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

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

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

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

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

These kids are all "obese" according to Britain's moronic National Health Service


31 January, 2013

Danish pain-relief phobia

(Lemsip is a  lemon-flavoured hot drink  containing 650 mg of paracetamol (an analgesic), and 10 mg phenylephrine hydrochloride (a decongestant) to help to relieve headache, fever, blocked nose, body aches and pains and a sore throat.   It is widely used in Britain.

Danish caution is understandable as big doses of paracetamol (Tylenol)  can be fatal.  Lemsip alone is not dangerous but when taken along with other remedies -- such as Tylenol in capsule  form -- it can be a problem.

Danish bans would be better replaced by an emphasis on aspirin, which is much less life-threatening)

It starts with a sniffle. The kind that makes you annoying to sit next to at the cinema but isn’t enough to knock you sideways on the sofa with Kleenex and a boxset. Being a hardy Brit, I carry on, uncomplaining, until the temperature drops to minus nine.

The following morning I have sand running through my veins and drumming monkeys in my head.

"Must. Find. Lemsip,” I moan as I rifle through the last of our boxes to be unpacked from the UK. Locating the yellow and green packet, I give it a shake. Empty.

"Oh, I think I used the last one,” a voice shouts from the shower, "sorry!”

I turn on the hot tap for a few seconds until I hear shrieking sounds, then swaddle up to go in search of medicine.

The Danglish (Danish/English) speaking assistant in my local supermarket says she can’t help.

"No medicine here, only these,” she says, proffering a packet of what look like mint humbugs.

"What are they?”

"Sick sweets,” she tells me.

"How appetising…”

I take them anyway and experience a tingling feeling in my mouth before it goes completely numb. My throat, head and body still ache but for an hour, I can’t even moan about it.

Once I can feel my face again, I head to a chemist.

A kindly looking woman in square black Scandi-issue glasses nods sympathetically when I describe my symptoms.

"So do you sell Ibuprofen?”


"Cough syrup?”

She shakes her head.


She smiles and places a tiny packet on the counter, just enough to soothe the temperature of a smallish hamster.

"Can I buy more?”


"Should I see a doctor?”

"The doctor will tell you to drink hot tea and get hygge with candles.”

My doctor will prescribe cosiness and tea lights? Trying not to cry, I leave.

It’s snowing so hard outside that it feels like someone’s throwing pins at my face. I hear the crunch of moon boots on grit behind me and a girl’s voice calls out.

"Are you English?”


"Thought so.” Her accent isn’t Danish but I can’t place it. "You’re new around here, right?”


"Are you looking for some,” she lowers her voice: "Lemsip?”

I tell her I am and she beckons me over.

"I can get you Vapour Rub too if you’re interested. And vitamin C and caffeine pills.”

My new friend explains that she’s German and heading over the border tomorrow to see family and stock up on winter medicines.

"I normally bring a few things back. Strepsils for the Brits. Fibre supplements and Pepto-Bismol for the Americans, that sort of thing.”

Delighted to have stumbled into the Al Capone of cold and flu remedies, I tell her I’ll take pretty much anything Beecham’s has to offer.

"How much Vicks do you want? 100 grams?”

"Done. And maybe some Night Nurse.”

"Good choice. That stuff’s like crack round here.”

She slips me a single Lemsip sachet that she keeps handy in her satchel for an instant hit and we agree to meet in three days’ time.

"Stay warm and dry and I’ll be back as soon as I can,” my new dealer whispers conspiratorially as she disappears into the snow.

From my sickbed back at home, I discover that I’m not alone in my quest for cold and flu drugs in Denmark. The British Chamber of Commerce website recommends visitors stock up before coming over and there are whole forums dedicated to getting your hands on Hall’s Soothers.

Over-the-counter medicines are only sold in pharmacies here and the pickings are slim. You won’t find medicine for migraines and for anything stronger than Panadol you’ll need a doctor. The Danes are strict about what they put in their bodies and even food supplements are considered borderline medicines.

Breakfast cereals with added vitamins were banned in 2004 and the year before last, Marmite was made illegal. Yes, that’s right, yeast spread and Cheerios are contraband in Denmark. No wonder Lemsip’s so counter revolutionary.

So now I wait, surrounded by candles and cups of ginger tea, until supplies arrive. And I’m not sharing my last Lemsip with anyone.


Must they condemn what they also subsidize?

Obesity is said to be a huge problem, and as I pointed out the other day, public policy experts are calling for overweight people to be stigmatized. Never mind that such stigmatization flies in the face of official policies, or that the stigma would fall heaviest on racial minorities.

But that’s old stuff. We are being ruled by emotional activists who cannot seem to make up their minds, so their whims are subject to change depending on how they feel.

What intrigued me today was the claim that I keep seeing over and over again, that a major reason poor people are fat is because regular food costs more than fast food.

It often costs money to eat healthily. Cheap calories tend to come in the form of fast food, candies, cakes, processed foods and the like. Other experts have postulated that poorer Americans tend to be more sedentary than their wealthier counterparts. If you’re worried about putting any food on the table or making next month’s rent, there may not be much in the way of disposable income or time to join or use a gym or health club.

I disagree completely. It costs me nothing to do my 120 pushups, my 40-50 chinups, or to run, and that (plus a reasonably heart-healthy diet) is how I keep more or less in shape. As to the idea that fast food is cheaper than regular food, this claim has been repeatedly debunked. Rather than quote from the piece, I thought I’d let the graphics speak for themselves:

Another claim the lefties like to make is that regular food is not available where poor people live. Not only is this not the case in most cities, but even in Detroit (where you would expect stores to have been abandoned), there are in fact full service grocery stores all over the place. This claim that they are not there was also debunked in detail at the Huffington Post.

Unfortunately, no amount of debunking will kill popular narratives that people want to believe, because such is the nature of the human beast. I certainly can’t say much that others haven’t.

But on the issue of fast food, I did stumble onto a fascinating factoid. Under the Obama administration, those EBT cards (you know, the electronic debit cards that have replaced food stamps are being increasingly allowed in the same evil fast food restaurants said to be responsible for the obesity epidemic!

I kid you not. Here’s a remarkable graphic from the piece about Detroit:

There has been opposition to this (largely unreported) new trend mainly among natural food types, and this article is downright angry in tone:

(NaturalNews) Soviet-style government food distribution is quickly becoming standard practice in the rapidly decaying United States of America, with more than 20 percent of Americans now participating in the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. And if the fast food industry gets its way, food stamps may soon cover buckets of fried chicken at KFC and Meximelts at Taco Bell.

Food stamp benefits have more than doubled within the past six years, skyrocketing from $28.5 billion in 2005 to $64.7 billion in 2010. With this rise came the addition of 53,000 newly eligible businesses as well, which included convenience stores, dollar discount stores, and even gas stations. And now the fast food industry wants a piece of the pie, too.

According to a recent report in USA Today, Louisville, Ky. based Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver restaurant, and Pizza Hut, is lobbying the federal government to permit SNAP enrollees to use food stamps at their restaurants. And they claim doing so will help prevent hunger.

But many in opposition are decrying the proposition as ridiculous, and a blatant misuse of public funds in support of junk foods rather than health foods.

This is almost comical. It would be downright funny but for the fact that the country is going broke, and the same people who are pushing fast food on the poor are also subjecting everyone else to a major ongoing national harangue.

So much as I try to be rational, rationality is wasted on people who believe that "Emotions are what really count in this world.

If only there were a way to get them to just shut up.


30 January, 2013

Cancer patients who say No to a mastectomy 'more likely to survive'

Why?  Perhaps because they were less unwell to start with and hence more confident of a less invasive procedure

Women stand a better chance of surviving breast cancer if they don’t have a mastectomy, a major study has found.

Those aged over 50 who have only the lump removed, followed by radiotherapy, are almost a fifth more likely to survive the illness than patients who lose the whole breast.

Many women diagnosed with breast cancer choose to have a mastectomy thinking it will remove the tumours as quickly as possible and give them the best chance of survival.

But the results of a ten-year research project by academics show that a  less radical form of treatment – breast conservation surgery – is more effective.

It involves taking away the affected lump and then administering high doses of radiotherapy over a course of five or six weeks to ensure any remaining cancerous cells are killed.

Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina looked at the records of 112,154 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1994 and 2004.

Around 55 per cent had breast conservation surgery and 44 per cent had a mastectomy.

The study, published in the journal Cancer, shows that women who had breast conservation surgery were 13 per cent more likely to survive the illness. But the results were even more promising in women over 50 whose survival odds were 19 per cent higher than those who had mastectomies.

It also found that women of all ages who had breast conservation surgery were a fifth less likely to die from other causes such as heart disease.

This study looked only at women diagnosed with breast cancer early – known as stages one or two. It did not include patients with advanced forms of the illness.

Experts believe radiotherapy may be far more effective at killing all cancerous cells than removing the entire breast.

Lead researcher Dr E Shelley Hwang, of the Duke Cancer Institute in North Carolina, said: ‘Our findings support the notion that less invasive treatment can provide superior survival to mastectomy in stage one or stage two breast cancer.

‘Given the recent interest in mastectomy to treat early stage breast cancers, despite the research supporting lumpectomy, our study sought to further explore outcomes of breast-conserving treatments in the general population comparing outcomes between younger and older women.’

Sally Greenbrook, senior policy officer at UK charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘We welcome these significant findings, as we have known for some time that lumpectomy and radiotherapy is as effective as mastectomy for some women.

‘These findings go further to suggest that lumpectomy with radiotherapy could be better than mastectomy in early stage invasive breast cancer.

‘We know, through speaking to women with breast cancer every day, how difficult it is to choose between a mastectomy and a lumpectomy.

This study provides further reassurance allowing women to be more confident when making this decision.

‘More research is needed to confirm these results, and we urge anybody concerned to speak to their surgeon so they can make an informed decision, as every choice is personal.’

Radiotherapy is given to women immediately after surgery and the course of treatment normally lasts five or six weeks. But many women are put off by the side effects which include chest pain, tiredness, lowered immune system and heart problems.

Around 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year. One in eight women will get the disease at some point in their lifetime.

Thanks to medical advances the survival odds are far higher than other forms of cancer and 80 per cent of patients live beyond five years.


Economic analysis finds penicillin, not 'the pill', may have launched the sexual revolution

It's certainly plausible as a contributing factor but arrived a bit too early to be the main factor

The 1950s were not as prudish as they seemed on the surface, says economist Andrew Francis

The rise in risky, non-traditional sexual relations that marked the swinging '60s actually began as much as a decade earlier, during the conformist '50s, suggests an analysis recently published by the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

"It's a common assumption that the sexual revolution began with the permissive attitudes of the 1960s and the development of contraceptives like the birth control pill," notes Emory University economist Andrew Francis, who conducted the analysis. "The evidence, however, strongly indicates that the widespread use of penicillin, leading to a rapid decline in syphilis during the 1950s, is what launched the modern sexual era."

As penicillin drove down the cost of having risky sex, the population started having more of it, Francis says, comparing the phenomena to the economic law of demand: When the cost of a good falls, people buy more of the good. "People don't generally think of sexual behavior in economic terms," he says, "but it's important to do so because sexual behavior, just like other behaviors, responds to incentives."

Syphilis reached its peak in the United States in 1939, when it killed 20,000 people. "It was the AIDS of the late 1930s and early 1940s," Francis says. "Fear of catching syphilis and dying of it loomed large."

Penicillin was discovered in 1928, but it was not put into clinical use until 1941. As World War II escalated, and sexually transmitted diseases threatened the troops overseas, penicillin was found to be an effective treatment against syphilis. "The military wanted to rid the troops of STDs and all kinds of infections, so that they could keep fighting," Francis says. "That really sped up the development of penicillin as an antibiotic."

Right after the war, penicillin became a clinical staple for the general population as well. In the United States, syphilis went from a chronic, debilitating and potentially fatal disease to one that could be cured with a single dose of medicine. From 1947 to 1957, the syphilis death rate fell by 75 percent and the syphilis incidence rate fell by 95 percent. "That's a huge drop in syphilis. It's essentially a collapse," Francis says.

In order to test his theory that risky sex increased as the cost of syphilis dropped, Francis analyzed data from the 1930s through the 1970s from state and federal health agencies. Some of the data was only available on paper documents, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) digitized it at the request of Francis.

For his study, Francis chose three measures of sexual behavior: The illegitimate birth ratio; the teen birth share; and the incidence of gonorrhea, a highly contagious sexually transmitted disease that tends to spread quickly. "As soon as syphilis bottoms out, in the mid- to late-1950s, you start to see dramatic increases in all three measures of risky sexual behavior," Francis says.

While many factors likely continued to fuel the sexual revolution during the 1960s and 1970s, Francis says the 1950s and the role of penicillin have been largely overlooked. "The 1950s are associated with prudish, more traditional sexual behaviors," he notes. "That may have been true for many adults, but not necessarily for young adults. It's important to recognize how reducing the fear of syphilis affected sexual behaviors."

A few physicians sounded moralistic warnings during the 1950s about the potential for penicillin to affect behavior. Spanish physician Eduardo Martinez Alonso referenced Romans 6:23, and the notion that God uses diseases to punish people, when he wrote: "The wages of sin are now negligible. One can almost sin with impunity, since the sting of sinning has been removed."

Such moralistic approaches, equating disease with sin, are counterproductive, Francis says, stressing that interventions need to focus on how individuals may respond to the cost of disease.

He found that the historical data of the syphilis epidemic parallels the contemporary AIDS epidemic. "Some studies have indicated that the development of highly active antiretroviral therapy for treating HIV may have caused some men who have sex with men to be less concerned about contracting and transmitting HIV, and more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors," Francis says.

"Policy makers need to take into consideration behavioral responses to changes in the cost of disease, and implement strategies that are holistic and longsighted," he concludes. "To focus exclusively on the defeat of one disease can set the stage for the onset of another if preemptive measures are not taken."


29 January, 2013

Statins starve your brain

They DO reduce cholesterol but that is the last thing you want for good mental functioning.  No wonder statin users often seem like Alzheimer's sufferers

Two recent studies have confirmed the vital importance of cholesterol, in particular, for brain function and the strength of the immune system.

Scientists at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and Swansea University's College of Medicine have identified two steroid-type molecules that play an important role in the survival and production of nerve cells in the brain.

These two molecules are cholic acid (a bile acid ) and 24S,25-Epoxycholesterol (a derivative of cholesterol)

24S,25-Epoxycholesterol can be used to turn stem cells into midbrain dopamine-producing neurons, and may help combat Parkinson's disease.

"...24S,25-Epoxycholesterol, influences the generation of new dopamine-producing nerve cells, which are important in controlling movement." said Professor William J Griffiths.

"What we have shown now is that cholesterol has several functions, and that it is involved in extremely important decisions for neurons. Derivatives of cholesterol control the production of new neurons in the developing brain. When such a decision has been taken, cholesterol aids in the construction of these new cells, and in their survival. Thus cholesterol is extremely important for the body, and in particular for the development and function of the brain." Ernest Arenas, Professor of Stem Cell Neurobiology at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at Karolinska Institutet.

It is important to note that 24S,25-Epoxycholesterol is produced by the mevalonate biochemical pathway - the pathway that is blocked by cholesterol-lowering statins.

The research was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

The second study was completed by a team of researchers at the University of Freiburg, Germany. Prof. Wolfgang Schamel and colleagues investigated the 'memory' of the immune system.

When the immune system is first exposed to a new pathogen, it develops the ability to be more sensitive to it when it enters the body the next time. This 'memory' of the immune system is provided by a clustering of T cell receptors. The new study, published in the journals Immunity and Journal of Biological Chemistry, has demonstrated that cholesterol plays a key part in this process.

We already know that one of the most common adverse effects of cholesterol-lowering statins is cognitive decline, and there is a strong correlation between low cholesterol levels and increased infections.


Popular media misrepresent effects of statins

The benefits of statins are so widely preached that journalists think they MUST be good stuff, I guess

A national newspaper here in the UK (the Daily Mail) recently reported "How a 40p statin can stop deadly form of blood poisoning"

OK, here we go again. It's a great pity that much of the mainstream media no longer consider the implications of what they publish.

This article relates to a recent study published in the journal Critical Care, which investigated the use of a statin in people with sepsis (which is a harmful or damaging response to infection).

It was a small study of 100 people with sepsis. 49 were given a statin and 51 were given a placebo.

I'm not criticising the study itself. From a certain point of view, it might make sense to try the use of statins in cases of sepsis. Statins are known to have anti-inflammatory effects and inflammation, of course, is a key feature of sepsis. However, the anti-inflammatory effect may weaken the body's immune system overall.

Another important point is statins, of course, lower cholesterol, and low cholesterol levels have been consistently shown to increase the risk for infection.

Therefore, as with any medication, the benefits and risks have to be balanced.

Using some criteria, the use of the statin did reduce the severity of sepsis, however, there were the same number of deaths in both the statin and placebo group. So there was no evidence that the statin actually provided any extension of life. In addition, after one year, there was no difference in hospital readmission between the statin and placebo group. It is also worth mentioning that the researchers measured the patients perceived quality of life index and, at discharge, the people who did not receive the statin had a better quality of life index.

The way that the Daily Mail skewed the results in favour of statins was misleading. For example, by the statement: "The findings suggest the drugs, which cost as little as 40 pence a day, could help to reduce the death toll from a condition that affects around 37,000 people a year in Britain"

The study did not find a reduction in the death rate at all. This is factually incorrect.

And this recent study did not really tell us anything new; it certainly was not newsworthy.

In 2012 there was a detailed review of the use of statins in cases in sepsis, published in the Annals of Intensive Care. The study can be found here:

Statins in the Critically Ill, by Isabelle De Loecker and Jean-Charles Preiser

The authors of this study provide a balanced review of the use of statins in cases of sepsis and, all things considered, there was no clear evidence of any nett benefit associated with the use of statins.

The Daily Mail article also took the opportunity to portray statins as cheap, by referring to "a 40p statin". I have complained about this many times before, but I must say it again - statins are not cheap, they cost the `health' service in the UK 450 million pounds each year, not to mention the costs of administering the cholesterol test itself, which probably doubles the cost.


28 January, 2013

Dubious Canadian findings about diabetes and income

The findings below are far from surprising but they are also  poorly substantiated.  Results given in extreme quintiles are intrinsically uninteresting because they throw away most of the data -- and in this case even the quintile differences reported were slight.  It almost goes without saying that there was no overall relationship between the variables in the study. 

And switching to quartiles for other analyses tells us pretty clearly that the researchers were determined to find something to report in data where there was essentially nothing to report.  I conclude that income did NOT influence diabetes in the data concerned.

The journal article is "The impact of income on the incidence of diabetes: A population-based study" by Lysy, Z. et al..  I am not entirely sure why I am commenting on such rubbish

Canadian researchers have found that diabetes incidence is inversely related to income in the province of Ontario.

"Study of the Ontario population has already shown significant mortality difference in patients according to income in patients with diabetes," say Lorraine Lipscombe (Women's college Research Institute, Toronto) and team. "We now see that this is the population for whom the relative risk of developing diabetes is the greatest as well."

However, the income disparity was not equal in all populations, with women and younger people (aged under 40 years) the most vulnerable to developing the condition.

Diabetes prevention should be targeted to appropriate populations and healthcare costs should be budgeted to support younger and female lower-income populations, suggest Lipscombe and colleagues.

In an analysis of healthcare databases, the researchers found that between April 2006 and March 2007, 88,886 new cases of diabetes were identified in Ontario, with a mean age at diagnosis of 59 years.

Diabetes incidence was significantly higher among individuals from the lowest versus the highest quintiles for income, at rates of 8.70 versus 7.25 per 1000 people.

Multivariate analysis also showed that diabetes incidence was significantly higher among individuals from lowest versus highest quintiles for income, a trend that was seen across all age groups and in both males and females.

However, as reported in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, significant interactions were observed between income quintile and age groups. Among younger people from the lowest quartile for income, the risk for incident diabetes was 1.5 times higher than in those from the highest quintile for income. This difference narrowed with increasing age, with those aged 40-59 years at a 1.38-fold greater risk and those aged 60 or older at a 1.2-fold greater risk.

The finding that the income gap is more marked in younger people is "alarming" say the researchers, "given their longer lifetime duration of disease and potential complications."

"These patients will require long-term intensive health care to avoid complications, and financial barriers may impede adequate access to diabetes treatment and monitoring," they add.

The team also found that women experienced a wider gap in relative risk for diabetes according to income across all age groups, while in men, the gap narrowed with increasing age.

"Greater diabetes prevention efforts need to be directed toward younger and female, low-income populations in order to lessen the lifelong burden of diabetes on the health and productivity of an already disadvantaged population," concludes the team


A Mediterranean diet WON'T stave off dementia or boost concentration in old age

A Mediterranean diet does little for the brain and won't prevent dementia, researchers claim.  French scientists say there is no evidence that eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and oily fish boosts concentration in old age.

Inspired by traditional eating habits in Italy, Spain and Greece, the diet has been shown to prevent heart disease and cancer as well as increase life expectancy. And recently a number of studies have implied it may be just as beneficial for the brain and could stave off Alzheimer's.

Some scientists believe that because the diet is low in saturated fat, it prevents the blood vessels that supply the brain becoming blocked.

But academics from Paris Sorbonne University say there is no evidence for such a link.

The researchers tracked the diets of 3,000 middle-aged adults for more than a decade and divided them into three groups depending on how `Mediterranean' their diet was.

When the adults were 65 and over, they took six tests which checked their concentration and memory.

The results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found no difference between the scores of the three groups.

Lead researcher Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot said: `Midlife adherence to a MedDiet was not associated with global cognitive performance [brain power assessed 13 years later].'

Furthermore the researchers said that recent work by other  scientists had also failed to find any link.

Last year, the Foundation for Public Health in Paris found  women over 65 who followed a Mediterranean diet did not perform any better in memory tests.

However, Professor Nikos Scarmeas, from the Columbia University Medical Centre in New  York, said there was not yet enough evidence to draw firm conclusions about the diet's  effect on the brain.  [Old myths die hard]


27 January, 2013

Steve Sailer on the "lead pollution causes crime" theory

I commented on the subject on 6th -- JR

As part of my continuing series on the causes of the 60s, let’s consider Kevin Drum’s revival (”America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead”) in Mother Jones magazine of the recurrent theory that lead poisoning leads to the decline of civilization.

When I was young, it was popular to blame the decline and fall of the Roman Empire on the ancients’ fondness for this soft and versatile metal. (Have you ever noticed that nobody is much interested in how the Roman Empire managed to last so long?)

That exposure to this heavy metal can be dangerous to humans has been recognized since the days of Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder. But lead was so useful in so many ways that more than a few American municipalities proudly named themselves after their lucrative lead resources. Leadville, Colorado is America’s highest elevated incorporated city. There are several Galenas, one of which is a tourist town in Illinois. There’s a Smelterville, which sounds like a city made up for The Simpsons but is actually a real place in Idaho.

Ironically, Drum stands the dominant narrative about the 60s on its head. Instead of the 60s representing enlightened emancipation from the shackles of 50s conformist culture, Drum finds the 60s, with their rising rates of crime and illegitimate births, to be the result of brain damage.

"If there are connections between lead poisoning and crime, there’s gold to be made in unraveling them.”
Known side effects of lead poisoning include lower IQ and reduced impulse control, which are in turn associated with poor decision-making, such as becoming a criminal or a single mom.

The lead-crime theory is, in essence, uncomplicated: Lead was added to gasoline between the World Wars, and a generation or so later, Central Park was full of muggers. Spiro Agnew couldn’t have come up with a funnier diagnosis of the 60s than what Drum has talked an increasing number of liberals into believing.

The theory is almost as malleable as the metal. If crime is high among blacks in a car-dependent Sunbelt city, it’s because particles from leaded gasoline are still in the soil. But if crime is high in an old industrial city where poor blacks mostly took public transportation, it could be due to lead paint.

Drum and Nevin attempt to blame lead poisoning for much of the difference between black and white crime rates. Nevin, for example, notes that the notoriously violent Robert Taylor Homes were built near Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway. (Ironically, one reason why mid-century liberals in Chicago had favored the construction of gleaming new housing projects was because of the tragic deaths of tenement toddlers who ate chips of lead paint they had peeled off the decaying walls.)

Yet one of the more obvious differences between Chicago’s black and white areas is the heavier traffic in the expensive, safe zones. People who can afford cars tend to move away from black slums, leaving them bleak. In the Chicago area, race and class palpably determine the homicide rate. For example, compare the next-door neighbors Oak Park and Austin west of The Loop. The Eisenhower Expressway runs through Oak Park, but not through Austin. Yet the homicide rate is several dozen times worse in Austin.

Drum, who lives in Irvine, at least should be familiar with Southern California, where South-Central is fairly light in traffic compared to the jammed freeway interchanges of upscale West LA and Sherman Oaks.

And across the country, the densest neighborhoods are typically the various Chinatowns, which suffer little street crime and enjoy high math scores.

Yet as far as Theories of Everything go, lead-caused-the-60s-crime-wave is one of the less derisible. Lead is bad for you, and it might have had noticeable effects on society as a whole.

The problem is coming up with ways to test the theory. A half-dozen years ago, I blogged (”Lead Poisoning and the Great American Freakout”) about the research that Drum finds so convincing today. One reality check immediately suggested itself: Back in the late 1960s, densely populated Japan was notorious for automobile-induced air pollution. Yet crime didn’t rise in Japan. The country remained an orderly, intelligent, non-impulsive culture.

That’s one strike against the theory. Another problem is that Jessica Wolpaw Reyes’s attempt to correlate small differences from when American states began phasing out leaded gasoline in the 1970s to when crime began declining in the 1990s isn’t convincing to many besides Drum. Reyes came up with statistically significant results for total violent crimes, but not for homicides (the most accurately counted crime), nor for property offenses.

Yet two strikes isn’t bad for a causes-of-crime theory. It holds up better than the famous Freakonomics abortion-cut-crime surmise.

Exactly how deleterious this metal is at low levels, at what ages, and through which modes of transmission remains murky. This doesn’t mean that lead wouldn’t cause increased crime by lowering IQ, all else being equal. But perhaps lead poisoning also diminishes crime by making its victims more sluggish, lacking in the initiative to go out and commit felonies.

On the other hand, perhaps lead pollution can help explain a little of the differences we see in black homicide rates between cities.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I was widely denounced for pointing out that the bad behavior visible on television wasn’t necessarily representative of average African Americans. You shouldn’t assume the typical black would behave as badly as New Orleans’s blacks, who had been more homicidal than most other cities’ blacks for years, even before Katrina.

This was especially true of the Crescent City’s flood-prone and poverty-stricken Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. Back in 2005, I speculated that the traditional high crime rates of New Orleans’s blacks were due to the city’s let-the-good-times-roll culture being unsuited for African Americans, who need more socially conservative cultures.

Yet perhaps lead plays a role in New Orleans as well. Heavy metals would tend to build up in the Lower Ninth Ward’s below-sea-level soil.

Notoriously, scientific papers end with a pronouncement that More Research Is Needed. It’s been six years since I first pointed out some of the flaws in the papers upon which Drum relies. Yet for all their weaknesses, they remain the state of the art in thinking about the impact of lead pollution on crime


Asthma: This junk science just takes your breath away

The claim that the smoking ban has reduced asthma rates is a case study in using ‘research’ to justify coercive policy

Earlier this week, the journal Pediatrics published a study which claimed that childhood asthma rates fell after the English smoking ban was introduced in 2007. But a closer examination suggests the claims have been puffed up – not that the media seemed to mind.

The study concludes: ‘The implementation of smoke-free legislation in England was associated with an immediate 8.9 per cent reduction in hospitalisations for asthma along with a decrease of 3.4 per cent per year.’

A quick look at the personnel involved should immediately arouse suspicion. The lead author is listed as Christopher Millett, an Australian social scientist who has worked in ‘obesity prevention’ and assists Stanton Glantz’s campaign to get smoking out of the movies. Glantz himself - founder of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights and a veteran campaigner for smoking bans - is a co-author. The study should be seen as another entry in Glantz’s unenviable canon of junk science, and as a case study in the media’s role in creating panics and distorting policy.

The ups and downs of asthma

First, it is necessary to understand a few things about asthma. Although many people intuitively believe that there is a close relationship between smoking and asthma, this is not borne out by empirical evidence. As the British Medical Journal (BMJ) noted in 2005: ‘A broad consensus exists that in most Western countries the prevalence of asthma increased over the last four decades of the twentieth century.’ This huge rise in asthma rates is totally inconsistent with the belief that smoking causes or exacerbates asthma, since we all know smoking rates declined sharply over the same period.

Asthma rates go up and down quite inexplicably. After rising at an astonishing rate for years, there was a large drop in childhood asthma cases in the UK from the early 1990s until 2001, since when rates have stayed fairly flat.

The reasons for this are not known, as the BMJ article notes: ‘While theories abound, we must admit that neither the rise nor the recent flattening or fall in the prevalence of asthma can be explained on the basis of current knowledge. Any single explanation would need to account for both the rise and fall of the prevalence of asthma. A substantial change in prevalence would require a large change in an important risk factor to which a large proportion of the population was exposed. Various explanations have been proposed to explain trends and geographical variations in asthma, including air pollution, tobacco smoke, aeroallergens, diet, and infections in early life, but none has been shown by epidemiological studies to fit the above requirements.’

A quick survey of other countries highlights the confusion. In Canada, the number of children with asthma rose in the 1990s, but the number of childhood asthma attacks fell. Childhood admissions for asthma in Australia fell in the 1990s, but rose in the 2000s, at a time when smoking bans were introduced. Adult admissions continued to fall, however. In America, rates of asthma - including childhood asthma - have been flat or rising slightly since 2001. And in the Netherlands, there was a huge increase in childhood asthma prevalence in the 1980s and 1990s which ended around 1995. As authorities have noted, ‘there has been no satisfactory explanation for this observation’.

Smoking and asthma

What does any of this tell us? Not much, except that it’s futile to predict whether rates of asthma will rise or fall in the future since the causes of the condition are not well understood. Asthma rates vary enormously between countries and fluctuate greatly over time, and no one really knows why. It also shows that if smoking (let alone passive smoking) has any impact, it is not big enough to show up in aggregate data. However, as we shall see, Glantz’s new study relies on the conceit that asthma rates can be forecast with precision and that the effect of passive smoking can be identified and isolated in the aggregate data.

Although there is no link between smoking and asthma rates at the population level, some epidemiological studies have found a correlation between childhood asthma prevalence and smoking households, just as there is a correlation between asthma prevalence and income. (Perhaps tellingly, there is also a link between smoking and income; income may therefore be the third variable.)

But, as the organisation Statistics Canada notes, ‘there was no difference in the rate of past-year asthma attacks between those in smoking and non-smoking households’. Between 1994/1995 and 2000/2001, in smoking households, the prevalence of asthma among children increased, but past-year attacks among those with asthma decreased. Curiously, only children in non-smoking households experienced an increase in the prevalence of wheezing or whistling in the chest. The presence of other allergenic factors in the home (pets, for instance), which was not assessed in the Canadian survey, may be related to the increase in asthma-like symptoms among children in non-smoking households.

Step one: the dubious study

So what about Britain in recent years? After dropping off in the 1990s, asthma rates have varied only slightly from year to year since 2000 and there has been neither a rise nor a decline in the medium-term. (The failure to reduce asthma cases is a source of frustration for Asthma UK.)

The graph below shows hospital admissions for asthma among 0- to 14-year-olds in England (the group studied by Glantz and his team). It shows that the smoking ban had no effect on rates of asthma among this group. The data come from HES England and covers all National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in England. Note that these are financial years, but the smoking ban began in July (2007). The graph shows 12 years’ data, whereas the Pediatrics study shows only 8.5 years.

Between 2000/01 and 2006/07, the average number of childhood hospital admissions for asthma each year was 23,747. Between 2007/08 and 2011/12, the average number of admissions each year was 23,851. In other words, the rate remained essentially the same before and after the smoking ban. Evidence from London below (red line) shows much the same picture for adults; there are similar statistics for England as a whole and north-west England in particular.

Whichever dataset you use, it is apparent that the rate of hospital admissions for asthma was higher in 2006/07 than in any other year in the series, albeit only slightly. This is crucial for Glantz and Millett’s hypothesis because it allows them to portray the rate as rising before the ban. No such claim can legitimately be made on the basis of a one-year peak. The data show several other peaks, for example in 2001/02 and 2008/09, which did not represent the start of a long-term rise.

Given such variability, predicting the number of hospital admissions for asthma even one year in advance is a mug’s game. Nevertheless, having asserted that numbers were on the rise, the authors of the Paediatrics study use a model – in other words, make a post-hoc quasi-prediction – to suggest that the rate would have continued to rise had the ban not been introduced.

Finally, having observed that the rate did not rise in reality, they conclude that the ban resulted in there being 6,802 fewer hospital admissions for asthma than there otherwise would have been. Note that their methodology means that it is not necessary for the rate to decline at all after the ban for them to claim the smoking ban reduced asthma cases. It is only necessary for the number of admissions in Glantz’s hypothetical parallel universe to be higher than the rate recorded by the NHS.

This is sheer junk science, using a trick that has been used before for similar purposes. It’s a ‘heads-I-win, tails-you-lose’ fiddle. The only way the authors’ hypothesis could be disproved was if asthma admission rates happened to soar up at an exceptional pace straight after the ban. Even that would probably not silence them since they would only say that, had it not been for the ban, the situation would have been still worse.

More HERE  (See the original for links, graphics etc.)

25 January, 2013

Antidepressants prescribed 'too easily' says GP

Denying truly depressed patients medication would be very risky.  Death (suicide) could readily ensue. 

I agree however that improvements in taxononmy are needed.  To be a bit radical, not all suicidal ideation should be classed as depression.  So called "anxious" depression should be regarded at least initially as an anxiety state only and NOT treated with depression drugs.  It should be treated with anxiolytics.  Getting the two mixed up could worsen the problem and such confusion may explain the "paradoxical" results anti-depressants sometime produce.  Wrong taxonomy could kill

Doctors are prescribing antidepressants "too easily” according to a GP who says the current medical definition of depression is "too loose and is causing widespread medicalisation”.

Dr Des Spence, who practises in Glasgow, said a recent review of studies "suggests that only one in seven people actually benefits” from antidepressants.

"Millions of people are enduring at least six months of ineffective treatment” with the drugs, he argued in an opinion piece published in the online edition of the British Medical Journal.

He said the updated version of a widely used psychiatrists’ handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, "suggests defining two weeks of low mood as ‘clinical depression’, irrespective of circumstance”.

He continued: "It even proposes that being low two weeks after bereavement should be considered depression.”

He claimed that 75 per cent of those who wrote such definitions had "links to drug companies” and argued: "Mental illness is the drug industry’s golden goose: incurable, common, long term, and involving multiple medications.”

But Ian Reid, professor of psychiatry at Aberdeen University, defended antidepressant use in a response on

He said studies claiming to show that antidepressants were no better than sugar pills for mild and moderate depression were riddled with "methodological flaws and selective reporting” of data.

He wrote: "Antidepressants are but one element available in the treatment of depression, not a panacea.

"Like 'talking treatments' (with which antidepressants are entirely compatible), they can have harmful side effects, and they certainly don’t help everyone with the disorder. But they are not overprescribed.

"Careless reportage has demonised them in the public eye, adding to the stigmatisation of mental illness, and erecting unnecessary barriers to effective care.”


Homeopathy is 'rubbish' and shouldn't be available on the NHS, says Britain's top doctor

This needs to be said more often

Homeopathy was condemned as ‘rubbish’ by Britain’s chief medical officer yesterday, who admitted she is ‘perpetually surprised’ it is available on the NHS.

Professor Dame Sally Davies also described homeopaths as ‘peddlers’ and spoke of her concern that they can prescribe pills and potions to treat malaria and other illnesses.

Giving evidence to an influential committee of MPs, Dame Sally said that homeopathy doesn’t work past the placebo effect.  In other words, any benefits patients perceive are simply caused by them receiving attention and simply expecting to feel better.

Her outspoken views are in conflict with the policy of the Health Service, which spends around £4million a year on funding homeopathic hospitals and on prescriptions and referrals.

Homeopathy, which has the backing of Prince Charles, claims to prevent and treat diseases using diluted forms of plants, herbs and minerals.

It is based on the principle that an illness can be treated by substances that produce similar symptoms. For example, it is claimed onions, which make eyes itchy and tearful, can be used to relieve the symptoms of hay fever.

Other treatments include anti-malaria tablets made from African swamp water, rotting plants and mosquito eggs and larvae. But scientists argue the ‘cures’ are so diluted they are unlikely to contain any of the original substance.

Asked about her views on homeopathy by the Commons science and technology committee, Dame Sally – a consultant haematologist, or specialist in blood diseases, at the Central Middlesex Hospital from 1985 until 2011 – said: ‘I’m very concerned when homeopathic practitioners try to peddle this way of life to prevent malaria or other infectious diseases.’

The exact amount of NHS spending on the discipline is unclear but various homeopathic associations say it is as high as £4million a year.

The Department of Health said it is up to local NHS organisations to decide whether to fund it.


24 January, 2013

'You can tell somebody's background by their weight': Health minister says poor people are likely to be obese

Some surprising frankness from Britain

Health Minister Anna Soubry  has risked controversy by claiming that she can spot poor people in the street because they are usually overweight.

The Conservative MP, who has responsibility for public health, said a culture of unhealthy TV dinners and junk food has eroded family life and that many homes no longer even have a dining table.

The MP for Broxtowe, Nottinghamshire, said: ‘When I go to my constituency, when I walk around, you can almost now tell somebody’s background by their weight. Obviously not everybody who is overweight comes from deprived backgrounds, but that’s where the propensity lies.’

Speaking at a conference hosted by the Food and Drink Federation, which represents UK manufacturers, she warned them that they should voluntarily cut the amount of fat, sugar and salt in their products or ministers may have to force them to act through legislation.

She said it was ‘heartbreaking’ that the poorest in the country were those at greatest risk of obesity.

‘A third of our children leave primary school overweight or obese,’ she said. ‘When I was at school, you could tell the demography of children by how thin they were.’

But now, in a ‘deeply ironic’ turnaround, poor children tend to be overweight because their parents supply them with ‘an abundance of bad food’, she told the Daily Telegraph.

Miss Soubry put the responsibility for properly feeding children firmly with their parents, who should ensure that they have family meals. ‘What they don’t do is actually sit down and share a meal around the table,’ she said. ‘There are houses where they don’t have dining tables. They will sit in front of the telly and eat.

‘It doesn’t mean to say you can’t ever sit in front of the telly and have a meal, but I believe children need structure in their lives, they need routine.’

According to Department of Health figures, the poorest children are almost twice as likely to be obese than the wealthiest.

Government figures published last month showed that 24.3 per cent of the most deprived 11-year-olds in England were obese, compared with 13.7 per cent of children from the wealthiest homes.

Miss Soubry warned in October that the food industry was fuelling the obesity crisis, when she told supermarkets that the cakes and other bakery products it makes were too big.

She said: ‘I’m old enough to remember that when you went into a store and you bought a cake or a croissant, or some other product like that, a bakery product, it was probably half the size of what it is today.’


When hugging can lower your blood pressure and boost your memory

Sounds reasonable

Hugging a loved one isn't just a great way to bond - it has several physical benefits as well.  Scientists found that the hormone oxytocin was released into the blood stream when you hold a friend close. This lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety and can even improve your memory.

However, you have to be selective over who you hug. Giving a polite embrace to someone you don't know well can have the opposite effect, according to research from the University of Vienna.

Oxytocin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, is primarily known for increasing bonding, social behaviour and closeness between parents, children and couples.

Increased oxytocin levels have been found, for example, in partners in functional relationships. In women, it is also produced during the childbirth process and during breastfeeding in order to increase the mother’s bond with the baby.

Hugging can also soften your personality. The researchers said someone who hugs loved ones often become more empathetic over time.

Neurophysiologist Jürgen Sandkühler, said: 'The positive effect only occurs, however, if the people trust each other, if the associated feelings are present mutually and if the corresponding signals are sent out.  'If people do not know each other, or if the hug is not desired by both parties, its effects are lost.'

When we receive unwanted hugs from strangers or even people we know, the hormone is not released and anxiety levels rise.

'This can lead to pure stress because our normal distance-keeping behaviour is disregarded. In these situations, we secrete the stress hormone cortisol,' Sandkühler said.

He added that: 'Hugging is good, but no matter how long or how often someone hugs, it is trust that’s more important.'

Sandkühler therefore cautioned against the worldwide 'free hugs' campaign - a social movement involving individuals who offer hugs to strangers in public places.

He said people would only have a beneficial effect 'if everyone involved is clear that it is just a harmless bit of fun.'

Otherwise, it could be perceived as an emotional burden and stress.

'Everyone is familiar with such feelings from our everyday lives, for example, if someone we don’t know comes too close to us for no apparent reason.

'This violation of our normal distance-keeping behaviour is then generally perceived as disconcerting or even as threatening,' he said.


23 January, 2013

Aspirin sends you blind?

Nobody seems to be asking why some people were taking aspirin frequently.  They were obviously in more fragile health to start with and it may be that poorer health which caused the eye problems, not the aspirin

 Regular use of aspirin can almost triple the chance of developing a condition that causes more older people in Britain to lose their sight than any other, researchers are warning.

Scientists have found those who take aspirin on a regular basis are much more likely to develop ‘wet’ age-related macular degeneration (‘wet AMD’) than those who do not.

The disease, in which one’s central vision becomes progressively more blurred, affects a quarter of a million mainly elderly people in Britain.

Now scientists have found the strongest evidence yet that aspirin - taken by millions to ward off heart attacks, strokes and cancer - appears to greatly increase the chance of developing wet AMD, which is irreversible.

Australian academics drew their conclusions after following almost 2,400 middle-aged and elderly people for 15 years.

Of the participants, who were all at least 49 years old at the start of the study, 257 were deemed "regular” users of aspirin, who took it at least once a week. The rest only took it occasionally.

After the 15 year study period, one in 27 of the ‘occasional’ users (3.7 per cent) had developed wet AMD.

But almost one in 10 of the ‘regular’ users (9.4 per cent) had developed it.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the researchers concluded: "Regular aspirin use was significantly associated with an increased incidence of neovascular [wet] AMD.”

Sight charities said doctors should bear the findings in mind when advising patients on whether or not they should take aspirin as a preventive medicine, particularly those who already had wet AMD in one eye.

Taken at a low daily dose to prevent heart attacks and strokes, aspirin is enjoying a resurgence due to recent studies strongly indicating it can fight cancer.

Oxford University researchers have found it reduces the incidence of some cancers by a third, while it also retards the growth of tumours.

However, aspirin has long been known to have side effects, most prominently increasing the risk of intestinal bleeds, which can cause ulcers.

Today’s study, by a team at Sydney University, suggests people should also consider the possible effect on their sight.

It builds on previous evidence suggesting aspirin could increase the chance of developing wet AMD.

A little over a year ago, researchers working on the European Eye Study found that aspirin doubled the risk of advanced wet AMD, which leads to the most profound blindness.

However, the researchers admitted they could not conclude that aspirin caused the disease, because it was a ‘cross-sectional’ study which did not follow people over time.

By contrast, the Australian study provides more robust observational evidence of a link, although it is not conclusive.

The academics behind today’s study did not think their research warranted changing clinical guidelines though, saying there was still "insufficient evidence” to do so "except perhaps in patients with strong risk factors for neovascular [wet] AMD”.

That approach was mirrored last night by sight charities.  A spokesman for the Macular Society said: "The evidence is now accumulating about the association of aspirin and wet AMD. However, it is not overwhelming at this point.

"For patients at risk of cardiovascular disease, the health risks of stopping or not prescribing aspirin are much higher than those of developing wet AMD. There are treatments for wet AMD as long as it is diagnosed in time.”

She added: "Patients with wet AMD in one eye should have their other eye carefully monitored so that any sign of wet AMD can be found quickly. Potential risks to the eye need to be discussed between the patient and their doctors.”

She also emphasised that a patient should always talk to their doctor before making a decision to stop taking aspirin prescribed to them.

Matthew Athey, of the RNIB, described the study as "interesting research”.  He said: "Further research is needed to clarify and investigate some of the issues raised in the study; however this association may be valuable for doctors in the future when considering aspirin for their patients."


Sperm quality has declined by 38% in a decade - and poor diet and lifestyle could be to blame

An old scare back again.  The last one was debunked when it was shown that the population sampled made a big difference.  In this case it may be that Almeria is not a good town to live in

Sperm counts are falling at an alarming rate - up to 38 per cent in a decade - with diet and lifestyle largely to blame.

A Spanish study has found that even in young men, sperm concentration fell by an average of two per cent a year - and could soon hit levels where fertility is compromised.

A ten year-study of more than 200 men found the average concentration went from 72 million spermatozoids per millilitre in 2001 to 52 million/ml in 2011.

The researchers, from the University of Murcia. say the findings are important because previous research has shown that a concentration lower than 40 million/ml makes conception more difficult.

'If the rate of loss we have outlines continues, with an average decline in quality of two per cent per year, the sperm of young men could reach this danger level of 40 million/ml in a very short space of time,' said co-researcher Professor Jaime Mendiola.

In the study, researchers at the University of Murcia compared the results of 273 men aged between 18 and 23 years from the nearby town of Almeria, collected between 2001 and 2002.

They compared these with samples collected ten years later by 215 undergraduates from Murcia, all the while ensuring that both
sample groups had the same age range and similar characteristics.

The researchers found that men living in Murcia had a significantly lower sperm count compared to those living in Almeria.

Furthermore, 40 per cent of the university students in Murcia had an alteration to one parameter of their sperm, e.g. the mobility or morphology.

Lead researcher Alberto Torres Cantero, professor of Preventative Medicine and Public Health at the university, said the study was also significant because it was the first study to evaluate the evolution of sperm quality in young Spanish men over ten years.

'Before, there were no well performed studies to detect a change in sperm quality in Spain,' he said.

But he added the fact that semen quality has worsened does not necessarily mean that the number of infertile men has increased.

He said: 'This study measures semen quality and not fertility, for which specific criteria established by the World Health Organisation are used.'

'We believe that some prevention actions involving lifestyle improvements, such as a healthier diet, could increase sperm quality,' he added.

For this reason, the authors stress the urgency for more research to highlight lifestyle interventions that could stem the decline in sperm quality.


22 January, 2013

"Nutrition" as an excuse for hiding the homeless

The real motivation of course is to keep loonies out of public parks but mentioning that would be too "negative" in Seattle.  Do-gooderism has to be invoked.  It's interesting that busybody interfence in the food intake of other people is seen not as Fascism but as doing good

The Bread of Life Mission, which has served the homeless community in Pioneer Square for more than 70 years, said the city has directed them to stop feeding the hungry in downtown parks.
On the third Saturday of every month for the past three years, volunteers for the mission have handed out meals at places such as City Hall Park. The offering was in addition to the three meals a day they serve inside their building at 97 South Main Street.

"It was a service we were offering free of charge to be a blessing to the homeless," said Executive Director Willie Parish, Jr. "All we were doing was just a continuation of what we do on a daily basis."

In December, however, Parish said Seattle police told them they were no longer allowed to serve food at the park.

City officials say the restriction is nothing new, and that Bread of Life simply operated in the park for three years without being caught or reported.

David Takami with the Seattle Human Services Department said the city does not allow groups of people to feed the homeless outdoors without approval.

"This has happened in the past where there are a lot of meals served in a short period of time on the same day," he said. "It's a little chaotic and it can also lead to wasted food."

Takami said those wishing to feed the homeless need to coordinate with the Operation: Sack Lunch program, which serves up to 300 people a day at the city's outdoor meal site, located under the I-5 bridge at 6th Avenue and Columbia Street.

By requiring that all food be served at the site, Takami said the city can control the nutritional value of what the homeless eat and can prevent litter from being left behind at parks after meals.

He said the controlled environment is also safer for volunteers.

"For example, there was one group of middle school students who, out of the goodness of their hearts, wanted to serve meals to homeless people and we were concerned [...] because of possible safety issues," Takami said.

Nevertheless, Bread of Life is upset about the restriction and hopes to continue serving meals to homeless individuals who do not come into their shelter.  "We love to do it, we want to continue doing it," Parish said.


Australian biochemist-turned-winemaker claims to have created a wine that is beneficial to drinkers' health

It should be remembered that the best documented effect of anti-oxidants is to shorten your lifespan.  If that turns you on, go for it!

A QUEENSLAND biochemist-turned-winemaker claims to have created what drinkers had only dreamed of - wine that is beneficial to your health.

Greg Jardine, founder of Mt Nebo-based company Dr Red Nutraceuticals, filed a patent for Modified Polyphenol Technology in Wines late last year and said the creation would "finally give wine a real medicinal edge".

The process involved ageing red wine for a certain period of time, which enhanced the number of antioxidants within it, made them fat-soluble, rather than water-soluble, and easier to absorb into the bloodstream.

Some studies have shown antioxidants are effective at fighting a multitude of different diseases.

Mr Jardine said he had been working on the process for 10 years but had only recently discovered a way to retain the taste while enhancing antioxidants.

"Wine has got massive amounts of antioxidants but they are quite tannic so if you put more in people would not drink it because of the taste," he told The Sunday Mail.  "What we discovered was if we allowed them to age and stop it at the right point of time the tannic taste goes and we make it taste good."

Biomedical Sciences Professor Lindsay Brown, from the University of Southern Queensland, found the non-alcoholic dried crystal used to make the wine successfully treated rats with arthritis.

"The results were astonishing. Right from the outset of the 14-day trial, this wine was effective ... and by day four, it achieved a near-perfect recovery," he said.

Mr Jardine said the wine could help treat a "range of ageing conditions" from chronic fatigue and gout to stiff joints after a visit to the gym.

Ren Gray-Smith, 51, of Red Hill, in Brisbane's inner west, was suffering from fatigue and irregular sleep patterns when she switched her regular glass of red to Mr Jardine's creation.

"I was feeling very tired, had bad sleep patterns and (the wine) just helped to get me back on the right track," she said.

Stressing the wine is "not medicine", Mr Jardine said it should be consumed in moderation as it has the same alcoholic content as regular wine.

"We gave people one glass, not 50 glasses but it had 50 times more antioxidants in the glass," he said.

"For years the word has been a glass a day is good for you but we are finally proving it.  "We believe this is a game-changer for the food industry in Australia."

But before another toast, more research was needed to prove any beneficial effects, said clinical pharmacologist Creina Stockley. "If they can show it has a demonstrative effect in humans it's worth pursuing," she said.Dr Red was rapped over the knuckles by Queensland Health in 2008 after detailing their trial results on the company's website, claiming their fruit punches killed prostate cancer cells.

No convictions were recorded.


21 January, 2013

Over 75? You CAN have your cake and eat it as a poor diet makes no difference to your health

Epidemiological evidence is good for disproving theories and this is an example of that

Many of us spend decades trying to overcome our food demons by avoiding fast food restaurants and resisting the dessert tray.

But you may as well call a ceasefire in the battle of the bulge when you hit 75, say scientists from Penn State from Pennsylvania, as a diet is unlikely to make much difference after this.   Researchers found elderly people who followed a high-fat or high-sugar diet were no more likely to suffer from conditions such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes than those following a healthy diet.

They followed 449 pensioners for five years, who were around 76 years old at the start of the study.

They called each five times during a 10-month period and asked them about their diet over the previous 24 hours.

The authors then placed them in three broad dietary groups. The 'sweet and dairy' pattern included those who got the most energy from baked goods, milk and dairy-desserts. The 'health conscious pattern' included higher intakes of rice, whole fruit, poultry, fish and vegetables. The 'western pattern' included higher intakes of bread, fried foods and alcohol.

Using outpatient electronic medical records, the researchers identified whether the participants developed cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome during the five-year period.

They found the participants were no more likely to suffer from these conditions whether they followed the 'sweets and dairy',  'western' or 'health conscious' diets.

The one link they found was a slightly higher risk of hypertension among 'sweets and dairy' followers.

Study author Gordon Jensen said: 'The results suggest that if you live to be this old, then there may be little to support the use of overly restrictive dietary prescriptions, especially where food intake may already be inadequate.

'However, people who live on prudent diets all their lives are likely to have better health outcomes.'

The research, published in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging is one of the first studies to examine the health effects of poor diets on the elderly.

Prof Jensen added that the traditional 'elderly person' was less likely to be 'tiny and frail' and more likely to be overweight or obese.  He said: 'Recent reports suggest that there may be survival benefits associated with overweight and mild obesity status among the elderly.'


Why rest is as crucial as exercise in keeping fit: Breaks allow muscles to recover and makes the body get fitter faster

This is a tiny study of an unrepresentative group so cannot be relied on

If your resolution to exercise more is leaving you tired out, put your feet up.  Research suggests that short rest periods are just as important as the exercise itself.

Taking it easy now and again not only allows the muscles to recover, it also makes the body fitter faster, Stirling University sports scientists believe.

Their study was of keen cyclists but they think that men and women who are simply trying to get a bit fitter could also benefit from building periods of rest into their exercise programme.

In the study, 12 cyclists were split into two groups. One did bursts of high intensity exercise, interspersed with short rest periods, three times a week.

In each session, they pedalled hard, but below sprint pace, for four minutes, then stopped for two minutes, before repeating the pattern five times.  The second group rode continuously for an hour at a slightly easier pace, three times a week.

After four weeks, the two groups swapped programmes.

Tests showed the first programme, which involved a mixture of tough training and taking it easy, to be the most beneficial, leading to twice as big an improvement in power and performance.

Researcher Stuart Galloway, an exercise physiologist, said: ‘It is a case of training smarter.

‘We found in these cyclists that if you can make the hard sessions harder and the easy sessions easier, then you will likely see better progress.

‘Amateur athletes tend to spend a lot of their training in the moderate intensity bracket which in our study showed smaller improvements.

‘For the wider public, most people were advised to do moderate intensity exercise for around three hours a week.

‘More recently, high-intensity bouts of exercise such as spin cycling classes or interval running have been presented as the best option.

‘We would suggest that while high intensity is still important, it’s the combination with low intensity which has the biggest impact.’

It is thought that muscles find it harder to recover from long periods of exercise, than from short bursts, even if they are physically tougher.

Dr Angus Hunter, co-author of the study which appears in the Journal of Applied Physiology, said: ‘Your muscles may be fatigued more quickly when you work at high intensity but they recover more quickly too.’

This could leave people feeling less tired in between exercise sessions.

Dr Galloway said: ‘Often everything merged into the middle, so the hard sessions aren’t hard enough and the easy session aren’t easy enough.

‘If you feel fatigued after exercising and are taking too long to recover, it is probably because you have done a session of continuous, moderate intensity exercise.’

The study is one several to extol the virtues of short, sharp bursts of exercise.

Aberdeen University research suggests that short, sharp burst of exercise are better at warding off heart disease than much longer, but less strenuous, sessions.

Concentrated effort may also burn off more calories - as well as being easier to fit into a hectic day.


20 January, 2013

The CACTUS fruit that could treat diabetes: Dragon fruit is named as the hot new superfood for 2013

The usual rubbish.  The fact that no health benefits have been proven just makes it more attractive to certain egotists

If you're bored of blueberries and have had enough of splashing the cash on goji berries, the pitaya could be the super fruit for you.

But the fruit isn't your average healthy treat. While it might look innocuous, the pitaya is harvested from a South American cactus - and has the spines to prove it.

But when you are able to get inside - it's worth the trouble. The fruit has been hailed as having remarkable health-giving properties, including the ability to regulate blood sugar levels in diabetes as well as providing a dose of anti-oxidants.

Although the fruit originates in South America, it is now grown in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Philippines, where it's loved for its many health benefits.

Said to be rich in vitamin C, fibre and calcium, the pitaya - or dragon fruit as it's also known - gives you a bigger bang for your buck than similar super fruits such as acai berries.

Already available in Waitrose and Tesco, the bright pink fruit is full of edible black seeds and boasts flesh that tastes like a cross between a kiwi fruit and a pear.

Along with a mega-dose of vitamin C, pitaya is also thought to help lower cholesterol and is packed with skin-boosting antioxidants.

The tiny black seeds are a great source of healthy Omega-3 fat and there's plenty of magnesium and calcium in the flesh.

Pitaya is even believed to help help regulate blood sugar levels - in Taiwan, diabetes sufferers are urged to eat them by doctors.

Although the Taiwanese medical profession is convinced, as yet, the health benefits of pitaya haven't been confirmed by any European studies.

Nevertheless, with their beautiful rosy-pink colour and dramatic green fronds, they will at least look fabulous in your fruit bowl.


LOL!  Just two cups of coffee a day could cause male incontinence, warn researchers

There must be a lot of leaky American men about at that rate!

The amount of caffeine typically found in two cups of coffee could exacerbate, if not cause, male incontinence.  New research suggests men who consume the most caffeine are more likely to have the problem than those who drank the least.

Published in The Journal of Urology, it suggests caffeine may irritate the bladder, if not causing then exacerbating the problem.

Plenty of research has linked caffeine to incontinence among women. But little is known about whether there is a similar connection for men.  'We wanted to see if caffeine had an impact on them as well,' said Dr. Alayne Markland, the study's senior author, from the University of Alabama, told Reuters Health.

Dr Markland's team used responses from about 4,000 men to a national health survey between 2005 and 2008.

The researchers looked at how many had urinary incontinence and how much caffeine they ate or drank, as well as how much water they took in from both foods and drinks.

Overall, the men consumed an average of 169 milligrams of caffeine every day. The average cup of coffee contains around 125mg.

About 13 percent of the men reported leaky bladder, but only 4.5 per cent had a problem considered moderate or severe - which is more than a few drops of urine leakage during the course of a month.

After adjusting for the men's age and other risk factors, the researchers found that those who ate or drank 234mg of caffeine a day were 72 per cent more likely to have moderate to severe urinary incontinence than those who consumed the least caffeine.

Men who downed more than 392mg of caffeine daily were more than twice as likely to be incontinent.

Dr Markland said it was not simply a matter of how much fluid a person took in.  That's because total water intake, in contrast, was not linked to a man's risk of moderate to severe incontinence. This has led to the theory that caffeine irritates the bladder in some way.

She added: 'It's something to consider... People who are having problems with urinary incontinence should modify their caffeine intake.'

Dr. Bryan Voelzke, from the Department of Urology at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said the medications men take, such as diuretics (which increase the frequency of urination) could also affect their bladder control.

'I think the findings are interesting,' he said. 'But this study on its own is not enough to say caffeine is the source of urinary incontinence.'


18 January, 2013

Yes, you CAN be too fit for your own good: Why exercise may be harmful to the heart

A study just published in the journal PLoS One analysed data from six exercise studies involving 1,687 regular exercisers to find out the effects of —regular workouts on the heart.

The results shocked and confused the scientists: in almost one in ten people tested, exercise seemed adversely to affect blood pressure, insulin levels or ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels.

And in seven per cent of people, not just one but two of these risk factors for heart disease were worse as a result of exercise.

There is no clear explanation for this effect on a small portion of the population, but ‘it’s not a good sign,’ says Claude Bouchard, the study’s lead author and a professor of genetics and nutrition at Louisiana State University.

He suspects it is down to genetics and advises exercisers to have their blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose checked regularly.

Regular amounts of aerobic exercise, such as running, are known to slow the unhealthy changes to the cardiovascular system that occur with age.

However, intense and prolonged endurance training for many years — for instance, for marathons or triathlons — could be damaging to the heart, an editorial review published last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggested.

The author, Greg Whyte, professor of sports science at Liverpool John Moores University, explains: ‘Our research found that 50 per cent of long-term endurance and ultra-endurance runners, some of whom had been training for 43 years, showed signs of heart damage.

‘It is well documented that among veteran athletes there is a higher incidence of early symptoms of cardiac disease, which might increase the risk of a heart attack.

'There is a build-up of collagen in place of heart muscle, and compounds of blood markers that can make someone more susceptible to unusual heart rhythms.

‘It does not occur in people who just do a few marathons during their lifetime, but is a risk in people who have been training long and hard for years.’

So, should you be worried about doing exercise?  No, says Professor Whyte, pointing to overwhelming evidence that ‘exercise is wholly beneficial’, not just for the heart but for the whole body.

Even in Bouchard’s study, it was not all bad news.  For 10 per cent of people there were enormous gains in at least one measure of heart disease risk, with some improving by up to 50 per cent.

And among those who did have adverse outcomes, there was no evidence that these led to heart attacks or other health problems.

Professor Whyte says: ‘There will always be a few cases of people with underlying health problems and heart issues for whom physical activity can be problematic, but most people should be doing more of it, not less.’

Even ageing long-distance racers should not necessarily hang up their trainers.  ‘They may need to be monitored, but the benefits for the heart still outweigh any risks.,’ says Professor Whyte

As for the risk of stroke, most studies say exercise is beneficial for stroke prevention in healthy people, says John Brewer, professor of sport at the University of Bedfordshire.

‘It’s wise to get a check-up if you haven’t exercised for a while or have a family history of heart attacks and strokes, but in general, the evidence suggests that everything from moderate activity to higher-intensity and longer-duration exercise are beneficial.’


Will 50 cloves of garlic kill your cold — or just your love life? Pungent foodstuff may hold key to beating winter illness

In my younger days, I used to chew cloves of garlic if I had a cold.  It does help clear the head  -- and makes your tongue swell up!  -- JR

According to folklore, it keeps vampires at bay. And it will definitely keep your loved ones at arm’s length.

But could a soup made with more than 50 cloves of garlic protect you from  colds, flu and even norovirus?

As Britain sneezes and coughs its way through these dark months of contagious nasties, garlic is being hailed for its powers to halt viruses in their tracks.

It has gained its reputation as a virus buster thanks to one of its chemical constituents, allicin.

‘This chemical has been known for a long time for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal powers,’ says Helen Bond, a Derbyshire-based consultant dietitian and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association.

‘Because of this, people assume it is going to boost their immune systems. Lots of people I know are simply mashing up garlic, mixing it with olive oil and spreading it on bread.

‘But how or whether it may actually work has still not been proven categorically.’

Indeed, scientists remain divided on garlic’s ability to combat colds and flu. Last March, a major investigation by the respected global research organisation, the Cochrane Database, found that increasing your garlic intake during winter can cut the duration of cold symptoms — from five-and-a-half days to four-and-a-half.

But the report, which amalgamated all previous scientific studies on garlic, said it could not draw solid conclusions because there is a lack of large-scale, authoritative research.

The problem is that pharmaceutical companies are not interested in running huge, expensive trials — as they would with promising new drug compounds — because there is nothing in garlic that they can patent, package and sell at a profit.

If garlic were found to be a wonder drug, consumers could simply buy it in the supermarket for 30p a bulb or grow their own in the garden.

Nevertheless, garlic has a long and proud tradition as a medicine. The Ancient Egyptians recommended it for 22 ailments. In a papyrus dated 1500?BC, the labourers who built the pyramids ate it to increase their stamina and keep them healthy.

The Ancient Greeks advocated garlic for everything from curing infections, and lung and blood disorders to healing insect bites and even treating leprosy.

The Romans fed it to soldiers and sailors to improve their endurance. Dioscorides, the personal physician to Emperor Nero, wrote a five-volume treatise extolling its virtues.

But it wasn’t until 1858 that the French scientist Louis Pasteur discovered garlic kills bacteria. After placing it in a petri dish full of bacteria, Pasteur noted that within a few days a bacteria-free area had formed around each clove.

More recently, researchers have unearthed evidence to show garlic may help us to stay hale and hearty in a number of ways.

Last June, nutrition scientists at the University of Florida found eating garlic can boost the number of T-cells in the bloodstream. These play a vital role in strengthening our immune systems and fighting viruses.

And pharmacologists at the University of California found that allicin — the active ingredient in garlic that contributes to bad breath — is an infection-killer.

Allicin also makes our blood vessels dilate, improving blood flow and helping to tackle cardiovascular problems such as high cholesterol.

An Australian study of 80 patients published last week in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that diets high in garlic may reduce high blood pressure.


17 January, 2013

Children can GROW OUT of autism: Controversial research suggests not all youngsters have the same fate

It seems mnost likely that some kids were simply smart enough  to adapt

Autism is a condition some children manage to grow out of, a study has shown.

Experts studied 34 school-age children and young adults who had been diagnosed with autism early in life but now appeared to be functioning normally.

Tests confirmed that the group, aged eight to 21, no longer suffered symptoms of the developmental condition that makes it difficult to communicate and socialise.

The results, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, provide no estimate of the proportion of children likely to recover from autism.

But the researchers say they offer hope that in at least some cases, the handicap of autism can be left behind.

Dr Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health which supported the study, said: 'Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes.

'For an individual child, the outcome may be knowable only with time and after some years of intervention. Subsequent reports from this study should tell us more about the nature of autism and the role of therapy and other factors in the long term out come for these children.'

Previous studies looking at the likelihood of autism recovery have proved inconclusive.

Questions remained over the accuracy of the original diagnosis, and whether children who appeared to grow up functioning normally started out with mild forms of the condition.

For the new study, early diagnostic reports by doctors were reviewed by a team of expert investigators.

The results suggested that recovering children tended to have relatively milder social difficulties early in life. But they were likely to suffer more severe symptoms relating to communication and repetitive behaviour.

The research team, led by Dr Deborah Fein, from the University of Connecticut, compared the 34 'optimal outcome' participants with the same number of normally functioning peers and 44 children and young adults affected by high-functioning autism. Each group was matched by age, sex, and non-verbal IQ.

Optimal outcome individuals showed no signs of problems with language, face recognition, communication or social interaction despite their previous diagnosis of autism.

The researchers are continuing to analyse data on changes in brain function in the children.

They are also reviewing records of the kinds of treatment the children received, and to what extent they may have contributed to their recovery, as well as the role played by IQ.

'All children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) are capable of making progress with intensive therapy, but with our current state of knowledge most do not achieve the kind of optimal outcome that we are studying,' said Dr Fein.

'Our hope is that further research will help us better understand the mechanisms of change so that each child can have the best possible life.


Study challenges link between pot use, low IQ

Not very convincingly

 A new analysis challenges previous research that suggested teens put their long-term brainpower in danger when they smoke marijuana heavily.

Instead, the analysis indicated that the earlier findings could have been thrown off by another factor -- the effect of poverty on IQ.

The author of the new analysis, Ole Rogeberg, cautioned that his theory may not hold much water. "Or, it may turn out that it explains a lot," said Rogeberg, a research economist at the Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research in Oslo, Norway.

The authors of the initial study responded to a request for comment with a joint statement saying they stand by their findings. "While Dr. Rogeberg's ideas are interesting, they are not supported by our data," wrote researchers Terrie Moffitt, Avshalom Caspi and Madeline Meier. Moffitt and Caspi are psychology professors at Duke University, while Meier is a postdoctoral associate there.

Their study, published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, attracted media attention because it suggested that smoking pot has more than short-term effects on how people think.

Based on an analysis of mental tests given to more than 1,000 New Zealanders when they were 13 and 38, the Duke researchers found that those who heavily used marijuana as teens lost an average of eight IQ points over that time period. It didn't seem to matter if the teens later cut back on smoking pot or stopped using it entirely.

In the short term, people who use marijuana have memory problems and trouble focusing, research has shown. So, why wouldn't users have problems for years?

"The question reminds me of something adults say when kids make weird faces: 'Careful, or your face will stay that way,'" Rogeberg said. "It is certainly possible that in the long term, heavy cannabis use has permanent or persistent effects on the brain. But to find out what these changes are and what they mean is not easy. We can't just look at the short-term effects and assume that these gradually become fixed and permanent over time."

In his report, Rogeberg used simulation computer modeling to argue that the initial study was possibly flawed because of the effects of poverty on IQ.

"Recent research indicates that IQ and brainpower are kind of like muscular strength: strengthened if it is regularly challenged. IQ is strengthened or sustained by taking education, studying hard, spending time with smart, challenging people, doing demanding work in our jobs," he said. "Some kids, unfortunately, are burdened with a poor home environment, poor self-control and conduct problems. These kids are likely to gradually shift away from the kinds of activities and environments that would exercise their IQs."

Rogeberg, whose report appears in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the initial study didn't properly take this into account. "Although it would be too strong to say that the results have been discredited, the methodology is flawed and the causal inference drawn from the results premature," he wrote.

In their response, the Duke researchers said that only 23 percent of the people they studied were from poor families, making it unlikely that these participants threw off the overall results. And, they added, their results were the same when they only focused on people from middle-class families.

The Duke team also noted that another group shows similar results from marijuana exposure: rats. And, as they pointed out, rats don't go to school or fall into rich, middle-class or poor categories.


16 January, 2013

Could a chocolate a day prevent pre-eclampsia?

Researchers are trying to test the theory that consuming small amounts of dark chocolate can reduce the risk of women developing the condition pre-eclampsia during pregnancy.

From next month, 100 pregnant women in Canberra, Cairns and Atherton will be given 25 grams of dark chocolate every day, up until 36 weeks of pregnancy.

A control group will not be given the dark chocolate but will also have their pregnancies followed.

Researcher and Canberra obstetrician and gynaecologist Professor Steve Robson said consuming dark chocolate was associated with a decrease in cardiovascular disease and it was hoped it could also help prevent pre-eclampsia.

"Nobody has ever been able to prevent or stop pre-eclampsia from coming on and they've tried all sorts of things over the years," Professor Robson said.

Pre-eclampsia affects about 10 per cent of pregnant women and can cause a rise in blood pressure and swelling of the feet, fingers and face.  More serious symptoms can include damage to the mother's kidneys, liver, brain and heart and interfere with the growth of the baby.  It can lead to life-threatening eclampsia, which causes the mother to have fits.

Taking part in the study should not be considered an excuse to pig out on chocolate.

Professor Robson said the dark chocolate issued to women would represent five per cent of their recommended daily fat intake.

"It would be bad news if on the one hand eating chocolate every day reduced the risk of getting hypertension and pre-eclampsia, but on the other hand put up your risk of getting diabetes. So we want to make sure it's not a give with one hand and a take with the other," he said.

Professor Robson said an initial pilot study would examine issues such as whether morning sickness prevented women from consuming dark chocolate.

The study is being conducted by James Cook University and the researchers have deliberately not sought funding from chocolate companies.


Anti-oxidants are BAD for you

 Scientists at The University of Manchester have made a surprising finding after studying how tadpoles re-grow their tails which could have big implications for research into human healing and regeneration.

It is generally appreciated that frogs and salamanders have remarkable regenerative capacities, in contrast to mammals, including humans. For example, if a tadpole loses its tail a new one will regenerate within a week. For several years Professor Enrique Amaya and his team at The Healing Foundation Centre in the Faculty of Life Sciences have been trying to better understand the regeneration process, in the hope of eventually using this information to find new therapies that will improve the ability of humans to heal and regenerate better.

In an earlier study, Professor Amaya's group identified which genes were activated during tail regeneration. Unexpectedly, that study showed that several genes that are involved in metabolism are activated, in particular those that are linked to the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) -- chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen. What was unusually about those findings is that ROS are commonly believed to be harmful to cells.

Professor Amaya and his group decided to follow up on this unexpected result and their new findings will be published in the next issue of Nature Cell Biology.

To examine ROS during tail regeneration, they measured the level of H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide, a common reactive oxygen species in cells) using a fluorescent molecule that changes light emission properties in the presence of H2O2. Using this advanced form of imaging, Professor Amaya and his group were able to show that a marked increase in H2O2 occurs following tail amputation and interestingly, they showed that the H2O2 levels remained elevated during the entire tail regeneration process, which lasts several days.

Talking about the research Professor Amaya says: "We were very surprised to find these high levels of ROS during tail regeneration. Traditionally, ROS have been thought to have a negative impact on cells. But in this case they seemed to be having a positive impact on tail re-growth."

To assess how vital the presence of ROS are in the regeneration process, Professor Amaya's team limited ROS production using two methods. The first was by using chemicals, including an antioxidant, and the second was by removing a gene responsible for ROS production. In both cases the regeneration process was inhibited and the tadpole tail did not grow back.

Professor Amaya says: "When we decreased ROS levels, tissue growth and regeneration failed to occur. Our research suggests that ROS are essential to initiate and sustain the regeneration response. We also found that ROS production is essential to activate Wnt signalling, which has been implicated in essentially every studied regeneration system, including those found in humans. It was also striking that our study showed that antioxidants had such a negative impact on tissue regrowth, as we are often told that antioxidants should be beneficial to health."

The publication of Professor Amaya's study comes just days after a paper from the Nobel Prize winner and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, James Watson, who has suggested antioxidants could be harmful to people in the later stages of cancer.

Professor Amaya comments: "It's very interesting that two papers suggesting that antioxidants may not always be beneficial have been published recently. Our findings and those of others are leading to a reversal in our thinking about the relative beneficial versus harmful effects that oxidants and antioxidants may have on human health, and indeed that oxidants, such as ROS, may play some important beneficial roles in healing and regeneration."

The next step for the team at the Healing Foundation Centre will be to study ROS and their role in the healing and regenerative processes more closely. With a better understanding,

Professor Amaya and his team hope to apply their findings to human health to identify whether manipulating ROS levels in the body could improve our ability to heal and regenerate tissues better. Thus these findings have very important implications in regenerative medicine.


15 January, 2013

Could a cup of tea made from coffee leaves be the healthiest hot drink option?

This is just another variation on the stupid but uncrushable  antioxidant theory.  No evidence of its effects at all

For those who find ‘tea or coffee’ a question too far first thing in the morning, relief may soon be on hand – a combination of both.

Researchers claim they have discovered the ultimate brew – a tea made from  coffee leaves which is healthier than both of the drinks.

The coffee leaf tea, which is said to have an ‘earthy’ taste that is less bitter than tea and not as strong as coffee, boasts high levels of compounds which lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease, experts said.

It also carries far less caffeine than traditional tea or coffee and contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The coffee leaves were analysed by researchers from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, South-West London, together with researchers in Montpellier, France.

They believe the drink – from the leaves of the coffea plant – has thus far been overlooked because of the preoccupation with the plant’s seeds, coffee beans, which are nowhere near as healthy.

While there is evidence coffee leaf tea is drunk in places such as Ethiopia, South Sudan and Indonesia, previous attempts to import it into Britain from as early as the 1800s have been unsuccessful.

After analysing 23 species of coffee plant and finding many health benefits, the researchers now hope the coffee tea could rival the well-established types of coffee and black and green teas in Britain.

Dr Aaron Davies, a botanist at Kew, reported in the journal Annals of Botany that seven species of coffee plant contained high levels of mangiferin – a chemical usually found in mangoes which is believed to have anti-inflammatory effects as well as lowering cholesterol, protecting neurons in the brain and reducing the risk of diabetes.

The leaves were also found to hold high levels of antioxidants, which reportedly help combat heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Dr Davies said: ‘In 1851 people were touting it as the next tea and there were all these reports about its qualities. It was said to give immediate relief from hunger and fatigue, and "clear the brain of its cobwebs”. It was also said to be refreshing – although some found it undrinkable.’


Brain-boosting milkshake claiming to reduce symptoms of early dementia goes on sale in the UK

This is just a con-job by a yoghurt company

A brain-boosting milkshake that is said to reduce symptoms of early Alzheimer's has gone on sale in the UK today.  The drink contains a mix of ‘memory boosting’ nutrients including those found in breast milk and herring.

The ‘medical food’ comes after a decade of research into a formula food that might improve the brain function of people in the early stages of the disease.

It contains omega 3 fatty acids, the nutrient found in fish which is known to be good for the brain, with a daily dose equivalent to eating three or four herrings.

The drink also contains two other compounds normally present in the blood - uridine, which is produced by the liver and kidneys and found in breast milk, and choline found in meat, nuts and eggs - B vitamins and other nutrients.

It will be available over-the-counter in pharmacies and online at £3.49 for a daily dose - adding up to almost £1,300 a year - and consumers have to confirm they have consulted a doctor or other health professional.

Studies originally carried out by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggest it helps improve memory performance after six months in people with mild Alzheimer’s who are not taking drugs.

However, a study on people with moderate Alzheimer’s who were on prescribed medication found no improvement.

The Alzheimer's Society has warned the milkshake 'is a lot less effective than current drugs available for people in the early stages of dementia'

Some have welcomed Souvenaid for providing a new dietary aid to improve the health of early Alzheimer’s patients, but critics warned it was an expensive option that was less effective than drugs.

The three main compounds in Souvenaid are needed by brain nerve cells to make phospholipids, the primary component of cell membranes that form synapses.

Dr David Wilkinson, Consultant in Old Age Psychiatry, said ‘Alzheimer’s disease is not part and parcel of aging but a serious and progressive disease of the brain which prevents us from being able to retain new memories.

‘As we age, our bodies become less efficient at processing essential nutrients, meaning that we need to increase our intake of food to absorb the same amount of nutrients in order to maintain a healthy body. In the same way, we need the right nutrients for our brains to keep them healthy.

‘Alzheimer’s disease sufferers often find it very difficult to get everything they need through diet alone and the nutritional intervention by the use of Souvenaid is a new area of research offering promising results for the management of early Alzheimer’s disease.’

Products marketed as food for special medical purposes do not have to go through the same EU regulatory process as drugs.

But they have to prove they are ‘safe and beneficial and effective in meeting the particular nutritional requirements of the persons for whom they are intended’ and must be taken under medical supervision.

People buying Souvenaid, which comes in two flavours vanilla and strawberry, are being urged to speak with a doctor, specialist nurse, dietitian or pharmacist first.

Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society charity, said ‘People shouldn’t get excited that an off-the-shelf drink is going to transform the lives of people with dementia.

‘While past studies of this product have showed some benefits for memory, there is no evidence that it has an effect on other aspects of thinking or everyday life and there was also no benefit on other symptoms of dementia.

‘This is likely to cost about £1000 a year and is a lot less effective than current drugs available for people in the early stages of dementia.

‘For many older people with dementia where finances might be tight, people are probably much better off putting their money towards good quality care or taking part in exercise.

‘One in three people over 65 will develop dementia. It’s vital we continue to fund research into new treatments to enable people to live well with the condition.’

Souvenaid is made by Nutricia, the medical foods division of Danone Research.


14 January, 2013

CA: Regulations eased on homemade food businesses

Not before time.  Hopefully it foretells similar action elsewhere

California's homemade food makers are now able to sell their products to restaurants and grocery stores, thanks to a new law that went into effect this year.

The California Homemade Food Act created a new category of producers called "cottage food producers," which will allow people to cook their food items right from their kitchens at home.

"We all are very optimistic and excited," said Patricia Kline of San Francisco, who makes and sells small fruit pies.

Kline sells her pies at farmer's markets, online and also does special events like weddings and lunches. She says one of the huge barriers to enter into this business was the requirement to use commercial kitchens.

"Having the this law in place will allow me to be able to take advantage of orders that come in that day, and take advantage of pop-up opportunities and pick-up wholesaling," she said.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Democrat from Los Angeles, helped pioneer the new law after he read a story about Mike Stambler, a bread maker from Los Angeles who had his business shut down in 2011 after authorities discovered he was selling bread he made from his home. Gatto saw this as an opportunity to help those like Stambler and drafted the bill.

"If you want to enter the food production business, the barriers before this bill were enormous," Gatto said. "I just thought there was a lot of business demand for people who wanted to enter this business and they didn't have an outlet. I wanted to make it a bit easier for them," he said.

Approved items include jams, baked goods, cookies, coffee, nuts, vinegar, candy and dried pasta.

"We talked with the different health departments and various scientists, and these are products that are 99.9 percent safe," Gatto said.

Nutritionist Laura Cipullo says that if the food item is cooked, it will probably kill any type of food-borne illness, and since vinegar is acidic it would be less likely to carry bacteria.

"The pros are that they are made better, more wholesome and healthier and give more people the ability to have more jobs and a different variety of food," Cipullo said.

The state will require cottage food producers to a take a food-handling class and pass an exam that is created by the California Department of Public Health.

The California Restaurant Association does not see any major fallout for the restaurant industry with the new law. But it had initial concerns about whether the new cottage food producers would be held to similar food safety and sanitation standards as restaurants.

"We kind of have a wait-and-see attitude to see how the agencies enforce some the of standards that our outlined in the law," said Angelica Pappas spokesperson for the California Restaurant Association.

Kline believes this new law will help families create small businesses they need to help them make that extra money they need in a bad economy.

"It can only be a good thing to have a close relationship with you, the customer, and me, the producer of what you're going to eat," Kline said.

In 2013, the total revenue limit will be $35,000 and will rise to $50,000 by 2015. 

"People view it as a way to become the small business and are very excited and very positive about the law and a lot of people think it will change their lives," said Gatto.


Drug could reverse 'permanent' deafness by regenerating hair cells in inner ear

Sounds hopeful but not really probable.  Mice may have better regenerative abilities than humans

A potential cure for permanent deafness has been found by scientists using a drug that stimulates the inner ear.  The drug, codenamed LY411575, triggers the regeneration of sensory hair cells.

Until now it has not been possible to restore the cells once they have been lost due to factors such as loud noise exposure, infection and toxic drugs.  This type of deafness, often suffered by rock musicians and DJs, is generally assumed to be irreversible.

Scientists succeeded in partially restoring hearing to mice that had been deafened by loud noise.  Although the research is at an early stage, they believe it could lead to effective treatments for acute noise-induced deafness in humans.

The tiny sensory hairs in the cochlea are vital to hearing. Sound vibrations transferred from the eardrum shake the hairs, causing nerve messages to be fired to the brain.  Without the hairs, the hearing pathway is blocked and no signals are received by the brain’s auditory centre.

While birds and fish are capable of regenerating sound-sensing hair cells, mammals are not.

The new approach involves reprogramming inner ear cells by inhibiting a protein called Notch.

Previous laboratory research had shown that Notch signals help prevent stem cells in the cochlea transforming themselves into new sensory hair cells.

The drug LY411575 suppresses Notch. Mice with noise-induced hearing loss generated functioning sensory hair cells after the drug was injected into their damaged cochleas.

Lead researcher Dr Albert Edge, from Harvard Medical School in the US, said: 'We show that hair cells can be regenerated from the surrounding cells in the cochlea.

'These cells, called supporting cells, transdifferentiate into hair cells after inhibition of the Notch signalling pathway, and the new hair cell generation results in a recovery of hearing in the region of the cochlea where the new hair cells appear.

'The significance of this study is that hearing loss is a huge problem affecting 250 million worldwide.'

Details of the study are reported in the journal Neuron.

A green fluorescent protein was used to label the newly generated hair cells.

Electronic measurements of auditory brainstem responses confirmed that three months after treatment, lost hair cells had been replaced and were working.  Improvement in hearing was seen over a wide range of frequencies.

Dr Edge added: 'The missing hair cells had been replaced by new hair cells after the drug treatment, and analysis of their location allowed us to correlate the improvement in hearing to the areas where the hair cells were replaced.

'We’re excited about these results because they are a step forward in the biology of regeneration and prove that mammalian hair cells have the capacity to regenerate.

'With more research, we think that regeneration of hair cells opens the door to potential therapeutic applications in deafness.'

Vivienne Michael, chief executive of the charity Deafness Research UK, said: 'As always, we have to be cautious about new research findings but this US research is extremely encouraging.

'At the moment there is no way of reversing eight in 10 cases of hearing loss, including noise-induced deafness and the progressive deafness so many of us experience as we age - hearing aids are the only answer.

'These results show just how important it is to increase the investment in research into medical treatments that could prevent or reverse hearing loss and improve the quality of life for the millions of people affected.'


13 January, 2013

Sweet soft drinks may raise risk of depression

It's only a conference paper so far so is difficult to evaluate but apparently BOTH sugar and aspartame intake were associated with depression.  Sugar and aspartame are very different chemicals so is it the bubbles in pop that are bad for you?  Perhaps the real question is why do depressed people like pop?

If you are feeling low, it may be best to lay off the fizzy drinks and have a cup of coffee instead.  A study has linked soft drinks to depression – with diet versions particularly problematic.  Coffee, however, appeared to have the opposite effect.

The finding comes from US researchers who studied the drink consumption of 265,000 men and women aged 50 to 71.  Ten years into the study, the volunteers were asked if they had been diagnosed with depression in the previous five years.

Those who drank more than four cans of soft drinks a day were 30 per cent more likely to have had depression than those who drank none, the American Academy of Neurology conference heard. The risk seemed greater among those who preferred diet drinks.

The researchers said this may be due to the presence of the artificial sweetener aspartame, which yesterday was provisionally given a clean bill of health by the European Food Safety Authority, following a review.

Making the link does not prove soft drinks cause depression.  But researcher Honglei Chen said: ‘While our findings are preliminary and the underlying biological mechanisms are not known, they are consistent with a small but growing body of evidence suggesting that artificially sweetened beverages may be associated with poor health.’

The study found that those who had four cups of coffee a day were 10 per cent less likely to become depressed than non-coffee drinkers.  Dr Chen said this may be due to the caffeine in coffee stimulating the brain.

The British Soft Drinks Association urged caution over the findings and pointed out that the scientists themselves said that more research is needed.


"Superfoods" can make cancer MORE likely, says pioneer of DNA study


Fashionable anti-cancer superfoods and supplements do not prevent the disease and may even cause it, according to a scientist who helped discover the structure of DNA.

James Watson said the cure for many cancers will remain elusive unless scientists rethink the role of antioxidants, which include vitamin pills and food such as blueberries and broccoli.

It is widely believed they boost health and fight cancer by mopping up oxygen molecules called free radicals. But Dr Watson argues these may be key to preventing and treating cancer – and depleting the body of them may be counter-productive.

Free radicals not only help keep diseased cells under control, they are also pivotal in making many cancer drugs, as well as radiotherapy, effective, he believes.

Writing in a journal published by the Royal Society, the 84-year-old Nobel laureate stated that antioxidants ‘may have caused more cancers than they have prevented’.

‘For as long as I have been focused on the curing of cancer, well-intentioned individuals have been consuming antioxidative nutritional supplements as cancer preventatives, if not actual therapies,’ he said.

‘In light of recent data strongly hinting that much of late-stage cancer’s untreatability may arise from its possession of too many antioxidants, the time has come to seriously ask whether antioxidant use much more likely causes than prevents cancer.’

He said a vast number of studies had found antioxidants including vitamins A, C and E and the mineral selenium, to have ‘no obvious effectiveness’ in preventing stomach cancer or in lengthening life.  Instead, they seem to slightly shorten the lives of those who take them, and vitamin E may be particularly dangerous.

The American, who describes his theory as among his most important work since the DNA breakthrough with British colleague Francis Crick in 1953, said blueberries may taste good but give no protection against cancer. The study by Dr Watson,  based at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, is published in the journal Open Biology.

He has caused uproar in the past with his opinions on race, intelligence, beauty and homosexuality.

Professor Nic Jones, of Cancer Research UK, agreed that studies showed antioxidants were ineffective for cancer prevention in healthy people and can even slightly increase the risk of the disease.

He said vitamins and minerals should be obtained through a healthy and balanced diet.


11 January, 2013

Tablet made from ginseng could boost a man's love life

"showed a small but significant improvement in sexual function ".  It's no Viagra

It's long been used by the Chinese as an aphrodisiac, but new research claims tablets made from ginseng really can perk up a man's love life.  A South Korean study found men with erectile dysfunction improved their performance in the bedroom after taking the tablets for just a few weeks.

Although some previous studies have suggested ginseng can help tackle impotence, many have been conducted in mice.

The latest research involved more than 100 men who had been diagnosed with erection problems.

Impotence affects one in ten men in the UK at some point in their lives.  Although drugs such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra have revolutionised treatment in the last ten years, around 30 per cent of men who take them see no improvement.

For these men, the only other options are to inject drugs straight into the penis, or use a pump that manually increases blood supply to the organ.  Neither is very popular.

While herbal remedies like ginseng have been touted as alternative treatments, the evidence to support their use has been lacking.

Ginseng is a plant that has been used for thousands of years to bolster overall health.

The root contains several active substances, called either ginsenosides or panaxosides, that are thought to be responsible for the medicinal effects of the herb.

Scientists at the Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul, South Korea, recruited 119 men with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction.

The group was split into two and while half took four tablets a day containing extracts of Korean ginseng berry, the rest took identical dummy pills.

After eight weeks, researchers measured improvements by using a recognised scale called the International Index of Erectile Dysfunction.

The results, published in the International Journal of Impotence Research, showed a small but significant improvement in sexual function in the ginseng group compared to those on the dummy tablets.

In a report on their findings the researchers said: 'Korean ginseng berry extract improved all domains of sexual function.  'It can be used as an alternative to medicine to improve sexual life in men.'


Parents sentencing their children to cancer by letting them sit in front of TV and computer screens for hours on end?

More WCRF rubbish.  They are scaremongers for profit.  "A  review of several studies" is their evidence.  Leaving out the ones that don't suit them, of course

Millions of parents are putting their children at risk of cancer because they let them spend too long sitting – either watching TV, playing computer games or surfing the internet.

Doctors have today delivered a stark warning that a generation of youngsters is also at risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes because of their sedentary lifestyles.

Even more worrying is that children who do exercise regularly are still at risk, because long periods of inactivity could still lead to obesity.

Experts have now urged parents to limit the amount of time children spend being sedentary to two hours a day.

But a 2011 study by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found that the average child in the UK is already exceeding this by watching more than two-and-a-half-hours of television and surfing the internet for an hour and 50 minutes a day.

Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science at the World Cancer Research Fund told MailOnline that even if children exercise, they can still develop dangerous bad habits if they are allowed to spend hours a day inactive.

She said: ‘We know that being physically active as a child means you’re more likely to continue to be so as an adult.’

Professor Mitch Blair of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told the Daily Mirror that children are 'exposed to screens' more than ever before.

He said: 'We are becoming increasingly concerned that this encourages a more sedentary lifestyle’, adding that screen time should be limited to no more than two hours a day.

The research agency Childwise says children spent an average of 5.9 hours a day in front of the TV, a games console or a compute.

And just last month, the latest NHS figures revealed that a third of final year primary school children are overweight or obese.

The exact mechanism of how being sedentary causes cancer is still relatively unknown. But it’s thought that physical activity decreases the risk of cancer by reducing inflammation in the body – which is linked to developing the condition, Dr Thompson said.

Being active also reduces body fat – it’s known that obese people have higher levels of inflammation in the body – and increases insulin sensitivity, thereby reducing the risk of diabetes.

She added: 'Being overweight also increases levels of certain hormones such as oestrogen, and this has been linked with an increased risk of certain cancers, such as breast.’

Indeed, the most physically active women are 20 per cent less likely to get the disease than their most sedentary counterparts, according to Cancer Research UK.

Furthermore, an increasing body of research is linking a lack of physical activity to between 6 and 10 per cent of all cases of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and breast and bowel cancer.

The charity says a review of several studies showed a 24 per cent risk reduction for colon cancer in the most versus least active men, and a 21 per cent risk reduction in the most active women.

Physical activity may affect colon cancer risk in various ways, including the time it takes for waste to pass through the body, inflammation and insulin resistance and hormone levels.

Being more active also reduces the risk of endometrial cancer by 30 per cent.

Last year, Britain was labelled one of the most sedentary populations on Earth, with almost twice the proportion of people defined as 'inactive' as in neighbouring France.


10 January, 2013

How deadly peanut allergies can be cured... with peanuts: Holding tiny dose under tongue 'can build tolerance'

I have been saying for ages that peanuts are the cure for peanut allergy

A new treatment could help peanut allergy sufferers get over their potentially deadly intolerance to the popular pub snack.

Trials of sublingual immunotherapy treatments, where patients are given doses of allergens in gradually increasing amounts, suggest the technique could one day be used as a cure for the allergy.

However, experts carried out the tests under strict conditions and have warned people not to try a similar experiment themselves.

Around one in a 100 people in the U.S. and UK is allergic to peanuts, and reactions range from mere watery eyes to potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.

For sufferers even eating a tiny amount of peanut can lead to a deadly reaction. Many must carry around special medicines like epinephrine-containing pens for emergency treatment in case they eat contaminated food.

The prevalence of peanut allergy is increasing, however there is as yet no clinical treatment available for sufferers other than strict dietary elimination.

New research published in the the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology this month however shows that giving patients gradually increasing doses of a liquid containing peanut powder could help them to build up a tolerance.

The patients first hold the liquid under the tongue for 2 minutes and then swallow it.

Dr Wesley Burks, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, said the results of the research were 'encouraging'.  'The immune response was stronger than we thought it might be, and the side effects of this treatment were relatively small,' he said,  'However, the magnitude of the therapeutic effect was somewhat less than we had anticipated. That's an issue we plan to address in future studies.'

Dr Burks and Dr David Fleischer, of National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, recruited 40 peanut allergy sufferers aged between 12 and 37, and randomly gave them either daily peanut sublingual therapy or a placebo.

All were given a baseline oral food challenge of up to 2g of peanut powder to test how much peanut powder they could consume without symptoms.

After 44 weeks, all were given a second oral food challenge.  Those who were able to consume either 5g, or at least 10-fold more peanut powder than their baseline amount, were considered to be responders (i.e., desensitised to peanut).

At 44 weeks, 70 per cent of those who received peanut therapy were responders, compared to 15 per cent of those who were given the placebo.

Among the responders, the median amount of peanut powder they could successfully consume without symptoms increased from 3.5 to 496 milligrams.

After 68 weeks, that amount increased significantly, to 996 milligrams.

Of 10,855 peanut doses given through week 44 of the study, 63.1 per cent were symptom-free. When oral and pharyngeal symptoms were excluded from the analysis, 95.2 per cent of doses were symptom-free.

The study concluded that peanut sublingual therapy safely induced desensitisation in a majority of participants compared to a placebo, and that the longer that treatment continued the more peanut powder they could safely eat.

However, Dr Burks cautions, this is not a treatment that people should try on their own.

For now it's a treatment that should only be given by medical professionals in a carefully monitored clinical trial, he said.


Are our genes to blame? Obesity has 'very strong' genetic component, claim researchers

And I have been saying this for ages too.  And the evidence is not limited to mice

Genes are largely to blame for bulging waistlines, a study has found.  While diet plays a key role in obesity, some people are programmed to get fat easily, research from the US suggests.

Although the work focused on mice, it is believed to be just as relevant to humans.

Lead scientist Dr Brian Parks, from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), said: 'Our research demonstrates that body-fat responses to high-fat, high-sugar diets have a very strong genetic component, and we have identified several genetic factors potentially regulating these responses.

'We found that obesity has similar genetic signatures in mice and humans, indicating the mice are a highly relevant model system to study obesity.

'Overall, our work has broad implications concerning the genetic nature of obesity and weight gain.'

Dramatic increases in obesity over the past few decades have been linked to high-calorie sugar and fat-rich diets as well as sedentary 'couch potato' lifestyles.

But the new research indicates that body-fat responses to food are to a large extent hard-wired in to our DNA.

Over the course of the two-year study, the UCLA team looked at the effect of high-calorie diets on more than 100 strains of laboratory mice.

The scientists located 11 regions of the genetic code associated with obesity and fat gain due to diet. Several of these overlapped with genes identified in human studies.

'We measured the change in fat dynamically at five different points following a high-fat, high-sugar feeding, providing strong evidence for a genetically controlled body-fat set-point,' said Dr Parks.

'Our use of inbred mice strains also enabled detailed analysis of the relationship between obesity traits, gene expression, intestinal flora and diet.'

Dietary responses varied greatly across strains, according to the findings reported in the online edition of the journal Cell Metabolism.

Increases in body fat as a proportion of weight ranged from zero to 600%.

Most mice strains responded during the first four weeks of a high-calorie diet and did not accumulate more fat during the remainder of the study. This suggests they reached a natural upper threshold limit after which continued fat gain was resisted by genetic mechanisms.

'We observed high heritability of about 80% for body-fat percentage across the study timeline,' said co-author Professor Jake Lusis, also from UCLA.

'Changes in body-fat percentage after high-fat, high-sugar feeding were also highly heritable, suggesting that dietary responses are strongly controlled by genetics.'

The findings are consistent with generational patterns of body mass index and obesity seen in humans, said the researchers.

'Our results emphasise the importance of gene-by-environment interactions, with important implications for an understanding of the overall genetic architecture of obesity,' said Prof Lusis said.

'In particular, it will be of interest to examine behavioural and neurological differences among the strains as they relate to obesity traits.'


9 January, 2013

How doctors are using Coca-Cola to treat painful stomach blockages

I can see the headline now:  "Coke is good for you!"  Much teeth-grinding among the food freaks

Doctors are using Coca-Cola to treat a painful stomach condition, sparing patients from surgery.  They have discovered that the fizzy drink is highly effective at dealing with a condition known as a gastric phytobezoar.

This is a stomach blockage which, unless it is successfully removed or destroyed, can subsequently lead to a bowel obstruction.

It is often caused by certain fruits which do not digest properly - for instance, in Asia many cases are a result of eating persimmons which are particularly prone to form blockages.

A variety of treatments are available to treat it, from lasers and non-surgical endoscopies to the last resort of full surgery.

Now, new research has shown that Coca-Cola has a success rate of more than 90 per cent in treating the condition.

This is because it has chemical ingredients that do a similar job to gastric acid - in helping to digest fibre - while the bubbles help speed up the process.

Even the Diet and Coke Zero options work, because they have the same basic ingredients as the 'full fat' version, said the report published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

The researchers from the University of Athens went through published academic papers that detailed 46 patients with the ailment who were treated with Coke in hospitals worldwide over the past 10 years.

Of those given Coca-Cola, exactly half saw the drink destroy the blockage completely and a further 19 only needed non-invasive treatments as a result of Coke's help.  Only four needed full surgery, giving Coca-Cola a success rating of 91.3 per cent.

The study reported: 'Coca-Cola administration is a cheap, easy-to-perform and safe procedure that can be accomplished at any endoscopy unit.'

Coca-Cola has an acidity rating of 2.6 on the pH scale because it contains both carbonic and phosphoric acid.

The researchers added: 'It resembles gastric acid, which is thought to be important for fibre digestion.  'In addition the bubbles enhance the dissolving mechanism.'

If the Coke does not completely destroy whatever is causing the blockage then it is likely to make it smaller and soften the phytobezoar making it easy to remove without the need for full surgery, the report said.


Beta blockers 'could cut Alzheimer's risk': Drugs found to protect against changes in the brain

Unpublished article about a small (52) and very unrepresentative sample. 

Drugs prescribed since the 1960s to lower blood pressure may cut the risk  of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers claim.

A study suggests beta blockers protect against changes in the brain which can be signs of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

Having high blood pressure – hypertension – in middle age puts patients more at risk of developing these conditions, as well as heart and circulatory disorders.

But the latest research suggests drugs taken for high blood pressure can offer some protection.

The study examined the brains of 774 elderly Japanese-American men after death. They had all taken part in the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study.

Of the men, 610 had high blood pressure or were being treated for high blood pressure.

Among the 350 who had been treated, 15 per cent had received beta blockers alone, 18 per cent had been given beta blockers plus another high blood pressure medication and the rest had received other blood pressure drugs.

The study found that all types of high blood pressure treatments were clearly better at protecting the brain than no treatment, according to preliminary data presented yesterday at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in San Diego.

But men who had been given beta blockers as their only blood pressure medication had fewer brain abnormalities compared with those who had not been treated for hypertension, or those who had received other high blood pressure drugs.

The brains of men who had received beta blockers along with other high blood pressure medication showed an intermediate reduction in brain abnormalities.

These included two distinct types of brain lesion – those indicating Alzheimer’s disease, and lesions called microinfarcts, usually attributed to tiny, unrecognised strokes.

And whether they had taken beta blockers alone or in combination with another blood pressure medication, those treated had significantly less shrinkage in their brains.

Study author Dr Lon White, of the Pacific Health Research and Education Institute in Honolulu, said: ‘These results are exciting, especially since beta blockers are a common treatment for high blood pressure.’

Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘Hypertension is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other causes of dementia, and keeping high blood pressure in check could be important for preventing these diseases.

‘This study suggests a link between the use of beta blockers and fewer signs of dementia, but as the results of this study have yet to be published in full, it’s not clear what caused this link.

‘It’s important to note that this study only looked at Japanese-American men, and these results may not be applicable to the wider population.

‘While we can’t conclude from this study that beta blockers can prevent dementia, a better understanding of the links between high blood pressure and dementia could be crucial for developing new treatments or approaches to prevention.’

Jessica Smith, research officer for the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Understanding the relationships between different blood pressure drugs and Alzheimer’s is not only useful for risk reduction but also Alzheimer’s treatment development.

‘However, this is a small study and more research is needed on a larger scale to find out why beta blockers might have this effect.’


8 January, 2013

A daily tomato pill to cut heart attacks: Drug 'boosts blood flow and artery health'

This lycopene story has been around for a while now.  Only so far tested for a short period on a small group of elderly patients who have already had heart attacks.  May not generalize

No one would much like the idea of eating 6lb of tomatoes a day.   But if their goodness was popped in an easy-to-swallow pill that you were told might prevent strokes and heart attacks you would probably be putting in an order tomorrow.

Researchers believe they may have come up with just that after trials on the supplement Ateronon.

The daily pill contains a chemical called lycopene which makes tomatoes red and is known to break down fatty deposits in the arteries.

A Cambridge University study found taking the capsule boosted blood flow and improved the lining of vessels in patients with pre-existing heart conditions. It also increased the flexibility of their arteries by 50 per cent.

The scientists believe it could limit the damage caused by heart disease – responsible for 180,000 deaths a year – and help cut the 49,000 deaths a year from strokes.

They also hope it could benefit those with arthritis, diabetes and even slow the progress of cancer.

Each pill provides the equivalent of eating around 6lb of ripe tomatoes.

Studies have shown eating a Mediterranean-style diet rich in tomatoes, fish, vegetables, nuts and olive oil can significantly reduce cholesterol and help prevent cardiovascular disease.

Preliminary results from a two-month trial, in which the pill was given to 36 heart disease patients and 36 healthy volunteers with an average age of 67, were presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association.

It was shown to improve the function of the endothelium – the layer of cells lining blood vessels. It also boosted their sensitivity to nitric oxide, the gas which triggers the dilation of the arteries in response to exercise.

Ian Wilkinson, of Cambridge University’s clinical trials unit, said: ‘These results are potentially very significant, but we need more trials to see if they translate into fewer heart attacks and strokes.’

Peter Kirkpatrick, a leading neurosurgeon and medical adviser to CamNutra, which has developed Ateronon, said: ‘It is too early to come to firm conclusions, but the results from this trial are far better than anything we could have hoped for.’

Further studies are planned, with researchers hoping it could offer an alternative to statins for heart disease sufferers who cannot take the cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Mike Knapton, of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Although this showed lycopene improved blood flow in people with heart disease, that’s a long way from demonstrating that taking it could improve outcomes for people with heart disease.

The best way to get the benefits of a Mediterranean diet is to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.’


How Government Makes Us Fatter

The government, with its accomplices in the food lobby, has helped to make and keep us fat. Through subsidies and misguided food suggestions, Congress, the FDA, and the USDA have made it more difficult for Americans to make smarter dietary decisions.

It’s not as if we don’t care. Americans spend $33 billion annually on weight loss products and services. At any given time, 45 percent of women and 30 percent of men in the United States are trying to lose weight. And yet Americans are more out of shape than ever.

Obesity is a major health risk in the United States, where 65 percent of adults are overweight. The prevalence of obesity rose from 14.5 percent in 1980 to 30.5 percent today. The percentage of children who are overweight is at an all-time high: 10.4 percent of two- to five-year-olds, 15.3 percent of six- to 11-year-olds, and 15.5 percent of 12-to-19-year-olds.


Remember the food pyramid? In 1982, government authorities told Americans to reduce fat consumption from 40 percent to 30 percent of daily intake—and we took their advice. Instead of fats, Americans began eating more carbohydrates: an increase of 57 grams per person from 1989 to today, according to UCSF Professor of Pediatrics Dr. Robert Lustig. Today, the typical American diet is about 50 percent carbohydrate, 15 percent protein, and 35 percent fat.

At the same time, a committee at the Food and Drug Administration awarded sugar "Generally Recognized As Safe” status—even for diabetics—despite internal dissent from the USDA’s Carbohydrate Nutrition Laboratory. As part of the 2011 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, Congress legislated that pizza sauce can count as a vegetable in school lunches.

Setting aside the issue of whether such government recommendations are correct, its actions as food nanny essentially absolve Americans from the responsibility of making their own nutrition decisions. In the 1990s, American women blindly gobbled up low-fat Snackwells desserts masquerading as sensible treats. After all, Snackwells cookies met government standards: they were low in fat and contained "safe” sugar. Parents send their kids to school assuming school lunch contains healthy fruits and vegetables—never stopping to ask what their kids are actually eating each day.

Government recommendations also dissuade private nutrition groups from attempting to compete with "official” advice. Consider Dr. Atkins’ critical reception when he wrote Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution; although a best-seller, it was panned by the nutrition establishment. The USDA’s Agricultural Resource Service still warns that the diet started out as a "gimmick” and hedges on whether it’s ultimately "worthwhile or worthless.”

Over the years, government recommendations have contributed to the replacement of lard with trans-fats (the latter of which are now considered deadly), the substitution of butter for margarine and back to butter again, and conflicting recommendations about eggs, orange juice, vitamins, certain types of fish, and the temperature at which it’s safe to eat meat. Is it any wonder that Americans are no closer to their health goals?


Farm subsidies reinforce the government’s recommendations. Most go to just a few crops: soy, corn, rice, and wheat—all of which can be converted into cheap, highly processed foods.

Take the case of corn. Starting in the mid-1980s, government subsidies made corn profitable for farmers even when market prices for corn were low. So farms across the Midwest began to produce it in abundance. Food companies funneled this cheap corn into the production of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a replacement for more-expensive sugar—the price of which had been artificially sweetened by tariffs, import quotas and subsidies meant to shut cheaper foreign suppliers out of the U.S.

HFCS then made its way into previously unsweetened foods, including bread, baked goods, cereal, condiments, canned vegetables, pasta sauce, and even "nutrition” bars. Today, the average American eats 41.5 pounds of HFCS per year—financed by U.S. corn subsidies. That’s in addition to the 29 pounds of traditional sugar the USDA reports we eat on average.

Wheat, rice, and soy are turned into similarly processed food products. Wheat is extruded, robbing it of its protein, or milled and bleached into mineral-free white flour. Rice is stripped of its vitamin-packed bran to make it cook quicker. Soybeans are mashed, pulped, extruded, and pressed into thousands of products.

And government subsidies make these foods very, very cheap—much cheaper than unsubsidized raw produce, fish, or meat. Naturally, Americans respond to these low prices by buying in bulk. Today, 23 percent of Americans’ grocery budgets go to processed foods and sweets (compared to 12 percent in 1982).

Getting Government Out of the Grocery Aisles

Nutrition is far from settled science. Various researchers recommend low-carb, vegetarian, vegan, "whole” food, or simple calorie-counting diets as the route to weight loss and improved health. But one thing is clear: government interference is steering us in the wrong direction—toward sweetened and processed foods that no doctors, nutritionists, or researchers recommend. To improve the "Standard American Diet,” the first thing government can do is get out of the way.


7 January, 2013

Is three minutes a week of vigorous exercise all you need to get fit? Scientists say ideal fitness regime involves intense bursts of activity

Sounds like a recipe for a heart attack to me

There is welcome news for anyone who’s resolved to get fit in the New Year. Scientists claim we don’t have to spend hours every week slogging in the gym or jogging around a park in all weathers, along with the other January resolution makers.

Instead, they advocate a pioneering new quick fitness regime that makes remarkable claims: just a few 30-second bursts of intense exercise, amounting to only three minutes a week, could deliver the health and weight-loss benefits of hours of lengthy, conventional regimes.

This may revolutionise our ability to stick to New Year fitness resolutions, which only one in five of us manage to keep for more than a few weeks.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found the main reason we break resolutions is that our plans are over-ambitious: we set the bar too high in a hopelessly optimistic burst of post-Christmas enthusiasm.

But this new exercise regime lowers that bar significantly. Scientists at the universities of Nottingham, Birmingham and Bath say the secret is to commit yourself to three short bursts of highly intense exercise for 30 seconds each, with short rest periods between, in less than five minutes.

They claim early results are ground-breaking and may lead to conventional medical textbooks on exercise being torn up. Instead of sweating for hours, scientists say we should hurl ourselves around on an exercise bike or rowing machine — or even just run rapidly up and down the stairs at home.

After half a minute of wild exertion, we can collapse red-faced for 60 seconds, then do it all again. Three bouts like that means your exercise requirement for that session is sorted.

Late last year, the scientific team behind this regime launched a large-scale trial involving 300 volunteers to fully test their system. It could be just the tonic for couch-potato Britain.

For despite constant nagging from government and health professionals, the vast majority of us still don’t follow the official NHS advice to do at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise five times a week, plus two sessions of muscle-strengthening exercise such as weight-training, push-ups or heavy gardening.

More than 60 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women admit that they don’t manage that. Lack of time is our most common excuse.

As a result, millions of Britons suffer early death and unnecessary disability due to lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

But the answer for many could be quick and simple.

The ongoing study is led by leading exercise expert Jamie Timmons, a professor of systems biology. The team call their system High Intensity Impact Training (HIIT).

So far, their tests on hundreds of unfit middle-aged volunteers in Britain and Canada over the past eight years have shown those three minutes of exercise a week deliver the same significant health improvements as can be achieved through hours in the gym or on the running track.

But scientists do not yet entirely understand why the short-burst exercise regime so profoundly boosts volunteers’ stamina and the fitness of their lungs, heart and blood vessels.

‘The truthful answer is we do not fully understand this,’ says Professor Timmons. ‘But a growing body of independent research shows this is the case and that the textbook explanation of the science of exercise requires revision.’

As for weight loss, the results from conventional long hours of exercise regimes often prove disappointing.

Typically, exercisers get themselves into trouble by eating more than they do normally because strenuous gym sessions leave them ravenous.

Brief, high-intensity exercise does not stimulate appetite as much, because it demands far less energy expenditure, so participants in the trial don’t suffer the same cravings.

What’s more, it appears to do something even more beneficial, according to Professor Timmons.

‘We have found that people feel their appetites are suppressed,’ he says. ‘We should have the final evidence for this next year.’

The regime should also raise people’s metabolic rates after they stop exercising, as it builds muscle — and this tissue makes metabolisms run faster. In turn, this stimulates the breakdown of fat and burns calories.

Timmons’ team also speculates that high-intensity training uses far more muscle tissue than aerobic exercise.

They say: ‘Cycling really vigorously uses not just the leg muscles, but also the upper body including arms and shoulders, so 80 per cent of the body’s muscle cells can be activated, compared to 20 to 40 per cent for walking or moderate intensity jogging or cycling.’

It will be about two years, though, before the British scientists publish their full findings as part of a Europe-wide study. In the meantime, they point out: ‘You don’t need a scientific explanation to enjoy the benefits.’

The team’s theories about short-burst exercise are increasingly supported by other research.

Australian scientists last June found sprint training for 60 minutes a week is as effective in burning male body fat as jogging for seven hours per week.

The study, led by Steve Boutcher at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, recruited 50 overweight men for short, high-intensity cycle sprints.

They had to sprint for eight seconds on an exercise bike followed by 12 seconds’ recovery in a training cycle lasting 20 minutes and repeated three times a week over 12 weeks.

Boutcher reported in the Journal Of Obesity that by the end, the volunteers, who were in their 20s, lost on average 4lb of abdominal fat and increased their muscle mass.

Importantly, they had also reduced fat around their liver, kidneys and other internal organs by 17 per cent.

This is the fat most strongly linked with an increased risk for cardio- vascular disease.

‘Other studies using aerobic exercise have found the amount of exercise needed to produce a similar decrease in visceral fat was about seven hours per week for 14 weeks,’ says Professor Boutcher.

He believes he has found a crucial clue as to why high-intensity regimes may work. Rapid bursts of muscle movement appear to flood the blood with hormones called catecholamines.

These break down fat stores in the body, and burn them up as energy. By comparison, conventional moderate exercise such as cycling for 40 minutes does not raise the blood-levels of catecholamines much at all.

And the professor has discovered another trick for raising levels of these catecholamine hormones in the blood: drink green tea after high-intensity exercise. ‘The tea stops the hormones from being degraded, so they keep burning fat for longer,’ he says.

Tests on women have found fat-loss increases significantly if they drink the tea after exercising.  Three minutes of exercise and a cup of tea to follow?

Has there ever been such an appealing New Year exercise regime?


Make high levels of fat, sugar and salt in children's food ILLEGAL, say British Labour Party

Fascism is never far beneath the surface among Leftists

Labour will today propose new legal limits on levels of fat, sugar and salt in children's food.  Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham will say urgent action must be considered to tackle spiralling levels of obesity.  [Does he have any evidence that what he asks will do any good?]

One option to be considered in the party's public policy health review is to outlaw products with more than a maximum level of fat, sugar and salt which are targeted at children to try to reverse the trend.

Kellog's Frosties and Tesco Choco Snaps cereals, both high in sugar could be under threat if a cap on limits in children's foods is made law - Frosties has 37g of sugar per 100g and Tesco Choco Snaps has 36.1g per 100g

A consultation paper identifies a number of breakfast cereals containing more than 30 per cent sugar according to research by Which?, including Kellogg's Frosties, with 37.0g of sugar per 100g and Tesco Choco Snaps with 36.1g per 100g.

The latest research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), shows that in the UK, 26.6 per cent of girls and 22.7 per cent of boys are now considered 'obese'.

Meanwhile, the National Child Measurement Programme last month reported that one-third of children in England are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. Overweight children are at a greater risk of developing diabetes and cancer.

Mr Burnham said: 'The findings of the OECD should shock us out of our complacency. It is clear that the current voluntary approach is not working. We need to open our minds to new approaches in tackling child obesity.

'Labour wants to lead this debate. That is why we are asking the public and experts if new limits for sugar, fats and salts would be the right approach. Like all parents, I have bought products like cereals and fruit drinks, marketed as more healthy, that contained higher sugar levels than expected. I don't think that any parent would be comfortable with their child eating something that is 40 per cent sugar.

Mr Burnham has begun consulting with the public and experts on the issue, and is considering proposing a 30 per cent cap on sugar in cereals.

'The Government has failed to come up with a convincing plan to tackle this challenge. If we fail to act on the OECD's warning we are storing up huge problems for the country and the NHS in the long term. That is why Labour is calling for new thinking and why we're initiating today's consultation.'

Professor Gabriel Scally, former regional director of public health at the Department of Health, said: 'The continued rise in childhood obesity is an urgent call to action and must not be ignored.

'I applaud the Labour Party for tackling the issue of the foodstuffs filling our children with the empty calories that fuel obesity. Helping parents protect and promote the future health of our children is exactly what we need to be doing.'

Paul Wheeler, of Kellogg's, said: 'Frosties has been on sale for more than 60 years and by now we think people know there's sugar in them - we're not hiding it.

'The problem with ideas like this is they want an easy, silver bullet solution to what is a very difficult issue. It all boils down to the fact we believe parents, and not the government, should choose what their kids eat.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'By working with industry through the Responsibility Deal we have helped to reduce fat, sugar and salt in foods.

'There is now less salt in the food we buy, companies are cutting and capping calories and artificial trans fats are being widely taken out of food.'

The spokesman added: 'We are working to reduce the amount of salt in food further, cut saturated fat consumption and we are exploring how to promote healthier food choices more widely. We also want more businesses making pledges so we get bigger results.'


6 January, 2013

Did outlawing leaded gasoline cause the crime rate to drop?

This theory has been around for a while and the obvious comment is that correlation is not causation.  The increased availability of abortion to black mothers is another (disputed) explanation, for instance.  

And why a 22 year lag?  Is that just cherrypicking?  A lot of crime, particularly among blacks, starts in the early to mid teens.

And it is troubling that Needleman's research on the topic was found to be essentially fraudulent.  That does rather cast a pall on the whole research domain.   Needleman's data would in fact appear to EXONERATE lead!  He could only arrive at his anti-lead conclusions by throwing out 90% of his data!

Another factor is the rise and fall of anti-gun laws.  And that leads to another big problem:  Crime rates are STILL dropping, despite leaded fuel being now well back in history.  Recent drops in offending would seem well-correlated with the gradual re-enactment of gun rights, both via legislation and court rulings.

At least superficially, however, the lead critics do seem to have their ducks lined up nicely.  Lead may indeed be part of the explanation

A growing body of research could explain why crime rates spiked in the 1980s and 1990s and then dramatically dropped in the 2000s.

A new study links leaded gasoline to violent crime rates in six cities.

High lead levels have long been known to cause birth defects, lower intelligence and hearing problems - but now researchers are beginning to find that it also causes high levels of aggression.

Tulane University toxicologist Howard W. Mielke says high levels of lead exposure in children in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in a dramatic uptick in crime two decades later.

When the use of leaded gasoline declined in the 1980s, crime rates dropped off at corresponding rates.

Mielke found that in all six cities - Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and San Diego - every one percent increase in the number of tons of lead released into the atmosphere resulted in a half percentage point increase in the aggravated assault rate 22 years later.

Each metric ton of lead released into the atmosphere, Mielke calculated, resulted in an increase of 1.59 aggravated assaults per 100,000.

The results were millions more shootings, stabbings and beatings, the professor says.

The data was able to explain 90 percent of the rise and fall of crime rates in the cities studied.

The link between lead and violence is relatively new, as well.

Dr Herbert Needleman, a University of Pittsburgh researcher, conducted a 1996 study that showed that children with high lead levels were much more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior than those with normal levels.

A 2002 study showed that youths had been arrested had far higher levels of lead in their bones, on average, than their non-delinquent peers.

Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum reports that the leaded gasoline theory is the only explanation for the dramatic rise and fall of violent crime across the country.

Rudy Giuliani is credited with lowering crime rates in New York thanks to aggressive policing and revolutionary tactics.

Crime rates in the city dropped 75percent between the 1990s and 2010.

But, Drum points out, it dropped by similar rates all over the nation - 70 percent in Dallas, 74 percent in Newark, 79 percent in Los Angeles.  All of those cities stepped up enforcement, but never had 'revolutionary' leaders to combat crime, Drum says.

The study, published in August in the journal Environmental International, is one of several pieces of research dating back to 2000 that ties leaded gasoline to crime.

General Motors developed a lead additive for gasoline to prevent engine knock in the 1920s. The most popular additive was tetraethyllead, which soon became nearly universal.

By the 1970s, cars were being made with catalytic converters, which were incompatible with leaded gasoline.

The government also began taxing the fuel more heavily over pressure from environmental advocates, who cited growing research that showed the additive was a neurotoxin tied to birth defects. 

Leaded gas was quickly phased out by the 1980s. It was banned for use in vehicles on U.S. roadways in 1996.

It is still in use - but only in race cars, piston-powered airplanes and some off-road vehicles.


Stop blaming the state for Britain's obesity, and start eating less and running around more

Welcome to the new army of Fat Controllers. Following the national binge, the sordid newspaper supplements are full of diets, exercises and lifestyle fads. Naturally, the Royal College of Physicians doesn’t want to be left out and so has blessed us all this New Year with the recommendation that there should be an anti-obesity commissar "in every NHS trust.” They don’t quite put it like that, but that’s exactly what it amounts to.

The RCP – and I am again translating their euphemisms into the way we speak in the street – blame the Government for our national tubbiness. Government help for those who stuff themselves daily with food items so disgusting as to put you off eating forever is, says the RCP, "patchy.” And there is, apparently, "a lack of joined-up thinking from the government.”

Well, quite. It’s time that someone had the guts – so to speak – to lay the blame squarely where it belongs: of course the Government is entirely responsible for the extravagant girth of the national waistline. It has nothing to do with a tendency to lie on the sofa swigging cans of strong lager and cheap cider all day only reluctantly to arise and go to the supermarket and there pile the trolley with pizzas and pies and sundry processed inedibles which thicken the figure, dull the brain and clog the arteries.

While I’m on this investigative journalism kick, this courageous fault-finding with everyone else but myself and ascribing culpability for all ills to the state, let me say also how angry I am for that the Government has not acknowledged its other responsibilities: for instance, to provide me with a £10,000 watch and my wife with a £20,000 handbag and both of us with a house like wot Wayne Rooney’s got.

But back to the flab. Jonathan Swift, thou should’st be living at this hour – to satirise our nation as a new Lilliput in which the poor die because they haven’t enough to eat, and a new Brobdingnag where the rich die because they eat too much.

What should be the message of these NHS-based, taxpayer-funded "teams of experts” and "obesity champions” to all the Mr and Mrs Gargantua and Pantagruel as they waddle around our great cities between the burger bar and the kebab stall? I don’t want to blind the nation with science, but I’m afraid the advice is extremely technical and hard to understand: EAT LESS AND RUN ABOUT MORE


4 January, 2013

Lustig fructose

"Lustig" is German for "funny" or "amusing".  Usually Ashkenazi  when used as a surname

Robert Lustig is an attention-seeking food-fanatic and seems to be some kind of nut.  But a small recent study suggests that he may be on to something. 

His extreme claims about natural fruit sugar (fructose) being a "poison" have rightly put most of the medical research fraternity against him and the research evidence  against his demonization of fructose is strong.  There are even some studies (e.g. here) that suggest that fructose is good for you.

He does seem to have crumpled under the weight of opposition  and now demonizes sugar generally, including ordinary table sugar, which is a combination of fructose and glucose.  And, broadly speaking, his argument that in some way we get used to a high sugar intake and thus consume more sugar that we otherwise would is reasonable enough.  Habituation is a well-known process in many things.  I reproduce below some comments on his latest book.

But has he given up too soon?  A recent study does show a strong differential response to fructose versus glucose.  Admittedly the study is small and very short term but it is carefully constructed, cautiously analysed and relies on direct brain measurements rather than subjective judgments.

On the other hand (you almost need to be an octopus in this matter) measuring cerebral blood flow is a pretty crude measurement of anything -- but on yet another hand several different measures produced similar results

What I think the latest results suggest is that there needs to be more attention to glucose.  Fructose may not be the villain but glucose may be the saviour!  Lustig may have been right in separating out different types of sugar, even if he originally focused on the wrong one.  Should we replace ordinary table sugar with glucose only?

Glucose is not as sweet as table sugar so we would have to use more of it  -- which might not be good.  But we could add a bit of aspartame for more sweetness.  Yes:  I know the cannonade of condemnation that will greet me from the aspartame freaks.  Been there.  Done that.


Waistband feeling a bit tighter, or buttons straining after Christmas?

While it’s easy to blame your appalling willpower or TV-inspired lethargy, according to a respected U.S. obesity expert, weight gain might not be your fault at all.

In a fascinating new book, Robert Lustig, a professor of clinical paediatrics at the University of California, expounds a whole new scientific theory.

He argues that the urge to overeat and lounge around doing nothing is not a sign of weakness.

It is, he says, a hormonal issue, triggered by eating too much sugar.

He points the finger of blame at the hormone leptin, which acts like an appetite thermostat.

As one of two ‘hunger hormones’ in the body, leptin works to decrease the appetite (its partner, ghrelin, increases appetite).

When you have had enough to eat, your fat cells release leptin, which effectively dulls the appetite by instructing the brain that it’s time to stop eating.

But Professor Lustig warns that our sweet tooth is sending this process haywire.

For many years scientists thought obesity could be caused by a shortage of leptin — thinking that without adequate levels, overweight people simply never received the message that they were full.

But more recent studies have shown that obese people have plenty of leptin (in fact, the fatter you are, the more of it you appear to have), but are more likely to be ‘leptin-resistant’.

This means the cells in the brain that should register leptin no longer ‘read’ the signals saying the body is full, but instead assume it is starving — no matter how much food you continue to eat.

In panic, the brain pumps out instructions to increase energy storage — instigating powerful cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods because these are the easiest and most immediate forms of energy — and conserve energy usage, by dampening any urge to get up off the sofa and go for a run.

The food cravings are made even more intense — and impossible to resist — because leptin is supposed to dampen the feeling of pleasure and enjoyment you get from food by suppressing the release of the brain chemical dopamine, helping to decrease appetite.

But if you are leptin-resistant, food never stops tasting delicious, no matter how much of it you eat.

This, says Professor Lustig, is why many overweight people find it so hard to stop eating, and why diets so often fail.

Scientists have been struggling to work out what causes leptin resistance.

But now Professor Lustig and his team have been able to show — in repeated studies on humans — that too much sugar in the diet is to blame.

High sugar diets lead to spikes in the hormone.  This is needed to clear sugar out of the blood and into storage as fat.

But repeated insulin spikes, due to a high sugar diet, can lead to a condition called ‘insulin resistance’ (when the cells have been so bombarded by insulin they no longer respond to it).

Professor Lustig believes insulin resistance triggers leptin resistance, and, crucially, he has discovered that by reducing insulin levels it is possible to improve ‘leptin signalling’ (the brain’s ability to read leptin), stop cravings, put the brakes on food consumption — and trigger weight loss.

In his new book Fat Chance, Professor Lustig explains that leptin resistance — and sugar — is at the root of the obesity epidemic.

More here

Dreading your diet? Don't worry...plump people live LONGER than their skinnier counterparts

This cannot be noted often enough

If your New Year’s resolution is to live a healthier life, it might be best to ditch that diet and enjoy another helping of festive leftovers.  For a bit of extra weight could actually help you live longer, according to extensive research.

Men and women who are slightly plump have longer lives than those who are slimmer, it found.

Analysis of the results of almost 100 studies revealed that those who were of normal weight – a usual barometer of health – were likely to die sooner than those who were slightly overweight.

However, those who were any bigger than this were around a third more likely to die during the months or years they were being studied than those of normal weight.

The analysis is not the first to suggest that a bit of extra weight is actually good for health.

Explanations as to why this might be include the possibility that those who start out slightly heavier will have more fat reserves to call on should they lose weight due to ill health as they get older.

It is also possible that concerns about the health of the overweight and obese means that problems linked to weight, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, are more likely to be spotted and treated, improving that person’s overall health.

It has also been suggested that some people’s genes may help them escape the health consequences of being slightly overweight, while a bit of extra padding could help the elderly to survive falls unscathed.

Another theory is that some of those who are overweight may actually exercise more and eat better than thin people who  starve themselves or smoke to suppress  their appetite.

For the latest study, US government researchers read 91 previous research papers  on the topic from around the world – involving millions of men and women.

They looked at the subjects’ body mass index at the start of the research and how likely they were to have died by the end of it.

Body mass index, or BMI, is a mathematical formula relating height to weight.

People are classified as being of normal weight if they have a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.9 and overweight if their reading is between 25 and 29.9.  A BMI higher than this is classified as obese and the bigger the reading the greater the risks to health are thought to be.

The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that those judged to be overweight were 6 per cent less likely to have died by the end of the study period than those of normal weight.

Having a BMI of between 30 and 34.9, and so being slightly obese, also did not seem to harm health.

However, those whose BMI was greater than this were 29 per cent less likely to live to see the end of the study than those whose weight was classed as ‘normal’.


3 January, 2013

Bottled water 'less safe' than tap (despite costing up to 1,000 times more)

It's the one accessory that no health-conscious fitness enthusiast is seen without. And the benefits of bottled water are so valued that it costs up to 1,000 times more than what comes out of our taps.

But far from being healthier, the bottled variety is subject to far less stringent safety tests than tap water.  It is also much more likely to be contaminated or become a source of infection, according to a university study.

The warning suggests that much of the £1.5billion-plus Britons pay for bottled water each year in the belief that it is better for us is spent mistakenly.

On average, we drink 33 litres of bottled water annually, whether ordinary mineral, fizzy, or ‘purified’ tap water.

Almost a quarter of people who drink bottled water at home say they do so because they believe it is ‘better for them’ than tap water, according to market researchers Mintel.

But what these consumers may not realise is that tap water must be checked daily under a rigorous inspection regime.

It also contains trace amounts of chlorine that prevent the spread of anything harmful such as bacterial infections.

By contrast, makers of bottled water are only required to undertake monthly testing at source. Once filled and sealed, a bottle of water might remain in storage for months before it is sold. Bottled water contains no  disinfecting additives such as chlorine.

After a bottle of water is  opened it has no way of remaining sterile, and so must be drunk within days.

Professor Paul Younger of Glasgow University said: ‘Water coming from UK taps is the most stringently tested in the world.

‘People think there must be something wrong with tap water because it is so cheap and plentiful. But from a safety and price perspective, tap water is better for you.

‘If the bottle is accidentally opened or someone tampers with it, then it can easily get contaminated,’ added Prof Younger, who is the author of Water: All That Matters.

‘There’s certainly a greater chance you could find something harmful in bottled water than from your taps.

‘Ideally it should be drunk on the day it is opened, as it can easily pick up bacteria from someone’s hands or face.’

Sue Pennison of the Drinking Water Inspectorate, which audits household supplies, said out of more than four million samples of tap water last year, 99.96 per cent passed strict standards.

She said: ‘Tap water is safe to drink, everything else is a personal lifestyle choice.’

Jo Jacobius, director of British Bottled Water Producers, said all water available in the UK is ‘highly regulated and generally of good quality’.  She added that most bottled water companies test on a daily basis.

Natural bottled mineral water must come from an officially recognised underground spring, be bottled at source and cannot be treated or filtered.

Spring water must also be bottled at source, but it can be treated or filtered.

Sourced from rivers, boreholes and springs, tap water is treated and put into supply or held via storage reservoirs.


Food faddists deprive their children

As well as being a pain in the behind

BEING a relatively new mother, I thought it would be great to throw a party to celebrate my two-year-old's birthday. Unfortunately I hadn't realised birthday parties are no longer the junk food fests of my youth.

Having been up since 4am baking, I perhaps wasn't in the best mood to have my shortcomings as a hostess commented on by a mother whose daughter attends "enhanced play sessions" and "creative gymkhana classes".

Things started well: children piled in, helped themselves to cupcakes, hit one another with balloons and consumed half their body weight in fairy bread. Then Botox-mother sidled up and whispered, "I've never had to deal with this before". "Deal with what?" I asked. She hissed, "Junk food."

I looked at the table covered in half-eaten cake and sticky fingerprints. "There's fruit kebabs," I protested.

"Yes, with marshmallows."

I said she could have given her daughter some of the bread. "It's white," she said as if I'd offered cocaine.

"And the honey?"

"Not organic."

Apparently I'd committed the ultimate faux pas in the eastern suburbs: I'd thrown a birthday party that did not cater for the gluten-free, lactose-intolerant, no-dairy-before-5pm, nuts-are-evil brigade. I'd gone for brightly coloured food with a dangerously high amount of fat and coma-inducing quantities of sugar. My card was marked.

"It's not done," she said, pointing at me with a manicured finger. For her daughter's party, she had hired a nutritionist and buckwheat pancakes, organic muesli with goat's yoghurt (low fat) and rye bread with (no sugar) jam was the fare. And to drink? Water with a slice of lemon.

"Did your son enjoy the food?" I asked a friend who attended the nutritionally healthy party. "Hell, no. He kept asking why there wasn't any cake and who'd hidden all the sweets."

As I watched this mother and daughter leave , I felt desperately sorry for the little girl who will never know what it feels like to eat so much cake that you feel sick or to drink so much cordial that you spin round and round in a circle until you throw up in a heap. Buckwheat pancakes have their place but maybe not at a two-year-old's birthday party.


2 January, 2013

Pregnant women who see the hygienist reduce their risk of a premature birth by a third

Yeah, yeah!  It's middle class woment who go to the "hygeinist" and they are healthier anyway.  But I can't see the article in the current issue of the journal

Pregnant women who go to the hygienist may cut their risk of premature birth by a third, new research suggests.

Having a scale and polish removes the build-up of tartar from near the gumline, in turn reducing the risk of severe gum disease.

Although the link between gum disease and premature birth isn't clear, previous research has shown improving oral health does reduce the risk.

Doctors have previously established that severe gum infections cause an increase in the production of prostaglandin and tumour necrosis factor, chemicals which induce labour, to be produced.

Preterm births are defined as babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and have historically been linked to poor levels of oral health. In England alone, 54,000 babies are born prematurely each year.

The new research, published in the Journal of Periodontology, found there was a 34 per cent reduction in the risk of preterm births for expectant mothers suffering with gum disease if they underwent simple treatment at the dentist or hygienist.

The researchers, from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, found that women with gum disease who were at high risk of having a premature birth benefited from having a procedure called scaling and root planing.

Dr Nigel Carter, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, said the research affirmed the need for expectant mothers to take care of their oral health during pregnancy.

He said: 'This paper adds to the growing body of evidence that suggests oral health during pregnancy is particularly important.

'While it is unreasonable to expect everyone to have impeccable oral health, all pregnant women should not neglect their mouths, particularly if there is a possibility of it having an impact on the unborn baby.'

He added that the importance of regular appointments with the dentist and hygienist could not be underestimated.

'The dentist or hygienist may be able to give you advice on how to care for your teeth at home if you are suffering from morning sickness, not to mention a thorough cleaning and advice on how to look after your teeth and gums at home.

'Even those with good oral health will experience changes throughout pregnancy. Some women will find their gums will bleed more easily, a problem made worse if you are already suffering from gum disease.

'As NHS dental care is free for mums to be, visiting the dentist isn’t going to impact on those vital pennies ahead of your new-born’s arrival. All you need is to be a registered NHS patient and to have a current maternity exemption certificate.'


Each NHS trust needs a tsar to tackle obesity crisis, say top British doctors as UK's fat epidemic shows no sign of slowing

The "leading doctors" concerned are certainly not scientists.  Otherwise they would first look for evidence that their proposals would do any good.  It's unlikely, to say the least

An obesity ‘tsar’ should be appointed at every NHS trust to tackle a crisis affecting  millions, leading doctors say.

They also want an individual appointed at government level to oversee the new health drive.

A study by The Royal College of Physicians found that the UK is second only to the US for weight problems and the situation is getting worse.

Yet treatment is still ‘inadequate’ adding to the annual £5billion cost of dealing with the issue. The Royal College said two out of three hospitals lack ‘joined-up’ services for patients who are obese or  overweight.

Complications the patients face include heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, sleep disorders and gynaecological problems.

The RCP said every NHS trust should have an obesity champion to co-ordinate services and improve staff training.

Nationally, a government appointee should drive an obesity strategy across a number of ministries including health, the Treasury, education and sport.

‘The Government has failed to address this in a joined-up way which is essential if we are to make an impact,’ said the report. The obesity tsar or figurehead could come from the House of Lords and should be politically independent, according to RCP vice-president Professor John Wass.


1 January, 2013

By all means go dry for January, but it's worth knowing that 'detoxing' does nothing for your health

Hurrah! Peter Oborne has written an entertaining piece about why he's giving up alcohol for January: in essence, because he's worried that he is looking forward to that first drink of the day a bit much, and feeling the effects more than he used to. With the constant nagging background hangover and diffuse feelings of ill health that the end of the year brings, I suspect a lot of us will sympathise.

He's doing it as part of Alcohol Concern's "Dry January" campaign; the drink charity is trying to get people to do a sponsored month off the booze, to raise money for (I assume) getting even more people off the booze.

You'd be forgiven for being a bit tired of these sponsored months – we've barely seen the back of the damn moustaches – but if people feel it's a good cause, by all means do it. One thing that's probably worth being aware of, though, is that if you do it too, while you'll no doubt raise some cash, and perhaps save a few quid and lose a few pounds, there's very little reason to believe it will make you healthier in the long term.

Every January, hundreds of thousands of people take the month off the booze as a "detox". But your liver will not thank you for it, and in fact the whole concept of "detoxing" is little more than New Age nonsense, a modern penance for the sins of the year, which will do nothing for your long-term health. (Particularly idiotic are the "detox kits" that you can buy from various outlets, which are, as far as I can work out, purest quackery, especially anything which uses the word "quantum".)

When the annual January Detox Bandwagon rolled around last year, the British Liver Trust issued a statement pointing out that it was nonsense. They got a consultant hepatologist, Dr Mark Wright, to say: "Detoxing for just a month in January is medically futile. It can lead to a false sense of security and feeds the idea that you can abuse your liver as much as you like and then sort everything else with a quick fix.

"It makes about as much sense as maxing out your credit cards and overdraft all year, then thinking you can fix it by just eating toast in January. The figures just don't stack up."

Essentially, the liver is quite good at repairing itself, but it needs to do it fairly regularly. A few days off the sauce each week, as opposed to a month off every year, is what actual doctors recommend.

Feel free, then, to have a booze-free January. You may even find it makes you feel better and saves you some money. But be aware that it does nothing for your long-term health, and to be honest, if you need to take a month off the booze to prove you can do it (and especially if you require a financial incentive, albeit a charity-directed one, to do so), then you might want to think about your relationship with the stuff.

Anyway. Mine's a Talisker, please. Happy new year, everybody!


Can an unborn baby really taste curry?

Pregnancy is a time like no other for old wives’ tales. But which are true, and which are hokum?

Two-and-a-half years ago when I found myself pregnant, I was bursting with questions about my developing child. Each week I would obsessively scour pregnancy books and websites for details of what my little foetus could be expected to accomplish in the coming days, trying to build up a picture of what he or she was up to in there.

But although knowing my little one was growing fingernails that week was mildly interesting, none of the books told me what I really wanted to know: when would he or she become conscious? Could they feel the sensation of the ill-advised waltzer ride I took at the fairground, and would they remember it? Was there any truth to old wives’ tales such as "weird food cravings mean you’re having a boy”, or "if your bump is low, you’re having a girl”?

I was also bemused by conflicting advice on eating, drinking and exercise – eating too much may raise the baby’s risk of obesity or diabetes; or exercise could trigger a miscarriage – much of which seemed to fly in the face of common sense. Looking at online pregnancy forums, I realised that other women were asking similar questions, often falling back on anecdote and received wisdom.

The tipping point came when I was tucking into a chicken jalfrezi at an Indian restaurant, and felt my baby do a somersault. Could he or she taste what I was eating, and did they object to it? I had to find out.

As a reporter for New Scientist, I had access to the thousands of scientific journals that are published each month, and experience of making sense of them, so I began to hunt for the answers. What I discovered amazed and excited me. I learnt that some couples really are statistically more likely to have boys – those who already have three boys, or men with lots of brothers – although no one understands why. I discovered that unborn babies can see, hear, feel and remember experiences from their time in the womb, and that some of this may help prepare them for life on the outside. For instance, babies seem to remember certain sounds from their time in utero, so they may be less fazed by everyday things like a vacuum cleaner.

And babies probably can taste curry – or at least the garlic in curry – and this may make them more receptive to it when it is introduced to their diet later on. During late pregnancy they might even dream, for they experience far higher rates of REM sleep – when dreaming occurs – than we do as adults.

Even after our daughter, Matilda, was born, questions continued to prick at my mind. I learnt that controlled crying can teach a child to sleep through the night, but there are several other less extreme methods that are just as effective.

I discovered that, far from being born with a blank slate, babies already have some concept of who their mother is; what a human face looks like; and an appreciation of numbers and language. Newborn babies already seem capable of distinguishing their mothers’ voice from that of a stranger’s. They also seem to react to a happy tone of voice, and will cry in a melody befitting their natural tongue – so the intonation pattern of French babies’ cries mimics that of the French language, for example.

As far as numbers are concerned, they seem able to match a number of beeps to a similar number of visual objects – or at least notice if they don’t match up.

I became similarly well-read in the science of baby poo: what causes it to change colour or consistency, and just how many bacteria live in it. (None at birth, but around a trillion per millilitre by the end of the first month.)

I was also frequently angered by what I read. Contrary to what pregnant women are told, there is no strong evidence that eating peanuts, exercising or lying on your back during pregnancy harms the baby. Even the science underpinning government advice on how much alcohol it is safe to drink is far from clear cut. There’s no doubt that drinking large amounts of alcohol is harmful to unborn babies, but there is a massive grey zone concerning small to moderate amounts, where there’s little to no evidence that it causes harm – and even some evidence that small amounts may be beneficial.

Shortly after I had decided to turn my research into a book – Bumpology – I discovered that I was pregnant with my second child. This time it was a very different experience. The more I researched, the more I realised that much of what I had been told during my first pregnancy was not backed up by evidence.

This time around, I was still obsessed with the little person that was growing inside me and terrified of miscarriage during the early weeks. However, I took comfort in knowing that the oft-cited statistic of one in three pregnancies ending in miscarriage is a gross generalisation, and is probably irrelevant to the bulk of women, being based on a study that detected pregnancy at the earliest possible point, when many embryos will fail.

I was generally more relaxed about what I ate, but more vigilant about avoiding things like Camembert or drinking more than a couple of glasses of wine per week, even though I understood that the risks were relatively small. I think that sifting through the evidence and focusing on the handful of things that really can cause harm in pregnancy made me appreciate that it wasn’t such a big deal to give them up for nine months – whereas being told to avoid almost everything during my first pregnancy just made me cynical about pretty much all health advice.

However, what really incensed me was the discovery that much of what I’d been told by antenatal teachers, hypnobirthing instructors and even some midwives about birth during my first pregnancy, wasn’t necessarily borne out by the evidence.

For example, women are often told that having their labour artificially kick-started if they run past their due date will increase their chances of needing a caesarean or having their baby pulled out with forceps. But if you compare the relevant groups of women, being induced at 42 weeks of pregnancy actually decreases the risk of a caesarean compared to doing nothing and simply waiting for the baby to arrive of its own accord. I suspect that knowing this could significantly reduce anxiety levels – and curry consumption – among the pregnant population.

I also felt short-changed by those antenatal teachers who glossed over some of the less convenient truths about birth and early motherhood first time around, such as the risks of tearing during labour; the fact that many labours don’t run smoothly; and just how difficult breastfeeding can be.

I was beginning to think that some of this anger was misplaced, when only last week a terrified pregnant friend called to say that a midwife had told her that having an epidural to dull the pain of labour would mean she was more likely to need forceps to deliver her baby; and that if she gave birth in a midwife-run birthing centre, she would be unlikely to tear because they would make sure the baby was delivered slowly.

It is true that epidurals increase the risk of an instrumental delivery involving forceps, but only very slightly. In fact, around 20 women would need to have an epidural for just one to need an extra instrumental delivery, and not necessarily because the drugs make it harder to push, but because if you’re already anaesthetised you’re possibly more likely to be considered a candidate for a forceps delivery.

What’s more, no one can guarantee that you won’t tear during childbirth, and in skirting around this issue antenatal teachers often neglect to reassure women that tearing really isn’t that bad, or offer tips on how to promote healing if it does happen.

Meanwhile, I have been surprised by just how much remains unknown about pregnancy, birth and babies. Although several interesting theories exist, we still don’t know for sure what causes morning sickness – even though some women, like the Duchess of Cambridge, have to be hospitalised for it. It is still near-impossible to predict how long labour will last, or if a woman is likely to develop complications.

And although there is some preliminary evidence that stress during pregnancy results in more active and irritable babies, I’d love to know if relaxed mothers are more likely to have a chilled-out baby. Our second child, Max, was born in September, and so far (in my uncontrolled, unscientific study of two), this seems to be the case.

M y research has given me greater confidence that many of my instincts about motherhood are probably correct – or at least unlikely to cause harm – and as a result, I have been more laissez-faire about the whole thing. For now, at least, Max seems to share my relaxed attitude to babyhood, while energetic Matilda continues to run circles around all of us.

Pregnancy is a time of great wonder, and I still find it staggering that a single egg and sperm can meet and trigger this cascade of events that lead to a new little person being built. Having a baby can be one of the greatest joys that life bestows, but it is hard work. Parents-to-be can therefore do without any unnecessary guilt, anxiety or doubt.


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. More here on similar findings

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it

The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

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

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

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

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

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

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

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

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

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

The 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