Monitoring food and health news

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

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

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

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


31 January, 2010

The Big Fat Lies about Britain's obesity epidemic

I am not totally persuaded by all the arguments of the writer below. Total calorie intake seems to me the only dietary determinant of weight. But she certainly makes a good case that British government hectoring has been counterproductive. ANY attempt at dieting seems more likely to increase weight long-term rather than reduce it. All the successful dieters I know have eventually "fallen off the wagon" and ended up fatter than ever

We are all getting fatter. We know this because the Government tells us all the time, in every report, health warning and advertising campaign it issues. For the past 30 years we've been told to eat less and exercise more, to cut back on calories and on saturated fat and, on the whole, we're doing it. Our calorific intake between the years 1974 and 2004 decreased by 20 per cent. We are eating about 20 per cent more fruit and vegetables than in the Seventies. We are doing approximately 25 per cent more exercise than we were in 1997.

But are our waist lines shrinking? No. So what is really behind this obesity epidemic? I'll tell you.

We're following Government advice on how and what to eat, but that advice is so wrong it is actually making us fatter. The endless message of 'eat less, do more' has never been proven using proper clinical trials. And we've only started to get really fat since governments started promoting the current low-fat health messages, back in the early Nineties.

I'm a lawyer by training and I became convinced that the rise in obesity must be partly due to bad guidance. So I set out to look at the research studies on which government advice is based. What I found has shocked me. The Government's Food Standards Agency (FSA), among others, is pumping out a template of a balanced diet that is based on flawed science that I believe is responsible for thousands of people developing health problems.

The co-defendant in the dock with the Government is starch. While we've all been brainwashed into thinking that fat is the killer we must avoid and food manufacturers bring out more and more profitable 'low-fat' versions of foods, starch - in the shape of pasta, bread, cereals, potatoes and rice - has been quietly adding on the pounds, while we are being told that it's good for us.

The problem, I believe, is threefold. First, we are being given dietary advice that is completely out of keeping with our current lifestyles. In a world where we sit at computers instead of toiling in the fields, we simply don't need the sort of high-energy, starchy foods we are told to eat, and certainly not in the proportions we are advised. The central issue is that starch is converted to glucose very quickly, which then triggers the release of the hormone insulin. Insulin triggers the storage of excess glucose into fat, which is stored mainly around our middles.

If you constantly produce too much insulin, your body goes into a permanent fat-storage mode. This means people who are overweight get into a cycle of weight gain. The starchy foods that we are encouraged to eat at almost every meal - such as rice, bread or pasta - also contain very few of the essential nutrients we need for a healthy, balanced diet. Because they're nutrient poor, manufacturers have to enrich them with added vitamins and minerals.

The second problem is that the Government vendetta against fats, because of their apparent link to heart disease, is based on highly debatable studies.

And third, although exercise is undoubtedly good for us all, there is growing evidence that shows sweating away in the gym won't actually make you any slimmer.

And to add insult to injury, it's hard to get any research money to counter these arguments, because most research is funded by the very food conglomerates that stand to benefit most from these lies.

So, the first big fat lie we are fed is that we should eat less. The FSA itself says we should not eat as much, and eat fewer calories. But while calorie-counting tells us how much energy there is in food, it doesn't distinguish between the effect those foods will have on our insulin response - which dictates how much fat we store in the body. The FSA tells us that we should base our meals on starchy foods, and this message is repeated by the NHS and British Diabetic Association.

The FSA says: 'Starchy foods such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes, are a really important part of a healthy diet. Starchy foods should make up about a third of the food we eat. 'They are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet. 'Most of us should eat more starchy foods - try to include at least one starchy food with each of your main meals. 'Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram they contain less than half the calories of fat.'

But does starch or starchy food give us a significant amount of those important nutrients, which are defined as essential? No, it does not. Starch does not contain any significant amounts of amino-acids or fatty-acids, which are an important part of a healthy diet. And most starches, in their natural state, are low in vitamins and minerals. So the food manufacturer (not nature) adds vitamins and minerals to the food concerned. In fact, what the Government is actually doing with 'fortification' - that's adding vitamins - is giving the general population vitamin and mineral tablets in a different form.

The Government also states that starch is 'a good source of energy'. Starch is not just a good source, it's a very efficient source of energy. Unlike protein, which turns to energy slowly and requires energy to break it down, starch turns to energy quickly and efficiently. This is fantastic if you intend to run a marathon, but how many of us are doing that?

By the Government's own logic, the obesity problem is to do with an imbalance between the amount of energy that we consume and the amount of energy we expend. It is quite illogical to want to encourage a nation that is already getting fatter due to excess energy intake to eat more starch. Remember, the Government confirms its belief in calorie-counting: 'Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram they contain less than half the calories of fat.'

But recent studies have shown that there are serious issues with the measurement of calories as a means of weight loss. In fact, a higher-calorie diet that is low in starch has been shown to improve weight loss, mainly because of the impact of insulin on fat storage. Most experts agree it's the hormone insulin which makes the body store fat. Over time, people can start to overproduce insulin, which can lead to insulin resistance and eventually Type 2 diabetes. The foods that trigger insulin are primarily starch and sugar.

People who over-produce insulin are more than likely to gain fat, particularly around the tummy - hence the rise of the 'muffin top' in the past ten years. Surely it must follow that overeating starch is, in part, causing the obesity crisis?

Another big fat lie we are fed is that we should eat less fat. Low-fat yoghurts, skimmed milk and cheese, virtually fat-free desserts - the supermarket shelves are full of these 'healthy' low-fat alternatives (although many are actually high in sugar) as we all absorb the Government's message to cut back on saturated fat. The simple message is: saturated fats are high in calories and are making us fat. Saturated fats cause heart disease. And most people believe that the fear of saturated fat is based on robust science - why else would the Government be putting out this advice?

Let's look at the scientific evidence. When studies have been done with high saturated fat levels combined with low levels of starch and sugar, the subjects not only lost weight faster than the low-calorie, low-fat option but - perhaps more interestingly - the cholesterol profile of the subjects on the high-fat diet was better.

Which leads us to question the link between saturated fats and heart disease. Since the Fifties, there has been an unrelenting wave of studies trying to prove this connection. By the Eighties, we had a consensus of opinion that the connection between saturated fats and heart disease was sufficiently compelling to start issuing dietary guidelines. At this stage, there had not been any major clinical trials clearly pointing the finger at saturated fat.

However, in 1984, the Lipid Research Clinics Study was published. This was a study looking at cholesterol-lowering drugs and the incidence of heart attacks. While it showed some benefits from cholesterol-lowering drugs, the assumption made by the researchers was that if you eat a diet low in cholesterol, that would have the same effect as taking cholesterol-lowering drugs. This conclusion prompted various agencies in the U.S. to start a campaign to lower the amount of saturated fats in our diet. At no time did this study look at the effect of saturated fats on heart attacks or heart disease. So, on the basis of a study looking at drugs lowering cholesterol, we ended up with a message to eat less saturated fat.

This plea for sanity over the advice on fats is not a lone cry. Several very influential experts such as Dr Laura Corr, consultant cardiologist at Guys and St Thomas' Hospital in London, and Dr Michael Oliver, from the National Heart and Lung Institute, have asked those in power to stop propagating an unproven message.

Where does the FSA find such certainty among the pile of published science which is not conclusive in its findings? In fact, there are some statistics showing quite the contrary, especially when mixed with a low- starch and low-sugar diet. One report looked at 27 individual studies into the link between fats and heart disease and no link could be found. The largest study on lifestyle factors and heart disease was published in The Lancet medical journal in 2004 and it did not list saturated fat as a factor.

We really need more clinical studies looking at saturated fat in our diet with and without the effect of starch and sugar. But, unfortunately, the world of health is now so obsessed with the fear of saturated fats it won't even let us carry out trials. Back in 2004, I asked a well-known research body in the UK to carry out a clinical trial into saturated fats combined with a high and a low-starch diet. But I was turned away with the explanation they would not get ethical approval and they claimed no one wanted to know more about saturated fats anyway.

And the other lie we are fed: exercise more. There is no doubt that exercise is an excellent tool for weight maintenance and is fantastic for our general health. But what is really misleading is the idea that exercise will significantly help you to lose weight. I attended the European Obesity Conference in 2006, at which Sir Neville Rigby, the former director of policy on the International Obesity Taskforce, referred to several major European studies showing categorically that exercise had no significant impact on the weight of the participants.

Since the conference, one of the studies that has added fuel to the doubters' fire is the Early Bird Study in Plymouth. This lost its Government financial backing because it showed that exercise made no difference to the weight or weight loss of children.

In a significant study carried out by the World Health Organisation into the obesity problem in the U.S., it was concluded that exercise is not a factor of any influence.

The UK Government has suggested that to stop further weight-gain and help reduce weight, people need to do about 60 to 90 minutes of light exercise a day. The average person with children and a job will, realistically, struggle to fit in this amount of exercise every day or even every week. A little bit here and there is not enough to make any real difference to weight loss, especially if you are on a starch-rich diet.

So the Government's advice to eat a starch-rich, low-fat diet and to exercise more is based on inconclusive science, while the evidence we see all around us is that we are getting fatter following this advice. It's time for a wholesale review of the way in which we eat.


Energy drinks a 'serious' heart risk

The "energy" derives from stimulants, not any improvement to physiological function -- and the result seems to be a fairly clearcut zero-sum game. The "highs" are paid for by subsequent "lows"

JUST one energy drink can cause "serious heart conditions", a world-first study has found. The report, according to Adelaide Now, has prompted Australian Medical Association state president Dr Andrew Lavender to warn people to limit their consumption of energy drinks to one a day until further urgent research into long-term consumption of the drinks is complete.

The study by the University of Adelaide, Royal Adelaide Hospital and Cardiovascular Research Centre were published during the week in the prestigious American Journal of Medicine. It found "common energy drinks do trigger significant changes, including a rise in blood pressure, increased stickiness of blood and decreased blood vessel function".

Report author and Physiology Senior Research Officer Dr Scott Willoughby said: "These measures could potentially lead to serious heart conditions in otherwise fit and healthy individuals."

Energy drinks are designed to increase stamina and improve physical performance. The revelations would lead to further research into the relationship between the popular drinks - which have been linked anecdotally with sudden cardiac deaths - and heart disease, Dr Willoughby said. "Given the prolific use of these drinks within the young population, further research . . . is urgently needed," he said. Energy drinks sales in Australia are worth $550 million annually.

Main ingredients are caffeine and taurine while some new drinks contain opium poppy seed extract or ephedrine.


30 January, 2010

Over 70 and Overweight May Add Years to Life


Despite the warnings that being overweight will kill you, a new Australian study finds that overweight adults over the age of 70 are less likely to die over a 10-year period than their normal-weight peers.

The study, published Jan. 28 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, conflicts with research that suggests that being overweight contributes to a long list of health problems, including heart disease.

"Our study suggests that those people who survive to age 70 in reasonable health have a different set of risks and benefits associated with the amount of body fat to younger people," lead researcher Leon Flicker, of the University of Western Australia, said in a news release from the journal's publisher.

Flicker and colleagues looked at a decade's worth of data regarding the health of more than 9,200 Australians aged 70 to 75 in 1996 when the study began. Australia is ranked as the third most obese country in the world after the United States and the United Kingdom, the study authors noted.

The study defined overweight and obesity levels based on body mass index, a measurement that takes weight and height into account. The four weight categories used in the study included underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese.

Those who were overweight -- a step below obese -- faced a 13 percent lower risk of death compared with those who were normal weight. But there was no benefit found for those who were obese, the study authors noted.

The researchers also found that being sedentary doubled the risk of death for women and raised it by one-quarter for men. According to the study authors, it may be time to reevaluate the system that determines who is overweight and obese.


Ridiculing the obese is the new gay bashing

British society has become far more enlightened over sexuality and race. Now we reserve our contempt for the underclass

My son begged me to switch the show off. “It’s too cruel,” he said. But that seemed to be the point of Fat Families. “You make me feel sick,” said the smug presenter as the obese couple looked forlornly at their takeaway supper. Later they were stripped naked — she weeping, he head bowed — while the camera boggled obscenely at their bodies. I hope they were well paid, this good-hearted pair, who clearly loved their kids and each other. What price to be paraded as an object of hatred and disgust.

A public health message? No, this was the All-New Fat & White Minstrel Show. The obese are the last group — should you feel enraged today by a parking penalty or Blair — at which you can vent your fury with legal and social impunity. A friend mentioned, en passant, chastising a man for letting his dog pee copiously over her doorstep. “P*** off, you fat bitch,” was his automatic response. I was aghast, she was nonplussed: as a largish lady she dealt with this (and worse) every day.

This week the British Social Attitudes survey revealed our greater toleration of homosexuality: only a third of us now think gay love is wrong. Which still seems mighty high to me, yet only 20 years ago this figure was double. Gay men are still violently assaulted, name-calling is too infrequently challenged in schools, but these days homophobia is rarely given full vent in the national media. And if it is — as with Jan Moir’s article — a powerful and righteous lobby will unleash all hell.

But sometimes it feels as if the anger and intolerance upon our angry, always up-for-a-fight island, is just being funnelled to other targets: the fat, the poor, the white trash, the chavs and pikeys, the underclass on the fringes of society who we loathe almost as much as we fear.

Outsiders are always easiest to hate. When gay culture was confined to the margins, it was simple to caricature and condemn. After all, it was unlikely you’d meet anyone to disprove your view. The great progress of the past decade was gay relationships ceasing to be subject to saucy speculation but becoming normal, banal even. The once-separate straight and gay worlds have meshed. When my lovely lesbian sister-in-law had a baby with a gay man, I’d wondered how to explain this scenario to my elderly northern parents, so sheltered were their lives. I was stupid to worry.

Love and babies, the warmth of real human contact, breaks down suspicion of The Other. After one hilarious Christmas karaoke night my eightysomething mother reflected simply: “Well, I’d never met any gays before. But they all seem very nice.” And when I was interviewing the American writer David Sedaris recently he marvelled at how parents bring 14-year-old sons along to his book signings: “Meet Doug,” they might say. “He’s gay.” Sedaris’s own tortured, confused and utterly closeted teenage self would have marvelled at this casually acknowledged truth.

At this time when our respect for the political process has never been lower, few will acknowledge the wonder when government does something right. The creation of civil partnerships in 2005 not only dignified and formalised gay relationships but acted as a catalyst for further change. Moreover, it signalled that the British culture war was over. Run up the flag: the forces of tolerance had won.

It was a long, bitter conflict, fought all through the Thatcher years, when it was the ugly, snarling, bullying tap-room bigotry more than any economic policies that made many loathe our Government. This was not so much a clash of policies, but about what constitutes full humanity. Peter Lilley was getting belly laughs with his conference ditty against single mums; disgust against homosexuality led to the creation of Clause 28, banning discussion of same sex relationships in school for fear that predatory gays would stalk our kids.

That the Tory party is run now by social liberals sometimes boggles the mind. Can people change that easily? Only seven years ago David Cameron voted to keep Clause 28, but now he has apologised, declared his intent to reward not only marriage in the tax system but civil partnerships too.

And Baroness Warsi who, when I asked her why she sent out anti-gay literature when she was standing in Dewsbury in the 2005 election, said: “I have learnt, read more; my views have matured since then.” Maybe they have. Even Elton John’s arch tormentor, the former Sun Editor Kelvin MacKenzie, claims these days to be a friend of the gays.

Or maybe Cameron realises that laissez faire morality is so deeply entrenched that there is no point in fighting it. And besides, why go against the grain when you can go with the flow? While our social attitudes have grown more liberal, our economic views have hardened into conservatism: only a bare majority now believe it is the Government’s job to secure employment for all or to ensure the unemployed have a decent standard of living.

Indeed, as racism and homophobia have become ever more verboten, there has been a corresponding growth in intolerance for the poor, a disgust at their lifestyle, an ugly, lazy disdain for those who live in council estates, who have scary dogs and babies too young, a licensed mocking of their yeah-but-no-but speech and culture. I grow tired of arguing with well-brought-up children of liberal parents that “chav” is a disgusting, reductive label, that the kids who live in the flats behind our house are not — apart from the amount of stuff they own — so different from them. How depressing that even 12-year-olds see society set into two separately entrenched tribes.

But it is fine now to believe that the underclass only has itself to blame for its educational failures, and laziness keeps families on the dole. And there they are, paraded on those circuses of disgust: Big Brother and Jeremy Kyle. Or on that whole new TV genre, the obesity freak show: Fat Families, The World’s Fattest Man, Too Fat Too Young ... All feign concern when their only object is to poke ridicule at the stupid chavs unable to stop shoving kebabs into their face even when it’s killing them.

Obesity is, above all, a mark of poverty: a handy melding of our social and bodily disgust, No, these days we may not bash so many poofs. But there is still plenty of sport to be had watching a 20st woman in a wedding dress that will never fit, weeping her heart out with shame.


29 January, 2010

Fall of ‘dishonest’ doctor who started MMR scare

Note that the crap was published in "Lancet" -- another reason not to trust that once-fine journal

The doctor who sparked a worldwide panic over the MMR vaccine could be struck off after being found guilty yesterday of a series of misconduct charges related to his “unethical” research. Andrew Wakefield, who in 1998 claimed an unfounded link between the vaccination and autism, “showed a callous disregard” for the suffering of children, subjecting them to unnecessary, invasive tests, a hearing found.

The General Medical Council (GMC) ruled that he abused his position of trust as he researched a possible link between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease and autism in children. It found that Wakefield and two colleagues acted dishonestly and irresponsibly in carrying out research on children against their best interests and without official permission.

The GMC ruled that Wakefield, who was working at the Royal Free Hospital in London as a gastroenterologist at the time, did not have the ethical approval or qualifications to oversee the study, which involved children undergoing colonoscopies, lumbar punctures, barium meals and brain scans. He was also found to have brought the medical profession into disrepute after taking blood samples from youngsters at his son's birthday party in return for payments of £5 and failing to disclose vital conflicts of interest.

He received £50,000 to carry out the research on behalf of solicitors acting for parents who believed that their children had been harmed by MMR, but could not account for how at least half this money had been spent. He also did not declare any conflict of interest to The Lancet medical journal, which published the research.

The GMC found the charges against Wakefield, and the professors John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch were “sufficient to amount to serious professional misconduct”.

But as he delivered the verdicts, Dr Surendra Kumar, the panel’s chairman, was repeatedly heckled by distraught parents who support Wakefield and his former colleagues. One woman shouted: "These doctors have not failed our children. You are outrageous." She called the panel of experts "b******s" and accused the GMC of being a "kangaroo court". All three doctors deny any wrongdoing.

The study prompted a massive drop in the number of children being vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella. Uptake of the MMR vaccine was 91 per cent before 1998, but by 2003 this had fallen to 79 per cent. In 2008 there were nearly 1,400 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales — compared with 57 in 1997 — and nearly a dozen deaths had been officially linked to the illness. Subsequent studies involving millions of children found no evidence of a link between MMR and autism.

The hearing sat for 148 days over a two-and-a-half year period, at a cost to the GMC, funded by doctors, of more than £1 million. It is the longest running medical misconduct case in the Council’s 147 year history.

Before yesterday’s hearing, 12 organisations, including the Medical Research Council, the British Medical Association and Faculty of Public Health, released a joint statement reaffirming their confidence in the jab. “The undersigned believe that the MMR triple vaccine protects the health of children,” they said. “A large body of scientific evidence shows no link between the vaccine and autism.”


Simple blood test 'could help predict rheumatoid arthritis years before symptoms appear'

A simple blood test could help predict if someone is developing a crippling form of arthritis years before symptoms appear, scientists believe. The breakthrough could allow patients to be treated earlier, helping to prevent some of the painful diseases most devastating effects.

More than 600,000 people in Britain are thought to suffer from the disease, rheumatoid arthritis, in which the body’s own immune system attacks the joints. It can leave sufferers disabled and in agony.

Studies have shown that patients who receive early treatment are likely to be more active and have less chance of having to have had a joint replaced than other sufferers.

Researchers from University Hospital in Umea, Sweden, believe that they have now developed a way to help predict that a patient will develop the disease, even before they start to feel pain. “These findings present the opportunity for better predicting the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis and, therefore, possibly preventing disease progression,” the team write in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Diagnosis of the illness can be difficult as symptoms can typically start off mild. In the early stages the disease can also mimic other illnesses, including lupus and osteoarthritis, the other form of arthritis, which is caused by wear and tear of the joints.

Scientists have found higher levels of certain proteins, part of a group called cytokines and secreted by immune system cells, in the blood several years before patient’s symptoms develop. These proteins are known to be heightened when patients suffer from the full-blown disease and treatments which tackle them have been effective, but scientists said that it was significant that there were raised years before patients developed any pain. The team analysed blood samples from 86 patients, which were taken before their symptoms developed. They compared these with samples taken from 256 people who did not have the disease.

A spokesman for the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society said: “We welcome the publication of this study, which adds to the growing body of evidence that people who go on to develop rheumatoid arthritis could be identified before symptoms develop. “This is important because early diagnosis and treatment we know from other research is hugely beneficial in stopping people going on to suffer disability or need a joint replaced.”

However, Prof Alan Silman, from Arthritis Research Campaign, said: “This is of great scientific interest as it sheds more light on the early development of rheumatoid arthritis, but the practical significance is probably quite limited as doctors would not want to intervene in the absence of any symptoms.”


28 January, 2010

Heh! Eating too many "superfoods" can harm health

For years they have been hailed for their apparently age-defying effects on the body. From sweet potatoes to blueberries, from lentils to broccoli, the health conscious couldn't get enough of so-called superfoods. But now it seems you really can have too much of a good thing.

Scientists say the delicate balance of nutrients required by the body could be affected by stuffing it full of the antioxidants contained in the foods. Nutritionists claim these antioxidants can lengthen your life by cutting the risk of heart disease and cancer. They have even linked them to better sex. But researchers say too much of the superfoods could mean there are not enough 'pro-oxidants' - usually considered the evil twin of antioxidants - in the body. While the antioxidants slow down the damage to muscles and other organs by the process known as oxidisation, the pro-oxidants speed it up. But too many antioxidants can tilt the balance and make it harder for the elderly to breathe and stop them from doing the exercise that could help them stay fit.

The researchers, from Kansas State University in the U.S. tested animals with different doses of antioxidants. Those that were given too much showed impaired muscle function, reported the study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Researcher Steven Copp said: 'I think what a lot of people don't realise is that the antioxidant and pro-oxidant balance is really delicate. 'One of the things we've seen in our research is that you can't just give a larger dose of antioxidants and presume that there will be some sort of beneficial effect. In fact, you can actually make a problem worse.'

Nutrionists claim that antioxidants can slow down and even reverse some of the effects of ageing - which is why foods like blueberries have been hailed for their benefits on dementia victims. But some of these changes are not good for an ageing body as it stops some of ways in which blood cells flow by taking out the chemicals known as vasodilators which help open blood vessels. This makes older people get out of breath more quickly, for instance, which in turn prevents them from exercise and keeping fit.

Mr Copp said: 'If you have a person trying to recover from a heart attack and you put them in cardiac rehab, when they walk on a treadmill they might say it's difficult. 'Their muscles get sore and stiff. We try to understand why the blood cells aren't flowing properly and why they can't get oxygen to the muscles, as happens in healthy individuals. 'We're now learning that if antioxidant therapy takes away hydrogen peroxide - or other naturally occurring vasodilators - you impair the body's ability to deliver oxygen to the muscle so that it doesn't work properly.

'It's really a cautionary note that before we start recommending people get more antioxidants, we need to understand more about how they function in physiological systems and circumstances like exercise.'


Uphill battle to conceive after 35

Lots of women turn a blind eye to this so it cannot be stressed enough

THE speed at which female fertility declines has been highlighted by the first study to track a woman's supply of eggs from conception to the menopause. The average 30-year-old will have just 12 per cent - barely an eighth - of her eggs left, the research shows. By her 40th birthday the situation is even more bleak, with just 3 per cent of the two million or so eggs she was born with remaining.

Only about 450 of the two million eggs will fully mature over a woman's lifetime. Many others will start to mature before dying off. The more eggs the woman has, the greater the odds of one maturing enough to allow her to become pregnant.

Researcher Dr Tom Kelsey, of St Andrews University, said there were "women waiting for the next promotion or waiting to meet Mr Right". "Women often do not realise how seriously their ovarian reserve declines after the age of 35," he said. "Every year that goes by you are losing a big proportion of your ovarian reserve. A lot of people get to their menopause in their mid or late 40s."

The rapid decline of a woman's store of eggs - and fertility - was known before, but this study is the first to trace its entire path, from before birth through to the end of child-bearing years. Working with Edinburgh University experts, Dr Kelsey counted the number of eggs in the ovaries of 325 women of a variety of ages. The information was then fed into a computer program which worked out how the supply declined with time.

The analysis, which is reported in the journal PLoS ONE, also showed that until the age of 25 lifestyle factors such as smoking or alcohol have little effect on a woman's fertility. But after this point the way a woman looks after her body has a marked effect on fertility.

He said unlocking the workings of female biological clocks could help doctors better advise young cancer patients on how to preserve their fertility.


27 January, 2010

Celling fear: The cell phone scare that refuses to die

Since there is now some evidence that cellphone emissions HELP prevent Alzheimer's, this is typical of the stupidity and arrogance of people who think they know it all -- evidence regardless. Ignorance is almost always destructive and this is prime ignorance

Soon would-be cell phone buyers in Maine might be checking out the latest models, only to find a jarring red box on each unit with the image of a brain next to a phone. On it, the alarming words: WARNING, THIS DEVICE EMITS ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION; EXPOSURE TO WHICH MAY CAUSE BRAIN CANCER. USERS, ESPECIALLY CHILDREN AND PREGNANT WOMEN, SHOULD KEEP THIS DEVICE AWAY FROM THE HEAD AND BODY.

The above notice would be mandated by Maine’s Children’s Wireless Protection Act, which was recently introduced as emergency legislation following a unanimous vote by the state’s legislative council. Does this mean science shows that cell phones really are harmful? On the contrary. The real problem comes from misinformation from activists and a policy called “the precautionary principle” that could be devastating if it makes inroads into public policy.

Unfortunately, the Maine legislature is not the only government body considering such a hysterical action. This month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is expected to consider a resolution already approved unanimously by a commission as well as by the mayor. Among other things, it requires radiofrequency emission levels for each phone to be displayed as large as the price and asks for “warning labels [to] be placed on all cell phone packaging regarding exposure to radiation, especially for children.”

The idea, says San Francisco Toxics Reduction Program Manager Debbie Raphael, is that since the city cannot require manufacturers to redesign phones, requiring a label presumably warning of health risks will influence them to redesign their products. However, there is no call to require the same labels on other radiofrequency emitting devices, such as televisions and personal computers.


Nanny state can't save us from ourselves

If we choose to accept any risks from (say) getting fat, what right has the government got to tell us not to do that? Comment below from Australia

This month Manly Council erected a surfboard-shaped sign at its most famous beach to instruct board-riders how to behave in the surf. Two years ago the council installed a $26,000 safety fence at the notorious "jump rock", where the young and young-at-heart plunge into the ocean below. This year it pledged to have rangers patrol the area, intent on catching thrill-seekers in the act. But their efforts haven't stopped the kids from jumping, and the fence has simply turned out to be an expensive ratepayer-funded diving platform.

That parents, teachers, doctors, priests, and other assorted experts claim to know best about the potential risks and dangers we face - both individually and as a community - is nothing new. But the expectation that government should legislate to protect us from these risks and dangers is.

This poses some fundamental questions about citizens' relationship with government. Protecting our physical security - for example from threats of war, violence and other types of crime - is at the core of what governments do. But how far does the definition of security extend?

Does it extend to protecting us from diseases, from addictions, or from other risky behaviours? How far should government go in telling us what we can and can't do for our own good? And what happens when, after weighing up the risks and benefits, we decide we don't want to be protected?

There are increasing calls for more regulation of junk food, and ideas such as a junk food tax are frequently floated in the media. The scientific evidence is pretty clear - a diet of ice-cream and chips will probably make you fat and in turn lead to problems like diabetes and heart disease. Your chances of living a long and healthy life diminish.

But what if you cherish the ability to sit down to a nightly Big Mac and Coke more than the prospect of living to 90? Sure, it's self-destructive and short-sighted, but a look around any shopping centre food court will confirm that it's a decision plenty of people make. So should it be the role of legislators to tell them not to?

What happens when, in an effort to protect our health and safety, rules and regulations trample on other things we value?

The stern-faced, beach-ball popping fun police at the cricket have become the stuff of infamy. But the public reaction to their unbending rules suggests many people are willing to risk getting covered in warm beer if it means they get to enjoy the Mexican wave.

Not all legislative efforts to protect us pose a problem. But for rules and regulations to be effective - and legitimate - they must be ones that people want to follow. They should reflect the community's values, not try to shape them. We happily submit to airport security measures, wear seatbelts, and drive on the left side of the road because there is a community consensus that following these rules is beneficial for us individually and as a group.

But risks to our safety, security and health involve trade-offs. While one person will gladly jump out of a plane with a parachute attached, another will decide it's just not worth the risk. When it comes to questions of health, safety and security, individuals will make widely differing decisions.

It's little wonder then that so many efforts to control the public's "risky" behaviour fail so miserably. Despite a long-standing prohibition on drugs, survey data show that nearly 40 per cent of people 14 years and over have tried illicit drugs at least once in their life, with about 15 per cent saying they have consumed them in the past year. The alcopops tax was designed to curb binge drinking among teenagers. The actual effect was not to cut their alcohol intake but to increase their consumption of hard liquor such as vodka. And authorities' unsuccessful attempts to regulate away alcohol-fuelled violence suggest they haven't learnt anything since the days of the six o'clock swill.

When a law is widely ignored or deplored by enough members of the community, we have to ask whether the problem lies with the people ignoring the law or the law itself.

Arguments for or against the nanny state rarely get to the heart of the issue. When, if ever, is it appropriate for government to protect us from ourselves? And when trade-offs between, say, security and enjoyment need to be made, who should decide?


26 January, 2010

Australians love their meat pies

And if they are so bad for you, how come Australians have one of the world's longest life-expectancies? -- longer than any of the much-praised Mediterranean countries, in fact. It shows how little the food faddists know. (Americans think of a pie as a dessert but the most popular pies in Australia -- as mentioned below -- contain ground or diced beef, including beef fat -- baked in an oven. I myself am a meat pie devotee -- JR)

Early results of an exclusive Courier-Mail online poll found the meat pie was a clear front-runner as Australia's national dish with 29 per cent of votes. But a typical meat pie is packed with 2000mg of sodium, nearly half the recommended daily dose of salt, and contains both high-fat protein and high-fat carbohydrates.

In a close second – nearly as popular and as unhealthy – was a snag in bread [hot dog], with 21 per cent of votes. The barbecue favourite contains up to 1200 kilojoules and would take an hour of aerobics to burn off.

Dietitians Association of Australia spokeswoman Julie Gilbert said Australia's favourite dishes reflected the fact we're the fattest. "While these foods might be uniquely Australian, they are no longer considered treats and have become part of our everyday eating and that's the problem," she said.

Sunshine Coast pest controller Mark Hayman, 28, said the old slogan "football, meat pies, kangaroos and holden cars" proved why the humble pie was quintessentially Australian. The pie-loving tradesman said he tried not to eat his favoured national dish too often, because he knew it was hardly the healthiest lunch. "I do have mates who go for a surf and then hoe into a meat pie," he said. "They usually buy two and they don't care at all that they're not good for you."

Mr Hayman said the meat pie was a typical "tradie's smoko". "All tradesmen have their favourite places to get a pie, so if you want to get a good pie, speak to a tradie."

The Courier-Mail's online poll found roast lamb was the third most popular dish with 14 per cent of the votes, while pavlova and steak were the top choice for 6 per cent of readers. Salt and pepper squid captured just 4 per cent of the vote. Fish and chips scored 3 per cent, prawns 7 per cent and lamingtons attracted 5 per cent, while spaghetti bolognese was preferred by just 1 per cent.


Eye test that spots Alzheimer's 20 years before symptoms

A test that can detect Alzheimer's up to 20 years before any symptoms show is being developed by British scientists. The simple and inexpensive eye test could be part of routine examinations by high street opticians in as little as three years, allowing those in middle age to be screened. Dementia experts said it had the power to revolutionise the treatment of Alzheimer's by making it possible for drugs to be given in the earliest stages.

The technique, being pioneered at University College London, could also speed up the development of medication capable of stopping the disease in its tracks, preventing people from ever showing symptoms.

Rebecca Wood, of the Alzheimer's Trust, said: 'These findings have the potential to transform the way we diagnose Alzheimer's, greatly enhancing efforts to develop new treatments.' Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia blight the lives of 700,000 Britons and their families, and the number of cases is expected to double within a generation. There is no cure and existing drugs do not work for everyone.

Current diagnosis is based on memory tests, and expensive brain scans are also sometimes used. However decisive proof of the disease usually comes from examination of the patient's brain after death.

The eye test would provide a quick, easy, cheap and highly-accurate diagnosis. It exploits the fact that the light-sensitive cells in the retina at the back of the eye are a direct extension of the brain. Using eye drops which highlight diseased cells, the UCL researchers showed for the first time in a living eye that the amount of damage to cells in the retina directly corresponds with brain cell death. They have also pinpointed the pattern of retinal cell death characteristic of Alzheimer's. So far their diagnosis has been right every time.

With research showing that cells start to die ten to 20 years before the symptoms of Alzheimer's become evident, it could allow people to be screened in middle age for signs of the disease. However, some may not want to know their fate so far in advance. There is also the fear that insurance companies could increase premiums for those who test positive while still young.

The experiments, reported in the journal Cell Death & Disease, have been on animals but the team are poised to start the first human trials. Researcher Professor Francesca Cordeiro said: 'The equipment used for this research is essentially the same as is used in clinics and hospitals worldwide. 'It is also inexpensive and non-invasive, which makes us fairly confident that we can progress quickly to its use in patients. 'It is entirely possible that in the future a visit to a high street optician to check on your eyesight will also be a check on the state of your brain.'

The technique could also improve the diagnosis of other conditions, including glaucoma and Parkinson's disease. In the short term, an early diagnosis would give patients and their families much more time to prepare for the future. In the longer term, it would allow new drugs that stop the disease in their tracks to reach their full potential. Professor Cordeiro said: 'If you give the treatment early enough, you can stop the disease progressing, full stop.'

Dr Susanne Sorensen, of the Alzheimer's Society, cautioned that the test was still experimental but added: 'This research is very exciting. If we can delay the onset of dementia by five years, we can halve the number of people who will die from the disease.'


25 January, 2010

Junk food tax is junk policy

Junk food tax, fast-food tax, fat tax, soda tax, candy tax-by any name, the only thing these taxes succeed in making slimmer is your pocketbook. That's something Washingtonians may discover if the legislature succeeds in passing a new tax on "unhealthy" food.

A CBS poll published Jan. 8 showed that although most Americans want to be healthier and lose weight, 60 percent oppose taxing so-called junk foods. Unfortunately, the public's opposition has not stopped some policymakers and special interests from implementing taxes to discourage people from eating foods the "experts" deem unhealthy.

Starting in March, Romania will become the first country to place a nationwide tax on any food or beverage the government claims is unhealthy. In the United States, 33 states currently tax soft drinks, and 15 tax candy at a higher rate than other products. Cities are considering similar taxes.

One reason for the public opposition to these taxes is that the money is all too often diverted from its stated purposes to pay for unassociated increases in government spending. These taxes are nothing more than yet another attempt by government officials to grab more money from taxpayers, under the pretense of enhancing public health.

A study by the Mercatus Center explains, "Taxes on sugar-sweetened soft drinks do not necessarily advance the overall public interest, may be regressive in nature, and hardly ever work as intended."

Regardless of whether you believe government should force people to eat what contemporary experts say is healthiest, we can all agree that any government actions in this regard should actually work. If they don't, they shouldn't be implemented. Yet even health-oriented advocates of such taxes readily admit fat taxes will have few if any health benefits unless set extremely high, which creates a whole host of new problems. Although some people might quit drinking or eating these newly taxed products, they'll probably just begin consuming an alternative calorie-filled product that isn't taxed as highly.

Thus the 2007 study Cheap Donuts and Expensive Broccoli: The Effect of Relative Prices on Obesity found, "the sensitivity of individuals to relative food prices is too small for fat taxes to have much of an effect, at least in reasonable ranges of tax rates. For example, a 100 percent tax on unhealthful foods would reduce average BMI by less than 1 percent, according to our results."

Singling out certain products as sinful and placing draconian taxes on them is an ineffective health policy and even worse tax policy. The definition of what is healthy tends to be arbitrary and creates absurd anomalies: Illinois taxes a Twix bar as food while taxing yogurt-covered fruit as candy. These taxes also unduly punish low- and moderate-income people, as they consume higher quantities of these products in relation to their overall income.

Local, state and federal officials should focus on trimming their own budgetary belts instead of taking more money from citizens who eat the occasional cheeseburger or drink an occasional soda.


Government lifestyle mandates are poisonous to liberty

THERE are increasing calls to regulate and tax many supposedly harmful lifestyle products, such as fatty foods, soft drinks and even video games, under the guise of public health imperatives. It is relevant to scrutinise the ethics of the principles used to justify what amount to public health-inspired government lifestyle mandates.

The first point to make is that previous public health campaigns for things such as clean air and water differ fundamentally from those currently being discussed. The key difference is that no one chose to drink water that contained faeces; on the other hand, alcohol, hamburgers and even cigarettes bring utility as well as harm. What value is an exciting night out with friends, or the experiences gained from episodes of heavy alcohol consumption, or simply the experience of feeling relaxed for an evening? It is illegitimate to present a one-sided equation of harm unbalanced by utility. What is a harmful outcome to some might be an optimal balance to others.

The next issue relates to who should make the decision about whether something represents an overall net positive or negative for the individual. A central committee? No; in order to balance the infinite considerations in making such harm-benefit calculations, our society is built on deferment to the fundamental ethical principle of autonomy.

In a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, a group of academics attempted to justify a public health-inspired tax on soft drinks. Within medical academe the ideological pendulum seems to be returning towards that of paternalism (the informed doctor taking responsibility for the uninformed citizen). Thus the authors argued that people couldn't make a free choice to purchase a soft drink because most of the population doesn't have the capacity to understand what it is doing.

This necessitates the extraordinary premise that people have no realisation that consuming junk food in excess might be bad for their health. People know that too much junk food or booze or too much smoking is bad for them. Some people make irresponsible choices.

If just one side of the equation (all the harmful outcomes) indicates that people can't make sensible choices, then, by definition, we have branded large swaths of our community as lacking the capacity to make the basic autonomous lifestyle choices expected of adults. Is an average person able to consent to open-heart surgery but not to purchase a soft drink?

Admittedly it's hard to argue that preventing a drunken thug being violent or a morbidly obese person from having a heart attack isn't worth a few cents extra in taxation per drink or hamburger.

But it is a bedrock legal and societal principle that we consider differently those who cause harm to others and those who make choices that harm themselves. Crucially, there is a real possibility that taking action against harmful consumption under a public health imperative may end up causing more overall harm.

The public health view tends to promulgate a culture of abrogation of personal responsibility. "I drove when I was drunk because of my alcohol disease; society failed me." Thus, even if increased regulation does not cause a major impediment to people's freedom, failure to address the relevant complex societal, philosophical and ideological questions may prohibit a more effective resolution to the problem.

Admittedly, many lifestyle indulgences increase costs to the health system. But as every act or behaviour can ultimately be related to health, this argument can be used to regulate every decision we make. In a third-party payer system, there is an irreconcilable conflict between healthcare costs and liberty. More and more you are likely to see well-meaning ideological lobby groups (as well as mercenary rent-seekers) justify restrictions of free choice and association on the basis of "healthcare costs".

Forcing a citizen to undertake an action against their will for the "greater good" of healthcare-cost reduction is a wholly unethical position. No person can be ethically compelled to participate in a health program against their will. The lack of the ability to opt out of paying the alcopops tax reinforces the political nature of the tax.

Public health advocates often point to the detainment of reckless carriers of infectious disease as an example of the ethical basis of depriving someone of their liberty for the greater good. However, in these cases society detains the individual at fault. We don't put a lockdown on the rest of the community as well.

There are existing methods to deal with lifestyle-related harm. Harm involving violence must be addressed through the criminal system; failure to punish the individual while lamenting the violence as a public health issue may lead to devastating emotional distress to the victim.

Harm that reduces an individual's success in life must be seen as tolerable in order to preserve freedom. Harm that increases healthcare costs needs to be addressed by targeting with increased charges those who use the increased healthcare services.

Finally, the actual objective data to demonstrate the likely marginal reduction in harm to society from implementing lifestyle taxes is sparse and far from conclusive.


24 January, 2010

Butter now in the gun

I have been expecting this for ages. Apparently overlooked is the fact that butter is an important source of many nutrients. The case for that is made here. It is probably a bit overstated but does show that butter should not lightly be demonized

Butter should be banned to protect the nation's health, according to a leading heart surgeon. Shyam Kolvekar says only radical action can save growing numbers of young adults from heart attacks and clogged arteries. Warning of the dangers of other foods high in saturated fat, he advises people to eat less red meat, take low-fat milk and switch to olive and sunflower oil. Saturated fat is blamed for a third of the 200,000 premature deaths from heart disease a year. [But that is an unsubstantiated theory]

Adults are eating an average of 800 grams of it a month - 20 per cent more than the recommended limit. Hitting the recommended level could save 3,500 lives a year.

Mr Kolvekar, a consultant at University College London Hospitals, said: 'By banning butter and replacing it with a healthy spread the average daily sat-fat intake would be reduced by eight grams. 'This would save thousands of lives each year and help to protect them from cardiovascular disease - the UK's biggest killer. 'When a patient comes to me, they have established coronary heart disease. We are the last resort. 'The frustrating thing is that often the need for heart surgery could have been prevented by following a healthier, lower sat-fat diet.'

Historically, heart bypass operations were needed by patients near retirement age, but those in their thirties now appear regularly on operating lists, Mr Kolvekar said. However, his views sparked a fierce backlash from the farming industry and TV chefs.

A spokesman for Jamie Oliver, who has championed improved nutrition in schools, said: 'He is completely against a ban on butter. He uses butter in his recipes, for example for roasting potatoes in his Christmas programme. 'He doesn't like the whole kind of food police, we must ban everything, point of view. Butter can be eaten in moderation.' David Halhead, who has a dairy farm in Lancashire, said: 'There is far more evidence out there that dairy products are good for you. Milk and butter are full of important minerals.

'The public get fed up with various people firing off theories that have no facts behind them. We are going back to the nanny state. 'There are a hell of a lot of things that are likely to kill you before butter. I eat butter and milk every day and I am still here.'

Mr Kolvekar's comments were issued by KTB, a public relations company that works for Unilever, the maker of Flora margarine. However, a KTB spokesman said there were no financial ties between the consultant and Unilever and he was not receiving any payment. 'These are his views,' added the spokesman.

The surgeon timed his comments to coincide with the Food Standards Agency's campaign to promote the virtues of low-fat milk. Dr Clair Baynton, the FSA's head of nutrition, said: 'One per cent fat milk still gives us all the nutritional benefits, including calcium, protein, minerals and vitamins but with half the fat of semi. 'Something that simple but beneficial has got to be worth trying.' ˜

Mars UK announced yesterday it is to cut saturated fat levels in Mars bars, Snickers, Topic, Milky Way and Flyte products by the use of sunflower oil.


High-Fat Diet Ends Epileptic Seizures For Boy

A lot of people don't realize that we need cholesterol for brain function. It is a scandal that such a well-documented diet is not tried more quickly more often. The fat phobia has a lot to answer for. Note that the high fat diet did NOT elevate serum cholesterol, contrary to the usual superstition

A trip to the doctor is all good news these days for 4-year-old Max Irvine. Just a year ago, however, Max was enduring more than 100 seizures a day. Even a barrage of tests at the famed Mayo Clinic's Epilepsy Laboratory revealed no clear medical explanation. Epilepsy was consuming every waking hour of Max's life. "It got to the point where he couldn't walk or talk or function, or even eat hardly," said Max's father Troy Irvine.

Medications control epilepsy for 75 percent of children, but not for Max. His family watched helplessly as the light disappeared from his eyes. Max's playful nature vanished. Priceless intellectual developmental time was being lost.

Finally, Mayo Clinic Pediatric Neurologist Elaine Wirrell, an epilepsy specialist, proposed trading all of Max's meds for a radical change in diet. The Ketogenic Diet is very low in carbohydrates and super high in fats. Max's initial diet meal plan contained 80 percent fat. "I just remember having tears and thinking how can I be giving my child so much fat," said Max's mother, Kristine Irvine. "The majority of his meal was bacon and butter, or oil and maybe one strawberry. It was very hard to adjust to that." Butter as an entree. Bacon as a main course. Flavored Canola oil as a beverage. Dr. Wirrell said the strict diet is worth a try for nearly any child who does not respond to medication. "Over half of them have a meaningful reduction of seizures and nearly a third of them become seizure free on the diet," she said.

Exactly why the diet works is unknown. Wirrell said research suggests it stabilizes brain cells and alters neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that allow cells to signal each other. The Ketogenic Diet has actually been around since the 1920s. It was first described at the Mayo Clinic, in fact.

An obvious question the Irvines had was whether the cholesterol would create a new problem for Max's health. "We monitor the children very carefully," Wirrell said. "We monitor their blood for cholesterol problems. And in truth very few children actually end up with cholesterol or lipid problems on the diet."

Max's remarkable improvement is documented on his EEG, an electroencephalogram. The previous lightning storm of misfiring electrical activity has now calmed. Max is taking no epilepsy medications and is seizure-free.

Wirrell said many children are able to come off the diet after getting better and their epilepsy does not necessarily return. Max's brain is thought to have recovered enough that he is being gradually transitioned to normal meals.


23 January, 2010

NY Soft Drink Tax: Second Verse, As Bad As The First

Empire State Governor David Paterson wasn’t bluffing when he said last fall that he wanted to bring his widely panned soft-drink tax proposal back from the grave. You might remember that in December 2008, he proposed an 18 percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages like sports drinks, energy drinks, and soda to try to close a budget shortfall. By February, however, his proposal had lost its fizz. His new plan, announced yesterday, is a penny-per-ounce tax—so if a 20-ounce sports drink costs a dollar, it would amount to a 20 percent tax on soft drinks.

While food cop Kelly Brownell giddily called the first proposal “bold reform” and has since been throwing his weight around trying to get a penny-per-ounce fee on sugary drinks, taxpayers haven’t been so gung-ho. A Quinnipiac University poll found that only 37 percent of New Yorkers supported taxes on their sugary drinks. And those numbers likely haven’t gone anywhere but south. A (national) poll released in September by the Opinion Research Corporation found that two-thirds of Americans oppose such a tax. There’s good reason: People rightfully realize that paternalistic politicians have no business creating special fees to engineer what we put in our mouths.

As we’re telling the media today, Paterson’s soft drink tax sequel earns a review as flat as the original:
The tax code should not be a tool of social engineering against New Yorkers who choose to make food and drink choices that paternalistic officials like Governor Paterson don’t approve of. New York state is home to the Big Apple, not Big Brother.

There is no single cause of obesity, therefore singling out sugary drinks makes no sense. Paterson’s latest proposal only serves to fatten the wallets of Albany politicians, not trim New Yorkers’ waistlines.

“Chef” Pollan’s Daily Special: Lousy Advice

Self-styled food guru Michael Pollan’s latest rant against modern farming, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, lists 64 rules for healthy eating. Pollan says they are meant to be taken as “Food Don’ts” -- for the sake of our health and the environment. And as usual, America’s “foodies” are going ga-ga over someone whose claim to fame is repeatedly lecturing others to “Eat Food.” So let’s take a close look at what this journalism professor has to offer in his latest diatribe on what you eat.

Pollan admits he ignores nutrition science, which he derides as inexact. But perhaps the real reason he avoids citing actual research is because he knows it doesn’t support his pseudo-scientific beliefs.

Take Rule #22, “Eat mostly plants.” Pollan claims vegetarians are “notably healthier” and live longer than meat-eaters. Yet, a 2006 study by researchers at the University of Oxford found that vegetarians died of strokes and cancers of the colon, breast and prostate at the same rate as omnivores. The mortality rate, the Oxford team wrote, “appears to be similar in vegetarians and comparable non-vegetarians.” In other words, vegetarians don’t live longer than meat-eaters – though life may seem interminably long if you spend most of your time choking down Tofurky and soy-cheese lettuce wraps.

Pollan blows it again with Rule #27, which holds that meat from “wild” free-range animals eating grass is more nutritious than from grain-fed animals raised in feedlots. Before you drop half your paycheck on “artisanal” porkchops, know this: Free-range meat carries health risks that slow-food advocates like Pollan won’t tell you about.

A study published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease found significantly higher rates of salmonella in free-range pigs when compared with pigs raised on larger farms. Pigs raised in the roof-covered, environmentally-controlled surroundings of the much-maligned Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are actually less conducive to disease. And pigs that spend time outdoors are more likely to come into contact with disease-carrying animals.

And if you don’t eat for your health, how about the health of Planet Earth? Pollan’s advice may actually lead to greater environmental damage. The CAFOs that he demonizes use less land to raise more animals than the free-range method. Grass-fed cows, for instance, can require up to 10 acres of pasture per head. If today’s cattlemen exclusively used 1950s technology, they would need an additional 165 million acres of land – roughly the size of Texas -- to produce the same amount of beef. And since niche-market cows don’t grow as big as their more conventional counterparts, a wholesale backpedal to old-school farming would increase levels of animal-waste pollution by nearly 30 percent.

Is this the environmental outcome Pollan seeks?

Maybe it’s not fair to criticize Pollan for his scientific illiteracy. After all, he gives himself an out in his final Rule #64, “Break the Rules Once in a While.” If there’s a sequel, we think it should begin with Rule #65: Break most of Pollan’s rules most of the time.


22 January, 2010

As-salt on science in NYC

On Monday, city officials rolled out an initiative to curb the salt content in manufactured and packaged foods. But the idea behind it -- that salt intake has reached extreme levels in America -- is a myth, and this "solution" wouldn't work, anyway.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley aims to lead a national campaign to reduce the amount of salt in manufactured foods by 25 percent over the next five years. Cutting salt intake is supposed to reduce hypertension-related health problems. But while doctors may advise particular patients to cut down on salt, the science tells us that this is not a public-health problem.

Nutritionists at the University of California/Davis just published the first and only study to address salt intake and public policy. They found that people are naturally inclined to regulate salt intake to physiologically determined levels by unconsciously selecting foods to meet their needs -- and even the most extreme interventions don't do much.

The UC Davis study (published in the October issue of The Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology) looked at data from more than 19,000 individuals from 33 countries worldwide. It determined that daily sodium intake ranges only from 2,700 milligrams to 4,900 mg, with the worldwide average of 3,700 mg.

It also determined that the average American consumes about 3,400 mg a day -- disproving the claim spread by advocates such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest that US salt consumption is out of control.

In other words, Farley's trying to fight a problem that doesn't exist. Worse, his new guidelines say that daily sodium intake for most people shouldn't exceed 1,500 mg -- which is a ridiculous 45 percent below the bottom of the normal consumption range the UC Davis study identified, and a full 60 percent lower than the worldwide average.

The researchers also cite decades of research describing the specific mechanism by which the central nervous system, acting together with several organ systems, controls our appetite for salt. One of the studies they cite involved hundreds of participants in what was to be a three-year sodium-intake intervention, with the goal of reducing daily intake to 1,850 mg.

But after six months, researchers noted that participants were simply unable to cut sodium intake below about 2,750 mg a day -- close to the bottom of the range the UC Davis study identified.

Another study had used intensive dietary counseling to get participants to cut daily sodium intake to an average of 1,775 mg over four weeks. After that, the subjects, while still receiving counseling, were randomly split into two groups -- one getting a sodium tablet, the other a placebo.

Those who got the placebo still raised their intake by nearly 1,000 mg, while those on the sodium tablet actually cut their dietary-sodium consumption to compensate.

These people didn't know how much sodium they were getting -- they unconsciously changed their diets to match what their bodies "knew" they needed.

The UC Davis study also cites surveys showing that sodium intake in the United Kingdom has "varied minimally" over the last 25 years, despite a major government campaign to reduce it.

Overall, the researchers found, salt intake "is unlikely to be malleable by public policy initiatives," and attempts to change it would "expend valuable national and personal resources against unachievable goals."

The New York guidelines are voluntary -- for now. But the city's ban on trans fats started that way, too. And the federal Food and Drug Administration has also been looking to get in on the action -- it may classify it as a "food additive," subject to regulation, sometime this year.

But this campaign isn't about public health -- it's about grandstanding on a pseudo-issue ginned up by activists, when science clearly shows that there's neither a crisis nor a way for the government to actually alter our salt intake. All these initiatives do is win headlines for ambitious policymakers (New York's last health commissioner parlayed his trans-fat activism into a promotion to FDA chief), while making food slightly more costly and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of consumers -- literally.


Blueberries proclaimed as wonders again

No control group apparently. Probably just a placebo effect

A pint of blueberry juice a day could help reduce memory loss. Research has shown that the fruit helps sharpen recall, even after memory has started to fail. Pensioners fared up to 40 per cent better on memory tests after drinking a pint of the juice a day for just 12 weeks, the study found.

Researchers in the U.S. set a group of 16 pensioners a series of memory tests and then asked them to drink up to a pint of blueberry juice daily. When their memories were tested again three months later they showed up to a 40 per cent improvement in a word-association task. They were 33 per cent better at memorising lists, and fared better overall than pensioners who drank grape juice, the study, published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found.

The University of Cincinnati researchers attribute the improvements to compounds in the fruit called anthocyanins, which are thought to make it easier for messages to transmit in the brain. Researcher Robert Krikorian called for more research, adding: 'Blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration.'


21 January, 2010

Babies fed porridge 'protected from asthma'

As I was fed on porridge from infancy on and right throughout my childhood, I would like to believe this but it is just the usual epidemiological speculation. It sounds like a data dredging result in fact. If you examine enough relationships, you will get some that appear significant by chance alone. The researchers do seem to be saying that porridge is better than mothers' milk, which is a bit weird

Babies fed porridge from an early age may be protected against asthma, according to new research. A study by Finnish scientists suggests that the earlier infants are introduced to porridge, or other foods made from oats, the less likely they are to develop the condition. Their research shows the risk of asthma later in childhood is reduced by almost two-thirds in babies first fed oats before they reach five months of age, compared to those introduced to them later.

Scientists who carried out the study believe early exposure to oats may be crucial in helping to ward off the disease. But the findings conflict with Department of Health infant feeding guidelines, which recommend breastfeeding for six months before introducing solid foods.

At least 1.1 million children in the UK suffer with asthma and the condition kills around 40 youngsters a year. According to Asthma UK, Britain has the highest rates in the world of severe wheeze in young teenagers.

Research has focused on how diet and environment early in life might affect a childs chances of developing the disease. A team of scientists from Finland studied almost 1,300 children whose parents took part in a diet and lifestyle study between 1996 and 2000. They wanted to see if certain foods either raised the risk of asthma and hay fever, or reduced them. Each family recorded infant feeding patterns from an early age and the children were then followed up for at least five years.

The results, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed babies fed porridge in their first few months of life were 64 per cent less likely to have chest problems as a toddler than those who did not eat it or started later. The same team also found babies fed fish at an early age had much lower rates of hay fever by the time they were five years old.

In a report on their findings, the researchers said: "Oats are a commonly used cereal in Finland, as porridge and bread. Animal and cell experiments suggest oats may affect the immune system and have anti-inflammatory properties. "The same is true for fish. Our findings imply that delaying the introduction of oats in infancy may increase the risk of asthma by the age of five in some children."

Porridge has enjoyed something of a revival as a health food in recent years. Some studies suggest a medium-sized bowl each morning can reduce cholesterol by about ten per cent.


It’s not breast-milk that makes babies brainier. It’s clever mothers

Wow! I almost feel that someone has been listening to me

Breastfed babies are smarter because their mothers are clever, not because of the nutritional benefits of breast milk, a study suggests. Previous trials have shown that infants fed on formula milk tend to have lower intelligence and the IQ difference has frequently been put down to a deficit of an omega 3 fatty acid, known as DHA, that is normally found in lower concentrations in formula milk.

However, scientists at the Univerisity of Southampton, found no evidence of a link between intelligence and breastfeeding once the mother’s social class and IQ were taken into account.

Dr Catharine Gale, from the University’s MRC Epidemiology Resource Centre, who led the study said: “This study helps to dispel some of the myths surrounding DHA. We do know that there are clear health benefits to breast feeding but DHA, which is naturally present in breast milk and added into some formulas, is not the secret ingredient that will turn your child into an Einstein.”

The link between DHA and intelligence was first proposed after studies showing that when animals were deprived of DHA during infancy they showed abnormal neuronal development. However, trials in babies have given conflicting results.

"There’s been a quite inconsistent picture on the link between breastfeeding and intelligence,” said co-author Sian Robinson. According to Dr Robinson, breastfed children have tended to score more highly on intelligence tests since the earliest studies in the 1920s, but they also tend to come from more privileged backgrounds. In the UK 76 per cent of mothers breastfeed initially, but only about 50 per cent continue to breastfeed beyond six weeks.

The researchers analysed data from 241 children and their mothers in the UK, dividing the babies into three groups — breastfed, those fed with formulas fortified with MHA and those fed unfortified formulas.

A detailed history of the babies’ feeding routines was kept and a variety of IQ tests were carried out at the age of four including measures of verbal abilities and attention span. IQ tests at the age of four are strongly predictive of social and professional attainments later in life. In addition, the mothers took an IQ test and gave details of their social class and the baby’s weight at birth.

The breastfed babies performed significantly better than those given unfortified milk. But once the impact of social class and inherited IQ were taken in to account, breastfeeding appeared to have no affect on intelligence.

Since the babies given fortified milk were fed with a number of brands, with a range of concentrations of MHA, the researchers also looked for a direct correlation between total MHA intake and IQ at the age of four, but again found no link. “Factors in the home, such as the mother’s intelligence and what mental stimulation children receive, were the most important influences on their IQ,” said Dr Gale.

However, the researchers said that other health benefits from breastfeeding remain compelling and they support the NHS recommendation to breastfeed babies up until the age of six months. “We’d absolutely stand by that guidance,” said Dr Robinson.

Dr Michael Kramer, a paediatrician at McGill University in Montreal, said that there was a growing consensus that purported links between DHA and IQ had been overplayed. “Some people would still argue that there’s a link, but it’s in the face of very convincing evidence to the contrary,” he said.

However, he said that the latest research did not definitively rule out there being a small effect of breastfeeding on cognitive development. “The physical act itself can encourage emotional bonding between the mother and baby, which could foster healthy development. It could also be that breastfeeding takes longer so those mothers talk to their children more,” he said. [He's good at speculation]


20 January, 2010

Diabetes caused by genes and not by overeating? How pesky!

Diet undoubtedly has a role in controlling the effects of diabetes once you've got it but that is a long way from saying that diet causes diabetes. Yet that is the constant claim. I have looked at the "evidence" for that claim previously

One of the largest genetic studies ever undertaken has discovered nine new genes linked to type 2 diabetes, opening a door to new understanding and possible treatment. Scientists from 174 research centres around the world, who studied the genes and blood glucose level of more than 120,000 volunteers, were able to identify a set of genes that control the body’s response to glucose in the blood.

It is hoped the discovery could lead to new treatments for diabetes, which affects more than 220 million people worldwide. Ninety per cent of those have type 2 diabetes, also known as late-onset diabetes because it typically develops later in life. It occurs when the tissues of the body become resistant to the effects of insulin, needed to regulate glucose. Sufferers may control the disease with diet and exercise but often have to take drugs and in more serious cases have to inject insulin.

Jim Wilson, a geneticist from Edinburgh University who heads the Scottish cohort study, said: “This is an incredibly important finding. The discovery of these new genes influencing blood-sugar levels is the first step on the important journey to developing new therapies for diabetes. “It opens up a whole new area of research to find which proteins are ‘druggable’. Genetics is like a can-opener: it allows us to get inside and understand what’s going on.”

The hope is that in five to ten years scientists will be able to pinpoint which individuals are genetically susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes, and that there will be a drug available which can prevent its onset. “What we have found may not contribute to personalised medicine becoming a reality today, but it will contribute to it happening tomorrow,” Dr Wilson said.

The work, published today by Nature Genetics and the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, involved an unprecedented degree of collaboration. The 122,743 research subjects came from 50 population studies, in the US, Canada, Iceland and Europe, including Scotland, England, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden. The work, called MAGIC (Meta-Analyses of Glucose and Insulin-related traits Consortium), is the largest association study published to date. The Scottish research focused upon the ORCADES (Orkney Complex Disease Study) cohort, involving up to 2,000 healthy volunteers from Orkney. The work was funded by the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government and the Royal Society.

The nine new genes include those that influence blood sugar levels and also the first gene influencing levels of insulin. A subset of the genes was associated with diabetes itself.

Dr Wilson said the biological pathways that the genes highlighted were those involved in the control of blood sugar and might point to novel drug targets for glycaemic control. The pathways included not only glucose transport and sensing and pancreatic cell development, but also circadian rhythms and fatty acid metabolism.

To find out which genes are involved in glucose control, the team studied the genes of 50,000 healthy volunteers, also measuring glucose. It then sought to replicate the findings in approximately 75,000 more people.


The fish oil religion again

An ancient religion indeed. And there is no doubt that it can prevent some vitamin deficiencies, which is valuable. But the report below is all theory. There is a lot we don't know about telomeres yet

Fish oils may hold the key to longer and healthier life, claim researchers. They say omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may have a direct effect on extending the lifespan of cells. Their study is the first to link the oils - either from fish or supplements - with the body's ability to resist premature ageing. The 'elixir of life' discovery was made in heart disease patients, who are already advised to increase their fish intake to ward off repeat heart attacks.

Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, looked at the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on 608 outpatients with heart disease. They found higher levels of omega-3 slowed down damage to DNA contained in telomeres - tiny 'caps' on the ends of chromosomes which help protect against inflammation and other ageing processes. Having longer telomeres is a sign of being biologically younger and also of being healthier. As people age, their telomeres get shorter and they become more susceptible to certain illnesses. Scientists believe this process is at the heart of many age-related diseases, and may even place a final limit on human lifespan.

Nutritionist Dr Carrie Ruxton, speaking on behalf of the Health Supplements Information Service, said: 'If this link between high omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced ageing is confirmed in other studies, this has important implications for intakes of omega 3 fatty acids.'

At the start of the study, measurements were taken of the length of telomeres in the patients' white blood cells. The tests were carried out again after five years, and showed a clear link with omega-3 intake, says a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Patients consuming the least omega-3 had the fastest rate of telomere shortening while those in the top 25 per cent of consumption levels had the slowest rate.

Lead researcher Dr Ramin Farzaneh-Far said animal research has shown that rodents live a third longer when given a diet enriched with fish-derived omega-3. He said the latest study demonstrated 'a potentially novel pathway for the anti-ageing effects of omega-3 fatty acids'.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, sardines or trout - and fish oil supplements - as well as soya beans, rapeseed oil, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds and walnuts. White fish is also a healthy food although it contains lower levels of essential fatty acids. But, said Dr Ruxton, Britons fail to consume recommended minimum levels of two fish portions each week, one of which must be oily.


19 January, 2010

Stress really CAN cause heart attacks, say researchers

The journal article "Salivary cortisol responses to mental stress are associated with coronary artery calcification in healthy men and women" is here. It showed that people who got anxious (as measured by cortisol secretion) about doing a silly task had more signs of coronary artery problems -- but that anxiety in general (as measured by cortisol secretion) was not related to coronary artery problems. Figure that one out! I think that "more research is needed" is all that we can politely say

Getting stressed really is bad for your heart, according to new research. For years, stress has been linked to heart attacks and other heart complaints but with very little medical evidence to back it up. Now a major trial by doctors at University College London has proved for the first time that people who get stressed are also likely to have heart disease.

The study involved 514 men and women, with an average age of 62. None had signs of heart disease. Each underwent stress tests and then levels of cortisol - a chemical produced by the body at times of stress and which causes arteries to narrow - were measured. Their arteries were also scanned for any signs of furring and narrowing. Those people who were stressed by the tests were twice as likely to have furred arteries as those who remained calm, the study in the European Heart Journal found.

Cardiologist Professor Avijit Lahiri said: 'This study shows a clear-cut relationship between stress and silent coronary artery disease. This is the first clear proof.'


Benefits of breast screening 'are a myth'

Once again, medical "wisdom" is revealed as folly when properly tested

Thousands of women who attend routine breast screening checks are wrongly told that they have life-threatening cancer and undergo unnecessary treatment each year, researchers claim today.

An independent scientific review of the NHS breast screening programme accuses the Government of providing misleading propaganda to persuade women of the benefits of screening, without mentioning the drawbacks. Ministers, health charities and the majority of doctors encourage women to have regular mammograms in middle age on the basis of estimates that the checks save 1,400 lives each year.

However, the review by the Nordic Cochrane Centre, in Copenhagen, disputes the value of the checks, saying that there is “no convincing evidence” that screening has saved so many lives. Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the researchers say that improvements in breast cancer survival are more to do with improvements in treatment, rather than detection through screening. They add that many healthy women who attend screenings may have had benign conditions “overdiagnosed” by doctors and endured gruelling surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Meanwhile, doctors warned that continuing disputes over the value of breast screening could cause confusion among women and could lead to dangerous diseases being missed. All women aged 50 to 70 are offered breast cancer screening in Britain. More than 1.7 million women take up the invitation every year. As well as detecting tumours developing in the breast, mammography also identifies women who have ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) — precancerous lesions contained in the milk ducts, which may develop into cancer. Up to half of women who receive a diagnosis of DCIS never go on to develop breast cancer but, as it is not possible to predict who will, all women with abnormalities are treated with surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Professor Peter Gøtzsche, the lead author of the Cochrane review, said that more than 21,000 women aged 50 to 69 had breast cancer diagnosed in Britain in 2007. He added that one in three of the cancers diagnosed among the screened age group could be “unnecessary” diagnoses of benign DCIS. “Each year 7,000 women in the UK receive an unnecessary breast cancer diagnosis and unnecessary breast cancer treatment because of overdiagnosis in the NHS breast screening programme,” he said.

The Department of Health agreed to review the information leaflets that it publishes on breast screening after a previous study from the Cochrane researchers and a letter from 23 health professionals to The Times criticised their biased nature. The latest review directly criticises the official annual review of the breast screening programme, published by the Department of Health in 2008. “The review exaggerates the benefit, omits the harms, and looks like propaganda aimed at persuasion,” it says. “We arrive at a different conclusion than those who wrote the annual review. There is no convincing evidence that [screening] has saved lives.”

Julietta Patnick, the director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, rejected Professor Gøtzsche’s conclusions. “Numerous independent studies have shown breast cancer screening reduces mortality,” she said. “A report from the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that there is a 35 per cent reduction in mortality from breast cancer among regularly screened women aged 50 to 69 years.” [I'll trust a Cochrane review over the corrupt WHO any time]


18 January, 2010

Blonde women born to be warrior princesses?

There is no sign of this study that I can find in any recent edition of PNAS so I assume that the report below is based on an excerpt from an August 2009 study.

The research is psychologically naive. It purports to show that blondes are more prone to anger but the measures used seem to be the ones given here. They are one-way worded so you can get a high score just by agreeing with everything put to you. So the results may well simply show that blondes tend to agree with any statement put to them -- the "dumb blonde" theory. For background on the folly of using questionnaires where all the statements are worded in the same direction, see here

It really is a case of blonde ambition. Women with fair hair are more aggressive and determined to get their own way than brunettes or redheads, according to a study by the University of California. Researchers claim that blondes are more likely to display a “warlike” streak because they attract more attention than other women and are used to getting their own way — the so-called “princess effect”. Even those who dye their hair blonde quickly take on these attributes, experts found.

The study could cast fresh light on the ability of Joanna Lumley, the actress and former model, to pummel ministers into giving all Gurkha veterans the right to settle in the UK. It may also help to explain the success of the lead character in Legally Blonde, the hit West End musical based on a film starring Reese Witherspoon, who forces her way to the top of law school despite being perceived as ditzy.

The findings about aggression are contained in research by the University of California, Santa Barbara, to discover whether women who are judged more attractive than others are also more likely to lose their tempers to get what they want. “We expected blondes to feel more entitled than other young women — this is southern California, the natural habitat of the privileged blonde,” said Aaron Sell, who led the study which has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. “What we did not expect to find was how much more warlike they are than their peers on campus.” The researchers believe this is a useful measure of how far women are prepared to fight for their own interests.

The study, which examined links between confidence and aggression, involved 156 female undergraduates. It showed that blondes were more likely to be treated better than other women and were more willing to “go to war”. However, they were less likely than brunettes or redheads to get into a fight themselves — possibly to ensure they preserved their looks.

The research did confirm one theory: when male students were asked to rate the attractiveness of their female counterparts, blondes gained the highest scores.

Sell suspects that blondes exist in a “bubble” where they have been treated better than other people for so long they do not realise that men, in particular, are more deferential towards them than other women. “They may not even realise they are treated like a princess,” Sell said.

His research indicated that the more “special” people feel, judged by physical strength for men and looks for women, the more likely they are to get angry to reach social goals. “I become more battling when I’m blonde,” said Vanessa Feltz, the broadcaster, who admits to dying her hair. “You’re noticed more.”

While more than 85% of the world’s population have black hair and brown eyes, Europe has been varied since the first blondes emerged 11,000 years ago because of a genetic mutation. There is even a “blond line” running from Suffolk to Liverpool. If you live south of the line you are 20%-49% likely to have fair hair; above it the odds leap to 50%-79% because of Scandinavian genes.

“Blondes are more confident in their abilities, although the results do not necessarily support their confidence,” said Catherine Salmon, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Redlands, California. “Maybe responding to their own stereotypes, brunettes tend to work harder and expect less special treatment. Women who go blonde quickly get used to the privileges of blondeness — usually male attentiveness.”

However, some blondes dispute the research. “As I’ve been every colour of hair under the sun and I’m not sure that my temperament has changed with my hair colour, I can’t verify this as true,” said the actress Emilia Fox, the star of Silent Witness. “My ambition comes from enjoying working hard, rather than being blonde.”



An emailed comment from Prof. Sell follows:

"Please distinguish between the research itself and journalists' interpretations of such research. The word "blonde" does not appear anywhere in my paper (you correctly cite my 2009 paper in PNAS) which had nothing to do with hair. The words attributed to me in the piece you are commenting on are inaccurate. I've never referred to blondes as "princesses" for example."

Dairy rabbits!

SCIENTISTS are creating herds of dairy rabbits to exploit the medical benefits of their milk. The first commercial milking of rabbits, using specially adapted eight-teat machines, is already taking place at a farm in Holland.

The rabbits have been genetically modified to include a human gene, which means their milk contains a protein called C1 inhibitor. C1 helps control inflammation in the body, and a lack of it can be highly damaging.

The milk protein is intended to prevent the rejection of transplant organs and tissue damage in survivors of strokes and heart attacks, as well as helping car crash victims who have suffered traumatic bruising to internal organs.

C1 can be harvested from human blood and other animal sources, but is expensive to obtain and carries the risk of contamination and infection with viruses such as Aids or CJD, the human version of “mad cow disease”. Such issues do not arise with milk from the high-tech rabbit farm.

The milk could also help to treat the hereditary immune disorder angioedema. The condition, partly caused by a lack of C1, affects 2,000 people in Britain. So far 200 patients have taken part in trials for Rhucin, a treatment derived from the rabbit milk. It is awaiting approval from European drug regulators and will be launched in the UK later this year.

Hilary Longhurst, an immunologist at Barts hospital in London, said: “I am really excited. This therapy will transform the lives of sufferers.”

Further farms are expected to open to meet demand. Sijmen de Vries, the chief executive of Pharming, the biotech company behind the project, said: “There is a great unmet need for this product. We have the capacity to produce it cheaply in unlimited quantities.” A contented New Zealand white rabbit can produce 140ml a day. “The rabbits are highly productive and reproductive,” added de Vries.


17 January, 2010

US rate of obesity high but not rising

No "epidemic" after all, it would seem. That many Americans are too fat by someone else's arbitrary definition means nothing other than showing a currently acceptable form of bigotry

Raise a glass of diet soda: The nation's obesity rate appears to have stalled. But the latest numbers still show that more than two-thirds of adults and almost a third of kids are overweight, with no sign of improvement. According to government data from the years 2007-08 published Wednesday, the obesity rate has held steady for about five years, reflecting earlier signs it had stalled after steadily climbing.

Dr. William Dietz, an obesity expert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautiously called the results promising. "We're at the corner; we haven't turned the corner," he said.

Not only are the vast majority of adults overweight, 34 percent are obese (roughly 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight); and 17 percent of children are obese. Even the youngest Americans are affected - 10 percent of babies and toddlers are precariously heavy.

The CDC data were contained in two reports published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Even though this finding is certainly good news, the statistics are still staggering," said Dr. J. Michael Gaziano, a contributing editor at the journal.

The new data are based on health surveys involving height and weight measurements of 5,700 adults and 4,000 children, surveys the CDC does every two years. The results in adults, showing 68 percent are too heavy, have been virtually the same in the last three surveys.

In most age groups, black adults had the highest rates of obesity, followed by Mexican-Americans and whites. Among children and young people ages 2 to 19, 32 percent were too heavy - a rate that was mostly unchanged. But disturbingly, most obese kids were extremely obese. And the percentage of extremely obese boys ages 6 to 19 has steadily increased, to 15 percent from about 9 percent in 1999-2000.

CDC researcher and study author Cynthia Ogden said it was disappointing to see no decline and troubling that the heaviest boys seem to be getting even heavier. The study didn't examine the causes, but Ogden cited the usual reasons - soft drinks, video games and inactivity - as possible explanations. "We shouldn't be complacent. We still have a problem," Ogden said.

Gaziano, a cardiologist at Boston's Veterans Affairs Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital, said getting the nation to turn the corner and reduce obesity requires changing many unhealthful behaviors, and getting restaurants, schools, food manufacturers and communities to support the fight. That's starting to happen, from efforts to pull soda from school vending machines to campaigns by groups like the NFL to encourage physical activity, Gaziano said.


Breast cancer chemotherapy can be cut to six weeks -- in mice

A new drug course could beat breast cancer in six weeks and eliminate the need for months of chemotherapy. Scientists have found that a combination of drugs regularly given to breast cancer patients destroyed tumours in a shorter period of time. Researchers at the University of Sheffield found a combination of treatments given over a period of six weeks was as effective as six months of treatment.

Around 45,000 women in Britain each year are diagnosed with breast cancer. Less exposure to chemotherapy would reduce the risk of side-effects, such as hair loss, nausea and, in some cases, permanent infertility.

The research team had already proven the effectiveness of using doxorubicin, a chemotherapy drug commonly given to stop tumour growth, and zoledronic acid, a well-tolerated treatment given to protect bone in advanced breast cancer. Senior lecturer Dr Ingunn Holen and her team treated a group of mice with the combination every week for six months and another group for six weeks.

The International Journal of Cancer said that in both groups tumours shrank from their original size and became barely detectable. Dr Holen said: 'These findings are very promising. Clinical studies in patients are now needed.'


16 January, 2010

Isn't the aim of the lunchbox to make sure that children eat?

British mother Anna Maxted on the research that shows that most parents fail to comply with nutritional standards when they make their children's lunchboxes

Every morning I sling the same four items into the seven-year old's lunchbox and feel like a rotten mother. From Monday to Friday throughout term, my son eats the same boring, nutritionally suspect lunch: Marmite sandwich, yoghurt drink, carton of juice, Shape bar.

I am in bad company, as it turns out that ninety nine per cent of British mothers are equally slack in regard to their darlings' diet. Research at Leeds University – out this week in an associate publication of the British Medical Journal – finds that if nutritional standards were applied to packed lunches, only one per cent would comply. Of the 1,300 seven and eight-year olds surveyed, more than a quarter had a lunchbox containing sweets, crisps and a sugary drink. Only one in ten had a portion of vegetables.

The nanny state is, of course, alert to the fact that we slipshod parents will feed our kids any cheap fatty rubbish. The School Food Trust (slogan: Eat Better, Do Better), established by the Department of Education and Skills in 2005, actually provides "menus to help parents" who are seemingly incapable of filling a lunchbox without adding Haribos. This term, my sons' school newsletter issues a stern reminder that "children should not bring sweets or chocolates in their packed lunch".

The truth: we slapdash mothers have begged, then forced, our children to trot to school with a flask of home-made broccoli soup, tomatoes, a banana, an organic flapjack, a peanut butter sandwich on granary bread, dried chopped apricots and a peach smoothie.

The following morning, we retrieve the lunchboxes from the hallway floor to find: a bruised yet untouched banana, squashed tomatoes, spat-out apricot. The soup flask has been opened and promptly shut, but not fully, and has leaked. The flapjack, lovingly baked at midnight, is crumbled into a thousand pieces. Even the peanut butter sandwich has failed. "We're not allowed nuts," the seven-year old informs me crossly. "I got told off."

The no-nut policy also rules out the organic Bombay mix I discovered while frantically scouring the health food store for non-harmful, government approved ingredients. I don't want to give my seven-year old a Shape bar (7g of sugars in 21g), but the Granola bar was rejected by the food police on no-nut grounds too – "Mrs Kent said I had to eat it at home time." Furiously, I checked the packet. The Granola contains "traces" of almond and hazelnut. The Shape bar only contains fructose, dextrose, sugar, sorbitol and glycerol, so it's permitted.

I surrendered to the Cheese String – but that fad ran its course. Organic yoghurt tubes are rejected as "babyish". The five-year-old is just as picky. The only way I can sneak fruit into his lunchbox is via the extortionate Innocent "Squeezie" – £2.19 for a few squirts of mango puree – and an Ella's Kitchen "squished organic fruit" pouch. If I chance a satsuma, it remains uneaten, desperate fingernail marks in its peel telling a sad tale of failure and frustration.

It was all so different, of course, when the first child started reception. We parents were half-crazed with optimism. One Japanese mother I know would rise at dawn to make fresh sushi. Another friend had her four-year-old schlep in daily with half an avocado plus bottle of vinegarette. This regime lasts until the child claps eyes on a Hula-Hoop.

Last week, in desperation, I scanned the online list of lunchbox ideas by children's cook Annabel Karmel, and wanted to cry; Spanish omelette? Chicken Caesar salad? Sign on back saying "kick me"? And before anyone mentions hummus, know this: unless you want your children to be bullied, don't send them to school with food that smells.

Dietician Dr Sarah Schenker, of the British Nutrition Foundation, knows, despite the alleged evidence, that most parents yearn to trick their angels into eating the nutritionally perfect lunch – even pouring Cornflakes into a plastic bag and trying to pass them off as crisps – but that we inevitably have to compromise. "You can make a packed lunch super healthy but if it's coming back untouched, that is more serious than if something has been eaten that is not your ideal choice," she says.

This morning, staring dolefully at its meagre contents, I ask Oscar, "is there anything I can add to your lunchbox?" and he replies no, thank you, that he is "the fastest" at eating his lunch.

The government is perhaps unaware that when you are seven, it is less important to be full than to be finished. They may also be ignorant of the fact that when our poor, malnourished children return home, they gorge on grapes, carrots, cucumber and apples all evening, without a squeak of protest.


Farmed windpipe transplanted in crash victim

A very interesting new procedure

A WOMAN whose windpipe was crushed in a car crash has had it replaced with an implant that was farmed in her arm. For more than 25 years Linda De Croock lived with the constant pain of having two metal stents propping open her windpipe, Sky News reports. That was until the Belgian found a doctor, Pierre Delaere, on the internet who was willing to try something new. "I had always wondered, so many things are possible, why not a new windpipe?" Ms De Crook said.

Dr Delaere and his colleagues, who had performed similar procedures on a smaller scale for cancer patients, agreed to carry out the operation. Once the doctors had a suitable donor windpipe they wrapped it in Ms De Croock's own tissue and implanted it into her lower left arm. There they connected it to a large artery to re-establish the blood flow.

Ms De Croock said having a windpipe in her arm felt strange and uncomfortable. "It was packed in with gauze and my whole arm was in plaster." About 10 months later, when enough tissue had grown around it, the windpipe was transferred to its proper place. Dr Delaere was delighted with the result. "This is a major step forward for trachea transplantation," he said.

Ms De Croock said the operation had transformed her life. "Life before my transplant was becoming less livable all the time, with continual pain and jabbing and pricking in my throat and windpipe," she explained, adding that she no longer even needs to take anti-rejection drugs.

The way doctors at Belgium's University Hospital trained her body to accept donor tissue could yield new methods of growing or nurturing organs within patients, experts say.

Patrick Warnke, a tissue-engineering expert at Bond University in Australia, said it was the first time a donor organ as large as the trachea was nurtured inside the recipient's own body before being transplanted. "This shows us that we may one day be able to use patients' own bodies as bioreactors to grow their own tissue," he said.


15 January, 2010

Statins may cut risk of cataracts by 40%

Groan! More nonsense. OF COURSE people who took statins were healthier in general. Statins have such severe side-effects that you HAVE to be robust to stay on them

Statins could cut the chances of developing cataracts by nearly 40 per cent, research shows. Men aged between 45 and 54 who took the cholesterol-lowering pills virtually every day reduced their risk of cataracts later in life by 38 per cent compared with those who took them rarely, according to a study in the journal Annals of Epidemiology. In women of the same age, the risk was reduced by about 18 per cent.

But those aged 75 or more when they started on statins saw very little reduction in risk. Scientists who carried out the study of 180,000 people at Tel Aviv University in Israel said there was evidence that statins protect the eyes by reducing inflammation and protecting cells against a harmful process called oxidation.

About 200,000 people are year are treated for cataracts in Britain, a figure that is expected to rise significantly due to the ageing population.


Breastfed babies less aggressive -- but why?

The usual abuse of correlations. How do we know that mothers who breastfeed are not themselves less aggressive and simply pass on their temperament genetically? Maybe it helps to be a bit bovine to breastfeed

BABIES breastfed for six months or longer are less likely to be aggressive, anxious or depressed during childhood and into adolescence, a study has found. But more research is needed for scientists to understand why.

The study by Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research tracked children born to more than 2300 mothers between 1989 and 1992, assessing their mental health at regular intervals from age two to 14. Eleven per cent were never breastfed, 38 per cent received breast milk for less than six months and just over half were breastfed for six months or more.

Nutritional epidemiologist Wendy Oddy, the lead researcher, speculated the biological components of breast milk might be involved in improved mental health outcomes. "There's a mass of literature showing the benefits of human milk over formula," she said.

But the ability of breastfeeding to enhance the mother-baby bond may also play a role. "It's most likely a combination," Professor Oddy said. "We're not able to say from this study whether it was the specific nutrients in breast milk, the bonding aspects, or both."


14 January, 2010

For healthy mental aging, brain games can fill in for schooling?

More epidemiological stupidity -- confusing cause and effect

It's well documented that people lacking college degrees are more likely to develop memory problems or even Alzheimer's disease later in life. [Which means what? That people with poor memories to start with cannot handle college?]

But people can significantly compensate for poorer education by engaging often in mental exercises such as word games, puzzles, reading, and lectures, a large national study has found. "Among individuals with low education, those who engaged in reading, writing, attending lectures, doing word games or puzzles once or week [i.e. those who were naturally smart to start with] or more had memory scores similar to people with more education," said psychologist Margie Lachman of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., lead author of the study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

"The lifelong benefits of higher education for memory in later life are quite impressive, but we do not clearly understand how and why these effects last so long," she noted. It could be because higher education promotes lifelong interest in cognitive endeavors, she added. By contrast, people with less education may engage less often in mental exercises that help keep the memory agile.

The study assessed 3,343 men and women between the ages of 32 and 84 with an average age of 56. Almost 40 percent of the participants had at least a four-year college degree. Lachman and colleagues evaluated how the participants performed in two cognitive areas, verbal memory and executive functionbrain processes involved in planning, abstract thinking and cognitive flexibility. Participants were given a battery of tests, including tests of verbal fluency, word recall, and backward counting.

"The findings are promising because they suggest there may be ways to level the playing field for those with lower educational achievement, and protect those at greatest risk for memory declines," said Lachman. "Although we can not rule out the possibility that those who have better memories are the ones who take on more activities, the evidence is consistent with cognitive plasticity, and suggests some degree of personal control over cognitive functioning in adulthood by adopting an intellectuly active lifestyle."


NYC: Restaurant chefs boiling over Bloomberg’s latest really stupid idea

Mayor Bloomberg yesterday defended his latest nanny initiative — a controversial crackdown on salt — by comparing the simple seasoning to killer asbestos in the classroom. "If we know there's asbestos in a school room what do you expect us to do?" Bloomberg shot back at reporters questioning his new initiative. "Say it's not our business? I don't think so. The same thing is true with food and smoking and a lot of things.

"Salt and asbestos, clearly both are bad for you," Bloomberg continued. "Modern medicine thinks you shouldn't be smoking if you want to live longer. Modern medicine thinks you shouldn't be eating salt, or sodium." [There is no such thing as a monolithic "modern medicine" -- only a range of ideas]

Bloomberg is pushing a plan to cut the amount of salt in packaged and restaurant foods by 25 percent over the next five years. He says the initiative is voluntary.

Never mind that salt has important properties that preserve and stabilize food, and its sodium ions help maintain the fluid in human blood cells. Forget that the body does not manufacture its own sodium ions so there has to be some salt in everyone's diet.

Restaurant owners have a less scientific reason for disliking the crackdown: salt makes food taste good. Some of the city's top chefs and restaurant owners yesterday had a spicy message for City Hall: Simmer down and stay out of our kitchens. "I'm all for trying to make New Yorkers healthier people," said acclaimed chef Ed Brown, owner of the restaurant eighty one on the Upper West Side. "But when it comes to him telling me how much salt to put in food, I have a problem with it."

Noted chef David Chang, owner of the Momofuku Noodle Bar, said cooks have been using salt with food almost as long as they have been using fire. "You need salt to draw flavor out of food," Chang said. "It's a skill that you teach cooks. For that to be regulated by the government is just stupid and foolish."

Too much sodium contributes to high blood pressure, which can cause heart attacks and stroke, health officials say.


13 January, 2010

The golden oldie gene: One in five has age-defying 'centenarian gene' that greatly increases odds of living to 100

What! It's not a diet low in fat and salt that does it?? How pesky! Seriously, though, this is a small and limited study and is mostly of interest for opening up a line of inquiry

In the genetic lottery of life expectancy, you might think 100 is a pretty lucky number. Now it's just got luckier. Scientists have discovered that a gene already known to treble your odds of living to 100 may also ward off Alzheimer's disease. One in five of us is dealt this genetic hand that promises to extend our lives without the loss of mental agility.

The gene is the first to be identified that actually cuts the odds of Alzheimer's disease rather than raising them. Its discovery could pave the way for new drug treatments to combat the devastating illness. More than 700,000 Britons have Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia and the number of cases is expected to double within a generation. There is no cure and existing drugs, which raise levels of key brain chemicals, do not work for everyone and their effects wear off over time.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York tracked the health of more than 500 elderly men and women for four-and-a-half years. All were free of dementia at the start of the study but 40 had developed it by the end. Blood samples showed that the CETP gene, already known to treble-the odds of living to 100, also cut the odds of dementia by 70 per cent.

Genes come in pairs - and it was those with two copies of the 'centenarian' version who benefited, both from the added longevity and the Alzheimer's protection. They also suffered less age-related memory decline, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported.

Researcher Dr Amy Sanders said: 'We found that people with two copies of the longevity variant had slower memory decline and lower risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease. More specifically-those who carried two copies of the favourable variant had a 70 per cent reduction in their risk for developing Alzheimer's disease compared with those who didn't.' Around one in five of those studied had the required pair of ' centenarian' genes.

Researcher Dr Richard Lipton said: 'Most work on the genetics of Alzheimer's disease has focused on factors that increase the danger. 'We reversed this approach and instead focused on a genetic factor that protects against age-related illness, including both memory decline and Alzheimer's disease.' The CETP gene affects levels of artery-clogging cholesterol in the body. The 'centenarian' version raises levels of 'good' cholesterol, cutting the risk of heart disease and, it appears, dementia. A pill that acts in same way could help people live longer, healthier lives.

Separate research has suggested that drugs widely used to treat high blood pressure may also be of use in dementia. Those taking ACE inhibitor and angiotensin receptor blocker pills had half the risk of the disease, according to a report in the British Medical Journal.

The global population of centenarians is expected to rise from 340,000 today to almost 6 million by the middle of the century. The UK share will rise from just over 10,000 today to 280,000.


Good show: Only one in 100 British pupils' packed lunches conform to food faddist dreams

The drive to improve nutrition in schools is failing to reach the country’s children, with only one in 100 packed lunches meeting basic dietary standards, research suggests. High-profile school campaigns by the Government and Jamie Oliver to improve children’s packed lunches have made little impact, with crisps, sweets, and sugary drinks taking precedence over vegetables, fruit, and milk-based products.

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggests that only 1 per cent of primary school children’s packed lunches meet the nutritional standards set for school meals in England. One in three children was given a sandwich with a low-protein filling, and only one in ten children had sandwiches containing vegetables [A sandwich containing vegetables! What a horrible thought!]. A further one in ten was given a separate portion of vegetables. The foodstuff least likely to be eaten when provided was fruit, while confectionery was most commonly consumed.

About half of British schoolchildren eat a packed lunch brought from home — equating to 5.5 billion packed lunches eaten every year.

New standards setting out the required healthy food groups for prepared meals came into force for all local authority schools in England in 2006, prompted by concerns that school lunches were not providing sufficiently healthy food choices. These specify that school lunches must contain protein rich and low-fat starchy foods, vegetables, fruit and dairy products. Meals cannot include sweets (confectionery), savoury snacks or artificially sweetened drinks. These were followed in 2008 by further government standards on the energy, fat, salt, vitamin and nutrient content for school meals.

All the children took a packed lunch to school on at least one day of the week, and almost nine out of ten ate a packed lunch every day. The type and quantity of foods for each child’s lunch box were recorded and weighed before and after lunch on one day and compared with the Government’s school meal standards. Permitted savoury or sweet foods, vegetables, and permitted drinks (natural juice, milk, pure water) were the least likely to be provided. Sandwiches, sweets, savoury snacks and artificially sweetened drinks were the most common items.

More than one in four children had a packed lunch containing sweets, savoury snacks, and sugary drinks; a further four out of ten had sweets and snacks, but no sugary drink. Fewer than one in ten had none of these foodstuffs in their lunchbox.

The research team, from the Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Leeds, collected information on the packed lunch content for just under 1,300 children between the ages of 8 and 9. It focused on 89 primary schools across Britain — 76 in England, four in Scotland, six in Wales and three in Northern Ireland.


12 January, 2010

Extra hour of TV a day can kill, say medical witch doctors

Lord love us! More epidemiological "wisdom". They found, unsuprisingly, that people in poor health watched slightly more TV but in their wisdom from on high they interpreted it the other way around! It must be wonderful to have God-given insight that dispenses with the need for evidence! I personally watch TV about once a year but have no time for fraudulent scares. Scares that simply lead to needlessly upset children are particularly obnoxious

VIDEO killed the radio star, according to the famous Buggles song, but new research suggests television is killing the rest of us too. An additional hour in front of the box each day increases the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 18 per cent, according to Australian research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Each extra hour increases by 11 per cent the overall likelihood of dying from all causes, including cancer.

"The human body was designed to move, not sit for extended periods of time," the study's lead author, David Dunstan, said. "But technological, social and economic changes mean that people don't move their muscles as much as they used to. "For many people, on a daily basis they simply shift from one chair to another."

Prof Dunstan, from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, said sitting for long periods was bad for blood sugar and fats - even if you were healthy. The link between television viewing and increased mortality held true regardless of other risk factors such as smoking, poor diet, high cholesterol and obesity.

The average Australian watched three hours of television every day. The researchers monitored the viewing habits of 8800 adults over six years before publishing the alarming results. They found someone who watched four hours of TV each day had an 80 per cent higher risk of death from heart disease compared to someone who watched less than two hours.

They were 46 per cent more likely to die from all causes. Prof Dunstan said the findings suggested any prolonged sedentary behaviour, such as sitting at a desk or computer for work, could be risky. The answer? "Move more, more often." "In addition to doing regular exercise, avoid sitting for prolonged periods," he said. "Too much sitting is bad for health."


Broccoli really is good for you

Even though George Bush senior refuses to eat it! But in the study below it was shown to be helpful only if you have stomach ulcers and if you eat a lot of salt. Unclear how important the finding is. The action seems to be bacteriocidal but existing antibiotics are also effective against the bug that causes stomach ulcers. Also unclear is generalizability. The sample is small and the Japanese are unusually prone to stomach ulcers, possibly because they eat very large amounts of salt (in soy sauce, for instance)

Dietary Sulforaphane-Rich Broccoli Sprouts Reduce Colonization and Attenuate Gastritis in Helicobacter pylori–Infected Mice and Humans

By Akinori Yanaka1 et al.


The isothiocyanate sulforaphane [SF; 1-isothiocyanato-4(R)-methylsulfinylbutane] is abundant in broccoli sprouts in the form of its glucosinolate precursor (glucoraphanin). SF is powerfully bactericidal against Helicobacter pylori infections, which are strongly associated with the worldwide pandemic of gastric cancer. Oral treatment with SF-rich broccoli sprouts of C57BL/6 female mice infected with H. pylori Sydney strain 1 and maintained on a high-salt (7.5% NaCl) diet reduced gastric bacterial colonization, attenuated mucosal expression of tumor necrosis factor-{alpha} and interleukin-1?, mitigated corpus inflammation, and prevented expression of high salt-induced gastric corpus atrophy. This therapeutic effect was not observed in mice in which the nrf2 gene was deleted, strongly implicating the important role of Nrf2-dependent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory proteins in SF-dependent protection. Forty-eight H. pylori–infected patients were randomly assigned to feeding of broccoli sprouts (70 g/d; containing 420 µmol of SF precursor) for 8 weeks or to consumption of an equal weight of alfalfa sprouts (not containing SF) as placebo. Intervention with broccoli sprouts, but not with placebo, decreased the levels of urease measured by the urea breath test and H. pylori stool antigen (both biomarkers of H. pylori colonization) and serum pepsinogens I and II (biomarkers of gastric inflammation). Values recovered to their original levels 2 months after treatment was discontinued. Daily intake of sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprouts for 2 months reduces H. pylori colonization in mice and improves the sequelae of infection in infected mice and in humans. This treatment seems to enhance chemoprotection of the gastric mucosa against H. pylori–induced oxidative stress.

Cancer Prevention Research 2, 353, April 1, 2009

11 January, 2010

Loony bisphenol phobia still not dead

Scare claim: Bisphenol A in plastic bottles 'harms babies'. Like most things, BPA can be harmful. So can common salt. The toxicity is in the dose. Any release of BPA from baby bottles would be at the rate of something like one molecule at a time and there is neither probability nor evidence of toxicity at that rate. And we all in fact have BPA in us with no apparent ill effects. Anti-business alarmists have been trying for years to demonize this stuff. There is some evidence that industrial exposure to BPA is harmful, but that shows only that many things (even water) can be harmful if you ingest huge amounts of them. It does not follow that something ingested in huge amounts is harmful in tiny amounts. The opposite can be true. Check hormesis. The report below is from Australia but there is an article debunking similar scares in the USA here

FEDERAL health authorities are to come under increasing pressure to ban the sale of baby bottles made with Bisphenol A (BPA) after new evidence it can harm health. Widely used in plastics, particularly food and drink containers, BPA leaches when heated, leading it to being withdrawn elsewhere in the world.

It had been thought the chemical posed no real health threat in tiny doses, but scientists in the UK now say they have found compelling evidence the chemical is linked to breast cancer and sex hormone imbalances, and is particularly linked to adverse health risks to babies. [Reference?]

A team of European scientists will this month begin a campaign to lobby their governments to remove baby bottles containing BPA from shelves. Last year, baby bottle manufacturers in the US removed BPA from their products, reacting to widespread consumer concern.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said yesterday it was the responsibility of the Therapeutic Goods Administration to declare BPA unsafe or otherwise. The TGA in turn said it was an issue for the federal Health Department, which passed the buck and declared it an issue for Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). FSANZ confirmed it had no regulatory authority over baby bottles and had never commissioned its own study on the issue, though it was monitoring the overseas BPA debate and that the most up-to-date science indicated there was a maximum daily safe limit.

Queensland-based anti-BPA campaigner Nadia Duensing has written to the Health Minister in light of the new research. "I can't understand why the Australian Government is not following the lead from elsewhere," she said. Ms Duensing, a grandmother, was so concerned about the possible health effects of BPA she launched a website campaigning against the chemical and selling BPA-free baby products.

Some of the biggest-selling baby bottle brands in Australia still sell bottles with BPA in them, including Avent, which is owned by Philips. A Philips spokeswoman said yesterday that the company was acting responsibly and within guidelines set out by FSANZ, which concluded that levels of exposure (in infants) were very low and did not pose a significant health risk.

Ms Duensing said most mums did not realise the differences between different types of plastic bottles. "Mothers go into a shop and see a polycarbonate bottle for about $10 and a BPA-free one for $18 and they don't know the difference – they just get the cheaper one thinking plastic is plastic," she said.


Having sex twice a week can reduce heart disease in men by half, study reveals

The usual epidemiological nonsense that "intuits" the direction of the cause. The findings show shows that healthier men have more sex, which is no surprise for a variety of reasons

Men don't usually need an excuse to indulge in a spot of passion. But if they did, here's one that sounds more convincing than most - making love is good for their hearts, it seems. Men who have sex at least twice a week can almost halve their risk of heart disease, according to research. Those who make love regularly are apparently up to 45 per cent less likely to develop life-threatening heart conditions than men whose sexual encounters are limited to just once a month or less.

The study, of more than 1,000 men, shows sex appears to have a protective effect on the male heart but did not examine whether women benefit too. Now the American researchers are calling for doctors to 'screen' men for sexual activity when assessing their risk of heart disease. The benefits of love-making could be due to both the physical and emotional effects on the body, they said. 'Men with the desire for frequent sexual activity and who are able to engage in it are likely to be healthier,' the scientists told the American Journal of Cardiology.

'But sex in some forms has a physical activity component that might directly serve to protect cardiovascular health. 'Also, men who have frequent sex might be more likely to be in a supportive intimate relationship. 'This might improve health through stress reduction and social support.'

The scientists at the New England Research Institute, based in Massachusetts, spent 16 years tracking the sexual activity of men aged between 40 and 70. Each of the volunteers was quizzed at regular intervals about how often they had sex. They were then checked for signs of heart disease. Other risk factors, such as age, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, were also taken into account.

Although sex has long been regarded as good for both physical and mental health, there has been little scientific evidence of benefits on major illnesses such as heart disease until now. An earlier study at the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. showed men who ejaculated through sex or masturbation at least five times a week are much less likely to develop prostate cancer.

And having sex once or twice a week during the winter months can boost the immune system and reduce the chances of catching colds and flu, according to scientists at Wilkes University, Pennsylvania. It boosts levels of a chemical called immunoglobulin A 6, which binds to organisms that invade the body and then activates the immune system to destroy them.

Regular intercourse can even boost a woman's sense of smell by triggering the release of a hormone called prolactin, researchers at Canada's Calgary University found. This may be a mechanism to help mothers bond with their new babies.

Every year, around 270,000 people in Britain suffer a heart attack, and coronary disease remains the nation's biggest killer.


10 January, 2010

IVF babies ‘risk major diseases’

Another chicken and egg finding. IVF babies have SLIGHTLY higher incidence of problems but is that due to the method of their conception or prior defects in their parents? The latter seems by far the most probable

Scientists have discovered that the DNA of babies conceived through IVF differs from that of other children, putting them at greater risk of diseases such as diabetes and obesity later in life. The new research could explain why IVF babies tend to be at higher risk of low birth weight, defects and rare metabolic disorders.

The changes are not in the genes themselves but in the mechanism that switches them on and off, the study of which is known as epigenetics. “These epigenetic differences have the potential to affect embyronic development and foetal growth, as well as influencing long-term patterns of gene expression associated with increased risk of many human diseases,” said Professor Carmen Sapienza, a geneticist at Temple University in Philadelphia, who jointly led the research. There is a possibility that such changes could be transmitted to the children of IVF babies, meaning they could spread through the human gene pool.

In their findings, published in the Human Molecular Genetics journal, Sapienza and his colleagues took blood samples from the placenta and umbilical cords of 10 IVF children and 13 children who were naturally conceived. They studied the DNA of cells taken from the blood to see if there were differences in the level of methylation. This is the process by which molecules known as methyl groups are attached to genes to shut them down when they are not needed.

The results showed that the level of methylation in the cells taken from IVF babies was significantly lower — implying that some genes were becoming active at the wrong times. “We have shown that in vitro conception is associated with differences in gene methylation and that some of these differences may affect gene expression,” said Sapienza.

The findings could have serious implications for the booming industry in assisted reproduction. About 40,000 women a year undergo IVF in Britain, often paying tens of thousands of pounds in the hope of conceiving. Some 15,000 IVF babies are born each year — about 2% of all births — so they are a significant component of the UK gene pool.

Sapienza, however, was unable to ascertain the actual cause of the epigenetic changes he observed. One possibility is that couples who are infertile may have naturally higher levels of epigenetic changes than the rest of the population, perhaps explaining the cause of their infertility.


Brain scan could diagnose autism early

This is highly dubious. Mental speed is also related to IQ

Children could be screened for autism at an early age after scientists developed a way to recognise the condition using brain scans. Diagnosis of autism has always been difficult and often the condition is recognised at too late a stage for treatment to have a major effect.

But now researchers believe they have discovered a potential way of spotting the disorder in early infancy by scanning the brainwaves. They have discovered that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) recognise sound a fraction of a second slower (11 milliseconds) than unaffected children. This is significant because it can be picked up by a brain scan and so become a standardised way to diagnose the condition.

Dr Timothy Roberts, the lead researcher at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, said the scan could become the first "standard tool" for recognising autism. His tests showed that the delay is present in children with autism aged 10 and if further tests prove the same is true in much younger children then it could lead to widespread screening. "An 11-millisecond delay is brief, but it means, for instance, that a child with ASD, on hearing the word ‘elephant’ is still processing the ‘el’ sound while other children have moved on," he said. "The delays may cascade as a conversation progresses, and the child may lag behind typically developing peers.”

It is estimated that around one in 100 children between five-years-old and nine-years-old have autism, meaning there are around 500,000 in Britain. The condition covers a wide spectrum of disorders with cases ranging from relatively mild problems with social interaction to more severe difficulties in behaviour such as not speaking, copying, rigid routines and social isolation.

While the causes of the condition remain a mystery, early and intensive treatment is known to help alleviate the symptoms. The problem is that diagnosis can be difficult and often relies on waiting for the symptoms to develop by which time a lot of damage has been done.

In the current study, published in the journal Autism Research, Dr Roberts used a magnetoencephalography (MEG), a scanner that detects magnetic fields in the brain. Using a helmet that surrounds the child’s head, the team presents a series of recorded beeps, vowels and sentences. As the child’s brain responds to each sound, non-invasive detectors in the MEG machine analyse the brain’s changing magnetic fields.

The researchers compared 25 children with ASDs with an average age of 10 years to 17 age-matched typically developing children. The children with ASDs had an average delay of 11 milliseconds (about 1/100 of a second) in their brain responses to sounds, compared to the control children. Among the group with ASDs, the delays were similar, whether or not the children had language impairments.

The system may be able to diagnose ASDs as early as infancy, permitting possible earlier intervention with treatments. They also may be able to differentiate types of ASDs such as classic autism and Asperger’s syndrome in individual patients.

Autistic children who are taught intensively at home at the age of three can double their IQ within two years, it is believed. Dr. Gina Gómez de la Cuesta, Action Research Leader at the National Autistic Society, said: “The initial findings of this small scale study are useful. “Many children still have to wait years for a diagnosis and so without the right support this can have a profound effect on them and their families. "Early diagnosis and intervention can make a huge difference to peoples' lives if the right environment, education and services can be put in place as soon as possible."


9 January, 2010

The Norwegian approach to superbugs

I suspect that this does not tell the whole story. What happens when someone gets a serious infection that only an advanced antibiotic can stop? This sounds more like cost control to me. Nobody disputes that antibiotics are overused but they do have their place

“Aker University Hospital is a dingy place to heal. The floors are streaked and scratched. A light layer of dust coats the blood pressure monitors. A faint stench of urine and bleach wafts from a pile of soiled bedsheets dropped in a corner.” This is how an Associated Press story, published in the New York Times last week, begins. The next sentence comes as a surprise:

“Look closer, however, at a microscopic level, and this place is pristine. There is no sign of a dangerous and contagious staph infection that killed tens of thousands of patients in the most sophisticated hospital of Europe, North America and Asia this year, soaring virtually unchecked. “The reason: Norwegians stopped taking so many drugs.

“Twenty-five years ago, Norwegians were also losing their lives to this bacteria. But Norway's public health system fought back with an aggressive program that made it the most infection-free country in the world. A key part of that program was cutting back severely on the use of antibiotics.

“Now a spate of new studies from around the world prove that Norway's model can be replicated with extraordinary success, and public health experts are saying these deaths--19,000 in the U.S. each year alone, more than from AIDS--are unnecessary.

“‘It's a very sad situation that in some places so many are dying from this, because we have shown here in Norway that Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can be controlled, and with not too much effort’,said Jan Hendrik-Binder, Oslo's MRSA medical adviser. ‘But you have to take it seriously, you have to give it attention, and you must not give up. . . . '

“Norway's model is surprisingly straightforward. “-- Norwegian doctors prescribe fewer antibiotics than any other country, so people do not have a chance to develop resistance to them.” Many antibiotics simply are not available.

When Dr. John Birger Haug opens the dispensary at Aker hospital, one sees “a small room lined with boxes of pills, bottles of syrups and tubes of ointment. What's here? Medicines considered obsolete in many developed countries. What's not? Some of the newest, most expensive antibiotics, which aren't even registered for use in Norway, ‘because if we have them here, doctors will use them,’ he says. . . .

“Norway responded swiftly to initial MRSA outbreaks in the 1980s by cutting antibiotic use. Thus while they got ahead of the infection, the rest of the world fell behind. “In Norway, MRSA has accounted for less than 1 percent of staph infections for years. That compares to 80 percent in Japan, the world leader in MRSA; 44 percent in Israel; and 38 percent in Greece. “In the U.S., cases have soared and MRSA cost $6 billion last year. Rates have gone up from 2 percent in 1974 to 63 percent in 2004”

Could the Norwegian solution work here? Yes—if patient safety came first in U.S. hospitals. Why am I so sure?

“In 2001, the CDC approached a Veterans Affairs hospital in Pittsburgh about conducting a small test program. It started in one unit, and within four years, the entire hospital was screening everyone who came through the door for MRSA. The result: an 80 percent decrease in MRSA infections. The program has now been expanded to all 153 VA hospitals, resulting in a 50 percent drop in MRSA bloodstream infections, said Dr. Robert Muder, chief of infectious diseases at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,’” he said. ‘You save people pain, you save people the work of taking care of them, you save money, you save lives and you can export what you learn to other hospital-acquired infections.’”...

Although it may seem a “no-brainer,’ the Norway solution has not been widely adopted in rest of the U.S. health care system. AP reports: “Dr. John Jernigan at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they incorporate some of Norway's solutions in varying degrees, and his agency ‘requires hospitals to move the needle, to show improvement, and if they don't show improvement they need to do more.’"

And if they don't? "Nobody is accountable to our recommendations,’" Jernigan told AP, "but I assume hospitals and institutions are interested in doing the right thing.’"


Big talker finally given the boot

This couldn't happen to a nicer fraud. She is constantly shooting her mouth off and pretending to know what she does not know. She claims that TV and computers are harmful despite evidence pointing the other way. In a polite British way, her colleagues have finally had enough of her. The fact that she was a financial bungler as well as a scientific fraud would seem to have been the last straw. The financial bungling is a bit of a surprise in a smart Jewish girl but her lack of scientific depth is too. Her main talent seems to be for self-promotion and that can easily wear thin in Britain. Background on her here

Baroness Greenfield has lost her job as the director of one of Britain’s oldest and most venerable scientific institutions, The Times has learnt. The neuroscientist and peer, who is one of Britain’s most prominent female scientists, was served with redundancy papers yesterday by the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI), where she was director, the organisation confirmed last night.

Her position at the head of the institution where Michael Faraday and Sir Humphrey Davy once worked is to be abolished after a review of its managment structure and a financial crisis that could threaten its survival. The RI’s trustees decided that the position of a full-time director was no longer affordable in the light of funding problems that has left it more than £3 million in the red. Its chief executive, Chris Rofe, will now head the organisation.

Lady Greenfield, who could not be contacted for comment, is understood to have consulted employment lawyers about the decision, which she is considering challenging.

When contacted by The Times last night, Mr Rofe confirmed that Lady Greenfield was being made redundant. He said: “The trustees of the Royal Institution of Great Britain have completed the first stage of a governance review and as a consequence have concluded that the requirement for the functions of the role of director as currently defined has ceased to exist. We are therefore sad to announce that Baroness Susan Greenfield left the RI on 8th January 2010.

“Baroness Greenfield has played a leading role, not only in the development of the RI, but also in the wider scientific community through her work in popularising science. Baroness Greenfield leaves with our thanks and we wish her all the very best in her future endeavours. “Over the coming months the organisation will focus on strengthening its finances, fundraising, and addressing the organisational governance to ensure the Ri continues to deliver its many, diverse and renowned activities in scientific research, education and public engagement.”

Lady Greenfield’s departure follows heavy losses incurred by the RI during a £22 million refurbishment project she masterminded, which left it so short of funds that its auditors have raised questions about its ability to continue operating. In its most recent submission to the Charity Commission, its auditors said that its future viability would depend on rapid improvements in its finances that could not be guaranteed. “If the charity is to continue as a going concern, the financial projections for the three years ending 30 September, 2011, need to be met,” the audit report said. “There is a significant uncertainty as to whether these projections will be achieved.”

RI sources told The Times that its trustees considered that its precarious finances meant the organisation could no longer afford to employ a senior scientist as a full-time director. Some are also understood to have doubted whether it could improve its financial position under Lady Greenfield’s continued leadership.

Lady Greenfield, 59, has a reputation as one of Britain’s most colourful and influential scientists, but also as one of the most outspoken and controversial. The Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, who studies disease of the brain, regularly appears on television and is acknowledged by her peers as one of the most talented communicators of science of her generation.

Her unconventional approach to courting publicity, however, has annoyed as many scientists as it attracts, some of whom claim that her talent for self-promotion outweighs her scientific credentials. She has been rejected as a candidate for fellowship of the Royal Society, the elite national academy of science.


8 January, 2010

Is breast really best? Professor defies official advice and says formula milk as just as good

Breast milk is no better for a baby than formula, an expert claimed last night as he reignited the 'breast is best' debate. Professor Sven Carlsen said breast-fed babies were slightly healthier, but it was not the milk that made the difference. Instead, babies who are breast-fed have benefited from better conditions in the womb before birth. The professor, an expert in the hormonal changes of pregnancy, claimed: 'Baby formula is as good as breast milk.'

The bold statement will enrage the 'breast is best' lobby, who say a mother's milk wards off a host of ills. It will also confuse mothers who are under pressure from the Department of Health to feed their babies on breast milk alone for the first six months of life. NHS leaflets tell mothers that breast-feeding exclusively for the first six months will help protect their baby against obesity, eczema and ear, chest and tummy bugs. Avoiding formula, they are told, will cut the odds of a child being a fussy eater in later life, as well as cut the woman's odds of some cancers and help with weight loss.

But Professor Carlsen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, spoke out after carrying out a review of more than 50 studies into the relationship between health and breast-feeding. Most concluded that the longer a child is nursed, the healthier it will be. The professor said this may be the case, but it was because of a healthier pregnancy, not the breast milk. His research shows that high levels of the male sex hormone testosterone in the womb affect a woman's ability to produce milk and to breast-feed.

With testosterone levels affected by the health of the placenta, which ferries oxygen and nutrients to the baby, the professor believes high amounts indicate poorer conditions in the womb overall. This means that any differences in the health of a baby bottle-fed because its mother finds breastfeeding difficult are set before birth, rather than afterwards.

But Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health spokesman Charlotte Wright said the claims were 'irresponsible and overblown'. She said: 'Women should remember that we were not designed to be bottle-fed - formula is an artificial alternative.'

Clare Byam-Cook, a former midwife who has taught celebrities such as Kate Winslet and Natasha Kaplinsky how to feed their babies, said breast-feeding was not suitable for all. She said: 'How a mother looks after herself and her growing baby in pregnancy is the most important thing that she can do. 'Once the baby is out, of course I would advocate breastfeeding. But if the mother can't do it she shouldn't pursue it too much and she certainly shouldn't feel guilty.'


The anti-Alzheimer's milkshake: Once-a-day drink that boosts memory

The gain seems to be slight in absolute terms and may not survive replication. That 24% given a dummy drink also showed improvement is cautionary. That's slightly below the normal placebo effect. One wonders about how double-blind the study was. Though it could be that Alzheimers patients are less likely to be influenced by placebo treatments

A memory-boosting milkshake for Alzheimer patients could be available within two years. Tests show that taken once a day with breakfast, the strawberry shake significantly improves short-term memory in those in the early stages of the devastating disease. The changes were apparent after only 12 weeks, providing ‘compelling evidence’ of the drink’s potential, the journal of the American Alzheimer’s association reports.

Further, large-scale trials of Souvenaid, which contains a cocktail of brain nutrients found naturally in breast milk, are already under way. If they are successful, it could be marketed by Shape and Actimel manufacturer Danone. It is likely to be displayed behind-the-counter in pharmacies and sold after a brief consultation, in a similar way to some cough mixtures.

Researcher Professor Richard Wurtman said: ‘This is something that has no toxicity, that gives you better function than you started with. If it works in the follow-up studies, it is very exciting.’

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia blight the lives of 400,000 Britons and their families – and the number of cases is expected to double within a generation. There is no cure and existing drugs, which raise levels of key brain chemicals, do not work for everyone and their effects wear off over time.

Rather than targeting brain chemicals, the drink focuses on the connections that carry vital messages between brain cells. Damage to these connections, or synapses, is blamed for many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, including memory loss. Professor Wurtman, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, pinpointed the compounds which work together to make new connections. The three key ingredients – omega-3 fatty acids, uridine and choline – are all found in breast milk. Other ingredients include B vitamins and health-boosting antioxidants.

The milky ‘cocktail’ was tested in elderly men and women in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Half were asked to take the drink with breakfast for three months and half were given a substitute drink which looked and tasted the same but lacked the key ingredients. They were then given a battery of memory tests, including one in which they were questioned on details of a story around half an hour after being told it. This type of short-term memory loss is typical of Alzheimer’s.

Those taking Souvenaid were almost twice as likely to score better at the end than at the beginning of the three-month trial, the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia reports. Overall, 40 per cent of those who had taken Souvenaid showed improvement, compared with 24 per cent given the dummy drink.

The drink did not produce improvements in scores for tests of orientation and spatial awareness – but this may be because these traits do not tend to fade until later in the illness.

Flemming Morgan, of Danone, which funded the research, said: ‘Our goal is to make a proven and positive difference in the lives of millions of people with Alzheimer’s and their carers.’

In Britain, Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: ‘It’s very early days, but this study does suggest that this multinutrient drink is worthy of further investigation.’


7 January, 2010

Mobile phone use may reverse Alzheimer's - study

LOL! This is going to freak the cellphone haters!

TALKING on a mobile phone could be good for you, because the electromagnetic waves emitted by the devices could protect against and even reverse Alzheimer's disease. Researchers at the University of South Florida exposed 96 mice, most of whom had been genetically altered to develop the Alzheimer's disease as they aged, to electromagnetic waves generated by US mobile phones.

The mice were zapped with 918MHz of frequency twice a day for one hour each time over a period of seven to nine months - the equivalent of several decades in humans. In older mice with Alzheimer's, long-term exposure to the electromagnetic fields caused deposits in the brain of beta-amyloid, a protein fragment that accumulates in the brain of Alzheimer's sufferers to form the disease's signature plaques, to be erased. Memory impairment in the older mice disappeared, too, the study showed.

Young adult mice with no apparent signs of memory impairment were protected against Alzheimer's disease after several months of exposure to the mobile phone waves, the study showed. And the memory levels of normal mice with no genetic predisposition for Alzheimer's disease were boosted after exposure to the electromagnetic waves.

The study was the first to look at the long-term effects of mobile phone exposure in mice or humans and its findings took even the researchers by surprise. "Frankly, I started this work a few years ago with a hypothesis that the electromagnetic fields from a mobile phone would be deleterious to Alzheimer's mice," lead author Gary Arendash, a professor at the University of Southern Florida, said. "When we got our initial results showing a beneficial effect, I thought, 'Give it a few more months and it will get bad for them'. "It never got bad. We just kept getting these beneficial effects in both the Alzheimer's and normal mice."

Based on the findings in mice, the researchers hoped electromagnetic field exposure could be an effective, non-invasive and drug-free way to prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease in humans.


Taking the “Human” out of “Humane”

We took a look last week at some details of the 2008 tax return filed by the deceptive Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The filing shows that HSUS paid out less than one-half of one percent of its $99 million budget to hands-on dog and cat shelters. Meanwhile, a large portion of the kitty – tens of millions of dollars – went to employee salaries and animal rights lobbying. And all this expensive chicken-hugging has a hidden price. To find it, try visiting your local unemployment office.

In 2008 HSUS spent more than $2.3 million on a political committee called “Californians for Humane Farms,” which campaigned for the “Proposition 2” ballot initiative in the Golden State. In 2007, it gave over $1.3 million. HSUS also made donations of $200,000 in 2007 and 2008 to the “Committee to Protect Dogs,” a Massachusetts organization that pushed for a statewide ban on greyhound racing with the “Question 3” ballot initiative.

Both ballot campaigns were successful. And both had human costs. In California, a UC Davis study estimated that Prop 2 would destroy the state’s egg industry by adding 20 percent to the cost of egg production and causing companies to move to other states or to Mexico. In real numbers, the study found, Prop 2 was expected to cost more than 3,000 jobs and take more than $615 million out of the state’s already precarious economy. In Massachusetts, 1,000 people were expected to lose their jobs after the racing ban took effect last week. We love dogs too, but when people lose their jobs, who’s going to buy them kibble and flea collars?

All told, HSUS’s leaders spent more than $4.1 million on two political battles, and put an estimated 4,000 workers out of business. And that doesn’t include similar political “committees” HSUS has bankrolled in Michigan, Colorado, and Arizona. Who knows how many jobs HSUS will kill this year in Ohio alone?

Sure, HSUS claims it does everything “for the animals.” But what about people? How many American workers and their families are left unemployed in the wake of animal rights campaigns? And why doesn’t HSUS put a serious amount of money into pet shelters, where animals can be helped and jobs created?

There are human costs to HSUS’s crusades. But when cows and pigs are all you care about, people can get lost in the shuffle. Today’s overfed animal activists are clearly willing to put Americans in the bread line. Just don’t expect any chicken soup when you get there.


6 January, 2010

Now bacon and eggs are good for you!

The food freaks won't like this. The anti-meat brigade have got most pregnant women warned off bacon and smoked meats by now. They could have damaged a lot of children. It's only a mouse study below but it serves as a warning that food fads could do harm

Eating a traditional breakfast of bacon and eggs could help pregnant women boost the intelligence of their unborn child, a new study suggests. Scientists have found that a chemical in pork products and eggs can help the growing brain to develop. A new study suggests that the micronutrient, called choline, is critical to helping babies in the womb develop parts of their brains linked to memory and recall.

Previous studies have demonstrated that a woman’s diet during pregnancy can affect her unborn child and women are given a list of foods to avoid until their baby is born. Scientists at the University of North Carolina tested the effects of choline on the brains of baby mice. Mice fed a low choline diet while in the womb had genetic differences in their brain cells than those given large amounts of the micronutrient. "Our study in mice indicates that the diet of a pregnant mother, especially choline in that diet, can change the … switches that control brain development in the foetus," said Steven Zeisel, who led the study.

Dr Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology journal, which published the research, said: "We may never be able to call bacon a health food with a straight face, but (similar studies are) already making us rethink those things that we consider healthful and unhealthful.

“This is yet another example showing that good prenatal nutrition is vitally important throughout a child's entire lifetime."


Eating huge quantities of pomegranates may help prevent breast cancer

Another bit of nonsense coaxed out of laboratory glassware

Eating pomegranates could reduce the risk of breast cancer, researchers have said. Scientists have found chemicals in the fruit being hailed as a superfood after the launch of several juice drinks play a key role in blocking the growth of breast cancer. The study may lead to new drugs to prevent cancer and in the meantime the researchers said eating more of the fruit may be beneficial. Tests in the lab have found that the chemicals called ellagitannins block the production of oestrogen which can fuel the growth of cancer cells.

The study is published in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. Experts said it unclear how much of the chemicals would be required to have an effect in humans and it may not be possible to gain enough from diet alone. Prof Gary Stoner, professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at Ohio State University, said that "relatively high levels of ellagitannin compounds" were needed in the study to have an effect. He added "It's not clear that these levels could be achieved in animals or in humans because the ellagitannins are not well absorbed into blood when provided in the diet."

He said the findings were promising enough to warrant further studies with pomegranates. Prof Stoner added people "might consider consuming more pomegranates to protect against cancer development in the breast and perhaps in other tissues and organs."

Dr Powel Brown, medical oncologist and chairman of the Clinical Cancer Prevention Department at the University of Texas M D Anderson Cancer Centre, said: "More research on the individual components and the combination of chemicals is needed to understand the potential risks and benefits of using pomegranate juice or isolated compounds for a health benefit or for cancer prevention."


5 January, 2010

Forget Viagra! Sound waves can send your sex life into orbit

This is another attempt to get at causes and may be worthwhile if a full trial is successful

Firing shock-waves into the body could be a radical new way to boost the love lives of men with erection problems. The pain-free therapy boosts performance by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels in the genital area. A small trial involving 20 men who were taking Viagra or similar drugs for impotence problems was so successful that, by the end of the experiment, 15 of them were able to throw their pills away. None of the volunteers reported any pain or side-effects from the treatment.

The radical new therapy, which is on trial in Israel, uses a very mild form of lithotripsy, a technique developed more than 20 years ago for the treatment of kidney stones. Waves of sound are beamed through the skin, and although they pass harmlessly through body tissue, they are at just the right pressure to smash up kidney stones into tiny sand-like particles that are then passed out of the body in urine.

But in recent years, several studies have also shown that this type of shock-wave therapy appears to have a healthy effect on blood vessels. It triggers the release of an important substance called Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor, or VEGF, which sends out a signal for new blood vessels to start growing. As a result, shock-wave therapy has also attracted increasing interest from cardiologists looking for new ways to treat heart disease. U.S. and Japanese researchers are investigating whether firing shock-waves towards the heart will help it sprout healthy new blood vessels. If so, it could offer a lifeline to patients who are too ill to undergo heart bypass surgery.

According to Israeli research, the same benefits could help men who suffer persistent erection problems. Some health experts are now convinced there is a close link between impotence and heart disease, and that problems in the bedroom can often signal hidden blockages in blood vessels near the heart which are reducing blood flow around the body.

Doctors at the Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa, Israel, recruited 20 men with an average age of 56 to take part in the trial. All 20 were already on medication and had suffered mild to moderate erection problems for an average of three years. During the three-week course of treatment, low-intensity shock-waves were repeatedly fired into five specific points in the genital area, using a handheld device.

Doctors then assessed the severity of the men's ailments on a 30-point scale called the International Index of Erectile Dysfunction, widely used to measure impotence problems. The lower the score, the greater the problem. Before the trial, the men averaged scores of between 12 and 20 points, which meant they had mild to moderate sexual dysfunction. But after treatments, their scores increased by between five and ten points. Experts say anything in excess of five points is a significant improvement.

Viagra and similar medications, such as Cialis and Levitra, have transformed the treatment of impotence in the past ten years, around 30 per cent of men who take them see no improvement. For these men, the only other options are to inject drugs straight into the penis, or use a pump that manually increases blood supply to the organ.

Dr Yoram Vardi, who led the trial, says: 'Drugs are not a cure. When patients stop taking their medication, then they cannot function. 'With shock-waves, we can do something biological for the problem. These patients can then function without the need for medication.'

Dr John Dean, president of the International Society of Sexual Medicine, said the findings were 'intriguing' and worth following up in larger studies. But he warned that earlier attempts to use shock-wave therapy for another condition called Peyronie's disease - where the penis is bent and painful when erect - had failed. 'These findings are interesting and definitely warrant further investigation,' Dr Dean said. 'But we are a long way off saying that men should go to their GP asking for this treatment.'


Politically correct food on the menu in Britain

From foie gras produced without making birds suffer to 'sustainable' fish, British retailers and restaurants are embracing politically correct food

Faux (false) gras is the ethical answer to the dilemma that attends the foodstuff, which has been the bane of campaigners for decades. It is produced by force-feeding ducks or geese to create engorged livers that yield the creamy pate. Waitrose, House of Fraser and Tesco are among a growing number of major British retailers that are refusing to stock real foie gras after protest campaigns.

Even Selfridges, one of the main attractions for discerning shoppers on Oxford Street, decided in November to take foie gras off its shelves after a protest fronted by Sir Roger Moore, the former James Bond actor. "It's torture in a tin," said Moore, who appeared on pre-Christmas posters urging Selfridges to halt its sale, with the words: "Force-feeding birds is not yule, it's cruel."

The foie gras ban has even gained the royal seal of approval after Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, ordered it off menus for royal functions.

Waitrose developed the faux gras version - produced without force-feeding the birds - and calls it an "ethical alternative to traditional foie gras". A darker colour than the real thing, faux gras is made from about 50 per cent liver from free-range poultry blended with goose or duck fat. Two years after its introduction, Waitrose customers appear to be increasingly happy to substitute faux gras for the real thing at Christmas and New Year. "Faux gras is still one of our most popular festive foods," said a Waitrose spokeswoman, who added that sales of the new product grew by almost 60 per cent in 2009.

Such is the popularity of the new, more "ethical" version of the product that lawmakers have backed a motion calling for restaurants to adopt the new version and ditch the real foie gras. "It is only a matter of time before foie gras is relegated to the history books where it belongs," said Sam Glover of lobby group Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

While the day that five-star establishments abandon such foods may be some way off, restaurants in England do seem to be turning towards "green" alternatives. Acorn House, in the King's Cross district of London, claims to be the "first truly eco-friendly" restaurant in the capital. The duck it serves comes from birds raised in a "positive" way, without cages and without antibiotics added to their food; its food deliveries are made in vehicles using biofuel, 80 per cent of its waste is recycled and its roof is a herb garden. "Acorn House is set to alter the image of the restaurant industry as well as transform the way in which people eat out," is the bold claim of its co-founder Arthus Potts.

French celebrity chef Raymond Blanc, the holder of two Michelin stars at his renowned restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons near Oxford, has embraced a campaign to use fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). This label guarantees that the fish has been obtained from sustainable stocks. "By supporting MSC, I am helping to ensure that fish stocks will be replenished for generations to come," said Blanc, a well-known face in his adopted country thanks to regular TV appearances.

There are 14 MSC-certified restaurants in Britain and although the number remains relatively low, the non-profit organisation argues that its campaign is putting pressure on other restaurants to change their ways.

The main target of the protesters is Nobu, the global chain of chic Japanese restaurants which has the financial backing of Robert De Niro, the actor, and a strong following among the rich and famous. Nobu's Michelin-starred London branch is refusing to remove bluefin tuna, an endangered species, from its menu. Elle Macpherson, a model, Sienna Miller, an actress, and Stephen Fry, a TV presenter and actor, all added their names to a petition protesting against the restaurant's use of the endangered fish.

The restaurant responded by adding an asterisk next to the dish on its menu, directing diners to a footnote saying: "Bluefin tuna is an environmentally threatened species. Please ask your server for an alternative."


4 January, 2010

Heart attack and stroke fears over fat-busting "wonder pill"

A fat-busting pill used by thousands in the UK is being investigated by medicines watchdogs over fears it could cause heart attacks and strokes. The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which licenses the use of the drug Reductil, is looking at the results of a clinical trial which suggests that its active ingredient, sibutramine, could lead to an increased risk of developing heart problems. Nearly 330,000 prescriptions for the drug, which tricks the brain into believing the stomach is full, were written out in 2008.

The safety data has come from an international trial of 10,000 patients carried out during the past six years. Most of those recruited for the Sibutramine Cardiovascular Outcome Trial (SCOUT) were overweight or obese and already had cardiovascular problems. A heart condition would normally exclude them from taking the drug because it can slightly raise blood pressure. However, the EMA has said that, as a result of the ‘seriousness’ of the study’s concerns, it is looking at the implications for all patients offered the prescription-only drug and will release its findings later this month. Until then, it has advised doctors to use Reductil ‘with caution’ and to monitor patients’ blood pressure and heart rate.

The UK’s medicines watchdog, The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, also confirmed it was reviewing the data. The agency has recorded 2,094 suspected adverse reactions to Reductil since it was introduced in 2001, and 17 deaths have been linked to the drug. Six of the deaths were caused by heart problems and strokes.

Reductil works by blocking the nerve cells that release and reabsorb the hormone serotonin, a chemical neurotransmitter in the brain that affects moods and appetite. As the level of serotonin in the body rises, people feel fuller, eat less and, as a result, lose weight.

The drug is recommended for patients who are clinically ‘obese’ – those with a Body Mass Index over 30 – or for anyone with a BMI higher than 27 who has another weight-related health problem.

A spokesman for Abbott Laboratories, which manufacturers Reductil, said: ‘Our ongoing evaluation of the SCOUT study data does not change our medical assessment of sibutramine’s risk/benefit profile when used appropriately in the approved patient population. 'Sibutramine is an important treatment for patients who are obese.’


The alcohol merrygoround again

Champagne Is Good for Your Heart, Study Suggests -- But Only in Moderation, natch. I would have thought that the effects described could be due to alcohol alone -- as alcohol is a vasodilator and that too would help blood flow

Research from the University of Reading suggests that two glasses of champagne a day may be good for your heart and circulation. The researchers have found that drinking champagne wine daily in moderate amounts causes improvements in the way blood vessels function.

Champagne does this by increasing the availability of nitric oxide, a vascular active molecule which controls blood pressure. It is able to induce these effects because it contains polyphenols, plant chemicals from the red grapes and white grapes used in champagne production.

When you drink champagne, these polyphenols get absorbed into the circulation where they are able to act on the vascular system. Specifically, they appear to slow down the natural removal of nitric oxide from our blood, meaning that it will have a longer time to act on blood vessels and so improve the flow of blood around the body.

High nitric oxide levels in the blood, as a result of drinking champagne, can have beneficial effects, because as well as increasing blood flow, it may help to decrease both blood pressure and the likelihood of blood clots forming. This could therefore reduce the risks of suffering from cardiovascular disease and stroke, but more research needs to be done to determine the long term effects of daily champagne consumption.

Dr Jeremy Spencer, from the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences said: "Our research has shown that drinking around two glasses of champagne can have beneficial effects on the way blood vessels function, in a similar way to that observed with red wine. We always encourage a responsible approach to alcohol consumption, but the fact that drinking champagne has the potential to reduce the risks of suffering from cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke, is very exciting news."


3 January, 2010

Another "magic bullet" dream

Publicity first; evidence later. Not a good sign. Interferon has been around for years anyway and is of very limited use

A lozenge designed to fight off all cold and flu bugs has been created by scientists. It would be taken once a day before breakfast and would cost only 20p a day. The lozenge could be sold over-the-counter in as little as two years. It would prime the immune system to attack every cold and flu bug including 'normal' winter flu, swine flu and bird flu.

The lozenge, which tastes like a sweet and dissolves in the mouth, could be used to clear up sniffles in healthy people and prevent life-threatening infections in the elderly and in asthma and cystic fibrosis sufferers. It has already been tested on people and the first results are due within weeks.

Researcher Professor Manfred Beilharz said: 'This is the golden fleece everyone has been looking for.' The Veldona lozenge contains tiny amounts of interferon alpha, which was nicknamed the 'Crown jewel' of virology when it was discovered 50 years ago. Interferon alpha is a protective protein that the body naturally makes when attacked by a virus. When the lozenge dissolves in the mouth, the protein is released and the immune system is tricked into thinking there is a bug nearby and gets ready for a fight.

Professor Beilharz, who has devoted 15 years to the research, said: 'The outposts of the immune system say, "Hey, we've got a virus, let's gear up and get ready for it before the infection spreads too far."'

The professor has already shown that very low doses of the protein can save the lives of mice exposed to an otherwise lethal cocktail of the flu virus. These 'stunning' results prompted a government-funded trial of the lozenge on 200 adults in Western Australia. Half took the lozenge once a day before breakfast, half took a dummy sweet and all noted any cold and flu symptoms each week, including time off work.

If the results are good, the lozenges, which were developed by U.S. firm Amarillo Biosciences, could be fast-tracked onto pharmacy shelves within two to three years. They could be taken year-round, but people are most likely to rely on them over the winter.

Professor Beilharz, chairman of the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of Western Australia in Perth, expects them to be sold over-the-counter, rather than on prescription, and to be much cheaper than current anti-flu drugs. Tamiflu, which has been stockpiled by governments around the world to treat swine and bird flus, costs up to £5 a tablet. The lozenges could cost as little as 20p each, or £6 a month.

Professor Beilharz said: 'This medicine is quite cheap to manufacture and very low dosage and doesn't seem to have any side-effects of any significance.' Unlike the flu vaccine, which has to be frequently reformulated to fight whichever strains of the bug are circulating, it would be a 'one-size-fits all' drug. This is because interferon alpha primes the immune system to fight a range of viruses, including all cold and flu bugs.

The professor said: 'The vaccine is only good for a particular variant and there may have to be another one the next year, whereas our little baby is not just good against influenza, it is good against all winter cold variants.'

The professor does not expect the drug to completely ward off flus and colds, but symptoms will be greatly eased. He said: 'When the infection comes along, it still infects but the immune system quashes it in a couple of days. 'So you will have some symptoms but they will be rather mild and you will go on as normal.'

Interferon alpha was used by the Russians to treat colds and flus during the Cold War but never took off elsewhere. But injections of much higher doses are used to treat diseases, including multiple sclerosis. Professor Hugh Pennington, Britain's leading microbiologist, cautioned that the side-effects of interferon could be worse than the flu itself.

But he added: 'If you can work out the right dose and the right kind of interferon so people don't feel grotty, and it works, it will be a real breakthrough. So let's wait and see.'


Engineer shows surgeons better way to fix his heart

A heart repair kit designed by a man suffering from a potentially lethal condition has proved so successful that it is being used on other cardiac patients. Tal Golesworthy, 54, an engineer by training, was suffering from a defect in his aorta — the main artery for carrying oxygenated blood — that left it in danger of splitting, which would have caused instant death. He was so unimpressed by conventional techniques for treating it that he decided to create his own.

Usually the damaged section of the artery is cut out and replaced with a piece of tubing, but Golesworthy came up with a made-to-measure knitted polyester sleeve, which was wrapped round the aorta to give it extra support. The result was so good that Golesworthy has joined forces with his doctors and set up a company to market the device. The operation has since been carried out on a further 19 people by a team at London’s Royal Brompton hospital, and another three patients are booked in for surgery this month. Details of the first results are to be described to cardiac surgeons in a medical publication this month.

Golesworthy suffers from Marfan syndrome, a condition which affects up to 12,000 people in Britain. The genetic defect can cause abnormal growth of bones including fingers and toes, but most importantly causes weakness of connective tissue. The consequence is that the neck of the aorta where it leaves the heart gradually stretches under the burden of carrying freshly oxygenated blood round the body. It can reach a diameter of 2-4in, compared with a normal 1in, before fatally splitting.

Golesworthy says he had severe anxieties about the old-style surgery, and the fact he would have had to take anticoagulant drugs for the rest of his life to stop clots forming. “I just thought the operation sounded awful,” said Golesworthy, from Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. “The doctors were being asked to do an engineering job when they weren’t engineers. I decided there had to be a better way.”

He set about devising a means of wrapping the aorta in a sleeve to prevent it expanding, and came up with a solution called Ears — external aortic root support — which is now being marketed through his firm, Exstent. Each sleeve is created using scans of the individual patient’s aorta and computer-assisted drawing to produce a bespoke device.

Although the technology could be applied to other heart conditions, news of the surgical breakthrough has spread first among families affected by Marfan syndrome, many of whom have seen relatives die suddenly from heart attacks in young adulthood.

The youngest to have the surgery so far is Ami Coxill-Moore, whose parents successfully argued for her to receive an Exstent at 16, even though an ethics committee initially stipulated that the experimental patients had to be at least 18. “To us it was obvious it was less risky and an altogether better operation,” said Coxill-Moore, who is taking a gap year and hoping to study English and linguistics at York University. “I am just very grateful I’ve had it done.”

The British Heart Foundation is watching the project with interest. “We welcome it as a new development, but we have to be certain these things are safe in the long as well as the short term, before we can recommend them,” said Peter Weissberg, its medical director.


2 January, 2010

Vitamin D and older adults: More than just a bone problem?

I like the last sentence below. The Buell et al study was of very elderly people so is of limited generalizability and may suggest that vitamin D deficiency is just one aspect of poor health and diet. The same applies to the Anweiler study

This issue of Neurology features 3 studies on the possible link between vitamin D and cognition (or thinking) in older adults. The first study looked at the possible link between vitamin D levels and cognition in older women. Dr. Annweiler and coauthors1 studied 752 women aged 75 years and older who lived in France. Levels of 25(OH)D, the form of vitamin D found in the blood, were measured. Patients took a cognitive test called Pfeiffer's Short Portable Mental State Questionnaire (SPMSQ). In this study, low levels (or deficiency) of vitamin D were defined as a 25(OH)D blood level less than 10 (ng/mL). Cognitive impairment was defined as a score of less than 8 (out of 10 points) on the SPMSQ. Seventeen percent had vitamin D deficiency. Women with vitamin D deficiency had lower scores on the SPMSQ and were more likely to have cognitive impairment than those without vitamin D deficiency. The authors found that vitamin D deficiency was associated with cognitive impairment in older women.

The second study looked for links between vitamin D levels, cognition, and strokes in older men and women. Dr. Buell and coauthors studied 318 men and women between 65 and 99 years old in the Boston area. These patients had low income levels, lower functional status, and need for food or personal care. The researchers checked 25(OH)D blood levels and did cognitive testing. Patients had pictures taken of the brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Vitamin D "deficient" was defined as 25(OH)D blood levels less than 10 ng/mL, and vitamin D "insufficient" was defined as 25(OH)D blood levels between 10 and 20 ng/mL. MRI changes in the large or small vessels in the brain were used to show if there were strokes or cerebrovascular disease. Approximately 15% of the patients were vitamin D deficient, and 44% were vitamin D insufficient. About 24% had dementia. Lower vitamin D levels were linked to dementia and MRI changes in the large and small vessels in the brain. The authors found that those with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to have dementia, strokes, and disease in the blood vessels to the brain.

The final study looked at vitamin D levels and cognition in elderly men. Dr. Slinin and coauthors3 studied 1,604 men aged 65 years and older in 6 cities. 25(OH)D blood levels were measured, and patients took 2 cognitive tests: the Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (3MS) and a timed test called Trail Making Test Part B (TMTB). The patients were divided into 4 groups, based on 25(OH)D levels. After considering race and education, there was no link between lower vitamin D levels, lower scores on the 3MS, or longer time to complete the TMTB. The authors found that there was not a link between lower vitamin D levels and cognitive impairment in older men.

It is well known that vitamin D deficiency can affect bone health. However, other research shows a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and other disorders. These can include heart disease and diabetes.4 Two out of 3 studies in this issue found that vitamin D deficiency may be linked to cognitive impairment.

The table shows that the authors studied different groups of people, used different definitions of vitamin D status, and had different tests for cognitive function. As a result, we cannot be certain about the link between vitamin D deficiency and cognitive changes.


Taking herbal supplement to ward off memory problems in old age 'a waste of time'

Thousands of people who take a herbal supplement to ward off memory problems in old age are wasting their time, according to new research. Elderly people who took Ginkgo biloba every day for six years had as many difficulties with recall as those who took a fake supplement, the largest study of its kind has shown.

At least 100,000 people in Britain are thought to regularly take the supplement, which has been widely credited with improving memory and concentration. Made from the leaves of the Ginkgo tree, the Chinese herbal remedy has been used as a traditional medicine for centuries. It is thought to contain chemicals which help the flow of blood around the body, which advocates believe will help protect the brain against decline.

But the researchers who carried out the latest study warned that the supplement appeared to have no effect on warding off age-related memory problems. Beth Snitz, from the University of Pittsburgh, who led the study, said: “Ginkgo biloba is marketed widely and used with the hope of improving, preventing, or delaying cognitive impairment associated with ageing and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. “We (found) no evidence that Ginkgo biloba slows the rate of cognitive decline in older adults.”

For the study the team followed 3,069 volunteers, all of whom were aged between 72 and 96 years old and were given either a dose of the herbal supplement or a placebo twice a day for more than six years. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).


1 January, 2010

Infectious cancer

The media seem generally to be playing the significance of this down but it would seem to be a warning of what is possible in humans. Cancer is normally a degenerative disease, not an infectious disease

AN international team of scientists has discovered the genetic marker for a deadly cancer ravaging the Tasmanian devil population, and they say their findings pave the way for developing treatments. Researchers analysed tumour cells taken from facial cancers in the animals, the world's largest marsupial carnivores, and found the disease probably starts in Schwann cells - a type of tissue that cushions and protects nerve fibres.

"Our findings represent a big step forward in the race to save the devils from extinction," said Elizabeth Murchison, who works with the US Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the Australian National University.

Deadly facial tumour disease (DFTD) has ravaged the wild population. Australia raised protection levels for devils in May and listed them as endangered due to DFTD. DFTD is a unique type of cancer, transmitted from animal to animal via biting or other physical contact, which transfers living cancer cells between individuals. Only two cancers are known to spread in this way - the other is found in dogs. The devils' tumours are mostly found on the face and mouth, but often spread to internal organs.

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers said that, with no diagnostic tests, treatments or vaccines currently available, the disease could wipe out the entire species in 25 to 35 years.

The team's genetic analysis confirmed that tumours spread from animal to animal are genetically identical because they originate from a single line of cells. Using advanced sequencing technology, the team identified the originating cell by comparing the "transcriptome" - the complete set of genes that are turned on in tumour cells -- with a genetic readout of other tissues. The scientists found the tumours' genetic signature best matched that of Schwann cells, but said they were still unclear about how these nervous system cells spawned cancer.

Identifying the genetic marker could help accurately diagnose the disease and help to develop treatments, they said. "Now that we've taken a good look at the tumours' genetic profile, we can start hunting for genes and pathways involved in tumour formation," said Greg Hannon, who worked on the study.

The study will also help scientists distinguish between DFTD and other types of devil cancers, helping them to identify and isolate affected animals and contain the disease's spread.

SOURCE. The journal abstract is here.

More than a third of health workers believe coffee causes cancer despite no evidence of a link, according to a survey

Good to see the WCRF being a bit skeptical this time. They still talk nonsense about diet, though.

Health professionals are less likely to be clued up than the public, with 36 per cent thinking coffee can cause the disease compared with 12 per cent of the general population. The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) commissioned the survey of 143 NHS workers, including nurses, health visitors and GPs.

However, health professionals did score highly on knowing that poor diet increases risk of cancer (81 per cent), compared with 63 per cent for the general public. Overall, 79 per cent of workers were aware that being overweight increases the risk of cancer, compared with 60 per cent of the public, and 78 per cent knew of the link with alcohol, compared with 51 per cent of the public.

But the percentage who were aware that not exercising increases the risk of cancer dropped to 64 per cent among NHS workers and 47 per cent of the public.

Silvia Pastorino, health professionals publications manager for the WCRF, said the survey was small but revealed some health workers are still not aware what lifestyle factors increase the risk. She said: "There is no strong evidence that coffee increases the risk of cancer. "In fact, we often suggest drinking unsweetened tea or coffee as an alternative to sugary drinks. "While I am not surprised that many of the general public are not aware of this, it is worrying to think this may also be the case for some health professionals."


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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