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

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

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

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

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

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

What fast food does to girls


31 January, 2012

The diabetes boogeyman: Does diabetes make you fat rather than the other way around?

A boogeyman often invoked by the food fascists in their efforts to get control over what we eat

That obesity causes diabetes is one of the most entrenched medical mantras that there is. Even the (mythical) lifespan benefits of statins and antioxidants are not as often invoked as the relationship between obesity and diabetes. I think I see the relationship touted at least once a day somewhere.

But think!

* Most overweight people don't get diabetes and some diabetics are slim!

* It is true that certain diets can help control diabetes but that does not mean that diet causes diabetes. A roof can shelter me from the rain but that does not mean that roofs cause rain!

* There is undoubtedly a correlation between being overweight and having obesity but correlation is not causation and it could well be that at least in some people diabetes causes you to put on weight. I have certainly seen instances of the latter, where an overweight person discovered they had diabetes, went on a diabetic diet and promptly lost a lot of weight. It was apparently diabetes that was making them fat. Excessive appetite is a known symptom of diabetes so that is hardly a surprise. And all the so-often-quoted research findings are just correlations, so prove nothing about which way the causal arrow points.

* There are various studies of diabetes in mice but mice are a very short-lived species whereas we are a very long-lived species. We have obviously evolved life-preserving mechanisms that mice have not so what is a problem in mice might be quite easily coped with by the human body. And that is one reason why rodent findings often do not generalize to people.

So I am going to reproduce below something I wrote in 2008. I know of nothing which would alter my conclusions since. If anybody can tell me something important that I have overlooked, however, I would be delighted to hear it:
I decided to look at the evidence behind the claim. I looked at what appear to be the two most cited articles on the question — by Seidell and by Mokdad et al..

Neither article goes any where near proving the claim. Seidell, in fact, notes the differing relationship between weight and diabetes in Asia versus the West and makes the entirely sensible observation that the two things are “common consequences of changing lifestyles” — NOT directly linked, in other words. Both, for instance, could be a consequence of (say) reduced exercise.

And the Mokdad article is quite naive. It shows that fatties are more likely to have diabetes but again enables no causal inferences. Additionally, it does not allow for the curvilearity that is known to feature in relationships with obesity. In other words, it combines moderately overweight people with grossly overweight people — which flies in the face of the fact that it is people of middling weight who live longest. It could be just the real fatties who tend to get diabetes at an accelerated rate.

And genetic effects are, of course, not mentioned anywhere, despite all we know (and have known for a long time) about the genetic influence on body weight. It could be that a genetic difference causes both diabetes AND a larger fat mass. So even severe dieting would not chase that pesky diabetes-causing gene away.

The fact that prevalence of diabetes has been increasing would seem at first to discount a genetic influence but it does not, of course. Many genetic influences need environmental “triggers” to become dominant and we just don’t know what environmental triggers might have come to the fore in recent years. How about increased crime causing both stress and overeating as a response to stress? Who knows?

As far as I can see, then, the alleged effect of fat on diabetes is just a guess. Ho hum! Just another instance of crap medical “wisdom”.

I wonder do pigs get diabetes? Fat pigs are a byword. And pigs are a pretty good animal model for human beings. Pig tissue is even used for direct implantation into human hearts! Rodent models always have dubious generalizability but I think I would believe a double-blind study with pigs.

So, you see, I am not like those (such as the Global Warmists) for whom no evidence will count. I have just specified precisely what evidence would convince me. And nor would the evidence concerned be hard to gather. You might even get some good bacon at the end of it! Yum!


An example here of diabetes being associated with weight-gain and the gain being reversed by dealing with the diabetes. That train of events DOES allow a causal inference: That it was the diabetes that caused the weight gain and not vice versa.

Fun breakfast freaks the do-gooders

A monster breakfast which weighs the same as a small child and could potentially kill diners is attracting criticism from angry health campaigners

The Kidz Breakfast at Jesters Diner in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, includes 12 rashers of bacon, 12 sausages and six eggs and weighs on average 9lb - 1lb 5oz more than the average newborn baby.

Health experts are demanding its removal from the menu and are warning someone with a heart condition could die if they eat it, with each helping amounting to at least 6,000 calories, up to three days' food intake for an average person.


12 rashers of bacon
12 sausages
Six eggs
Four black pudding slices
Four slices of bread and butter
Four slices of toast
Four slices of fried bread
Two hash browns
Eight-egg cheese and potato omelette
Saute potatoes

Greasy spoon owner Martin Smith said the gigantic breakfast, which comes on a 2.5 sq ft plate, is 'just a bit of fun', with the menu inviting diners to tuck in and 'leave a stone heavier'.

Customers are also offered the £15 mammouth meal for free if they can devour the fry-up in less than an hour without help but no one has managed the stomach bursting feat.

Ellie Hambling, from HeartCare Cardiac Support Group, said: 'It would absolutely ruin your heart. It’s a no-goer I’m afraid.'

Prof David Haslam, from the National Obesity Forum, warned it 'is possible' someone could die after eating the meal in a single sitting, but added it was 'very unlikely'. He said eating the breakfast was 'dangerous' and 'profoundly wrong' and could lead to diabetes, heart disease and a stroke. Prof Haslam added the diner should take responsibility by 'taking it off the market'.

The breakfast has not yet been assessed by Guinness World Records, but according to records would take the title of the largest commercially available English breakfast.

The current holder, as of 1 December 2009, could be bought at Mario’s Cafe Bar in Westhoughton, Bolton, weighing an average of 6lb 7oz.

Mr Smith said: “We kept getting hassled that our Fat Boy Breakfast wasn’t big enough so we decided that we’d go one stage further and take it to the ultimate.”

He added: “Obviously this is not something that should be attempted lightly. We don’t particularly recommend it. It’s just a bit of fun really.”

The diner owner has refused to take his big breakfast off the menu but has agreed to help raise money for the HeartCare charity.


30 January, 2012

English diet 'could save thousands'

This is all just assertion. There are known differences in ancestry between the English and the Scots so the differences could be wholly genetic

The study, undertaken by academics at Oxford University, estimates that 3,700 deaths from heart disease, strokes and cancer, could be prevented annually if everyone in the UK ate as healthily as the English.

Peter Scarborough, of the university's department of public health, said national surveys showed people south of the border tended to eat better.

For fear of upsetting fiery Celtic sensibilities, Scarborough emphasised: "We are not trying to be inflammatory at all".

Rather, there was an important matter of public health at hand. "It has been a question for years as to why mortality rates are higher in other parts of the UK, particularly Scotland, than they are in England," he explained.

Scarborough, an epidemiologist, and colleagues calculated that if death rates from heart disease, stroke and cancer were as low in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales as they were in England, 7,000 fewer people would die a year.

The research, published today (Thursday) in the journal BMJ Open, therefore suggests that just over half the difference (53 per cent) is due to diet alone. Scotland has the worst diet, he said, followed by Northern Ireland, Wales and England.

While the deep-fried Mars bars might be the stuff of Glaswegian legend - and something rarely eaten by most Scots in practice - he said there were real dietary differences that divided the two principal nations. "The Scottish diet is higher in saturated fat and salt and lower in fruit and vegetables," he said.

The study, sponsored by the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group, analysed diets using data from four years worth of reports from the Family Food Survey, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

It found that while the English eat just under 2,300 calories a day, elsewhere in the UK the intake is about 100 calories higher. Although that does not sound like a lot - it is the equivalent a glass of semi-skimmed milk - over time those calories can mount up, leading to higher obesity levels unless countered by more exercise.

But Scarborough said: "It's not the amount of food that most important in these health differences, it's the type."

He also stressed that the English diet itself was not a paragon of good eating, unlike the much vaunted Continental alternative, the Mediterranean diet, which is much higher in fruit and vegetables and unsaturated fats. "We are not holding up the English diet as perfect - it's certainly nothing like the Mediterranean diet - but clearly it is an achievable diet," he said.

Most of the differences in death rates between Wales and England and Northern Ireland and England can be explained by diet - according to the Oxford analysis, 81 per cent in both cases.

Interestingly, the figure is only 40 per cent for Scotland. This could be because a higher proportion of people smoke and drink heavily in Scotland.

However, even when other factors are taken into account - notably physical activity and stress levels - the wide gap between England and Scotland cannot be entirely accounted for.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "Earlier this year we set out actions being taken to make it easier for everyone to make healthy choices, including eating more fruit and vegetables, eating less salt, fat and added sugar, and becoming more active. "We have introduced a range of measures to improve diet and are spending over 7.5m in the next three years on projects to encourage healthy eating."

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: "This research isn't about bragging rights to the English or tit-for-tat arguments about how healthy our traditional dishes might be. "This is a useful exercise in comparing influential differences in diet across the UK, namely calorie intake and fruit and veg consumption. However, saying the rest of the UK should follow England's lead to cut heart deaths isn't a foolproof solution; a quarter of English adults are obese and only 30 per cent eat their five-a-day.

"The findings have thrown up some clear inequalities in the four nations and our governments must do everything they can to create environments that help people make healthy choices."


Anti-Cancer Drugs Increase Cancer Growth: Avastin, Sutent Increase Breast Cancer Stem Cells, U-M Study Shows

(The journal article is: "Antiangiogenic agents increase breast cancer stem cells via the generation of tumor hypoxia")

Cancer treatments designed to block the growth of blood vessels were found to increase the number of cancer stem cells in breast tumors in mice, suggesting a possible explanation for why these drugs don't lead to longer survival, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The drugs Avastin and Sutent have been looked at as potential breast cancer treatments. But while they do shrink tumors and slow the time till the cancer progresses, the effect does not last, and the cancer eventually regrows and spreads.

"This study provides an explanation for the clinical trial results demonstrating that in women with breast cancer antiangiogenic agents such as Avastin delay the time to tumor recurrence but do not affect patient survival. If our results apply to the clinic, it suggests that in order to be effective, these agents will need to be combined with cancer stem cell inhibitors, an approach now being explored in the laboratory," says study author Max S. Wicha, M.D., director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The researchers treated mice with breast cancer using Avastin (bevacizumab) and Sutent (sunitinib), both of which work by stopping the growth and formation of blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. The researchers found that tumors treated with these drugs developed more cancer stem cells, the small number of cells within a tumor that fuel a cancer's growth and spread and that are often resistant to standard treatment. Both the number of cancer stem cells and the percentage of cancer stem cells that make up the tumor increased after being treated with each of these therapies.

The researchers found that the cancer stem cells increased because of a cellular response to low oxygen, a condition called hypoxia. And they were able to determine the specific pathways involved in hypoxia that activate the cancer stem cells.

Results of the study appear online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently revoked approval of Avastin for treating breast cancer, although the drug is approved for use in other types of cancer. The reversal was in response to clinical trials showing that the drug's benefit was short-lived, with breast cancer patients quickly relapsing and the cancer becoming more invasive and spreading further throughout the body. Overall, the drug did not help patients live any longer.

The current study suggests the possibility of combining anti-angiogenesis drugs with a cancer stem cell inhibitor to enhance the benefit of this treatment. The researchers are testing this approach in mice and preliminary data looks promising.


29 January, 2012

An interesting example of an extremely limited diet

The young woman above looks perfectly fine and has a job -- and she has got that way on about as "incorrect" a diet as possible. She eventually suffered a problem that was probably diet-related but the interesting thing is that she got so far on her very limited diet. I think it shows that all diet commandments are greatly exaggerated. The extremely limited diet of traditional Eskimos, featuring almost nothing but meat and fat, is another case in point. And they have a LOW rate of cardiovascular disease

A TEENAGE girl who has eaten almost nothing else except chicken nuggets for 15 years has been warned by doctors the junk food is killing her. Stacey Irvine, 17, has been hooked on the fast food since her mother bought her some at a McDonald's restaurant when she was two, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Shocked doctors learned of her habit when the factory worker, from Birmingham, north of London, collapsed and was taken to hospital after struggling to breathe.

Ms Irvine, who has never eaten fruit or vegetables, had swollen veins in her tongue and was found to have anaemia.

Medics gave her a series of injections and started her on an urgent course of vitamins.

Despite being warned she could die if she stuck to her nugget addiction, she still can't resist the fast food.

Despite a diet that regularly means she eats at least a third more than the 56g of fat recommended by experts, she manages to keep relatively trim.

This may be down to the amount of exercise she does or to her metabolism.

But the craving is taking a toll on her health. A lack of vitamins and other nutrients combined with a dangerous amount of salt can raise blood pressure and weaken the immune system and lead to an increased risk of heart attacks or strokes, particularly as Ms Irvine ages.

A less serious consequence of her craving is that she is struggling to find places to store all the free toys and novelties that come with the meals. They currently fill four bin bags.

Her exasperated mother Evonne Irvine, 39, who is battling to get her daughter seen by a specialist, said: "It breaks my heart to see her eating those damned nuggets.

"She's been told in no uncertain terms that she'll die if she carries on like this. But she says she can't eat anything else."

She once tried unsuccessfully to starve her daughter in a bid to have her eat nutritious food.

Ms Irvine, whose only other variation in her diet is the occasional slice of toast for breakfast - and crisps - said that once she tried nuggets she "loved them so much they were all I would eat".

Evonne Irvine's other two children - Leo, five, and Ava, three - both eat healthily.

In one six-piece portion of McNuggets there are 280 calories, 17g of fat, 16g of carbohydrate, 14g protein, and 600mg sodium and in a small portion of fries there are 230 calories, 11g of fat, 29g of carbohydrates, 3g protein and 160mg sodium.

If Ms Irvine ate three portions of each in a day she would eat a third more fat and almost double the recommended salt but virtually no vitamin C.

Each portion of nuggets contains just two per cent of the daily vitamin C requirement.


Gluten intolerance may sometimes be just a fad

"There are a whole lot of people who believe they are gluten intolerant, who don't have coeliac disease," says Professor Peter Gibson, professor of gastroenterology at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. "This is very controversial because there is a quite big percentage - even up to 10 per cent - of people who are avoiding gluten because they think gluten is their problem. Naturopaths have put them on a diet, or they have done it themselves after reading the internet or speaking to a friend."

As yet unpublished research from Monash University, co-written by Professor Gibson, found only 14 per cent of people on gluten-free diets were put on the regime by a doctor. Almost half had simply decided to cut wheat and grains from their diet because they assumed they were intolerant. More than 60 per cent had not been tested conclusively for coeliac disease.

"It's a very emotive area," Gibson said. "Fortunately, now there is a lot of work going on around the world trying to define this and how we can identify people who are truly gluten intolerant."

The issue is a question of medical distinction: coeliac disease is an immunological complaint in which gluten interferes with the body's ability to absorb nutrients, identifiable by a blood test; gluten intolerance has no diagnostic test or biological mechanism by which to explain it.

Improvements to a person's health without gluten can be explained several ways, by placebo effect or by the fact a gluten-free diet removes other agents from the body - most importantly the poorly absorbed carbohydrates known as fructans, which may cause illness or discomfit.

An Australian study published last year in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed for the first time that gluten could trigger symptoms of fatigue in people without coeliac disease - making the argument for what doctors call non-coeliac gluten intolerance. But the mechanism remained unexplained.

"Gluten intolerance in individuals without coeliac disease is a controversial issue and has recently been described as the 'no man's land of gluten sensitivity'," the authors wrote. "The evidence base for such claims is unfortunately very thin, with no randomised controlled trials demonstrating that the entity does actually exist."

Finland has done more than any other nation to identify its coeliacs. It has the most reliable data on increased prevalence: a doubling, from 1 per cent to 2 per cent between 1979 and 2000. Finns have been eating gluten free burgers at McDonald's for two decades.

It is accepted that coeliac disease affects about one in every 100 Australians - although there is no local research to confirm the Finnish findings. Some academics argue perceived increases in coeliac disease are heightened by increased testing, but it is generally agreed that prevalence has increased.

The increase in people identifying with non-coeliac gluten intolerance is more conflicted. An editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia last year noted the distinction: "The popularity of the 'fad' gluten-free diet might be peaking, but the medical need for gluten-free diets continues to rise."

Penny Dellsperger, a dietitian at Coeliac NSW, said there were significant medical risks to people adopting gluten free diets without first ascertaining whether they suffered coeliac disease. She said the symptoms could easily relate to other illnesses.

"Obviously there are a lot of people on gluten free diets who don't need to be and who haven't had the proper tests. We have to be careful gluten doesn't get a bad rap," she said.

"I don't understand why you would [maintain a gluten free diet] if you didn't need to. It's been marketed a lot and gluten has been promoted as an evil thing when it's actually not."


28 January, 2012

Why a mother's love really is priceless: It prevents illness even into middle age(?)

This is the old "correlation is causation" fallacy yet again. IQ was apparently not controlled for but there are pockets of high IQ among poor families and high IQ parents probably treat their children better on the whole and high IQ people have better health anyhow and would transmit that to their children genetically

You comfort them over a skinned knee in the playground, and coax them to sleep with a soothing lullaby. And being a nurturing mother could well pay dividends in later life by protecting your child from serious illnesses, scientists say.

Tender loving care in childhood was found to reduce a person’s risk of conditions including diabetes and heart disease in adulthood, according to researchers at Brandeis University in Boston.

They examined 1,000 people from low-income backgrounds, which has been shown by a wealth of previous research to be related to poorer health in later life and lower life expectancy. However, they found some people from disadvantaged families managed to buck this trend – and they tended to have had a loving mother.

Participants were recruited at an average age of 46 and had a full health check in hospital. They were asked about their mothers with questions such as ‘how much did she understand your problems and worries?’ and ‘How much time and attention did she give you when you needed it?

A decade later half of the people had metabolic syndrome – a major risk factors for heart disease, strokes and diabetes. It is a combination of symptoms including excess fat around the waist, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin resistance, which affects around one in four people in the UK.

They found people in the lowest socio-economic category, with neither parent having finished school, had the highest rate of this condition – half of them were affected and regardless of their social mobility in later life.

‘The stresses of childhood can leave a biological residue that shows up in midlife. Yet, among those at risk for poor health, adults who had nurturing mothers in childhood fared better in physical health’

But although this high risk seemed to be ‘embedded’ from childhood, the researchers said, those who said their mothers were very nurturing were far less likely to have it.

Psychology professor Margie Lachman said events in childhood seem to leave a ‘biological residue’ on health during adult life. She said: ‘The fact that we can see these long-term effects from childhood into midlife is pretty dramatic.

‘We want to understand what it is about having a nurturing mother that allows you to escape the vulnerabilities of being in a low socioeconomic status background and wind up healthier than your counterparts.’

The authors suggest it could be a combination of empathy, teaching children ‘coping strategies’ to deal with stress so it does not affect their health and encouraging them to eat well and live a healthy lifestyle.

They did not look at how nurturing their fathers were but the authors believe they probably have a big influence too particularly for the next generation as parental roles are less rigid than they were when the people they studied were young.

Prof Lachman said the information could help devise training for parents about coping with their child’s stress, living a healthy lifestyle and having ‘control over their destiny’.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.


Scientists urge universities to axe alternative medicine courses

MORE than 400 doctors, medical researchers and scientists have formed a powerful lobby group to pressure universities to close down alternative medicine degrees.

Almost one in three Australian universities now offer courses in some form of alternative therapy or complementary medicine, including traditional Chinese herbal medicine, chiropractics, homeopathy, naturopathy, reflexology and aromatherapy.

But the new group, Friends of Science in Medicine, wrote to vice-chancellors this week, warning that by giving "undeserved credibility to what in many cases would be better described as quackery" and by "failing to champion evidence-based science and medicine", the universities are trashing their reputation as bastions of scientific rigour.

The group, which names world-renowned biologist Sir Gustav Nossal and the creator of the cervical cancer vaccine Professor Ian Frazer among its members, is also campaigning for private health insurance providers to stop providing rebates for alternative medical treatments.

A co-founder of the group, Emeritus Professor John Dwyer, of the University of NSW, who is also a government adviser on consumer health fraud, said it was distressing that 19 universities were now offering "degrees in pseudo science".

"It's deplorable, but we didn't realise how much concern there was out there for universities' reputations until we tapped into it," Professor Dwyer said. "We're saying enough is enough. Taxpayers' money should not be wasted on funding [these courses] … nor should government health insurance rebates be wasted on this nonsense."

Professor Dwyer said it was particularly galling that such courses were growing in popularity while, at the same time, the federal government was looking at ways to get the Therapeutic Goods Administration to enforce tougher proof-of-efficacy criteria for complementary medicines, following the release of a highly critical review by the Australian National Audit Office last September.

Of particular concern to the group is the increase in chiropractic courses, following the recent announcement of a new chiropractic science degree by Central Queensland University. More than 30 scientists, doctors and community advocates wrote to the vice-chancellor and health science deans at the university voicing their concern, which laid the foundations for Friends of Science in Medicine.

The groundswell of protest from medical professionals comes after a decision in Britain that means from this year it will no longer be possible to receive a degree from a publicly-funded university in areas of alternative medicine, including homeopathy and naturopathy.

German and British medical insurance providers are also in the process of removing alternative therapies from the list of treatments they will cover.

Australia's vice-chancellors will meet in March and Professor Dwyer said his group was aiming to get a commitment from them to endorse health courses only with evidence-based science.

The spokesman for Universities Australia said tertiary institutions were self-accrediting. "[They have] the autonomy … to ensure the quality and relevance of the courses they offer," he said.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, a government body set up to regulate higher education, refused to comment.

Most health funds pay rebates for alternative therapies under top cover polices. Private Healthcare Australia did not return the Herald's calls.


27 January, 2012

Here we go again

Eating chocolate could stave off bowel cancer, say scientists. There are some sharp skeptical comments towards the end of the article

A study found having daily doses of cocoa reduced the risk of developing the disease. It is the latest piece of research to highlight the health benefits of the cocoa bean, most of which is harvested in West Africa.

Previous studies have found the seed is rich in particularly powerful natural antioxidants that destroy harmful molecules known as free radicals. And it has been suggested that eating chocolate with a high cocoa content could help to control diabetes, blood pressure and heart disease.

Dr Maria Arribas, of the Science and Technology Institute of Food and Nutrition in Spain, who led the latest study, said: 'Foods like cocoa, which is rich in polyphenols, seems to play an important role in protecting against disease.'

Dr Arribas and her team investigated if the food could stop rats from developing bowel cancer when exposed to tumour-causing chemicals.

Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel and depending on where the cancer starts, it can sometimes be referred to as colon or rectal cancer.

One group of rats were fed a daily diet consisting of 12 per cent of cocoa for eight weeks, while another group were given a diet containing no cocoa.

After a period of time, both groups were exposed to a carcinogen called azoxymethane, which is used to induce colon cancer. Within four weeks of the toxin exposure rats began to develop intestinal cancers.

However, the researchers discovered the rats on the cocoa diets had a reduced number of pre-cancerous lesions compared to the control group. It is believed that the study, published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, is the first to suggest that cocoa could help prevent bowel cancer. Further research is now needed to explore how the raw material could benefit humans.

However Sarah Williams, a spokesperson from Cancer Research UK warned that too much chocolate can also have a negative impact.

Commenting on the study she said: 'This study involved rats in the lab who were fed very large quantities of cocoa over a number of weeks, so it’s impossible to conclude that that eating chocolate or drinking cocoa protects people against bowel cancer.

'But we do know that chocolate is high in fat and calories, so eating too much of it could lead you to put on weight. 'And being obese has been shown to increase the risk of bowel cancer, so eating lots of chocolate is unlikely to be a good way to cut the risk.'

She highlighted that eating a healthy diet with 'lots of fruit, veg and fibre and limiting red and processed meat, cutting down on alcohol, staying physically active and not smoking' are other ways to reduce the risk of cancer.

In England, bowel cancer is the third most common type of cancer and it is estimated that 16,000 people die from the disease each year.


McFlurry of trade brings record year

A nasty one for the food Fascists

WE DON'T know how many burgers they made, but the other numbers are big enough. McDonald's rang up record sales of $US27 billion ($25.6 billion) in 33,510 restaurants worldwide last year, an increase of 12 per cent, turning a profit of $US5.5 billion from the 68 million customers it serves each day.

Although there is no country breakdown, it seems Australia was a weak contributor, with our stronger dollar biting into earnings and its chief executive, Jim Skinner, noting "lagging consumer confidence as a result of the economic slowdown".

Just 34 new stores opened in Australia last year, McDonald's US filings reveal, lifting this country's total to 865. That compared with 177 new stores opened in China.

But Australia again lived up to its track record as a hotbed of new ideas for the fast food giant. Chicken McBites have just been launched in the US after being invented here and launched in 2010. The recent launch here of smoothies and frappes have resulted in good sales volumes.

"That's something we're really proud of," said a spokeswoman. "Lots of innovation in McDonald's starts in Australia, like McCafes."

In what feel like hard economic times, McDonald's is trying to focus on value. "The McValue lunch has been very popular," the spokeswoman said.

Worldwide, said the chief operating officer, Donald Thompson, breakfast at McDonald's is booming, driven partly by local offerings such as McMuffins.

"Probably the biggest of all of the menu pieces I would say is breakfast. Breakfast is beginning to circulate around the rest of the world . .. there's some tremendous opportunity there. So we've got a lot of room still in breakfast products, the premium sandwiches. Wraps are travelling. McBites are in the US from Australia and smoothies and beverages are travelling around the world. So those things are going to continue."

In the December quarter, McDonald's reported sales of $US6.8 billion, up 10 per cent on the previous year, and net income of $US1.4 billion, up 11 per cent.

McDonald's does not give a country-by-country breakdown but the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa were the strongest of its geographic regions, with sales up by 11 per cent both for the quarter, after stripping out currency impacts, compared with a year earlier, and for the 2011 full year.


26 January, 2012

Vitamin D deficiency in UK a 'major problem'

This is a disgrace. Official scares about avoiding skin cancer by staying out of the sun would have to be a major factor in this. Sun-loving Australians must get 1,000 times more sun exposure than Brits but skin cancer is only a minor problem among them, not even requiring surgery, usually. A quick spray with liquid nitrogen and that is the end of it usually

A quarter of all toddlers in the UK are lacking Vitamin D, according to research.

Vitamin D supplements are recommended for those people at risk of deficiency, including all pregnant and breastfeeding women, children under five, and the elderly, but 74 per cent of parents know nothing about them and more than half of healthcare professionals are also unaware, the BBC said.

Dr Benjamin Jacobs, consultant paediatrician at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, described the issue as a "major problem". He told BBC Breakfast: "We see about one case of rickets a month in our hospital, but that's the very severe end of the disease. "There are many other children who have less severe problems - muscle weakness, delay in walking, bone pains - and research indicates that in many parts of the country the majority of children have a low level of Vitamin D."

He explained that it was discovered that Vitamin D prevents rickets about 100 years ago when most children in London suffered from the disease, and it was later eradicated.

But then, in the 1950s, there was concern that children were getting too much Vitamin D in food supplements and cod liver oil and supplements were stopped. This was unlike in other Western countries where they continued, he said. Dr Jacobs said: "We thought they were unnecessary, possibly harmful, and that was a major mistake."

He said parents are largely unaware of the risk of the condition, while health professionals are often taught that rickets is a disease of the past.

"It's really only over the past 10 years or so that I've noticed children with Vitamin D deficiency. and still I would say today, the majority of doctors, health visitors, midwives, nurses, are not aware enough of the problem," he said.

Asked about how vulnerable people can be given more Vitamin D, Dr Jacobs said current guidelines suggest taking drops or tablets, but experts are also looking into food supplementation.

He said it would not be harmful if people ended up with too much Vitamin D in their diet.

Current guidelines suggest that children and pregnant women should have 400 units a day, but he described this as a "conservative" level compared to the US, where he said a study suggested pregnant women should have 4,000 units. "In my view, it is extremely safe," he added.

Chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said the Government would be reviewing the issue. She said: "We know a significant proportion of people in the UK probably have inadequate levels of Vitamin D in their blood.

"People at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under five, are already advised to take daily supplements. "Our experts are clear - low levels of Vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children.

"Many health professionals such as midwives, GPs and nurses give advice on supplements, and it is crucial they continue to offer this advice as part of routine consultations and ensure disadvantaged families have access to free Vitamin supplements through our Healthy Start scheme.

"It is important to raise awareness of this issue, and I will be contacting health professionals on the need to prescribe and recommend Vitamin D supplements to at-risk groups.

"The Department of Health has also asked the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition to review the important issue of current dietary recommendations on Vitamin D."


Brain scans could diagnose dyslexic children before they even learn to read and head off difficulties at school

Some children with dyslexia go undiagnosed for years, leading to prolonged learning difficulties and children who are angry and frustrated at school. But all that could be a thing of the past.

Scientists now say they can identify the reading problem before children even start school, and long before they become labeled as poor students and begin to lose confidence in themselves.
Dyslexia typically is not identified until children are seven or eight and demonstrate real problems with their reading

Dyslexia typically is not identified until children are seven or eight and demonstrate real problems with their reading

Although children are not typically diagnosed with dyslexia until they are around 7 or 8 years old - a team from Children's Hospital Boston said they could see signs of the disease on brain scans in children as young as 4 or 5 years old.

This age is also when studies show children are most able to respond to interventions. 'We call it the dyslexia paradox,' said Nadine Gaab of the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at the hospital, whose study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Gaab said most children are not diagnosed until they demonstrate problems reading, but helping children with dyslexia works best if you start before they even begin to learn to read.

'Often, by the time they get a diagnosis, they usually have experienced three years of peers telling them they are stupid, parents telling them they are lazy. We know they have reduced self esteem. They are really struggling,' Gaab said.

Her study builds on an emerging understanding of dyslexia as a problem with recognizing and manipulating the individual sounds that form language - which is known as phonological processing.

In order to read, children must map the sounds of spoken language onto specific letters that make up words. Children with dyslexia struggle with this mapping process.

'The beauty is spoken language can present before written language so people can look for symptoms,' said Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a director of the Center for Dyslexia and Creativity at Yale University.

Signs of early dyslexia might include difficulty with rhyming, mispronouncing words or confusing similar-sounding words. 'Those are all very early symptoms,' Shaywitz said.

Dyslexia affects roughly 5 per cent to 17 per cent of all children. And up to 50 per cent of children with a family history of the disorder will struggle with reading, have poor spelling and experience difficulty decoding words.

In her study, Gaab and colleagues scanned the brains of 36 pre-school children while they did a number of tasks, such as trying to decide if two words start with the same sound.

They found that during these tasks, children who had a family history of dyslexia had less brain activity in certain regions of the brain than did children of similar ages, intelligence and socioeconomic status.

Older children and adults with dyslexia have dysfunction in these same areas of the brain, which include the junctions between the occipital and temporal lobes and the temporal and parietal lobes in the back of the brain. 'Often, by the time [children with dyslexia] get a diagnosis, they usually have experienced three years of peers telling them they are stupid'

Gaab said the study shows that when children predisposed to dyslexia did these tasks, their brains did not use the area typically used for processing this information. This problem occurred even before the children started learning to read.

'The important point of this paper is it shows the need to look for signs of dyslexia earlier,' said April Benasich, director of the Carter Center for Neurocognitive Research at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, who was not part of the study.

Benasich studies language processing in even younger children - babies who have a family history of learning disorders. 'There is evidence to suggest that what is thought to be reading failure is there before the kids fail,' she said.

Gaab said her study is too small to form the basis of any test for dyslexia but her team has just won a grant from the National Institutes of Health to do a larger study. Ultimately, she hopes parents will be able to go to their doctor and ask for their child to be assessed.

'Families often know that their child has dyslexia as early as kindergarten, but they can't get interventions at their schools,' she said in a statement. 'If we can show that we can identify these kids early, schools may be encouraged to develop programs.'


25 January, 2012

'Silent Thalidomide': Thousands of mothers and their daughters at risk of cancer from anti-miscarriage drugs they took decades ago

Tens of thousands of woman could suffer a rare cancer caused by a banned drug taken by their mothers or even grandmothers. The drug, Diethylstilboestrol (DES), was freely prescribed to pregnant women in Britain for three decades up to 1973, and was supposed to prevent miscarriages.

But it was belatedly banned in Britain after it was found to increase the risk of miscarriage – and it is now feared that it can lead to a deadly cancer to a second and even third generation.

Some 2,000 women have already sought compensation in America, with payouts totalling up to £1bn from the numerous drug companies that sold DES, while scores more are launching more legal action.

Now fresh compensation cases are set to begin here, with tens of thousands of British women to be asked if they could be potential victims of the drug nicknamed ‘the silent Thalidomide’.

As well as causing a rare cervical and vaginal cancer, and possibly breast cancer, in the daughters, and potentially grandchildren, of the women who took it long ago, DES is also being blamed for causing fertility problems.

The drug, a synthetic copy of the female hormone oestrogen, was created in Britain in 1938, and was soon being prescribed to millions of women around the world.

Doubts about the wisdom of using it surfaced in 1953, when an American study showed it caused more, rather than fewer miscarriages.

But it was not until 1971 that US authorities told doctors to stop prescribing it - after it was found that one in a thousand of the daughters of women prescribed DES had developed the cervical and vaginal cancer ‘clear cell adenocarcinoma’ (CCAC). And it was only in 1973 that British doctors were advised to stop prescribing the drug.

The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has suggested 7,500 British women took DES, but there are other claims that up to 300,000 could be at risk.

Figures suggest that daughters of women who took the drug are made 40 times more likely to develop the cancer CCAC, often when young adults. The cancer is fatal in more than a quarter of cases. One study suggested that breast cancer risk is also doubled.

It will be impossible for many possible victims to find out, of course, whether their mothers or grandmothers used the drug.

Research on rodents has lent weight to the fear that DES dangerously alters DNA not only in the individual taking the drug, but also that those changes are passed on at least two generations.

Washington DC lawyer Aaron Devine, who is representing the 80 American women currently seeking compensation, is due in Britain in a fortnight to arrange a search for potential victims here.

The first woman in Britain found to have suffered as a result of DES taken by her mother is Heather Justice, 59, of Jarrow in Tyne and Wear. She was diagnosed with vaginal cancer aged 25, then went through a hysterectomy and other surgery. Records showed her mother had taken DES in the 1950s, but because she did not know which company produced it, has been unable to bring legal action.

Mrs Justice said: ‘One of the problems is that unlike Thalidomide, where you see the problem the minute the baby was born, women who took DES had healthy babies. ‘Problems were hidden until the teens and twenties, by which point we were forgotten about. When I asked my mum what she had taken, she didn’t even remember the name of the stuff. It is a complete and utter minefield.’

Among others who believe they have been afflicted in Britain are Janet Hall, 61, of Bournemouth - whose mother died from lung cancer aged 32 – who had to have much of her cervix removed when she was 20. She suffered a miscarriage, then had two daughters. One, Hannah, 26, has had pre-cancerous cells found in her cervix, she said. Mrs Hall said: ‘I feel guilty for my girls. It messes with your mind; it makes you ask why you had to have children.’

A spokesman for the Department of Health spoke of having ‘every sympathy’ for self-proclaimed victims, but said: ‘With regard to compensation for people who believe they have been adversely affected by this drug, this is a matter for the manufacturer(s) and/or the UK licensees of the drug.’


Packed lunches now "incorrect"

I took a packed lunch to school every day as a kid living in the tropics and came to no harm, nor did any other kid that I knew of.

SCHOOL children and workers who leave home with a packed lunch are at risk of food poisoning in warm weather, health experts say.

Four in five Australian workers take packed lunches, of which only half are kept cool, a Newspoll survey has found.

With bacteria growing quickly in warm weather, the likelihood of food poisoning is high, especially when cold meat, soft cheeses, pates and raw-egg mayonnaise are on the menu, the Food Safety Information Council says.

The risk is reduced by packing a frozen juice box, water bottle or ice pack with the lunch.

Children's lunch boxes do not need to be refrigerated if they are stored with a frozen item and kept inside school bags, away from heat sources such as direct sunlight.

Adults should store lunches in a workplace fridge or a cooler bag.

Where possible, lunches should contain low-risk foods including hard cheeses, well-cooked meats and poultry. Fresh, well-washed fruits and vegetables, and sandwich spreads such as honey and vegemite are ideal.

Lunch boxes and reusable drink bottles should be thoroughly washed and dried before they are used again. If they are damaged, the boxes should be replaced as bugs will grow in any cracks, the council says.

Food poisoning results, on average, in 120 deaths, 1.2 million visits to doctors, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics, and 2.1 billion days of lost work each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning in Australia is $1.2 billion.


24 January, 2012

British insanity: Local councils will be handed £5bn to combat obesity

And it won't make a scrap of difference. It never does. Even when people do lose weight, they eventually put it back on -- and more

Local government is to take back responsibility for public health for the first time since the 1970s and will be given more than £5billion a year to stem obesity, binge drinking and smoking.

Powerful new public health directors based in councils will be asked to transform the NHS so it focuses much more on preventing illness rather than dealing with its consequences.

Announcing the plans today, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley will argue that a decade of failure has seen obesity rates spiral – with more than a quarter of adults now dangerously overweight – sexually transmitted infections double and gaps in life expectancy between rich and poor areas persist.

Mr Lansley, who aims to create a new ‘public health service’, will say that under Labour, public health was seen as ‘something to be sidelined’.

He will announce that next year £5.2billion will be spent on public health as responsibility is returned to local authorities for the first time since 1974. In a speech to health professionals, he will also pledge that the Government will increase health spending in real terms each year after that.

From April 2013, for the first time the funding will be ringfenced, meaning public health cash can no longer be raided to bail out other parts of the system.

Public health is currently the responsibility of primary care trusts. But as these will be scrapped with the introduction of GP consortiums in 2013, it has been decided that it should revert back to local government – which is responsible for wider determinants of health, such as housing, transport and leisure.

Local government will devise its own schemes for promoting public health, though ministers favour ‘nudging’ people to make healthy choices by presenting them as social norms rather than Labour’s ‘nanny state’ approach.

One example was the use of signs in shops saying ‘most people who shop here buy at least two pieces of fruit’, a tactic which proved effective in trials.

Under the new system, local authorities will be judged against a wide range of measures including tooth decay in children and reducing the number of falls in older people, and wider factors such as school attendance, domestic abuse, homelessness and air pollution. There will also be a major push to promote breastfeeding.

Mr Lansley will say: ‘The job of the Government – and my responsibility – is to help people live healthier lives.

‘The framework is about giving local authorities the ability to focus on the most effective ways to improve the public’s health and reduce health inequalities, long-term, from cradle to grave. Moving away from an old-style, top-down, target-driven regime, and towards outcomes that we all want to see.

‘Some are straightforward and obvious. Others are more complex, maybe things you wouldn’t immediately think of. ‘But they all help us live longer, healthier lives, and improve the health of the poorest, fastest.

He will also point out that ‘2000 to 2010 was a decade in which public health was seen as relatively unimportant, something to be sidelined’.

He will say: ‘Obesity rates from 2000 to 2010 rose from 21.2 per cent to 26.1 per cent so now over a quarter of adults are obese; sexually-transmitted infections, after the steep declines in the Eighties to Nineties, doubled in the subsequent decade; and health inequalities persist, with gaps in life expectancy of over a decade between people born in the richest areas and people born in the poorest.’

Mr Lansley will cite last year’s National Audit Office report which was unable to conclude that the £20billion Labour spent on reducing health inequalities was good value for money.

Councils who succeed will be rewarded with a ‘health premium bonus’ to spend on public health in the following year.

‘I want local government to be bold,’ Mr Lansley will say. ‘Really push to make things better. The health premium will encourage that, rewarding local authorities that make a real, demonstrable difference.’


'Breast is best advice is too posh': Charity stops promoting it in ante-natal classes

A leading childbirth charity will stop telling mothers to breastfeed over fears its image is ‘too posh’.

The National Childbirth Trust will no longer promote the practice to all women in its ante-natal classes. Instead it will encourage those who have already decided to take it up to do it properly.

The change follows concerns that its ‘breastapo’ tactics are alienating some women reluctant to breastfeed, particularly among the working class. The charity wants women from more diverse backgrounds to attend its classes.

The NHS recommends that babies are breastfed exclusively for six months. Breastfeeding rates range from 90 per cent for more affluent women, to just over 70 per cent for those in the poorest social classes and only 63 per cent for teenage mothers.

It provided ante-natal classes for about 90,000 couples last year, 16 per cent of them free through the NHS. But it has been criticised for alienating women who decide not to breastfeed or those who chose to have a caesarean.

Last year TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp claimed that she and thousands of mothers were being made to feel a ‘failure’ for having c-sections.

Spokesman Anne Fox said: ‘We need to get the message out that the NCT is for everyone, not just for “posh” parents as some people assume. ‘We want to have a more diverse reach. We have always worked on word of mouth, but now we want the person who says “You should go to NCT” to be a pregnant 15-year-old in central Manchester. ‘Our practitioners and volunteers are training to support all parents; those from ethnic minority groups, families that are newly arrived and those who parent on their own.’

The NCT, formed in 1956, has 100,000 members, making it the biggest parenting charity in the country.


23 January, 2012

A most interesting finding

Contrary to expectations, babies born into difficult family situations adapt to that by developing faster. And their experience in utero primes them to do that, allegedly.

I wonder, however, are we looking at a type of chimpanzee effect here. That effect connects early maturation to lower final levels of mental ability. If the "depressed" mothers in the study were of sub-par average IQ, we would expect their infants to mature faster anyhow -- with no fetal detection involved. Control for maternal IQ would resolve that

Prescient Human Fetuses Thrive

Curt A. Sandman et al.


Fetal detection of adversity is a conserved trait that allows many species to adapt their early developmental trajectories to ensure survival. According to the fetal-programming model, exposure to stressful or hostile conditions in utero is associated with compromised development and a lifelong risk of adverse health outcomes.

In a longitudinal study, we examined the consequences of prenatal and postnatal exposure to adversity for infant development. We found increased motor and mental development during the 1st year of life among infants whose mothers experienced congruent levels of depressive symptoms during and after pregnancy, even when the levels of symptoms were relatively high and the prenatal and postnatal environments were unfavorable.

Congruence between prenatal and postnatal environments prepares the fetus for postnatal life and confers an adaptive advantage for critical survival functions during early development.


Tanning addicts snap up banned drug Melanotan II

Just another drug of abuse that probably would be better legalized so its effects can be properly tracked and users helped where needed

HEALTH experts are alarmed at a booming trade in an artificial tanning drug that promises to make you "tanned, thin and turned on".

Melanotan II, nicknamed the "Barbie Drug", is banned from commercial sale in Australia but tan-addicts are snapping up vials of the injectable drug over the internet. Initially popular with bodybuilders, the drug is now being used by models, brides-to-be, actresses and others seeking an instant tan.

One online distributor Pure Peptides, listed as being based in Australia and the US, claims it was flooded with more than 10,000 orders in the past year.

A 10mg vial of the synthetic hormone which increases the levels of melanin, the skin's darker pigment can be bought online for as little as $40.

But the Australian Medical Association warns it could cost users their lives. "People should not be messing with something that's unproven and theoretically increases the risk of skin cancers, particularly melanomas," Queensland president Dr Richard Kidd said.

The drug has also been banned in Britain, Canada and throughout Europe after reported side effects including nausea, flushing, the darkening of freckles, high-blood pressure, physical scarring, suppressed appetite, spontaneous erections and increased libido.

Dr Kidd said: "There hasn't been any proper clinical studies done on humans. They're putting dollars before lives."
Melanotan II is banned from commercial sale and the Therapeutic Goods Administration last year made it illegal for Australians to buy it from overseas for personal use without a prescription.

But the move has not stemmed the tide of sales, with the drug still freely promoted and available online to Australians.

A TGA spokeswoman said: "It continues to be unlawful for Melanotan to be imported and sold on a commercial basis. In addition, it is now unlawful to import Melanotan for personal use unless the substance is prescribed by a medical practitioner registered in Australia."

One supplier Pure Melanotan declares on its website: "All Australian orders are shipped from our local Australian distribution center via Australian Post Express, No Customs & No Duties or fees."

The TGA said they were not aware of these local warehouses but warned the supply of the drug in Australia could be an offence against state and Commonwealth legislation. The TGA said it would investigate if the drug was slipping into Australia unchecked.

But Dr Kidd warns Melanotan II is unapproved for a good reason: "You might end up accidentally killing yourself."


22 January, 2012

Are dads to blame for unhealthy kids? New study shows obese fathers more likely to have overweight children

It's what you would expect from genetics. Everything else is a minor influence

New research has linked fathers' weights to their childrens' - finding that an obese man is more likely to have obese children.

The Australian study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, looked at the weights of eight- and nine-year-old children from two-parent families where one parent was obese.

The report found that 'having an overweight or obese father, but a healthy weight mother, significantly increased the odds of child obesity', while the reverse did not hold true.

The findings go against popularly held beliefs that mothers - who tend to spend more time with children than fathers as well as usually controlling food shopping and meals - have more influence over children's weight.

Today Mums says that scientists had before theorised that the sex of offspring was an important factor when it came to parents' sizes affecting obesity.

It was thought that obese mums were more likely to have obese daughters and obese fathers would similarly be more likely to have obese sons. The new evidence throws that into doubt.

The counter-intuitive results, yielded from 3,825 children, have surprised the University of Newcastle, NSW, scientists, who have not yet isolated the reasons for the correlation.

In an email to Today Mums, study co-author Emily Freeman, from the university's Family Action Centre, said that the results merited prompt action: 'We felt that it was very important to get the message out there straight away that dads have a big role in keeping their children healthy'.

The health scientist went on to say that a father's position as a role model may be influencing children's weights.

A dad who eats his greens and heads to the park for exercise is undoubtedly setting a good example - and one that is corroborated by anecdotal evidence when it comes to healthy children, says the scientist.


Men over 6ft 'face a 24% lower risk of heart failure'

This is consistent with there being a general syndrome of biological fitness. High IQ people tend to be taller and healthier so we are seeing another part of that below

They are said to be more desirable to women, more successful and more likely to father children. And now scientists claim that tall men have yet another advantage – they are less at risk of heart problems.

Harvard researchers have found that those who are more than 6ft are a quarter less likely to suffer from heart failure than men just a few inches smaller.

They looked at the records of 22,000 male doctors in their mid-fifties who were subsequently followed over a 22-year period. They each filled in an initial questionnaire on their height, weight and general health and then every year subsequently filled in surveys about any new medical diagnoses.

The study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, found that 1,444 men developed heart failure which was about 7 per cent of the total. But men who were 6ft or over (1.8 meters) were 24 per cent less likely to report having heart failure than those who were 5ft 8 or smaller (1.72 meters).

This was after their age and weight, as well as whether they had high blood pressure and diabetes, had all been taken into account.

The scientists think that one reason is that shorter men may have had childhood diseases that stunted their growth. In adulthood this could have led to the build-up of plaque in their arteries and higher blood pressure.

But they also think that the biology of taller men may put them at less risk. They say that there is greater distance between certain points in their arteries and their hearts which puts the heart under less strain.

Jeffrey Teuteberg, a cardiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who was not involved in the study said: 'As much as we know about the development of very common diseases like heart failure, there’s still a lot we don’t know. “There’s still a lot more that impacts the development of those diseases beyond those things,” 'The message certainly shouldn’t be: "If you’re tall, don’t worry about these sorts of things, or if you’re short, you’re doomed."'

Heart failure affects around 900,000 people in Britain, mainly the elderly.

It occurs when their hearts are too weak to properly pump blood around the body and can be caused by heart attacks, which cause the organ to weaken.


21 January, 2012

Patients With Normal Bone Density Can Delay Retests, Study Suggests

Bone loss and osteoporosis develop so slowly in most women whose bones test normal at age 65 that many can safely wait as long as 15 years before having a second bone density test, researchers report in a new study.

The study, published in Thursday’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, is part of a broad rethinking of how to diagnose and treat the potentially debilitating bone disease that can lead to broken hips and collapsing spines.

A class of drugs, bisphosphonates, which includes Fosamax, has been found to prevent fractures in people with osteoporosis. But medical experts no longer recommend the medicines to prevent osteoporosis itself. They no longer want women to take them indefinitely, and no longer consider bone density measurements the sole defining factor in deciding if a woman needs to be treated.

Now, with the new study, researchers are asking whether frequent bone density measurements even make sense for the majority of older women whose bone density is not near a danger zone on initial tests, recommended at age 65.

“Bone density testing has been oversold,” said Steven Cummings, the study’s principal investigator and an emeritus professor of medical epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

The study followed nearly 5,000 women ages 67 and older for more than a decade. The women had a bone density test when they entered the study and did not have osteoporosis. (In a separate national study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 70 percent of women over age 65 did not have osteoporosis.)

The researchers report that fewer than 1 percent of women with normal bone density when they entered the study, and fewer than 5 percent with mildly low bone density, developed osteoporosis in the ensuing 15 years. But of those with substantially low bone density at the study’s start, close to the cutoff point for osteoporosis of fewer than 2.5 standard deviations from the reference level, 10 percent progressed to osteoporosis in about a year.

Dr. Margaret Gourlay, the study’s lead author and a family practice specialist and osteoporosis researcher at the University of North Carolina, said she and her colleagues were surprised by how slowly osteoporosis progressed in women.

Medicare pays for a bone density test every two years and many doctors have assumed that is the ideal interval, although national guidelines recommend them only at “regular intervals.”

“I think this will change the way doctors think about screening,” Dr. Gourlay said.

The results, said Joan A. McGowan, director of the division of musculoskeletal diseases at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, “provide telling evidence that you are not going to fall off a cliff if you have normal bone density in your 60s or early 70s, that you are not going to have osteoporosis in the next five years unless something else happens.”

For example, said Dr. McGowan, who was not involved in the study, a woman who had to take high doses of corticosteroids for another medical condition would lose bone rapidly. But the findings “cover most normal women,” she said.

Bone density screening took off after Fosamax, the first bisphosphonate, was approved at the end of 1995. For the first time, doctors had a specific treatment that had been shown to prevent fractures in people with osteoporosis.

For years doctors were overly enthusiastic, prescribing it for women whose bone density was lower than normal but not in a danger zone, keeping women on the drug indefinitely. They even gave a name, osteopenia, to lower than normal bone density, although it was not clear it had real clinical significance.

Now, osteoporosis experts consider osteopenia to be a risk factor, not a disease, and its importance varies depending on a patient’s age, said Dr. Ethel S. Siris, an osteoporosis researcher at Columbia University who was not involved in the study.

Doctors are more likely to prescribe bisphosphonates for older patients and recommend against them for most younger postmenopausal women with osteopenia.

The experts also generally recommend that most people on bisphosphonates take them for just five years at a time, followed by a drug holiday of undetermined length. The idea is to reduce the risk of rare but serious side effects, including unusual thighbone fractures and loss of bone in the jaw.

A risk calculator, FRAX, can help determine whether treatment is recommended. It assesses a combination of risk factors: whether a parent has had a hip fracture, the age of the patient, steroid use, bone density at the hip, and whether the person has broken a bone after age 50, an especially important indicator. Nearly half who break a hip already had already broken another bone, Dr. Siris said.

“If you are an older individual, a man or a woman, who already broke a major bone — spine, hip, shoulder, or pelvis or wrist — take it very seriously and get treated,” she said. “If you have relatively good bone density then you are not at risk now.”


The Report on Carcinogens

What Went Wrong and What Can Be Done to Fix It

There is nothing wrong in principle with publishing periodic reports identifying substances that pose carcinogenic risks to humans. Cancer remains a serious disease even though advances in diagnosis and treatment have rendered most types much less often fatal than they were when President Richard Nixon declared the “war on cancer” in 1971. But it would be a mistake to continue basing these reports on scientific knowledge and primitive technology dating from the 1960s.

The National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) Report on Carcinogens (RoC) is one such periodic report. The NTP has interpreted its statutory charge in a way that never was consistent with the law authorizing its preparation, resulting in Reports that never could live up to Congress’ original intent. Though the law requires the NTP to estimate the number of Americans actually exposed, and to list substances only if a significant number of Americans are exposed to them, the NTP functionally ignores exposure. The law also requires the NTP to estimate the reduction in cancer incidence resulting from regulatory standards, but it does not perform that required task, either.

Problems with the RoC begin with the NTP’s listing criteria. A careful review of the text shows that they are mere tautologies. For example, a substance is deemed to be a known carcinogen if the NTP decides that the evidence from human studies is sufficient. The minimum threshold for designation as a known carcinogen is unknown to the public because the NTP never says what is required for evidence to be sufficient. Thus, a substance is a known human carcinogen if the NTP says the evidence is sufficient. Conversely, the evidence is sufficient if the NTP says the substance is a known carcinogen. Similarly circular logic pervades the definition of a reasonably anticipated human carcinogen.

Worse, the NTP appears to be institutionally incapable of incorporating decades of advancements in scientific knowledge into its listing decisions, and there is no transparent way to scientifically rebut or reverse a listing decision once it has been made.

Both of the statutory categories for assignment (known and reasonably anticipated) imply that a causal relationship has been demonstrated with near certainty in the first case, and with an unspecified but lesser confidence level in the second. But the NTP’s listing criteria do not require any demonstration of causality. Rather, the NTP assumes that causality is demonstrated when it decides to list. This is clear from the grammatical structure of the criteria, which treats causality as a merely parenthetical element.

This enables the NTP to reserve to itself the discretion to consider whatever information it wants, to exclude whatever information it wants, and to evaluate that information in accordance with whatever ad hoc criteria it wants to apply. The NTP does not constrain itself to scientific information, either. By withholding B. 2 Belzer: The Report on Carcinogens from the public the weight of evidence scheme, the NTP preserves the policy discretion to give any weight it wants to policy goals and objectives, and to keep those weights hidden from public view.

This paper concludes with specific recommendations for statutory reforms that would improve the scientific quality of listing decisions and the practical utility of the RoC for screening-level risk-benefit decision-making. Each recommendation would help restore science to its intended role and end the NTP’s science charade.


20 January, 2012

Weight gain linked to risk of aggressive cancer - study

The usual rubbish. They are most likely just picking up that poor people tend both to get fatter and to have poorer heath generally anyhow. Note that it is the moderately overweight who have the longest lifespans

THE risk of death from prostate cancer nearly doubles in men who have put on 20 kilograms or more in their adult life, new Australian research has found.

The paper, published in the International Journal of Cancer, shows an increase in body weight during a man's adult life is associated with an increased risk of suffering an aggressive form of prostate cancer and of dying from prostate cancer.

Having a high body mass throughout life was also associated with increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer. "This study and other similar studies have shown that obesity is related to aggressive and fatal cancer," said the study's co-author, Dallas English. "Maintaining a healthy weight during adult life is really the bottom line."

Professor English, director of the centre for molecular, environmental, genetic and analytic epidemiology at the University of Melbourne, said one of his concerns was that the study - of more than 17,000 Australian men aged 40 to 69 - drew participants from a generation in which childhood obesity was not a significant issue.

He said the higher rates of obesity among children now might worsen outcomes. "In Australia, things have changed a lot," he said. "We haven't had the experience of people growing up with childhood obesity."


Daily dose of rosehip extract could help cut heart disease by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels

The small changes observed may have no clinical significance. Journal article here

A daily dose of the herbal remedy rose hip could cut the risk of heart disease, new research shows. Obese patients who consumed a drink made with rose hip powder every day for just six weeks saw their blood pressure and cholesterol levels drop significantly.

The tiny berries, which sprout at the end of the rose-blooming season, have been used for centuries as a folk remedy for conditions like arthritis. They are packed with vitamin C and are thought to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties.

One study in 2007 showed patients with sore joints who took a rose hip capsule every day experienced a 40 per cent drop in pain levels and a 25 per cent improvement in mobility.

In the latest research, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists at Lund University in Sweden recruited 31 obese men and women to see if a daily concoction made with rose hip powder would reduce their risks of developing type two diabetes and heart disease.

Each one spent six weeks drinking the rose hip solution, made with 40 grammes of rose hip powder, followed by six weeks on a drink make from apples and grapes.

At the end of each experiment, researchers measured patients’ body weight, blood pressure, blood fat levels and glucose tolerance - a test to see if they are in the early stages of diabetes.

After six weeks on the rose hip drink, patients saw their blood pressure drop an average of 3.4 per cent, a small but significant decline, and their total cholesterol levels drop by almost five per cent.

Further tests revealed a bigger drop - six per cent - in levels of LDL cholesterol, the ‘bad’ type of blood fat thought to heighten heart disease risks.

Scientists estimated that the drop in cholesterol and blood pressure combined would reduce the risk of heart disease in obese patients by 17 per cent.

And they said if further studies confirmed the cardiovascular benefits of the common garden berry, it could even be used as an alternative therapy for patients who are unable to take the anti-cholesterol drugs statins due to side effects.

In a report on their findings the researchers said: ‘The findings may have important health implications. They may represent an attractive alternative to statin treatment for people that, because of muscle pain and increases in liver and muscle enzymes, do not tolerate statins.

‘The same is true for people at risk of developing diabetes, as statins recently were shown to increase the risk of diabetes.’


19 January, 2012

Statins could be linked to increased risk of diabetes

They're treading gingerly here. Once they start talking about statin side-effects, it will open up a real can of worms. The side effects are so numerous that statins will almost certainly eventually be found to reduce lifespans among those who actually take them.

A lot of people who are prescribed them throw them out after a couple of days because of the side effects on memory, muscle tone etc. They may not always tell their doctor that, however.

Journal article here

Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins may be linked to an increased risk of diabetes in middle-aged and older women, according to a U.S. study. However, researchers said the benefits of the heart attack-reducing drugs still make them valuable for people at risk.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that among the thousands of women looked at, those who reported using any kind of statin at the start of the seven-year study were nearly 50 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those not taking statins.

'Statin medication use in postmenopausal women is associated with an increased risk for diabetes mellitus,' wrote Yunsheng Ma of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, and his colleagues.

The group used data from the Women's Health Initiative, including more than 150,000 diabetes-free women in their 50s, 60s and 70s.

As part of that larger trial, some of the women were prescribed diet changes or took daily hormone therapy or vitamins, while others weren't told to change their diet or lifestyle.

At the start of the study in the mid-1990s, the women filled out health questionnaires that included whether or not they were taking statins, as well as information on other diabetes risks, such as weight and activity levels. The researchers then followed participants for six to seven years, on average.

In total, just over 10,200 women developed diabetes, with women who reported using any kind of statin - about one in 14 of the participants - 48 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than those not taking statins.

That was after considering other known diabetes risks.

Previous studies, mostly in men, have suggested a smaller 10-to-12 per cent increase in diabetes among statin users, said Naveed Sattar, a metabolism and diabetes researcher at the University of Glasgow who did not take part in the study.

Those numbers may be more accurate because they come from trials in which participants were randomly assigned to take a statin or not, which can better account for possible differences in groups of patients, he said, noting that this kind of observational study can't prove cause-and-effect.

The high cholesterol levels that caused the women to take statins may be responsible for the onset of diabetes - rather than the statins themselves. Still, 'broadly speaking, this kind of confirms that statins may well increase diabetes risk,' Sattar said.

The reasons why remain unclear, but the effect of statins on the muscles and liver may lead the body to make slightly more sugar than it normally would, or cause users to exercise a bit less, he added.

While this means that a bit more caution may need to be taken in broad statin use, the benefits still outweigh the potential risk for people with heart disease, he and other experts aid.

Instead, statin users should try to reduce their risk of diabetes in other ways, such as by losing weight and getting more exercise, and should have their blood sugar regularly monitored.

'The conclusion still stands that overall, those people who've got existing heart disease or have had previous strokes, they still would get vast benefit from statins,' Sattar said.


Coffee 'reduces risk of diabetes… but decaff works best

If you are a rat

Drinking coffee can help reduce the risk of diabetes, say scientists. A study found three compounds contained in the beverage can block the toxic build up of a protein, which is known to trigger the long-term condition.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't produce enough insulin for it to function properly but the coffee extracts were also shown to prevent insulin-producing cells from being destroyed. Researchers now believe the coffee extracts - caffeine, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid - could help develop more effective treatment.

Lead researcher Kun Huang from Huazhong University of Science and Technology said: 'We found three major coffee compounds can reverse this toxic process and may explain why coffee drinking is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.'

All of the compounds were shown to have a positive effect during laboratory tests, however caffeine was the least effective of the three. As a result Huang states that decaffeinated coffee could be more beneficial than regular options.

Huang added: 'In decaffeinated coffee, the percentage contents of caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid are even higher [than in regular coffee], whereas the level of caffeine is greatly reduced.

'We expect that decaffeinated coffee has at least equal or even higher beneficial effect compared to the regular caffeinated types.'

The new study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, supports previous studies which have found people who drink four or more cups of coffee a day have a 50 per cent lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

Despite the findings Joe Vinson from the University of Scranton, highlights that the concentrations of coffee compounds used in the Chinese study are much higher than those found in a typical coffee consumption.

Researchers now plan on carrying out further studies in animals and humans to better understand the link between coffee consumption and reduced risk of diabetes.

Diabetes affects 2.8 million people in the UK and it is thought that a further one million people have the condition but are unaware of it. Type 2 diabetes is often associated with obesity and can often be controlled by following a healthy diet and monitoring blood glucose levels.


18 January, 2012

HRT breast cancer alert that led to thousands of women abandoning treatment was 'based on bad research'

I have been pointing this out for years

British research which linked HRT to breast cancer and led to hundreds of thousands of women abandoning the treatment was ‘unreliable and defective’, says a damning review.

It is almost ten years since the study – the largest of its kind – contributed to a worldwide scare about the safety of Hormone Replacement Therapy. It was one of three major pieces of research which undermined the confidence of women and doctors in the therapy.

As a result GPs were advised to prescribe it on a short-term basis only to combat menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. They were also told not to use it as a treatment for the bone thinning disease osteoporosis – which can lead to deadly fractures. An estimated one million women gave up HRT in Britain, halving the number using it.

Scientists at Cancer Research UK’s Epidemiology Unit at Oxford, who carried out the MWS, said HRT doubled the risk of breast cancer and blamed it for an extra 20,000 British cases over the decade.

However, the new review led by Professor Samuel Shapiro, a leading epidemiologist at Cape Town Medical School, South Africa, says the size of the study was irrelevant because the design was flawed and this skewed its findings. Professor Shapiro claims the study failed on a number of criteria accepted in good quality research.

For example, cancers detected within a few months of the study’s start would have already been present when women were enrolled, but these were not excluded and this skewed the findings.

Women in the study were contacted through breast screening – but this in itself would have increased the number already aware of lumps or pre-cancerous changes and led to a bias in higher numbers of cancers being detected.

A key criticism is the ‘biological implausibility’ of HRT promoting new cancers – and of this effect being ‘switched off’ within months of a woman stopping using it.

The researchers also said the name Million Women Study implies an authority beyond criticism or refutation. ‘Size alone does not guarantee that the findings are reliable,’ said the review. ‘HRT may or may not increase the risk of breast cancer, but the MWS does not establish that it does.’

The review, published in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, is the final in a series looking at research linking HRT to breast cancer, which found flaws in two other major studies.

Review co-author Dr John Stevenson, consultant metabolic physician at Imperial College, London, and Royal Brompton Hospital London, said: ‘So much damage has been done by frightening women off HRT, in terms of reducing their quality of life, preventing bone loss and fractures and improving the risk of cardiovascular disease.

‘HRT is one of the cheapest treatments in medicine and we have yet to count the cost to the NHS because of women not having HRT.’

Professor Dame Valerie Beral, who led the Million Women Study, said the review authors were influenced by work as consultants to HRT manufacturers, and that 20 other studies had come to the same conclusion as MWS. [An "ad hominem" attack is about as weak a rejoinder as you get]


Sweet, sour, salt, savoury, bitter AND fat: Scientists discover that tongue has 'sixth sense' for lipids

If you cannot resist a stodgy cake or chips, it may not be simply down to lack of willpower.

Some of us have a sixth sense of taste – for fat – and those of us who lack it could be more susceptible to piling on the pounds.

For years it was thought that the tongue could detect just four elements of taste – sweet, sour, salt and bitter. Then a fifth ‘savoury’ one was discovered.

Now scientists believe a genetic variant can make some people far more sensitive to fat molecules than others.

Until now, it had been assumed that the desire to eat fatty foods was to do with the sensory system, with some people attracted to its smell and texture.

But the Washington University School of Medicine researchers found that obese people’s cravings for fatty food may be related to their levels of a receptor called CD36.

Those with more of it are better at detecting the presence of fatty food, and seemingly less likely to gorge on it. Twenty-one overweight people were asked to taste solutions from three cups and point to which was different. One contained small amounts of a fatty oil, while the other two were fat-free.

Participants who made the most CD36 were eight times more sensitive to the presence of the fat than those who made around half the amount.

Researcher Professor Nada Abumrad said the finding could help treat obesity by finding a way to increase sensitivity to it.

‘What we will need to determine in the future is whether our ability to detect fat in foods influences our fat intake, which clearly would have an impact on obesity,’ she said.

As people eat more fat, it is possible they need more and more to satisfy their cravings, the researchers told the Journal of Lipid Research.

Previous tests of the CD36 receptor in animals have shown levels of it are not just genetic, but that eating more fat leads to less production of it.


17 January, 2012

Nutrition therapists condemned as 'quacks' who put patients' health at risk

Nutrition therapists have been condemned as quacks and accused of putting the health of the sick – including those suffering from breast cancer – at risk.

An industry has grown up based on the concept that ‘food doctor’ nutritionists can cure patients’ ills and allergies through diet.

However at least some of the practitioners, who charge up to £80 for a consultation, are providing advice that could harm health, a study by the consumer watchdog Which? found.

The group sent undercover researchers to pose as patients with a range of problems and visit 15 so-called nutritional therapists.

Which? said: ‘They found shocking examples of advice which could have put patients with real health problems at risk.’ All but one of the 15 offered either potentially dangerous or misleading advice. Six of the consultations were rated as ‘dangerous fails’ in terms of misinformation and bad advice. A further eight were rated as ‘fails’, and just one a ‘borderline pass’.

Which? is calling on the Government to regulate the sector which, like much of the cosmetic beauty and anti-ageing industry, has no effective policing regime.

It said: ‘One researcher, posing as a breast cancer sufferer, was told by her therapist to delay radiotherapy treatment recommended by her oncologist, saying they could rid the body of cancer through diet. ‘The therapist advised her to follow a no-sugar diet for three to six months saying, “Cancer feeds off sugar. By cutting out sugar we have a better chance of the cancer going away.”’

This was considered highly irresponsible and incorrect by a panel set up by Which? to assess the advice. It included Professor David Colquhoun, an expert in pharmacology at University College London and a GP, Dr Margaret McCartney.

Another researcher was told if the treatment prescribed for his severe tiredness started to make him feel unwell, it showed that it was working. The therapist advised him not to contact his GP as they ‘wouldn’t understand what was happening’.

Bizarre tests, including iridology, which involves examining patterns in the iris, and hair analysis were also used to ‘diagnose’ conditions.

A researcher who said she had been struggling to conceive was told after having her iris examined she had ‘bowel toxicity’ and a ‘leathery bowel’. Both are meaningless terms, the expert panel said.

Which? found the therapists often used these tests as a part of a sales talk to market unnecessary supplements costing up to £70 a month. Very few of the 15 addressed issues that would have had a positive impact on health, such as reducing alcohol intake.

Prof Colquhoun said: ‘Nutritional therapy is plagued by ‘diagnostic tests’ that are little more than quackery. Iridology and hair analysis simply don’t work.’ Dr McCartney said: ‘If you have symptoms see your GP, not someone who can’t diagnose accurately.’

Which? has decided not to name the therapists involved. However, it has reported its findings to the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy (BANT), where a number are registered.

BANT declined to comment.

The British Dietetic Association was keen to make clear its trained dietitians are very different from nutrition therapists such as those visited by Which? BDA said: ‘Anybody can set up shop as a nutrition therapist, with no qualifications. Registered dieticians working in the UK are educated to degree level and must be registered with the Health Professions Council.’


Australia: Women 'overdiagnosed' with breast cancer

There have been similar reports to this from Britain

WOMEN are being treated unnecessarily for breast cancer due to mammograms "overdiagnosing" cancers which would never cause harm, a study has revealed.

In an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Monash University breast cancer researchers Robin Bell and Robert Burton called for women invited to use the publicly-funded BreastScreen program to be presented with a more balanced view about the benefits and harms of breast screening.

Their analysis found that improvements in cancer treatments rather than early detection through screening was likely to have caused the 21 to 28 per cent reduction in breast cancer deaths since the program began in 1991.

A 2010 study found that for every 2000 women invited for screening throughout 10 years, one would have her life prolonged but 10 healthy women would be diagnosed as breast cancer patients and treated unnecessarily.

The Cancer Council has backed calls for women to be informed about the risks and benefits of screening, including the uncertainty of overdiagnosis but insist that breast screening has contributed substantially to an overall drop in breast cancer deaths. It said three evaluations of mammography screening for women aged 50-69 years had put the reduction in breast cancer mortality at between 30 and 47 per cent.

Associate Professor Robin Bell said the benefits of the BreastScreen program were overblown. "This comes down to the balance of harm versus benefits," Prof Bell said. "My view is that women need to be given more balanced information about the BreastScreen program when invited to be screened.

"Overdiagnosis amounts to women having a small, slow-growing cancer being diagnosed and treated, where in her lifetime that cancer may not have required treatment."

She said the impact of breast screening was diminishing as the outcome of treatment for breast cancer improved and the balance of benefit to harm of breast screening was becoming less favourable. "This has serious implications for health policymakers," she said.

More than 13,000 women in Australia are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.


16 January, 2012

Use a red plate to lose a bit of weight: People who eat off them cut their food intake by 40%

I would find it unpleasant to eat off a red plate and might therefore eat less from it but I would then choose a plate easier on the eye and catch up on my dinner

Eating from a red plate could help dieters lose weight, scientists claim. Serving up meals on red plates or drinking from red cups cuts consumption by about 40 per cent, according to one study carried out by German and Swiss academics.

Researchers say the colour red may encourage diners to avoid snacking because it is commonly associated with the idea of ‘danger, prohibition and stop’.

They claim the discovery means the Government and food industry could use red packaging on unhealthy foods as a deterrent – and could even use more red in pubs to prevent people drinking too much.

In the study, 41 male students were asked to drink tea from cups marked with red or blue labels. They drank 44 per cent less from cups with red labels.

In the second part of the study, 109 people were given ten pretzels each on either a red, blue or white plate. Those with a red plate ate fewer pretzels.

The results were published in the journal Appetite.

Ursula Arens, from the British Dietetic Association, said: ‘Red may be associated with alarm or something primeval.'


Blood test could help to diagnose deadly mad cow disease

A bit concerning that is being released before it is fully validated. A false positive could cause great distress

A new blood test to identify the human form of mad cow disease is being developed by British scientists. Researchers have created the test for the deadly variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which is being offered to British patients for the first time.

Experts said the test represented a “significant step forward” in the fight against the disease as it will enable doctors to find out how many people are infected with vCJD.

Neurologists across the country have been told by the NHS National Prion Clinic, part of the University College London Hospitals Trust, and the Medical Research Council's Prion Unit that the new blood test is now available.

Until now the only way of confirming the diagnosis has been through tonsil biopsies or after the patient has died when brain samples can be taken.

Prof John Collinge, who is leading the MRC team, told Channel Four News that the blood test was "extremely good news". "In principle, it may allow us to find how many people in the population are infected so we can target risk management strategies and ensure the safety of our blood supply," he said.

"It could also enable us to make an earlier diagnosis and as treatments become available it is going to be desperately important to get to patients early before there is extensive damage to the brain.”

Further testing will now occur to ascertain its reliability, which will involve examination of 5,000 anonymous samples supplied by the American Red Cross.

Figures from the Health Protection Agency show there have been 176 cases of vCJD from since it was first detected in humans in 1995.

Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is the human equivalent of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), which affects cattle. Identified in the 1990s, the illness was traced to the consumption of beef products containing contaminated meat.

VCJD progressively causes the brain to become riddled with holes, leading to mental problems, loss of body function, and eventual death. There is no cure. The Department of Health's working estimate is that 1 in 4,000 people - or about 15,000 individuals - are infected.


15 January, 2012

A sausage a day could lead to cancer: Pancreatic cancer warning over processed meat

This appears to be a meta-analysis but there is such a lot of garbage on this subject that all I can do is to repeat the old computer maxim: GIGO (Garbage in; garbage out)

Eating one sausage a day or two rashers of bacon raises the risk of pancreatic cancer by a fifth, according to research. Scientists have found that even relatively small amounts of processed meat increase the chance of developing this deadly illness.

Pancreatic cancer is called ‘the silent killer’ because it often does not produce symptoms in early stages. Even when it does, the symptoms are often vague – such as back pain, loss of appetite and weight loss. By the time the disease is diagnosed it is often too late and, because of this, it has one of the worst survival rates of all cancers and only 3 per cent of patients live beyond five years.

Little is known about its causes other than that smoking, excess alcohol and being overweight all seem to contribute.

Now scientists in Sweden have found that eating just 50g of processed meat a day raises the likelihood by 19 per cent. This is equivalent to a few slices of ham or salami, a hot dog or sausage or two slices of bacon. Eating 100g a day – a small burger – increases the risk by 38 per cent while 150g a day raises it by 57 per cent.

Ordinary red meat such as joints or steaks increases a man’s chance of getting the cancer, but not a woman’s.

But the risk posed by eating meat was substantially lower than for smoking, which was found to increase the likelihood of pancreatic cancer by 74 per cent.

The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, analysed the results of 11 other studies involving 6,000 patients with pancreatic cancer. There is already widespread evidence that red and processed meat may trigger bowel cancer.

For this reason the Government last year published guidelines advising the public to limit their consumption to 500g of red and processed meat a week.

Professor Susanna Larsson, of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm said: ‘Pancreatic cancer has poor survival rates. ‘So it’s important to understand what can increase the risk of this disease.’

Just over 8,000 Britons are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year.


Reading any news media will make you live longer?

Boring! Yet another discovery that middle class people have better health

People who keep up-to-date with current affairs are more health-conscious and will live longer, say scientists. A study found those who were most exposed to newspaper, television and the internet had healthier diets than those who were less well informed.

It is now hoped that the findings will help experts to better understand the contribution of mass media in increasing awareness about health.

During the study of more than 1,000 adults, researchers assessed the correlation between exposure to information and eating habits.

They found those most exposed to mass media consumed a healthier diet, with greater quantities of fruit and fresh fish, which reduced the risk of obesity, heart disease and cancer.

Lead researcher Dr Americo Bonanni, from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome, Italy, said: 'We focused on eating habits, mainly on Mediterranean diet.

'Results have shown that people most exposed to information delivered by any mass media source, reported higher adherence to the Mediterranean -like eating patterns.

'The latter are considered as the most effective eating model for reducing the risk of chronic and neurodegenerative diseases.'

Past research has often suggested that mass media can have a negative impact on health. For instance television viewing has been linked to physical inactivity and snacking which are major risk factors for obesity and heart disease.

But the latest findings suggest that television programmes, addressing health issues, can also make people more health-conscious.

The participants completed a specific questionnaire on mass media usage, from TV viewing to newspaper and magazine reading and surfing the Internet, which was then analysed alongside medical, lifestyle and dietary data.

More here

14 January, 2012

'Scientists falsify data to get research published and whistleblowers are bullied into keeping quiet,' claim their own colleagues

More than one in ten scientists and doctors claim to have witnessed colleagues deliberately fabricating data in order to get their research published, a new poll has revealed.

The survey of almost 2,800 experts in Britain also found six per cent knew of possible research misconduct at their own institution that has not been properly investigated.

The poll for the hugely-respected British Medical Journal (BMJ) is being presented at a meeting aimed at tackling research misconduct in the UK.

It is being hosted by the BMJ and the Committee on Publication Ethics (Cope). Dr Fiona Godlee, BMJ editor in chief, said: 'While our survey can't provide a true estimate of how much research misconduct there is in the UK, it does show that there is a substantial number of cases and that UK institutions are failing to investigate adequately, if at all.

'The BMJ has been told of junior academics being advised to keep concerns to themselves to protect their careers, being bullied into not publishing their findings, or having their contracts terminated when they spoke out.'

Cope chair Dr Elizabeth Wager added: 'This survey chimes with our experience where we see many cases of institutions not co-operating with journals and failing to investigate research misconduct properly.'

Earlier this month, health experts writing in the BMJ online warned that excluding data from clinical trials could endanger patients.

In an editorial, Dr Richard Lehman from Oxford University and the journal’s clinical epidemiology editor Dr Elizabeth Loder called for an end to the 'culture of haphazard publication and incomplete data disclosure'.

They called for more robust regulation and full access to the raw trial data, not just what ends up being published. They said that those who deliberately hide results 'have breached their ethical duty to trial participants'.


Free markets make you fat

They probably do. Thery give you cheaper food, more leisure and allow you to drive to most places rather than walk. But only the Green/left would want you to be faced with dearer food, less leisure and no cars

New research from the University of Michigan suggests obesity can be seen as one of the unintended side effects of free market policies. A study of 26 wealthy nations shows that countries with a higher density of fast food restaurants per capita had much higher obesity rates compared to countries with a lower density of fast food restaurants per capita.

"It's not by chance that countries with the highest obesity rates and fast food restaurants are those in the forefront of market liberalization, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, versus countries like Japan and Norway, with more regulated and restrictive trade policies," said Roberto De Vogli, associate professor in the U-M School of Public Health, and lead researcher of the study.

For example, in the United States, researchers reported 7.52 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people, and in Canada they reported 7.43 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people. The paper reported the obesity rates among US men and women were 31.3 percent and 33.2 percent, respectively. The obesity rates for Canadian men and women were 23.2 percent and 22.9 percent, respectively.

Compare that to Japan, with 0.13 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people, and Norway, with 0.19 restaurants per capita. Obesity rates for men and women in Japan were 2.9 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively. In Norway, obesity rates for men and women were 6.4 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively. The relationships remain consistent even when researchers controlled for variables such as income, income inequality, urban areas, motor vehicles and internet use per capita.

Obesity research largely overlooks the global market forces behind the epidemic, De Vogli said.

"In my opinion the public debate is too much focused on individual genetics and other individual factors, and overlooks the global forces in society that are shaping behaviors worldwide. If you look at trends over time for obesity, it's shocking," De Vogli said.

"Since the 1980s, since the advent of trade liberalization policies that have indirectly...promoted transnational food companies...we see rates that have tripled or quadrupled. There is no biological, genetic, psychological or community level factor that can explain this. Only a global type of change can explain this."

Researchers chose one fast food restaurant to use as a proxy measure for how many fast food restaurants were present per 100,000. The study is in no way an indictment of that restaurant, De Vogli said, but rather an indicator of fast food density in a particular area.

Fast food refers to food sold in restaurants or stores with preheated or precooked ingredients, and served to the customer in a packaged form. A typical fast food meal includes a hamburger, fries and a soft drink, the paper said. Fast food is usually high in fat and calories, and several studies have found associations between fast food intake and increased body mass index, weight gain and obesity. Obesity accounts for approximately 400,000 deaths each year in the United States alone. Fast food consumption is also related to insulin resistance and type II diabetes, another major worldwide public health threat.

The paper, "Globesization: ecological evidence on the relationship between fast food outlets and obesity among 26 advanced economies," will be published in the December print issue of Critical Public Health. The study was funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council.


13 January, 2012

Health secrets of walnuts... They are loaded with antioxidants that fight disease (?)

This is all just assertion, part of the antioxidant religion. It is a religion because deliberate antioxidant intake is in fact associated with REDUCED lifespans. See the sidebar here

The festive season may be over, but there is at least one Christmas treat worth making a habit of eating throughout the year – walnuts. Scientists have discovered they are the healthiest nuts to eat as they are loaded with antioxidants.

Snacking on as few as seven a day could help ward off disease and lower cholesterol, they claim.

Walnuts contain very high levels of polyphenol, an anti-oxidant which can protect the body from molecules which damage tissue. Walnuts contained the most polyphenol out of a list of nine commonly eaten types of nuts, tests revealed.

Brazil nuts and pistachios were close behind, and cashews and hazelnuts had slightly lower levels of antioxidants.

Professor Joe Vinson, from the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, said walnuts inhibit the growth of ‘bad’ cholesterol. He said: ‘Walnuts rank above Brazil nuts, pistachios, pecans, peanuts, almonds, macadamias, cashews and hazelnuts. ‘Walnuts had the highest free and total polyphenols in both the combined and roasted samples’.

Despite the ‘superfood’ potential of walnuts, peanuts are the favourite with consumers and account for 45 per cent of the nuts bought in Europe.

The antioxidants in peanut butter were considerably lower than in roasted peanuts, the study found.

Dr Vinson said many people were put off by the seemingly high fat content of nuts, but they contained only polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats, rather than artery-clogging saturated fats. He added: ‘Nuts are high in ?bre, low in saturated fats, high in bene?cial unsaturated fats, and very high in antioxidants. ‘Nuts are a nutritious snack providing both nutrients and bioactive antioxidants which provide significant health bene?ts.’

Advising consumers to keep the portion size small, Dr Vinson said it takes only about seven walnuts a day to get the potential health benefits. The antioxidants found in raw walnuts were 15 times as powerful as Vitamin E, which can protect the body against damaging natural chemicals. Roasted cashew nuts contained just double the level found in Vitamin E.

Nuts have long been promoted as a nutritious snack by health professionals.

Pecans contain around a sixth of the recommended daily allowance for zinc, which is vital for the functioning of white blood cells that fight bacteria and viruses, including colds and flu.

A couple of handfuls of shelled pistachios have more potassium than a banana. This can help control blood pressure, as part of a healthy diet, because potassium blunts the effects of salt.

And the brazil nut is the richest source of selenium, a nutrient that helps protect cells. Higher selenium levels have been linked with a reduced risk of certain cancers such as bladder and prostate.


Is breast really best? Study finds babies fed on formula milk cry less and are easier to get to sleep

A lot of foot shuffling over that below!

It is often said that breast is best. But bottle-fed babies are the best behaved. A study of British infants found those who were breast-fed cried more, smiled and laughed less and were harder to soothe and get off to sleep than their formula-fed counterparts.

In one of the first studies of its kind, the temperament of more than 300 babies was assessed when they were three months old.

This was done by asking their mothers to answer almost 200 questions about their children from how they responded to being washed and dressed to how easy they were to get down to sleep.

The results varied little between boys and girls, socio-economic status of the parents or the mother’s age. However, there was a clear link with the method of feeding, the journal PLoS ONE reports.

Researcher Ken Ong, of the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, said that the cries of a breast-fed baby don’t necessarily mean it is hungry. Instead, the child may simply be seeking the comfort and closeness of its mother.

Dr Ong, a paediatrician, said: ‘If anything, what might account for the difference is that bottle-fed babies possibly get more nutrients than is typical. ‘Research suggests that these infants may be over-nourished and gain weight too quickly. ‘Our findings are essentially similar to other stages of life; people often find that eating is comforting.

‘Rather than being put off breast-feeding, parents should have more realistic expectations of normal infant behaviour and should receive better understanding and support to cope with difficult infant behaviours if needed. ‘These approaches could potentially promote successful breastfeeding, because currently many mothers attempt to breastfeed but give up after the first few weeks.’

Breastfeeding has been shown to help protect babies against obesity, eczema and ear, chest and tummy bugs. Avoiding formula can cut the odds of child being a fussy eater in later life, as well as cut the woman’s odds of some cancers and help with weight loss.

Despite this, Britain has one of the lowest breast-feeding rates in Europe. Around three-quarters of new mothers start breastfeeding but by four months, this number has dropped to just a one-third.

Professor Nick Wareham, director of the MRC Epidemiology Unit, said that while the results don’t prove breastfeeding to be the cause of the babies’ irritability, learning more about the subject could help boost breastfeeding rates.

But others said that in some cases only a bottle will satisfy a baby’s hunger.

Clare Byam-Cook, a former midwife who has taught celebrities such as Kate Winslet and Natasha Kaplinsky how to feed their babies, said: ‘Breast is definitely best – as long as mother and baby are thriving on it. ‘But if your baby is crying and unsettled and when you give it a bottle it becomes calm and settled, then a bottle is best.

‘If you offer the baby a bottle and he doesn’t settle, then something else is the problem and the mother needs to find out what it is.’


12 January, 2012

Traditional Chinese medicine 'makes fertility treatments more effective'

Probably just a placebo effect -- though the difference is larger than a normal placebo effect

Traditional Chinese medicine has long been used to ease pain and treat disease. Now researchers have found it can also boost fertility if used in combination with fertility treatments.

A team led by Dr Shahar Levi-Ari from Tel Aviv University compared the success rates of couples using intrauterine insemination (IUI) both with and without Chinese herbal and acupuncture therapies.

IUI involves a laboratory procedure to separate fast moving sperm from more sluggish sperm. The fast moving sperm are then placed into the woman’s womb close to the time of ovulation when the egg is released from the ovary in the middle of the monthly cycle.

The results, which have been published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, show a significant increase in fertility when the therapies are administered side-by-side.

When combining IUI with traditional treatments, 65.5 per cent of the test group were able to conceive, compared with 39.4 per cent of the control group, who received no herbal or acupuncture therapy.

The scientists said the method is as 'close to nature' as possible and can be used by women employing sperm donors, or after a partner's sperm is centrifuged to enhance its motility in the uterus.

Dr Lev-Ari said he had long been interested in how Chinese herbal and acupuncture therapies could work to boost Western-style fertility treatments, contributing to an increase in conception and take-home baby rates.

In a retrospective study, his team followed the progress of 29 women between the ages of 30 and 45 who were receiving IUI treatment combined with TCM therapy, and compared their results to a control group of 94 women between the ages of 28 and 46 who were undergoing IUI treatment alone.

In addition to their IUI treatments, the 29 women in the first group received weekly sessions of acupuncture and a regime of Chinese medicinals, which consisted of powdered or raw Chinese herbs such as PeoniaAlbae and Chuanxiong. All herbal preparations were approved by the Israeli Health Ministry.

Out of the 29 women in the test group, 65.5 percent conceived, and 41.4 percent delivered healthy babies. In the control group, only 39.4 percent conceived and 26.9 percent delivered.

The vast difference in success rates is even more surprising when the age of the average participant was taken into account.

The scientists noted: 'The average age of the women in the study group was 39.4, while that of the control group was 37.1. Normally, the older the mother, the lower the pregnancy and delivery rates.'

There are several theories as to why Chinese medicine can be beneficial to fertility rates, including the possibility that herbal remedies and acupuncture can affect the ovulation and menstrual cycle, enhance blood flow to the uterus, enhance endorphin production and induce calm.

Now that the researchers have established that traditional remedies can have a major impact on the success of fertility treatments, they plan to design randomised clinical trials, including placebos, to further validate their initial findings.


“Couch potato pill” may also prevent heatstroke

A drug discovered nearly four years ago that builds muscles in lazy mice may also prevent heatstroke, according to lab research reported on Sunday.

If further tests work out, the compound could help athletes or soldiers who are so sensitive to heat that they could die from exertion on a hot day, its authors say.

In 2008, a drug known as AICAR became dubbed the “couch potato pill” after it was found to develop muscles and boost endurance among completely inactive laboratory rodents. It is now being explored as a treatment for several muscle diseases and metabolic disorders.

In a paper published by the journal Nature Medicine, researchers in the United States said they discovered by chance that AICAR also protects mice against a disorder called malignant hyperthermia. This deadly condition is linked to a basket of flaws in a gene called RYR1, a trait which exists in mice as well as humans.

A rise in body temperature causes a leak of calcium in muscle cells, triggering a molecular cascade that eventually makes the muscles contract and break down. Potassium and protein then pour out of the crippled muscle cells and into the bloodstream, reaching toxic levels that lead to heart or kidney failure.

Tests on mice genetically engineered to have the RYR1 mutation found that AICAR worked perfectly in preventing malignant hypothermia, says the study. “When we gave AICAR to the mice, it was 100 percent effective in preventing heat-induced deaths, even when we gave it no more than 10 minutes before the activity,” said Susan Hamilton, a professor of molecular physiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

AICAR — full name 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleoside — works by stopping the calcium leak, thus preventing the vicious circle from getting under way.

The finding may lead one day to a drug that would be used preventatively for heat-sensitive young athletes or soldiers in the desert who must wear heavy gear.

Abnormalities in the RYR1 gene are believed to occur in about one person in every 3,000. But the researchers theorise that the future drug may also work for people without the RYR1 flaw.

“We think the fundamental process that occurs during heatstroke in individuals with RYR1 mutations is likely to be similar to what happens even in their (the mutations’) absence,” said Robert Dirksen, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

“The difference may be that individuals with RYR1 mutations are more easily thrust into the process, whereas those without (the mutations) need to be pushed more — for example, by exposure to even greater temperatures or a long time, in order to move beyond a critical threshold.”


11 January, 2012

Nicotine patches branded a waste of time as study finds they don't help smokers quit long-term

Nicotine patches are no better than willpower at helping smokers to quit, research shows. Earlier clinical trials had suggested nicotine replacement therapy could double a smoker’s chances of giving up the habit. But a new study of 800 patients found patches made no difference to long-term quitting rates.

Researchers said the earlier trials had failed to replicate ‘real-life’ situations. They said success and relapse rates were similar whatever method smokers adopted.

The latest study – by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Massachusetts, Boston – investigated patients who gave up smoking between 2001 and 2006.

It concluded: ‘The main finding is that persons who quit relapsed at equivalent rates, whether or not they used nicotine replacement therapy to help them in their quit attempts, in clear distinction to the results of randomised clinical trials.’

The results were the same for heavy and lighter smokers and whether counselling was or was not given.

Harvard’s Hillel Alpert said: ‘This study shows that using NRT is no more effective in helping people stop smoking cigarettes in the long term than trying to quit on one’s own.’

In an online report in the journal Tobacco Control, fellow author Lois Biener said the funding for NRT might be better spent on other interventions. In replacement therapy, patches, gum, nasal sprays or inhalers are used to supply nicotine to the bloodstream.

NHS figures show that quit rates – giving up for at least four weeks – are slightly better for patients using willpower than patches. However, a Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Other studies have shown that NRT is safe and effective, and can double a person’s chances of successfully quitting.’

Further American research released yesterday suggests that nicotine patches can help improve memory loss among older people.

Non-smokers with failing brainpower who used patches for six months had a 46 per cent improvement in their memory skills, according to a report in the journal Neurology about the study at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.

Previous research has suggested nicotine helps brainpower among Alzheimer’s sufferers.


Strokes, retina damage and trapped nerves: Is yoga doing us more harm than good?

It may be the secret to some of the most lithe and bendy bodies around, but yoga, as loved by celebrities from Matthew McConaughey to Natalie Portman, may also be the cause of a host of severe injuries.

A new book, published next month, opens the lid on some of the physical and mental stretching techniques' darker sides - and from back traumas to strokes, the discipline is not without its dangers, writes author William J Broad.

The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, out next month, pulls together medical studies and case studies from those who have met with disastrous ends rather than the feel-good flexibility the practice normally affords.

In an adaptation of the book in the New York Times, Mr Broad recalls meeting Glenn Black, a yogi with classic Indian Iyengar training.

Mr Black, a yoga teacher of nearly 40 years, made the admission that he believes that 'the vast majority of people' should give up yoga. He recently underwent back surgery to correct decades of damage from the discipline.

The yoga guru told Mr Broad that he has seen people's Achilles tendons tear from overdoing a downward-facing dog, men's ribs breaking with 'pops' from spine-twisting moves and teachers who no longer have any movement in their hips or who are forced to teach lying down because of back problems.

But the most severe cases include a 28-year-old woman who suffered a massive stroke while attempting the 'wheel' position. Her story was documented by Willibald Nagler, of Cornell University Medical College, and published in 1973.

Neurological damage had occurred because of hyperextension of the neck, but the woman - who took two years to learn to walk again and was left with permanent arm and eye and problems - is not alone in succumbing to brain injuries brought on by wounding arteries from head, neck and back movements.

Mr Nagler's report was an early and salutary warning flag in terms of the practice's dangers, but there have been very few studies as to yoga's downsides since. In recent years, the NY Times found that Bikram yoga - in which moves are practiced in a room heated to a stifling 105F and 40% humidity - can cause muscle damage and tearing.

Another study at New York's Columbia University, cited in the book, notes that the most common injuries seen in yoga are to the lower back, knee, shoulder and neck.

And physician Timothy McCall, medical editor of Yoga Journal, told Mr Broad that the commonly-practiced headstand is 'too dangerous' for most yoga classes.

Something as apparently benign as the headstand is known to compress nerves, cause arthritis and even pressure-induced retinal tears in the eyeballs.

Mr Black's concern is particularity shocking given that, according to Mr Broad, 'the number of Americans doing yoga has risen from about four million in 2001 to what some estimate to be as many as 20 million in 2011.'

Could nearly 20 million Americans be at risk of a debilitating yoga injury?

A glut of poorly-trained practitioners and teachers as well as a discordance between the exercise's uptake in America and its origins - which means that many yoga lovers in the US spend their time at desks all day rather in the in the Indian kneeling or cross-legged styles of sitting that may make the moves more natural - have seen injury rates increase.

Despite many turning to the downwards dog and other poses from the ancient Indian practice as a healing technique, yoga can - and must be recognised to - also cause pain.

In fact, Mr Black told Mr Broad, 'Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.'


10 January, 2012

Aging slowed in mice with supplement mix

That the supplements have different effects in different species is noted in the article below. They doubled lifespan in crickets but only slightly lengthened lifespans in mice. In the circumstances, it is reasonable to believe that they could have no effect in humans. We are already a long-lived species

It might be possible to cure aging, say scientists who've found that lab mice get smarter and more agile as they age when fed a mix of nutritional supplements.

The diet and supplement plan isn't a conventional "cure." But the animal results at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., illustrate how investigators aim to slow down the aging process to avoid the physical and mental declines that often come as more candles are added to the birthday cake.
Types of stemcells, adult, embryonic, induced pluripotent

At Prof. David Rollo's biology laboratory, mice that ate bagel bits soaked in a cocktail of supplements such as B vitamins, vitamin D, ginseng and garlic lived longer than those not taking the special mice chow.

"If you put them on a supplement, they actually learn better as they age," Rollo said. "They still don't live much longer but their brain function is remarkable."

The mice also acted like restless teenagers showing "spontaneous motor function" that fades in humans in a universal sign of aging, Rollo added.

The supplemented mice maintained their memory function in tests, such as remembering a familiar object. Their learning abilities were like those of very young mice, he said. Mice of the same age that were not supplemented behaved in lab tests like a frail 80-year-old woman.

Investigators turned to the cocktail of ingredients based on their suspected ability to offset five key mechanisms involved in aging.
Available at health food stores

The researchers have also doubled the lifespan of crickets using a combination of dietary restriction and supplements, and other investigators have found similar results in other animal models.

Most of the supplements Rollo and his team use are sold at health food stores. But he cautioned they are not something to be toyed with because the cocktail hasn't been tested to see if it is safe for people.

The supplements cross the blood-brain barrier to affect the mitochondria "furnaces" in the brain in a fundamental way, he noted.

Scientists still don't how the supplements actually work and interact in the body.


Study: Calories, not protein, boost body fat

The conclusions are not very radical but it should be noted that this is a study of deliberate overfeeding. What that tells us about people on a more normal diet is therefore moot

People who eat too much of a high-calorie, low-protein diet tend to gain more body fat than people who overeat high amounts of protein, US researchers said Tuesday.

A study published in the January 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association included 25 people in Louisiana who agreed to live as in-patients in a weight-gain experiment for a 56-day period.

Over the course of about two months, they were overfed by about 1,000 calories per day.

Some were fed a diet that was five percent protein, some ate 15 percent protein — considered a normal level — and others ate 25 percent protein, or a high amount.

The researchers’ aim was to uncover how different levels of protein might affect overall weight gain, body fat and energy expenditure.

They found that people on the low-protein diet gained less weight overall, but that more of their extra energy was stored as fat than people on the mid-level and high-protein diets.

Low-protein eaters gained about half as much as the others — putting on an average of 3.16 kilograms (seven pounds) during the study compared to 6.05 kg in the normal protein group and 6.51 kg in the high-protein group.

But a lot of that extra weight was in the form of lean body mass, which people on the mid- and high-level protein diets gained while those on the low-protein regime lost.

Ninety percent of the extra energy consumed by people on the low-protein diet was stored as fat, compared to about 50 percent in the other two groups.

“The key finding of this study is that calories are more important than protein while consuming excess amounts of energy with respect to increases in body fat,” said the research, led by George Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


9 January, 2012

Welcome to Britain's Nagging Health Service

Some health fanatics want everyone from GPs to hospital porters to lecture to us about our lifestyles.

‘Make every contact count’ is the big idea. Whenever a health worker - any health worker - meets a patient, they should be ready with advice on how to change that patient’s lifestyle. This notion is crystallised in a new proposal to discuss patients’ habits every time they see their doctor. In other words, it’s ‘make every contact a nag’.

The proposal, put forward by the National Health Service’s Future Forum, would see patients asked about their eating, smoking and drinking habits whenever they see a health professional - even when the patient is suffering from an unrelated illness. Dr Steve Field, the Lib-Con coalition’s so-called NHS troubleshooter and chair of the NHS Future Forum, told the Guardian: ‘In future if you come for your flu vaccine at a GP’s surgery or pharmacy, the health professional should give you your injection but also use the opportunity to talk to you about your diet, smoking, alcohol intake and how much exercise you’re taking, discuss any anxieties you may have about these, and offer advice and support. Similarly, a podiatrist who’s looking after the feet of a diabetic patient has an absolute responsibility to talk to the patient about their smoking, because smoking makes diabetes worse and means the patient is more likely to have a foot amputated.’

Now, it is obviously entirely sensible to talk to someone about their personal habits when those habits have a direct connection to a health problem and during a consultation with the person in charge of dealing with that problem. So, if I have breathing problems, it would seem sensible for my doctor or hospital consultant to find out if I smoke. If I have a gastric ulcer, then my eating or drinking habits might be making that worse.

However, there is nothing worse than going to the doctor only to be lectured about something irrelevant to your condition. There is every chance that this policy will simply put people off visiting their doctors. The chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr Clare Gerada, made exactly this point to the Guardian: ‘Young men pluck up the courage to go and see their GP, maybe about a sexually transmitted infection, and would not want to be lectured by a middle-aged woman like me. So we have to be careful that we don’t impose our agenda on to the patients and don’t inadvertently frighten patients who are coming in to see the doctor and who fear that they might be preached at.’

Turning the NHS into the Nagging Health Service will only compound problems. It’s bad enough when your doctor bends your ear about your smoking or drinking. But some would like to take the nagging culture much further. Writing for the Guardian’s Public Leaders Network last year, Dr Wendy Richardson - director of public health for Hull - discussed how the NHS in Yorkshire and Humberside is getting everyone involved: ‘Instead of relying solely on medically trained staff or public-health professionals to promote healthier lifestyles, we need to recognise the huge potential of the wider NHS workforce. From hospital porter to GP receptionist, every day frontline staff have millions of interactions with people that could make a positive difference to their health. Yet all too often, through lack of awareness or confidence in addressing what are often sensitive issues, they miss these opportunities.’

Who would find this process more cringe-inducing? The patient, for whom every contact with the NHS is now an opportunity to be lectured about his or her personal pleasures, or the porter or receptionist given a script to lecture every patient with? If any idea could be more exquisitely designed to poison the relationship between NHS staff and its users/customers/clients, it is this ubiquitous evangelising about ‘lifestyle behaviour change’.

But while the criticisms of the new policy made by Gerada and others are correct, there is another more fundamental point: what I choose to drink, smoke, eat and so on is no business of health workers. In fact, it reverses the proper relationship between doctor and patient.

When people with power over us - like the gatekeepers of healthcare: family doctors - start quizzing us or lecturing us, it has an entirely different character to a friend or workmate gently suggesting we should ease off on the booze or fags. When a doctor starts dishing out stern advice, there is the implication of a refusal to help if we don’t play along. That inference is not an unreasonable one to make; in recent years, treatment has been refused more and more to those who do not live in the prescribed manner.

Yet as the microbiologist Rene Dubos noted in the 1960s: ‘In the words of a wise physician, it is part of the doctor’s function to make it possible for his patients to go on doing the pleasant things that are bad for them – smoking too much, eating and drinking too much – without killing themselves any sooner than is necessary.’ Doctors should apply medical knowledge so that I can be free to live as I see fit, not use medical authority - at the bidding of their political masters - to browbeat me into adopting a lifestyle that receives the official seal of approval.


Chew over a few diet truths

Consider these two related facts.

Fact one: Australians spend a staggering $745 million on weight-loss products every year. This includes low-calorie pre-prepared meals, meal-replacement shakes, supplements and diet books (but not gym memberships and other exercise-related expenses).

The diet business is booming because we're fatter than ever and plenty of us are desperate to get thin.
Advertisement: Story continues below

Fact two: Almost without exception, anyone who tries to lose weight rapidly with a diet fails. They might shed kilos in the short term but will ultimately put it all back on - and then some. In fact, one of the authors of a study published in the American Psychologist journal in 2007 went so far as to call dieting "a consistent predictor of future weight gain".

Perversely, it seems, if you want to get fatter, just go on a diet and wait for a bit.


Dr Leah Brennan, a clinical psychologist and senior research fellow at Monash University's centre for obesity research and education, says research that tracks dieters for one to two years is unequivocal.

"Usually, people are very close to their starting weight at two years, if not already there at 12 months," she says. "Generally, the research shows that six months is the maximum people can sustain the behaviour changes that lead to weight loss. Beyond that, people particularly have problems with weight maintenance."

There are many well-established reasons why diets don't work, both physiological and psychological. One of the many psychological stumbling blocks revolves around so-called "primary goals". These are what people hope to achieve by losing weight. In other words, most people don't go on a diet just to see decreasing numbers on the scales; they want to find a partner, wear nicer clothes, be more popular or get a better job.

Even if they manage to get the weight off rapidly, disillusion sets in because those goals aren't realised. This is despite the fact they were never weight-dependent in the first place.


As well as expecting unrealistic benefits, dieters often try to lose far more weight than is reasonable. You could call it the Biggest Loser effect.

"Realistically, if you can lose 5 to 10 per cent and keep it off, you are doing very well," Brennan says. "That's enough to see improvements in health indicators. But most people go in trying to lose 20 to 30 per cent of their body weight. So one of the reasons people don't continue to put in the effort to maintain their achieved weight loss is because they never got to the point they hoped they would."

The compliments also start drying up as friends and family become used to your new look, further removing the incentive to maintain the weight loss.

And, if the psychological factors aren't enough, physiological changes conspire to make losing weight and keeping it off desperately difficult.


One recent Australian study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, looked at 50 overweight or obese adults who managed to lose about 13 kilograms using a low-calorie diet. Researchers found that the levels of many of the hormones that regulate appetite changed markedly, leaving the dieters feeling more hungry than ever. By the end of the study, most participants were well on the way to regaining the weight they had lost.

Another group of researchers, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, found that when we starve ourselves, some of the neurons in the brain that stimulate hunger start to cannibalise each other, which, in turn, sends out more "hunger" signals.

There is also evidence to show your body reacts to sudden weight loss by slowing your metabolic rate by an even greater proportion.


So if diets don't work, why are we seduced time and again by the quick fix, confident that "this time, it will be different"?

Janette Gale is a health psychologist and founder of a company that trains doctors and others to better help people lose weight. She says that when dieters inevitably regain their lost weight, they rarely focus on the futility of quick-fix dieting.

"They will either blame themselves for not trying hard enough or they will say the diet is just not for them," she says. "But they will try the next one because it worked for so-and-so."

Superficially, each diet is different but health experts agree there are many more similarities than differences between them. While each diet might seem like a new strategy, in reality, it is the same old routine that is doomed to fail.

Each failure makes the next attempt even harder and less likely to succeed. All of which, of course, suits a diet industry that's constructed on failure and keeps the customers coming back.

The truth about real weight loss

At the heart of it, shedding kilograms is a simple, mathematical proposition: kilojoules in versus kilojoules out - create a deficit between these two and you will lose weight. But, of course, making it work is one of the hardest things you'll ever do.

That's what keeps the weight-loss scams in the business, promising the world but in the end only making your wallet thinner.

But it's not hard to find credible advice, such as this from a fact sheet from the reputable Mayo Clinic: "The foundation of every successful weight-loss program remains a healthy, calorie-controlled diet combined with exercise. For successful, long-term weight loss, you must make permanent changes in your lifestyle and health habits."

No miracle cures, no wacky diets just sensible food and exercise. Boring but true.

The Mayo Clinic offers six strategies for successful, sustainable weight loss. Alongside making a commitment to yourself and being clear about your motivation, it recommends setting realistic goals. Losing between 500 grams and one kilogram a week over time is a sensible target.

Healthy eating is another key strategy but, as the fact sheet explains, "decreasing calories need not mean giving up taste, satisfaction or ease of meal preparation".

Finally, there is exercise and a "change in perspective".

"It's not enough to eat healthy foods and exercise for only a few weeks or even months if you want long-term, successful weight loss," the clinic says. "These habits must become a way of life."


8 January, 2012

New drug lets you enjoy a drink without getting drunk, and wake up without a hangover

If you are a rat

A chemical from an ancient herbal remedy makes rats almost immune to the effects of alcohol. Rats who've consumed the drug can consume vast quantities of alcohol without passing out, show few signs of a hangover - and don't become alcoholics, even after weeks of solid drinking, say researchers.

The chemical is extracted from an ancient Asian remedy - a seed first used as a hangover cure in the year 659. Rats respond to alcohol in a very similar way to humans.

The Asian seeds - from the tree Hovenia Dulcis - was first used as a hangover cure in the year 659, according to ScienceDaily.

The researchers began their study by looking at herbal compounds that supposedly had 'anti alcohol' effects. They rapidly homed in on the Asian seed. They tested one ingredient - called DHM or dihydromyricetin in the rats.

The rats were given the equivalent of 15 to 20 bottled beers in two hours. Most animals passed out, and remained motionless when flipped over.

When given DHM, the rats could 'handle' their drink better. They took longer to get drunk, and seemed to sober up in about 15 minutes. The compound seemed to help rats dealing with hangover anxiety, too.

Rats recovering from a binge seemed to perk up when given the compound. Perhaps most importantly for medical professionals, the chemical seems to stop rats wanting to drink. Although rats on DHM can drink more, they don't.

'When you drink alcohol with DHM, you never become addicted,' says the lead researcher, Jing Liang in research published in Journal of Neuroscience.

The drug appears to work by blocking a brain receptor. Other promising anti-alcohol drugs have targeted the same receptor - but also caused seizures.


Not so healthy

They are widely regarded as ‘healthy’ options, guilt-free alternatives to snacks such as crisps and chocolate. But most of us are unaware that many of the dips and spreads, such as hummus, that we believe are better for us are in fact very high in calories, a survey has shown.

The World Cancer Research Fund study revealed a ‘troubling’ lack of knowledge regarding the calorie content of foods. A survey conducted for the charity found two thirds of Britons underestimate the number of calories in hummus.

The dip, made from chickpeas, contains on average 332 calories per 100g – more than 10 per cent of the recommended daily intake for women. But, despite exceeding the ‘high’ level of ‘energy density’ as defined by the WCRF, which applies to food containing more than about 225 calories per 100g, it is widely considered to be ‘healthy’.

The YouGov poll of 2,000 people also found that only 29 per cent knew that even reduced-fat mayonnaise was high in calories. It has an average of 259 per 100g. And while many underestimated the energy content of less healthy snacks, a fifth of those polled overestimated the calorie count in bananas. They described the fruit as high in calories, when it in fact contains only 95 per 100g.

The WCRF said the lack of calorie awareness was a concern because of the many diseases associated with being overweight or obese, which include cancer.

A spokesman said: ‘It seems a lot of people are still confused about the calorie content of everyday foods. ‘This troubling lack of understanding is perhaps not helped by labels such as 'light' and 'reduced fat' when these are applied to foods which still have a high calorie content.

‘At this time of year many people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight but to do this it is important that they understand how to determine whether a food is high in calories.'


7 January, 2012

More doubts about the Mediterranean diet

I recently criticized a Swedish study of the Mediterranean diet in which the lead author was Gianluca Tognon. Yes. An Italian really did study the Mediterranean diet in Sweden! The paper was titled: "Does the Mediterranean diet predict longevity in the elderly? A Swedish perspective".

He has replied to my comments as follows:
Hi, I’m Gianluca Tognon the first author of this article. On behalf of all the authors of this research, I would like to reply to some issues you mentioned in your article.

First of all thanks for having read it with criticism instead of just reporting the results, science is not based on absolute truths but it can just give the best estimation of the truth after a lot of discussions like this one.

You criticized the fact that we used a refined version of the Mediterranean diet score in order to get an association. The other “unrefined” score did not show an opposite association compared to this one. It was inversely associated with mortality but not statistically significant. This means that what it was measuring was not the whole story. [Why?]

What we did during refinement was to replace total cereals with unrefined cereals based on the fact that low glycaemic index food items are considered healthier than refined one. Then we included eggs, as a possible marker of a “western” diet (together with meat products) and polyunsaturated fats likely to be the kind of unsaturated fats in the healthy Nordic diet. Finally, we included alcohol intake because it’s a hallmark of the Mediterranean diet.

So, since we did not produce several random scores and then report the one that was associated, but based the refinement on previous knowledge, we do not consider this cheating. It is not the first time that this score is modified or adapted to different contexts: development and regional adaptation is a constant and evidence-based process.

Anyway, in the article we reported a sensitivity analysis which showed that none of the factors included in the score we used was able alone to explain our result. This is reported in the article we published.

What is important to say, is that our research was based on food groups (vegetables, cereals, fish products, etc.). Which food items are included in a specific food group can vary from country to country. The important thing is that the dietary pattern inspired by the traditional Mediterranean diet can be exported in other contexts without losing its healthy properties.

We think that explaining this result by just social class would be too simple. Our statistical model was adjusted for smoking, marital status, education and weight status, all possible mediators of the influence of social class on health.

So the association we obtained was independent of potential confounding factors (which, by the way, could also explain the differences in survival between Australian and Greeks since diet is not the only factor affecting survival).

We excluded “implausible” diet reporters by excluding subjects with extreme ratios between the energy calculated from their reported diet and their calculated basal metabolic rate. This did not modify the association making it positive instead of negative, but allowed us to get a better estimation of how much the effect was in terms of longevity increase.

The questionnaire was validated, and I have to tell you that validation of an instrument (like diet history here) with another one is absolutely the rule in epidemiology and not just in psychology as you reported. Diet assessment is subject to errors, validation allows you to reduce them as much as possible.

Finally, regarding antioxidants as a possible explanation, you’re correct that the discussion on this issue is still open. This is an observational study, so we cannot provide a biological explanation of what we observed. But we can speculate what the mechanisms could be. Antioxidants might or might not be part of the story, other researchers will then try to demonstrate if this is the truth or not.

Scientific evidence is not based on a single study, but it’s based on several results, obtained in different contexts by different independent researchers.

I am aware that this will not reply to all possible criticisms about this research, but again thanks for giving us the opportunity to clarify some important issues.

Prof. Tognon is a very civil and polite man so I am reluctant to be too hard on him but his reply really only amplifies my original criticisms. He used an existing index of the Mediterranean diet and found that it predicted nothing. He then dreamt up his own version of the Mediterranean diet and that predicted something. So which is the true measaure of a Mediterranean diet? Surely the first one. The second one could more accurately be called the Tognon diet!

The only real social class marker he used was education but education is only a start. Many highly educated people are poor and many rich people are not well educated. Bill Gates never got a degree. A proper study of social class would also require inclusion of income, occupational status, self-perceived class and IQ. So his findings are very much open to explanation in terms of a class effect.

Finally, Prof. Tognon in his bracketed comment above does something I have been waiting for advocates of the Mediterranean diet to do. He admits that national diets tell us nothing certain about lifespans because other factors could explain long life. I have made that point myself in the past but I have mainly gone along with the joke and pretended that the longer lifespan of Australians (when contrasted with Mediterranean lifespans) tells us something. It does not, of course.

But the same applies to the claim of benefits from the Mediterranean diet. Mediterranean people get fewer heart attacks. So what? How do we know that that is due to their diet? We don't. It could be some genetic factor at work, for instance.

Prof. Tognon's admission has thrown the whole body of epidemiological assertions about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet out the window -- including his own assertions. Correlation is not causation.

Why self-report diet questionnaires are largely useless in health research

Did you just have a healthy salad for lunch, then nothing more than the kids’ leftovers and one glass of wine in the evening? Yeah, right. The average woman tells almost 500 lies a year about her eating and drinking habits, according to a survey.

That’s almost nine fibs every week about how much food she’s eaten, what she’s snacked on and how many drinks she’s had.

Favourite untruths include ‘It was only a small portion’ after eating a large meal, and ‘I’ll have a big lunch so I won’t eat much after this’ when they know they will have an afternoon of sugary treats and fatty foods.

Other classics are ‘I treat myself only once in a blue moon’ while munching on goodies all day, and ‘I always eat my five-a-day’ when the reality is quite the opposite.

Chocolate is the food that women are most likely to lie about, followed by crisps and cake. Fibs about their consumption of sweets, cheese, bread, chips and burgers are also among the top ten most common falsehoods, along with wine and beer.

‘I never touch fast food’ is another popular line, trotted out even by those who enjoy clandestine visits to McDonald’s or KFC when no one’s looking.

And ‘I didn’t touch any of the biscuits’ is a regular claim, despite the evidence of an empty packet in the kitchen bin.

For drinking, the ‘I had only one glass’ line is frequently served up after polishing off an entire bottle of wine. And at weddings or parties the ‘I had a drink only because we were toasting an occasion’ claim is often used, when, in fact, the ‘toast’ went on all night.

Other popular lines include ‘I just finished off the kids’ left-overs’ without mentioning quite how much food the children left, and ‘I had only a salad so that’s healthy’, choosing to ignore the fatty dressings and extras.

In all, the survey of 3,000 Britons, commissioned by Timex, found that the average woman tells 474 of these lies every year.

Dr Cassandra Maximenko, a chiropractor and athlete, said that by lying to others, women were also lying to themselves and could easily see their weight creep up or damage their health. She added: ‘This study proves we live in a nation of denial where image takes a higher priority than honesty and no one wants to be seen eating food they shouldn’t.’


6 January, 2012

Wonder drug that stole my memory

Statins have been hailed as a miracle cure for cholesterol, but little is known about their side effects.

I had just walked in to the party, and spotted a familiar face. "Oh, hi," I said brightly, "you're just the person I wanted to see: I had something to ask you." There was a pause. "Yes?" said my friend gently. I stood there in confusion. I couldn't remember her name. And the thing I wanted to ask her had slipped completely out of my mind.

That was a year ago, and it had been happening to me more and more frequently. At first I could shrug it off as examples of those senior moments we all have in late middle age. It started with the names of people and places. "Oh, you know, that man who wrote a book about depression. He used to live in that road just off Primrose Hill. Begins with G."

I have always been a trifle absent-minded. Walking home from prep school, I was usually the one who left his lunchbox behind, or managed to lose his cap while taking a short cut through the copse. Even now, I am not the most reliable person in the world with whom to leave the back door keys. But this was different. I was beginning to be plagued not just with forgetfulness but with confusion. I got into small panics, when for a moment I couldn't make sense of what was going on around me or what I was supposed to be doing. Playing doubles tennis, for example, as I do most weekends, I would get the score wrong and I had to watch the other three like a hawk when we started each new game, so that I knew to stand in the right place.

Worse still was when not only proper nouns but also everyday words escaped me. As a novelist and journalist, my whole life is about words: getting them right and putting them down on the page speedily. Now I found myself looking perplexedly at the keyboard, not only for the right word, with the help of a thesaurus, but where to find the letters I wanted on the laptop.

My wife was by now accustomed to providing names and finishing my sentences for me. It was an unhappy time for both of us. She thought that this was how life was going to be for the next 30 years; I became unusually reclusive for fear of making a fool of myself in public. Both of us read about Alzheimer's with a gripping sensation around the heart, although my symptoms did not seem to fit the classic patterns of the condition.

What, if anything, did seem to fit the pattern, besides incipient dementia? I was pretty healthy, except for moderately high cholesterol, for which I took the statin drug Simvastatin. Other than that I went through periods of taking vitamin supplements – that was all.

"Did you say Simvastatin?" asked a friend. "Did you know that statins have been linked to memory loss?"

This was news to me. Statins are, I think, among the greatest successes of modern pharmacology. They work by blocking the action of a chemical in the liver which is needed to make cholesterol. By lowering blood-cholesterol levels, they help defend against arterial diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes.

My doctor, when prescribing me tablets of Simvastatin to be taken once a day, described it to me, rightly I'm sure, as a "wonder drug" which deserves to be taken by most of the Western world.

Because the drug worked so well in reducing my cholesterol, it never occurred to me to think of statins as a feature in my memory loss. But looking back to when I began taking that 40-milligram dose, I realised that it more or less coincided with the intensification of my memory problems. I decided to take the bull by the horns. I went to our very good local doctor, told her what was happening, and asked for her advice. She nodded, and said: "We'll take you off statins for three months. Let's see what happens".

For six weeks or so, I noticed. I continued to go around in a daze. Then my life began changing back. At dinner parties I could tell stories without losing track halfway through. In tennis, I didn't have to think about the scores or where I stood at changeovers. Words came back like old friends jostling to greet me. My shattered confidence began returning as decisions became easier to make. The other day, my wife said, "I feel I've got my husband back".

The strangest thing was that for most of last year I noticed something I had never suffered from before: poor circulation in my fingers and toes. I thought my numb white index fingers might be connected to my furious two-finger typing. Nearly every day I had to stop and massage my fingers to get the blood circulating. Then, at about the time my memory began returning, my circulation came back to normal too. Through this coldest winter for 20 years, my fingers have not once lost their nice healthy pink.

I would be a fool to pretend that I know anything about the circulation of the blood to the brain, but an even greater fool to suppose that the medication I took might not somehow be connected to it. Unscientific and simplistic though it is, I truly believe what the history of my symptoms suggests that the Simvastatin I took, so effective in lowering my cholesterol, simultaneously affected my brain.

I am not alone in coming to this conclusion. Google "statins" and "memory loss" and you will come upon a selection of websites connecting the two. In a recent Dutch survey of 4,738 statin users, a quarter reported physical or mental side effects, of whom 13 per cent reported memory loss.

Nobody knows why this should be, although many researchers point out that statins can block the production of Co-Q10, a vital heart nutrient. The Canadians now print a mandatory warning on all packets of statins that Co-Q10 reduction "could lead to impaired cardiac function".

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Commission on Human Medicines include memory loss as one of the potential adverse effects of taking statins. A recent discussion paper on statins and memory loss, published by the Pharmacotherapy Press, reports that "the effects of these agents on the human brain are not [as] well established. The more lipid-soluble the statin, the greater propensity it has to cross the blood-brain barrier and affect the central nervous system. According to some reports, Simvastatin is the most lipophilic drug in its class."

Sounds worrying to me. Last month Britain's "heart tsar", Professor Roger Boyle, argued that millions of healthy people over 40 should be considered for statin therapy after a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggested the drugs were even more effective than previously thought. The study, of 230,000 people, found that the drugs halved the risk of heart attacks. At present, the prescription of statins for primary prevention of heart disease is confined to those considered to be at high risk of developing heart disease.

Maybe they are right and the benefits of these drugs outweigh the side-effects. However, now that I've got some of my memory back, I'll remember to look for other ways of keeping down my cholesterol.


Taking statins won't extend your lifespan -- and may reduce it

In an inconvenient letter to the Editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Joel M. Kauffman, Ph. D. (University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA 19104) pointed out that although statins do lower serum cholesterol, their side-effects may more than cancel out any benefit. The letter was not published

The review by Hiatt (May 24 NEJM)1 on the preferred treatment of peripheral arterial disease and claudication contains some apparent misunderstandings. Since cholesterol levels as low as 100 mg/dL are strongly associated with higher cancer rates, and high cholesterol levels, although correlated with atherosclerosis since 1913, have not been proven to cause it,2 Hiatt's recommendation to strive for very low cholesterol levels is misdirected.

While statin drugs certainly lower cholesterol levels, a surrogate endpoint, three of the studies did not lower total mortality significantly, a hard endpoint, and earlier cholesterol drugs, such as cholestyramine and colestipol, and even early trials of lovastatin showed higher death rates; moreover, some statin drugs increased breast cancer rates in women.3

In reviewing the use of aspirin, Hiatt seems unaware that the Physicians Health Study used aspirin containing calcium and magnesium, and that overall death rates were almost the same as for placebo. Where plain aspirin was used in another equally well-controlled trial the overall death rate was slightly higher than for the subjects on placebo.4

Hiatt dismissed the utility of EDTA-chelation treatments (his ref. 116); but a different review has solid evidence of the effectiveness of chelation in 87% of patients (r = 0.88), and an explanation for a number of the trials that showed little effect.5

Because of its misunderstandings and omissions, this review cannot be considered authoritative.


1. Hiatt, W. R. Medical Treatment of Peripheral Arterial Disease and Claudication. N Engl J Med 2001:344:1608-20.

2. Stehbens, W. E. Coronary Heart Disease, Hypercholesteremia, and Atherosclerosis I. False Premises and II. Misrepresented Data. Experimental and Molecular Pathology 2001:70:103-119, and 120-139.

3. Ravnskov, U. The Cholesterol Myths: Exposing the Fallacy that Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Cause Heart Disease, New Trends Publishing, Washington, DC, 2000.

4. Kauffman, J. M. Should You Take Aspirin to Prevent Heart Attack? J Sci Exploration 2000:14:623-41.

5. Chappell, L. T., Janson, M. EDTA Chelation Therapy in the Treatment of Vascular Disease. J Cardiovasc Nurs 1996:10:78-86.


5 January, 2012

A breastfeeding myth lives on

What they seem to overlook is that mothers' IQ is highly predictive of breastfeeding so all we are seeing here is that high IQ mothers have high IQ children, which is not exactly news. IQ is highly hereditary. It would be nice if researchers knew something about their subject but in my experience many don't

Breastfeeding is Associated with Improved Child Cognitive Development: A Population-Based Cohort Study

By Maria A. Quigley et al.


To assess the association between breastfeeding and child cognitive development in term and preterm children.

Study design
We analyzed data on white singleton children from the United Kingdom Millennium Cohort Study. Children were grouped according to breastfeeding duration. Results were stratified by gestational age at birth: 37 to 42 weeks (term, n = 11 101), and 28 to 36 weeks (preterm, n = 778). British Ability Scales tests were administered at age 5 years (naming vocabulary, pattern construction, and picture similarities subscales).

The mean scores for all subscales increased with breastfeeding duration. After adjusting for confounders, there was a significant difference in mean score between children who were breastfed and children who were never breastfed: in term children, a two-point increase in score for picture similarities (when breastfed ≥4 months) and naming vocabulary (when breastfed ≥6 months); in preterm children, a 4-point increase for naming vocabulary (when breastfed ≥4 months) and picture similarities (when breastfed ≥2 months) and a 6-point increase for pattern construction (when breastfed ≥2 months). These differences suggest that breastfed children will be 1 to 6 months ahead of children who were never breastfed.

In white, singleton children in the United Kingdom, breastfeeding is associated with improved cognitive development, particularly in children born preterm.


Is the kiss of life actually dangerous? British Heart Foundation say it may hinder patient's survival

Giving the kiss of life may actually hinder a patient’s survival, experts warn. They say that mouth-to-mouth is often ineffective and gets in the way of the crucial chest compression’s need to keep the victim’s heart beating.

And according to the British Heart Foundation, the sheer thought of having to blow into someone’s mouth puts many of us off from even attempting resuscitation.

So the organisation is today publishing guidelines urging the public to ignore the kiss of life and instead concentrate on giving “hard and fast” chest compressions until an ambulance arrives - to the beat of Stayin Alive by the Bee Gees.
New guidelines state that people should ignore the breaths and give constant chest compressions 5-6cm deep (2 inches), just between the nipples, at the rate of 100 to 120 a minute

People should ignore the breaths and give constant chest compressions 5-6cm deep (2 inches), just between the nipples, at the rate of 100 to 120 a minute

Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), as it is officially known, is given to patients who have suffered a cardiac arrest – when their heart stops pumping blood around the body.

At present official first-aid guidelines recommend giving 30 chest compressions, then pinching their nose and blowing into their lungs twice, and repeating until an ambulance arrives.

But the new guidelines state that people should ignore the breaths and give constant chest compressions 5-6cm deep (2 inches), just between the nipples, at the rate of 100 to 120 a minute.

The breaths of air, or rescue breaths, are meant to fill the patients’ lungs with oxygen – so you effectively breathe for them. But the BHF claims that when ordinary members of the public do this they don’t properly blow into the lungs –while at the same time they are stopping the chest compressions.

The organisation says that patients should have enough oxygen into their body to survive until help arrives so it is more essential that helpers concentrate on the compressions to pump blood round the body.

Ellen Mason, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: 'The kiss of life can often be daunting for untrained bystanders who want to help when someone has collapsed with a cardiac arrest.

'Hands-only CPR should give lots of people the confidence and know-how to help save someone in cardiac arrest, the ultimate medical emergency. It’s been shown that hard, fast and uninterrupted chest compressions are better than stopping compressions for ineffective rescue breaths.

'It’s very simple; call 999 and then push hard and fast in the centre of the chest at a tempo similar to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. If you’re untrained or unconfident about the kiss of life give Hands-only CPR a go instead - it could help save someone’s life.'

Official figures show that survival rates for cardiac arrests are very low. Some 30,000 people suffer from one outside hospital every year and only 10 per cent will recover and be discharged from hospital.

The official guidelines will still recommend that trained medical professionals or people who have been trained in first aid still perform the kiss of life however.

A poll of 2,000 people by the BHF found that a fifth were put off by the thought of giving mouth-to-mouth or catching an infection. And four in ten feared they would be sued if they did something wrong.


4 January, 2012

Cannabis users 'born with smaller front part of brain' affecting memory and decision-making

As a before-and-after study this is pretty strong evidence. The biggest pot-head I have ever known always seemed to me to be pretty "out of it" whether he was "high" or not

Teenagers who smoke cannabis are likely to have been born with an area of the brain that is significantly smaller than normal, according to new research.

Scientists have found that the area at the front of the brain, known as the orbitofrontal cortex, which controls memory, reward and decision- making, is six per cent smaller in children who go on to smoke cannabis compared with those who do not.

This difference in size may mean the brain is not as effective, so children with a smaller orbitofrontal cortex could be more impulsive and less capable of carefully calculated decision-making. In turn, this could make them more likely to experiment with cannabis.

Previous research has found that adults who are heavy cannabis smokers have much smaller brain volumes in this area, but it had, until now, been assumed the damage was caused by the regular drug use.

However, the new findings suggest that some people are born with the abnormality. The discovery could serve as an early-warning system to help identify those most at risk of becoming addicts.

The research, carried out in Melbourne, Australia, and published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, was part of a wider four-year study into the emotional development of children.

Initially, scientists took detailed scans of the brains of 121 children aged 12 – before they had begun to experiment with alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs such as cannabis.

Once they turned 16, the teenagers were asked a series of questions, including whether they had smoked cannabis. Of the 28 who admitted to using it – 23 per cent of the group – most said they had smoked it fewer than ten times.

The researchers then studied the scans again to determine whether there was anything that linked the cannabis smokers.

They discovered that the average volume of the orbitofrontal cortex was six per cent smaller in the group who had used the drug. The results were the same even after adjustments for other factors, including psychiatric problems, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking, had been made.

The research also appears to prove that cannabis is toxic. Other studies on long-term users have found that the drug seems to affect the size of other areas of the brain. But as the scans showed these to be normal in children who had smoked the drug, this would suggest that it is regular, heavy cannabis use that is causing the damage.

According to the British Crime Survey, more than a third of 16- to 24-year-olds used it during 2009/10.


Why staying positive WON'T speed your recovery

Try to stay positive .... it’s become a common call to those who are ill as the belief has grown that having a positive attitude will not only help you get through illness, but make you better quicker.

But is it true? In fact, there’s no evidence that teaching yourself to have a positive attitude makes you physically healthier. A recent study of cancer patients in Finland and Sweden found no association between survival rates and whether people were positive or negative in their outlook.

The study, in the American Journal Of Epidemiology, looked at 4,600 people with cancer over 30 years, and found that whether they were extrovert or neurotic, their attitude to life had no relationship with how long they survived their illness.

It’s not an isolated finding. An analysis of research by Dr James Coyne, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, found that there were no good quality studies showing that ‘positive psychology’ had any effect on physical health. In one of his own large studies, he found that the sense of emotional wellbeing of cancer patients had no effect on how long they lived.

Yet self-help gurus such as Louise Hay, whose book You Can Heal Your Life has sold 35 million copies worldwide over the past 20 years, says that ‘science is now confirming that we can’t allow ourselves to indulge in negative thinking. It’s making us sick and it’s killing us’.

British researchers and health staff are becoming concerned that American lifestyle gurus who urge us to ‘be positive and live longer’ may be doing more harm than good.

Claire Murrell, head of nursing at the Barts and the London Hospital Cancer Unit, is concerned that too many people are being urged to ‘be positive’ after a cancer diagnosis, when they need to be realistic and realise they will experience emotional lows.

‘I think that some people with cancer do come down with a bump when they realise that, for all their positive attitude, they haven’t been cured,’ she says. ‘I’ve come across people who feel a lot of pressure to be positive, sometimes from family and friends, at a time when they really don’t want to.’

Her words echo those of film star Michael Douglas, who last year spoke of his concern for his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones when she was reported to have mental health problems. He said she broke down under the stress of his battle with throat cancer because she tried to put on a brave, positive face all the time. He may have been right.

As one patient recently wrote on an internet forum for cancer patients: ‘Keeping up with the positive thinking is very hard, particularly in front of friends and family. Sometimes I just feel like screaming at the world. ‘For me, remaining positive is sometimes harder than dealing with the chemo side effects and having cancer.’

Things can be even harder if you expect positive thoughts to make you better. In her book Smile Or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America And the World, Barbara Ehrenreich quotes a woman who had been following the healing advice of mind-body guru Deepak Chopra.

The woman wrote to Chopra: ‘Even though I follow the treatments, have come a long way in unburdening myself of toxic feelings, have forgiven everyone, changed my lifestyle to include meditation, prayer, proper diet, exercise and supplements, the cancer keeps coming back. Am I missing a lesson here that it keeps reoccurring?’

The problem is research findings are diverse and complex, so the science is ambiguous enough to allow lifestyle gurus scope for claiming it backs their teachings. There are studies indicating that people with a positive attitude cope better with illness — even if they don’t get better quicker. Indeed, relaxation and emotional support are extremely important in helping people with life-threatening illness get on with life.

And how stressed people are (as opposed to how positive) does seem to predict how some conditions such as heart disease progress — stress affects the body’s immune and hormone systems.

There are also some studies suggesting that people who are born with, or develop early in life, an ability to dwell on what can be done, rather than what can’t, may be healthier.

Research on 1,000 people attending the famous Mayo Clinic in the U.S. over 30 years found that those classified as optimists had a 19 per cent higher chance of still being alive than pessimists.

But this is all different from saying that taking a positive attitude makes you healthier.

Dr Gerard Molloy, chair of the UK Society For Behavioural Medicine’s scientific committee, says that though psychological traits such as optimism may be linked to longer survival from illness, there is no evidence that such traits can be cultivated by ‘positive thinking’. You’re either like that or you’re not.

‘Some of the strongest evidence revolves around personality types,’ says Dr Molloy, who is lecturer at the Centre for Health and Behaviour Change at the University of Stirling.

‘But personality type is, by definition, impossible to change. I think the idea of adopting a positive psychology has come over from the U.S., where there’s a “Yes we can” culture, and the wellness thing is hanging on to the coat-tails of that.’ Our desire that positive thinking should improve health gets in the way of the facts, he believes.

Dr Gill Windle, a research fellow at the University of Bangor, agrees. She recently saw one of her studies reported under the headline: ‘Positive attitude can help you drive away illness.’ In fact, her study of nearly 2,000 older people concluded something different. It found that those with ‘resilient personalities’ didn’t let their symptoms get to them as much, but they weren’t actually any less ill. ‘The research isn’t there yet to say whether they are actually physically better,’ says Windle.

Resilience is the ability to recover easily from misfortune or change. Unlike a positive personality, it is something that can be encouraged and developed.

So even if we can’t make ourselves better in the face of illness, we can feel better. This in itself has value, and the key may be other people’s attitudes, not our own.

‘Resilience isn’t always about an innate capacity, it’s also about becoming strong because of the support you receive,’ says Windle. ‘Emotional support or not having to battle for services can make you resilient and cope with adversity much better.’

In other words, those family and friends who urge us to ‘keep positive’ might help us cope with illness better if they helped us free up our time and energy to feel exactly what we want to feel.


3 January, 2012

Research shows trans fats cause brain damage?

Journal abstract follows the popular article below. It is a fairly sophisticated study of a small group of very elderly ladies but to some extent its sophistication is its undoing. It relies on a factor analysis of blood chemicals and finds that a weak third factor correlates with "less favorable cognitive function".

As an old hand at the factor analytic method used (PCA), I had to laugh. Factors are extremely unstable. Do the same study on another group of people and you will get different factors. And his very unrepresentative sample means that the factor structure could be VERY different elsewhere. So the generalizability of the findings is nil.

I note further that only the third factor and not a direct trans fats marker itself is said to show the correlation with "less favorable cognitive function". That suggests that trans fats were in fact found to be totally innocent of the damage alleged.

I won't go on but will note again that correlations are not causation and correlations are all this guy has. The assertions he makes are at best sheer speculation

Not only does it rot your teeth and add inches to your waistline, but now researchers have discovered that junk food actually hurts your brain.

By consuming trans fats, found often in fried or processed food, the chemicals send mixed and damaging signals to the brain and lessens its ability to control appetite.

Essentially, by eating junk food, your brain becomes less and less able to tell what you have eaten and continues to make you feel as if you are hungry so that you proceed to eat more.

'It's clear that trans fats are bad -- both for your heart and now, we see, for your brain,' said Dr Gene Bowman of Oregon Health & Science University.

Given the somewhat complicated nature of trans fats, it is harder for shoppers to spot goods that contain loads of the molecule. Trans fat is the common name for unsaturated fats which are harder for the body to digest given its double carbon-carbon bond.

Brain injury comes as the latest addition to a long list of health problems that stem from the consumption of unsaturated fat. Coronary heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes.

The battle against trans fats is not a new one. While restaurants in New York and Switzerland have been banned from serving dishes that have high levels of trans fats, there are still plenty of everyday foods that are stealthily hiding the destructive ingredients.

Girl Scout cookies, microwavable popcorn, and crackers- like Saltines and Ritz- are some of the worst offenders, and that's ignoring the obvious choices like French fries or fried chicken.

Though Mr Bowman conducted a relatively limited study among elderly white Oregonians, his findings have been backed up by countless earlier studies that highlight the difference between the yummy taste and disgusting after-effects of junk food.

Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and MRI measures of brain aging

By G.L. Bowman et al.


Objective: To examine the cross-sectional relationship between nutrient status and psychometric and imaging indices of brain health in dementia-free elders.

Methods: Thirty plasma biomarkers of diet were assayed in the Oregon Brain Aging Study cohort (n = 104). Principal component analysis constructed nutrient biomarker patterns (NBPs) and regression models assessed the relationship of these with cognitive and MRI outcomes.

Results: Mean age was 87 ± 10 years and 62% of subjects were female. Two NBPs associated with more favorable cognitive and MRI measures: one high in plasma vitamins B (B1, B2, B6, folate, and B12), C, D, and E, and another high in plasma marine ?-3 fatty acids. A third pattern characterized by high trans fat was associated with less favorable cognitive function and less total cerebral brain volume. Depression attenuated the relationship between the marine ?-3 pattern and white matter hyperintensity volume.

Conclusion: Distinct nutrient biomarker patterns detected in plasma are interpretable and account for a significant degree of variance in both cognitive function and brain volume. Objective and multivariate approaches to the study of nutrition in brain health warrant further study. These findings should be confirmed in a separate population.


Time for another mince pie! First natural diet pill is available over the counter (and it costs just £2)

This sounds implausible but as the alleged research is not detailed, it is hard to say

A diet pill which claims to help women drop two dress sizes in just weeks is available over the counter - and it has no side effects.

Experts found that the £2 pill can help people lower the calories they consume by as much as 500 per day if they take two tablets three times a day after each meal.

People who took part in clinical trials of the drug lost nearly three pounds for every one pound lost by those not taking the pill.

It comes as new research shows a quarter of the UK population has an obese Body Mass Index (BMI), but a high number 'deny' how severely their weight could be affecting their health, according to new figures.

Only 6 per cent of people believe their weight problem is severe enough to be described as obese, Slimming World's annual survey showed.

Three quarters of people with an obese BMI underestimate their weight category according to the National Slimming Survey, which had 2,065 respondents.

More than one in three who are regarded as overweight said they felt weight 'is the most important issue in life'.

Half of those classified as obese said their weight made them feel embarrassed, while others said they felt awkward, disgusted, ashamed, clumsy or trapped.

Called XLS-Medical Fat Binder the tablet, which is made from a fibre taken from dried leaves of the prickly pear cactus, works by binding dietary fat so it cannot be absorbed by the body. This prevents the build up of fatty deposits and as it is made of fibre it helps dieters feel full up for longer.

Experts who tested the pill - the first naturally occurring product found to work - also found it cut food cravings and desire to eat.

Singer Mica Paris is a fan, according to the Daily Express, and claims she has dropped from a size 16 to a size 12 in three months. She said: 'I can’t believe how well it’s worked. Like most women my age, I often found it difficult to lose that last bit of weight but XLS-Medical gives me a helping hand.'

Experts hope it could help tackle Britain's obesity crisis. The pills are available for anyone over 18 to buy over the counter without a prescription and cost £24.99 for a 10-day supply.

Spokesman for the product Juliet Oosthuysen told the newspaper: 'XLS-Medical Fat Binder is not another fad diet or a miracle pill. When used in conjunction with sensible eating and keeping active as part of the ‘123 hello me’ weight loss programme, it has been clinically proven to help overweight individuals lose three times more weight than dieting alone. 'We genuinely believe it is a realistic programme and will help many people reach their 2012 weight loss goals.'

Dietician Helen Bond, who is backing the use of the diet pill in conjunction with a balanced diet, added: 'Crash or fad diets do not work in the long-term.

'The only way to lose weight healthily is to eat a nutritionally balanced diet, with adequate portion control and being physically active.'


2 January, 2012

World Health Org. Adviser: Eat Meat Only Once Per Week to Fight Obesity, Global Warming

Gosh! The World Health Organization says that? I had better go and do it then!

The WHO is as corrupt as the rest of the U.N. And a diet heavy in meat -- such as Atkins -- is in fact a particularly effective weight-loss regime

If Tim Lang, a professor of food policy at City University in London and adviser to the World Health Organization, had his way, we would only eat meat once a week. Eating meat only on special occasions, like feast days, he suggests could help reduce obesity and curb global warming.

The Telegraph reports Lang as advocating that people adopt meat-eating practices like those in medieval times:

“Let’s go back to where culture has been for thousands of years, which is meat is an exception,” Prof Lang said. “If you were growing meat yourself, it is an incredibly slow process and killing and eating an animal is a special day.

“At Christmas if we were well off we had beef. It was a big deal. We killed an animal as an exception, for a feast.” ...

Sir Paul McCartney has advocated Meat-Free Mondays but Prof Lang said: “I am saying instead of having one day where you do not eat meat, eat meat once a week and have really good, grass-fed meat.”


In Losing Fat, Ignore the Government

Jeff Carter

In 2011, I actively lost weight. It’s not easy and requires the patience of Job. One thing I learned, pay no attention to the FDA standards if you want to lose weight. The government standards are riddled with lobbying. “Eating right” has nothing to do with the government, eating organically, eating locally or anything like that. It’s all about what you eat and how much of it you stuff into yourself.

This is actually a big issue for companies. Today in the Wall Street there was an article on how Harley Davidson has a work out facility for their employees to keep them in shape for work. As the population ages, it will be critical to figure out ways to keep older employees healthy.

There has been a lot of activity in the fitness start up space. It started years ago with the chip that Nike implanted in shoes so you could keep track of your runs. Newer start ups like Fitbit track all your daily movement. But I don’t think that’s enough. Just moving around and doing aerobic exercise won’t burn the calories you need to actually be fit.

Personal training has been around awhile, and has become a mania in recent years. If you can afford it, you hire a personal trainer to put you through your paces. However, besides the cost, there can be a lot of barriers to having a personal trainer.

Nutrisystem built a big business on cooking for people. But it’s expensive, and not really tailored to individual needs. If you want to go out and hire a dietician, it’s also expensive. But, thanks to an entrepreneur, they make the process cheaper and work for you. Retrofit is a new Chicago start up that attempts to change your life. It’s what you have to do if you want to lose weight.

Last year, I lost 10% of my weight. The way I did it was work out at CitywideSuperSlow in Chicago. I lifted weights there every week for 30 minutes a week. I did zero aerobic exercise, except for walking. I measured my portions, and kept track of my calorie intake using Lose It. I cut back on my drinking. My cholesterol dropped 35 points, no drugs. In 2012, I will probably lose another ten pounds and be done. At 215 pounds I’d be ten pounds heavier than when I graduated from college. At my height, going less than that makes me look emaciated-especially with no hair. I know more than a handful of people that did the same thing over the past couple of years. You can too.


1 January, 2012

More epidemiological nonsense about statins

Good to see a bit of humility in the last sentence. People who are robust enough to endure the side effects of statins are of course highly likely to be unusually healthy in other ways

Taking statins to cut cholesterol can help to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer, says researchers. The findings back up previous studies suggesting that controlling cholesterol, a ‘key nutrient’ for cancer cells, can have multiple benefits.

Study author Stephen Marcella said: ‘People may be on these medications for their heart but it may be doing them some good for their prostate.’

Dr Marcella and his colleagues collected the medical records of 380 men who had died of prostate cancer and another 380 of the same age and race without prostate cancer or with non-lethal cancer.

Most of the men were white and in their mid- to late-60s, on average and close to one in four of the men in both groups combined had ever taken a statin.

The researchers found that men who died of prostate cancer were half as likely to have taken a statin at any time, and for any duration, than men in the 'control' group.

When they accounted for whether or not men were overweight and their other health problems and medications, it turned out that those with fatal cancers were 63 per cent less likely to have ever taken a statin, according to findings published in the journal Cancer.

'If a person's on the fence about taking a statin medication for their heart, this is another potential benefit they may have by taking one of these,' he said. But, Dr Marcella added, 'I would not tell a person if they don't have a risk of heart disease... to take a statin just to prevent lethal prostate cancer.'

Around seven million Britons currently take statins. Meanwhile some 34,593 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer last year - a ten per cent annual rise. The illness is by far the most common form of cancer in men and one in nine will develop it at some point during their lives.

The researchers also found that while high-potency, newer statins were linked to a decreased risk of fatal prostate cancer, the same was not so true of lower-potency drugs. This suggests that it is something about the drugs themselves that lower men's chances of dying from prostate cancer, Dr Marcella said.

The researchers added that cholesterol is a 'key nutrient' for cancer cells, so lower cholesterol levels in the body could prevent more aggressive forms of cancer from developing.

But they said that to prove that statins protect against aggressive cancer would require a much larger study in which cancer-free men, or those with early-stage disease, are randomly assigned to take statins or not and then tracked for years to see how many of them die from the disease.


Obama's Fascist FDA

The raw milk battle reveals them in their true colors

The FTCLDF is a 501(c)(4) organization, which means that it exists to promote the social welfare of its members and community. They define their reason for being in one sentence:
Sustainable farming and direct farm-to-consumer transactions further the common good and general welfare of all Americans.

Their Mission Statement says, in whole:
The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is a 501 (c) (4) non-profit organization made up of farmers and consumers joining together and pooling resources to:

Protect the constitutional right of the nation’s family farms to provide processed and unprocessed farm foods directly to consumers through any legal means.

Protect the constitutional right of consumers to obtain unprocessed and processed farm foods directly from family farms.

Protect the nation’s family farms from harassment by federal, state, and local government interference with food production and on-farm food processing.

On behalf of its members and for all family farms in the US, the FTCLDF filed a lawsuit against the FDA, claiming "that the federal regulations (21 CFR 1240.61 and 21 CFR 131.110) banning raw milk for human consumption in interstate commerce are unconstitutional and outside of FDA's statutory authority as applied to FTCLDF's members and the named individual plaintiffs in the suit."

The FDA responded by claiming a number of things, including the absurd idea that the FTCLDF has no standing to file the case! That is, they're claiming that the organization that represents the people who have been harmed by the FDA's actions does not actually represent them. They claim that no harm has been shown, in spite of the fact that the FDA's actions have prevented farmers from producing and selling raw milk and their customers have lost the ability to obtain it.

The FDA's Response and Claims

The FDA makes several statements in response to the lawsuit. The implications for personal freedoms are frightening.

No Fundamental Right to Raw Milk

The FDA claims that "...plaintiffs' assertion of a new 'fundamental right' under substantive due process to produce, obtain, and consume unpasteurized milk lacks any support in law." This implies that no rights exist unless they have been specifically granted. This concept runs completely counter to the basic concepts of the nation. The Declaration of Independence states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

A basic notion in the founding of the nation is that rights do not have to be delineated. The rights identified in the Declaration of Independence clearly stated that they are merely "among" the obvious rights of people. How could anyone suggest that obtaining one's food of choice is not an inherent right?

FDA Has the Right to Set the Rules for How They May Be Controlled

The FDA claims that, before filing a lawsuit, the FTCLDF should have filed a petition with the FDA. In other words, they're claiming that they have the right to set the rules by which they may be accessed and controlled. If the FDA has such a right, then it is unaccountable to the people.

No Historical Tradition of Access to Food of Choice

The FDA states that "there is no 'deeply rooted' historical tradition of unfettered access to food of all kinds." This implies that one does not have the right to a vegetable garden containing one's choice of foods, or that choosing organic over petroleum-based fertilizer is not a right, or that one has no right to choose to eat a vegetarian diet.

"There is No Generalized Right to Bodily and Physical Health."

This title quotes the title of a section of the FDA's response to the lawsuit. If that doesn't terrify you, then nothing can. The FDA is, literally, claiming that they have the right to take a person's health if it suits them. The section uses specious logic, claiming that there is no right to bodily and physical health because, according to them, there is no right to food choice, which is a claim that only the FDA could make.

It's interesting that the FDA is implicitly acknowledging that there is a connection between food and health, though they deny that one has a right to either freedom of food or pursuance of bodily and physical health.

"There is No Fundamental Right to Freedom of Contract."

Another section of the FDA's response is the above title claiming that individuals do not have the right to engage in contracts as they choose. This flies in the face of the basic right implied in the Constitution and strengthened by the 5th and 14th amendments. Limitations have been placed when contractual rights conflict with personal rights.

However, the inherent right to freedom of contract has not been abrogated, in spite of the FDA's claims. Their reference to it as "anachronistic" says more about the FDA's attitude towards the people than it does about the intent of the law.

"FDA's Regulations Rationally Advance the Agency’s Public Health Mission."

This statement by the FDA—again, the title of a section of its response—is made without a shred of documentation in support. It is nothing more than a self-congratulatory statement of opinion, one that a large section of the American public does not accept. Indeed, the illogic and arrogance of the FDA's entire response to the FTCLDF lawsuit tends to deny their claim to rationality.

The FDA's Logic

The logic the FDA is using seems to be: If it isn't specifically named in the Constitution, then there is no such right. The absurdity of that logic is revealed by suggesting that you don't have the right to breathe because it wasn't specifically granted by the Constitution.

What could be more basic to life and the right to live than the right to eat as we wish and obtain the food we wish to eat? We have the right to free speech and assembly. In light of that, how can the FDA claim that we don't, by definition, have the right to eat what we choose?

Could the Founding Fathers have possibly envisioned a government that would infringe on an individual's right to choice in food?

Nonetheless, we need to understand that, in one sense, the FDA is right. Unless we act to stop their intrusions into our rights, then their claims will, effectively, become law. They've almost accomplished it now.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.

2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful

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

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like