Monitoring food and health news

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

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

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

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


31 July, 2009

Organic food 'no better for health than factory-farmed food' says U.K. government report

Which has outraged the faddists. How nasty of science to debunk superstition!

Organic food is no healthier than other produce, according to the Government’s food watchdog. The largest ever review into the science behind organic food found that it contained no more nutritional value than factory-farmed meat or fruit and vegetables grown using chemical fertilisers. The findings challenge popular assumptions about the organic industry, worth £2 billion in the UK. Consumer groups said that shoppers may now think twice before buying organic.

The report, commissioned by the Food Standards Agency, was carried out by experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who studied data collected over 50 years.

Organic groups were incensed by the findings. The Soil Association accused the FSA of ignoring up-to-date evidence and pre-empting EU research for political reasons. Lord Melchett, its policy director, said that he had urged the FSA to delay its report. “They have jumped the gun,” he said.

The FSA researchers were led by by a public health nutritionist, Dr Alan Dangour. They found that there was no significant benefit from drinking milk or eating meat, vegetables, fruit, poultry and eggs from organic sources, as opposed to the products of conventional farm systems.

Pro-organic groups criticised the findings of the year-long review, which cost £120,000. They said that the conclusions, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, failed to take into account the impact of pesticides and herbicides. Organic farming bans artificial chemical fertilisers and has stricter animal welfare rules than conventional farming.

Dr Dangour said that, as a nutritionist, he was not qualified to look at pesticides. “There is a possibility that organic food has less pesticide residues, but this was not part of the review,” he said. “Potentially this may be an area for further research.” He added: “A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance. “Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced crops and livestock on the basis of nutritional supremacy.”

Among the differences identified by the study was a higher phosphorous content in organic food. Dr Dangour said: “Phosphorus is an important mineral and is available in everything we eat. It is important for public health but the difference in the content between organic and conventional foods was not statistically relevant in terms of health.” He added: “Acidity is also higher in organic produce but acidity is about taste and sensory perception and makes no difference at all for health.”

Nitrogen levels were found to be higher in conventional produce, but this was not surprising given the use of nitrogen as a fertiliser in commercial agriculture. But the levels posed no better or worse impacts on human health, the research said.

A study of 52,000 papers was made, but only 162 scientific papers published between January 1958 and February last year were deemed relevant, of which just 55 met the strict quality criteria for the study, Dr Dangour said.

Twenty-three nutrients were analysed. In 20 categories there were no significant differences between production methods and the nutrient content. The differences detected were most likely to have been due to differences in fertiliser use and ripeness at harvest, and were unlikely to provide any health benefits.

The Soil Association challenged the conclusions that some nutritional differences between organic and conventional food were not important. It said it was particularly concerned that the researchers dismissed higher levels of beneficial nutrients in organic food — such as 53.6 higher levels of beta-carotene and 38.4 per cent more flavonoids in organic foods — according to the mean percentage difference of samples analysed. Dr Dangour was adamant that these were not relevant because of the level of standard error in the research — which was 37 per cent for beta-carotene and 10.6 per cent for flavonoids.

The authors said in their conclusion: “No evidence of a difference in content of nutrients and other substances between organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products was detected for the majority of nutrient assessed in this review, suggesting that organically and conventionally produced crops and livestock products are broadly comparable in their nutrient content.”

Gill Fine, the FSA’s director of consumer choice, said: “This study does not mean that people should not eat organic food. What it shows is that there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.”

In reaching their conclusions, the report's authors were accused of pre-empting a Brussels study being carried out by Carlo Leifert, Professor of Ecological Farming at Newcastle University, which is due to be published this year. [A Professor of ecological farming! Well. He would be an unbiased source to go to wouldn't he? But for all he knows about farming, does he know anything about nutrition?] Professor Leifert told The Times that his research found higher level of antioxidants — which help the body to combat cancer and cardiovascular disease — in organic foods. He said that the FSA did not want to admit that there was anything good in organic food. “The Government is worried they will then have to have a policy to make organic food available to everyone,” he said.


Dumb Food Police Lawsuit of the Day

By Debbie Schlussel. Debbie has some good comments below but even she seems to have been hornswoggled about the evils of hamburgers, red meat etc

Whether or not you agree with it, this claim is not news: that a diet heavy in red meat–specifically processed red meat–can be unhealthy and possibly cancerous. It’s part of why I don’t eat more than a couple of burgers a year (the same with hot dogs).

But the food police–specifically the vegetarian food police–have filed a stupid lawsuit against the nation’s largest purveyors of hot dogs. The plaintiffs call themselves, “The Cancer Project,” but that’s really a fake name for the far left vegan anti-war group, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which wants to impose its difficult and abnormal eating habits on the rest of us. This is the same group that wants to stop us from drinking milk.

The gist of their lawsuit is that these meat brands sould be required to use warning labels about cancer on their packaging. But if you don’t know about these claims of cancer, then you haven’t read a paper or magazine in ages, don’t pay attention, and won’t be reading a label on a hot dog or burger package.

Of course, the case will go nowhere. But it will be a complete waste of time and a money drain on the meat product manufacturers. And that’s clearly the goal of this suit. In turn, it will increase the prices of inexpensive meats on consumers. But, hey, that’s the goal of the veggie food police.
“Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer.” That’s the label that a vegan advocacy group wants a New Jersey court to order Oscar Mayer, Hebrew National and other food companies to slap on hot dog packages.
FYI, the suit also names, Kraft Foods, Inc. (maker of Oscar Mayer), Sara Lee, Nathan’s Famous, among others.
The nonprofit Cancer Project filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of three New Jersey plaintiffs asking the Essex County Superior Court to compel the companies to place cancer-risk warning labels on hot dog packages sold in New Jersey. “Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer,” said Neal Barnard, president of the Cancer Project and an adjunct professor at the George Washington University medical school in Washington, D.C. “Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information.” . . .

Efforts to put warning labels on hot dog packages are “crazy,” said Josh Urdang, 27, as he stood in line to buy two franks at Pink’s hot dog stand in Hollywood on Tuesday. “It wouldn’t change how many hot dogs I eat. Not at all,” said Urdang, an information technology consultant from Hollywood. His friend Joe Di Lauro, 31, called such a move “overpolicing. . . . At what point do you stop breaking things down? Unless we’re going to put a warning label on every single food and say what’s bad in it.”

Other consumers were skeptical of the Cancer Project’s agenda. “Vegans complaining about hot dogs is like the Amish complaining about gas prices,” said Susan Thatcher of Irvine. . . .

Said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, a nutritionist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York: “There is speculation that nitrosamines can increase cancer risk when consumed in large amounts and frequently. Occasionally should cause no worry. The stuff people typically have with a hot dog may be a more immediate concern: too many calories from all the fat-laden potato and macaroni salads, sugary drinks and sweet desserts.”
Like I said, this suit will go nowhere. But it’ll be like a mini-Obama stimulus: providing make work for lawyers, clogging the court system, and leading to higher prices at the supermarket and restaurants, like Nation’s Famous, for everybody else.

Whether or not hot dogs and other processed meats are bad for you is not the issue. American freedom is. And that includes the freedom to eat whatever you want–good or bad. We don’t need the state setting our diets. Fight back against the food extremists. Eat a hot dog for dinner, today.


30 July, 2009

Cut size of chocolate bars to fight obesity, says British food watchdog

Some people will never learn. Such cuts tend to cause people to buy TWO amounts of the shrunken food item -- with a total INCREASE in the amounts consumed

Chocolate fans, be warned: your sugary snack is set to get smaller. The Food Standards Agency wants manufacturers to reduce the size of chocolate bars by about a fifth to help to cut calorie intake. It proposes that by 2012 standard-sized bars should be no more than 50g. Currently, Mars bars are 58g and twin Bounty bars are 57g.

Manufacturers have also been asked to sell bite-size bars as single items, of 40g or under, instead of in multi-bar bags. The agency hopes to discourage companies from marketing giant-sized bars and will urge manufacturers to promote lower-calorie treats. The aim is to help consumers to reduce the number of calories and the amount of saturated fat that they eat.

By 2050, 60 per cent of Britons will be obese unless the nation’s diet is improved, according to health chiefs, with the cost to the National Health Service estimated to reach more than £8.4 billion. Officials decided to push for smaller bite-size bars rather than developing healthier recipes because European Union rules restrict sugar and fat reductions in chocolate.

Restrictions on the size of carbonated drinks were also put forward yesterday as part of the consultation with the food industry. It is also proposed that, within six years, fizzy drinks should be sold in smaller containers, with 250ml (8.8 fl.oz) suggested as the norm instead of the current standard 330ml for most brands. Added sugar levels to drinks should be reduced by 4 per cent within three years — the idea being that consumers will be weaned off very sweet drinks without noticing the lower sugar content.

Gill Fine, of the agency, said: “We are not telling people what to eat. We want to make it easier for people to make healthier choices — to choose foods with reduced saturated fat and sugar — or smaller portion sizes.” Saturated fat should be cut by 10 per cent in cakes, biscuits, and pastry. The agency is hoping for voluntary action by the industry but if companies fail to respond, ministers might force their hand by threatening to legislate.

The Food and Drink Federation expressed disappointment at moves to set what are seen as arbitrary targets for specific nutrients in certain foods, rather than encouraging consumers to follow a balanced diet and lifestyle


Meat and three veg is still Australia's favourite meal

This is the British culinary heritage and I grew up on it many years ago so I don't know whether to be pleased or horrified to hear that it is still common. It was pretty boring food but we all survived and Australian now has one of the world's longest life expectancies

FORGET MasterChef, meat and three veg is still Australia's favourite meal. And fine dining is feeling the pinch in the unstable economic climate, the Herald Sun reports. One in five households served chops or steak with salad or vegetables every night, a Westinghouse survey shows. Next in order were a roast, spaghetti bolognaise, stir fry, and fish, while readymade meals rounded out the top 10.

Westinghouse said the survey showed Australians recognised the importance of home-cooked meals. But Melbourne chef Alan Campion said the popularity of simple meals showed the nation had become "time poor". "There is no doubt people are strapped for time and cooking is an effort," Campion said. "However, a perfectly cooked steak, a beautiful baked potato and some other vegies on the side is really not too bad."

Campion, who has published several cook books and runs cooking boot camps, said the popularity of MasterChef will have a huge effect on what the nation eats in the near future because it had fans of every age. "I overheard three teenage boys enthusiastically talking about the show the other day in a cafe. That's not something I'd seen before," he said. "The show will have a continuing effect and hopefully it will help change what people eat."

A survey by American Express found that 83 per cent of Melbourne and Sydney restaurants have noted reduced customer spending in recent months. Most of the 250 restaurant, cafe and bar owners interviewed said the economic climate was proving a major challenge for their businesses.

Upmarket establishments in Melbourne's inner city suburbs had seen a drop in patrons and frequency of customer visits. But cafes and bars were prospering, with almost a third reporting higher profits.


Pay donors to end the shortage of IVF eggs, says British watchdog

Official authoritarianism wilting under the pressure of reality

A longstanding ban on selling sperm and eggs should be reconsidered to address a national shortage of donors, the head of the Government’s fertility watchdog says.

Payments to donors could cut the number of childless couples travelling abroad for treatment, Lisa Jardine, of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, told The Times.

The removal of anonymity for donors in 2005 and strict rules against payments have provoked a crisis in fertility treatment, forcing many couples to wait years for the therapy they need to start a family. A recent study showed that access to eggs and sperm was the main reason why hundreds of British couples became “fertility tourists” each month.

The number of treatment cycles using donated eggs fell by 25 per cent between 2004 and 2006; the number of women using donated sperm fell by 30 per cent. These trends have convinced Professor Jardine that the authority should reconsider its 2006 ruling that donors can get up to £250 in expenses but no direct payments.

Her move will raise concerns about a market in human tissue and exploitation of women as egg donation is invasive and involves an element of risk. In countries that allow payment, such as the United States, Spain and Russia, young women often donate to wipe out debts or to fund university fees.

Professor Jardine said that the law already treated eggs, sperm and embryos differently from other tissues, so there was no danger of setting a precedent for the sale of organs such as kidneys. Payment would also ensure that more women were treated in licensed domestic clinics, rather than in countries with less stringent regulations.

“I’m not saying the decision arrived at before I became chair wasn’t the right one at the time,” she said. “But given the evidence that egg shortage is driving women overseas, I feel a responsibility to look at it again.”

She said the principle that women could be compensated for donating had been established already through egg-sharing schemes, in which women were offered cheaper IVF for agreeing to give away some of their eggs.

The professor also called for a debate on the ethics of sperm and egg donation across generations and within families. She pointed to a case in which a lesbian couple had conceived with eggs donated by one partner, which were fertilised by the other woman’s brother. Each partner had one of the resulting embryos implanted and carried to term.


29 July, 2009

The old prostate conundrum again

Prostate cancers may grow too slowly to be fatal

A 15-YEAR study of men who had surgery for prostate cancer found only a small percentage died from cancer, adding to evidence that some men might be able to skip radical surgery to treat the often slow-growing tumors. The US study of more than 12,600 men with prostate cancer who had their prostates removed found only 12 per cent died from cancer 15 years later, even though some showed signs of having an aggressive type of cancer. Many more men - 38 per cent - died from causes other than cancer.

The study "shows a remarkably low risk of dying of prostate cancer within 15 years for treated men and supports the concept that men with slow-growing cancers may not need immediate treatment," study author Dr Peter Scardino said.

Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer in men worldwide after lung cancer, killing 254,000 men a year globally. Doctors have routinely recommended prostate cancer screening for men over 50 using a blood test for prostate specific antigen, or PSA. The belief was that early diagnosis and aggressive treatment for any cancer is better than standing by and doing nothing.

But many prostate tumors are slow-growing and take years to cause harm. Some studies suggest many men are living with the side-effects of aggressive treatment with surgery and radiation for a cancer that may never have killed them. "Our results demonstrate the low lethality of these cancers after radical prostatectomy," Dr Scardino and colleagues wrote. They said in the United States, fewer than two per cent of men under age 65 opt to forgo prostate surgery in favor of regular testing for their cancers. And 73 per cent of those ultimately have surgery within four years.

But a separate study in the journal Cancer by researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, found that men with early-stage prostate cancer who put off the surgery in favor of regular checkups were not overcome by anxiety. The team sent questionnaires to 150 men to gauge their comfort levels about their treatment decision, as well as levels of depression and anxiety. More than 80 per cent of the 129 men who returned their surveys scored about the same as those in other surveys who decided to undergo treatment for early prostate cancer.

A large, international trial is under way comparing regular checkups versus radical treatment but that study will not be completed for several years.


I am not at all clear on the logic of this. People who had the cancerous tissue removed did not die of cancer. Does that not tell us that the surgery was beneficial?? The issue is obviously metastases but it is not clear how that issue was dealt with. Are we assuming that they ALL had metastases?

Blue food dye may reduce spinal cord damage

A COMMON and safe blue food dye might provide the best treatment available so far for spinal cord injuries. Tests in rats showed the dye, called brilliant blue G, a close relative of the common food dye Blue No 1, crossed into the spinal fluid and helped block inflammation, the University of Rochester Medical Center claimed.

"We have no effective treatment now for patients who have an acute spinal cord injury," Dr Steven Goldman said. "Our hope is that this work will lead to a practical, safe agent that can be given to patients shortly after injury, for the purpose of decreasing the secondary damage that we have to otherwise expect."

When nerve cells in the brain or spine are damaged, they often release a spurt of chemicals that causes nearby cells to die. No one is sure why and stopping this process is key to preventing the damage that continues to build after a stroke or spinal cord injury.

One of the chemicals is ATP. The team looked for something that would interfere with this and found the blue dye, which they called BBG, would do this via the P2X7R receptor or doorway. "We found that IV administration of the P2X7R inhibitor BBG significantly reduced the severity of spinal cord damage without any evident toxicity," they said. "Remarkably, BBG is a derivative of the widely used food additive FD&C Blue No 1.

Currently, US consumers recond a daily intake of more than 16mg per person of the dye. The only known toxicity is in patients with blood infections known as sepsis. Tests in humans are likely still years away, the Rochester team said.


28 July, 2009

"I've recently read that cranberry juice doesn't help to prevent cystitis after all. Should I stop drinking it now?"

An interesting contrary view to a recent knockback

The answer, in a word, is no. The news story that you are referring to arose when Ocean Spray submitted research to a new EU body, the European Food Safety Authority, in the hope that it would be allowed to make the health claim on its cartons that drinking a certain amount of cranberry juice each day would prevent cystitis. The panel agreed that while research does show this to be the case in laboratory studies, more studies were needed to be sure of the exact “dose” needed in humans.

Professor Stuart Stanton, Emeritus Professor of Urogynaecology at St George’s Hospital in London, who is versed with the EU panel and the research submitted, has been recommending cranberry juice to his patients for more than 20 years. He says that it is necessary for us to appreciate that much of what is recommended in everyday medicine is founded on years of experience and anecdotal findings, as well as clinical research.

In his view, cranberry juice is beneficial in preventing urinary infections and he makes the rather timely point that if women who have read about the panel’s findings suddenly stop drinking it, GPs, who are already overburdened with the demands of swine flu, could see more patients presenting with what had previously been well-controlled urinary infections.

It is also important to remember, however, that cranberry juice is not a medicine. While the latter are man-made and very specific dose-response mechanisms can be determined for them, it is frequently very hard, if not impossible, to achieve the same in food products that contain naturally functional ingredients.

That said, from the work that has already been carried out, scientific thinking suggests that two glasses of cranberry juice, containing 80mg of proanthocyanidins (PACs), is roughly the amount needed for it to “do its job” — ie, to stop cystitis-causing E. coli bacteria from attaching to the walls of the urinary tract and setting up infections.

It is thought that the PACs may work by wrapping themselves directly around the E. coli so that the bacteria cannot grab on to receptors in the lining of the bladder and urethra, or that they may block the receptors themselves so that there is no room for the E. coli to dock.

Either way, the result is that the bacteria leave the body without the opportunity to set up infections. This prevents patients from needing constantly to take antibiotics, which is good news, because you do not get the risk of building up antibiotic resistance.

The important point to bear in mind is that PACs in cranberry juice work in helping to prevent infections taking hold, which is why if you are prone to them, it is a good idea to drink some of the juice each day. If the E. coli do get their little “claws” into the lining of your tracts, they bind securely and at this point antibiotics are the only real option.

Test-tube experiments suggest that cranberry juice extracts may also be able to fight salmonella infections. Test-tube work also has found that they appear to prevent the ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori from attaching itself to the stomach lining.

The red antioxidant pigments in cranberry juice also seem, again in laboratory tests, to help to stop platelets in blood from clumping together. If this happened in our bodies, this would assist in keeping blood thin and potentially lower the chances of clots forming that can trigger heart attacks and strokes.

Other interesting super nutrients present in cranberries include EGCG found also in green tea and linked with possible disease-fighting properties including cancer.

The tart taste of cranberries is down to the PACs, which give them their potential health benefits and are present in nature to stop insects feasting on them. For us to be able to tolerate the taste, sugar or sweeteners need to be added to cranberry juice drinks.


Women are getting more beautiful

FOR the female half of the population, it may bring a satisfied smile. Scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful, while men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors. The researchers have found beautiful women have more children than their plainer counterparts and that a higher proportion of those children are female. Those daughters, once adult, also tend to be attractive and so repeat the pattern.

Over generations, the scientists argue, this has led to women becoming steadily more aesthetically pleasing, a “beauty race” that is still on. The findings have emerged from a series of studies of physical attractiveness and its links to reproductive success in humans.

In a study released last week, Markus Jokela, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, found beautiful women had up to 16% more children than their plainer counterparts. He used data gathered in America, in which 1,244 women and 997 men were followed through four decades of life. Their attractiveness was assessed from photographs taken during the study, which also collected data on the number of children they had.

This builds on previous work by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, who found that good-looking parents were far more likely to conceive daughters. He suggested this was an evolutionary strategy subtly programmed into human DNA. He cited two findings from the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a US government-backed study that is monitoring more than 15,000 Americans. The measurements include objective assessments of physical attractiveness.

One finding was that women were generally regarded by both sexes as more aesthetically appealing than men. The other was that the most attractive parents were 26% less likely to have sons. Kanazawa said: “Physical attractiveness is a highly heritable trait, which disproportionately increases the reproductive success of daughters much more than that of sons. “If more attractive parents have more daughters and if physical attractiveness is heritable, it logically follows that women over many generations gradually become more physically attractive on average than men.”

In men, by contrast, good looks appear to count for little, with handsome men being no more successful than others in terms of numbers of children. This means there has been little pressure for men’s appearance to evolve.

The findings coincide with the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution first described the forces that shape all species. Even he, however, might have been surprised by the subtlety of the effects now being detected by researchers looking into human mating. The heritability of attractiveness is widely accepted. When Elizabeth Jagger became a model, her mother, the former model Jerry Hall, said: “It’s in her genes.”

Women may take consolation in the finding that men are subject to other types of evolutionary pressure. Gayle Brewer, a psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, said: “Men and women seek different things in their partners. “For women, looks are much less important in a man than his ability to look after her when she is pregnant and nursing, periods when women are vulnerable to predators. Historically this has meant rich men tend to have more wives and many children. So the pressure is on men to be successful.”


27 July, 2009

Alternatives to IVF

Some of this sounds like quackery but it is undoubtedly true that deciphering the cause of a person's infertility should be the first thing tried before rushing into IVF. And even quackery can have a useful placebo effect

It’s a sad fact of life that one in six couples will have difficulty conceiving. Those praying for a miracle will often try anything, from the estimated 75% who experiment with alternative therapies, to the 1 in 80 women who will eventually give birth to an IVF baby in the UK each year. Now, two leading fertility specialists have decided to bridge the gap between conventional and complementary medicine, and offer an alternative to rushing into IVF. “I estimate that 50% of women on IVF don’t need it,” says Dr Sami David, a doctor involved with the first-ever successful IVF procedure in New York 30 years ago. “They could get pregnant naturally.”

David has turned his back on what has become a multimillion-pound industry with a vested interest in rushing women into assisted conception. “Infertility is a symptom, not a disease,” he says, “yet most fertility doctors are only interested in giving a woman drugs and getting her on a course of expensive, and stressful, IVF as soon as possible. I’m not against IVF — far from it,” he continues. “But it shouldn’t be the first thing we turn to as doctors. Putting a woman on aggressive drugs to stimulate egg production is a waste of time if, in fact, she is failing to get pregnant because her partner has a low sperm count, or she has an infection.”

David claims that most specialists have little interest in doing the necessary detective work to establish why a couple aren’t conceiving. Together with Jill Blakeway, an alternative-health practitioner who moved from the UK to America 20 years ago, he has written The Fertility Plan, a three-month scheme that helps women overcome common blocks to pregnancy. The book offers targeted advice according to five different “types” of people. “The types are loosely based on Chinese medicine, combined with Dr David’s clinical experience,” says Blakeway, who has such a high success rate that The New York Times dubbed her “the fertility goddess”. “I didn’t want to bog people down with the more esoteric aspects of eastern philosophy,” she adds, “so I’ve kept it simple.” The five types are: stuck, pale, waterlogged, dry and tired; there are quizzes and guidelines to help identify your type and what to do in each case. It’s all refreshingly simple.

“IVF is part of our quick-fix society, particularly in New York,” says Blakeway. “We are used to life being convenient, to having stuff delivered on demand, so a woman might think: ‘When the time comes, I can always go for IVF.’ Making babies is a much more mysterious thing — you can’t think like that.” She is also keen to remind women that IVF still has a relatively poor success rate. “At one of the most renowned New York clinics, figures indicate that among women under 35, the success rate is still only 47%.”

In the book, the duo present a range of common factors that can inhibit fertility, but which doctors don’t always raise. “There are issues from hormones being thrown out of balance by yo-yo dieting, to women who exercise too much, which could lower levels of oestrogen and progesterone,” David says. “Or infertility can arise from a diminished flow of blood to the uterus, which can be dramatically helped by acupuncture.”

Another common cause of infertility is bacterial infection, which has prompted David to remark that antibiotics are his favourite fertility drug. “A lot of doctors specialise in scaring the patient,” he says. “They’ll tell a woman of 37 she’s left it too late and her only option is IVF. But they’re measuring everyone by the same yardstick. Every woman has time to take a three- or four-month evaluation of what’s going on with her body.” Blakeway agrees that the emotional rollercoaster of trying to become pregnant can extract a heavy toll on would-be mothers. “The last thing we wanted to do was make women feel stressed out about not getting pregnant. If it’s not happening for you yet, it’s comforting to bear in mind that there is an enormous amount you can do for yourself.”


Update: A medical correspondent says it is ALL quackery above and says that of course doctors do all they can to identify the problem first. That may be so in the USA but it is not so in the UK, where NHS doctors are notoriously slow to order diagnostic tests. So the warning above (which appeared in a British paper) may be timely for some Brits.

Daily pill may cure blood cancer

BLOOD cancer patients could soon take a daily pill to treat the condition which has traditionally given sufferers a survival time of just a few years. Cancer specialists are meeting in Melbourne this weekend to discuss the future direction of treating myeloma - an incurable blood cancer which effects thousands of Australians.

"We are seeing a major advance in the treatment of multiple myeloma,'' Royal Melbourne Hospital oncologist Professor Jeffrey Szer said in a statement. "In the past five years for instance, myeloma patient survival, which has traditionally been three to four years, has been significantly extended with the availability of innovative new medicines.'' One such medicine, Revlimid, will be discussed at the meeting as a possible oral treatment for the condition.

"We are seeing a significant improvement in quality of life and cancer survival rates,'' Prof Szer said. "There are a number of new treatment strategies that clinicians are adopting to enable them to achieve these outcomes.

"Revlimid is an example of an innovative new medicine that has a unique mechanism of action to kill cancer cells and prolong the patient's life. Compelling Revlimid clinical trail data is being discussed at (the) medical symposium this weekend with local and international experts, coinciding with the Leukaemia Foundation's public lecture.''

Some 1500 people are diagnosed with myeloma in Australia each year. The cancer, which develops in the bone marrow, inhibits the production of normal blood cells and causes symptoms such as anaemia, fatigue and infections.


26 July, 2009


There seems to be nothing it cannot do. The following email is from Dennis Bray [] via Benny Peiser

First there was shrinking sheep. Now there are shrinking fish. (And the economy has been shrinking for some time ...).

According to Martin Daufresne, Kathrin Lengfellner and Ulrich Sommer: "Our study provides evidence that reduced body size is the third universal ecological response to global warming ...' in short - shrinking."

See also Science News for Kids: Snapshot: Shrinking Fish

The world will become an ugly place if it is discovered that exposure to global warming shrinks haemorrhoids. But on the upside, will global warming be the panacea for the plague of obesity: 'make your body adoring, suck up some global warming'.

Fish oils help prevent blindness in elderly mice

A diet high in omega three oils can lower the risk of developing age related macular degeneration, American research has found.

At least 500,000 people in Britain are affected by macular degeneration, a condition where cells in the back of the eye degrade causing loss of central vision.

A study carried out by experts at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, in America, found that mice fed a diet high in omega three oils had slower progression of the lesions in the eye and some improvement.

Dr Chi Chan, lead author said the team are now working on new treatments that might delay the onset of macular degeneration.

It is though the fish oils work by reducing inflammation levels. Earlier research has found that a diet rich in omega three, found in mackerel and salmon, can reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration by a third in humans. Progression of advanced disease was 25 per cent less likely in those eating two portions of oily fish a week, according to the research carried out at Tufts University in Boston, America. [No details but it sounds epidemiological]


25 July, 2009

Stress in the womb can last a lifetime, say researchers behind new exhibit

The logic below is far from unassailable. What they have is a correlation between cortisol in the amniotic fluid and baby IQ. Maybe (for instance) the cortisol level is dispositional rather than situational -- in which case maybe there is some genetic link between neuroticism and IQ

Visitors can see how their stress levels could affect the heart rate of their unborn baby and find out why pregnant women should reduce their anxiety, at a new exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which opens today.

The researchers behind the exhibit, from Imperial College London, hope that it will raise families' awareness of the importance of reducing levels of stress and anxiety in expectant mothers. They say that reducing stress during pregnancy could help prevent thousands of children from developing emotional and behavioural problems.

Visitors to the Exhibition will have the chance to play a game that shows how a mother's stress can increase the heart rate of her unborn baby. They will also be able to touch a real placenta, encased safely in plastic. The placenta is crucial for fetal development and it usually protects the unborn baby from the stress hormone cortisol. However, when the mother is stressed, the placenta becomes less protective and the mother's cortisol may have an effect on the fetus.

The Imperial researchers' work has shown that maternal stress and anxiety can alter the development of the baby's brain. This in turn can result in a greater risk of emotional problems such as anxiety or depression, behavioural problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and being considerably slower at learning. Some studies have even suggested that it may increase the likelihood of later violent or criminal behaviour. Their findings have suggested that the effects of stress during pregnancy can last many years, including into adolescence.

Professor Vivette Glover, the lead researcher behind the exhibit from the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College London, said: "We all know that if a mother smokes or drinks a lot of alcohol while pregnant it can affect her fetus. Our work has shown that other more subtle factors, such as her emotional state, can also have long-term effects on her child. We hope our exhibit will demonstrate in a fun way why we all need to look after expectant mothers' emotional wellbeing.

"Our research shows that stress due to the mother's relationship with her partner can be particularly damaging. We want fathers visiting our exhibit to see how they can help with the development of their child even before the birth, by helping their partner to stay happy," added Professor Glover.

The researchers say that the stress hormone cortisol may be one way in which the fetus is affected by the mother's anxiety during pregnancy. Usually the placenta protects the unborn baby from the mother's cortisol, by producing an enzyme that breaks the hormone down. When the mother is very stressed, this enzyme works less well and lets her cortisol through the placenta. By studying the amount of cortisol in the amniotic fluid, the Imperial researchers' latest study suggests that the higher the level of cortisol in the womb, the lower the toddler's cognitive development or "baby IQ" at 18 months.

Kieran O'Donnell from the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College London said: "We are very excited to have this opportunity to talk with the public about our work. We think that by promoting awareness of this subject we may be able to benefit many families in the future."


Factors behind marriage breakdown

Opposites attract or so the saying goes. But a new study suggests this may not be the key to a long-lasting marriage. Academics from the Australian National University tracked the relationships and characteristics of nearly 2500 couples between 2001 and 2007. They found the factors that increased the likelihood of marriage breakdown included differences in age, desire for children, work, alcohol and smoking.

Divorce was twice as likely for couples in which the husband was nine or more years older than his wife.

And the same risk applied in marriages in which the man was two or more years younger than his wife.

Couples were twice as likely to split if the wife had a much stronger preference for children or for more of them.

Smoking and drinking rates also contributed to relationship breakdown.

Relationships in which one person smoked and the other did not were between 75 and 90 per cent more likely to end than those of non-smoking couples.

It was a similar story if the wife was a heavier drinker than her husband.

People whose parents were divorced were more likely to call it quits, so too were those who had children born before the marriage.

Couples in which both people had been previously married had a 90 per cent higher chance of splitting than those marrying for the first time.

Unemployment and or perceived financial stress of the husband, but not the wife, also played a role.

Factors that were not important included country of birth, religious background and education levels. [Most surprising]

As well as the number and age of children, a woman's employment status and years in paid employment did not play a role.

The "What's love got to do with it?" study estimates that a quarter of relationships will end within six years and 50 per cent by 25 years.

Dr Rebecca Kippen, Professor Bruce Chapman and Dr Peng Yu will present their findings at a Melbourne conference this week.


24 July, 2009

Drinking milk 'cuts risk of dying from heart disease and stroke by one fifth'

This appears to be a review of epidemiological studies with all their attendant limitations. Maybe middle class kids are given more milk so all we are seeing is a class effect, for instance

Drinking milk could cut your chances of dying from heart disease and stroke, say scientists. Contrary to reports that milk harms health, they claim consumption could reduce the risk of succumbing to chronic illness by as much as a fifth.

Scientists at Reading and Cardiff universities reviewed 324 studies on the effects of milk consumption. They found milk protects against developing most diseases, apart from prostate cancer, and can cut deaths from illnesses by 15 to 20 per cent.

Reading University's Professor Ian Givens said milk had more to offer than just building strong bones and helping growth. 'Our review made it possible to assess whether increased milk consumption provides a survival advantage or not,' he said. 'We believe it does. 'When the numbers of deaths from coronary heart disease, stroke and colo-rectal cancer were taken into account, there is strong evidence of an overall reduction in the risk of dying. 'We found no evidence milk might increase the risk of developing conditions, with the exception of prostate cancer. '

The reviewers say that encouraging greater milk consumption might eventually reduce NHS treatment costs because of lower levels of chronic disease. 'There is an urgent need to understand the mechanisms involved and for focused studies to confirm the epidemiological evidence since this topic has major implications for the agri-food industry' said Professor Givens.


Immune therapy Alzheimer's hope

Elderly cancer patients are not exactly the sort of sample one would wish to generalize from. Some appropriate cautions are expressed below

An immune system therapy given to cancer patients could have the added benefit of reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease, a study suggests. A US team found patients who had received antibody treatment had more than 40% less risk of Alzheimer's than people who had not. Writing in Neurology, they said a bigger study was needed to confirm their findings.

UK experts said immunotherapy was an important area of research. So far, scientists have been looking at it as a way of treating people who already have Alzheimer's.

The idea is that immune based therapies affect the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, which are characteristic of Alzheimer's, possibly by suppressing the inflammatory response in the brain. People with the disease have lower levels of anti beta-amyloid antibodies, so experts are looking at ways of boosting levels - including immunisation.

But this study investigated whether or not people who had been given the treatment already, for another condition, had some protection. The team from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York looked at the records of 847 people who had been given at least one intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg) treatment for cancers, such as leukaemia, or immune system disorders. All were over 65 and had received the treatment between April 2001 and August 2004.

Their records were then compared with those of 847,000 people who had not needed the therapy who were similar Alzheimer's risk factors to the treated group. The records were held by a medical insurance company, and so detailed the illnesses and treatments people had claimed payments for. Patients were followed up to August 2007. It was found that only 2.8% of those treated with IVIg developed Alzheimer's, compared with 4.8% of those not treated.

Dr Howard Fillit, who led the study, said: "IVIg has been used safely for more than 20 years to treat other diseases but is thought to have an indirect effect on Alzheimer's disease by targeting beta-amyloid, or plaques in the brain. "Our study provides evidence that previous IVIg treatments may protect against Alzheimer's disease. "The current Alzheimer's drugs on the market treat the symptoms of the disease. Immunization could treat the underlying cause."

But he added: "These findings do not constitute an endorsement of IVIg treatment for Alzheimer's disease. A large scale clinical trial is underway to determine whether IVIg could be an effective treatment for Alzheimer's."

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "This is a really encouraging epidemiological study. "Clinical trials are now underway in this area and we look forward to the results." But he added: "Introducing large amounts of antibodies could cause serious side effects so important questions will need to be answered before this treatment becomes available."


23 July, 2009

Kids’ lower IQ scores tied to prenatal pollution -- again

This is actually an old claim and as meritless as ever. It just shows that poor and dumber parents live in less desirable and more polluted areas and have dumber kids because IQ is largely inherited genetically. But below we read the usual epidemiological nonsense: Correlation is causation. Logic is obviously not taught in medical schools

Researchers for the first time have linked air-pollution exposure before birth with lower IQ scores in childhood, bolstering evidence that smog may harm the developing brain.

The results are in a study of 249 children of New York City women who wore backpack air monitors for 48 hours during the last few months of pregnancy. They lived in mostly low-income neighborhoods in northern Manhattan and the South Bronx. They had varying levels of exposure to typical kinds of urban air pollution, mostly from car, bus and truck exhaust.

At age 5, before starting school, the children were given IQ tests. Those exposed to the most pollution before birth scored on average four to five points lower than kids with less exposure.

That's a big enough difference that it could affect children's performance in school, said Frederica Perera, the study's lead author and director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health.

Dr. Michael Msall, a University of Chicago pediatrician not involved in the research, said the study doesn't mean that children living in congested cities "aren't going to learn to read and write and spell."

But it does suggest you don't have to live right next door to a belching factory to face pollution health risks, and that there may be more dangers from typical urban air pollution than previously thought, he said.

While future research is needed to confirm the new results, the findings suggest exposure to air pollution before birth could have the same harmful effects on the developing brain as exposure to lead, said Patrick Breysse, an environmental-health specialist at Johns Hopkins' school of public health.

And along with other environmental harms and disadvantages low-income children are exposed to, it could help explain why they often do worse academically than children from wealthier families, Breysse said. "It's a profound observation," he said. "This paper is going to open a lot of eyes."

The study in the August edition of Pediatrics was released today.


Autism tied to autoimmune diseases in immediate family

It's a very weak link so it is most unlikely to lead anywhere. Autism is far from a unitary phenomenon and a diagnosis of autism can simply mean that communication difficulties are present (along with varied other problems). It is possible that some autoimmune reactions do affect the brain and lead to damage that causes communication difficulties but communication difficulties could arise in various other ways as well.

Danish researchers have found another clue to the mysterious causes of autism, according to a study published online this month in Pediatrics. In a study of children born in Denmark from 1993 to 2004, doctors found that many children with autism or related disorders also had a family history of autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, develop when antibodies that normally fight infectious organisms instead attack the body itself.

In the study, doctors examined patterns of disease among children, mothers, fathers and siblings. For the first time, researchers found an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders in children whose mothers have celiac disease, a digestive condition in which people cannot tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Autism spectrum disorders include a range of neurological problems affecting communication and socializing.

The study also confirms the results of many earlier papers, says author Hjördis Atladottir of Denmark's University of Aarhus. For example, doctors found an increased risk of autism in children with a family history of type 1 diabetes and an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders in children whose mothers have rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers say their study leaves many questions unanswered. But they say it's possible babies are affected by their mother's antibodies while in the womb. Their mother's disease also may create an abnormal environment.

Although the study is designed to find associations among diseases, it is not able to prove that autoimmune disorders cause autism, says the University of Washington's Karen Toth, a clinical psychologist who was not involved in the study. But Toth says it's possible that the same genes are involved in autoimmune diseases and autism. Researchers have known for many years that autism can run in families, Toth says. And scientists have found genes that may be involved in autism.

Children may also have an increased risk if they are exposed in the womb to certain drugs — such as thalidomide, valproic acid or cocaine — or to infectious diseases such as rubella, Toth says.

Recent studies also have found that babies born prematurely have higher risks of autism. Children also are at higher risk if their fathers are older than 40 or if children have conditions such as epilepsy or Fragile X syndrome, which causes mental retardation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

People with autoimmune diseases shouldn't be alarmed, Atladottir says. The vast majority of people with these conditions do not have children with autism, he says. In the study, only 3,325 of the more than 689,196 children studied were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.


22 July, 2009

Healthy growth in the womb correlates with smarter kids

Another "correlation is causation" fallacy below. The findings are equally compatible with Terman & Oden's findings of a syndrome of general biological fitness

SUCCESS at school may start in the womb, Australian research has found. Two West Australian studies involving more than 80,000 non-indigenous children show a strong link between healthy growth in the womb and improved reading, writing and numeracy skills by the age of eight.

Former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley, who led both studies, said the results suggested that improving the health of pregnant women, particularly those living in disadvantaged areas, could optimise their child's education. [Bullsh*t! It more likely indicates that it is all genetic and nothing can be done] "Good fetal growth appears to give children from disadvantaged areas a comparatively better start," Professor Stanley said. [More likely healthier mothers are brighter and also have heathier and brighter children]

"It's easy to blame schools for poor results but it might be more accurate to start asking about the quality and availability of health care. "You don't just have to have good primary school teachers . . . and good public education. "That's important, but it's not going to be as effective unless you have children who are healthy coming into that system. "Investments in health will result in better outcomes in education."

The results of the studies by Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research are published in two journals: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health and the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Prof. Stanley said tobacco and alcohol use during pregnancy were known to restrict fetal growth. She said ante-natal care from an early stage of pregnancy was also important in giving babies the best possible start in life. "If you do have something like pre-eclampsia, if you get good ante-natal care then you'll optimise your chances for the baby," Prof. Stanley said.

In 2006, 4157 Queensland babies – or 7.3 per cent of those born – were considered low birth weight because they weighed less than 2500g. In the same year, one in five mothers reported smoking during pregnancy, according to Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young's report, The Health of Queenslanders: Prevention of Chronic Disease. "Low birth weight was the cause of 20 per cent of the total disease burden in Queensland in infants aged 0 to 1 year in 2006," the report said.

Prof. Stanley said the findings of her studies should not alarm mothers who had difficult pregnancies.


Injection protects against dirty bomb effects

New medication claimed as a game-changer: 'We made a breakthrough that may save the lives of millions'. A 'minority' might be a better word than 'millions', however

A groundbreaking advance in medicine announced this week promises to dramatically reduce the number of people who would be killed in a nuclear war due to radiation poisoning with simple injections administered within three days of exposure.

Funded by the Pentagon, Professor Andrei Gudkov, chief scientific officer at Cleveland BioLabs, developed the preventative drug – it's not a vaccine – based on research he began in 2003 using protein produced in bacteria found in the intestine to protect cells from radiation, reported Israel's YnetNews.

Cells exposed to large doses of radiation die, scientists have found, when the cell's "suicide mechanism" is activated. The new medication based on intestinal bacteria works by suppressing the mechanism that causes cells to die and allows them to recover.

More than ever before, we need to think about the unthinkable and not depend on government to protect us from harm. Get "Survival: How a Culture of Preparedness Can Save You and Your Family from Disasters" to learn how you can protect your family.

Gudkov's hunch paid off in early mice studies. "We exposed both groups to lethal radioactive radiation," he told YNetNews. "All the mice in the control group died within a short period of time. A few days later, when I approached the cage with the mice that received the protein, I could see that they're OK, that they're alive. They survived. It's hard to describe the joy all of us felt. We realized that finally, after so many years and so many experiments and frustrations, we made a breakthrough that may save the lives of millions."

Those results were published in the journal Science, but the discovery of the injectable medicine is only now being revealed following two tests that showed the drug's effectiveness in protecting monkeys and its safety for humans.

More here


Journal abstract below:

Dyslexia: A New Synergy Between Education and Cognitive Neuroscience

By John D. E. Gabrieli

Reading is essential in modern societies, but many children have dyslexia, a difficulty in learning to read. Dyslexia often arises from impaired phonological awareness, the auditory analysis of spoken language that relates the sounds of language to print. Behavioral remediation, especially at a young age, is effective for many, but not all, children. Neuroimaging in children with dyslexia has revealed reduced engagement of the left temporo-parietal cortex for phonological processing of print, altered white-matter connectivity, and functional plasticity associated with effective intervention. Behavioral and brain measures identify infants and young children at risk for dyslexia, and preventive intervention is often effective. A combination of evidence-based teaching practices and cognitive neuroscience measures could prevent dyslexia from occurring in the majority of children who would otherwise develop dyslexia.


21 July, 2009

Stupid Australian steel manufacturer puts its faith in fad psychology

It sounds as if the company put its employees through a severe variation of the old "encounter groups" therapy. At the time it did that, such therapy had already been largely abandoned because it often did more harm than good. But 13 years later the company is still denying that the procedure damaged one of their empoyees. They have amazing faith in quacks -- to the point where it has cost them lots more in legal bills that it would have cost them to settle the damages claim in the first place! There was even an advance warning that the "course" could harm the employee concerned!

THE FAMILY of a man who has endured a 13-year legal battle with Bluescope Steel over a debilitating pyschiatric injury has begged the company to do what is right and end their "living hell". The case relates to an eight-day leadership retreat that former BlueScope employee Angus Mackinnon attended in August, 1996. The "Steel Leadership Course" featured drum-beating, interrogations and "psychodrama'', The Australian reports.

Dr Mackinnon, a doctor at BlueScope's occupational health and safety department in Wollongong at the time, suffered hallucinations, was found lying unresponsive on the floor at and ended up in a mental hospital within days of the course concluding. He later had to have electro-convulsive therapy and has been hospitalised a number of times. Ever since, Dr Mackinnon has been locked in litigation with the company in a negligence case that has cost $15 million and is likely to cost millions more.

It is probably the longest and most expensive personal injury litigation case that has take place in New South Wales, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. The paper also reports that the costs of the case have run to $15 million. The case could have been settled for $1.3m but Bluescope has held out, spending far more than that on legal fees and recently lodging a bid with the High Court to overturn a judgment where three judges unanimously found in Dr Mackinnon's favour.

"It's just the brutality of it ... the way they went for me in court without any compassion,'' Dr Mackinnon told The Australian of the effect the ongoing litigation was having on him and his family. "They knew the severity of my illness and the impact it was having on me but they didn't stop.''

The Mackinnons have sold their home unit to fund the court case against BlueScope, as well as pay for ongoing medical treatment, and have been forced to live with his wife's parents, sleeping in the same room as their two young children.

The original case took 94 days and Dr Mackinnon lost the trial. But a subsequent appeal saw three NSW Court of Appeal judges unanimously decide in Dr Mackinnon's favour. The judgment was scathing of the trial judge. The treatment of a crucial issue in the case was "so inadequate" that "the matter would have to go back to retrial in any event", the judges said.

Dr Mackinnon's wife, Nandy, has writen to each Bluescope board member individually, telling them of the "living hell'' she and her husband have endured for 13 years after reading the company's claim that its values reflected its motto that "our strength is in choosing what to do is right''. She says she is "perplexed" as to how the company, and its shareholders, could justify the ongoing litigation. The company has never responded.

BlueScope declined to comment but has denied in the courts that it has been negligent or that there was any breach of duty owed to Dr Mackinnon.

The Sydney couple say they are "not asking for the world" - they just want to be able to pay the medical bills and live in their own home.


Benefits of breastfeeding being oversold

NHS claims about benefits of breastfeeding are false and oversold, as there is little evidence that mother’s milk protects babies against illness or allergies, says a leading experts. Michael Kramer, a professor of paediatrics who has advised the World Health Organisation and Unicef, said that much of the evidence used to persuade mothers to breastfeed was either wrong or out of date.

However, mothers who breastfed had a different outlook from those who did not and were more likely to follow advice on all health issues. That meant their families were likely to have a healthier lifestyle and that could in turn explain better outcomes for their children.

The most recent NHS leaflets given to all pregnant women and new mothers said that breastfeeding protects a baby against obesity, allergies, asthma and diabetes. This is repeated by most other public health bodies such as the Royal College of Midwives and the National Childbirth Trust.

Professor Kramer, based at McGill University, Montreal, has studied evidence on breastfeeding since 1978, and has advised the World Health Organisation, Unicef, and the Cochrane Library on breastfeeding research. Evidence that breastfeeding protects against obesity was flawed, he said. “The evidence it protects against allergies and asthma is also weak. And there is very little evidence that it reduces the risk of leukaemia, lymphoma, bowel disease, type 1 diabetes, heart disease and blood pressure. “I don’t favour overselling the evidence, we should not be conveying false information. I think some of the advice promulgated on obesity or allergies is false information.”

Mothers who were more likely to follow medical advice on breastfeeding were also more likely to be part of a family that acted healthily in other ways. So although breastfed babies may have better outcomes, this could easily be because of other factors.

However, he said that some claims were well founded, such as the protective effect on ear infections and gastrointestinal illnesses. “The formula milk industry jump on every piece of equivocal evidence. But the breastfeeding lobby have a way of ignoring the evidence. Both sides are not being very scientific,” he said.

Joan Wolf, an academic who has spent five years researching the medical literature on breastfeeding, said that only the benefits on gastrointestinal illnesses had been conclusively proven. “The evidence we have now is not compelling. It certainly does not justify the rhetoric,” said Ms Wolf, an assistant professor from Texas A&M University. “I’m not sure there should be a public health campaign on infant feeding in the West. “

A Department of Health spokesman defended the advice, saying that it was based on an expert review of the studies. Jacque Gerrard, the Royal College of Midwives’s director for England, said that its advice was based on “the evidence that is out there, endorsed by the Department of Health”. “Breastfeeding is the right way to produce healthy babies,” she said.



That seems a large conclusion to draw from just 5 genomes but for what it is worth, the journal abstract is below

Targeted Retrieval and Analysis of Five Neandertal mtDNA Genomes

By Adrian W. Briggs et. al.

Analysis of Neandertal DNA holds great potential for investigating the population history of this group of hominins, but progress has been limited due to the rarity of samples and damaged state of the DNA. We present a method of targeted ancient DNA sequence retrieval that greatly reduces sample destruction and sequencing demands and use this method to reconstruct the complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genomes of five Neandertals from across their geographic range. We find that mtDNA genetic diversity in Neandertals that lived 38,000 to 70,000 years ago was approximately one-third of that in contemporary modern humans. Together with analyses of mtDNA protein evolution, these data suggest that the long-term effective population size of Neandertals was smaller than that of modern humans and extant great apes.


20 July, 2009

EU inquiry pours doubt on benefit of health foods

Not before time

More than 50 food products and supplements have been exposed by a Europe-wide investigation for making unproven claims about their health benefits. Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Lipton black tea and some probiotic supplements are among the items whose claimed health benefits are scientifically unproven, according to an investigation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Fish oil supplements which purport to improve brain growth in babies and children have come under particular scrutiny, with the agency rejecting most of the benefits claimed by manufacturers.

The initial results of the inquiry suggest that consumers could be wasting millions of pounds each year on products they think will improve their diet and lifestyle. Britons annually spend £320m on vitamin pills and supplements alone. Significantly more is spent on foods, such as breakfast cereals, which claim to offer health benefits.

The EFSA has examined the science behind the health claims made by 66 foods or ingredients. A further 4,000 products are to be inspected. Firms whose claims have already been rejected include Ocean Spray, which had suggested that its cranberry juice could protect women against urinary infections. The agency also rejected an application from Unilever which sought to claim that drinking Lipton black tea makes people more alert.

“We have examined the science put forward by the companies to support their products and in many cases found it did not support the claims they were making,” said an EFSA spokesman.

The agency’s rulings have shocked the food and supplements industries, where the “health benefits” conferred by products is often a cornerstone of marketing. “This is a long overdue revolution in the food industry,” said Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University in London. “Consumers have been bamboozled by unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of foods for too long.”

The EFSA findings are the result of the European Union’s nutrition and health food regulation of 2006 which requires manufacturers to substantiate any health claims. The agency’s uncompromising approach has persuaded some companies, including Nestlé and Unilever, to remove products from the EFSA verification process. One idea is that some companies want a chance to lobby for the rules to be relaxed before submitting amended applications.

Danone, one of the biggest manufacturers of probiotic yoghurts and drinks, is one of the companies to withdraw from the EFSA tests. This year it is on course to sell 480m bottles of Actimel in the UK and 640m pots of Activia which contain microbes that it claims can improve gut health. Such massive sales mean the impact of the EFSA rejecting a health claim could be huge. So far the agency’s scientists have slapped down claims made by similar probiotic products. A Danone spokesman said it would submit new health claims to the EFSA: “These withdrawals in no way put in doubt the soundness of the science behind our applications.”

Although the EFSA rulings have yet to be approved by the European parliament to give them legal weight, manufacturers fear consumers will vote with their feet after a rejection. This is the threat facing omega-3 fish oil producers such as Equazen, whose brands include Eye Q, Mumomega, Cardiozen and Equavision. It submitted several claims to the EFSA, including one suggesting that Mumomega capsules could help the central nervous system development in foetuses and breastfed infants. All the claims were rejected.

On its website Equazen claims: “Everything we do is based on scientific fact.” However, when asked to clarify this last week, a spokesman said: “All Equazen product claims are approved both by our internal regulatory department and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB).” The PAGB is the trade body for makers of food supplements and non-prescription medicines rather than a research organisation.

Shane Starling, editor of, the leading food industry journal, said the rulings meant consumers could have more confidence in health claims. “It’s brought turmoil to the food industry, but it is time these claims were scrutinised,” he said.


Daughters take after their mothers and sons take after their fathers

How surprising! And this is supposed to DISPROVE the influence of genetics??

FAT mothers make fat daughters and fat fathers make fat sons, new research reveals. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found the weight of some parents had a significant impact on their children's waistlines. Researchers studied the body mass index of 226 trios – mother, father and child – to calculate how gender affected weight.

By age eight, a child's tendency to become overweight like their same sex parent was becoming entrenched. The same sex correlations between parent and child were universally stronger than the correlations between opposite sexes, the report said.

Childhood obesity today seems to be largely confined to those whose parents of the same sex are obese, and the link does not seem to be genetic. Instead, the authors said, the environmental and possibly behavioural, influence of overweight parents was to blame. The mother acts as a role model for her daughter and the father for his son.

Treating adult obesity could therefore be the best way of tackling childhood obesity, the report concluded. "The clearly defined gender assortative pattern which our research has uncovered is an exciting one because it points towards behavioural factors at work in childhood obesity," study director Terry Wilkin said.


Hey, Kids, Playing in the sand at the beach could kill you

In raising your young kids, don't worry about the tons of sex and violence they are exposed to on TV. Those aren't problems. You know what the real problem is? Sand on the beach. Yeah, that's the ticket. Instill a fear of sand in your kid. Oh, and did I mention that $65K in your tax money paid for the study that issues the alarm and says you shouldn't handle food with dirty hands?
Add playing in the sand to the long list of fun things that may be bad for your health. A new study says you risk getting an upset stomach and diarrhea if you dig into the granular stuff to fill toy pails, build sand castles or bury yourself. You're better off walking along the shore or swimming in the surf.

Is the federal government, which paid $63,500 for the research, throwing a major bummer into the beach-going season? . . . The report's authors said they don't mean to put a damper on summer fun. They just think it's important to caution people about the bird droppings, urban runoff, sewage and other contaminants that pollute sand.

"Take care to use a hand sanitizer or wash hands after playing in the sand," said Tim Wade, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who helped write the study. . . .

As part of a larger assessment of water quality at beaches, EPA researchers interviewed more than 27,000 beach-goers in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007. There were four sites on the Great Lakes and one each in Mississippi, Alabama and Rhode Island.

Beach-goers were asked about their contact with sand on the day of their visit. Ten to 12 days later, they were contacted by phone to discuss health problems that surfaced since then.

The EPA and the University of North Carolina analyzed the information, and their results appear in the latest edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology. It's being touted as the most comprehensive look at how specific activities involving beach sand might cause sickness.

Less than 10 percent of people who played with sand came down with diarrhea and/or gastrointestinal illness. But that number is still up to 24 percent higher than for folks who didn't. Researchers said the risk of illness was highest for those who were buried in the sand and that children are more likely than adults to fall sick. . . .

"We are hypothesizing . . . that people are coming into contact with fecal contamination in the sand and then transferring that to their hands and then to their mouth," he said.

Heaney said beach-goers should be careful when handling food. "The beach . . . is not a sterile environment," he said.
So, they're hypothesizing, but they have no actual proof that playing in the sand causes any of these illnesses. But, wow, $65,000 spent to give us some real genius advice, which is essentially, "Wash your hands before eating." Einstein stuff.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

19 July, 2009

Role of sun over-emphasised in melanoma skin cancers

But suntanning does give you wrinkles! From what I have seen elsewhere, the advice below is rather confused, however. Fair skin certainly gives you more cancers, but BCCs and SCCs rather than melanomas -- and it is melanomas that are the dangerous ones. Melanomas are actually quite rare among very fair-skinned people, from my reading in the matter. It is people who tan well who get the melanomas

WARNINGS that too much time spent in the sun can lead to the most deadly form of skin cancer have been over-emphasised, a controversial study has claimed. It found that, although sunbathing is a risk factor, the number of moles on a person's skin is the most important indicator of whether they will go on to develop melanoma. The scientists also identified two genes that dictate how many moles someone will have, and their risk of getting skin cancer.

The research, published in the journal Nature Genetics, is likely to reopen the debate over whether official health warnings about avoiding the sun are overstated and too general. The study's authors said such warnings would be more useful if they focused on those most at risk – namely anyone with more than 100 moles on their body, redheads and people with fair skin and taught them how to check their moles for changes in shape, size or colour.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, and one of the new study's authors, said: "The number of moles you have is one of the strongest risk factors for melanoma – stronger even than sunshine."

Dr Veronique Bataille, a dermatologist at West Hertfordshire NHS Trust, added: "You often read that nearly all melanomas are caused by sunshine, which is not supported by the evidence. "Let's keep sunshine in the picture because it does make you age and causes you wrinkles. But let's move away from scaring people by saying they are going to die because they go in the sun."


The dangerous "Homeopathic" loophole

Homeopathic remedies, except when people rely on them to treat serious conditions, are usually safe as water--which they actually are. But sometimes they contain dangerous ingredients which are released on a unsuspecting public with little or no testing

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has caught itself in a trap of precedent and logic that should force it, finally, to regulate homeopathic products. FDA regulations require that drugs and treatments be “scientifically proven safe and effective.” Homeopathic remedies, except when people rely on them to treat serious conditions, are usually safe as water—which they actually are. Some homeopaths claim that shaking and serial dilutions—even to the point that not one molecule of the “active” ingredient remains—create a “memory” of the long-gone ingredient. So far, though, the FDA has ignored the multi-million dollar fraud. After all, what’s the harm?

Well, one harm, according to hundreds of people and dozens of lawsuits, is that some of Matrixx Initiatives’ homeopathic Zicam cold “treatments” cause anosmia—the loss of smell, a sense necessary both to enjoy a summer day and to detect gas leaks, fires and spoiled food.

Rather than the usual homeopathic magic water, some Zicam products contain pharmaceutically significant amounts of zinc, which was shown in the 1930s to cause anosmia when used intranasally. Some Zicam homeopathics also include an unspecified amount of benzalkonium chloride, which “disrupts signaling between molecules, a mechanism that could allow it to have widespread unanticipated effects,” says Peter Montague of Rachel’s Democracy and Health News. The U.S. Material Safety Data Sheet lists it as a hazardous, potentially mutagenic chemical; Canada bars it from products “applied to mucous membranes.”

But the giant regulatory loophole that is homeopathy allowed Matrixx, either by accident or design, to slap on the label “homeopathic,” slip under the regulatory wire and sell 1 billion doses of untested Zicam. Despite Zicam’s decade on the market and numerous lawsuits, the National Center for Homeopathy never condemned the mislabeling.

Under the Obama administration, the FDA requested that Matrixx recall a number of Zicam intranasal products. On June 16, the FDA warned, “Because they are not generally recognized as safe and effective for their labeled uses, these products [must undergo] well-controlled clinical investigations … regardless of their homeopathic status [before re-marketing.]”

While there is conflicting evidence that oral zinc shortens colds, it likely does little harm. The FDA, however, found Zicam ineffective, thereby fitting it under the agency’s definition of “health fraud.” It also ruled that Zicam’s moneymaking innovation of delivering the chemical into the nose rendered it unsafe.

The Zicam recall followed an earlier tough (and witty) FDA ruling that if General Mills continued to claim whole-grain Cheerios reduces cholesterol, the cereal would be regulated as a drug. In June, the agency made Bayer withdraw claims that One A Day for Men “supports prostate health.”

In addition to the 130 anosmia reports received by the FDA, Matrixx failed to notify the agency of more than 800 Zicam-related complaints. Furthermore, since Zicam was labeled for use by children, a class of underage victims may have gone unnoticed.

Nonetheless, Matrixx CEO William Helmut called the Zicam recall “a complete surprise.” And it is an expensive one. The zinc-based nasal products comprised 40 percent of Matrixx’s $112-million sales last year. The Scottsdale, Ariz., firm used some of the profits to pay $12 million in 2006 to settle hundreds of lawsuits by Zicam users claiming anosmia, plus $4 to $6 million in annual legal costs. Matrixx is currently under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission over its handling of the FDA warning and by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive marketing.

Questionable marketing may come naturally to Zicam through its co-founders Robert Steven Davison and Charles B. Hensley. Davidson got his Ph.D. from an unaccredited, now-defunct diploma mill in Spain. Hensley, who holds the Zicam patents, got a warning letter from the FDA about the online sale of an unapproved drug that his current company, PRB Pharmaceuticals, claims treats bird flu and SARS. And the Washington Post reported: “Hensley previously developed a weight-loss remedy that involves sniffing ‘specially developed aromas.’ “

Meanwhile, Zicam users, who can no longer smell a rat, might develop a nose for bullshit and discover that sometimes the only thing worse than homeopathic products that have no effect are the ones that do.


Unintended use of drug restores hearing

Obama's FDA will now do its best to prevent this use of the drug -- because it is "off label"

It was the honeyed drawl of her professor that first pierced the silence enveloping Edith Garrett for an entire year, since the day she had lost her hearing. But she dismissed it, thinking she was just having a good day. That was until she was woken from her nap later that November afternoon by a racket from a neighbor’s apartment. “I said, ‘What is that?’ My roommates looked at me, and they said: ‘It’s the dog barking downstairs. It’s been there since August when we moved in,’ ’’ Garrett recalled.

Today, Garrett’s hearing is near-perfect in one ear, her rare neurological ailment treated by a drug called Avastin. But the wonder here isn’t simply that her hearing has been restored. The real wonder is how.

Garrett’s recovery, highlighted yesterday by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, represents a powerful tale of scientific discovery that illustrates how millions of dollars in spending and years of research into a drug - in this instance, Avastin, approved to treat late-stage colon, breast, and lung cancers - can yield a treatment for seemingly unrelated diseases.

For rare conditions, finding unintended uses for off-the-shelf drugs is often the best approach - saving time and money - because the potential financial payoff for a new medication is too little to attract interest from big drug companies.

The beneficiary in this case was Garrett. As a 19-year-old college student, she was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 2, which causes tumors to sprout inside the brain. Traditionally, as the tumors engulf nerves that regulate hearing, balance, swallowing, and other vital functions, patients are left with two options: surgery and radiation, both with worrisome complications.

Mass. General researchers’ findings on the unexpected value of Avastin, chronicled online yesterday by the New England Journal of Medicine, are preliminary. Researchers warn the drug is not a cure for the condition, most often diagnosed when people reach their 20s and estimated to afflict about 12,000 Americans. But it offers a shard of promise for patients often left hopeless by the rarity of their disease. “We really felt we stood on the shoulders of the oncology community,’’ said Dr. Scott Plotkin , director of Mass. General’s Neurofibromatosis Clinic and lead author of the study. “Our goal was to build on the scientific successes to date and not to have to go back to square one.’’

Neurofibromatosis type 2 - known in medical shorthand as NF-2 - typically arrives with quiet stealth. During high school in Atlanta, Garrett experienced bouts of facial paralysis. “I just thought I had a crooked smile,’’ Garrett said.

But then, as she was starting her sophomore year at Rhodes College in Memphis five years ago, she noticed a small, painful protrusion on her shin. Tests ultimately revealed that the bump on her leg was a harbinger of the genetic ailment already spawning tumors inside her brain. One night, prowling the Internet for details, Garrett discovered something that stunned her: Patients with the tumors frequently lose their hearing. “I called and I asked my mom, ‘Am I going to go deaf?’ And she said, ‘We just don’t know.’ ’’

Without realizing it, Garrett had already lost hearing in her right ear. She had begun, unconsciously, compensating for that deficit, something doctors have witnessed in other patients. When she strolled into a classroom, she later realized, she would veer toward desks on the right side - so that her left ear could hear the instructor. When her cellphone jangled, she would always put it to her left ear.

In the language of doctors, the tumors caused by the condition are considered benign, because their cells lack the capacity to rapidly and destructively divide, a key trait of malignant cancers. But the complications that can result from neurofibromatosis are anything but benign. “NF-2 is a disorder that’s like fighting a forest fire,’’ said Dr. Dade Lunsford, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center neurosurgeon. “What you try to do is put out the fire that’s burning at that moment. So if there’s a hearing nerve tumor that’s getting bigger and causing pressure on the brain, normally we try to do surgery.’’

But both surgery and radiation can exact a toll. Operations on patients with tumors as large as limes - like those enmeshed with Garrett’s hearing nerves - almost always result in deafness. And while radiation can stop tumors from growing, it can spur scarring and may cause cancer. That is why researchers had long been eager to find some other way to tame the tumors. Traditional chemotherapy seemed unlikely to help because it targets those rapidly dividing cells that aren’t found in benign growths.

Newer drugs, pioneered by Boston scientists, aim at a different pathway, known as angiogenesis. Those medications starve cancerous tumors of the blood they need by disrupting blood vessels spawned by the tumor. But it wasn’t clear - until now - that the benign tumors of neurofibromatosis type 2 patients had the ability to grow those vessel networks.

By using old tissue samples, the Mass. General researchers showed that the tumors are indeed associated with excess blood vessel development. So the scientists decided to give 10 patients Avastin, one of the new class of angiogenesis inhibitors.

Garrett’s hearing declined precipitously in December 2006; before taking the medication, she scored 8 percent on a standard hearing test known as word recognition. Now, she stands at 98 percent in one ear, but still lacks hearing in the other. “You’re lucky as a physician,’’ Plotkin said, “to see a response like this once in your career.’’

Of the 10 patients in the study, the tumors of six shrank by 20 percent or more, with the reduction lasting 11 to 16 months so far. Seven patients had hearing loss prior to treatment, and after taking Avastin, the hearing of six either improved or remained stable. The patients experienced some side effects from the drug, including high blood pressure and liver toxicity, but none was considered severe.

Lunsford, who was not involved in the research, described the findings as “extraordinarily preliminary data,’’ but added that the study “offers a glimmer of hope, and it certainly warrants further exploration.’’

It remains unclear, for example, whether patients would need to take the drug regularly or if they could stop and start. The Boston scientists are looking for financing to expand their research to other centers.

Garrett isn’t taking Avastin at the moment because she underwent surgery in June designed to ease her facial paralysis. Still, she’s well enough that she’s preparing to start a new job. In the fall, she will begin teaching high school math in Atlanta - at a school for hearing-impaired children.


18 July, 2009

The links between physical attractiveness and grades

The article below from Newsweak is unusually good for them -- even more so because it is written by the often-batty Sharon Begley. Our Sharon does drift off into nuttiness towards the end of the article but I have left that bit out. Taranto has a comment on that bit, though. What puzzles Sharon and many others is WHY attractive and good-natured people get better grades at school. I don't pretend to have all the answers to that but I want to suggest two things that are probably important:

1). As a former teacher, I think I can assert with confidence that there is an undeniable arbitrary element in marking and, as in life in general, one tends to give the benefit of the doubt to people whom one likes for one reason or another. It is for that reason that all schools once graded students solely on the basis of anonymous formal exams marked by markers who did not know the person they were marking. That procedure now seems to be deemed "unfair", however -- for some reason that is not apparent to me.

2). As I occasionally mention, there does seem to be a syndrome of general biological fitness, such that some people seem to hold just about all the good cards. As Terman & Oden discovered decades ago, high-IQ people also tend to be healthier, taller, more long lived, more attractive and less likely to divorce (etc.). So the more attractive people and the people who are more pleasant to others in general are also likely to be the more intelligent ones -- and that alone could explain much of their advantage at school. I know several very bright people, including my own son, who use their intelligence to help them get on well with people. My son has just gained a distinguished degree in Mathematics and you don't get that through personality alone but using your intelligence to think about how you relate to other people and then applying that to make all interactions with others more pleasant is probably one of the more important uses of intelligence. So more intelligent persons will often be more pleasant people socially as well -- and the advantages of that at school and everywhere else are clearly undeniable.

If you survived high school, or hope to, you probably made your peace with the fact that life is unfair: looks can compensate for a lack of brains and conscientiousness. Or to put it more bluntly, teachers give good-looking kids higher grades than homely ones, all other factors being equal, as numerous studies have found. The phenomenon is so well documented in science it even has a name: the attractiveness effect.

Now sociologist Michael T. French of the University of Miami and his colleagues have discovered yet another reason for plain kids with less-than-winning personalities to feel that the deck is stacked against them. In a paper on "Effects of Physical Attractiveness, Personality and Grooming on Academic Performance in High School", to be published in the August issue of Labour Economics, they find that the three factors in their title indeed affect students' GPA in high school. (Attractiveness, personality and grooming might affect grades in K-8, as well as college, too, but the researchers looked only at high school.)

Physical attractiveness, they conclude, "has a positive and statistically significant impact on GPA for female students," as other studies have found (the effect also exists for males, but not in a statistically significant way—that is, it may be due to chance). But in a departure from past studies, they find that personality and grooming can boost GPA even more than beauty.

"Being very well groomed is associated with a statistically significant GPA premium," they write. "While grooming has the largest effect on GPA for male students, having a very attractive personality is most important for female students." More specifically:

Physical attractiveness alone boosts GPA for both genders. Nevertheless, physical attractiveness was a weaker predictor of grades than grooming (for boys) and personality (for girls). That suggests that teacher bias plays a significant role in what grades students get. Teachers reward some physical and personality types and penalize others.

The findings raise a host of intriguing questions. For instance, how do "beauty premiums" and "plainness penalties" work?(That's economist-speak for the fact that attractive people get paid more than homely ones—not just actors or waiters: good-looking accountants and even engineers generally earn more than plain ones).

In particular, might the extra earnings reflect not a direct effect of beauty (bosses and customers unconsciously think more highly of attractive people, or are inclined to overlook their mistakes, and thus pay them more than their skills and experience justify) but an indirect one: that years of extra attention and rewards from teachers made attractive people more confident, smarter (because they received lots of positive feedback, they studied more) and thus genuinely more capable? For now, all we can say is that attractiveness and a winning personality boost grades when you're young, and may have an enduring effect once you enter the work force.

But there's something else I'm wondering. In this age of DNA, scientists are hunting for genes associated with intelligence. None have yet been found and verified, and two high-profile candidates recently flamed out (though press coverage of the failure to find a link between the genes, called microcephalin and ASPM, and IQ didn't get nearly the attention as the initial claim). But you can be sure such genes will eventually be discovered, and a study will report that people who carry them have a higher IQ than people who do not.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Daily dose of baking soda ‘can keep kidney patients off dialysis’

Hard to believe but great if a proper double-blind study confirms it. I sometimes take the stuff for indigestion so maybe I have been doing myself more good than I thought

Research by British scientists has found that sodium bicarbonate — otherwise known as baking soda — can dramatically slow the progress of the condition. About three million people in Britain suffer from chronic kidney disease, which can lead to complete kidney failure, requiring regular dialysis. Patients commonly suffer from low bicarbonate levels, a condition called metabolic acidosis.

The pilot study conducted at the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, was the first controlled test of the treatment in a clinical setting. In the study, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, researchers studied 134 patients with advanced chronic kidney disease and metabolic acidosis.

One group was randomly allocated a small daily dose of sodium bicarbonate in tablet form in addition to their usual care. Over a period of one year, the kidney function of these patients declined about two thirds more slowly than that of individuals who were not given the tablets. Their rate of decline was little different from what would be expected with normal ageing. Rapid progression of kidney disease occurred in just 9 per cent of patients given baking soda, compared with 45 per cent of the non-treated group.

Patients taking sodium bicarbonate tablets were also less likely to develop end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis, which takes over the function of the kidneys. Although their sodium levels were increased, it did not lead to problems with raised blood pressure.

An estimated 37,800 patients in Britain receive renal replacement therapy, which may involve dialysis or a kidney transplant. The cost of looking after kidney failure patients accounts for 3 per cent of the entire NHS budget. On average, each patient on dialysis costs the NHS £30,000 per year.

Magdi Yaqoob, professor of Renal Medicine at the Royal London, described the results as “amazing”. “This study shows that baking soda can be useful for people with kidney failure ... as long as the dose is regulated and under supervision,” he said. “This cheap and simple strategy also improves patients’ nutritional wellbeing and has the potential to improve quality of life and of course a clinical outcome that can remove the need for dialysis. Baking soda is not classed as a drug so this study has never been tried before.”

The scientists pointed out that their research was limited by not having a “placebo group” of patients receiving a “dummy” treatment. It was also not “blind” - the researchers knew which patients were receiving the baking soda. “Our results will need validation in a multi-centre study,” Professor Yaqoob said.


The pill that could some day reduce body fat by half in a week

Scientists are working on an anti-obesity pill that could reduce the fat stored by overweight people by almost a half in a week. Tests on mice have shown that the drug could decrease body weight by a quarter and their fat content by 42 per cent after seven days. After a month, the weight of the mice had been reduced by 28 per cent and their fat mass by 63 per cent.

But experts warned that it could take a decade for the potential wonder drug to be developed for use by patients. The researchers, whose findings are published online in Nature Chemical Biology, say further research is needed before the drug is tested on humans. But they say the results point to a new approach for the treatment of obesity and adult-onset diabetes.

The drug is an artificial hormone that regulates glucose metabolism. Previous studies have found this substance can suppress appetite or lead to weight loss by increasing the body's calorie usage. Dr Richard DiMarchi and colleagues at Indiana University in the U.S. created the synthetic hormone and carried out the trials on mice. He said: 'Obesity and its associated consequences, including adult-onset diabetes, remain a primary health and economic threat for modern societies.'

At the moment surgical interventions such as gastric bypass remain the only therapeutic options with the potential for a cure. Dr DiMarchi said acute glucagon administration reduces food intake in animals and in humans, and may also promote weight loss. He added: 'Pharmacological treatment of obesity using single agents has limited efficacy or presents risk for serious adverse effects. 'No single agent has proven to be capable of reducing body weight more than 5 to 10 per cent in the obese population. 'Combination therapies using multiple drugs simultaneously may represent the preferred pharmaceutical approach to treat obesity, and there is ample precedent for combination therapy in treatment of chronic diseases. 'Here we present results that prove the principle that single molecules can be designed that are capable of simultaneously activating more than one mechanism to safely normalise body weight.'

Last night, he said it would be ten years before the drug is available and tests needed to be completed on humans. Cambridge University professor of clinical biochemistry Stephen O'Rahilly said: 'It is important that these are demonstrated to be effective and safe in animal models before going forward with trials in humans.'

He added: 'Many promising drugs fall down when tried in humans either because they don't work sufficiently well or because of side effects. 'It is far too early to tell whether this molecule will be one of the exceptions and become a safe and effective treatment for obesity in humans.' But he concluded: 'I hold out considerable hope for the discovery of safe and effective anti-obesity therapies.' Professor O'Rahilly said that patients being treated with the drug could take one pill a day, or an injection.


17 July, 2009

Brighter people live longer, says Glasgow scientist David Batty

Yet more evidence that high IQ is usually a part of general biological fitness

Greater intelligence may in part partially explain why people from a high socio-economic background live longer than those of lower social status, researchers have suggested. A study of former soldiers in the United States has indicated that differences in IQ may explain almost a quarter of the differences in mortality between people of higher and lower social classes.

It has long been accepted that social status affects mortality, with a particular influence on death from cardiovascular events such as strokes and heart attacks. Many of these differences have been ascribed to stress, to income, and to behavioural factors such as smoking and diet — but these cannot explain the whole gap in longevity between the highest socio-economic groups and the lowest ones.

The new study, from a team led by David Batty, of the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow, compared outcomes from a group of 4,289 former American soldiers drawn from diverse social backgrounds. It found that variations in IQ explain about 23 per cent of the survival differences between different social groups. Details of the study are published in European Heart Journal.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, of University College, London, who leads the Whitehall II study of civil servants, which has uncovered many of the effects of social class on mortality, and his colleague Mika Kivimaki, offered three possible explanations for the effect in a commentary for the journal. [The Marmot is associated with the dubious WCRF and some equally dubious dietary claims so his interpretations should be treated with caution]

“Intelligence might lead to greater knowledge about how to pursue healthy behaviours,” he wrote. Intelligence may “cause” socio-economic position; that is, more intelligence leads to more education, and greater income and occupational prestige. “Intelligence may be a marker for something else, and it is that something else, early life exposures, for example, that leads to mortality,” Dr Batty said.

“We already know that socio-economically disadvantaged people have worse health and tend to die earlier from conditions such as heart disease, cancer and accidents. Environmental exposures and health-related behaviours, such as smoking, diet and physical activity, can explain some of this difference, but not all of it. This raises the possibility that as-yet-unmeasured psychological factors need to be considered. One of these is intelligence or cognitive function, commonly referred to as IQ. This measures a person’s ability to reason and problem-solve. IQ is strongly related to socio-economic status.

“IQ wasn’t a magic bullet in this study, but this psychological variable had additional explanatory power on top of the classic variables such as smoking, high blood pressure, high blood glucose and obesity. It has partially explained the differences in death from heart disease and all causes.”


Grapefruit again

Women have long used grapefruit in dieting but I have never quite understood why or how. We now read however that grapefruit 'makes liver burn fat instead of storing it' (in overfed laboratory mice). So maybe there is something in it after all

The humble grapefruit could prove to be a mighty - if bitter tasting - weapon in the fight against diabetes, scientists say. A study found naringenin, a flavonoid found in citrus fruit, makes the liver burn fat instead of storing it after a meal. Researchers believe the chemical would also help obesity sufferers and even fight diabetes, because it also helped balance insulin and glucose levels.

Naringenin gives citrus fruit, in particular grapefruit, its bitter taste. But since the tests involved far higher doses of naringenin than those found naturally in the fruit, anyone interested in its fat-busting benefits will have to wait for scientists to develop a concentrated supplement. Once available, it could help treat patients suffering from Type 2 diabetes, a main cause of heart disease.

The tests were carried out on mice by a team at the Robarts Research Institute at the University of Western Ontario, in Canada, and published in the journal Diabetes. Two groups of mice were both fed the equivalent of a Western diet to speed up their ‘metabolic syndrome’ - the process which leads to Type 2 diabetes in humans. One of the groups ate food that had been treated with naringenin. The non-naringenin mice became obese, their cholesterol levels rose and their bodies became resistant to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels.

The mice given the chemical did not suffer from these ailments, despite eating identical diets to the others. Any rise in cholesterol-was corrected by the naringenin which also ‘reprogrammed’ their livers to burn fat rather than store it.

Lead researcher Professor Murray Huff added: ‘Furthermore, the marked obesity that develops in these mice was completely prevented by naringenin. ‘What was unique about the study was that the effects were independent of calorific intake, meaning the mice ate exactly the same amount of food and the same amount of fat.’ The team will now try to develop the chemical into a treatment for humans.


16 July, 2009

Living together kills joy of marriage (?)

More stupid reasoning. Did it occur to the researchers to ask WHO were the people who did not cohabit before marriage? Could it be that many of them were religious and that the shared religion helped to keep the subsequent marriage together?

COUPLES living together before marrying stand a higher chance of divorce than those who wait until they are engaged or married before moving in together, according to the Journal of Family Psychology. The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Denver, also found that couples who lived together before marrying reported lower marriage satisfaction.

"We think that some couples who move in together without a clear commitment to marriage may wind up sliding into marriage partly because they are already cohabiting," study co-author Galena Rhoades said.

More than 70 per cent of couples in the United States live together before marrying, according to the article. Yet the researchers "have found evidence that cohabiting before engagement, even only with one's future spouse, is associated with lower marital quality and higher divorce potential".

In a separate study that appeared in the Journal of Family Issues, the researchers studied the reasons why couples chose to live together. The most common answer was because they wanted to spend more time together, followed by convenience.

Earlier research suggested that people cohabited before marrying because they wanted to test their relationship. "Cohabiting to test a relationship turns out to be associated with the most problems in relationships," Ms Rhoades said.


People in poor health tend to have lower incomes

And the sky is blue and grass is green. Why this exceedingly obvious finding was deemed worth reporting is the surprise. And the inference drawn from it is equally nutty. It assumes that good health is a matter of choice. If only that were so! Exercise would indeed seem to have some benefit at the margins but the normal recommendations for what constitutes "healthy" eating are not supported by the double-blind research

PEOPLE who are healthy are more likely to have higher incomes and better job prospects, according to the latest AMP.NATSEM report Healthy, Wealthy and Wise?. It found people who were unhealthy earned less than half of the average income of healthy people. The unhealthy also had poor participation in the workforce, with one in every two unhealthy working-age people not working, compared to one in five working-aged people who had good health. And unhealthy workers were more likely to be in casual work rather than full-time positions, meaning most lost access to the sick pay benefits that full-time workers had. The average income of healthy people rose from $41,000 in 2001/02 to $54,000 in 2006/07 while those with "persistent poor health" found their incomes fell from $24,000 to $22,000 in the same period.

"The message is clear," said AMP financial planner Andrew Heaven. "Investing time and effort in good health is worth the effort in terms of having a job and a good income. "Staying fit and healthy generally requires strong discipline in terms of eating habits and exercise. "Applying that same discipline to money management will provide financial benefits down the track."

The report found Australians were in good financial shape, experiencing the fourth highest level of quality of life in the world. But many were unprepared for life-changing circumstances such as unexpected illness or injury.


15 July, 2009

Australia: Offensive food fanatic and the evils of cake

I have always had a fair deal of respect for nutritionist Rosemary Stanton but realised yesterday that this is only because I haven’t been paying attention.

The Irwin children above with their mother and the cake mix, Bindy on the right

Not sure if the rest of you caught it, but Mrs Stanton has launched a pretty out-there tirade against Bindy Irwin’s new commercial deal as the public face of a particularly sinister company. Not Union Carbide or Exxon or British Aerospace but the baking products conglomerate Greens General Foods, one of the shadiest players in the evil cake trade.

We’re not speaking here of the mythical drug also known as “cake”, made famous in the British news parody Brass Eye, but package cake mix, made from flour, sugar, baking powder, and flavourings such as cocoa, vanilla and orange. Greens has been peddling the stuff for years. Pushing it onto time-poor mums, getting kids hooked on it from an early age, using its addictive sweetness and energy-giving qualities to lure them into eating it by the slice after school - even hiding it in their lunch boxes so they can take it onto school grounds and get a fix at little lunch.

Well, Mrs Stanton has now blown the whistle on this practice - and taken aim at those irresponsible Irwins as part of the deal.

The first troubling thing about Mrs Stanton’s spray is the small matter of Steve Irwin’s death. That tragedy should make the Irwin family pretty much immune on the grounds of decency from any kind of frivolous sledging. It should also be factored into the thinking of any would-be critic as perhaps being the very reason why Terri Irwin needs to form a business partnership with a reputable family company such as Greens.

Mrs Stanton managed to negotiate her way past the taste question as she had a bigger target in mind. Cake. Mrs Stanton took issue with the images of Bindi and little Bob helping their Mum bake a cake in the kitchen, and even licking the spoon. “The message that comes across to kids is “it’s OK to eat cake because Bindi Irwin does” - I think it’s very sad,” Stanton said.

“Children are very trusting, so they actually think Bindi wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t right.” “I think it’s a bit of exploitation of her as well because she wouldn’t possibly be old enough to understand the impact that this could have.” “It’s wrong to target kids in trying to sell stuff to other kids. It makes it very difficult for parents to then resist the pleas of their children.”

It’s a good thing Mrs Stanton doesn’t know our address, or the addresses of our many mates with young kids, as we’ve all adopted a totally reckless attitude to child-rearing where we regard baking the odd cake with the kids as enjoyable family time, a great way to introduce them to cooking, especially with a good packet mix because they can do it all by themselves, with the added bonus that you can eat something tasty afterwards or take it down to the park for a picnic. We’re lucky DOCS [a famously bungling government child-welfasre agency] haven’t come around.

It’s cloud cuckoo land stuff which wouldn’t matter if not for the fact that Rosemary Stanton, author of 25 books on diet and nutrition, is on the Federal Government speed-dial for advice on health and wellbeing issues, one of those superficially innocuous right-thinking people who only has all our interests at heart.

(Googling her last night I found an interesting link to a lecture of hers on “Ethical Eating” on the ABC’s Fora website, where she suggested food prices could be artificially inflated so that our farmers no longer had to export produce, which would not only make food production more sustainable, but solve the “starving pensioner” problem once and for all.)

The other thing about the cake issue - Terri Irwin has only agreed to the deal because Greens has made a sizeable contribution to Steve’s ongoing wildlife and conservation protection programs, and are using their products to increase childrens’ awareness of endangered species through school bag tags. Which if you’re Rosemary Stanton probably just proves that, like any other pusher, cake dealers will do anything to get people hooked.

Anyway here’s a link to Greens Traditional Chocolate Cake. Buy some and feed it to your kids.


A wonderful and instructive heart transplant story

A BRITISH girl who had a donor heart grafted onto her own after suffering cardiac failure as a baby has had the transplant removed and is living a healthy life with her own heart. The case of Hannah Clark is thought to be the only one in the world where a child's failing heart recovered enough for the donor organ to be removed, the British surgeons told reporters ahead of their report in The Lancet journal.

"The possibility of recovery of the heart is just like magic,'' Professor Magdi Yacoub of Imperial College London, said. Prof Yacoub treated Hannah from the beginning and co-authored the journal paper.

Hannah, now 16, suffered as a baby from severe heart failure due to cardiomyopathy, a problem with the muscle of the heart, and in July 1995, when she was two years old, doctors transplanted a donor heart next to hers. The new organ soon took over much of the functioning of her own heart and Hannah began to recover.

However, she suffered from a type of cancer known as EBV PTLD, a common side-effect of the drugs given to transplant patients to stop their immune systems rejecting new organs. She was treated with chemotherapy and other drugs but the cancer kept returning. Doctors reduced her dosage of immunosuppression drugs to stem the disease, but as a result, her transplanted heart began to fail. In contrast however, her own heart recovered and began functioning normally.

In February 2006, the team decided to remove the donor organ so the immunosuppression could be stopped - something that had never been done before. Just over three years later, Hannah has completely recovered from the cancer and her heart is functioning normally.

Prof Yacoub and the team responsible for her remarkable treatment said her case offered vital clues to the study of transplantation, heart recovery and malignant disease. The report's co-author Victor Tsang said the research was also useful in the development of temporary artificial hearts for children suffering from cardiomyopathy. "This is an important piece of knowledge as we are now gaining more experience with mechanical support for the failing heart in children,'' he said.

Hannah had to take about seven tablets morning and night for the immunosuppression treatment, went through several rounds of cancer treatment, suffered kidney failure and at one point was left barely able to breathe. At one point her family were told she would not survive the next 12 hours.

Prof Yacoub praised her courage and that of her family, saying: "The lesson is don't give up.'' Hannah's mother Liz thanked the donor family whose five-month-old baby daughter provided the transplant heart, saying: "They lost a child, we've gained our child - how can I ever thank them?''


14 July, 2009

Alzheimer's patients do not benefit from eating fish... but Omega 3 appears to slow deterioration in the early stages

The study which showed benefit was of people "who had a mild memory complaint". Generalizing that to Alzheimer's is a stretch. I have had a problem with certain types of memory (e.g. remembering appointments and anniversaries) all my life and I don't THINK I have Alzheimer's. Note also that the study concerned was of a proprietary product. One wonders how well experimenter expectation effects were excluded and just what the exact analysis of the product was (Were small amounts of caffeine included, for instance?). As it is only a conference report at this stage, such questions are not readily resolved

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements did nothing to slow memory declines in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease, US researchers said on Sunday. The findings from an 18-month, government-backed study suggest taking supplements of docosahexenoic acid, or DHA - an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish - does not arrest Alzheimer's in people who have already developed the mind-robbing disease. 'These trial results do not support the routine use of DHA for patients with Alzheimer's,' Dr Joseph Quinn of Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland, who led the study, said in a statement.

But a six-month company study that looked at people whose memory was slipping just a bit found Martek Biosciences Corp's DHA supplements helped restore some of the mental acuity they had lost. 'The benefit is roughly equivalent to having the learning and memory skills of someone three years younger,' Martek researcher Karin Yurko-Mauro said in a telephone interview.

Both studies, which are being presented at an international Alzheimer's Association meeting in Vienna, Austria, show the difficulty of treating the disease. Taken together, the findings along with other studies suggest treating Alzheimer's must begin early in the disease process, before sticky amyloid plaques begin forming toxic clumps in the brain. 'It may be that ... by the time you have Alzheimer's disease, it is too late,' Dr Ronald Petersen, director of Alzheimer's research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said in a telephone interview.

Plenty of studies in both mice and people had suggested that a diet rich in DHA - an omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty cold-water fish - could dramatically slow Alzheimer's disease, and hopes were high for DHA as a possible new treatment. DHA is naturally found in the body in small amounts, and is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain.

In the Alzheimer's study supported by the National Institute on Aging, Quinn and colleagues compared Martek's DHA supplements to a placebo in 402 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's. Although blood levels of DHA increased, the team saw no change in two widely accepted Alzheimer's tests. But the study did suggest some benefit in people with Alzheimer's who do not have the ApoE4 gene, which raises their Alzheimer's disease risk.

Quinn called the finding 'intriguing' because other trials have shown different response rates based on this gene, and said future studies should look at this.

In the six-month Martek study, researchers looked at the effects of a 900 mg daily dose of DHA on 485 healthy people with an average age of 70 who had a mild memory complaint. People in this study were tested using a computer memory test. At the end of six months, those who took DHA made far fewer mistakes than those in the placebo group. The effect was 'almost double,' Yurko-Mauro said.

Petersen, a former vice chairman of the Alzheimer's Association, said the study was promising, but needs to be confirmed before healthy people start taking DHA supplements. 'The association is not recommending normal elderly people take DHA based on this study,' he said.


Swearing can help reduce pain

Even the most mild-mannered of individuals have been known to utter the odd expletive in moments of intense pain. Now it seems they have the perfect excuse. Swearing helps reduce pain, according to new research.

A study of responses to pain found that people who cursed in response to pain could cope with being hurt for nearly 50 per cent longer than their clean-speaking peers.

When they started their research, experts at Keele University's School of Psychology thought that cursing would lower pain tolerance. But after monitoring the reactions of 64 volunteers, stunned research leader Dr Richard Stephens and colleagues John Atkins and Andrew Kingston found that swearing actually had a beneficial effect. Last night Dr Stephens told how he came up with the idea for the study after blurting out a swear word when he accidentally hit his thumb with a hammer as he built a shed in his garden.

The 64 undergraduates were subjected to a gruelling ice water test to see how the cursing affected their pain tolerance. First they had to submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swearword of their choice. Then they repeated the exercise - but using a word they would choose to describe a table. Despite initial expectations, researchers found volunteers could keep their hands in ice for longer when repeating the swear word. On average, the students could put up with the pain for nearly two minutes when swearing. By contrast when they refrained from using expletives they could only endure the ice for one minute and 15 seconds.

Researchers believe swearing has a pain-reducing effect because it triggers the body's natural fight-or-flight response. They suggest that the accelerated heart rates of the volunteers repeating the swearword indicates an increase in aggression, in a classic fight-or-flight response of downplaying being hurt in favour of a more pain-tolerant machismo.

Dr Stephens said it was clear the swearing triggered both an emotional and a physical response. 'We are not sure why swearing works like this, but when it happens it's accompanied by an increase in heart rate,' he said. 'It could be the aggression of swearing, the machismo, makes you more pain resistant.'

While surprised by the results he added: 'It might explain why the centuries-old practice of cursing developed and still persists today.' For those who think that the results may give a green card to turning the air blue, Dr Stephens did, however, have a word of warning. 'If they want to use this pain-lessening effect to their advantage they need to do less casual swearing and only do it when they really need it.'

Rohan Byrt, spokesman for the Casual Swearing Appreciation Society, said he thought the study was the first time swearing's benefits had been proved. He said:'"I've always thought that swearing does have some real therapeutic merit. 'Even for those who consider themselves clean spoken, the odd swear word will just slip out. For me, it's almost a natural instinct, a gut reaction'


13 July, 2009

Everyone in Britain will soon get untested vaccine against swine flu

This seems amazingly precipitous. The reasoning is clearly that MOST people will be OK and damn the minority. I think I would rather take my chances with the flu rather than risk Guillain-Barré syndrome

The NHS is preparing to vaccinate the entire population against swine flu after the disease claimed the life of its first healthy British patient. A new vaccine is expected to arrive in Britain in the next few weeks and could be fast-tracked through regulatory approval in five days. As many as 20m people could be inoculated this year. Ministers have secured up to 90m doses, and the rest of the population is likely to be offered vaccinations next year.

A man from Essex was confirmed on Friday as the first person without underlying health problems to have died from the virus. The health department said most people with the virus had only mild symptoms.

Peter Holden, the British Medical Association’s lead negotiator on swine flu, said GPs’ surgeries were ready for one of the biggest vaccination campaigns in almost 50 years. “If this virus does [mutate], it can get a lot more nasty, and the idea is to give people immunity. But the sheer logistics of dealing with 60m people can’t be underestimated,” he said. The health department said a vaccination programme would be drawn up based on expert advice.

The path of a popular medicine from the laboratory to the chemist or doctor’s surgery can involve years of clinical trials on a select group of patients. When the new vaccine for swine flu arrives in Britain, regulators said this weekend, it could be approved for use in just five days.

Regulators at the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) said the fast-tracked procedure has involved clinical trials of a “mock-up” vaccine similar to the one that will be used for the biggest mass vaccination programme in generations. It will be introduced into the general population while regulators continue to carry out simultaneous clinical trials.

The first patients in the queue for the jab - being supplied to the UK by GSK and Baxter Healthcare - may understandably be a little nervous at any possible side effects. A mass vaccination campaign against swine flu in America was halted in the 1970s after some people suffered Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system.

However, regulators said fast-tracking would not be at the expense of patient safety. “The vaccines are authorised with a detailed risk management plan,” the EMEA said. “There is quite a body of evidence regarding safety on the trials of the mock-up, and the actual vaccine could be assessed in five days.”

The UK government has ordered enough vaccine to cover the entire population. GPs are being told to prepare for a nationwide vaccination campaign. Dr Peter Holden, the British Medical Association’s lead negotiator on swine flu, who has been attending Department of Health meetings on the outbreak, said GPs’ surgeries were prepared for one of the biggest vaccination campaigns in almost 50 years.

He said although swine flu was not causing serious illness in patients, health officials were eager to start a mass vaccination campaign, starting first on priority groups. First, the jabs would reduce the chances of a shortage of hospital beds because of people suffering from swine flu. Second, it would reduce the effect on the economy by ensuring workers were protected from the virus. “The high-risk groups will be done at GPs’ surgeries. People are still making decisions over this, but we want to get cracking before we get a second wave, which is traditionally far more virulent.”

Holden said it was likely the elderly would be given their seasonal flu jab as well as the swine flu vaccination. The new vaccine is likely to require two doses.

Details of the inoculation plans emerged after the death of a patient, reportedly a middle-aged man, at a hospital in the Basildon area of Essex. The victim had no underlying health problems, but officials say there is no evidence the swine flu virus had mutated into a more dangerous strain.

Holden said it would be the biggest campaign in response to an outbreak since mass vaccination against smallpox in 1962. He said surgeries would be aiming to inoculate about 30 people an hour in a “military-style operation”. The Department of Health said it had still not finalised which groups would be vaccinated first, but children, frontline health workers, people with underlying illnesses and the elderly are likely to take priority.

The European Commission is also identifying population groups which it believes should get priority. It is keen to ensure that countries such as the UK, which had ordered supplies of the vaccine in advance, do not cause inequities in treatment elsewhere in Europe. It warned health ministers in a note circulated last month that if the vaccines were more readily available in some countries it could cause “vaccine tourism/shopping in other member states”.

About 15 people have died of swine flu in Britain, but most of those infected get only mild symptoms. According to the latest figures from the Health Protection Agency, the UK has had 9,718 confirmed cases of the disease.


How Much Fish For Health?

I don't think that the health benefits of fish eating are established beyond reasonable doubt and the health risks seem to be entirely theoretical -- but the approach below is better balanced than most

This week we launched, the only online seafood calculator that quantifies both the health risks and benefits of a diet rich in seafood. Fed up with fishy activists like Greenpeace (a group more concerned with “saving” the fish than with your health) and Jeremy Piven (who, let’s face it, is just trying to save his own hide), we analyzed USDA nutritional information and worked with registered dieticians to explore both sides of the fish equation. And guess what? Seafood scored high marks across the board. puts conflicting information about seafood and health into a useful context (finally!) by displaying the nutritional content of the top ten most popular seafood species—the positive impact of fish consumption as well as the hypothetical risks from trace amounts of mercury.

Here’s an example: A 130-pound woman who enjoys canned light tuna would need to eat 123 ounces (7.7 pounds) of it every week in order to risk any negative health impact from mercury. But in just one 6-ounce serving, she gets all of the protein and selenium she needs for the day, as well as high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, potassium, and iron. All of those health benefits clearly outweigh the miniscule amount of mercury detectable in that can of tuna (as well as activists’ scaremongering).

As we’re telling reporters today:

“The Internet is full of doom-and-gloom seafood calculators that only tell half the story. We’re trying to bring some balance to the discussion. The entire medical literature contains zero cases of fetal mercury poisoning related to fish consumption in the United States. But it’s full of evidence that fish is a health food.”

This message is crucial given how successful anti-seafood activists have been in scaring people away from such a healthy and important dietary staple. In our recently updated “Tuna Meltdown” report, we found that more than a quarter-million underprivileged American children were born at risk of having abnormally low IQs between 2000 and 2006, just because their low-income mothers were afraid to eat fish during their pregnancies.


12 July, 2009

Fruity San Francisco: Leave no windowsill unturned!

Here's betting that meetings and conferences held by city workers will in future be much less well-attended. What would YOU rather have: Doughnuts or a nice plate of broccoli? Bagels and Lox or Brussells sprouts?

He's already banned spending city money to buy bottled water and mandated composting citywide. Now, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is taking on something as basic as water and trash: food. Newsom on Wednesday issued an executive directive he hopes will dramatically change how San Franciscans eat.

All city departments have six months to conduct an audit of unused land - including empty lots, rooftops, windowsills and median strips - that could be turned into community gardens or farms that could benefit residents, either by working at them or purchasing the fresh produce. Food vendors that contract with the city must offer healthy and sustainable food. All vending machines on city property must also offer healthy options, and farmers' markets must begin accepting food stamps, although some already do.

The mayor will send an ordinance to the Board of Supervisors within two months mandating that all food served in city jails, hospitals, homeless shelters and community centers be healthy. And effective immediately, no more runs to the doughnut shop before meetings and conferences held by city workers. Instead, city employees must use guidelines created by the Health Department when ordering food for meetings. Examples include cutting bagels into halves or quarters so people can take smaller portions and serving vegetables instead of potato chips.

"We have an eating and drinking problem in the United States of America," Newsom said Wednesday. "It's impacting our health, and it's impacting our economy."

The directives are the product of an "urban-rural roundtable" of food experts from around California convened by Newsom last year. The group was charged with finding ways to get more of the food grown on farms within 200 miles of San Francisco onto the plates of city residents, especially those who depend on government meals. The idea is to decrease the need to import food, reconnect people to homegrown food rather than processed food, and to provide more options in neighborhoods like Bayview-Hunters Point that lack easy access to grocery stores.

Many of the details have yet to be worked out, including how much it will cost. Newsom bristled when asked how it would be funded because there's no money to implement the food policy in the budget agreed to by the mayor and the board's budget committee just last week. "We have plenty of resources," he said. "This is not a budget buster."

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a member of the budget committee, said he likes the idea - and in fact, supervisors have been calling for the creation of an urban farm in San Francisco for years. He said that he wanted one included in the redevelopment of the former UC Berkeley Extension site on Laguna Street, but that the idea was never embraced by the mayor's administration. "Even if it's a good idea, the timing's a little odd," Mirkarimi said of the unfunded proposal coming just days after the budget compromise. "I like the notion if we're able to get this at a very low cost."

It's also unclear how much land could be converted into community farms. The Public Utilities Commission has thousands of acres outside San Francisco that could be used, and the Real Estate Division and the Recreation and Park Department own some unused parcels in the city.

Newsom made the announcement Wednesday at a junkyard-turned-farm in West Oakland that could serve as a model for how land could be converted in San Francisco. A stone's throw from BART, it used to be home to old cars and one angry dog, but now is run by the nonprofit City Slicker Farms. With a handful of staff members and scores of volunteers from the neighborhood, the nonprofit operates six small farms in West Oakland and sells the produce, along with honey and eggs, on a sliding scale to local residents at a Saturday farm stand.

The 2,000-square-foot former junkyard now produces 2,000 pounds of food every year, including lettuce, squash, tomatoes, parsley, sage, collard greens, grapes, cherries and plums. "This speaks to people's soul," said Barbara Finnin, director of City Slicker Farms. "It's a place people can relax, be outside, and nourish themselves and their families." Newsom toured the farm, biting off a piece of kale to taste, munching on an apricot and admiring sunflowers taller than him.

Back in San Francisco, it was apparent Newsom's idea may take some getting used to. Michael Summers, who operates a hot dog stand in Civic Center Plaza that contracts with the city, said the dogs made of tofu don't sell nearly as well as the old-fashioned meat kind. That was evidenced by the line of people ordering hot dogs just after noon - and not a tofu order among them.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is calling for city-funded food to be healthy and sustainable. His administration provided the following directives for what this means:

* Safe and healthy: Avoids excessive pesticide use and has high nutritional value.

* Culturally acceptable: Acceptable culturally and religiously to San Francisco's diverse population. An example would be providing Chinese seniors with bok choy and other vegetables they're familiar with at local farmers' markets. [And EVERYTHING must be both Halal and Kosher, of course]

* Sustainable: Grown in a way that maintains the health of agricultural lands and advances self-sufficiency among farmers and farmworkers. An example would be using manure as a fertilizer rather than chemicals. [Yeh! Shit in the garden. Don't waste good shit in restrooms. That's the way they do it in India and we need to learn from more "sustainable" cultures, don't we?]


Britain's obesity capital resists health drive

Officialdom have tried it all but people still insist on eating what they like

On the front line of Britain’s fight against obesity lies a town with a guilty secret — it has an abiding passion for pork pies. Stockton-on-Tees eats more of them than anywhere else in the region according to suppliers, who sell off surplus pies to local butchers. Perhaps that’s one reason why the town was named as the country’s capital for childhood obesity in Department of Health figures released this week.

One in six children starting primary school in the borough is obese and by the time they leave for secondary school, 20 per cent of pupils fall into the same category. More than one in three 11-year-olds are either overweight or obese.

Another community confronted by such statistics might have shuffled away behind closed doors into chipmunching, couch-potato denial. However, when the scale and cost of the problem became apparent two years ago, Stockton’s leaders decided to tackle the issue head on. Treating diseases related directly to obesity cost local NHS trusts £26.9 million in 2007. By 2015, unless action is taken, the bill could rise to £33.5 million.

To visit this post-industrial town today is to encounter a testing ground for every conceivable initiative designed to help people to lose weight. Whether any of them will work remains to be seen, but almost every public or private body with an interest in the long-term health of the population seems to be on board. So are some, but not all, of the residents.

Elizabeth Shassere, Stockton’s director of public health, says it is imperative to move beyond the excuses for poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Pockets of significant social deprivation? Yes, but Stockton has fewer than many of its neighbouring boroughs. What about the majority, even in the poorest communities, who manage to stay fit and healthy? And affluent families who struggle with their weight? Ignorance of a sensible diet? Educate them. Nowhere to exercise? Provide it. Specialist help for the clinically obese? Provide that, too. Can’t afford to use the leisure centre? Give the children free admission. It is a whole-life approach that begins with ante-natal visits by midwives.

Advice is offered on nutrition and cookery, physical activity programmes for pregnant women and the importance of breastfeeding, which, at 54 per cent, is below the national average in Stockton. Young women are also encouraged to join Fit to Push, a programme of organised walks for mothers with prams and buggies. School initiatives include Clean Your Plate. Stickers are awarded for a clean plate at the end of every meal and the pupil with the most stickers wins a prize. Evidence shows this has reduced portion sizes. There are healthy workplace programmes, free leisure facilities for 7,400 children and Sporting Start, which gives children aged from 3 to 16 a free introduction to activities including gymnastics, badminton and street dancing.

In the past two years 8,150 pedometers have also been issued to Stockton residents in the hope that a third of the borough’s 189,000 population will be walking 10,000 steps daily by 2010. Attempts are being made to curb the proliferation of fast-food outlets, improve the physical environment and cycling routes and create more safe areas for children to play outside.There are even “walking school buses”, in which children are led by adults on walks to and from school.

It all sounds admirable. The reality, on a sun-dappled afternoon this week in the old railway town from which Harold MacMillan took his title, was not quite so inspirational — though there were some true believers. Young mothers Jill Herbert and Tracey Watson emerged from the Splash Centre, where their children had enjoyed a free swimming session, to evangelise about diet and exercise. Nathan, 4, eats a lot of fruit, fish and pasta, while three-year-old Isabelle loves “all sorts of vegetables, even broccoli and cauliflower”.

Enter the Castlegate shopping centre and the picture changes. Here is the world of the budget shopper: Pound World, More4Less, Poundland and Home Bargains. Les Meynell, who runs a family butcher’s shop and delicatessen, says that his business has survived, while rivals have been forced to close, by selling hot, rich, juicy pre-cooked meat and poultry, which vastly outsells his raw, fresh products.

“It’s all changed. The young ’uns don’t want to go home and cook fresh joints. They can manage a pan of chips and that’s about it. People want their meat already cooked and that’s what’s kept us afloat,” he said. Mr Meynell was visited by a well-meaning health official, who encouraged him to use low-fat mayonnaise in his sandwiches. He tried it for a week and gave up. “The regulars came back and asked us what the hell we were doing? They said the low-fat sandwiches were tasteless, and they were right. Ask most of my customers and no one gives a stuff about healthy eating, except well-to-do people who want to look after their figure. They buy a salad sandwich, we charge them the earth for it and they go away happy.”

Warming to his theme, Mr Meynell confided Stockton’s best-kept secret. A company well known nationally for its pork pies often turns to butchers such as Mr Meynell to offload bulk deliveries deemed surplus to supermarket requirements. “I can sell £1,000-worth of pork pies in my shop every week. The supplier told me that in Newcastle they can’t sell them for any money. Nowhere else in the North East eats pork pies like we do in Stockton,” he said.

Around the corner, Brian Peacock, a greengrocer, says many young people do not even recognise many of the vegetables he sells. “It’s only older people who buy the veg. And the students. As for the rest of them, they don’t know what half of them are called, let alone how to cook or eat them.” Stockton’s target is to cut child obesity rates back to their 2000 level by 2020. If the council and health authorities fail to deliver, it will not be for want of trying.


11 July, 2009

British "reforms" see pupils reject school food

The number of children having school meals has stalled after the increase in nutritional standards pioneered by Jamie Oliver, official figures show today. Only a third of secondary age pupils eat a cooked lunch. Participation has decreased ever since the standard of food rose after Oliver’s School Dinners campaign in 2005 which resulted in the banning of Turkey Twizzlers and daily helpings of chips.

The School Food Trust, a government agency responsible for improving the quality and take-up of school meals, claimed a victory because the figures rose marginally when comparing schools that had used exactly the same method of calculation last year. But the figures are an embarrassment for the Government, which pledged three years ago to achieve an increase of 10 percentage points in the number of children eating school meals, by this autumn — a target that has been missed whichever set of data is used.

The School Food Trust claimed this year’s was the first “statistically robust national survey” of school meal take-up, but did not say in previous years that the figures were unreliable. When comparing schools that had collected the figures in the same way year-on-year, it said the number of children eating school meals had risen by 0.1 per cent, from 43.8 per cent to 43.9 per cent at primary level, and from 35.5 per cent to 36 per cent in secondary schools.

But figures from all local authorities that responded show the overall national figures were 39.3 per cent in primary schools, compared with 43.6 per cent last year, and 35.1 per cent at secondary level, compared with 37.2 per cent in 2008. The School Food Trust said that this year's figures had been collected in a different way, so that the years could not be compared.

The Local Authority Caterers’ Association(LACA) described the increase as “marginal”. Neil Porter, its chairman, said: “We recognise that this year we are using a different way to calculate the data on the take-up of school lunches. LACA is encouraged by the apparent marginal upward trend in meal take-up in both primary and secondary schools. “However, we believe that we are on a longer journey when it comes to secondary school students. Increasing secondary meal take-up will continue to be a challenge for all of us.”

It was at a secondary school in South Yorkshire that mothers of pupils took orders from the local fast food shop for pupils at lunchtime, after children refused to eat the new healthy school meals. They were seen pushing burgers, fish and chips through the school gates.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Schools Secretary, said the figures showed a “massive drop” in the number of children eating school meals, and had missed its target to increase participation by “well over one million children”. He added: “We now know that barely a third of secondary school pupils are eating school meals. “There are a number of reasons why the Government has missed its target — including the rushed introduction of new food standards before the groundwork had been done to ensure children will eat the new healthier option.

“The Government stands little chance in meeting its targets unless there is both more investment in the school meals service and a massive change in expectations, so that sitting down for a proper lunch once again becomes the norm for every child.”

Prue Leith, chairwoman of the School Food Trust, said: “We now have a genuine picture of take-up across the country and we can see that real progress is being made the length and breadth of England. “I am heartened that take-up has increased slightly in primary schools following the introduction of new nutrient-based standards and am convinced we are winning the battle for the hearts, minds and tastebuds of children and parents. “It is particularly pleasing that secondary schools have turned the corner. This has always been a long-term project.”

Diana Johnson, the Schools Minister, said: “Four years ago, the majority of children were eating unhealthy meals at school. Chips, chocolate and sugar-filled fizzy drinks were available everyday as a choice for school lunch. Today there is no school where this can now happen — all schools must provide a portion of vegetable and fruit as part of a nutritionally balanced main meal. Now millions of children across the country are eating healthy school lunches. “We know that it is often the state of dining facilities and poor organisation, not nutritional changes that put children off schools dinners. That is why we have invested significant funds in improving dining facilities and the School Food Trust is supporting schools to improve the way they organise their meals services.”


Third of women with breast cancer 'don't need treatment'

Clearly, treatment should only be undertaken in most cases after monitoring over time is done -- to disclose whether tumor growth is occurring. But such repeated imaging would be too costly for Britain. Paying the wages of an army of bureaucrats gets first call on the British budget. Because of the high risk of false positives, some authorities even discourage breast self-examination these days -- on the grounds that it does more harm than good

A third of women diagnosed with breast cancer have gone through unnecessary treatments, a study revealed yesterday. Routine breast screening produces a high rate of 'false positives' - because it is not sensitive enough to detect which lumps will lead to dangerous cancers and which will not. This means that thousands of British women have been 'over-diagnosed' - forcing them to endure invasive and painful treatment such as needless mastectomies, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The study showed that in more than a third of cases, lumps which were flagged up as a cause for alarm were harmless - either because the tumour was growing so slowly that the patient would have died of other causes before it produced any symptoms, or because the cancer remained dormant or even regressed.

In an editorial accompanying the research, H Gilbert Welch, professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute in the U.S., said that women needed to be aware of the risks, as well as the benefits, of cancer screening. 'Mammography is one of medicine's "close calls" - a delicate balance between benefits and harms - where different people in the same situation might reasonably make different choices,' he said. 'Mammography undoubtedly helps some women, but hurts others. No right answer exists, instead it is a personal choice.'

Cancer charities were keen last night to stress that routine screening is estimated to save 1,400 lives every year in England alone. All women from 50 to 70 are invited to the checks every three years. Across the UK, more than 45,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and 12,000 die.

Scientists from the Nordic Cochrane Centre, who carried out the study, analysed breast cancer trends seven years before and seven years after the introduction of screening programmes in five countries - the UK, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Norway. Taking into account other factors, such as changes in background levels of breast cancer, they estimated the level of overdiagnosis as 35 per cent.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the study's authors said: 'Screening for cancer may lead to earlier detection of lethal cancers but also detects harmless ones that will not cause death or symptoms. 'The detection of such cancers... can only be harmful to those who experience it.' They said that perhaps doctors doing the screening should request biopsies only for breast masses larger than a certain size.

Dr Sarah Cant, from Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: 'We hope this research will not discourage women from attending breast screening. 'Unfortunately, it is currently not possible to predict which cancers found through screening will develop aggressively and which will grow very slowly. 'Based on all the current evidence, we believe the benefits of detecting breast cancer early still outweigh the risks.'

But good news, death rates at new low The British death rate from three of the most common cancers has fallen to its lowest level in almost 40 years, research has shown. The toll from breast, bowel, and male lung cancer is at its lowest since 1971, an analysis by Cancer Research UK found. This means Britain could be at last turning the tide on its appalling record of cancer survival compared with the rest of Europe. The UK has the worst cancer record in Western Europe. Its survival rates are on a par with Poland and the Czech Republic, even though these countries spend two-thirds less on cancer treatment.

Critics have claimed the UK's poor showing proves that the vast amount of extra funding poured into the NHS by Labour has been wasted - although ministers say the new figures should be a cause for optimism. Breast cancer deaths among women peaked in 1989 at 15,625 but dropped to 11,990 in 2007, according to the data. Bowel cancer deaths among both sexes peaked in 1992 at 19,598, but fell to 16,007 in 2007.

Meanwhile, the number of men dying from lung cancer peaked in 1979 at 30,391 but dropped to 19,637 in 2007. The number of people developing cancer is on the rise as we live longer than ever before. But fewer people are dying from the disease - partly due to improved screening and new and better treatments.


10 July, 2009

Antibiotic 'boosts lifespan' (in mice)

But the side-effects could be severe. Fancy a suppressed immune system or feeling hungry all the time?

A COMPOUND found in the soil of Easter Island stunningly boosts the lifespan of mice, enabling some to live more than 100 years old in human terms, researchers reported today. The remarkable molecule, a bacterial byproduct discovered in a sample taken from the remote Pacific archipelago in the 1970s, is called rapamycin, after the island's Polynesian name of Rapa Nui.

Rapamycin first came to light because of its qualities as a fungus fighter. It was later used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients and then became incorporated into "stents" - implants used to keep arteries open in patients with coronary disease. It is now in clinical trials for cancer treatment.

The latest step in this remarkable odyssey is the vision that rapamycin, or something like it, may one day massively boost human life expectancy. "I've been in ageing research for 35 years and there have been many so-called anti-ageing interventions over those years that were never successful," said Arlan Richardson, director of the Barshop Institute, one of three centres that carried out the experiments. "I never thought we could find an anti-ageing pill for people in my lifetime. However, rapamycin shows a great deal of promise to do just that."

Intrigued by findings that suggest rampamycin inhibits an enzyme linked to ageing in invertebrates, the researchers decided to add the drug to the diet of older mice. The rodents were 20 months old at the time, which in human terms is equivalent to around 60 years of age. Female mice with rapamycin added to their food lived 13 per cent longer on average compared with non-rapamycin counterparts. Males which were fed the drug gained nine per cent in their lifetime. The change was even more striking among the 10 per cent of mice that lived longest. Within this group, rapamycin females lived 38 per cent longer and rapamycin males 28 per cent longer than non-rapamycin counterparts.

Rapamycin may retard ageing processes or the onset of cancer but has no impact on the causes of death itself, the study said.

The project, reported in the British science journal Nature, is part of a test program under the US National Institute on Ageing (NIA), which is looking for drugs that will help people remain healthy and active throughout their lives. Previous work on rapamycin longevity was carried out on yeast, worms and flies. This study is the first to show it also appears to work on mammals.

Scientists have already found that by keeping mice skinny by restricting their diet, they could make the rodents live longer. The theory behind rapamycin is that it works on the same molecular mechanisms as calorie restriction.

Initially, the US researchers hoped to start giving rapamycin to mice from four months of age. But the project was hit by delays in formulating the drug so that it could enter the specially-bred animals' bloodstream more effectively. As a result, the experiment was not started until the mice were 20 months old, but the team decided to press ahead anyway.

"Most reports indicate that calorie restriction doesn't work when implemented in old animals," said Mr Richardson. "The fact that rapamycin increases lifespan in relatively old mice was totally unexpected."

In a commentary also published by Nature, University of Washington biocehmists Matt Kaeberlein and Brian Kennedy cautioned middle-aged people against rushing to take rapamycin, given that the drug is known to suppress the immune system, which fights invading microbes. Despite the rush of optimism sparked by rapamycin, "extending human lifespan with a pill remains the purview of science-fiction writers for now", they said.


Working mothers have fatter kids, paper finds

At last! An "obesity" writer who is realistic about social class effects

CHILDREN of many full-time working mothers are up to 12 per cent more likely to be overweight than the kids of stay-at-home mums. But the link between a mother's paid work and her kids' waist lines is only found in families at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

In a paper to be presented today to the Australian Social Policy Conference in Sydney, economic researcher Anna Zhu finds children in families earning less than $1000 a week with a full-time working mother are most at risk of being overweight. "The main reason is that to maintain a healthy lifestyle requires time and/or money," Ms Zhu told The Australian. "Indeed, it could just be money because we don't find the effect in high-income families."

Ms Zhu, from the University of NSW's Social Policy Research Centre, said stay-at-home mothers had the time to prepare meals and richer full-time working mothers could outsource the preparation of healthier food to a nanny or carer, but poorer mothers working long hours had fewer options. "These mothers are constrained for time (so they resort to) things like pre-packaged food. And without the income, they turn to cheaper options that have higher calorific value."

The rate of mothers joining the labour force and with a youngest child aged less than five years old rose from 36 to 43 per cent between 1986 and 2000, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Over a similar period, the prevalence of overweight children almost doubled, and the prevalence of obese children tripled.

While Ms Zhu's study focused on 4 to 5-year olds, she said similar research conducted overseas produced the same outcome for children of all ages. She warned the results should not be interpreted as support for the view that mothers shouldn't work. "There are an array of other benefits of the mother working," she said. "This study is more presenting the reality that full-time working mothers face significant time constraints, and a lack of money limits their options to provide their children with a healthy lifestyle."

The other factor determining a child's chances of being overweight was the amount of exercise they did. "Families with low incomes won't be able to afford to pay people to take them to outdoor activities while they work," Ms Zhu said. "Instead the kids are more likely to be at home watching TV. If the full-time working mum isn't earning enough to hire a nanny to take them to the park, the mum is probably happier for them to be indoors because they feel they are safer there."

Ms Zhu said governments should be looking at policy options to provide greater support for working mothers. She said for low-income families, a full-time working father had a beneficial impact on a child's propensity to be overweight because the extra income for the family means better nutrition and a healthier lifestyle.


9 July, 2009

Are eldest children really a cut above?

Order of birth is said to influence everything from IQ to personality. But is it a myth or hard scientific fact? The article below is an unusually well-informed exposition of the fact that birth order is of trivial importance

I exhibit, it is alleged, the typical personality characteristics of a first-born: swotty, bossy and stubborn. That is the verdict of my husband, the youngest of three sons and possessed of a laissez-faire attitude to life. In fact, I’ve noticed that most first-borns I know are married to later-borns; can any union between eldest children survive the constant jostling for pole position?

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on birth order. From the kind of personality you have, to the kind of profession you pursue, there is a popular belief that much of it rests on whether you emerged from your mother’s womb before or after your siblings (or somewhere in between). And you can look to almost any sphere of achievement to prop up the story: George W. Bush, the former American President, was more successful than his younger brother Jeb, a mere State Governor, who was in turn more accomplished than their younger brother Neil, a businessman blamed, along with other directors, for the collapse of a savings and loans company. While Bill Clinton excelled at political conviction, the only conviction boasted by his younger brother Roger was one for cocaine possession.

Parents, too, seem to agree that all siblings are not created equal. Last week, an online survey of nearly 10,000 mothers for found that 35 per cent thought their first-born would fare best academically, compared with 15 per cent who named their youngest as the scholar in the family.

But what about the science of birth order? Despite its seductive appeal as an explanation of why children born to the same parents and raised in the same environment can be so different, many researchers believe that birth order has virtually no bearing on personality and behaviour. While there are well-documented differences in, say, IQ between older and younger siblings, those differences are so small as to be negligible, and do not explain differences in temperament.

Ginger Moore, the Professor of Psychology at Pennysylvania State University, who has reviewed the literature as part of her research into child development, says: “There are no clear systematic differences that are a function of birth order and there is no scientific research that shows that there are.” There are simply too many other variables involved in sculpting personality and behaviour, she says, that combine to swamp any minor influence that birth order might exert. While mums and dads might ladle out differing amounts of attention to the various members of their brood, she insists that those discrepancies cannot be boiled down to the single factor of order. It is the most demanding child, not necessarily the eldest, that often monopolises mother.

Professor Moore explains: “There is no doubt that parents treat children differently, and some of that difference may be related to birth order. For example, they tend to be more anxious with first-borns, and some of our research has found that mothers are more positive when interacting with their second child. “However, the way that parents interact with their children, the expectations they have of them and the opportunities they give them, most likely have less to do with birth order and more to do with many other factors, such as the child’s personality, gender, the number of children in the family, the spacing between siblings and parental age.”

Even though the first-born has the undivided attention of her parents, she will be shoved out of the limelight once No 2 arrives. And those later siblings, Professor Moore suggests, bask in the attention of not just their more experienced parents but also of their older siblings. In effect, the younger siblings receive über-parenting.

Such a verdict might raise a cheer among later-borns, many of whom feel condemned to live their lives in the shadow of the eldest. But birth order is one of those theories that never quite goes away, lurking quietly in the annals of popular culture until a study comes along that either contradicts or confirms it. A bias towards publishing attention-grabbing papers means that confirmation studies are more likely to make it into print and be noticed by the media. That perpetuates the idea that the birth order view of personality — the dominant eldest, the wayward middle one and the spoilt youngest — is on unshakeable ground.

In addition, the idea of the favoured first-born slots into the Darwinian theory that siblings, whether chicks in a nest or gurgling human beings, must compete against each other for parental attention. Since, in this bleak Darwinian worldview, parents allocate the most resources to the child(ren) most likely to survive and reproduce, lavishing attention on the eldest is a wise strategy.

For well over a century, scientists have toyed with the idea that the road to greatness is littered with first-borns. Francis Galton, the gifted biologist and now notorious eugenicist, noted in 1874 that an unusually high proportion of eminent men (mostly scientists) were first-born sons (women didn’t count, so even if a male had five older sisters, he was still classified as a first-born). Other studies, too, have found first-borns monopolising positions of power and influence, for example, in the higher echelons of medicine and politics.

Galton offered three explanations: that first-borns are treated as mini-adults by their parents and thus invested with more responsibility than future siblings (an echo of the finding); that primogeniture means that the eldest sons inherit the family cash and can therefore bag an education denied to younger siblings; and that eldest children have the best access to food and other parental resources, such as time.

Remarkably, a 2008 study bears Galton out. Dr David Lawson and Professor Ruth Mace, from University College London, discovered that on average, only children are taller than peers from large families. Moreover, the eldest children in those families tend to be taller by the age of ten than younger siblings. Since height is a proxy for nutrition in the well-nourished West, this implies that there is more food on the table for the eldest. The study does not support a birth-order theory of personality — it did not look for such evidence — but it is striking in its support for the Darwinian idea of children competing for parental succour. What about IQ? There is a characteristic IQ distribution among siblings, with first-borns hogging the top of the sibling bell curve, and second and third-borns lagging one , two or sometimes three points behind (the lower your ordinal position, which is your place in the sibling line-up, the lower the IQ).

Robert Zajonc, the late Stanford University psychologist, argued, like Galton did, that this was because firstborns are plunged into an intellectually demanding, adult-only environment. Even sexuality appears to be influenced by birth order: the more older brothers a man has, the more likely he is to be gay (the finding applies only to men). This is known as the fraternal birth order effect, and is a pretty sturdy finding. Since sexuality is influenced by hormones, could it be that the womb environment changes for each sibling, and that this is the key to perceived differences? If so, then those differences should be biologically preset and remain unaffected by how the child grows up. In other words, if you are a second sibling, you will always carry the lower IQ of a second sibling.

However, a 2007 study of 250,000 Norwegian conscripts contradicted this: second siblings who had lost an older brother, and were thus elevated in the family’s social ranking to the status of eldest child, boasted IQs that were more similar to eldest children. Similarly, third-borns who lost their elder sibling had an IQ of a “natural” second-born. This implies that the social environment in which a child is raised has a greater sway over IQ than biological order. Similarly, sexuality researchers tried, and failed, to correlate personality characteristics with fraternal birth order. In conclusion, while the link between IQ and birth order is robust, it is a) too small to affect a person’s life chances substantially and b) actually related to social, rather that biological, rank.

One of the most influential works to claim that birth order moulds personality, was Born to Rebel, by Frank Sulloway. The 1996 best-seller argued that first-borns, keen to preserve their favoured status in the family, stick close to their parents, maintain the status quo and don’t question authority. Consequently, it is later-borns who bloom into the risk-taking, creative individuals capable of changing the world. Sulloway, a University of California psychologist and second-born, marshalled such scientific revolutionaries as Darwin and Copernicus, both later-borns, to bolster his case (interestingly, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron are all younger children).

Although Born to Rebel was heralded as a magisterial analysis of the birth-order literature, many researchers have contested Sulloway’s reading of the data. One of his sternest critics is the psychologist Judith Rich Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption, the landmark book that claimed peers are more important than parents in child development. Rich Harris argues that the supposed birth order pattern in personality — the conventional eldest, the laid-back youngest — only exists when siblings are with each other, and that this pattern disappears outside the family environment. The intellectual battle over the book’s central idea has been long and brutal: Sulloway initially threatened to sue his critics, although an extensive, unflattering critique did finally appear in 2004. [Sulloway acted totally outside normal scientific procedure, making his work of no credibility whatever. More details of that here]

So what now for the science of birth order? While studies of large families might provide the best test-bed for theories, they are, in some respects, the worst. That’s because larger families tend to be poorer; and poverty is linked to lower IQs. Bigger families also mean more complicated family dynamics. And because most studies can’t airbrush out all the other factors that might influence personality, behaviour and achievement, it can be dangerous to take a small positive result — such as the matter of an IQ point here and there — and hold it up as proof that who you are and how you behave depends on whether you are the royal or the runt of the litter.

The theory’s refusal to go away, Professor Moore suggests, might be due to birth order being easily measurable. We all know where we stand in the familial order of things; our rank among siblings is perhaps the one indisputable fact among a host of messy, hard-to-measure factors that cloud or complement our development from child to adult. It’s tempting to hold that one measurable fact responsible for our fates.

But how we eventually turn out, she says, is down to the complex interplay between biology and genes, parenting, social milieu, education, peers, and pure luck of the draw. “A single factor, such as birth order, may explain a small portion of the variability in the paths that children take within families, but trying to predict adult personality or behaviour on the basis of birth order is too simplistic.”


Travel is bad for you! It more than doubles your risk of blood clots

But is it as dangerous as driving your car or crossing the road? I have no doubt that there is something in this but it seems to be very rare in absolute terms

A study published Monday strengthens the evidence that long-distance travel can lead to potentially fatal blood clots in some people -- showing that the risk grows in tandem with the length of the trip. In an analysis of 14 previous studies, researchers found that, in general, travel was associated with a nearly three-fold increase in the risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) -- blood clots that form in the veins, often in the legs. If such a clot dislodges and travels to the lungs, it can cause a potentially fatal condition called pulmonary embolism.

Several high-profile deaths have brought attention to the risk of VTE among travelers, particularly those on long-haul flights. Experts think a combination of factors -- including dehydration and hours of sitting in cramped conditions -- explains why some people develop blood clots.

However, not all studies have found a clear link between travel and VTE. To look at the discrepancy, the researchers who conducted the current review, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed 14 studies involving more than 4,000 cases of VTE. Some of the studies compared VTE patients with a "control" group of people who had been referred for possible VTE symptoms, but were found to not have a clot -- a comparison that carries the risk of bias because the control group likely has a higher-than-average risk of blood clots.

In other studies, the control group consisted of healthy people from the general population -- which are more likely to capture the true VTE risk associated with travel, explained lead researcher Dr. Divay Chandra of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. When the researchers looked only at those studies, they found that travelers had a nearly three-fold higher risk of blood clots than non-travelers. What's more, the risk climbed along with the duration of the trip -- rising 18 percent for every two hours of any type of travel, and by 26 percent for every two hours of air travel.

But while the current findings confirm the travel-VTE link, Chandra told Reuters Health, "there is no reason for panic" because the absolute risk to any one traveler is still low. Still, Chandra said, "people who travel long distances should be aware of the risk of blood clots and learn to recognize the symptoms." Symptoms of a blood clot in the leg include pain, warmth, swelling and redness in the limb. If the clot travels to the lungs, it may cause sudden shortness of breath, chest pain or a cough that produces blood.

To help reduce the risk of VTE, experts generally recommend that long-distance travelers periodically move around and stretch their legs, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Certain people are at increased risk of blood clots, Chandra noted -- including cancer patients, people who have recently had major surgery such as a joint replacement, and women on birth control pills. They may want to talk with their doctors about any precautions they should take when traveling, he said.


8 July, 2009

Vegetarian diet could cut risk of cancer by 45 per cent

And pigs could fly. More guesswork based on just a statistical association. It could be (for instance) that it is mainly fussy middle class people who are the vegetarians and middle class people are healthier anyhow. Or maybe vegetarians live more cautious and hence safer lives, thus exposing themselves to fewer dangerous substances etc. Speculation could go on and on but what's the point? NO causative inferences have been established and none are possible from evidence such as this

Eating a vegetarian diet can almost halve the risk of developing cancer, research suggests. A study of more than 61,000 individuals aged between 20 and 89 found those who did not eat meat reduced overall incidence of the disease by 12 per cent. But the most striking difference was in cancers of the blood, including leukaemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma with 45 per cent fewer cases among the vegetarians. Tumours of the stomach and bladder were also significantly less frequent in this group.

Professor Tim Key, a Cancer Research UK epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, said: 'Over a lifetime about one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer. So if 33 people in every hundred get cancer this would come down to about 29 with everyone following a vegetarian diet, which is 12 per cent lower.' However, Mr Key said the findings were not yet strong enough to advise the public to make dramatic changes to the way they eat as long as they are following an 'average balanced diet'.

Although it is widely recommended we eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day to reduce their risk of cancer and other diseases, there is little evidence looking specifically at a vegetarian diet.

Mr Key, whose findings are published in the British Journal of Cancer, added: 'More research is needed to substantiate these results and to look for reasons for the differences.' His team followed the participants, just over half of whom were meat eaters, for more than 12 years during which time 3,350 were diagnosed with cancer. They looked at the rates of cancer among the vegetarians, and then compared them with those of the meat eaters.

Mr Key said: 'Our study looking at cancer risk in vegetarians found the likelihood of people developing some cancers is lower among vegetarians than among people who eat meat. 'In terms of what explains this we have to look at what other research is going on. For stomach cancer there is already quite a lot of evidence that high intake of food such as processed meat may increase risk. 'Obviously, vegetarians who are not eating meat would not have that risk factor. It could be something about being a vegetarian that is protective, or alternatively it could be something about meat actually increasing the risk.'

Su Taylor, of the Vegetarian Society, said: 'This latest research adds to a growing body of evidence that vegetarians are less likely to get cancer. 'It could be they are simply more likely to stick to the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, thereby eating more roughage, or it could be more complicated than this.'


Orange juice acid 'can wash away enamel on your teeth'

This one's been around for a while now. Just remember: EVERYTHING is bad for you and life is always fatal. More seriously: The reasoning and findings make some sense but a lot of people are heavy drinkers of Coca Cola, which is very good at dissolving teeth, but most Coke drinkers have still got their teeth. You would have to go unusual extremes for orange juice to harm you

It may not just be breakfast you wash down with a morning glass of orange juice, researchers warned yesterday. Some juice is so acidic, it can take part of your teeth with it. Fruit beverages can cut enamel hardness by 84 per cent causing teeth to erode more than previously thought, according to one U.S. expert. Dr Yan-Fang Ren, of the Eastman Institute for Oral Health, at the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, said the acid in orange juice 'is so strong that the tooth is literally washed away'.

Dr Ren and his team made the discovery after studying the effects of over-the-counter teeth whitening products. He found the effect of six per cent hydrogen peroxide, the common ingredient used for teeth whitening, was 'insignificant' compared with acidic fruit juices. The orange juice markedly cut hardness and increased roughness of tooth enamel.

The researchers used a revolutionary vertical scanning microscope for the first time to see the extensive surface detail on teeth. It has long been known that fruit juice and carbonated drinks have high acid content and can reduce the strength of enamel. Dentists have advised some of these drinks should only be consumed with a straw or at the same time as eating food. But the damaging effects of drinks could be worse than previously thought, according to the article in the Journal of Dentistry.

Weakened and eroded enamel may speed up the wear of the tooth and increase the risk of tooth decay developing and spreading. Dr Ren said: 'Most soft drinks, including sodas and fruit juices, are acidic in nature. 'Our studies demonstrated that the orange juice, as an example, can potentially cause significant erosion of teeth. It's potentially a very serious problem for people who drink sodas and fruit juices daily. 'We do not yet have an effective tool to avert the erosive effects, although there are early indications that higher levels of fluoride may help slow down the erosion.'

Dr Ren advises consumers to be aware of the acidic nature of beverages, including sodas, fruit juices, sports and energy drinks. The longer teeth are in contact with the acidic drinks, the more the erosion will be. Those who sip their drinks slowly over 20 minutes are more likely to have tooth erosion than those who finish a drink quickly. Dr Ren said it is important to keep good oral hygiene by brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

The research comes after a recent study revealed that drinking fruit juice dramatically reduces the effectiveness of drugs used to treat cancer, heart conditions and high blood pressure. Research has shown that orange, apple and grapefruit juice can also wipe out the benefits of some antibiotics and hay-fever pills. It is thought the drinks stop drugs from entering the bloodstream and getting to work in the body - possibly rendering them useless. The potential effects are so serious, researchers warned, that if in doubt patients should swap fruit juices for water when on medication.


7 July, 2009

Here we go again: Coffee could halt Alzheimer’s

So regular coffee drinkers don't get Alzheimer's? First time I've heard that the USA and Europe are Alzheimer's-free zones! Why do they bother publishing this sh*t? They have no sense of perspective whatever. China and Japan (tea-drinking nations) are full of demented oldsters? Certainly not in Japan, which is famous for its many highly functional nonagenerarians and centenarians. And tea is normally drunk quite weak in East Asia, meaning that the drinkers get very little caffeine from it

Three large cups of coffee a day could help to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease and even reverse the condition, researchers say. A daily dose of caffeine can suppress the degenerative processes in the brain that can lead to confusion and memory loss, a study in mice suggests. Although drinking coffee has previously been linked to a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s, this is the first study to suggest that caffeine can directly target the disease itself.

Alzheimer’s occurs when sticky clumps of abnormal protein in the brain called beta-amyloid build up to form plaques, impairing cognitive function. But mice with a rodent equivalent of the disease showed a 50 per cent reduction in levels of amyloid protein in their brains after scientists spiked their drinking water with caffeine.

The change was reflected in their behaviour as they developed better memories and quicker thinking. In the study, published today in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers from the University of South Florida studied 55 mice that had been genetically engineered to develop dementia symptoms identical to those of Alzheimer’s as they aged. Before treatment the mice, which were aged 18 to 19 months — about 70 years in human terms — had performed poorly in the memory tests.

Half the animals were given a daily dose of caffeine in their drinking water — equivalent to a human consuming about six espresso shots or 500mg of pure caffeine — while the other half continued to drink ordinary water. By the end of the two-month study, the caffeine-drinking mice were performing far better on tests of memory and thinking than mice given water. Their memories were as sharp as those of healthy older mice without dementia.

The scientists found that when the mice drank caffeinated water their blood levels of beta amyloid protein fell quickly. More importantly, the same effect occurred in the brain. Almost half the abnormal protein previously seen when the brains of Alzheimer’s mice were examined had vanished after two months.

The researchers hope that caffeine could present a safe, inexpensive treatment for dementia. Professor Gary Arendash, a memory and ageing specialist who led the latest research, said that he wished to conduct human patient trials as soon as possible. “The findings provide evidence that caffeine could be a viable treatment for established Alzheimer’s disease and not simply a protective strategy,” he said.

A study in 2002 found that people who consumed caffeine in mid-life were 60 per cent less likely to develop the disease.

About 417,000 people in the UK suffer from Alzheimer’s, and numbers are steadily rising. There is currently no cure and although drugs can help stabilise the condition, they are not widely available on the NHS until patients have advanced-stage disease and their effectiveness is relatively unpredictable from person to person.

Taking 500mg of caffeine in tablet form would be safe for most patients and would have relatively few side-effects, Professor Arendash said, although it is not clear how the dosage would translate from mice to humans.

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said that it was too early to say whether coffee or caffeine supplements could help Alzheimer’s patients. “With no cure yet, research into treatments that could help people with Alzheimer’s is vital. [But] we need to do more research to find out whether this effect will be seen in people,” she said.


Two or more abortions could more than DOUBLE chances of a premature birth next time

Doubling the odds does get us into the area where a finding needs to be looked at seriously but it must be noted that only a statistical relationship has been established. Causal judgments need more evidence. But that abortions sometimes damage the womb and cervix is a perfectly reasonable inference and such damage could lead to problems in taking a pregnancy to full term

Women who have an abortion could be risking the health of their next baby, it emerged last night. Those who terminate a pregnancy are subsequently more likely to give birth prematurely, with two or more abortions more than doubling the odds. Premature babies are at greater risk of health problems, with one in ten having lung disease, cerebral palsy, blindness or deafness.

Fertility doctors said the study did not prove abortion caused premature births because some of the reasons why women choose to terminate a pregnancy - such as unemployment or money worries - are also linked to early birth. But other experts said the evidence was 'compelling' and insisted women seeking abortions should be warned of the risk.

The data, revealed at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Amsterdam, comes as abortion rates hit record levels. More than 200,000 women a year in England and Wales choose to terminate pregnancies - second only to the U.S. in the West. The link between abortion and premature birth emerged during a review of dozens studies on pregnancy complications.

Combining the results revealed that having one abortion raised the risk of the woman having her next baby prematurely, which is defined as before 37 weeks, by 20 per cent. The risk of a very premature baby before 34 weeks rose by 50 per cent. Women who had two or more abortions were almost twice as likely to have a premature baby and two and a half times as likely to have one very prematurely.

Dr Robbert van Oppenraaij, of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, said it was not clear what caused the link, suggesting that abortion may harm the womb or create infection. Smoking, drug use, unemployment and low income are also associated with abortion and premature birth.

However, others said it made 'total sense'. Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment On Reproductive Ethics, said: 'There's a logic. The body is protecting a healthy baby. By producing a abortion, you destroy that protection and make the cervix - the neck of the womb - more vulnerable. 'And if you make the cervix more vulnerable, you are more at risk of a premature baby. 'You don't need a degree in biology to understand that.'

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which carries out almost a third of abortions in Britain, said leaflets it gives patients mention the link to premature birth. Medical director Dr Patricia Lohr said: 'Abortion is extremely safe. When we counsel women, we provide them with information about the potential for a slightly higher risk of miscarriage or early birth.'


6 July, 2009

Slimming pill is investigated over 'links to liver damage'

This is pretty absurd. If you have got a million people taking something, of course some of them will get ill -- from other causes. And only ONE of the deaths involved liver damage. Drawing any conclusion from that is a statistical absurdity

A slimming pill that triggered massive sales when it was launched earlier this year is being investigated amid fears it is linked to liver damage. Alli, which blocks the absorption of fat in the gut, is the first diet pill of its kind to be available without prescription. Its main ingredient is the drug orlistat. But now the US medicine watchdog, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is investigating a series of alerts from patients who developed problems while taking orlistat.

The UK drugs regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), has also received 31 reports of side effects linked to orlistat since Alli was launched in April. But it was not able to say if those were from patients taking Alli or the stronger pill Xenical – which also contains orlistat but is available only on prescription.

Since Xenical became available in 2001, 24 patients taking it have died, one of liver failure and the others from heart attacks, gall bladder inflammation, multi-organ failure and lung clots. There were also five cases of sudden death where the cause was unclear. In total, the MHRA has received 1,252 reports from patients of potential side effects from Xenical, including heart problems, gastrointestinal issues and skin complaints. Nearly 100 were connected with liver problems.

On the day Alli was launched in the UK, £1million worth of pills were sold. But it has already provoked controversy. Manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) claims it can boost weight loss by up to 50 per cent, helping dieters lose an extra 1lb for every 2lb shed. The treatment is supposed to be taken by people with a body mass index of more than 28, but there have been claims that pharmacists are flouting the rules and giving it to women who are much slimmer. The FDA can ban the sale of drugs and can also order changes to labelling or prescription guidance. While any of its rulings are not automatically adopted in the UK, the European Medicines Agency, which licenses orlistat in the UK, works closely with the FDA.

A spokesman for the FDA said: ‘We have received rare reports of hepatitis and other liver-related laboratory abnormalities in people taking orlistat. The FDA is closely monitoring this issue to determine the need for any regulatory action.’

GSK said the safety of consumers was of ‘utmost importance’ to the company and that it supplied all information about adverse effects to Government drugs bodies. A spokeswoman said: ‘Alli has been used by millions of consumers in the US. The safety and efficacy profile of orlistat is well documented and has been established through data from more than 100 clinical studies involving more than 30,000 patients worldwide.’

A spokeswoman for Roche, which manufactures Xenical, said the company took patient safety issues very seriously. She added: ‘There is no evidence of a link between Xenical and liver toxicity.’


Men rejoice as research suggests beer bellies caused by genetics - not by the booze

Beer lovers across Britain will be raising a glass to the latest research on drinking. For scientists have discovered that the so-called 'beer belly' is not caused by consuming alcohol – but more to do with genetics. A study of thousands of beer drinkers found that although people who drink regularly are more likely to put on weight, they do not necessarily accumulate fat around the abdomen.

Researchers monitored more than 20,000 people – 7,876 men and 12,749 women – over an average of eight-and-a-half years. Men who were classed as the heaviest drinkers – regularly consuming two pints of beer a day – put on the most weight. But when the researchers then measured hip-to-waist ratios to establish which drinkers developed a pot belly, the results were randomly spread across all drinking groups.

The scientists concluded that genetic factors dictating how people put on weight were more significant than drinking beer. However, they insist that their findings do not mean that drinking should be encouraged, and recommend giving up alcohol completely to avoid gaining weight.

In the study they measured participants' weight, waist and hip circumference at the start and then asked them to document their measurements regularly themselves. The results were adjusted for variables including illness, the menopause, dieting and smoking. The men most likely to put on weight were those who drank the most and also those who drank no beer at all.

Light drinkers saw the least variation in their waist size. For women, drinking more beer was more directly associated with piling on the pounds. But for all the categories, drinking beer led to overall weight gain on both the waist and the hips, and did not necessarily lead to a beer belly. The study stated: 'This analysis showed the empirical basis for the common belief of a beer belly, as we found that beer drinking and waist circumference were positively associated. 'However, our data provided only limited evidence for a site-specific effect of beer drinking on waist circumference, and beer consumption seems to be rather associated with an increase in overall body fatness.

'In terms of public health relevance, it may be therefore important to focus on beer abstention to maintain body weight. 'In terms of the beer belly belief, an explanation could be that all the observed beer bellies in the population result from the natural variation in fat patterning and not from the fact of drinking beer.'

The study, which was carried out by German and Swedish researchers, was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Beer contains no fat and, measure for measure, has fewer calories than wine. A pint of beer contains about 200 calories, whereas the same volume of wine contains nearly 400.


5 July, 2009

Taxing fizzy drinks is no way to fund health reform

History, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt once remarked, does in fact repeat itself.

Not long after taking office as the nation's first Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton persuaded Congress to enact a selective excise tax on whiskey. He believed that the consumption of distilled spirits, "carried on to an extreme, no doubt very much on account of their cheapness," threatened the health and morals of the new American community as well as its economy.

Hamilton's tax nearly ended in bloodshed, averted at the last minute when the Whiskey Rebellion's leaders surrendered to a federal militia led by President George Washington himself.

Americans thought the Revolution had freed them from the duties King George had levied on tea, newspapers, legal documents, soap and salt, among others. But before the Constitution was even a decade old, selective consumption taxes — including on snuff, sugar and salt — had returned in full force. Such taxes have been with us more or less ever since.

Secretary Hamilton exploited moral opposition to "demon rum" in order to help pay off the nation's Revolutionary War debts. Now, more than two centuries later, sin taxes are again in play as Congress looks for ways to finance President Barack Obama's proposed health-care reform initiative, which may cost as much as $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

Recognizing that further hikes on existing federal excise taxes for Congress' two old standbys — alcohol and tobacco — will not raise enough revenue, Washington is considering selectively taxing "sugary" soft drinks that supposedly contribute to the modern sin of obesity. Fat cats apparently are not the only Americans who may see their tax bills go up.

Proving FDR's adage, this would not be the first time federal excise taxes have been levied on soft drinks. One such tax was enacted during World War I, but then repealed in 1924; another was in effect briefly at the start of the New Deal. The states also have gotten into the act from time to time, but soft drink taxes have been abolished in all but two states that experimented with them: Arkansas and West Virginia.

Suggesting that "soda is clearly one of the most harmful products in the food supply," as the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently did, recasts the proposed excise tax as one with a positive effect: nudging consumer behavior toward a healthier lifestyle. According to one estimate, a tax of one cent per fluid ounce on carbonated soft drinks would raise $17 billion per year and reduce consumption by 13 percent. This appears to allow the federal government to do well by doing good.

Yet the reality is that soft drink sales have already been declining for the last nine years without a federal excise tax. While correlation is not causation, it is clearly a stretch to argue that sodas have contributed significantly to a nationwide obesity "epidemic." In fact, the obesity rates in the two states that do tax soft drinks are among the nation's highest.

Selective excise taxes violate a widely accepted principle of public finance known among economists as "horizontal equity." This principle suggests that individuals in similar economic circumstances ought to bear similar tax burdens. In other words, one person's tax bill should not be higher simply because of what he or she chooses to consume.

Excise taxes also are very blunt instruments for controlling consumption behavior; they punish responsible consumers as well as those who overindulge. Worse, a soft drink tax, like all consumption taxes, would be regressive, falling more heavily on the poor than on the wealthy.

Singling out consumers of some products to finance a health-care plan the president says will benefit all Americans is fiscal discrimination at its most brazen. And the farther the nation moves toward a single-payer health insurance program, the more pressure there will be to tax any product that anyone, anywhere, plausibly can argue is detrimental to one's health.

Today it may be carbonated soft drinks. Tomorrow, it may be ethnic food, coffee, bacon and eggs, hot dogs and red meat.


Ultrasound treatment offers new hope for prostate cancer patients

Men with early-stage prostate cancer could be treated with soundwave technology instead of surgery, leading to fewer side-effects, research suggests. A study of 172 men whose cancer had not spread beyond their prostate found that 92 per cent were free of cancer a year after undergoing the experimental therapy.

They were given general anaesthetic and treated with high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), which uses high-frequency soundwaves to kill cancer cells. Small amounts of tissue are heated up to a temperature of between 80C and 90C.

All the men in the study were day cases and 78 per cent were discharged from hospital in an average of five hours. The trial took place at University College Hospital and the private Princess Grace Hospital, both in Central London. The results were published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Men with prostate cancer are usually treated with surgery or radiotherapy. Surgery involves a hospital stay of two to three days while men having radiotherapy usually need daily outpatient treatment for up to a month.

The results published yesterday found that men treated with HIFU had fewer side-effects than those treated with radiotherapy or surgery. Fewer than 1 per cent had incontinence, none had any bowel problems and 30 to 40 per cent had impotence. Of men treated with surgery or radiotherapy, between 5 and 20 per cent usually suffer incontinence and half have impotence.

Hashim Ahmed, who ran the trial, said that the study suggested that it might be possible to use HIFU more widely in treating men with early prostate cancer with fewer side-effects in the future. “We don’t yet know for sure if HIFU is more effective than traditional treatments so it will be important to carry out further studies involving a larger number of patients, followed over a longer period of time to truly compare the long-term effectiveness of this treatment.”


4 July, 2009

Positive thinking makes people with low self-esteem feel worse

LOL! Hopefully, this is the last nail in the coffin of the self-esteem fad. One of many other nails here. I don't suppose that the fad really will die, though. Evidence doesn't count in matters like this. It has for instance been shown since the 1940's that Freudian psychotherapy is no better than placebo but it still has many devotees -- particularly in NYC. It's been said, however, that going to a shrink is the only way to get anyone in NYC to listen to you! I remember certain dinners in New York which make me believe that

REPEATING positive statements such as "I am a lovable person" or "I will succeed" makes some people feel worse about themselves instead of raising their self-esteem, a study says.

“From at least as far back as Norman Vincent Peale's (1952) 'The Power of Positive Thinking,' the media have advocated saying favourable things to oneself,” said the study by Canadian psychologists, which was published in “Psychological Science” on Thursday. It cites a popular self-help magazine that advises its readers to: “Try chanting: I'm powerful, I'm strong, and nothing in this world can stop me,” but says the practice doesn't work for everyone.

Positive self-statements make people who are already down on themselves feel worse rather than better, according to the study conducted by psychologists Joanne Wood and John Lee of the University of Waterloo and Elaine Perunovic of the University of New Brunswick.

For the study, the psychologists asked people with low self-esteem and people with high self-esteem to repeat the phrase: “I am a lovable person,” and then measured participants' moods and feelings about themselves. What they found is that individuals who started out with low self-esteem felt worse after repeating the positive self-statement.

“I think that what happens is that when a low self-esteem person repeats positive thoughts, they probably have contradictory thoughts,” Wood told AFP. “So, if they're saying 'I'm a lovable person,' they might be thinking, 'Well, I'm not always lovable' or 'I'm not lovable in this way,' and these contradictory thoughts may overwhelm the positive thoughts,” she said.

Although positive thinking does appear to be effective when it's part of a broader program of therapy, on its own it tends to have the reverse effect of what it is supposed to do, said Wood, urging self-help books, magazines and TV shows to stop sending a message that just chanting a positive mantra will raise self-esteem. “It's frustrating to people when they try it and it doesn't work for them,” Wood told AFP.


New Vegemite put to the taste test

Now THIS is important news. Like most Australians, I am never without Vegemite in the house. I had to laugh at the comment in red, though. That is a LOT of Vegemite to eat. For British readers: Vegemite is similar to Marmite. For American readers: It's beyond explanation. If you ever try it, you will likely hate it

For more than 85 years Australia has been a nation of happy little Vegemites but now there's a new version of the iconic breakfast spread. Mixing the salty taste of traditional Vegemite with milk, butter and cream cheese, it is being marketed as a snacking spread or dip.

Great grandson of the inventor of Vegemite Cyril P Callister, Jamie Callister said during today's sample release at Toowong the new Vegemite should be judged on its merits and not compared to the breakfast table favourite. "I think with this one it's probably going to have a wider appeal - it's not as sharp a taste and it might appeal to more people," Mr Callister said. "Traditionally with Vegemite you either love it or you hate it... I think this might cover a bit more of the in-between ground."

Most shoppers who tried the new spread said they were keen on the new taste but there weren't many who said they would consider switching from the original. "I do like it, it's got a slight after taste but it is smoother and creamier than the original," Sandy Mckevitt from Springwood said. "I'm a Vegemite freak so I don't think I would (switch)."

Fellow shopper Gary Rendshaw said: "It's quite nice, it's like old Vegemite but with a quieter taste." "I think I'll switch to the new one but I'll still keep the old one... I buy the two kilogram buckets of it and they last me about two months."

But outside the centre Lisa Cunningham and her daughter Lilly from Bardon were thoroughly unimpressed with the new product, saying it would not feature in their household. "It's terrible. It is too sweet and I like the saltiness of the original Vegemite. It tastes like they've put some sort of sweetness in it to lessen the taste of the original Vegemite taste," Mrs Cunningham said. Lilly said she would not be recommending the new spread to her friends at school. "Normally I like my Vegemite not too thick on toast... I don't really like the new stuff," she said.

Kraft Foods Australia/New Zealand has said in a statement there are no plans to remove traditional Vegemite from the stands and it will continue to be manufactured in Australia. The new flavour of Vegemite will be available in supermarkets across Australia from July 6.


3 July, 2009

Daily sex improves male fertility

The evidence for this seems fairly weak. It would seem to make little difference either way

DAILY sex can improve the genetic quality of a man's sperm and could raise his chances of fathering a child, new research has suggested. Couples who are trying for a baby are often advised to have sex every other day, so that the man's sperm count has time to recover, but scientists in Australia have discovered that this may lower some men's fertility. While abstaining from sex for a few days raises the sperm count, quality can be damaged if a man ejaculates too infrequently.

A study at Sydney IVF, a centre for infertility treatment, has found that daily sex for a seven-day period substantially improves the genetic quality of sperm, without lowering sperm counts enough to impair fertility. David Greening, who led the research, said that for some couples having intercourse every day during the woman's most fertile period could be crucial to starting a family.

The findings, which he presented yesterday at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Amsterdam, could also have important implications for couples having IVF. Men are usually advised to abstain from ejaculation for three days before providing a sperm sample for fertilising their partner's eggs and many couples do not have regular sex while going through IVF.

When men go without ejaculating, the number of sperm stored in the epididymis at the top of the testicle increases. The longer that sperm sits in the epididymis, however, the more genetic damage it accumulates through exposure to heat and to oxygen free radicals. Dr Greening speculated that daily sex might be more fertile sex. "Through simply clearing the epididymis and testicles, DNA damage has less time to occur. There's less time for vandalism."

Two years ago, Dr Greening conducted a pilot study involving 42 men with high levels of DNA damage in their sperm. It found that daily ejaculation reduced DNA damage levels by 12 per cent. He has repeated the experiment in a larger group of 118 men. Among 81 per cent of men, sperm DNA damage decreased by an average of 12 per cent, though DNA damage increased slightly in the remaining 19 per cent.

Dr Greening said that he had changed his advice to couples accordingly. "If I see a couple and the man has high DNA damage to his sperm, I do the 7-day test to see if it comes down," he said.


Genetic test to produce disease free babies

A “genetic MOT” which can help IVF couples screen embryos for hereditary diseases and have healthy babies could be available in the UK within a year. The technique, known as karyomapping, has the potential to spot virtually any inherited genetic disease. It can also pick up chromosomal problems that might lead to Down’s syndrome or prevent pregnancy. Scientific trials are set to begin on the groundbreaking technique, which has been developed by British researchers and which they believe could eventually even eradicate some inherited conditions like Huntington’s Disease.

But the move will spark fears that the technology is moving towards creating “designer babies”, because it could theoretically be used to screen out non-serious conditions or help couples have babies with “designer” traits such as blue eyes. However, its use would be heavily regulated in Britain and is likely to be limited to extremely serious inherited diseases.

The £2,500 procedure removes the need for geneticists to spend months developing a test for a specific gene mutation, a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Last year the first child in Britain was born free from a breast cancer gene which raises the lifetime chance of developing the disease to 80 per cent, after doctors used PGD. But only around two per cent of 1,500 inherited diseases can be identified in this way.

The new test compares defects in a couples’ genes with that of their embryo, and scientists believe that it can identify almost all known genetic diseases. Developed at the Bridge Centre in London, scientists have successfully proven that the test can identify 100 per cent of embryos with cystic fibrosis, clearing the way for clinical trials to begin later this year.

Gary Harton, from the Genetics & IVF Institute in Fairfax, Virginia, who will lead the trials, said he hoped to be offering the test to tens of couples by December. Embryos proven to be free from the disease are then implanted into the women using in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).

As well as diseases caused by gene mutations the technology can also detect those that come from abnormalities in chromosomes, such as Down’s Syndrome. Detecting problems in chromosomes can also reduce the chance that an embryo will fail to become a successful pregnancy. But the technology will not be able to eradicate most inherited diseases completely, the researchers behind the procedure said.

Professor Alan Handyside, from the London Bridge Fertility Gynaecology and Genetics Centre in London, who pioneered the technology, said it was right that patients should have access to karyomapping. “I believe passionately that it’s a question of patient choice,” he said. “These families know first hand what it’s like to suffer from these conditions. I don’t believe it’s for the Government or scientists and clinicians to debate. “The hope is that clinicians will be able to test embryos for specific genetic diseases and know that, with one test, they are transferring chromosomally normal embryos.” He added: “There are spontaneous mutations happening all the time, but at least now we can identify inherited mutations.”

However, he said that Huntington’s Disease, an incurable brain condition which affects around 8,000 people in Britain could be eventually eradicated because most mutations were inherited.

Prof Tony Rutherford, the chairmen of the British Fertility Centre, said that although the technology did raise the possibility of creating designer babies, those risks already existed because of previous technology such as PGD. He said: “One thing that is superb is that we are regulated (in Britain). The safeguards are there. “We are regulated; we’re not mad Frankensteins working away in our labs creating designer babies. We can only look for major disorders.” He added: “The big advantage of karyomapping is its reliability.”

The announcement was made at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) conference in Amsterdam.


2 July, 2009

Diet claim: Eating food with a high water content, like soup, can help reduce your calorie intake

Another stupid theory put forward without testing. I have no doubt that people will habituate to such a diet and end up eating larger quantities. See the article following this one

It gives a whole new, and rather more healthy meaning to the liquid lunch. Eating food with a high water content could be the key to losing weight. Nutritionists believe that dishes such as rice, pasta, soups and stews, appear to keep you feeling fuller for longer. But the liquid must be part of the food. Drinking a glass of water while you eat will not have the same effect, said the British Nutrition Foundation.

The theory is based on studies which showed that although somebody will eat different foods on different days, the weight of food consumed will hardly vary. This means that if we eat foods that are just as bulky but contain fewer calories, we should feel just as full.

Water-rich foods tend to be low in calories or have a low energy density, a BNF conference heard. A spokesman said: 'Studies have shown that people tend to consume the same weight of food each day but not necessarily the same amount of energy or calories. 'So it is possible to trick ourselves into consuming less energy, without feeling hungrier, by eating a lower energy density diet which still makes up the same weight of foods overall throughout the day.'

To work out the energy density of a food, divide the number of calories by its weight. So a 40g bag of crisps with 200 calories has an energy density of five – putting it towards the high end of the scale. At the other end of the scale are most fruits and vegetables, as well as vegetable soups, low-fat yoghurt, baked beans, baked potatoes and cornflakes. Many of these are high in water and all have an energy density of 1.5 or less, making them good to fill up on.

Foods with a medium rating include strawberries and cream, lasagne, steak, pizza and chips.

Joining crisps at the high end of the scale, with ratings of four or more, are cheese, chocolate, mayonnaise and butter. Chocolate-lovers, however, can take some heart. The lightness of chocolate mousse means it has a lower rating – and so is more filling – than squares of chocolate. Weight for weight, a low-calorie mousse has around a quarter of the calorie count as the solid variety, but, according to the BNF, should be just as filling.

Dr Elisabeth Weichselbaum, a nutrition scientist at the foundation, advised including 'more foods with a low energy density, moderate amounts of foods with a medium energy density and small amounts with a high density'. She added: 'For instance, if you make spaghetti bolognese and make the sauce with mincemeat it might be a bit high in fat. 'If you put a lot of veg in the sauce, you will probably eat the same amount of sauce but a lot fewer calories.'

The idea that certain foods make you feel more full than others is the basis of several popular diets. The Atkins Diet, for example, works on the principle that protein satisfies hunger quicker than carbohydrates. So dieters who fill up on steak and eggs lose more weight – and keep it off for longer – than those who tuck into similar quantities of pizza and potatoes.

The British Dietetic Association said it was a good idea to eat lots of fruit and vegetables but that meat, fish and starchy foods should also have a place on our dinner plates.


Why those oh-so-healthy diet foods make us eat even more

On a diet but struggling to shed the pounds, or - horror of horrors - actually gaining weight? Well it could be because you're on a diet, according to scientists. A study has shown that when faced with a healthy, low-calorie dish, we instinctively increase the portion on our plate or feel justified in going back for second helpings.

Researchers at the University of Bristol discovered those on low-calorie diets believe you can't have too much of a good thing and end up consuming just as many calories as if they were eating regular dishes. 'A person's perception of how full a meal will make them feel will no doubt affect portion size,' said Lisa Miles, of the British Nutrition Foundation. 'It's so important to be aware of behavioural triggers for overeating.'

The Bristol team, led by Dr Jeff Brunstrom, looked at the responses of 76 adults to 18 foods and found they quickly learnt their calorie values and over-compensated accordingly. The findings back up a 2007 Canadian research paper on the causes of childhood obesity, which found that rats given low-calorie food also tended to over-eat.

In a second study, Dr Brunstrom found children whose parents regulated sugary snacks, such as chocolate or crisps, ended up bingeing on them when given a chance. The researchers tested 70 children aged between ten and 12 years old, presenting them with six unhealthy treats. A child who was rarely allowed the snack was more likely to over-estimate how much they should eat, miscalculating a 250kcal portion as a 120kcal one. Meanwhile, a youngster who had eaten the foods previously would be able to assess accurately how calorific it was, on average guessing that a 250kcal portion contained 230kcal.

Dr Brunstrom, a lecturer in experimental psychology, will present his work at a BNF conference this week. He said: 'These findings suggest that limiting access to certain snack foods limits learning about their properties. Thus, when snack foods are eventually encountered they might tend to be selected in larger portions.'

This could be bad news for parents who believe they are doing their children a favour by placing sweet treats off-limits. Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation and a member of the National Obesity Forum, said: 'Early in a child's life they need to be introduced to portion size as a positive measure, otherwise it becomes forbidden fruit. 'It isn't just the ignorant affected by obesity, it goes across all social classes.'


More on boy's peanut death

It seems that the army has unfairly taken the rap for this. It was entirely a school responsibility. Apparently the boy's parents did the right thing but the school failed to pass on the info to the relevant staff. I would still call it "death by misadventure", though, and it may still motivate the army and others to ban peanut products across the board. South-East Asian cuisine (Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian) could be badly hit as they use peanuts in almost everything

The role of an elite private school in the death of a 13-year-old student on an army cadet camp should be examined by an inquest, a Federal Court judge has recommended.

Nathan Francis, a student at Melbourne's Scotch College, died on March 30, 2007, after suffering a severe allergic reaction to peanut butter, which was in a beef satay army meal supplied on the Australian Defence Force camp. The camp, in the Wombat State Forest in central Victoria, was run by staff and teachers at the school.

The school had told parents not to provide food as they were using ADF meals, but asked to be alerted to any food allergies. Nathan's mother, Jessica Francis, wrote that her son had a severe allergy, stating: "PEANUTS -- but all nuts must be avoided."

However, a list of students with food allergies did not reach the staff member who issued the meals and Nathan was given beef satay. After a mouthful, the boy was helped by a fellow student to the camp's headquarters and he died on the way to hospital.

"There has so far been no opportunity for the role of Scotch College in the death of Nathan to be examined in public," judge Tony North said. "The circumstances presented to this court raise a question whether Scotch College, through its teachers and staff, bear some responsibility."

His recommendation came as he passed judgment on civil action against the ADF and the chief of the army over the boy's death. Comcare, on behalf of Nathan, who was considered an employee of the ADF, had sued the commonwealth for breaching its duty of care. The commonwealth admitted liability and the ADF was fined $210,000.


1 July, 2009

Wine, veg and little meat 'a recipe for long life' (?)

Finally, a hint of skepticism about the much-hyped Mediterranean diet is creeping in. Since the very un-Mediterranean Australians live longer than Greeks, it is about time. To put the raw numbers below into perspective: 4% of the group who had a highly Mediterranean diet died versus 5% of those who were low on a Mediterranean diet. It's not a lot to hang your hat on and could easily be accounted for by extraneous variables. Perhaps, for instance, the most Mediterranean eaters tended to be country folk who got more exercise. Amusing, though, that "Drinking wine had the most benefit on life span". I'll drink to that!

It has long been heralded as the perfect recipe for a long life but a new study suggests that not all foods that make up the Mediterranean diet carry the same benefits. Researchers found that eating large amounts of fish and seafood or the low levels of dairy traditionally associated with the diet did little or nothing to lengthen life span.

However, drinking a glass of wine or two a day as well as large amounts of fruit, vegetables and olive oil while keeping red meat consumption to a minimum did add up to a recipe for a longer life.

The scientists behind the study claim that it is the first to identify which individual parts of the diet might contribute the most to longevity. Previous research has found that sticking to the diet can protect the brain against developing Alzheimer's and other memory problems, cut the chances of developing heart disease and even reduce the risk of being diagnosed with cancer.

The latest study, which followed 23,000 people, found that those who adhered most closely to a typical Mediterranean diet were 14 per cent more likely to still be alive at the end of eight years.

Prof Dimitrios Trichopoulos, from the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study, said: "The analysis suggests that the dominant components of the Mediterranean diet... are moderate consumption of alcohol, mostly in the form of wine during meals, as it traditional in the Mediterranean countries, low consumption of meat and meat products, and high consumption of vegetables, fruits and nuts, olive oil and legume."

Drinking wine had the most benefit on life span the findings suggest, followed by reducing meat consumption and then eating high numbers of fruit, vegetables and nuts. There was also "clear" benefits in combining key components of the diet, such as lots of vegetables and olive oil, the researchers found. However, the findings, published online by the British Medical Journal, do not mean that eating fish carries few health benefits.

Previous studies have suggested that the omega three "good" fatty acids found in fatty fish like tuna and Salmon can help protect the mind against decline and even cut the risk that men will develop prostate cancer.

The study gave patients a score for how closely their diet resembled that of a typical Mediterranean diet, which contains lots of fish, vegetables, fruits and cereals, as well as low levels of dairy, meat and saturated fats, and just small amounts of alcohol.

Earlier this year scientists found that older people who ate a Mediterranean diet were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease over five years.


Journal abstract follows:

Anatomy of health effects of Mediterranean diet: Greek EPIC prospective cohort study

By Antonia Trichopoulou et al.

Objective: To investigate the relative importance of the individual components of the Mediterranean diet in generating the inverse association of increased adherence to this diet and overall mortality.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: Greek segment of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and nutrition (EPIC).

Participants: 23,349 men and women, not previously diagnosed with cancer, coronary heart disease, or diabetes, with documented survival status until June 2008 and complete information on nutritional variables and important covariates at enrolment.

Main outcome measure: All cause mortality.

Results: After a mean follow-up of 8.5 years, 652 deaths from any cause had occurred among 12,694 participants with Mediterranean diet scores 0-4 and 423 among 10,655 participants with scores of 5 or more. Controlling for potential confounders, higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a statistically significant reduction in total mortality (adjusted mortality ratio per two unit increase in score 0.864, 95% confidence interval 0.802 to 0.932). The contributions of the individual components of the Mediterranean diet to this association were moderate ethanol consumption 23.5%, low consumption of meat and meat products 16.6%, high vegetable consumption 16.2%, high fruit and nut consumption 11.2%, high monounsaturated to saturated lipid ratio 10.6%, and high legume consumption 9.7%. The contributions of high cereal consumption and low dairy consumption were minimal, whereas high fish and seafood consumption was associated with a non-significant increase in mortality ratio.

Conclusion: The dominant components of the Mediterranean diet score as a predictor of lower mortality are moderate consumption of ethanol, low consumption of meat and meat products, and high consumption of vegetables, fruits and nuts, olive oil, and legumes. Minimal contributions were found for cereals and dairy products, possibly because they are heterogeneous categories of foods with differential health effects, and for fish and seafood, the intake of which is low in this population.

BMJ 2009;338:b2337

Australian army fined for cadet's peanut allergy death

This is pretty ridiculous. Its undoubted outcome will be to remove peanuts from all military rations and all foods sold to children. But peanuts and peanut butter are favourite foods for kids. Why should one kid with a problem be allowed to deprive all kids of something? I would have called the death a "death by misadventure". The kid surely knew he had an allergy and should have been more careful. And the parents should have made enquiries about what rations he would be served

THE Australian Defence Force has been fined more than $210,000 over the death of a teenage cadet who had an allergic reaction to peanuts in a ration pack meal. Scotch College student Nathan Francis, 13, died after suffering a severe allergic reaction to peanuts in his meal on March 30, 2007. The Melbourne boy was taking part in a Scotch College army cadet unit exercise in the Wombat State Forest in western Victoria.

Comcare, the Commonwealth occupational health and safety authority, took action in the Federal Court against the Australian Defence Force, lodging a writ last June. Justice Tony North said the case was "every parent's worst nightmare".