics through it has always been a challenge,' says Professor Jayne Lawrence, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
'I think these new flexible liposomes will soon be carrying in drugs for inflammation and skin infections, but it will be a while before we see them delivering drugs for the likes of diabetes or cancer.'
Being able to deliver lubricants directly into joints through the skin raises the possibility that it might be possible to slow down or even stop arthritis from getting worse.
Ken Brooks, a 49-year-old osteopath in Leeds, was one of the first people in Britain, along with some of his patients, to try Flexiseq.
Ken has had serious problems with knee and hip joints since a motorcycle crash as a teenager.
'I don't like regular painkillers because of the damage they can do long term,' he says. 'But I've tried pretty much everything else - including surgery to wash out some loose bits of cartilage and injections into joints. Flexiseq is not a miracle cure, but it certainly has improved my flexibility.'
The treatment needs to be applied twice daily and is best left to dry, as the outside of each liposome is naturally attracted to water (all liposomes have one side that 'loves' fat and one that 'loves' water). Once the water in the gel has evaporated, the liposomes will naturally start moving towards the water that's beneath the skin and so on into the joints.
Then you should start gently exercising the joint, as this action pumps the liposomes onto the cartilage.
Why organic chocolate is not as green as you think: Larger farms may mean more wild habitat is destroyed in Third World
Lovers of organic chocolate will find this hard to swallow – but there is no evidence that it is any better for the environment than conventional bars.
Oxford University scientists say organic farming clearly helps wildlife threatened by intensive agriculture in developed countries.
However, the jury is still out on the Third World where virgin land may be cleared for crops such as cocoa beans and bananas.
This land is likely to be home to more plants, animals and other wildlife when wild then when farmed. And as organic farms often need more land than conventional ones, organic chocolate may not be as green as believed.
Lindsay Turnbull, of Oxford University’s department of plant sciences, said: ‘More research is needed on the impact of farming in tropical and subtropical regions.
‘For example, there are no studies on organic bananas or cocoa beans, two of the most popular organic products found in European supermarkets. ‘At present, we simply cannot say whether buying organic bananas or chocolate has any environmental benefit.’
Dr Turnbull spoke out after crunching together data from almost 100 studies into the wildlife present on different types of farm.
On average, organic farms, which typically grow their crops without the aid of pesticides, artificial fertilisers and intensive farming techniques had a 34 per cent more species of plants, insects and birds than conventional farms. In some cases, the increase in biodiversity, or number of species, was as high as 43 per cent.
Writing in the Journal of Applied Ecology, Dr Turnbull and colleague Sean Tuck said: ‘Organic farming is a tried and tested method for increasing biodiversity on farmlands and may help reverse the declines of formerly common species in developed nations.’
However, most of the data came from the Europe, despite three-quarters of organic farming done elsewhere and Dr Turnbull said we cannot assume the same applies all over the world.
The Soil Association said that organic farming brings other benefits, such as a drop in the use of toxic pesticides. It added that large-scale studies have shown that the practice has ‘huge benefits’ in developing countries.
6 February, 2014
The key to longevity depends on your SEX: Sleep is crucial for men while women need plenty of vitamin B6 and vegetables
Based on a survey of elderly Chinese in Taiwan who mostly followed traditional Chinese dietary beliefs! Generalizability? Don't go there
As if they needed any more excuse, new research suggests men need their sleep if they’re to live a long life.
Women, on the other hand, can live long lives despite poor sleep habits as long as they eat a diverse diet that includes vitamin B6 and plenty of vegetables.
Vitamin B6 can be found in food such as meat, bananas, nuts, garlic and pistachios. Among other things, it allows the body to use and store energy from protein and carbohydrates.
The findings come from a study led by Melbourne-based Monash University which looked at how diet contributed to sleep quality and mortality among elderly men and women.
Emeritus Professor Mark Wahlqvist from Monash University said sleep played a more important role in men’s mortality than women’s.
'Poor sleep has been associated with increased morbidity and mortality including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease,' he said.
‘We found that for both genders, poor sleep was strongly correlated with poor appetite and poor perceived health.'
The amount and type of sleep a person needs changes as they get older.
It isn’t always how long someone sleeps for that matters, but the quality of sleep. Someone's need for sleep can also change from day to day depending on the challenges faced.
In general, Bupa suggests adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep. However, some people can function after sleeping for much less time.
Chris Berka, chief executive of Advanced Brain Monitoring claims that a complete sleep cycle typically takes about 90 minutes.
The rule of thumb is that you need 4-5 full sleep cycles. But there is no evidence that all seven to nine hours have to occur in a single bout.
But the researchers also found a significant relationship between a diverse diet and sleep, particularly in women. ‘For women, good sleep only provides a survival advantage if they had a diverse diet,’ said Professor Wahlqvist.
The study found women were almost twice as likely as men to sleep badly. Women who were poor sleepers had a lower intake of vitamin B6 from food than those whose sleep was rated 'fair' or 'good'. Fair sleepers had lower iron intakes than good sleepers.
Both men and women could improve their outlook by eating a more varied diet, the research said.
‘Sufficient dietary diversity in men could offset the adverse effect on mortality of poor sleep while women need to make sure they are eating foods high in vitamin B6,’ said Professor Walhqvist.
Participants in the study who did not sleep well were also less able to chew, had poor appetites, and did less physical activity.
‘These characteristics could contribute to lower overall dietary quality and food and nutrient intake, especially for vegetables, protein-rich foods, and vitamin B6,’ Professor Wahlqvist said.
‘They may also contribute to the risk of death, either in their own right or together with problematic sleep. Intervention focusing on education on healthy dietary practices in elderly people could improve sleep duration and provide more stable levels of health.’
The study was conducted on 1865 elderly men and women who were a part of the Nutrition and Health survey in Taiwan. The data was collected from 1999-2000.
What does cancer eat? Sugar, mostly
Based on mouse research
His name is Dr. Gerald Krystal and he’s a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at University of British Columbia, as well as Distinguished Scientist at the Terry Fox Laboratory at the BC Cancer Agency.
I was doing my best to wade through Dr. Krystal’s research, Googling every third word. In the basest of laymen’s terms I’ll tell you that his findings hinged on a suspicion that it might be possible to starve cancer by blocking a tumour from accessing glucose. Dr. Krystal set about to see if it was possible to affect tumour growth or — perhaps even better — tumour initiation by affecting blood glucose levels. At the time he started his inquiry, this theory flew in the face of the prevailing science. Almost a decade after he began, his findings reveal that diet may play an even larger role than previously suspected in who gets cancer and which cancers metastasize.
Cancer, it turns out, craves carbs. Typically, the maleficent Western diet is made up of over 50% carbohydrates and only 15% protein. Protein has a unique capacity to enhance a body’s immune system but most of us don’t get nearly enough of this essential nutrient. We love our fats, however, but the wrong sort of fats in the wrong amounts can also prove deadly.
The foodstuffs we favour create a hospitable environment for cancer in a variety of ways. Calorie-rich, but nutrient-unbalanced, our grub tends to render us immuno-incompetent. That’s a big word that means defenceless. Obesity, unhealthy in and of itself, is a widespread side effect of the typical Western diet, but also a source of systemic inflammation. Inflammation engenders DNA damage which increases the risk of cancer.
Dr. Krystal’s team continues to explore the subject of diet-related tumour growth and initiation. The clinical trials with mice, however, suggest that we should all be making massive shifts in what we eat. Almost half the mice on the western diet developed mammary cancers by middle age, whereas none of the mice on the low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet did. Only one of the test mice achieved a normal life span on the standard western diet, with the rest of dying early of cancer-associated deaths. More than 50% of the mice on a low-carbohydrate diet, however, reached or exceeded a normal life span.
5 February, 2014
Three fizzy drinks per day could triple chance of heart disease
The usual correlational crap. Poor people probably drink more fizzy drinks and are unhealthier anyway
Drinking just three cans of fizzy pop each day could triple your chance of developing heart disease, a study has suggested.
Scientists in America found a strong association between the proportion of daily calories from foods laden with added sugars - rather than those that occur naturally - and death rates from cardiovascular disease.
For people who take on a quarter of their calories each day from the sugars common in sticky drinks, sweets and desserts, the researchers found the risk tripled compared to those whose sugar contribution was less than 10 per cent.
Dietary guidelines from the World Health Organisation recommend added sugar should make up less than a tenth of total calorie intake, yet many processed foods and beverages are packed with sugar.
In Britain the average adult between 19 and 65 takes on 1,882 calories per day, according to the The Health and Social Care Information Centre, so three cans of fizzy drinks each containing 140 of added sugar would amount to around a quarter.
The new study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, used American national health survey data to determine how much added sugar people were consuming. Between 2005 and 2010 it accounted for at least 10 per cent of the calories consumed by more than 70 per cent of the US population, the research showed.
Around a tenth of adults obtained a quarter or more of their calories from added sugar.
The information was matched against heart disease mortality over a typical period of 14.6 years, during which a total of 831 cardiovascular deaths were recorded.
Professor Naveed Satta from the British Heart Foundation Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre at the University of Glasgow said: "We have known for years about the dangers of excess saturated fat intake, an observation which led the food industry to replace unhealthy fats with presumed 'healthier' sugars in many food products.
"However, the present study, perhaps more strongly than previous ones, suggests that those whose diet is high in added sugars may also have an increased risk of heart attack. Of course, sugar per se is not harmful - we need it for the body's energy needs - but when consumed in excess it will contribute to weight gain and, in turn, may accelerate heart disease."
Dr Nita Forouhi from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge University, called for "clear front of pack labelling of sugar content" to help consumers buying food products.
"While policy makers deliberate on the pros and cons of a sugary drinks tax, there is a public health action less talked about: a health warning on soft drinks with high sugar content, recommending to limit consumption as part of a healthy diet," she said.
The study showed that the average proportion of daily calories obtained from added sugar rose from 15.7 per cent in 1988-1994 to 16.8 per cent in 1999-2004. It decreased to 14.9 per cent in 2005-2010.
ABC’s Slime-Time News
Did flashy reporting go too far when it stirred up hysteria over a common beef product?
On March 21, 2012, NBC led the nightly news with reporting about the Trayvon Martin case. CBS led with a report that the NFL was imposing unprecedented sanctions on a team for a scheme that involved paying athletes to injure opponents.
It was a slow news day, and the Big Three newscasts had to choose unconventional leads. But ABC’s lead on World News was, even in that context, unlikely. It was news the network had played an integral role in creating: The program’s aggressive coverage of an obscure food product was yielding results, and Diane Sawyer announced that some of America’s largest supermarket chains were “taking action,” discontinuing the sale of ground beef that contained a product known as lean finely textured beef or, as ABC repeatedly referred to it on air, “pink slime.”
Though the term had been used before, both within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and in a 2009 New York Times report, the twelve reports on “pink slime” that aired on World News in the month between March 7 and April 3, 2012, broadcast the term to millions of viewers in an alarming fashion. The initial March 7 report alone included, in ABC’s words, “stunning” and “startling” revelations that beef trimmings “once used only in dog food and cooking oil” might be be hiding in your dinner.
In the wake of the broadcasts, Beef Products, Inc. (BPI), the country’s main producer of lean finely textured beef, was forced to shutter three of its four factories and to lay off over 650 employees. It has now filed suit against ABC, alleging that the network libeled and defamed the product.
ABC’s reporting on “pink slime” is the latest dustup in a long line of crusading, consumer-oriented journalism, aimed primarily at women, that has prompted legal backlash. There was the 1989 60 Minutes broadcast that sent apple prices plummeting after it warned that a chemical called alar, which was sprayed on apples to prevent their falling off trees prematurely, caused cancer. Alar was voluntarily withdrawn from the market after the Environmental Protection Agency considered banning it, but not before apple growers had filed an unsuccessful libel lawsuit against CBS News.
Then came ABC’s 1992 report that revealed unsanitary practices in back rooms of the grocery-store chain Food Lion. Two ABC producers lied on employment applications in order to obtain jobs with the grocery chain and get access to those back rooms. The company subsequently sued ABC, claiming that the broadcast cost it $1.5 billion in stock value and $233 million in profits. A $5.5 million verdict in Food Lion’s favor was ultimately overturned, and ABC was ordered to pay the chain just $2 in damages.
The following year, Dateline NBC rigged crash tests of a GM pickup truck by using explosives to ensure that a fire would erupt if the truck crashed when gas was leaking from it. NBC settled a defamation suit filed by GM.
In cases like “pink slime,” veteran TV news producer Rick Kaplan says litigation is not unexpected. “They knew when they did this they were going to get sued, so I’m sure they did it with the lawyers hand in hand,” says Kaplan, who produced the Food Lion report and spent nearly two decades at ABC before going on to serve as the president first of CNN and then of MSNBC. ABC was holding BPI’s feet to the fire, he says, and “ought to be lauded for that.”
BPI has insisted all along that its meat was not “pink slime” but a product with a proud history. One of the company’s founders, Eldon Roth (the other is his wife, Regina), invented a process that salvaged lean beef from the fatty meat trimmings that remain after steaks are carved out of a carcass; those trimmings had previously been discarded or used only in high-fat ground beef. Roth’s invention lowered the cost of the ground beef sold to school cafeterias, fast-food restaurants, and supermarkets across the country.
It also made that beef safer to eat. The Washington Post once described a BPI factory as a “fortress against potentially lethal bacteria.” BPI’s production process, which involves spraying beef with ammonia, was designed to prevent the sort of contamination that in 1993 claimed the lives of three children who had consumed undercooked burgers at Jack in the Box.
Roth’s innovation made him, and the company, prosperous. Prior to ABC’s reporting onslaught, BPI was operating four processing plants, employing over 1,300 people in the United States, and raking in over $115 million in profits annually. Mitt Romney heralded Roth’s innovation in his 2010 book No Apology and cited him as an archetypical American success story, writing that while “a young Eldon Roth held a blue-collar job in a cold-storage plant . . . Eldon now owns a very large jet.” Roth and his wife together donated $190,000 to super PACs supporting Romney and have generously supported other Republican political candidates over the years.
ABC’s broadcasts have dramatically changed BPI’s fortunes: Grocery chains stopped carrying ground beef that contained “pink slime,” and some fast-food chains swore it off. The company’s legal complaint alleges that ABC’s stories are costing it more than $20 million in revenue every month.
Whether the network libeled and defamed BPI and its product is now the subject of a $1.2 billion lawsuit. The standards for proving libel and defamation are high, but Beef Products, Inc., v. American Broadcasting Company, Inc., et al. — anchor Diane Sawyer and correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley are also named in the suit — is shaping up to be one of the highest-stakes defamation battles in many years. (National Review has an important case of its own in the courts.)
The case is chugging along, and not necessarily in ABC’s direction. The network’s attempt to remove the case from South Dakota state court into federal court was denied in June. If the case goes before a jury, South Dakota-based BPI will have home-court advantage.
USDA regulations do not require that products containing lean finely textured beef be specially labeled, and Avila broadcast an initial report featuring a “whistleblower” who alleged that “USDA officials with links to the beef industry” were improperly labeling “pink slime” as meat. It had the look and feel of the opening salvo in a campaign against the product.
The New York Times had reported in 2009 on a debate within the USDA and the beef industry itself over lean finely textured beef and its main producer, BPI — in particular, over the effectiveness of the ammonia-treatment process the company employs to kill E. coli and salmonella; the use of the product in school lunches; and the tradeoff between the cost savings and reduction in quality. From ABC’s initial coverage, it would have been difficult to determine that there had ever been a debate.
Having raised the alarm, the network did its best to keep it blaring: It sent producers into grocery-store meat sections on March 8 to see if there was pink slime in the ground beef and asked the country’s top ten grocery chains if they sold it. “Our viewers want to know if pink slime lurks in the beef sold here,” Avila said on March 9. “Most couldn’t tell us for sure.” When the USDA declined ABC’s requests to respond to its queries on the record, Sawyer told Avila on the 9th, “Keep calling all next week. I’m going to be asking every day.” In subsequent broadcasts, the network named and shamed grocery chains that carried the product.
As stores reacted, Sawyer used her broadcasts to showcase her success. “We are getting action tonight,” she told viewers on March 14. The USDA, which purchases food for the National School Lunch Program, was set to announce that it would allow schools to purchase either less-expensive hamburgers containing pink slime or costlier burgers free of the product.
“Tonight, taking action,” she said a week later, on March 21, as some of the country’s largest grocery chains discontinued beef containing “pink slime.” On April 3 came the report that the government had taken “big action.” The USDA was amending its labeling rules to allow producers voluntarily to label meat that contained lean finely textured beef.
The court battle over ABC’s work is being waged, on both sides, by titans of the legal industry. ABC retained the ultimate Washington law firm, Williams & Connolly; the team of lawyers representing the network is headed by Kevin Baine. In the late 1990s, Baine successfully handled CNN’s libel lawsuits stemming from the network’s botched 1998 Operation Tailwind report alleging that the United States used nerve gas in the Vietnam War.
4 February, 2014
People slow to react are more likely to die prematurely, study finds
Reaction time has a substantial correlation with IQ so we could just be seeing an IQ effect here. We already know that high IQ people are healthier and live longer. And low IQ people are much more likely to engage in violence and fighting
Whether you're naked and hungry on the savannah, driving in traffic or at the controls of your favorite video game, being slow to react can get you eaten, injured or splattered across the screen. While we intuitively know this, a new study offers dramatic evidence of how much speed of response still matters: In men and women from ages 20 to 59, slower than average reaction time turned out to be a pretty good predictor of premature death.
The new research, published this week in the journal PLoS One, was large, simple and highly revealing. Between 1988 and 1994, researchers gave 5,134 Americans adults under 60 a very straightforward test of reaction time: The participants, all part of a large federal study of American nutrition and health, were seated at a computer and told to push a button immediately upon seeing a 0 on the screen in front of them. There was no practice period; a participant's average over 50 trials was computed, and he or she had just a few seconds between those 50 trials.
Want to try a similar test of reaction time? Try your hand at this (very fun) game.
The researchers measured the range of reaction times across the group. They computed a "standard deviation" -- a unit of measure that marks the extent to which an individual's performance departs from the group's average. They took note of the "variability" of each participants' response time -- how widely reaction time fluctuated in the course of their 50 tries.
Then they waited close to 15 years to see who in this relatively young group of Americans would die, and of what.
Because the participants had been recruited for an ongoing study of health and nutrition, the researchers had a wealth of health-related information on them. They could use that data to adjust for risk factors such as age, gender and ethnicity.
In all, 378 of the participants died during a follow-up period that averaged 14.6 years -- 104 of cardiovascular deaths and 84 of cancer deaths.
When the researchers -- all from the University of Edinborough -- went back to compare participants' response times with their likelihood of being among the dead, they detected a clear pattern: for those with slow reaction times, each standard deviation that separated an individual's performance from the group's average increased his or her likelihood of dying by 25%.
Those who were slower than the group average by four standard deviations were twice as likely as those whose performance was average to have died over the 15-year follow-up period.
High variability in response time was also linked to a higher risk of death in the study. But those with high variability in response-time also tended to be the same people who response time was slower-than-average.
The authors noted that response time and variability were as powerful at predicting the likelihood of death as was another influential risk factor for death: smoking.
Response speed was much more likely to predict cardiovascular death than it was to predict death by cancer. This suggests that long before a stroke or heart attack fells its victim, the creeping progress of narrowing arteries, inefficient blood flow and weakening hearts might be evident as a slowing of response time, the study authors wrote.
Antioxidants speed lung cancer growth in mice, study finds
Since the foundations of the antioxidant religion are largely in rodent studies, challenges to the religion can reasonably come from that source too
People who smoke or have lung cancer should think twice about taking vitamin supplements, according to a Swedish study Wednesday that showed certain antioxidants may make tumors grow faster.
Lab mice that already had cancer were given vitamin E and a drug called acetylcysteine, which sped the growth of their tumors and made them die faster than mice that did not ingest supplements.
"Antioxidants caused a three-fold increase in the number of tumors and also tumor aggressiveness, and the antioxidants caused the mice to die twice as fast," said study author Martin Bergo of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
"If we gave a low dose, tumors increased a little bit. And if we gave a high dose, tumors increased a lot."
Research on human lung cancer cells growing in a lab dish also showed that the antioxidants caused the cells to multiply faster than they would have alone, suggesting the same might happen in human patients.
While more work needs to be done to confirm the effect in people, Bergo urged those with lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and smokers to take caution.
"You can walk around with an undiagnosed lung tumor for a long time," he said.
"If you are in this patient group, then taking extra antioxidants might be harmful and it could speed up the growth of that tumor."
Mixed results from supplement studies
The body produces its own antioxidants to prevent DNA damage from chemicals known as free radicals, but needs more from healthy foods like leafy greens, vegetables and fruits to stay healthy.
However, a large body of research on antioxidant supplements in humans has returned mixed results.
Some studies have suggested that people who take antioxidant supplements actually face a higher risk of cancer than those who do not.
One such study of nearly 30,000 men in Finland, which concluded in 1993, found that smokers who took the antioxidant beta carotene had a higher rate of cancer and greater risk of dying.
Other studies, such as the SELECT trial which enrolled 35,000 US and Canadian men beginning in 2001, found that men who took vitamin E were more likely to get prostate cancer.
"We haven't completely ironed out which vitamins, if any, may prevent cancer and which may cause cancer development or growth," said Benjamin Levy, director of thoracic medical oncology at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in New York.
"This study may help explain the negative findings from prior clinical lung cancer studies, including the ATBC and SELECT studies," said Levy, who was not involved in the research.
Antioxidants protect tumors, too
Researchers said their findings suggest antioxidants help tumors cut down on harmful free radicals, just as they do in normal cells, allowing the tumors to grow faster.
Free radicals can damage cells and possibly lead to cancer. But free radicals exist in cancer cells, too, explained Bergo.
"So it is also in the tumor's interest to suppress free radicals, and that is what we are doing when we take extra antioxidants—or give it to the mice in this case," he told reporters.
A protein called p53 can sense when DNA has been damaged by the buildup of molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS).
P53 can stop the growth of the cell and thereby stop the cancer.
When extra antioxidants reduce the level of ROS, this "allows the cancer cells to escape their own defense system," said co-author Per Lindahl from the University of Gothenburg.
Of particular concern is the finding that acetylcysteine increased tumor growth, since the drug is often given to patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as a way to help them breathe better and clear mucus from their lungs.
"We think that the use of acetylcysteine in this patient group should probably be carefully evaluated," said Bergo.
He added that researchers are now combing through data registries to find out if COPD patients—including people with chronic bronchitis and emphysema—have higher cancer rates after taking the drug.
The research appears in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
3 February, 2014
Milk and Brazil nuts will send you off to sleep: Scientists concludes certain minerals and acids are linked to a sound slumber
This is self-report data and probably includes an element of data dredging so it is no substitute for controlled experimentation
Searching for the recipe for a good night’s sleep? It could be as simple as a glass of milk and a few handfuls of nuts.
Scientists in the US studied the diets and sleep patterns of more than 4,500 adults and concluded that certain minerals and acids are linked to a sound slumber.
And their report suggests that a late-night snack of Brazil nuts – which are packed with selenium and potassium – washed down with a calcium-rich glass of milk contains all the ingredients you need for a satisfying sleep.
Lead author Dr Michael Grandner of Pennsylvania University, said: 'These findings suggest potentially natural and common-sense solutions to sleep problems. 'Although there is still important work that needs to be done on cause-and-effect, there is a lot of research showing that non-medication approaches can be very helpful. 'Even sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia can be very effectively treated.
Researchers quizzed 4,548 adults on their health, diet, lifestyle and sleep.
Women on the lowest incomes were most prone to having difficulty in getting a good night’s rest.
But even taking into account age, sex, education, salary, weight an mental health, several elements of food were seen to be significantly linked to satisfying sleep patterns.
Odds of having trouble dropping off were reduced by 20 per cent where dietary intake of the mineral selenium was doubled and by 17 per cent for calcium.
Greater consumption of carbohydrate, butanoic and dodecanoic acids – both abundant in milk – and vitamin D were linked with experiencing unbroken slumber.
Meanwhile, the chances of suffering lingering lethargy or tiredness the following day were cut by 30 per cent where there was twice as much potassium in the diet and 19 per cent for additional calcium.
Poor sleep was associated with two fats commonly found in butter and cheese – hexanoic and hexadecanoic acid – and also salt and drinking lots of fluids.
Every year, between 30 and 40 per cent of British adults suffer from insomnia with ten per cent regularly dogged by the condition.
Doctors are increasingly moving away from prescribing expensive drugs to alleviate symptoms, instead looking for therapeutic methods to treat the root causes.
No one needs a 'detox'
Is it ok for teenagers to go on detox diets?
January is the time of the year when we forget everything we know about biology, physiology and nutrition in an attempt to convince ourselves that the answer to festive over-indulgence is abstinence in one form or another. As the month draws to an end, and we start to reach for what has been denied - a glass of wine, a plate of pasta, chocolate - we should reflect on whether a few weeks of penance has done us any good whatsoever.
Alongside Dry January, one of the crazes this year has been "Veganuary", a regime in which all animal products are avoided. Beyonce and her husband, Jay-Z, are among a number of celebrities who have been extolling its virtues. I’ve lost count of the number of friends and patients who have told me they are doing it, too.
The idea is that by going animal-free for a month, you ’’cleanse’’ your body. This is just a new version of the old detox myth. People love the idea that the sins of yesterday can somehow be purged - detoxified - by some temporary change in lifestyle. Once you’ve done your penance, you’re free to go off and sin again come February 1. The drama of it all is far more seductive than what we know to be true: all things in moderation, but more fruit and veg, and less sugar, salt and fat.
The main detox regimes fall into two categories: the first, like Veganuary, involves cutting out foods that, in excess, are bad for you. Unscrupulous companies, nutritionists and health gurus then try to sell you the vitamins and minerals you ’’need’’ to supplement your meagre detox diet. But the body stores many of these, so this is quite unnecessary. More importantly, a few weeks of avoiding unhealthy foods, such as saturated fats, will make no difference to your health if you continue to eat too much of them the rest of the year. They’re still going to fur up your arteries.
The second type of detox regime relies on various potions and pills that claim to help your body expel so-called toxins. What those toxins are, or how you might have ingested them, is rarely specified - or if it is, not convincingly. Evidence is in short supply.
Could it be that these ‘‘toxins’’ are just the normal waste products that result from metabolism? In which case, the body has evolved over millions of years to remove them itself, and appeared to be doing it perfectly well before Superdrug, Boots or Holland & Barrett came along. And as for the claims that these toxins are the result of modern life - of exposure to pollution, pesticides and other chemicals - that’s pure shamanism.
If you don’t believe me, then can I point you to the charitable trust, Sense About Science, which has reviewed some of the many products claiming to have ’’detox’’ properties and found the term to be meaningless? Unfortunately, as there is no universally accepted definition for it, advertising standards are difficult to enforce, so these products can go on being sold with impunity.
The truth is that any perceived benefit from a detox regime is either down to a placebo effect or the temporary change in diet and lifestyle that accompanies it.
I’ve nothing against Veganuary or veganism per se. In fact I was once a vegan myself - until I realised that practically every food that is good to eat has been near an animal in one way or another.
In its favour, Veganuary isn’t trying to sell us something. A few people might discover healthier foods that they otherwise might not have tried, or come to appreciate that there is more to life than fatty burgers. That’s fine. But my objection to Veganuary and similar regimes is that they are rooted in cleanse-and-detox pseudoscience, and founded on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the body works. And that does none of us any good.
2 February, 2014
The paleo diet: can it really be good for you?
Most reformed serial dieters can remember a defining moment that got them off the starvation treadmill. Mine came in 2008. I was meeting an old friend, the nutritionist Charlotte Watts, for brunch. She walked in and something – everything – had changed. Her skin was clear and glowing, her eyes were bright. Her body looked stronger and leaner.
“You look amazing,” I said.
“I’ve gone paleo,” she replied.
Over the three months since I’d last seen her Charlotte had been “eating the way our ancestors did”: she’d given up sugar, processed foods, grains and legumes, focusing instead on meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. As a health writer, I pooh-poohed the idea (all that meat? There’s a global food crisis! And what healthy diet says give up lentils?) and continued to jump on and off whichever new vegan diet, alkaline plan or juice fast I happened to be writing about.
But Charlotte’s energy stuck around, as did her new figure. Meanwhile, on my high-in-wholegrain-and-dairy and low-in-meat-and-fat diet, I was tired, moody, 10lb overweight and always craving pasta or chocolate.
Then, in 2011, Charlotte and I wrote a book together and in the interests of research I tried her approach. Six weeks in, I had lost 4lb and felt unbelievable. I was back at the gym after years of desperate tiredness, had lost my afternoon crisp cravings, was sleeping better and thinking more clearly.
Although the idea of eating “what we’re programmed to” has been around since the 1960s, it was only in 2001, when the high priest of paleo, Loren Cordain, published The Paleo Diet, that it began to grow in popularity in America. By 2013 it had became the most Googled diet on the internet. It’s now taking off in Britain, too, with Amazon listing nearly 20 new paleo diet books out this month alone.
Cordain’s thesis is simple. A professor in the department of health and exercise science at Colorado State University, he argues that certain foods entered our diets only about 10,000 years ago with the agricultural revolution, when we began cultivating grains in larger amounts, and that isn’t long enough for us to adapt to eating them.
Instead, he believes we should stick to what the cavemen ate – meat, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts – and avoid grains, along with anything that prehistoric man wouldn’t have recognised, such as dairy, pulses, sugar and, of course, processed food. The book spawned an almost cult-like following, and his disciples – including the former runner Mark Sisson and a research biochemist called Robb Wolf – have built a mini-industry of cookbooks, eating plans and DVDs.
As well as the upsurge in popularity, something else has happened paleo-wise: it’s now women who are waving the flag. Celebrities such as Jessica Biel and Miley Cyrus have come out as fans, while the bloggers Sarah Fragoso, of Everyday Paleo, and Diane Sanfilippo, of Balanced Bites, boast tens of thousands of followers on Twitter. Their approach is less strict, allowing for the occasional bowl of porridge, but they promise results that go beyond mere weight loss.
“I used to get a sinus infection every two months, I struggled with acne and had depressive tendencies,” Sanfilippo tells me via Skype from her home in New Jersey. “I started paleo in 2010 and saw immediate changes to my skin and my mood, and I haven’t had a sinus infection in three years.”
Sanfilippo, who is also a nutritionist, believes that women are suddenly embracing the lifestyle because “it gives them permission to eat fat without getting fat… Adding fat to meals means that they are often satisfied with less food and usually lose weight. For my female clients that’s a revelation.”
Devotees aren’t without their critics, however. An article on the American food website Grub Street observed how female followers “all fit a similar mould… sporty, healthy, attractive. That’s no coincidence, of course. They’re ambassadors for the brand, and they need to look the part.” One response in the comments section read, “Has the author of this article considered that maybe the paleo-women look the way they do because they eat a healthy diet?”
While we are all familiar with the stereotypes surrounding gender and food – that is, men supposedly favour meat, and women salads and cupcakes – what causes such preferences remains unclear. Is it conditioning or biology? It’s hard to say. Dr Lucy Cooke, a behavioural psychologist at University College London, found that boys showed a clear preference for fatty foods and meat while girls were more willing to eat fruit and vegetables. These differences became more pronounced in adolescence, indicating that social conditioning may have a part to play.
She also found that genes were a more important factor than gender in food choice. This certainly rings true for me: my grandmother, like me, would far rather have gnawed on a chicken bone than picked at a cherry sponge, so perhaps I was destined to find the paleo diet appealing all along.
Whatever you call it – primal, caveman or paleo – no diet is quite so divisive. John Briffa, a doctor, nutritionist and ardent supporter of primal eating, points to evidence from fossilised remains that show “our ancestors pre-agriculture were robust physically, tall, strong and lean”. Remarkably, a study of the hunter-gatherer people of the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea found an absence of heart disease or diabetes, while a three-week trial of the paleo diet at Karolinska Institute in Sweden recorded an average weight loss of 2.3kg and a drop in blood pressure among participants.
But large-scale studies are non-existent – the Swedish one involved 14 people – and, in light of their absence, many nutritionists remain vehemently opposed to the paleo diet. In its 2013 ranking of 28 diets, which took into account safety, nutrition, weight loss and the effects on diabetes and heart disease, the influential US News & World Report placed paleo joint last (with the Dukan Diet). Its panel of experts “took issue with the diet on every measure”.
“The paleo diet trend is a dangerous fad,” says Lucy Jones, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association (BDA). “There isn’t any proof that it improves health, and its demand that you exclude food groups essential to health such as dairy, grains and legumes could leave people seriously deficient in essential vitamins and calcium, not to mention constipated from the lack of dietary fibre.” (One thing dietitians do agree on is sugar, which is increasingly blamed for poor health, with the Action on Sugar campaign comparing it to smoking and alcohol in harmfulness.)
Besides, asks Jones, what was the life expectancy for hunter-gatherers? About 20? Indeed, only a minority of our paleo ancestors would have made it to their forties, and many children would have died before they reached the age of 15.
But John Briffa remains adamant. “What with warfare, high risk of infection and climate, life expectancy was short,” he says. “But our ancestors were healthier than we are today during their short lives.”
Others question the reasoning behind the diet. According to Marlene Zuk, a professor of ecology, evolution and behaviour at the University of Minnesota and the author of the book Paleofantasy, the very idea that we haven’t evolved for 10,000 years is itself suspect. “A strong body of evidence points to many changes in the genome since humans spread across the globe and developed agriculture,” she says.
Jones also points to studies that link red meat with an increased risk of bowel cancer, though Briffa disputes the reliability of them. “Most of these studies look at populations of people and infer cause and effect from one characteristic of their diets, such as meat-eating,” he says. “How do you know their cancer was caused by red-meat eating, rather than some other attribute common among red-meat eaters, such as being sedentary or eating processed foods?”
Jones’s concerns do make sense to me, but, after three years, paleo eating is the one diet that has made me forget about dieting. It’s given me, at 44, huge reserves of energy, and I no longer feel hungry. According to the nutritionist Petronella Ravenshear, whose clients are mostly tired, stressed and slightly overweight women like I was, this is not uncommon among those on a paleo diet.
“The first thing you usually see is weight loss,” she says. “Because it contains enough protein and fat from meat, nuts and seeds, a paleo diet also balances out insulin levels. This generally means they are less hungry between meals because the protein sustains them longer than carbohydrate. They’re not getting blood-sugar crashes a couple of hours after eating. Their calorie intake consequently goes down naturally.”
So what’s so wrong with grains and legumes, which have been prescribed as part of a healthy diet for decades? Briffa and other paleo nutritionists claim that the gluten in wheat, barley and rye can trigger an immune response, with all sorts of ill effects, from headaches to fatigue and musculoskeletal pains, in those with a sensitivity to it. Online, you’ll find a barrage of claims about paleo curing everything from depression to autism.
Most links remain anecdotal, although Prof David Perlmutter, a neurologist and the author of Grain Brain, has used MRI scans to show how gluten causes changes in the brains of those sensitive to it. He claims that 40 per cent of people cannot process gluten properly, and says that it could trigger changes associated with depression, ADHD, headaches, dementia and autism.
Even the BDA concedes there may be a link. “Some patients with neurological conditions such as autism do respond to dietary restrictions,” says Lucy Jones. “There is a condition called ‘leaky gut syndrome’, in which the proteins from grains such as wheat and legumes may leak into the bloodstream of someone with a sensitivity and trigger an immune response. But as dietitians we simply don’t have enough evidence to say that such an approach will work across the board for all autistic children or those with other neurological conditions.”
Sarah Bowles-Flannery, a naturopath and nutritionist, says that paleo diets have benefited clients with Crohn’s disease, colitis and the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Briffa and Sanfilippo, meanwhile, credit them with helping clients with rheumatoid arthritis and even multiple sclerosis.
Like Sanfilippo, I, too, no longer suffer regular sinus infections. Gone are my mood swings and the overwhelming need to sleep all day on Sundays. I now wake at 5am to exercise and manage to put in 12 hours at work most days. And yet I find a truly paleo diet a struggle to sustain – buying lunch at M?&? S usually means only chicken breast or salmon flakes and a bag of salad. At restaurants friends have called me a pain in the a—, because I’m always asking whether things contain dairy and opting out of potatoes or rice. It becomes boring and repetitive, and so I have made my own concessions to the hardcore rules laid out in Cordain’s covenant – as do most people who eat primally long-term.
I succumb to the odd chickpea curry, eat porridge made with water and salt every few days, the occasional chip off my partner’s plate and anything I am served at dinner parties. Otherwise I couldn’t keep paleo going.
“I would always recommend people be flexible,” says Sarah Bowles-Flannery. “If you love porridge and want to have a lentil curry a few times a week, that’s fine. Most of the benefits come from cutting out sugar and processed foods and not eating grains all the time.”
Now I eat red meat only once a fortnight, usually lamb from a farm run by a friend who breeds a small herd each season. I’ll rarely have more than 100g to 150g of meat or fish (a portion the size of an iPhone) and avoid processed or charred meats altogether, as evidence suggests it’s these that increase the risk of bowel cancer. “That’s the big mistake everyone makes on paleo diets,” says Bowles-Flannery. “They go mad on meat but their diet should be three-quarters vegetables and fruit, the rest lean protein and healthy fats such as nuts, avocados and seeds.”
Still, it takes getting used to. “At first, paleo eating feels restrictive and boring,” says Petronella Ravenshear. “But within weeks the improvements in energy and general wellbeing make my clients – especially the women – want to stick with it. It’s like it’s given them permission to eat instinctively, freeing them from dieting and calorie-counting. The words I most often hear after someone has gone paleo are, ‘I feel liberated.’”
The paleo diet, deconstructed
Meat Red meat, game and poultry are encouraged, as long as they form no more than 25 per cent of your diet. Fish is eaten freely.
Nuts and seeds Although loaded with fats, they’re high in protein.
Fruit and vegetables Fruit is not prohibited, but the lower in sugar, the better (eg apples and pears). Generally any quantity of vegetables can be eaten, except for potatoes, which are high on the glycaemic index (GI) and cause spikes in insulin levels. Some paleos do eat lower-GI sweet potatoes.
Sugar Causes blood-sugar spikes and energy crashes.
Grains and legumes Believed to contain sticky, sugar-binding proteins that wreak havoc on the gut. The gluten in grains is blamed for causing inflammation of the gut and even the brain.
Dairy said to cause constipation and other gut issues. Paleos believe only about 40 per cent of people continue to produce lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose, in adulthood.
Dry January is over, but did it actually HARM your health? Expert claims having regular tipple is better for you than abstinence
Many of us will have woken up feeling especially smug this morning – not to mention slightly richer – after successfully negotiating the whole of January without a drink. After the excesses of the festive period, what better way to cleanse the system than a month without booze?
However, the increasingly popular practice of detoxing the body during ‘Dry January’ may do more harm than good, according to one expert.
He claims that having a regular tipple throughout the post-New Year period would have been more likely to improve health than giving up alcohol completely.
Professor Charles Bamforth, of the University of California, Davis, said: ‘Many people don’t realise that drinking in moderation has significant health benefits and that moderate drinkers have a longer life expectancy than non–drinkers. ‘Regular moderate intake of alcohol is good for the heart and blood circulation.’
The author of Beer, Health and Nutrition said drinking to excess can cause serious problems, but added: ‘The key is a little and often.
'You are seriously mistaken if you think that having a month without drinking will protect you from the effects of excessive drinking for the rest of the year. ‘The best advice is to drink moderately throughout the year.’
Prof Bamforth said beer, and in particular real ale, contains many nutrients that are important for a healthy body. He said: ‘The great thing about beer is that it is low in alcohol and brewed from natural raw materials, so it’s a good source of important nutrients such as antioxidants, B vitamins and dietary silicon that promotes strong bones. Indeed, beer used to be known as liquid bread.’
The Campaign for Real Ale welcomed his comments, suggesting older people could see particular benefits.
Chairman Colin Valentine said: ‘The health benefits of moderate drinking may explain why you meet so many people enjoying a healthy retirement who still like going for a pint of real ale in their local.
‘The evidence also shows that sociability has significant benefits to health and well-being. You are far better off sharing a beer with friends in a pub than sitting at home drinking by yourself.’
Front page to the original of this blog
Posts here by Dr. John Ray
I am pleased to report that when my son was a toddler, the first thing he learned to say was his McDonald's order.
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
SALT -- SALT -- SALT
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. More here and here on similar findings
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
Obesity does NOT causes diabetes. But insatiable eating is a prominent symptom of diabetes. So diabetes DOES cause obesity, which accounts for the correlation between the two things. The streets are full of fatties who don't have diabetes. How come? If conventional medical theory were correct we should be in the midst of an epidemic of diabetes. A recent high quality study has also found that fatties are LESS likely to die of diabetes
Elite people frequently express disapproval of red meat eating as a way of expressing their felt superiority to the ordinary people who eat it
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
The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.
"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 in general but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees -- the statin and antioxidant fads, for instance. 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 great and fraudulent scare about lead
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 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.
Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it
The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record
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 Truth About Ancel Keys. Keys was a brilliant man but his concentration on heart disease misled him. He was right that high fat intake predicted high rates of heart disease (though it was ANIMAL fat in particular that was the "culprit") but he overlooked that the same intake predicted LESS mortality from other causes. The same narrow vision led him to be the earliest prominent advocate of the "Mediterranean diet" hypothesis. It's true that Mediterraneans have less heart disease but they have more of other causes of death, so that Mediterranean countries do not have particularly long lifespans when compared with other developed countries. If there are any lessons about diet to be learned from lifespans, it is un-Mediterranean countries like Australia and the Nordic countries that one should look to.
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
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