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, 2010

Ho Hum! Scientists find link between ADHD and fatty and processed foods

Good to see skepticism about the direction of causation in the second sentence. A great relief from the usual epidemiological dogmatism. I think I need say no more about the other Oddities in the research concerned

A DIET high in takeaway foods, processed meats, soft drink and fat has been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in teenagers. But researchers are unsure whether a poor diet leads to ADHD or whether the disorder causes cravings and poor dietary choices.

Researchers from Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research examined the dietary patterns of almost 1800 14-year-olds, including 115 diagnosed with ADHD.

They classified the teenagers' diets into either "healthy", encompassing those high in fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and fish, or "Western-style", those dominated by takeaways, processed meats, high-fat dairy products and confectionary.

Nutritionist Wendy Oddy said the researchers found that having the Western-style diet, which tended to be higher in saturated fat, refined sugar and salt, was associated with more than double the risk of having an ADHD diagnosis.

Associate Professor Oddy said the findings suggested that those on the Western-style diet had lower levels of omega 3 fatty acids, important for optimal brain function and mental health. "It . . . may be that the Western dietary pattern doesn't provide enough essential micronutrients that are needed for brain function, particularly attention and concentration, or that a Western diet might contain more colours, flavours and additives that have been linked to an increase in ADHD," she said.

"It may also be that impulsivity, which is a characteristic of ADHD, leads to poor dietary choices such as quick snacks when hungry."

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder among Australian children, with a prevalence of about 5 per cent. The disorder is more common in boys.

The study's findings have been published online in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Professor Oddy said more research was needed.


Motherly love 'does breed confidence'

It is normal and healthy for mothers to love their children and treat them afectionately. So I suspect that the finding below boils down to a demonstration that normal and healthy mothers have normal and healthy children -- which is not much of a revelation and is as well explained by genetics as anything else. Most personality traits have strong genetic transmissability

Being lavished with affection by your mum as a young child makes you better able to cope with the stresses and strains of adult life, say researchers. Hugs, kisses and expressive declarations of love appear to rub off and foster emotional resilience.

The results are from nearly 500 people, from the US state of Rhode Island, who were studied as children and adults. A secure mother-child bond may be key, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reports.

But experts say it is important to know when to stop. Over-mothering can be intrusive and embarrassing, especially as children grow older.

High levels of motherly affection are likely to facilitate secure attachments and bonding, say the study authors, led by Dr Joanna Maselko. This not only lowers distress but may also help a child to develop effective life, social, and coping skills, which will stand them in good stead as adults.

In the study, a psychologist rated the quality of interactions between the mothers and their eight-month-old children during a routine developmental check-up.

The psychologist judged how well the mother responded to her child's emotions and needs, and gave her an "affection score" based on the warmth of the interaction.

Thirty years later, the researchers approached the children, who were now adults, and asked them to take part in a survey about their well-being and emotions. The group was also asked whether they thought their mothers had been affectionate towards them, with responses ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree".

The results revealed that children whose mothers gave them lots of affection handled all types of distress better. In particular, the children of warm mothers were far better at dealing with anxiety than those of emotionally cold mothers.

The researchers said: "It is striking that a brief observation of level of maternal warmth in infancy is associated with distress in adult offspring 30 years later."

They said the findings added to the growing evidence that early childhood helped set the stage for later life experiences, but said the influence of other factors, such as personality, upbringing and schooling, could not be ruled out.


30 July, 2010

'Miracle' tea is the choice of celebrities but fears on side effects linger

Just the latest placebo: "Although the health benefits have not been scientifically proven..." There's one born every minute

It's been hailed as the miracle tea that can do everything, promising to fight cancer, ward off infections, treat arthritis and even help you lose weight. But don't be put off by the fact it's made from bacteria, and tastes ever so slightly of vinegar.

For Kombucha tea is set to be the latest health food fad to hit Britain when it goes on sale later this year. Celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and Halle Berry swear by the product which has already taken America by storm. But despite the craze, health experts warn there is a small risk of side effects with some people experiencing rashes, vomiting and jaundice.

There are also fears that the tea can become toxic if it is stored in ceramic containers that leach chemicals into the liquid.

The product is usually served chilled - similar to iced tea - and sold in bottles from health food stores. But it can also be brewed at home by buying packs of bacteria and yeast, mixing them with sugar, tea bags and water and leaving the liquid for a week to ferment.

Experts claim that the high numbers of bacteria give the immune system an energy boost which helps the body get rid of harmful toxins.

Although the health benefits have not been scientifically proven, many regular drinkers claim to have been cured of ailments including arthritis pain, indigestion, kidney stones, eczema and insomnia.

It has also been credited with helping treat more serious illnesses such as cancer, high blood pressure and even improving failing eyesight.

The tea is thought to boost the body's metabolism which can help weight loss - some people claim to have shed as much 30lb.

But health experts warned that people should be cautious as little is known about the benefits or risks of the tea.

Some people have reported suffering allergic reactions such including rashes, jaundice, stomach upsets and even breathing problems

These may have been caused by the tea becoming toxic when it has been brewed and later stored in a ceramic container.

The liquid is very acidic and this can cause certain chemicals from the ceramic to leach in.

Last year the tea was withdrawn from hundreds of health food stores in America after it was found to contain small amounts of alcohol, which had been produced by the bacteria.
Miracle tea: Kombucha Regulators and retailers are concerned that the ancient and trendy tea may need to be regulated as an alcoholic drink because some bottles have more than 0.5 percent alcohol

Miracle tea: Kombucha Regulators and retailers are concerned that the ancient and trendy tea may need to be regulated as an alcoholic drink because some bottles have more than 0.5 percent alcohol

Dr Emma Williams, of the British Nutrition Foundation said: 'Until more is known about both the health benefits and harmful effects surrounding this type of tea, consumption should be viewed with caution. 'There is little scientific evidence available in the literature to support the beneficial effects of this tea.'

Manufacturers were ordered to ensure drinks contained no more than 0.5 per cent alcohol or issue warning labels on those with higher volumes.

But although it has only recently become trendy, the tea has been drunk for thousands of years and is believed to be first made by the Chinese in 220BC who believed it had magical powers.

Two different brands of Kombucha will go on sale next month priced at around £4.99 for a 750 ml bottle.

But it has already become popular among those brewing it themselves at home. Packs of the special bacteria and yeast can be brought online along with instructions on how to make it.

Alick Bartholomew, director of the Kombucha Tea Network, which advises people how to brew the tea for themselves, said "It is very good for the immune system, mostly because of its probiotic activity in the intestinal tract.

'It is a live product and is very unpredictable - you can't predict what's going to happen.

'There have been more inquiries over the past few months from people wanting to know how to make it.'


Should obese children be put in foster care?

This entire discussion shows how simply being fat is medicalized as a health problem called "obesity". The fact that people of middling weight live longest is never mentioned, let alone discussed for its implications

In some cases, obese children should be removed from their homes, according to a group of child health specialists from England and Ireland.

If parents fail to provide medical treatment for a child with a chronic disease like asthma or epilepsy, government welfare officials can put the young patient in foster care. Should they do the same for children who are obese — and therefore at risk of developing lifelong complications such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes?

In some cases, the answer is yes, according to a group of child health specialists from England and Ireland. "Childhood obesity can be seen as a failure to adequately care for your children by failing to provide a healthy diet and sufficient activity, whether through direct neglect or more subtly through an inability to deny children the pleasures of energy dense fast food and television viewing," the experts write in a paper published online Wednesday by the British Medical Journal.

The question isn't academic. There are sporadic reports in the U.S. of courts removing obese kids from their homes, and it has happened at least 20 times in Britain.

The neglect that leads to obesity may be a sign of other problems in the home. As many as one-third of obese adults say they were sexually abused as children. In addition, one-third report being victims of other kinds of abuse, such as corporal punishment, according to the paper.

With this in mind, pediatricians and other professionals should think about whether obese kids would be better off in the custody of child protective services, the experts write. There are anecdotal reports of dramatic weight loss by kids in foster care, though there are no long-term studies showing that removing obese children from their families results in weight loss. (In fact, one study of 106 British children placed in foster care found that 38 of them became overweight after they joined the foster system.)

Obesity alone isn't sufficient to warrant a call to child welfare officials, according to the experts. Nor is a kid's failure to lose weight after being counseled to do so, they added. Even families that put a lot of effort into helping a child shed extra pounds don't necessarily succeed. But parents who don't at least try to help their kids should be viewed with suspicion, according to the paper.

"Parental behaviors of concern include consistently failing to attend appointments, refusing to engage with various professionals or with weight management initiatives, or actively subverting weight management initiatives," the experts wrote. "Clear objective evidence of this behavior over a sustained period is required."

Researchers should gather hard data on whether children gain or lose weight during time spent in foster care, they wrote. In the meantime, they added, guidelines should be drafted to help professionals decide when to intervene on behalf of obese kids.


29 July, 2010

Food police

by John Stossel

On my TV show on New Threats to Freedom, I thought I was joking when I used the term “Food Police,” but here they are, caught on tape.

Food faddists who buy raw food and unpasteurized milk are fools. There’s no good evidence that the food is healthier, and they risk their families’ health. The risk is real but small. If buyers of unpasteurized milk get sick, word will get out, and those sellers will be punished. Whole Foods already dropped these products because selling them would have raised their liability costs.

But the LA Times reveals that that’s not good enough for our ever more intrusive government:
"With no warning one weekday morning, investigators entered an organic grocery with a search warrant and ordered the hemp-clad workers to put down their buckets of mashed coconut cream and to step away from the nuts.

Then, guns drawn, four officers fanned out across Rawesome Foods in Venice. Skirting past the arugula and peering under crates of zucchini, they found the raid's target inside a walk-in refrigerator: unmarked jugs of raw milk.‘I still can't believe they took our yogurt,’ said Rawesome volunteer Sea J. Jones, a few days after the raid. ‘There's a medical marijuana shop a couple miles away, and they're raiding us because we're selling raw dairy products?’”

At least the reporter interviewed the other side: “How can we not have the freedom to choose what we eat?”

But they denigrate them as “a faction of foodies.” The editors devote more space to the food nannies’ justification for the raid. As usual, the mainstream media are quick to assume that the bullies ought to act: “Regulators say the rules exist for safety and fairness.”

Safety, I understand, but fairness? The Times says the raid was also “to provide a level playing field for producers.” Sounds like crony capitalism--the established health food nuts using government to shut competition down.

Good lord. When will they ever stop?


Prostate cancer scare is misleading

Comment from Australia

Underbelly actor Daniel Amalm is one of several young Australian celebrities who appear in Prostate Cancer Foundation advertisements to say that prostate cancer can kill men "just like me".

Amalm is 31. The ads urge all men older than 50, and those older than 40 with a family history of the disease, to get tested. Yet, of the 75,433 men who died from prostate cancer between 1968 and 2007, just two were aged 30-34.

Given that no government anywhere in the world, no peak cancer control agency, and no high-level, independent review has ever supported screening, it is important to question the foundation's campaign and consider what it might achieve if it was wildly successful.

The foundation repeatedly emphasises that men need to make informed decisions about being tested. Here's some uncontestable information that you won't find on the Prostate Cancer Foundation's website, nor in its TV ads.

First, prostate cancer is a disease that far more men die with rather than from. We know this because of the many autopsies where men who die suddenly or without having recently seen a doctor are examined for cause of death. At autopsy, 10-20 per cent of men in their 50s and 40-50 per cent in their 70s have prostate cancer but have died from other causes.

Many men who get tested will thus be found to have high prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. Many will be then have a biopsy and be counselled to have their prostates removed. This will stop them dying from prostate cancer. But autopsies tell us that many of these men would not have died, even if their cancers had never been found. The problem is that there is no reliable way of knowing the benign from the deadly cancers, so over-treatment is rampant.

Second, prostate cancer tends to kill far later in life than other cancers. The average age of death for prostate cancer is 79.8 years; the average age of death for all other male cancers combined is 71.5 – considerably younger.

More than half of men who die from the disease are aged 80 or older (the average age of death for an Australian man in 2007 was 76), so men who die from any cause after that time are already living longer than average; and 82 per cent are aged 70 or more. In 2007, just 2.8 per cent (83 men) who died from prostate cancer were younger than 60, and 10 (0.1 per cent) were in their 40s.

Men with family histories of prostate cancer are at elevated risk. But it follows that most such men will have had fathers, uncles and grandfathers who died from the disease late in life. If these relatives had not died from prostate cancer, many would have died within a few years from other causes because of their advanced age.

What's the problem with men wanting to do all they can to avoid dying young, even if the odds are so low (the chance of a man aged 40-44 dying from prostate cancer in a year is a stratospheric one in 250,000 — worse odds than winning the lottery — while for men older than 85 it is one in 125)?

Thirty years ago, before PSA testing was available, our death rate from prostate cancer was 33.4 per 100,000 men. In 2007 it was 31 per 100,000, a decline of 7.2 per cent. The decline reflects early detection and better treatment. Yet in the same period, the incidence of prostate cancer rose 110 per cent, from 80.8 per 100,000 to 170 per 100,000, thanks to aggressive promotion of PSA testing, often by those who stand to benefit financially by its proliferation.

The third major problem is that widespread testing leads to widespread unnecessary surgery and frequent serious complications. Recent NSW data shows that three years after radical prostatectomy, 77 per cent of men remained impotent and 12 per cent had urinary incontinence, compared to 22 per cent and 1 per cent of similarly aged men who do not have prostate cancer. Many of these men underwent unnecessary surgery and live permanently with the consequences. They tend not to talk publicly about these problems.

Tritely dismissing the daily lives of thousands of unnecessarily impotent and incontinent men by saying "you can't have sex in a coffin" is astonishingly arrogant. All this is why Richard Albin, who discovered prostate-specific-antigen called the promotion of widespread testing "a hugely expensive public health disaster" earlier this year.

In 2009, nine-year results were published from a multination European trial of PSA testing. Dr Peter Bach, from New York's Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre, summarised the meaning of the trial for a man being treated after testing positive today: "There is a one in 50 chance that in 2019 or later he will be spared death from a cancer that would otherwise have killed him. And there is a 49 in 50 chance that he will have been treated unnecessarily for a cancer that was never a threat to his life."

Enthusiasts for prostate testing emphasise that the European trial saved lives. It did. But the reduction was from 4.2 to 3.3 deaths per 10,000 person-years.

Telling someone that they have cancer, particularly when the great majority of men thus diagnosed would have never died from it nor had their life in any way affected by the "silent" or indolent cancer inside them, can be deadly serious. A Swedish study found that the risk of suicide after diagnosis of prostate cancer was 7.4 times higher during the first week after diagnosis and 1.6 times higher during the first year after diagnosis.

Some testing enthusiasts promote the idea that untested men are ignorant or in denial. But many men consciously choose to remain ignorant of their PSA status after reading widely for themselves. Indeed, a Victorian study of GPs older than 49 found that 55 per cent had not been tested.

Celebrities have made wonderful contributions to raising public health awareness. But this carries responsibilities to ensure the public is given the full picture. Promoting prostate cancer testing should emphasise enough information to ensure men make fully informed decisions.


28 July, 2010

Too safe for our own good?

Ban Tofu!

Myths about the risks of various products and activities can themselves be harmful to your health. They include the belief that greater regulation is synonymous with greater safety, and that excess or unnecessary regulation is harmless. Self-promoting, self-styled "consumer activists" perpetuate and feed off those misconceptions.

For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council last month filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration because of the agency's refusal to ban bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical found in many consumer products. The regulators' rationale was clear: There is no evidence that the chemical causes harm to human health.

But activists remain unpersuaded - and they fail to grasp that banning or restricting BPA could itself cause significant harm.

For more than 50 years, BPA has been an important additive that helps make the plastics used in everything from soda bottles and plastic storage containers to medical devices and children's toys tough yet flexible. It is also used in the lining of food cans to prevent spoilage that can lead to bacterial contamination and the risk of botulism.

BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals of all time. And regulatory authorities from around the world, including the FDA, have judged BPA to be safe at the very low levels at which it is used, and to which consumers are exposed.

Nevertheless, some environmental activists have long sought a ban on the substance because at very high doses, BPA acts like the hormone estrogen and might theoretically lead to brain, breast or prostate abnormalities. However, a basic tenet of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison. This means that mere exposure to a chemical like BPA does not imply harm; one needs to know the dose and length of exposure, what the substance does (if anything) in the body, how it is disposed of and so forth. Virtually any substance can be toxic at high enough levels. [Even water]

Regulatory decisions rely on risk-benefit assessments. There is no doubt that using BPA makes many of the products we use safer, more effective and longer lasting, but activists choose to ignore the health-enhancing benefits that BPA delivers and focus exclusively on potential (and unproven) harm. And in that respect, BPA is far from unique.

Even when repeated testing shows such products to be safe at or above normal exposure levels, activists insist that regulation be based on the so-called "precautionary principle," a belief that governments should implement regulatory measures to prevent or restrict actions that raise even conjectural threats of harm to human health or the environment.

This risk-averse approach is sometimes represented as "erring on the side of safety." As it is typically applied, however, the chaotically worsening outcomes are coming from regulators who fail to take into consideration not only credible, but inevitable, worst case harms that would result from forgoing important products and technologies. This tunnel vision application of the precautionary principle actually makes us less safe.

Nevertheless, radical environmental groups have prevailed upon governments in recent decades to burden various industries with precautionary regulation. It has already laid to waste several industries and distracts consumers and policymakers from known, significant threats to human health and the natural environment, diverting limited public health resources from those genuine and far greater risks. Absent our current highly precautionary approach to nuclear power, for example, we could reduce coal and oil exploration and their attendant damage to human health and the environment.

An egregious application of the precautionary principle is the environmental movement's misguided crusade against so-called "endocrine disrupters" which is based on the premise that certain primarily man-made chemicals mimic or interfere with human hormones (especially estrogens) in the body and thereby cause a range of abnormalities and diseases related to the endocrine system.

Although very high doses of certain environmental contaminants produce harmful effects in laboratory test animals - in some cases involving the endocrine system - humans' actual exposure to these suspected endocrine disrupters is many orders of magnitude lower than the lowest level known to cause any harm. Although they are among the most widely studied substances in history, no consistent, convincing association has been demonstrated between real-world exposures to synthetic chemicals in the environment and increased cancer in hormonally-sensitive human tissues.

Moreover, most human exposure to estrogen-like chemicals is through food. A single one-ounce portion of tofu, for example, contains more than 9,000 times as much of these natural estrogen-like substances as a typical human baby gets from drinking milk out of a polycarbonate bottle - and babies are generally thought to have higher exposures to BPA than adults or other children.

There is no scientific reason to believe that typical exposures to these estrogen-like substances, whether natural or synthetic, pose any danger at all to human health. But the use of endocrine-mimicking chemicals like BPA helps to protect us from myriad risks ranging from food-borne illness to cuts and other injuries that would surely increase if the government were to ban BPA.

History offers compelling reasons to be cautious about technological risks, to be sure. But the challenge for regulators is to balance competing risk scenarios in a way that reduces overall harm to public health and the environment. Caution misapplied can make our lives more dangerous.


The ever-expanding BPA mania

Cash-register receipts from many fast-food outlets, groceries, pharmacies, big-box stores and U.S. post offices contain high levels of the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A.

A study released late today by the Environmental Working Group reported that a laboratory analysis it commissioned found the plastic component BPA on 40 percent of receipts from McDonald's, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Safeway and other businesses.

BPA is used to coat thermal paper, which reacts with dye to form black print on receipts handled by millions of Americans every day. In laboratory tests, the chemical has been linked to a long list of serious health problems in animals. Several environmental activists, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also have called for removing BPA from canned goods.

"Consumers are being exposed to BPA at the point of sale once they're handed a receipt," senior scientist Dr. Anila Jacob told AOL News.

These receipts pile up in purses, wallets and shopping bags, coming into contact with food and other items. When handled, the slips of thermal paper can easily contaminate fingers, which then can result in oral or dermal exposure, the physician explained.

Wipe tests conducted by EWG's researchers easily removed BPA from the sample receipts, indicating that the chemical could rub off on the hands of a person handling the paper. The heat-activated paper that was tested contained as much as 3 percent pure BPA by weight, EWG reported.

But is this harmful to humans? The EWG, a national nonprofit organization, is undertaking additional studies to determine whether and to what degree BPA enters the body. However, earlier this month Swiss scientist Sandra Biedermann and her colleagues from the Zurich Official Food Control Authority reported that BPA from register receipts can "enter the skin to such a depth that it can no longer be washed off."

That finding raises the possibility that the chemical infiltrates the skin's lower layers to enter the bloodstream directly, the EWG says....

The BPA coating on receipt paper is an obvious concern for shoppers, but even more so for the millions of people who staff cash registers and bag groceries at tens of thousands of retailers across the country

The Swiss researchers reported that a person repeatedly touching thermal printer paper for 10 hours a day could be exposed to 42 times the present tolerable daily exposure.

The risk from handling BPA-laden receipts can be significant, Jacob said, and added that eliminating exposure to this ubiquitous yet toxic substance should remain the first priority of U.S. lawmakers.


27 July, 2010

The aging brain

IQ studies have always shown that IQ peaks in the late teens, flatlines until the mid 30s and then declines. The report below challenges that. But I don't think it is very persuasive. NOBODY has ever said that ability is the only factor in problem solving. Knowledge is usually very important too. All that seems demonstrated below is that knowledge accumulates as we age, which is not exactly controversial

According to the Secret Life Of The Grown-up Brain, by science writer Barbara Strauch, when it comes to the important stuff, our brains actually get better with age.

In fact, she argues that a raft of new studies have found that our brain hits its peak between our 40s and 60s - much later than previously thought.

Furthermore, rather than losing many brain cells as we age, we retain them, and even generate new ones well into middle age. For years it's been assumed that the brain, much like the body, declines with age.

The accepted view is that we gradually lose brain cells - up to 30 per cent of our neurons - as we get older, hence the forgetfulness, lack of focus and mental slowness we associate with senescence.

But the longest, largest study into what happens to people as they age, the Seattle Longitudinal Study, suggests otherwise.

This continuing research has followed 6,000 people since 1956, testing them every seven years. It has found that, on average, participants performed better on cognitive tests in their late 40s and 50s than they had in their 20s.

Specifically, older people did better on tests of vocabulary, spatial orientation skills (imagining what an object would look like if it were rotated 180 degrees), verbal memory (how many words you can remember) and problem solving.

Where they fared less well was number ability (how quickly you can multiply, add, subtract and divide) and perceptual speed - how fast you can push a button when prompted.

However, with more complex tasks such as problem-solving and language, we are at our best at middle age and beyond. In short, researchers are now coming up with scientific proof of what we've all known for years - we do get wiser with age.

Meanwhile, job-related studies have found that middle-aged people out-perform younger ones. In two trials, air traffic controllers and pilots were put simulators to see how they responded to demanding tasks and emergencies. While the younger colleagues were a little bit faster in their reaction times, the experienced professionals did as well or better in actually doing the job at hand — keeping the planes apart.

So what is it about our older brain that is so good? Traditionally, neuroscientists thought that millions of our brain cells died as we aged. Now, new studies show that while we can lose brain connections if they are unused, we keep most of our brain cells for as long as we live.

Furthermore, researchers have found that the amount of myelin increases well into middle age, boosting our brainpower. Myelin is the fatty substance which insulates the brain’s cells (the neurons) and makes the signals between them move faster.

It used to be thought that all our myelin was laid down in our childhood and adolescence, but now we know it goes on much longer. American scientists scanned the brains of 70 men aged 19 to 76, and found that in two crucial areas, the amount of myelin peaked at the age of 50, and in some cases in people’s 60s.

The study found that the amount of myelin increased in the parts of the brain we use the most — the frontal lobes (which control emotion, risk-taking and decision-making) and the temporal lobes (responsible for language, music and mood).

The neuroscientist who led the trial said this increase in myelin can boost our brain’s ability by up to 3,000 per cent, and is ‘the brain biology behind becoming a wise middle-aged adult’.

Scientists have also found that as we age, we start to use both sides of our brains instead of just one — a skill called bilateralisation.

For example, studies in which volunteers learned pairs of words revealed that younger adults used only their right frontal lobes when recalling the two words, while older adults used both the left and right side.

Scientists compare this to lifting a chair with two hands rather than one.

Drawing on these extra brain reserves is why older people can get to the point of an argument faster than a 20-year-old, and why they can analyse situations more accurately and solve problems.

Last month, U.S. scientists also found that the decisions we make when we are older are much better.

Researchers looked at the brain scans of 3,000 Californians between 60 and 100 and found that older people were more rational and wise in their solutions to problems.

This is because their brains are less susceptible to surges of dopamine — a hormone that can lead to impulsive decisions in young people.

Speaking at an international conference in Edinburgh, Professor Dilip Jeste from the University of California said: ‘The elderly brain is less dopamine-dependent, making people less impulsive and controlled by emotion.

‘Older people are also less likely to respond thoughtlessly to negative emotional stimuli because their brains have slowed down compared to young people. This, in fact, is what we call wisdom.’

Other good news is that we keep our long-term memory with age. True, as we get older our short-term memory deteriorates. The problem is not that the information has vanished, but that you have trouble retrieving it because we have so much other information stored in our brains — it’s like trying to finding the right book in a huge library.

However, our long-term memories survive. Research by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York looked at the effect of ageing on the brains of rhesus monkeys.

In older monkeys, the brain lost half of message ‘receptors’ responsible for learning new things, but nearly all those associated with long-term memory remained intact.

And even though we may have more responsibilities and stresses, neuroscientists are finding that we are happier with age. A recent U.S. study found older people were much better at controlling and balancing their emotions.

It is thought that when we’re younger we need to focus more on the negative aspects of life in order to learn about the possible dangers in the world, but as we get older we’ve learnt our lessons and are sub-consciously aware that we have less time left in life — and it therefore becomes more important for us to be happy.


Anti-vaccination fanatics in Australia

It was precisely the imperfect takeup of vaccination that caused the death below. Universal vaccination would have made any whooping cough transmission very unlikely. So the fanatics do bear some responsibility for the death reported. In the circumstances, it is no wonder that they were very defensive

When their four-week-old baby daughter Dana died from whooping cough Toni and David McCaffery sought love and healing to ease their grief.

Instead, they say they were subjected to a campaign of harassment and abuse at the hands of anti-vaccination campaigners, a group who were yesterday labelled a serious threat to the public's health and safety.

The Health Care Complaints Commission issued a public warning against the Australian Vaccination Network after it refused to display a disclaimer on its website to inform readers its information should not be taken as medical advice.

Earlier this month the commission investigated the network, run out of Bangalow on the north coast by Meryl Dorey, and found its website presented incorrect and misleading information that was solely anti-vaccination and quoted selectively from research suggesting that vaccination may be dangerous.

Its investigation was sparked by two complaints, one from Toni and David McCaffery, whose four-week-old daughter Dana died from whooping cough last year.

The couple, from Lennox Head, allege they were subjected to months of harassment and abuse by Ms Dorey and anti-vaccination campaigners, accusing them of lying about the cause of their daughter's death. They received anonymous letters and emails that said whooping cough was not fatal and vaccinations were not needed.

Mrs McCaffery, whose daughter was too young to be vaccinated when she caught whooping cough, said Ms Dorey also tried to get her baby's medical records from the hospital without permission. "Instead of love and healing in the weeks after Dana's death, we got ugliness … it has been terrible," she said.

Mrs McCaffery also complained that Ms Dorey had quoted misleading statistics, spread misinformation through seminars and the internet, and gave poor telephone advice.

The second complaint against the network was made by Ken McLeod, a member of a group called Stop the AVN. He said Ms Dorey had claimed that meningococcal disease was harmless and "hardly kills anybody"; that vaccination was being used to spread AIDS in Third World countries; and homeopathy could take the place of vaccination.

His group now wants the state government to apply for a court injunction against the network and have it closed down. The group's website says Ms Dorey believes "vaccines are part of a global conspiracy to implant mind control chips into every man, woman and child and that the 'illuminati' plan a mass cull of humans".

Ms Dorey did not return calls yesterday but issued a statement on her website which said the HCCC's recommendation was "laughable" and she was seeking legal advice.

"Nobody would expect nuclear safety advocates to issue statements on the benefits of nuclear power; Greenpeace to make films on the pleasures of killing and eating whales … Why then should we be expected to make statements we don't believe are factual and that are not supported by the medical literature?

"If the AVN is expected to show both sides of this issue, why aren't the medical community and the government likewise cited for their lack of disclosure on the risks and ineffectiveness of vaccines?"

A spokesman for the HCCC said it could take no further action but it was disappointing the network was refusing to make its position clear.


26 July, 2010

Getting a university degree 'can slow down dementia'

More hilarious reasoning. A more parsimonious conclusion would be that those who are capable of getting a university degree (higher IQs etc.) are more resistant to dementia. There is NO proof that actually going to university does anything

Staying on at school and then going to university can help protect against dementia symptoms, according to scientists. They say education acts as a ‘protective layer’ around the brain, helping to slow down the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Even though people who spend longer studying are just as likely to get the illness as someone who leaves school at 16, it will not advance as quickly. This means they will not suffer from symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and mood swings so early on in the disease.

Past research has shown that for every additional year spent studying there is an 11 per cent reduction in the risk of developing the signs of dementia. But this study suggests that education does not actually prevent the disease being triggered in the first place – it only helps sufferers’ brains ‘cope’ with the damage.

Researchers at Cambridge University looked at the brains of 872 people in Europe, donated for research after their deaths, who had all filled in questionnaires about their education.

Just over half – 56 per cent – were suffering from some form of dementia at the time of their death. But the scientists found that disease had progressed far less quickly among those who had spent more time at school or university.

Dr Hanna Keage, a member of the Anglo-Finnish research team, said: ‘Previous research has shown that there is not a one-to-one relationship between being diagnosed with dementia during life and changes seen in the brain at death. ‘One person may show lots of pathology in their brain while another shows very little, yet both may have had dementia. ‘Our study shows that education in early life appears to enable some people to cope with a lot of changes in their brain before showing dementia symptoms.’

The researchers said understanding the mechanisms behind the effect would be of ‘considerable value to society’. Professor Carol Brayne, who led the Cambridge scientists, said: ‘Education is known to be good for population health and equity.

‘This study provides strong support for investment in early life factors which should have an impact on society and the whole life span. This is hugely relevant to policy decisions about the importance of resource allocation between health and education.’ Just over 800,000 people in the UK suffer from a form of dementia, the majority of them elderly.

More than half have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of the disease. Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This is the largest study ever to confirm that hitting the books could help you fight the symptoms of dementia in later life.

'We now need more research to find out why an education can make the brain more “dementia resistant”. ‘Until then the message appears to be: stay in school.’


Jogging is bad for you


For many years, running has seemed the ideal form of exercise. It improves your fitness levels and the health of your heart. It boosts your metabolism and can help you lose weight. It costs nothing - after the initial outlay on a decent pair of trainers - and can be done anywhere. Since jogging became popular in the late Seventies, running has often been promoted as a panacea for a range of health issues.

But is running really all it's cracked up to be? Greg Brookes, a London-based personal trainer with a clientele that ranges from celebrities and City high-fliers to housewives, has come up with a list of seven deadly sins as far as running is concerned.

'Lots of people start running to lose weight and it doesn't always work - and this is why,' says Brookes. His first assertion is that running actually decreases the size of your heart.

'Small muscles use less energy and are more efficient,' he says. 'The heart is a muscle and if you force it to keep working for long periods of time it will naturally shrink to use less energy and become more efficient. 'If you want to increase the size of your heart then you must strength-train your heart, not endurance- train it.'

The next is that running causes injury through repetitive movements - an accusation that will be familiar to many whose knees or ankles have proved unequal to the demands placed on them. 'The more you run, the more your body prepares itself for your next run. You will actually start to hold on to more fat'

'When you run, two-and-a-half times your bodyweight is transmitted through your joints,' says Brookes. 'If that force is repeated over and over, eventually your weakest joint will give out.

'Usually the ankles or the knees are the first to go, generally because of poor hip and core stability. Wearing a brace only exacerbates the problem by moving the strain on to the next weakest joint while maintaining the old injury.'

Contrary to popular belief that any exercise will speed up your metabolism, running can, says Brookes, do the opposite. Long-distance running will often deplete your energy stores and then start breaking down your muscle tissue to use as energy. 'If you want some serious muscle wastage and to reduce your metabolic rate,' says Brookes, 'then keep running.'

He also alleges that far from making your body leaner, running can cause it to gain fat. 'Fat is one of our body's favourite sources of energy,' says Brookes. 'The more you run, the more your body prepares itself for your next run. You will actually start to hold on to more fat.'

Another reason that you won't get leaner is that the body is an amazing machine and will adapt to anything. 'The more time you spend running, the better you become at running and the more efficient you get, the less energy you use and the fewer calories you burn,' says Brookes.

And then there's the vexatious issue of cellulite and running. Standard wisdom holds that lack of proper exercise causes poor lymphatic and blood circulation and poor lymph drainage, which contribute to causing cellulite. But according to Marco Mastrorocco, head coach and gym manager at the Epic kickboxing gym in West London, exercising in the wrong way - for example, by running - can increase your chances of developing cellulite.

'Cellulite is primarily a malfunction of the circulatory system and bad drainage in tissue under the skin,' says Mastrorocco. 'If exercise is sustained for too long - through lots of running - it causes free radicals which in turn damage cells. Our body can cope with over-exertion if it's in quick bursts.'

Carole Caplin of health club Lifesmart is of a similar opinion. 'Most people say cellulite is simply something that you can work off. Unfortunately this isn't the case,' she says. 'Exercise is usually a "good" stress on the body, but hard, impactful exercise like running can compound cellulite, as lymph drainage is already compromised as a result of an accumulation of stress.'

Add to this list the risk of cardiac distress and heart attacks and the indisputable fact that running is pretty boring and time-consuming, and you have a damning list of charges.

All of this raises the question of what we should be doing instead. To Brookes, the answer is simple: high-intensity training. 'Intensity training is like strength training for your heart and lungs,' says Brookes. 'It burns more calories, strengthens your heart and joints and increases your metabolism – and takes about ten minutes.'

Brookes believes that working at a high intensity creates more 'metabolic disturbance' in your body than jogging, which means that although you're not burning as many calories as you would with a long, steady jog in the park, you will be burning more calories over the following 24-hour period. It will also increase your aerobic capacity by constantly challenging the heart.

'There are lots of ways to do intensity training,' says Brookes. 'Warm up for five minutes, then run hard for 30 seconds, then jog or walk for 90 seconds. Repeat between three and eight times. You could use the same pattern on a rowing machine or exercise bike. 'The downside,' he says, 'is that it feels like hell while you're doing it.'


25 July, 2010

Fad diets could lead to osteoporosis


Non-dairy or wheat free fad diets could be putting young women at risk of developing osteoporosis in later life, experts have warned. Research shows that nearly a third of women are so desperate to lose weight that they are cutting out entire food groups.

The warning comes just weeks after Gwyneth Paltrow revealed she is suffering from osteopenia, a thinning of the bones that can be a forerunner to osteoporosis.

The 37-year-old actress follows a strict diet that is low in cheese, milk butter and other dairy foods that are rich sources of bone-strengthening calcium.

A poll of the eating habits of 4,500 British women found that 30 per cent admitted to avoiding entire types of food when trying to slim for summer. Some 28 per cent of these said they give up cheese and, for 11 per cent, all dairy products are taken off the menu. More than four in ten (41 per cent) cut out bread, which, by law, is fortified with calcium.

More than a quarter of those surveyed (26 per cent) by supplement firm ellactiva said they only look at the fat and calorie content of food labels, ignoring all the other information about their nutritional content.

Failure to build strong bones by the age of 35 raises the risk of osteoporosis in later life. The condition affects three million Britons and is blamed for more than 230,000 broken bones a year, with wrists, spines and hips being most fragile.

The Food Standard Agency says adults should be able to get the 700mg of calcium a day they need from a varied or balanced diet. Good sources other than bread and dairy products include broccoli and cabbage, tofu and nuts. Sardines, pilchards, and other fish where we eat the bones are also rich in the mineral.

A spokesman for the National Osteoporosis Society said: "This latest research highlights the worrying implications that body image can have on bone health. Both calcium and fat play a role in building bone so fad diets that cut these out completely can be damaging.”

"There’s a lot of pressure to be slim, but by trying to stay too thin, bone health can be compromised. "Low fat dairy products are available and many actually contain more calcium that the full fat varieties. For example, skimmed milk has more calcium than full fat."


The wonder of life

A twin girl has become the youngest baby to be born prematurely and survive in Britain, it has been claimed

Amelia Hope Burden was born before the 24-week legal limit for abortion when her mother was just 23 weeks and two days pregnant, the Daily Mail reported. She was born weighing only 1 lb 2oz ten days before her brother Arthur arrived at 1 lb 4oz. He was born in July after Amanda Staplehurst had been pregnant for 24 weeks.

She went to hospital complaining of stomach cramps only to be told that she was in labour. Amelia Hope showed little sign of life but doctors were able to revive her. Under law they are not obliged to do so unless they feel it is in the child’s best interest.

Miss Staplehurst, 30, from Bournemouth, told the Daily Mail: “Doctors said she had just a 10 per cent of chance of survival and we never thought she’d pull through. “Then having delivered Amelia Hope, it was totally bizarre that for ten days I remained pregnant with Arthur. The doctors have told us they’ve never come across a case like it.”

The babies are being kept in incubators but are putting on weight and said to be developing well.

The twins’ survival will give weight to the campaign to have the abortion limit lowered. Some campaigners would like to see it reduced to 20 weeks. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, voted for a cut earlier this year and has said that an upper limit of 20 or 22 weeks would be “sensible”.

The previous British record for surviving premature twins was 24 weeks, the paper reported.


24 July, 2010

Now sitting down is bad for you

This is all just the usual epidemiological nonsense. There is no double-blind support for it. All that it probably shows is that people in poor health sit down more. Big surprise!

RELAXING at home can have deadly consequences for women who sit for more than six hours a day during their leisure time, regardless of how much they exercise, scientists say.

A new study from American Cancer Society researchers found that women in particular who sat for longer than six hours a day during their leisure time - engaged in activities such as watching television, surfing the internet and reading - had higher death rates.

And it did not matter how much daily exercise they did, the risk remained virtually unchanged.

Several studies have already shown there is a link between long sitting times and obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease risk factors, and unhealthy diets. But the latest study - which surveyed 123,216 people for 13 years - found a link between the amount of time people spent sitting and their death rates.

It found that the more leisure time people spent sitting, the higher the risk of death, particularly for women. Women who said they sat for more than six hours a day during their leisure hours were found to be 37 per cent more likely to die during the period of the study, than those who sat for less than three hours a day.

Men who sat for more than six hours were 18 per cent more likely to die than those who sat for less than three.

The results remained virtually unchanged when physical activity was factored in. However, lack of exercise combined with long sitting times was a killer combination. Women who sat more and were less physically active were 94 per cent more likely to die compared with those who sat the least and were the most active. For men the figure was 48 per cent.

Alpa Patel, who led the team of researchers, said long sitting times were shown to have important metabolic consequences influencing things such as cholesterol and resting blood pressure, which were biomarkers of obesity and cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.

The study concluded that public health messages needed to encourage people to reduce the time they spent sitting as well as promoting them to exercise.

"Because a sizeable fraction of the population spends much of their time sitting, it is beneficial to encourage sedentary individuals to stand up and walk around as well as to reach optimal levels of physical activity," Mr Patel said.


Now swimming pools are bad for you

This seems very confused and is in any case a study in laboratory glassware rather than in real life. They found that swimming pool water was more toxic but instead of blaming people peeing in the pool etc., they blamed the disinfectant used! And they end up recommending chlorine as a disinfectant -- which is the one mostly used anyway!

Swimming pools can give you cancer, because disinfectants in the water react with sunscreen, sweat, and skin to form a toxic cocktail of chemicals, a study has suggested. The disinfectant used to keep pool water free from disease can also react with swimmers' urine and hair to cause conditions including asthma and bladder cancer.

Products like sunscreen and oil are packed with nitrogen So is air. Air is MOSTLY nitrogen!], which reacts with the disinfectant to create toxic chemicals capable of mutating genes. These mutations contribute to birth defects, accelerate the ageing process, cause breathing problems, and even induce cancer after long-term exposure.

A team of researchers from the University of Illinois compared samples of tap water and pool water and found using advanced DNA technology that pool water samples led to more cell damage in humans.

Lead researcher Professor of Genetics Michael Plewa said: "All sources of water possess organic matter that comes from decaying leaves, microbes and other dead life forms.

"In addition to organic matter and disinfectants, pool waters contain sweat, hair, skin, urine, and consumer products such as cosmetics and sunscreens from swimmers. "The study compared different disinfection methods and environmental conditions and our results proved that all disinfected pool samples exhibited more DNA damage than the source tap water.

"Care should be taken in selecting disinfectants to treat recreational pool water. "The data suggest that agents containing the chemical bromine should be avoided as disinfectants of recreational pool water. "The best method to treat pool waters is a combination of UV treatment with chlorine as compared to chlorination alone."

Prof Plewa also said that carbon should be removed before disinfection when pool water is being recycled.

He added: "Swimmers can also help reduce the toxicity of pool water by showering before entering the water. "Pool owners should also remind users about the potential harm caused by urinating in a pool. "These simple steps can greatly reduce the production of toxic disinfection by-products."


23 July, 2010

The gap that most epidemiologists ignore

This is from Britain but there are similar gaps in Australia and the USA too. Thinking that it can be closed is laughable. Just for starters, illness can make you poor. And there are behavioural differences between the rich and poor which affect health

THE gulf between the health of the rich and the poor is greater now than at any time since the 1920s, a damning report has found.

It cast serious doubt on the effectiveness of Labour's multi-billion pound projects which were designed to close the divide. Instead the gap has steadily increased, the study found.

People living in less affluent areas are twice as likely to die young than the rest of the population and have much lower life expectancy.

The study found that in 2007 for every 100 people under the age of 65 dying in middle class or wealthy households, 199 were dying in the poorest - double the rate.

Researchers based at the universities of Sheffield and Bristol concluded that costly government projects to try to reduce the gap have had 'little effect'. 'This is the highest relative inequality recorded since at least 1921,' they said. 'The last time that inequalities were almost as high was in the lead-up to the economic crash of 1929.'

They warn that the gulf will almost certainly widen over the next few years as impoverished households are hardest hit by soaring unemployment rates.

Experts have long linked unemployment to poor health, with increased rates of depression, obesity and suicide - and lower life expectancy.

The study also found for every 100 deaths of people under the age of 75 in middle class households, there were 188 deaths in poorer households.

As soon as Labour came to power in 1997, ministers pledged to 'tackle the root causes of ill-health to create a fairer society' as an utmost priority. They set targets for 2000 promising to close the gap between the rich and the poor by 10 per cent and in the last decade alone an estimated £20billion was pumped into various health projects.

But this latest study, published in the British Medical Journal, has found that the gulf in health has increased at a faster rate over the last two decades than any other time since records began.

The researchers looked at death rates from the Office of National Statistics going back to 1921. The report said: 'Although life expectancy for all people is increasing, the gap between the best and worst districts is continuing to increase. 'The economic crash of 2008 might precede even greater inequalities in mortality.'

Men in Britain can expect to live to 77.9 years and women to 82, according to official statistics. But in poorer areas this decreases to 75.8 for men and 80.4 for women.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, said: 'We need to look at the causes of ill-health to really make a difference. Doctors will need to work across sectors to point out the health impacts of policy decisions.'

This latest research echoes the findings of a report by the National Audit Office last month that accused Labour of wasting billions on failed projects trying to counter poverty.


FDA: What’s the alternative?

by John Stossel

Last week, I wrote about a federal agency that most people think is indispensable. In reality, I said, the FDA regulates us to death, literally, by forbidding even dying Americans who can’t be helped by established medical treatments from trying innovative therapies.

But what’s the alternative? Have no oversight? Let any company peddle every dubious medicine to an unsuspecting public? That sounds terrifying. Snake-oil sellers would sell all kinds of harmful stuff. That’s why we created the FDA in the first place.

But wait a second. Snake oil sellers sell it anyway. I’ve done consumer reports on snake-oil sellers for years. Crooks and deluded optimists sell useless baldness remedies, breast enlargers and diet products while the FDA is supposedly in charge. The FDA rarely stopped even the obvious crooks. What it mostly stopped, or delayed, were the serious drug companies’ attempts at genuine innovations.

Without an FDA, how would doctors and patients know which drugs were safe and effective?

The same way we know which computers and restaurants are good — through newspapers, magazines and word of mouth. In a free, open society, competition gets the information out, and that protects consumers better than government command and control.

Why must we give big government so much power? Couldn’t FDA scrutiny be voluntary and advisory? Companies that want government blessing would go through the whole process and, after 10 or 15 years, get the FDA’s seal of approval. Those of us who are cautious would take only FDA-approved drugs.

But if you had a terminal illness, you could try something that might save your life. You could try it without having to wait 15 years — without having to break your country’s laws to import it illegally from Europe — without sneaking into Mexico to experiment in some dubious clinic. If I’m dying, shouldn’t my government allow me the right to try whatever I want?

If FDA scrutiny were voluntary, the government agency would soon have competition. Private groups like Consumer Reports and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) might step in to compete with the FDA. The UL symbol is already on thousands of products. No government force was required. Yet even though UL certification is voluntary, its safety standards are so commonly accepted that most stores won’t carry products without the UL symbol.

With such competition, the FDA might devise a ratings system (”general use,” “medical guidance suggested,” “patients strongly cautioned,” or something like that), and drug packages would carry that information. We’d know that the government was evaluating new drugs, but government wouldn’t stand between lifesaving treatments and us. Most of us, most of the time, would take the government’s advice, but because it would be our choice, we could try new or risky drugs when nothing government-approved was available.

We could try a system where the FDA would review all drugs, but its approval wouldn’t be needed for a drug to be sold. Private organizations might go into competition with the FDA even if its review remained mandatory. If a new drug is going to be “not yet rated” by the government for 15 years, the endorsement of an independent evaluator — even one not quite as strict as the FDA — that can deliver its opinion in three years would be valuable.

Under today’s FDA rule, consumers assume big government takes care of the whole issue, so we become less vigilant. The consumer is encouraged to stay asleep: Don’t ask questions; just take what Big Brother approves. Yet, knowing what we know about the incompetence of government monopolies, there’s little doubt that competing private groups would do the testing better, cheaper and quicker.

Any kind of FDA has its price. If all drugs have to be reviewed — even if they can be sold while under review — the cost in money and energy will keep some drugs off the market. But getting rid of the FDA’s power to forbid us to try something would be a big improvement: It would mean Americans would no longer be forced to wait, and die while their government passes judgment on innovations that could save them.


22 July, 2010

The osteoporosis folly continues

We know that HRT works well and has minimal side effects but it is TOO popular so all sorts of unlikely alternatives are being tried

A hormone which regulates our internal bodyclock may also help treat osteoporosis. Now a pill form of the hormone, melatonin, is being given to women over 45 as part of a clinical trial to test the benefits.

Osteoporosis is a condition affecting the bones, causing them to become weak and fragile and increasing the risk of fractures. There are around 300,000 osteoporosis-related fractures each a year as a result. The condition affects both women and men of all ages, although it's most commonly associated with postmenopausal women.

Traditional treatment includes drugs called bisphosphonates, which work by blocking the breakdown of bone; strontium ranelate, a drug which stimulates new bone growth, and vitamin D, which makes bones stronger. HRT, which raises levels of oestrogen in the body, has been used, too, but long-term use over a number of years has been shown to increase the risk of stroke.

In the new study at the University of Pittsburgh in the U. S. , researchers are looking at melatonin as an alternative treatment.

Melatonin is a hormone which is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain. It is produced in the hours of darkness and maintains the body's internal 24-hour body clock. It also helps control the timing and release of female reproductive hormones.

Previous studies have pointed to a connection between melatonin and osteoporosis. In one American study, women who worked nightshifts for more than 20 years were more likely to suffer wrist or hip fractures. Night-shift workers have lower night- time melatonin levels, possibly because they're exposed to light at night. (Bright lights in the evening or too little light during the day can disrupt the body's normal melatonin cycle.)

In the new trial in Pittsburgh, which is due to last six months, 20 women aged 45 to 52 will take a synthetic version of the hormone in pill form before bed. They will have their bone density tested before and after the treatment. They will also be monitored to see whether improved hormone levels have an effect on their general well-being.

British experts remain circumspect about the new approach. 'We're always glad to see new research into osteoporosis, and look forward to the results of this initial trial,' says Rob Dawson, of the National Osteoporosis Society. 'However, much more work is needed before any benefits of melatonin can be assessed.

'Melatonin has cropped up in clinical research about bone health, but as yet there have been no proven connections to warrant large trials.'


Another "miracle" drug

Sounds too good to be true. If it's like many other wonder drugs, long-term side-effects will eventually be discovered which will knock it on the head. There are few exceptions to the general rule that the wonder drug of today is the iatrogenic disaster of tomorrow

A four-in-one diet drug that can help a woman drop two dress sizes in six months has been developed by scientists. The jab, which could be available in three years, also lowers blood pressure, raises 'good' cholesterol, and can prevent and even cure diabetes. If that's not enough, it also appears to have a 'feel-good' factor.

Similar in structure to a gut hormone that helps regulate appetite, liraglutide tricks the brain into thinking we are full despite eating 20 per cent less food. Taken for six months, it helped men and women who have struggled with their weight for years shed a stone and a half on average, making it more than twice as good as anything already on the market.

Free of the side-effects that have led some other diet 'wonder drugs' to be banned, it could also cut the need for gastric banding, stomach stapling and other expensive and potentially dangerous operations.

There are, however, likely to be concerns about a drug being used as a 'quick fix' to a problem which can in many cases be tackled with diet and exercise.

Researchers in the UK and abroad tested liraglutide on more than 550 obese men and women. Some of those taking part were given liraglutide daily. Others were given a supply of dummy pills or of orlistat, the 'gold standard' obesity treatment prescribed by GPs around the country.

Those who took liraglutide lost an average of a stone and a half over six months - more than twice as much as those on orlistat, the International Congress on Obesity heard.

When they continued to take the drug for another 18 months, the weight stayed off. However, those on orlistat started to pile the pounds back on.

The benefits of liraglutide, which like insulin comes in an injectable pen, did not end there. Blood pressure dropped to such an extent that patients could throw away the drugs they were taking to keep it under control. There was also an improvement in blood fats, including cholesterol. The body's ability to deal with sugar changed so much that diabetes was staved off in those at risk.

Liraglutide, which is also known as Victoza, can also improve the processing of sugar in those who already have the condition - removing the need for some to inject themselves with insulin.

Professor Mike Lean, of Glasgow University, who treated some of the Britons in the trial, said: 'The weight loss was very striking. 'One of the things we looked at was pre-diabetes, where you have one foot on the slippery slope towards diabetes and heart disease, and it more or less abolished it. 'That doesn't mean that it has gone forever but at least you have turned the clock back.'

He added: 'The drug is very effective and most obese people would like to lose one and a half stone or more. The difficulty is what then? Can people adapt their eating habits and start to become thin people? 'We don't know. But we do know with absolute certainty that when you stop a drug and the effects have gone, people's weight starts going up again.'

Liraglutide is expected to cost around £1,000 a year, or almost £3 a day, making it slightly more expensive than existing drugs.

Dr Ian Campbell, a GP and medical director of charity Weight Concern, gave the drug a cautious welcome. He said: 'We are badly in need of safe and effective weight-loss medicines but many have promised great results but have not delivered.

'Obesity is too complex to be solved with a drug. 'Drugs should only ever be used as a support to lifestyle changes such as healthy eating and exercise.'


21 July, 2010

LOL! Now milk gives you cancer

Sounds like "The Ghost who Walks" is in big trouble! Seriously, though, the article below does point out that the evidence is conflicting.

There seems to be some group of "anti-milk" fanatics involved. Attention-seekers will always pounce on anything that is popular and denounce it

Milk is often described as nature's most wholesome food. It contains no additives, artificial colourings or preservatives - and is packed with vitamins and minerals. It provides a unique blend of protein, magnesium, potassium and B-vitamins, not to mention the calcium required for bones.

But is it really the elixir we believe it to be? Some experts believe that, in some cases, high consumption might not protect against disease - but cause it.

Two new studies - an Italian one published this month, and earlier Canadian research - have linked milk consumption to a significantly higher risk of prostate cancer. The Canadian research, published in The Prostate journal, found that men who drank four 200ml glasses of milk had double the risk of the disease.

Over recent decades, there have been other studies linking milk consumption to rheumatoid arthritis, acne, asthma, heart disease and multiple sclerosis.

One early Nineties study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggested proteins in milk upset the production of insulin, the hormone that stabilises blood sugar, raising the risk of diabetes.

Such findings - along with the fact many people avoid milk because they think it's full of calories (in fact, there are just 132 calories in a 200ml glass of whole milk, 92 in semi-skimmed and 66 in skimmed) - mean we are drinking less milk than ever.

Milk consumption fell 1.3 per cent between 2007 and 2008 to 1.5 litres per person per week, a figure that is 14 per cent lower than ten years ago.

But does milk deserve the bad press? Those against milk claim it contains cow hormones, including insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1). The argument is that these encourage growth and may help to feed prostate cancer and perhaps, to a lesser extent, ovarian cancer.

The anti-milk lobby argue that milk is made by cows for calves and that it is perfectly healthy to drink - if you are a calf. They say their arguments are supported by studies showing the early human digestive system was not capable of metabolising milk.

For instance, researchers from University College London have suggested that a few thousand years ago people avoided milk because it led to gastric pain and upset stomachs. This is because Europeans lacked the gene to produce the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the milk sugar lactose. Evolution means 90 per cent of northern Europeans have the gene, but the remaining 10 per cent are lactose intolerant.

Some experts think that for many people, milk remains a problem. In a review of national dietary guidelines, U.S. adults of all ages were recently urged to drink three glasses of milk a day.

However, Professor Walter Willett, chairman of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, says there's little evidence to justify such recommendations, claiming such measures are 'likely to cause harm to some people'.

Willett says that 'many studies have shown a relation between high milk intake and risk of fatal or metastatic prostate cancer, explained by the fact that a high intake increases blood levels of the IGF-1 growth-promoting hormone'.

It may not even boost bone health in the way we think. 'Prospective studies and randomised trials have consistently shown no relation between milk intake and risk of fractures,' says Professor Willett.

Yet speaking at a British conference last year, one of the world's leading nutrition scientists, Professor Robert Heaney of Creighton University medical school in Nebraska, went as far as suggesting that humans can't be well-nourished without milk and dairy. 'An adequate calcium intake is essential for bone growth in childhood and bone maintenance in the elderly, but we need a diet rich in protein, phosphorous, potassium and vitamin D,' he said.

'Among modern foods, dairy - particularly milk and yoghurt - stand out as having the richest nutrient profile for their energy content. 'It would be almost impossible to construct an adequate diet without three servings a day.'

And there are far more positive than negative studies about milk, says Bridget Benelam, a scientist with the British Nutrition Foundation. She points to a review of evidence published last year in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, which found at least 11 studies have shown a diet rich in dairy increases bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, particularly in women.

Despite dairy being a major source of saturated fat - the type of fat known to increase the risk of heart disease - there's no link between milk and heart disease. On the contrary, recent findings suggest that the potassium in milk can help to lower blood pressure.

A report in the latest issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also suggests that the fatty acid conjugated linoleic acid, found in milk, can help reduce the risk of a heart attack.

And though the strongest negative links are with prostate cancer, this is far from confirmed. Two years ago, a paper from the University of South Carolina found no suggestion that milk increased the risk in 27,000 cases of the disease.

'The negative evidence surrounding milk intake is inconclusive,' says Benelam. 'Milk remains the most easily absorbed and rich source of calcium and other nutrients in the human diet.'


Men with long ring finger 'more likely to get prostate cancer'

This is not particularly surprising. Ring finger length has been known for years to be a marker of masculinity and masculinity-related variables but the good point made below is that such a feature is not useful in predicting cancer or else almost ALL males would be implicated to some degree.

For what it is worth, I have a particularly long ring finger but two separate urological examinations have shown that, despite my age, I have an unusually SMALL prostate -- so am in a very low risk group for prostate cancer

Men with a long ring finger could be three times more likely to develop prostate cancer, according to a report.

A study of hospital patients found those whose ring finger on the right hand was significantly longer than the index finger were more likely to get the disease than those fingers were roughly same length.

A long ring finger is thought to result from higher exposure to the hormone testosterone while in the womb. Previous research has suggested a long ring finger could be beneficial, having been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and increased fertility.

More than 30,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, equivalent to more than one an hour. Bob Monkhouse, the comedian who died from the disease in 2003, has posthumously featured in a fund-raising campaign by the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation that includes a Twitter account for his jokes.

The latest study, carried out at Gachon University Gil Hospital, in Incheon, South Korea, and reported in the Daily Mail, looked at 366 men over the age of 40 who went to a hospital clinic complaining of problems urinating, a symptom which could be a warning sign of cancer.

Blood tests showed that men whose ring fingers were much longer than their index finger, next to the thumb, had almost double the normal levels of prostate specific antigen, a chemical sometimes found in high levels in blood when cancer is present.

Three times as many of these men went on to be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

However, Ed Yong, head of health information for Cancer Research UK, told the newspaper that results of the study should be treated with caution. He said: “Finger length ratios have been linked to all sorts of things before with little evidence that measuring these ratios will ever actually be useful.

“For example, this very small study finds an association between finger length ratio and prostate cancer risk, but tells us nothing about whether the ratio can be used to reliably predict that risk.”


20 July, 2010

Household cleaners may double risk of breast cancer

More naive "logic". What about asking WHY some women are more concerned about cleaning? How about this? Could it be that they felt in poor health anyway and were doing their best to minimize their risks? The results could therefore simply show that people who feel in poor health really do get more illness.

But the study was a retrospective self report one anyhow so even the authors recognize the limits of that

Household cleaners and air fresheners could be bad for women's health, new research suggests. Women who regularly use household cleaners and air fresheners are at double the risk of developing breast cancer than those who never use the products.

The study of more than 1,500 women found that solid slow-release air fresheners and anti-mould products had the biggest effect. Insect repellents, oven and surface cleaners also produced a slight increase.

"Women who reported the highest combined cleaning product use had a doubled risk of breast cancer compared to those with the lowest reported use," said Dr Julia Brody, from the Silent Spring Institute in the United States,

"Use of air fresheners and products for mould and mildew control were associated with increased risk."

Tests in laboratories have shown that some cleaning products, air fresheners and insect repellents have chemicals in them that may cause cancer. But any actual link has never been proved.

For the latest study Dr Brody and her team questioned 787 women diagnosed with breast cancer and 721 other women about their cleaning regimes.

They found that overall women who used a combination of cleaning products were up to 110 per cent more likely to have developed breast cancer than those who never touched them.

The biggest effect was with solid air fresheners with those who replaced theirs more than seven times a year twice as likely to have developed beast cancer. Using Mould and mildew removers more than once a week also seemed to double the risk.

Insect repellants, oven cleaners and furniture polish also had a slight increase in the risks.

"To our knowledge, this is the first published report on cleaning product use and risk of breast cancer," said Dr Brody.

The researchers said that although a link appeared to be made between cancer and the cleaning products more research was needed to be certain.

They found that women with breast cancer who believed that chemicals and pollutants contribute "a lot" to the risk of developing the condition were more likely to report high product usage.

Speaking about the potential bias to the study, Dr Brody said: "When women are diagnosed with breast cancer, they often think about what happened in the past that might have contributed to the disease. "As a result, it may be that women with breast cancer more accurately recall their past product use or even overestimate it. "Or, it could also be that experience with breast cancer influences beliefs about its causes.

"For example, women diagnosed with breast cancer are less likely to believe heredity contributes 'a lot', because most are the first in their family to get the disease."

In order to avoid possible recall bias, the researchers recommend further study of cleaning products and breast cancer using prospective self-reports and measurements in environmental and biological media.

The report was published in BioMed Central's journal Environmental Health.


Autism detected in voice of children

An interesting development -- if replicated

Autism could be detected in children by analysing their voices, according to a new study. Toddlers with the developmental disorder pronouce words differently to their healthy peers which can be picked up by a new automated vocal analysis system created by scientists.

The device called LENA (Language Environment Analysis) could lead to the screening for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) for which early intervention is important.

It works by recording a child's speech for a whole day and then feeding the data into a special computer program that compares the noises with those of other youngsters already known to have the condition.

The researchers said early speech of infants with autism - particularly the way they pronounce the syllables of words - are distinct from those of typically developing children.

The system which costs about £130 picked up those with the condition with 86 per cent accuracy, according to the findings published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It also differentiated normal children and those with autism from children with language delay based on the automated vocal analysis.

Early diagnosis and treatment of autism can have a dramatic effect on the development of children. The problem is that it is hard to detect and by the time it is usually detected a lot of damage is already done.

Professor Steven Warren, of Kansas University, said: "This technology could help paediatricians screen children for ASD to determine if a referral to a specialist for a full diagnosis is required and get those children into earlier and more effective treatments."

The researchers analysed 1,486 recordings from 232 children aged between 10 months and four years – more than 3.1 million identified utterances.

They found the most important indicator proved to be the ones targeting the way children pronounce syllables – the ability of children to produce well-formed syllables with rapid movements of the jaw and tongue during vocalisation.

Infants exhibit control of the voice in the first months of life and refine this skill as they acquire language.


19 July, 2010

IVF children more likely to develop cancer(?)

Another stupid attack on IVF, making mountains out of molehills as usual. 53 out of 26,000 IVF children developed cancer -- or one fifth of one percent! That cannot even be called a molehill -- more like a pimple -- and certainly is no basis for any generalizations.

What I said about IVF just over 2 weeks ago applies here too.

Note also that the type of IVF procedure is not mentioned. There are a variety of methods and what might be true of one might not be true of all. Conceptions resulting from ICSI procedures at least should be studied separately

Children conceived through IVF treatment are 42 per cent more likely to develop cancer in their early years, the largest study of its kind has found.

Concerns have been raised that children born after fertility treatment are at greater risk of complications, congential malformations and infertility problems themselves but this is the first time a significant association with cancer has been found.

The problems are not thought to be linked to the procedure itself rather they are more likely to be a result of the infertility itself or complications that occur around birth such as prematurity and low birth weight which are linked to fertility treatment.

Swedish researchers used records of more than 26,000 children born after IVF treatment and linked them to registers of cancer diagnosis. They found 53 children developed cancer, ranging from a very young age, up to 19-years-old, against an expected number of 38. The team said this meant there was a 42 per cent increased risk of childhood cancer in these children.

The cancers included leukaemia, cancers of the eye and nervous system, solid tumours and six cases of a condition called Langerhans histiocytosis. There is debate over whether this condition is a real cancer or not but even when these cases were excluded the increased risk of cancer was still 34 per cent, the researchers said.

IVF-conceived children were 87 per cent more likely to have received a diagnosis of cancer by the age of three than the general population. After this age the risk of cancer in IVF children reduced.

The study found that seven of the 53 children with cancer also had other problems including malformations and Down’s Syndrome which are known to have a strong link to cancer. The findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.

Lead author Bengt Källén, of the University of Lund in Sweden, wrote in the journal: “We found a moderately increased risk for cancer in children who were conceived by IVF.

“This is probably not attributable to the IVF procedure itself but could be an effect of confounding from unidentified characteristics of women who undergo IVF or could act via the widely known increased risks for neonatal complication.

“It should be stressed that the individual risk for a child who is born after IVF to develop childhood cancer is low. Additional studies on large populations are needed to permit analysis of such a rare outcome as cancer and notably of specific types.”


Needle free jab developed to beat injection phobia

Sounds hopeful

The fear of injections regularly ranks highly on lists of Britain's worst phobias. Now trypanaphobics can breathe a sigh of relief as scientists have developed a skin patch to administer vaccines without the need for a jab.

Researchers say it could pave the way for ‘mail-order’ inoculations, scientists have said. Instead of one large needle, hundreds of microscopic needles set into a patch dissolve into the skin painlessly. The new system could allow non-medically trained people or even patients themselves to administer vaccines, particularly in the Third World.

The details were released in the journal Nature Medicine.

Studies on mice have shown that the microneedles can deliver vaccine that it as effective as conventional methods.

Researchers from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, in America, are believed to be the first to evaluate whether vaccines delivered using these microneedle systems are as effective as ordinary ones.

Mark Prausnitz, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, said: “In this study, we have shown that a dissolving microneedle patch can vaccinate against influenza at least as well, and probably better than, a traditional hypodermic needle.

“The dissolving microneedle patch could open up many new doors for immunisation programs by eliminating the need for trained personnel to carry out the vaccination. "This approach could make a significant impact because it could enable self-administration as well as simplify vaccination programs in schools and assisted living facilities."

Several other needleless methods have been developed to administer drugs, including gels, skin patches, tabs that dissolve under the tongue and powder jets that force medicine through the skin under pressure.

The skin is a particularly route of administration, the team from Emory University School of Medicine said, because it contains lots of cells that are needed to mount an immune response.

Richard Compans, professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University School of Medicine, said: "The skin is a particularly attractive site for immunisation because it contains an abundance of the types of cells that are important in generating immune responses to vaccines."

The researchers used mice to test the microneedle patch, giving one group a flu vaccine with the new patch and another group the same vaccine using a traditional needle injected into muscle.

Three months later both groups were exposed to the flu virus and the mice which had been vaccinated using the patch appeared to have better protection.

Sean Sullivan, the study's lead author from Georgia Tech, said: “We envision people getting the patch in the mail or at a pharmacy and then self administering it at home. "Because the microneedles on the patch dissolve away into the skin, there would be no dangerous sharp needles left over."

The patch costs around the same to produce as conventional needle and syringe systems but could save money in large-scale immunisation programmes due to the reduced staffing needed to administer it.


18 July, 2010

Being obese at 20 'doubles your risk of dying early'

The old "correlation is causality" fallacy again. Fatter people were probably in the main working class and social class is just about the most reliable health predictor there is. Almost every time it is examined, the poor have worse health -- perhaps in part because bad health keeps you poor!

Men who are obese by the age of 20 have double of the risk of dying prematurely, new research has found.

The findings are particularly worrying for Britain's youngsters who have been labeled the 'junk food generation', with a third of youngsters aged five to 13 already considered obese.

Scientists tracked more than 5,000 military conscripts starting at the age of 20 until up to the age of 80.

They found that at any given age, an obese man was twice as likely to die as a man who was not obese and that being overweight aged 20 had a constant effect on death up to 60 years later.

The study, presented at the International Congress on Obesity in Stockholm, also revealed that the chance of dying early increased by 10 per cent for each BMI point above the threshold for a healthy weight.

On average obese participants died eight years earlier than those of normal weight.

Study leader, Esther Zimmermann, of Copenhagen University Hospital, said: 'As the obesity epidemic is still progressing rapidly, especially among children and adolescents, it is important to find out if obesity in early adulthood has lifelong mortality effects.

'It is the first study with such a long follow-up time and thus the first study to investigate the lifelong effect."

In the study, the researchers compared mortality in a sample of 1,930 obese male military conscripts with that in a random sample of 3,601 non-obese male conscripts.

Body mass index (BMI) was measured at the average ages of 20, 35 and 46 years, and the researchers investigated that in relation to death in the next follow-up period.

A total of 1,191 men had died during the follow-up period of up to 60 years. The results were adjusted to eliminate any influence on the findings from year of birth, education and smoking.

'At age 70 years, 70 per cent of the men in the comparison group and half of those in the obese group were still alive and we estimated that from middle age, the obese were likely to die eight years earlier than those in the comparison group,' Dr Zimmermann said.

The researchers said it was unclear whether being obese at age 20 conferred the men's increased death risk or whether the lifelong effect was due to obesity often being a lifelong condition.

Either way the study showed that the majority of obese 20-year-olds struggled to lose weight as they got older.

Dr Zimmermann said: 'More than 70 per cent of the obese young men were still obese at the follow-up examinations, whereas only four per cent of the men in comparison group developed obesity during follow-up.'


Low vitamin D levels 'increases risk of Parkinson's'

The numbers in this study are crazy. The researchers admit that their population as a whole was vitamin D deficient yet when only 50 out of 3,173 people (1.6%) got Parkinson's over a 29 year period, they conclude that Parkinson's is caused by low levels of vitamin D! Words fail me beyond that point

A shortage of vitamin D can increase a person's risk of developing Parkinson's disease later in life, new research suggests. One 30-year study of 3,000 people revealed a three-fold higher risk of developing Parkinson's in those with low blood levels of vitamin D.

A separate investigation found that low vitamin D intake was associated with a 60 per cent greater chance of suffering seriously impaired mental faculties later in life.

Both studies, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, add to growing evidence of the vitamin's importance to health.

Vitamin D is mainly generated by the action of sunlight on the skin. However, as people age their skin becomes less able to produce it. Research suggests that as well as strengthening bones, the vitamin also protects against cancers, heart disease and diabetes.

For the Parkinson's study, researchers in Finland recruited 3,173 men and women aged 50 to 79 who did not have the disease.

Enrollment took place from 1978 to 1980. Participants completed questionnaires and were interviewed about their socio-economic and health backgrounds. They also underwent examinations and provided blood samples for vitamin D analysis. Over a 29-year follow-up period, 50 of the group developed Parkinson's disease.

Those who had the lowest amounts of vitamin D were three times more likely to develop Parkinson's than those with the highest.
What is Parkinson's?

Parkinson's disease is a long-term neurological condition that affects around 120,000 people in the UK. It develops over time and affects the way the brain co-ordinates body movements, including walking, talking and writing. It is a more common condition in the over 50s. However, of the 10,000 people diagnosed each year around one in 20 is under the age of 40.

The authors, led by Dr Paul Knekt, from the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland, wrote: 'Despite the overall low vitamin D levels in the study population, a dose-response relationship was found.

'This study was carried out in Finland, an area with restricted sunlight exposure, and is thus based on a population with a continuously low vitamin D status.

'Accordingly, the mean serum vitamin D level in the present population was about 50 per cent of the suggested optimal level. Our findings are thus consistent with the hypothesis that chronic inadequacy of vitamin D is a risk factor for Parkinson's disease.'

Vitamin D is believed to protect the brain through antioxidant activity, regulating calcium levels, detoxification, and its effect on the immune system and nerves. 'In intervention trials focusing on the effects of vitamin D supplements, the incidence of Parkinson's disease merits follow up,' said the scientists.


17 July, 2010

Public health scare campaigns do not help obese, research finds

Nothing short of surgery or North Korea will keep the fat off a fatty for long. It's pissing into the wind to try

PUBLIC health campaigns warning of the dangers of obesity demonised fat people and did nothing to help them lose weight, research has found.

Interviews with 142 obese adults found many felt stigmatised, shamed and blamed by government health campaigns, according to a Monash University study led by health sociologist Dr Samantha Thomas.

The Cancer Council's ad linking increased waist size with a greater cancer risk was particularly disliked, Dr Thomas said. Positive campaigns, such Go For Your Life, which encouraged physical activity and healthy eating, were better received, the Herald Sun reports.

"The public health campaigns that people feel are stigmatising are often based on personal blame, personal responsibility and the assumption that if you tell people enough to lose weight, they will," Dr Thomas said.

"Unfortunately for most obese people, that just isn't the case. The causes of obesity are really complex and are not necessarily due to people being lazy, inactive and eating the wrong foods."

Scare campaigns simply didn't work.

"They have not shown to be effective in reducing the prevalence or the level of obesity," she said.

Lilydale mother Elizabeth Sutherland, who was not involved in the study but readily concedes she is overweight, agreed with the study's results.

"The problem is that the campaigns stigmatise people," she said. "You are made to feel guilty about something that is already quite difficult - it can be quite hard living as a fat person in the community."

Dr Thomas said such campaigns often reinforced the public perception that all overweight people were unhealthy: "They are based on the assumption that all people who are fat have, or will have, health problems, and that they will be a burden on the health system, which just isn't always the case."

But Craig Sinclair, director of the Cancer Prevention Centre at Cancer Council Victoria, defended the campaigns.

"We know that many people do not properly understand these risks, so we have an obligation to raise awareness of the strong link between cancer and obesity," he said.

Dr Thomas said the diet industry benefited from "scary" health messages.

"Research has shown 95 per cent of people who go on a commercial diet will regain the weight," she said. "There is also research showing the continual cycle of losing and regaining weight is actually more dangerous and damaging for people's health."

The Monash study findings are published in BioMed Central's open-access journal BMC Public Health.


Vaccine that will protect against every type of flu coming?

Colour me cynical but this sounds to me like another one of the many bright-eyed announcements that never fulfil their promise. Flu viruses are so protean as to be undefeatible as far as I can see

A "universal" flu vaccine that protects against many strains of the virus could be available within a few years, scientists have said. They believe they have solved the problem of designing a "one fits all" jab using a new two-step approach to immunisation.

Early safety trials of the vaccine have already started and it could be tested on patients as early as 2013.

Working with mice, ferrets and monkeys, the US team "primed" the immune system with a "base" of influenza DNA. They added a "booster" consisting of a regular seasonal flu vaccine which increased and broadened its immunity. The vaccine's effectiveness improved each year until, theoretically, recipients would be immune to flu.

The "priming" or base vaccine came from a 1999 virus but antibodies were generated that neutralised viruses of different sub-types and from different years, the researchers report in the journal Science.

Mice and ferrets were able to fight off viruses dating from before 1999, including the deadly strain of 1934, and also strains from 2006 and 2007. The vaccine was also effective against H5N1 "bird flu".

Dr Gary Nabel, the study leader from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, said: "We are excited by these results.

"The prime-boost approach opens a new door to vaccinations for influenza that would be similar to vaccination against such diseases as hepatitis, where we vaccinate early in life and then boost immunity through occasional, additional inoculations in adulthood.

"We may be able to begin efficacy trials of a broadly protective flu vaccine in three to five years.” The scientists measured how well the prime-boost vaccine protected mice and ferrets against deadly levels of flu virus.

Three weeks after receiving the boost, 20 mice were exposed to high levels of 1934 flu virus and 80 per cent survived. When mice were given only the “prime” or “boost” elements alone, or a sham vaccine, all died.

Similar results were seen in ferrets, which are good predictors of flu vaccine effectiveness in humans.

Flu viruses are notorious for their ability to mutate and become resistant to vaccines. Antibodies target a lollipop-shaped flu virus surface protein called haemagglutinin (HA). But the structure of the protein’s “head” mutates readily, allowing the virus to go undetected when it changes form. The new vaccine generates “universal” antibodies that aim for the “stick” of the HA lollipop, which varies little from strain to strain.

Professor John Oxford, Britain’s leading flu expert and a virologist at St Bart’s and Royal London hospitals, said: “This a new and interesting approach and they are a very respected group. I would take this very seriously. They seem to have identified a universal or general antibody that attacks many different types of virus.”

“This is something that we have been after for a long time but the next stage is crucial. Many new vaccines fall at the human trial stage.”

Professor Hugh Pennington, Britain’s leading microbiologist, of Aberdeen University, said: “It is an exciting and attractive approach. We really do desperately need something along these lines. It is a nice idea but the proof will be in the pudding and seeing whether it works in humans.”


16 July, 2010

Millions swear by fish oil pills but now some experts say they're a waste of money - so who's right?

They are so popular and the object of so much research that we would expect a few positive effects by chance alone. And a few positive effects are all that have been shown.

Some of the claims below are extravagant: "It's also not disputed that fish oil is essential for unborn babies' brains". My wife took no fish oil and ate no fish that I can remember while she was pregnant with our son and he is now doing his Ph.D. in mathematics. Where did we go wrong?

I also note that London Metropolitan University figures prominently below. They seem to be something of a haven for food faddism

Are omega-3 fatty acids vital for our health or simply today's version of snake oil? Over the past few years we've read of the fantastic benefits of omega-3s, found in fish oils.

Last week scientists reported that women who take fish oil supplements reduce their risk of breast cancer by a third. But while experts agree omega-3 pills can cut the risk of heart disease and are vital for brain development in the womb, opinion is divided over other benefits.

Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition and dietetics at Kings College London, and Professor Amanda Kirby, specialist in developmental disorders at the University of Wales, have dismissed many - but not all - of the benefits of omega-3 pills.

However, neuroscientists and nutritionists recently told a London conference that many Britons' health is at risk as they aren't getting enough omega-3 from fish.

'There's an epidemic of brain and mental disorders in the UK, such as ADHD, depression and cerebral palsy, which cost the Government £77 billion a year,' says Professor Michael Crawford of the Institute of Brain Chemistry at London Metropolitan University. 'The evidence shows the lack of omega-3 from fish in our diet is a major factor.'

This clash of scientific opinion makes things confusing - do we need fish oil pills or not? Here we look at the evidence to help you make the right choice...


The reputation of omega-3s as a panacea has made them a popular supplement. Found naturally in oily fish, such as mackerel and sardines, they are added to many foods from eggs to orange juice, while capsules are found on chemists' shelves.

Official bodies, such as the Food Standards Agency (FSA), say you can get enough from eating oily fish. But not everyone likes oily fish, so millions have taken omega-3 in a pill form.

Such pills are the best-selling supplements in Britain. Professor Sanders says we're wasting our money. The results of recent trials testing the benefits of fish oil pills on the brain found them no better than a placebo.

A trial of 450 school pupils by Professor Kirby found no difference in reading, spelling or handwriting between those who got fish oil for a year and those on a placebo. Another trial failed to show that fish oil supplements helped keep elderly patients' minds sharp.

Other studies have proved equally disappointing. The results of a review of research into the benefits of omega-3 on children with ADHD were too inconsistent to draw any conclusions.

A review of the effects on depression and mental health problems found no benefit. Professor Crawford disputes this. Since the Seventies, he believed the rise in heart disease was down to lack of omegas. 'I predicted that a lack of good fats was going to eventually show up as damage to the brain. That is what is happening.'

But haven't studies shown that supplements don't boost mental performance? 'If you want to have a big impact on the brain, the crucial time is just before and after birth,' says Crawford. He dismisses the trial that found no effect on primary school pupils.

'The way the benefit was measured was very wishywashy,' he says. 'It relied on the mothers' opinion.' More reliable, he says, is evidence presented at the recent conference, which showed a measurable effect of fish oil on children's brains.

Robert McNamara, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, gave healthy eight to ten-year-old boys a dose of either 0.4 grams or 1.2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids or a placebo every day for eight weeks.

When he then scanned their brains while they were doing a task requiring them to focus, he found the areas needed for attention were more active in those who'd had the fish oil, but not the placebo.

Omega-3 supplements might also benefit adults at a high risk of developing a psychotic disorder, a study published in the Archives Of General Psychiatry found. Only five per cent of the patients who took a daily 1.2 gram omega-3 supplement later became seriously mentally ill, while more than a quarter of those in the placebo group progressed to severe psychosis.


Even sceptics agree that some of the claims for fish oil have good evidence to back them up. The strongest of these is that omega-3s cut the risk of heart disease if you have had a heart attack. It's also not disputed that fish oil is essential for unborn babies' brains.

Evidence that it reduces pain and inflammation if you have arthritis is also strong. The jury is out on other claims. Omega-3s have been tried as a treatment for asthma, with limited success.

Results are better for macular degeneration, which damages the centre of the eye and can lead to blindness. One study of more than 3,500 patients in 2006 found those eating the most fish cut their risk of developing the disease in half.

More here

Having a big head may help you fight dementia

Hmmmm ... A number of complications here: 1). High IQ people have bigger heads; 2) People with autism have bigger heads. Those two may be connected if autism is caused by an overdeveloped cerebral cortex, which is one of the more plausible theories. I think the results below simply show that the more you have to start with, the longer it takes you to lose it

Being called big-headed is somewhat of an insult, but a new study suggests people with larger heads may be better protected from the ravages of dementia.

Scientists found that large-headed individuals with Alzheimer's have better memory and thinking skills than sufferers with smaller heads.

The difference can be seen even when the amount of brain cell death is the same in both groups.

Study leader Robert Perneczky, from the Technical University of Munich in Germany, said: 'These results add weight to the theory of brain reserve, or the individual capacity to withstand changes in the brain.

'Our findings also underline the importance of optimal brain development early in life, since the brain reaches 93 per cent of its final size at age six.'

Head size is one way to measure brain reserve and growth, he said.

While brain growth is partly determined by genetics, it is also influenced by diet, infections and inflammation.

'Improving prenatal and early-life conditions could significantly increase brain reserve, which could have an impact on the risk of developing Alzheimer's or the severity of symptoms of the disease,' said Dr Perneczky.

The researchers looked at 270 people with Alzheimer's who underwent tests of memory and thinking skills. They were also given magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to assess their levels of brain cell death.

Measurements were taken of the circumference of patients' heads to determine head size.

The results, published in the journal Neurology, showed that having a big head was associated with better test performance despite brain cells dying off because of Alzheimer's.

Specifically for every one per cent of brain cell death, an additional centimetre of head size was linked to a six per cent improvement in memory.

More here

15 July, 2010

Coffee may help prevent cancer

The ups and downs of the rights and wrongs of coffee consumption again. The fact that each study below found benefits in different parts of the body strongly suggests that we are just looking at data dredging

Several new studies suggest coffee helps prevent breast, prostate, head and neck cancers. While too much coffee can cause health problems, such as ulcers, the new research suggests generous amounts of it are most strongly linked to lower cancer rates -- between two and five cups daily, or even more, depending on the study and cancer type.

In one analysis, researchers pooled data on regular coffee drinkers and nondrinkers from nine studies collected by the International Head and Neck Cancer Epidemiology consortium.

People who drank about four or more cups a day had a 39 percent decreased risk of oral cavity and pharynx cancers combined, the investigators found. Data on decaffeinated coffee was too sparse for detailed analysis, they added, but indicated no increased risk. Tea intake wasn't associated with head and neck cancer risk.

"What makes our results so unique is that we had a very large sample size. we had more statistical power to detect associations between cancer and coffee," said said lead researcher Mia Hashibe of the University of Utah.

The research is published in the advance online issue of the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, published by the American Association for Cancer Research.

In another study, presented at the association's Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Conference last December, Harvard University researchers presented data showing that men who drank the most coffee had an up to 60 percent decreased risk of lethal and advanced prostate cancers.

Results of a third study published in the January issue of the same journal showed a decreased risk of gliomas, or brain tumors, associated with coffee. This link was found among those who drank five or more cups of coffee or tea a day, according the researchers from Imperial College, London.

And yet a fourth study, in the April 2008 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found that at least two or three cups of coffee a day can either reduce the risk of breast cancer or delay its onset.

This effect is related to estrogens, female sex hormones, said the scientists, from Lund and Malmo universities in Sweden. Certain metabolic products of these hormones are known to be carcinogen, and various components of coffee can alter the metabolism so that a woman acquires a better configuration of various estrogens, investigators said. Caffeine also hampers cancer cell growth.

In the study, researcher Helena Jernstrom and colleagues studied the coffee-drinking habits of women including nearly 460 breast cancer patients at Lund. Coffee's effect, the scientists said, varied depending on which version women have of a gene called CYP1A2, which produces an enzyme that breaks down estrogen and coffee. Half of the women had a variant called A/A, while the others had either A/C or C/C.

"Those women who had one of the C variants, and who had drunk at least three cups of coffee a day, developed breast cancer considerably more seldom than women with the A/A variant with the same coffee consumption. Their cancer risk was only two thirds of that of the other women," Jernstrom said.


Cell phones don’t cause cancer

This is such an old chestnut that I am disinclined to write on it again but the author below has some good points

Could your cell phone be killing you? A lot of people seem to think so. Some activists say that talking on your phone for 30 minutes a day over several years can cause brain tumors. They say governments need to address the problem with regulations. The alternative? “[D]o nothing and wait for the body count,” according to the University of Albany’s David Carpenter.

Regulations are starting to pass. San Francisco just passed a law requiring cell phone retailers to disclose how much radiation their products emit. The city already has a warning label regulation. Maine passed its own warning label mandate last year.

Now Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is introducing federal labeling legislation, so that “cell phone users can decide for themselves the level of risk that they will accept.”

Fortunately, when it comes to cell phones and cancer, that risk is zero. It is physically impossible for cell phones to cause cancer. Literally. Most phones only emit about one watt of energy. The legal limit is 1.6 watts. This is not nearly enough to cause the tissue damages that cause many kinds of cancer.

How little energy is one watt? The human body generates about a hundred times that much energy during normal, everyday activity. During exercise, our bodies can pump out more than 1,100 watts of energy – enough to power a whole row of light bulbs. Adding a single watt to that baseline does nothing to contribute to the DNA damage that can lead to tumor growth.

So if scare-mongerers are right that one-watt cell phones can cause brain tumors, they should be at least a thousand times more worried about working out. But they aren’t. Suspicious.

There’s more. Not only are cell phones too weak to cause tissue damage, they don’t even operate at the right frequency to do so. Some frequencies are dangerous to living tissue. Others aren’t. The sun’s visible light is harmless to humans. But its higher-energy UV rays have caused countless cases of skin cancer among the sun-bathing set.

The physicist Bernard Leikind found that cell phone photons are so weak, they fall short of DNA-damaging energy levels by about a factor of 500,000.

So you might have something to worry about if you strapped half a million cell phones to your body. But it wouldn’t be cancer – it would be getting crushed to death. So talk on your phone all you want. Unless you’re driving while you’re gabbing, you are safe.

The cell phone cancer scare probably says more about the people promoting it than anything else. Activists promoting the scare only ever mention brain tumors. And brain tumors are frightening. But you hold your cell phone in your hand. You hold it next to your ear and your jaw. Why no mention of those cancers?

They should be just as worried about skin and bone cancers in the hand. They should also be worried about the ears and the jaws. Not to mention the scalp and skull that take in every bit as much cell phone radiation as the brain. This strangely selective choice of scare-mongering is reason to be suspicious of the phone-cancer connection. Some people just like to be scared. And other people can get massive amounts of funding by catering to those people.

So don’t buy into the hype. David Carpenter and Dennis Kucinich can live in bed-wetting fear of their phones if they like. But you don’t have to.


14 July, 2010

Drinking 2 glasses of cherry juice gives you 17 minutes of extra sleep

Such a small effect is probably just a random fluctuation

Cherry juice could hold the key to a good night's sleep, say scientists. Volunteers who drank a glass of unsweetened cherry juice in the morning and evening enjoyed more shut-eye than when they drank the same amount of other juices, a study found.

Curing insomnia has become one of the biggest health challenges of the modern age. About one in four adults suffer from it and a fifth regularly get fewer than five hours' sleep a night.

Psychiatrist Dr Wilfred Pigeon, of the University of Rochester in New York, who led the study, said the cherry juice effect could be due to the fruit's high content of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the body's sleep-wake cycle.

His researchers analysed sleeping patterns of participants on two routines. During the first they drank cherry juice, and the second a comparable fruit juice. The cherry juice led to an average of 17 minutes more sleep.

Dr Pigeon, whose findings are published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, said: 'Given the side-effects of some medications, it is encouraging to have a natural alternative.'

Melatonin expert Dr Russel Reiter, of the University of Texas, said foods such as cherries may be a better alternative to boost the body's supply than supplements.


Food Nazis push Senate to pass “food safety” bill

A big increase in bureaucracy will make you safer? If you believe that you will believe anything. It will however make food more expensive -- a burden that will most affect the "poor" whom Democrats claim to "care" for

A year after House Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly approved legislation to improve food safety, public health advocates are growing frustrated that the Senate has yet to take up the bill.

A coalition of food safety groups tried to turn up the pressure last week on Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, running newspaper ads in the lawmakers’ two states featuring constituents who fell seriously ill from food poisoning. The ads urged Reid and McConnell to move the bill to the Senate floor and pass it.

“Time is short — there are not a lot of legislative days on the calendar and we’re seeing [food] recalls every week,’’ said Erik Olson, with the food and consumer product safety programs at Pew Health Group. “There is obviously a lot of interest in making sure folks know this bill has broad public support and that there is really no reason not to move this. It would show that Washington can get something done.’’

Pew Charitable Trusts released results of a poll conducted in Nevada, where Reid is facing a tough reelection battle, , finding that 71 percent of voters think the Senate should pass the bill.

On Wednesday, President Obama said in a prepared statement that he supported passage of the Senate bill and that it would give the government the tools it needs to ensure food safety. The bill, which would be the first major change to food safety laws in 70 years, is designed to give the Food and Drug Administration vast new regulatory authority over food production. It places greater responsibility on manufacturers and farmers to produce food free from contamination — a departure from the country’s reactive tradition, which has relied on government inspectors to catch tainted food after the fact.

The legislation follows a wave of food-borne illnesses over the past four years, involving products as varied as spinach and cookie dough, which has shaken consumer confidence and made the issue a priority for many lawmakers and the White House.

Food illnesses affect 1 in 4 Americans and kill 5,000 each year, according to government statistics.


13 July, 2010

Try a fry-up for a healthy baby

LOL! More medical wisdom going into reverse?

Fried eggs and bacon may not sound like the ideal breakfast for those struggling with morning sickness.

But pregnant women who tuck into a traditional fry-up with these ingredients could be protecting their babies from birth defects, according to a study.

Scientists have shown that choline, a nutrient found in egg yolks, bacon, offal such as kidneys and green leaves, is essential for the healthy development of unborn babies’ brains.
Brain food: Scientists have shownthat a nutrient found in egg yolks and bacon is essential for the healthy development of unborn babies' brains.

Brain food: Scientists have shown that a nutrient found in egg yolks and bacon is essential for the healthy development of unborn babies' brains.

If a mother’s diet doesn’t contain enough choline, a baby’s brain develops too few blood vessels, putting the child at risk of learning and memory difficulties, researchers fear. Choline is an essential nutrient that helps cells grow and work properly.

Related to nutrients in the Vitamin B family it is found in eggs, bacon, liver, kidneys, milk, wheat germ, spinach and cauliflower. Past studies have shown that it protects against liver disease and may help to lower cholesterol.

Nutrition experts say most people get plenty of choline from food. However, a number of studies have suggested that some people are at risk of choline deficiency, and that one in four women is deficient.

Scientists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, studied the effects of choline on pregnant mice.

They fed three groups of pregnant mice a choline-deficient diet, a standard diet and a diet supplemented with the nutrient, then examined the brains of their pups.

Mice whose mothers had too little choline in their diet had fewer blood vessels in their brains than mice on a regular diet, the researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The growth of new blood vessels – angiogenesis – is crucial for growing brains. If a developing foetus has too few blood vessels, the brain will not develop properly.

Dr Steven Zeisel, who led the study, said the discovery could have ‘great importance for humans’. He added: ‘Only 14 per cent of pregnant women in the United States consume adequate amounts of choline in their diets, and less than 5 per cent of the 18 to 30-year-old young women who are not pregnant consume the recommended intake.’

Pregnant women who have the lowest levels of choline are four times as likely to have a baby with a birth defect compared to women who eat the most, Dr Zeisel said.

In addition, around half of young women have a genetic make-up that means they need more choline while pregnant to protect their babies.

‘Humans eat marginal amounts of choline and a large portion of the population has increased dietary requirement for choline, making the effects of choline on foetal brain angiogenesis of potential public health importance,’ he added.


New hope for arthritis sufferers as pioneering stem cell treatment is to be tested on patients for the first time

Millions of patients suffering the agony of arthritis could soon benefit from pioneering stem cell treatment, scientists claim. They say the therapy could be used to help repair worn-out joints, which cause crippling pain and stiffness.

Scientists have come up with a technique of using stem cells to treat osteoarthritis - a disease which gradually wears down the cartilage in between bones.

More than eight million Britons suffer from this type of arthritis which results in the joints becoming inflamed, painful and stiff. In severe cases, the cartilage becomes so thin that the ends of the bone rub against each other causing them to be deformed.

But researchers say that stem cells taken from the patient's bone marrow could be transferred to the infected joint to encourage growth of the cartilage. The cells would initially be removed by keyhole surgery and then put into a laboratory for three months allowing them to grow. They would then be implanted into the joint and scientists believe that over the course of a few months the cells would form new cartilage - drastically reducing the inflammation and pain experienced by the patient.

The scientists, from the University of Keele, plan to carry out the first human trial of the treatment later this year at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt hospital in Oswestry, Shropshire.

Around 70 people with osteoarthritis in their knees will take part. Doctors will monitor them over the course of the year looking at their cartilage and their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

The researchers hope that the treatment will be available for patients within the next five to ten years but they stress there is still a long way to go. Professor Sally Roberts, one of the leaders of the trial, said it was important not to see stem cells as a 'miracle cure'. She added: 'They certainly have huge potential. We just need to learn how to harness it properly.

'Stem cells are portrayed as '' wonder cells'' that can do anything but they can't give you the joints of a 15-year-old. At the moment they are not the ''magic bullet'' and they don't solve the underlying problem of osteoarthritis which still needs to be addressed.'

Professor James Richardson, a co-leader of the study, said: 'The benefit to the patient may be not to prevent the need for a joint replacement, but to prevent the need for a revision joint replacement.'

Stem cells are immature cells which can be removed from the body and turned into different types of tissue in the laboratory. They can then be used to replace dead or worn-out cells.

Osteoarthritis tends to affect people over the age of 40 and is far more common among women. There is currently no cure and patients generally take painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs to control their symptoms. Each year around 60,000 hip replacements and another 60,000 knee replacements are carried out on the NHS, the majority due to osteoarthritis. The cost of surgery alone is £400million but far more is spent on treatments, GP consultations and physiotherapy.


12 July, 2010

An active social life can help you fight cancer, researchers say

Once again this generalizes from the mouse brain to the much more complex human brain -- a highly dubious proposition. And in a rather fun twist, the results below could also be interpreted to show that stress is good for you!

A good social life can help beat cancer, scientists say. Tests on diseased mice found their tumours shrank dramatically when they were brought into contact with many more other animals than normal - with tumours even disappearing completely in a few cases.

It means human patients should be encouraged to meet up with friends and family, or stay in as close contact as possible with them by email or phone, to maximise their chances of recovery.

Geneticist Professor Matthew During said his findings published in the journal Cell offer powerful new evidence of the critical role that social connection and an individual's mental state may play in cancer. He said: 'Animals' interaction with the environment has a profound influence on the growth of cancer - more than we knew was possible.'

Mice, naturally sociable creatures, are typically housed in groups of five or so for laboratory experiments, where they can have all the food they want and play all day. But when those with tumours were placed in 'enriched environments' with 15 or 20 and provided with more space and more things to play with and do - including toys, hiding places and running wheels - their disease often went into spontaneous remission.

Tumor mass shrunk by an average 77 per cent and the volume by 43 per cent. And one in 20 of the cancer ridden mice remarkably showed no evidence of the disease after three weeks in their new home. That never happened in control animals kept in standard housing.

Prof. During, of Ohio State University, said the more complex social dimension in the new living arrangements was apparently key. The same improvements weren't seen in animals who only exercised more, so physical activity in and of itself wasn't the answer.

The animals did show lower levels of a hormone produced by fat called leptin, indicative of a significant shift in metabolism. Their immune systems also appeared to be 'ramped up a bit' which was traced by the researchers to a brain chemical known as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor).

Manipulating the mice to produce increased levels of BDNF, which can be increased by exercise, also reduced their tumours, whereas the benefits of an enriched environment evaporated in those lacking the molecule - suggesting low levels of stress, or certain kinds of it, can be beneficial.

Prof. During said: 'A lot of people think stress is bad, but our data show the animals aren't just happy. Antidepressants won't give you the same effect.' In fact, the animals show higher levels of stress hormones known as glucocorticoids.

Added Prof During: 'The goal isn't to minimise stress, but to live a richer life, socially and physically. You want to be challenged.'

The findings could ultimately lead to new treatments for cancer and other diseases as well, whether through environmental modifications that offer mental and social stimulation or perhaps via a drug that mimics those experiences on a molecular level.

It will be important to find out what it takes in humans to turn BDNF on. Prof During said: 'We're really showing that you can't look at a disease like cancer in isolation. For too long, physicians and other have stuck to what they know - surgery, chemo, radiotherapy. Traditionally working on the area of lifestyle and the brain has been a "soft area".

'This paper really suggests if we look at people more in terms of their perceptions of disease, their social interactions and environment, we could realise a profound influence on cancer. There is no reason to suspect our findings in mice won't be generalisable.'


A regular chocolate treat 'could halve a woman's risk of giving birth prematurely'

I hate to spoil the fun but this is even more rubbishy "correlation is causation" epidemiology than usual -- in that it involves retrospective self-reports. At least that aspect is acknowledged below.

The finding is probably just data dredging anyway. Chocolate is such an unremitting subject of research that correlations will arise by chance alone

It is a sweet revelation for every mother-to-be. Pregnant women have the perfect excuse to give in to their cravings - because chocolate is good for both mother and baby. Expectant mums who regularly snack on chocolate bars are less likely to develop pre-eclampsia, according to a study.

One of the most common causes of premature birth in the UK, pre-eclampsia affects 70,000 British women a year and claims the lives of up to 1,000 babies and ten mothers. It is characterised by high blood pressure and can cause convulsions, blood clots, liver damage and kidney failure.

But after asking 2,500 women about their dietary habits during pregnancy, researchers from Yale University in the U.S. found that those who consumed higher rates of chocolatey snacks - including hot chocolate drinks - were less likely to develop the potentially fatal complication, the journal Annals of Epidemiology reports.

It is thought that theobromine, the bittertasting chemical in cocoa, keeps blood pressure steady by helping blood vessels to dilate. Researchers stressed the results may have been skewed by women being asked to remember what they had eaten during pregnancy.

The study also failed to examine if the benefits are confined to dark chocolate. Some research suggests milk or white chocolate does not have the same health benefits, as they they are higher in sugar and have a lower content of flavanols, the disease-fighting ingredient in cocoa used to make chocolate.

In a report on their findings researchers said: 'Women who reported regular chocolate consumption of more than three servings a week had a 50 per cent or greater reduced risk of pre-eclampsia. 'Regular chocolate intake during the first or third trimester was equally protective.'

Last year, Swedish scientists found heart attack survivors who snacked on chocolate at least twice a week could slash their risk of dying from heart disease by up to 70 per cent.

And in 2008, a team at Georgetown University in Washington DC discovered a chemical found in chocolate could hold the key to stopping bowel cancer in its tracks. They tested a man-made version of the naturally-occurring ingredient and found it halved the rate at which tumours grew, while leaving healthy cells untouched.


11 July, 2010

Smell of jasmine 'as calming as valium'

Then why did Valium get such an uptake? It's only a rodent study anyway and comparisons between the rodent brain and the human brain are always ambitious. And when one considers that rodents are probably much more smell-dependant than humans, any generalizations from the results below would have to be regarded as very optimistic

The sweet smell of jasmine is as good as valium at calming the nerves with none of the side effects, according to new research.

Laboratory tests found the fragrance and its chemical substitute dramatically calmed mice when their cage was filled with it, causing them to cease all activity and sit quietly in a corner.

When the air was breathed in the scent molecules went from the lungs into the blood and were then transmitted to the brain. Brain scans showed the effect on a chemical called GABA on nerve cells was enhanced by the fragrances and helped soothe, relieve anxiety and promote rest.

Professor Hanns Hatt said the results published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry can "be seen as evidence of a scientific basis for aromatherapy".

His team also hope that by changing the chemical structure of the scent molecules, they can achieve even stronger effects. They tested hundreds of fragrances to determine their effect on GABA receptors in humans and mice and found jasmine increased the GABA effect by more than five times and acted as strongly as sedatives, sleeping pills and relaxants which can cause depression, dizziness, hypotension, muscle weakness and impaired coordination.

Prof Hatt, of the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, said: "We have discovered a new class of GABA receptor modulator which can be administered parentally and through the respiratory air. "Applications in sedation, anxiety, excitement and aggression relieving treatment and sleep induction therapy are all imaginable."

Jasmine is a type of essential oil widely used in aromatherapy, which was pioneered by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. It is thought to offer various healing effects.

Inhaling jasmine oil molecules is said to transmit messages to a brain region involved in controlling emotions. Known as the limbic system, this brain region also influences the nervous system.

Aromatherapy proponents suggest that essential oils may affect a number of biological factors, including heart rate, stress levels, blood pressure, breathing, and immune function.

Jasmine oil is often touted as a natural remedy for stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms. It is also said to act as an aphrodisiac.

The name Jasmine is derived from the Persian yasmin which means "a gift from God" so named because of the intense fragrance of the blooms.

There are over 300 species of the plant that occur mainly in the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world, although a few are found in countries with cold winters. The scent rising off the petals is sweet and intoxicating. Jasmine is found in more than 83% of all women's scents and 33% of men's.

More than five million flowers must be gathered to produce one kilo of what is known as "pure jasmine absolute". As a result, much of the jasmine used in perfume is a chemical approximation.


Another meltdown of conventional medical wisdom?

Type 2 diabetes drug taken by 100,000 in UK may be banned over heart disease fears

A drug taken by thousands of men and women with diabetes could be banned over concerns that it raises the risk of heart disease. The safety of Avandia - currently prescribed to 100,000 people in Britain - is under investigation by the Europeans Medicine Agency, a watchdog with the power to withdraw treatments in Britain. It follows research that shows the drug puts users at a 60 per cent greater risk of heart failure than other medication.

Avandia is currently prescribed to people with type 2 diabetes, the form of the disease linked to obesity which usually occurs in middle age.

It is already being investigated in the US by the Food and Drugs Administration, the medicines watchdog, who will report their findings next week. Later this month it will come under scrutiny from experts from the EMA which could lead to it being withdrawn from the market completely.

In the meantime GSK has advised patients to carry on taking the tablets, also known as rosiglitazone, but said those with serious concerns should consult their GP.

Dr Tony Hoos, European Medical Director for GlaxoSmithKline said: 'GSK is fully committed to patient safety and believes that rosiglitazone is an important treatment option for appropriate Type 2 diabetes patients. It is one of the most extensively researched diabetes medicines and has been studied in more than 50,000 patients.

'Diabetes is a chronic, long term condition with serious consequences, and patients should not stop taking rosiglitazone, or any other medicine for type 2 diabetes, without consulting their doctor.'

Avandia was once GSK second-biggest selling drug but sales have plunged since safety concerns first emerged three years ago.

Research in Canada in 2007 suggested that the drug puts users at a 60 per cent greater risk of heart failure, a 40 per cent greater risk of heart attack and a 29 per cent greater risk of death than other medication.

The study published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, warned that the drug 'may cause more harm than good'.

Then two years ago researchers from the University of East Anglia and Wake Forest University in North Carolina suggested that Avandia could raise women's risk of breaking bones. There have even have been reports that GSK knew of the possible side effects several years ago - the firm has always denied this however.

Since the safety concerns were raised several patients in America have filed lawsuits against GSK.


10 July, 2010

Hard truths about soda taxes

The movement to implement a "fat tax" can be traced all the way back to a 1994 New York Times op-ed by Yale University's Kelly Brownell. Professor Brownell has continued his advocacy for such taxes, both alone and along with former New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. Other activists, such as Center for Science in the Public Interest's (CSPI) Michael Jacobson, have over time joined their crusade. These advocates and other sin-tax proponents have urged Congress to fund government healthcare services with a fat tax, an effort that proved unsuccessful. However, states and cities in search of new sources of revenue, and eager to be seen as "doing something" to oppose obesity, have now also stepped into the fray. Twenty state and local legislatures are reportedly pursuing taxes on soft drinks.

Five Key Problems. As the nation's food police begin fantasizing about a thinner population, coupled with sizable new streams of government revenue, a closer look at five key problems with soft drink taxes is warranted.

1. Scientific Evidence Lacking: The justification for a soft drink tax is founded on the claim that such beverages are a major contributor to obesity, particularly in children. In a presentation to the Senate Finance Committee, CSPI's Jacobson claimed that "soft drinks have been a major contributor to obesity" in recent decades. Brownell, along with Frieden, President Obama's choice to head the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), claim that "sugar-sweetened beverages ... may be the single largest driver of the obesity epidemic."

This claim depends first on the assumption that there is an epidemic of childhood obesity and that obesity in childhood results in adult morbidity and premature mortality. While a full examination of these assumptions is beyond the scope of this paper, fat-tax supporters should review a CDC analysis of obesity prevalence in U.S. children and adolescents for the last decade that found "no statistically significant trend ... for either boys or girls" since 1999.

The most frequently cited support for the claim that soft drinks contribute to obesity is a 2001 study by Ludwig et al. claiming that the "consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks is associated with obesity in children." Yet, their study in fact fails to support such a claim. The results show no difference in the Body Mass Index (BMI) data of the children who consumed the most and the least amounts of sugar-sweetened drinks. Further, there was no statistically significant change in the incidence of obesity in the study population.

Moreover, design flaws prevent the study from determining whether the changes in weight were the result of the beverages consumed or the behaviors linked with this consumption. Finally, the authors themselves concede that "there is no clear evidence that consumption of sugar per se affects food intake in a unique manner or causes obesity."

In an effort to demonstrate a link between obesity and soft drinks in their October 2009 article, Brownell and Frieden cite three clinical trials. In the first, the lower incidence of obesity in the intervention group was not sustained after two years. In the other trials cited by Brownell and Frieden, there were no statistically significant results in terms of reduced BMIs in the total intervention group. The interventions were essentially failures.

The non-supporting evidence is even more decisive in challenging a link between soft drinks and obesity. Hill and Prentice note: "If making a judgment solely on the basis of obesity, we conclude that there is little substantive evidence to support the view that high consumption of dietary sugars represents a public health problem ... We find no reason ... to associate high consumption of sugar with obesity."

This conclusion is confirmed by a number of studies. Data from the Dortmund Nutritional Anthropometric Longitudinally Designed Study (the DONALD Study), for instance, which follows German children from birth to adulthood, found no association between added sugar intake and body composition in childhood. The authors concluded, "The present study does not support the common view that the quality of carbohydrate may be implicated in the current obesity epidemic in childhood."

Another study, one that examined the nutritional and physical activity patterns of 4,298 fifth grade students, found that soft drink consumption was not associated with increased risks of becoming overweight in a statistically significant way. Further, a Harvard research team led by Allison Field found that there was no statistically significant association between snack foods, with or without soft drink consumption, and BMI change for either boys or girls.

Similar results were found by Forshee et al. who, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found that the two drinks continually blamed for increases in overweight and obesity — non-diet soft drinks and fruit drinks — were not associated with increases in BMI for either gender.

2. It Won't Work: Brownell and Frieden have written that "data indicate that higher prices also reduce soft drink consumption." However, their only support for this claim is a "review conducted by Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity," for which no data or citation is provided.

Scientifically rigorous evidence suggests otherwise. For example, there are no studies demonstrating a difference either in aggregate soft drink consumption or in child and adolescent BMIs between jurisdictions with soft drinks taxes and those without such taxes.

In an analysis of the effects of Maine's fat tax on obesity, Brio Oaks found no statistically significant association between the fat tax and obesity prevalence. Indeed, he notes that, "Despite the snack tax being enacted in 1991, Maine's obesity rates increased by 7.3 percentage points before the act was repealed in 2001 ... Since 1990, obesity rates have risen by 75% in that state ... Maine ... has the highest rate of adult obesity in New England."

Fletcher et al., intrigued by the fact that almost two-thirds of all states tax soft drinks, examined the potential for such taxes to reduce adolescent obesity. Using state soft drink sales tax data from 1988-2006, along with the National Health Examination and Nutrition Survey, they found that while such taxes might lead to a moderate reduction in soft drink consumption, this had no effect on adolescent obesity since the reduction was "completely offset by increases in consumption of other high-calorie drinks." As they conclude: "Soft drink taxes do not appear to have countered the rise in obesity prevalence because any reduction in soft drink consumption has been offset by the consumption of other calories. Cast in this light, the revenue generation and health benefits of soft-drink taxes appear to be weaker than expected."

These results are confirmed in a study by Schroeter et al., ("Determining the Impact of Food Price and Income Changes on Body Weight." Journal of Health Economics) which examined the link between food prices and obesity. The authors conclude that while increasing the price of high-calorie food such as soft drinks might lead to decreased demand for these foods, "it is not clear that such an outcome will actually reduce weight."

Finally, in a just-published study, Sturm et al. found that soft drink taxes "do not substantially affect overall levels of soda consumption or obesity rates." In fact, they found that the most important predictors of soda consumption were increased hours of TV viewing.

The reason that such fat taxes fail is because demand for food tends to be largely insensitive to price. Considerable research on food prices has demonstrated this inelasticity. A 10% increase in price reduces consumption by less than 1%.

Kuchler et al., for example, have modeled the expected effects of a fat tax on snack items such as potato chips and other salty snacks. The typical American household spends only $76 to purchase 31.8 pounds of such snacks annually. Using the price inelasticity for such foods and tax rate assumptions, expected BMI reductions from a tax on such foods would, according to Kuchler et al., be "close to zero." Even at very high rates of price elasticity and tax, BMI reductions would be only two pounds. This highlights the unresolved tension inherent in justifications of excise taxes between the claims that they reliably raise substantial revenue for worthy ends and reduce consumption of a targeted good. To the extent that they accomplish the latter they imperil the former.

Applied to soft drinks, this means that to reduce their consumption by 10%, the tax rate would need to be 100%. To reduce soft drink consumption by 50%, soft drinks would need to cost slightly more than $4 per can.

In short, fat taxes have not reduced consumption or obesity in those jurisdictions that have implemented them and there is no evidence to suggest that they will work at the federal level.

3. Perverse, Unintended Consequences: Such fat taxes have perverse, unintended consequences. Adam Drewnoksi has found that poorer consumers react to higher food prices not by changing their diets, but by consuming even fewer "healthy" foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and eating more processed foods. Taxing so-called "junk foods" like soft drinks not only fails to change consumption patterns for these individuals but may even encourage them to eat more "unhealthy" foods.

A Danish study confirmed this. It found that sin taxes on junk foods would fail to reduce consumption by the population who consume these foods most frequently, that is, the poor. Additionally, it found that taxes levied on sugar content — the basis for the soft drinks tax — would increase saturated fat consumption.

4. Economically Unfair: A soft drink excise tax is also intrinsically unfair in two senses. First, it is substantially regressive, violating the fundamental principle of tax fairness — vertical equity — in which tax obligations rise in tandem with one's ability to pay. Chouinard et al.'s model of a fat tax found a welfare loss of $24.29 for families with an income of $100,000, compared with a loss of $47.38 for families with an income of $20,000.

Second such a tax is unfair in that it falls indiscriminately on the fat and the thin, the healthy and the unhealthy, those attentive to the supposed consequences of their lifestyles on their mortality and those indifferent to them. In short, its supposed justification fails in the case of the thin, the healthy, and the responsible. As the University of Chicago's Richard Epstein notes, "The person who counts calories and exercises faithfully is penalized because she chooses to eat a cream pie as part of a sound overall diet."

5. A Threat to Individual Autonomy: Finally, there is an unpalatable odor of social engineering, or to use the preferred public health euphemism, "denormalization," about the idea of a soft drinks tax. Given that there is no compelling evidence that it will change diet or affect overweight and obesity, one can wonder whether the fat tax campaign is meant to stigmatize personal behavior. A democratic government with a fundamental commitment to respecting individual autonomy cannot justify using the tax code to shape a citizen's food choices. Soda taxes are conceptually flawed, have failed where they have been tried, and inattentive to fundamental considerations of fairness and liberty


A splash of soy to soothe menopausal hot flushes

When they find out how much salt there is in soy sauce they might have second thoughts -- but what if the salt is the good bit?

Soy sauce could reduce symptoms of the menopause, such as hot flushes and sleepless nights. Scientists say soy contains a natural compound which can help replace the production of oestrogen, the hormone which contributes to women's menopausal problems.

Studies in Japan, where soy is consumed with meals regularly, found that Asian women experienced milder menopausal symptoms than Americans and Europeans.

Soy has anti-cancer properties and can lower cholesterol. Now researchers say the new wonder food could be an alternative to conventional hormone replacement therapy as a way of treating the menopause.

Soy sauce, made from soya beans, is a traditional accompaniment to Chinese food in the UK.

Experts at the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo found women who consumed soy produced a chemical called S-equol, which halted bone loss and fat accumulation in women in early menopause.

The Journal of Nutrition reports the scientists found that women who took a soy-based supplement containing S-equol for just three months had fewer menopausal symptoms.


9 July, 2010

Scientists make an AIDS breakthrough

But unlikely to be of use for long, sadly. Knocking out 90% of the HIV strains is not enough. It will just lead to the resistant 10% multiplying

US researchers have discovered two powerful antibodies that neutralise more than 90 per cent of all known strains of the HIV virus in the lab, new research released today showed.

NIH-led scientists discovered the antibodies known as VRCO1 and VRCO2 that prevent most HIV strains from infecting human cells. The find is a potential breakthrough for advancing HIV vaccine design, and antibody therapy for other diseases.

The authors, whose work is published in the July 9 issue of Science, also were able to demonstrate how one of these disease-fighting proteins gets the job done.

"The discovery of these exceptionally broadly neutralising antibodies to HIV and the structural analysis that explains how they work are exciting advances that will accelerate our efforts to find a preventive HIV vaccine for global use," said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health.

"In addition, the technique the teams used to find the new antibodies represents a novel strategy that could be applied to vaccine design for many other infectious diseases," Dr Fauci said.

The team of virologists found that the two antibodies were produced naturally and found in the blood of HIV-positive people.

They were able to isolate these antibodies using a new molecular device they developed. It zeroes in on specific cells that make antibodies against HIV. The device is an HIV protein scientists modified to react only with antibodies specific to the site where the virus binds to cells it infects.

Leading two research teams were NIAID scientists Peter Kwong, PhD, John Mascola, MD, and Gary Nabel, MD, PhD.

"We have used our knowledge of the structure of a virus - in this case, the outer surface of HIV - to refine molecular tools that pinpoint the vulnerable spot on the virus and guide us to antibodies that attach to this spot, blocking the virus from infecting cells," Dr Nabel said.

Dr Mascola said that: "the antibodies attach to a virtually unchanging part of the virus, and this explains why they can neutralise such an extraordinary range of HIV strains."


The one-a-day pill that could finally halt Alzheimer's?

Sounds hopeful but demonstrated on rodents only so far

A single daily pill that stops Alzheimer's in its tracks is being developed by scientists. The drug, discovered by sheer luck according to researchers, stops brain cells from dying, boosting their numbers and sharpening memory. Given early enough, it could prevent sufferers from reaching the devastating final stages of the disease, in which they lose the ability to walk, talk and even swallow. Some experts believe it could even be a cure.

Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia blight the lives of more than 800,000 Britons, and the number of cases is expected to double within a generation.

With the death of brain cells at the core of Alzheimer's, the breakthrough brings fresh hope.

U.S. researchers found the drug after testing more than 1,000 chemicals on mice. Dr Steven McKnight said: 'We really didn't know if the screen would turn up a favourable compound or not. It was blind luck.' In tests, the drug, known only as P7C3, boosted the production of cells in a part of the brain critical to memory.

Dr McKnight, of the University of Texas Southwestern, said: 'These mice are bad at making new neurons. The question was, "Can you fix that?" And the answer to that was "yes".' Not only did the new brain cells form, but they also worked properly, the journal Cell reports.

In other experiments, the drug improved memory in ageing rats, making it easier for them to find their way through a maze. Further research showed that a derivative of the compound, called A20, had an even bigger impact on the brain.

Dr McKnight and colleague Dr Andrew Pieper are still trying to find out how the drug works.

Much of the research into Alzheimer's focuses on breaking down the sticky protein that clogs the brain, damaging and killing cells. Most existing drugs would not be a cure as they cannot repair dead tissue.

But P7C3 could offer an exciting alternative as it chaperones neurons key to memory through to adulthood, greatly boosting their numbers.

Two drugs that work in this way are already being tested on patients. One, an anti-histamine called Dimebon, had encouraging early results but has failed to live up to its promise.

Dr McKnight, who received a 'pioneer award' designed to fund unusual research, said last night: 'If this pans out, it will be the most useful contribution of my career.'

It appears to prevent a process called apoptosis, which causes cells, including many newly-formed brain cells, to self-destruct.

It also seems to give a boost to the mitochondria, the tiny batteries that power cells.

The research team hope the chemical can be turned into a once-a-day pill. Those with multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease and schizophrenia might also benefit. Dr McKnight said: 'The neuroprotective compound P7C3 holds special promise because of its medicationfriendly properties.

'It can be taken orally, crosses the blood-brain barrier with long-lasting effects, and is safely tolerated by mice during many stages of development.'

The blood-brain barrier is a biological 'wall' designed to prevent potentially harmful substances entering the brain.

Thomas Insel, director of the U.S. body that funded the work, the National Institute of Mental Health, said: 'This striking demonstration of a treatment that stems age-related cognitive decline in living animals points the way to potential development of the first cures that will address the core illness process in Alzheimer's disease.'


8 July, 2010

Fish oil may cut breast cancer risk 'by a third'

The food freaks just LOVE fish oil. If it lived up to just 1% of the claims for it, it would be a wonder food. So it is nice to see proper caution in the rubric below.

The research most probably showed no more than the usual better health of middle class people -- who are more likely to take supplements

Fish oils could protect women from breast cancer, research has found. Scientists claim those who take supplements can reduce their risk of developing tumours by up to a third. The oils have long been credited with health benefits such as boosting brain power, but this is the first time they have been linked to a possible reduction in breast cancer cases.

A study of 35,000 women found that those who regularly took the supplements were 32 per cent less likely to develop the disease.

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle suggested the omega-3 fatty acids contained in supplements could reduce the risk of developing the most common form of the illness, invasive ductal breast cancer.

This type of tumour, which grows in the cells lining the ducts of the breast, is responsible for up to 80 per cent of the 45,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Britain each year.

Dr Emily White, who led the research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, said: 'It may be that the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements are higher than most people would typically get from their diet.

'Without confirming studies specifically addressing this we should not draw any conclusions about a causal relationship.'

Edward Giovannucci , a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, added: 'It is very rare a single study should be used to make a broad recommendation.'

Scientists at Harvard are seeking to establish whether fish oil can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and strokes.

Earlier this year fish oil was hailed as the 'elixir of life' after scientists from the University of California, San Francisco found it could have a direct effect on extending the lifespan of cells.

The UK Food Standards Agency advises consumers eat at least one portion of oily fish a week.


A real good news story: Amazing recovery of toddler with 32% burns on his face who healed with NO scars thanks in part to advanced treatment

This is the smile that Isambard Ebbutt's mother feared she would never see. He suffered horrific burns when he poured a cup of scalding tea over his head as a baby. But despite not having a single skin graft, he is almost unrecognisable nearly two years later.

Isambard, two, has amazed doctors by appearing to suffer no lasting damage from the accident. He was just 13 months old when he poured the tea over himself in September 2008. He suffered 32 per cent burns to his face and torso, and doctors at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol feared he would suffer severe scarring or contract potentially fatal infections.

But he recovered quickly enough to return to his home in Torquay in only ten days, and his remarkable progress has continued.

Yesterday Isambard's mother, Natalie Ebbutt, 37, who has five other children with husband Chris, said: 'It is so poignant that a cup of tea can kill but I don't think that parents are aware of the damage it can do. 'I see adults walking around all the time with hot drinks near children. I thought he was going to die. 'There is never a day that goes by when we don't think how lucky we are to have him in such a perfect condition and see his smiling face.'

Isambard was treated by experts from the South-West Regional Paediatric Burns Service, who have begun working with scientists from the University of Bath to create a new dressing to protect burns victims from infections. The 'Bacteriosafe' technology will release antibiotics from nanocapsules triggered by the presence of bacteria which cause infectious diseases. The dressing will also change colour when the antibiotic is released to alert medics.

Mrs Ebbutt added: 'I knew that the biggest chance of losing my child was if an infection took hold. 'All I could do was cross my fingers and hope for the best. 'To think now that there is a possibility of avoiding serious infection and complications with this project is amazing.'


7 July, 2010

Viagra causes syphilis!

That is the sort of dumb conclusion we would normally expect from epidemiologists to the finding (below) that users of Viagra are more likely to get STDs. That third factors -- such as behaviour -- have to be considered is normally beyond them

Men age 40 or older who use Pfizer Inc.’s Viagra and Eli Lilly & Co.’s Cialis to boost sexual potency have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, a Harvard study found.

Men who took the impotence pills were almost three times more likely to have a sex disease, particularly HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in the year before and after they started the drugs, according to research published today in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The higher rate of sexually spread infections could have more to do with the habits or temperament of the men using the erectile drugs than with the medicines enabling them to have more frequent or riskier sex, the authors said.

The findings suggest that users of drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, which also include Bayer AG’s Levitra, could be more likely to engage in unsafe sex than nonusers, said Anupam Jena, the lead author of the study. Although sexual diseases are far more common in young people, infection rates are increasing in those middle-aged and older, the researchers said.

“Younger people have more sex partners than older folks,’’ said Jena, a medical resident in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. “But per sexual encounter, the actual safeness of the sex is probably lower among older folks in the sense that they don’t use condoms.’’

Indeed, people ages 40 to 49 accounted for the largest proportion of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases, 27 percent, in 2007, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those 50 to 59 accounted for 13 percent, while those over the age of 60 accounted for 4 percent.

“Old folks can contract STDs and we need to be vigilant about it,’’ Jena said in an interview.


A simple, hard answer to long life

The epidemiologist below has arrived at two good basic recommendations but his concerns about "obesity" betray a dismaying ignorance of the fact that people of middling weight live longest

“Friends occasionally ask me how they might best live healthy, longer. They inquire because I went to medical school, work in biotech, and focus professionally on developing drugs to treat diseases of aging by targeting aging genes. My response seems to surprise them, because it does not center on pharmaceutical products. The current answer on how to increase healthy human lifespan is simple: “Eat less, and exercise more.’’

Why do I not, in the first instance, suggest the use of medications or other medical interventions? The reason is straightforward. The experiment has been run in humans where certain groups of individuals appear to live longer, healthier lives than the general population without resorting to modern Western medicine. One such group of longer-lived individuals is the Seventh Day Adventists, but there are additional examples such as Okinawans, who also have historically modest diets and exhibit remarkable longevity.

Seventh Day Adventists view their bodies as “temples of the Holy Spirit’’ which require thoughtful care via healthy exercise and diet. Rigorous academic studies have shown that Seventh Day Adventists live more than five years longer than similar populations. An important advantage appears to be lifelong modest diet and exercise, tied to specific religious beliefs. Importantly, this increased lifespan is accompanied by improved health.

The residents of the southern Japanese island of Okinawa are another population with longer healthy lifespans. Okinawans have historically consumed fewer calories and been more physically active than other Japanese. Controlling for multiple variables, academic studies indicate that Okinawans are healthy for longer because they may be physically more active, and consume fewer calories in a diet rich in fish and vegetables.

What can we learn from Seventh Day Adventists and Okinawans? Neither population takes special advantage of modern medicine. They do not use more pharmaceutical drugs, nor do they undergo more medical procedures. Instead, both groups focus on a healthy diet and exercise. They have reduced calorie intake, lower rates of overweight, and increased physical activity. Hence, at least two human populations have shown that the best way we can live healthy longer is bafflingly simple, if hard to emulate.

Given these insights, it is especially troubling that the United States is experiencing an obesity epidemic. Roughly two-thirds of the US adult population is overweight or obese, and the problem appears to be worsening. Michelle Obama recently initiated a campaign to improve childhood nutrition and increase exercise. This is an important initiative that can improve the health of our population.

Much more societal focus should be brought to bear on this problem, given the enormous potential for positive impacts. In fact, recent analyses indicate that one of the greatest impediments to increasing healthy lifespan is obesity. The average lifespan has increased consistently in the United States from a life expectancy at birth of around 47 years in 1900, up to roughly 77 today. Worryingly, leading aging experts are now predicting that further increases in healthy lifespan may grind to a halt, given the added health burdens caused by obesity.

Increasing healthy lifespan has always been a goal of medicine. Some of the greatest advances in achieving it have been public health measures — clean drinking water and improved hygiene. Similarly, one of the most important current means to increasing healthy lifespan may be via public health measures that help Americans to muster the willpower to eat less and exercise more.

Modern medicine has discovered an impressive number of lifesaving new drugs for devastating diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and infectious diseases. Nevertheless, for most of us, active lifestyles and less food will have a more profound effect than taking more medicines. Hard as it is, we should walk, run, and bike more, and reduce our food intake. The best way we can increase our chances to live healthy, longer is simple: eat less and exercise more.


6 July, 2010

Snacking on nuts and seeds 'could keep Alzheimer's at bay'

One nut deserves another -- or something. The study below found nothing about nuts in fact. It found that very elderly people with good serum levels of nutrients were less likely to get Alzheimer's. All it probably proves is that people who are still functioning well in old age are somewhat less likely to get Alzheimers -- which would appear to be something of a tautology

Snacking on nuts could help keep the mind sharp into old age, research suggests. A study has credited vitamin E - found in nuts, seeds and olive oil - with warding off Alzheimer's.

Pensioners with the highest amounts of the 'anti-ageing' vitamin in their blood were around half as likely to develop the devastating disease as those with the least vitamin E in their bodies.

The finding suggests that nuts and oils could provide a cheap and tasty way of keeping the mind healthy as the years advance. Alzheimer's affects some 400,000 Britons and around 500 new cases are diagnosed every day.

The Swedish researchers measured vitamin E in samples of blood taken from 232 men and women. All were aged 80 or older at the start of the study and free of dementia. After six years, 57 had developed Alzheimer's, the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reports.

However, the disease was around half as common in those boasting the most vitamin E at the start of the study.

Previous research into the subject has produced conflicting results but the researchers believe this could be because it mainly focused on one sub-type of vitamin E, rather than looking at it as a whole.

Lead researcher Dr Francesca Mangialasche, of Stockholm's Karolinska Institute, said: 'Vitamin E is a family of eight natural components, but most studies related to Alzheimer’s disease investigate only one of these components. 'We hypothesised that all the vitamin E family members could be important in protecting against Alzheimer's disease.

'If confirmed, this result has implications for both individuals and society, as 70 percent of all dementia cases in the general population occur in people over 75 years of age, and the study suggests a protective effect of vitamin E against AD in individuals aged 80-plus.'

She added that with previous research linking one particular form of vitamin E found in supplements with premature death, people would be better off getting a mix of the different forms of the compound from their diet. A vegetable, fruit, nut and olive oil-rich Mediterranean diet could be particularly beneficial.

'Our findings need to be confirmed by other studies but they open up the possibility that the balanced presence of different vitamin E forms can have an important neuroprotective effect.'

The Food Standards Agency warns that high doses of the vitamin can be harmful and says that people should be able to get all the need from a balanced diet.


On regional inequality in British lifespans

You'll have seen the headlines yesterday: The National Audit Office report showing that people in poor areas die younger, on average, than people in not poor areas and that the government and NHS has been failing to do something about it. The report is here.

While the basic contention, that poor people die younger than rich people (or people living in poor places die younger than those in rich places), is clearly true, there's a great gaping hole in the methodology used to monitor all of this. It's the same error made in the recent Marmot Review which should be read alongside this NAO report. The error comes in two parts.

1) There is no acknowledgment at all that people migrate over the course of a lifetime. Not everyone does, of course, and yet it's also true that not everyone doesn't. So concentrating on particular local areas (local authorities in this case) will take no account of the way in which, say, someone hale and hearty in their 60s might leave some industrial Midlands town and move to Bournemouth upon retirement. Reducing the life expectancy in that Midlands town by removing someone likely to live long (for life expectancy of someone hale and hearty in their 60s is longer than that of the general population) from the pool we're measuring and similarly increasing it in Bournemouth.

2) No acknowledgement or discussion of the point that while poverty might lead to ill health and shortened lifespans, it is also true that ill health can lead to poverty. Being struck down by a chronic illness during your working years will make you poor: and will ally with point 1) to make it less likely that you will move from a poor area to a rich one.

As I say, I've no doubt at all that a shortened lifespan is yet another indignity that is heaped upon the heads of the poor. But as I constantly try to point out, we have to measure these things (as I've been shouting about for years about the gender pay gap) properly before we can decide what, if anything, we're going to do about them.

Unless we know how much of the poverty is caused by ill health as opposed to the ill health being caused by the poverty we're fumbling around in the dark. And unless we account for the way in which people move around, migration as a result of both health and wealth, we're similarly blind to what is actually causing the inequalities we can see.

We're not, as yet, measuring this properly so we cannot, as yet, decide what to do about it.


5 July, 2010

Vitamin D confusion for pregnant women as new study suggests daily dose IS best after all

Vitamin D deficiency has historically been a real problem in cloudy Britain so anybody in Britain who doesn't get out much and doesn't eat much fish might well take low dose supplementation as a precaution, particularly in winter. High doses can be toxic, of course. The EU recommends a daily intake of 5 micrograms for 12 to 70-year-olds. In Britain, margarine is compulsorily fortified with vitamin D so those who regularly use margarine on their sandwiches probably have little need for concern

Pregnant women were left in confusion today after doctors issued conflicting advice on vitamin pills. A team of experts at the University College London Institute of Child Health said expectant mothers should routinely take vitamin D supplements to protect babies from life-threatening conditions.

But the advice clashes with the official NHS guidelines and recommendations from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists which say there is no need for every pregnant women to take the supplement.

Who to believe? Should expectant mothers read the official NHS advice or the new guidelines from University College London Institute of Child Health

The mixed signals follow a report in the British Journal of Nutrition which says there is a 'strong case' for a daily dose of vitamin D. The paper says there is growing evidence linking vitamin D deficiency to health problems for pregnant women and newborn babies.

Yet the UK is the only one of 31 European countries that doesn't have a set vitamin D recommendation for women of reproductive age.

Dr Elina Hyppönen, an author of the study, said: 'The incidence of vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women in Britain is unacceptably high, especially during winter and spring. 'This is compounded by a lack of exposure to sunlight and the limitations of an average diet to meet the optimal need.

'In the most severe cases, maternal vitamin D deficiency can be life threatening to a newborn. We believe that the routine provision of a daily supplement throughout pregnancy would significantly decrease the number of mothers who are clearly vitamin D deficient, reducing related serious risks to their babies.'

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth. The vitamin is produced in the skin when it is exposed to sunlight and is found in oily fish, liver and eggs. Deficiency can cause the bone disease rickets and infantile hypcalcaemia - a condition also known as Williams syndrome which affects development.

Around one in 10 women are thought to be vitamin D deficient. During pregnancy, the number rises to one in four during winter and spring, while 90 per cent have levels 'considered insufficient', Dr Hypponen said.

'This risk of vitamin D deficiency is largely being overlooked by our health professionals,' she said. 'Under a current government scheme, pregnant women who are on a low income are entitled to receive supplements free of charge, but there is no strong evidence to suggest that this group are at greater risk.

'What’s needed is a unified approach that will ensure that all expectant mothers, regardless of their economic status, are informed of the benefits of taking a regular supplement throughout pregnancy.'

However, their advice conflicts with official guidance. The Department of Health advises pregnant women to ensure they receive a certain level of vitamin D - 10 micrograms per day. The researchers say this in effect endorses use of supplements, because diet and the sun provide too little.

But the National Institute of health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) does not support supplements. Instead, it says women should simply 'be informed' about the importance of having adequate vitamin D levels during their pregnancy and while breastfeeding - adding that some women may choose to do this via supplements.

And the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends only women at risk of vitamin D deficiency should take a supplement.

Patrick O'Brien, a spokesman for the college, said: 'There is gradually accumulating evidence that universal vitamin D supplementation in the UK might be beneficial for the whole population. 'But more research is needed on the balance of risks and benefits in women at low risk of vitamin D deficiency, and on the correct dosage to use.'


Genetic testing decides who gets breakthrough drug

Good to see an intelligent approach

A NOVEL cancer drug is set to propel Australian health authorities headlong into a new era of personalised medicine, in which the results of genetic testing determine which patients have access to powerful therapies. The drug, Erbitux, has no chance of working in 40 per cent of bowel cancer patients. Their tumours feature a gene mutation that prevents the molecule from blocking its target cancer growth pathway.

But for the other 60 per cent whose cancer has the "wild type" version of the KRAS (pronounced kay-raz) gene it offers a decent if usually temporary chance of slowing the cancer. For some it can even shrink tumours enough to make them amenable to surgery - holding out a modest prospect of a cure.

If the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee this week recommends a subsidy for Erbitux, manufactured by Merck Serono, it will for the first time bring cancer gene testing into the mainstream for a common cancer that affects both men and women, specialists say.

They are calling on the federal government to streamline an ad hoc patchwork of gene testing in public hospitals and the private sector, to prepare for an expected deluge of drugs that work only in the presence or absence of a particular genetic signature.

Nick Pavlakis, the head of medical oncology at Royal North Shore Hospital, said: "This is the start of the queue of a number of drugs in Australia that are married to having a test … What transpires with this may well apply to other targeted therapies. "We need a universal test that's reliable and … sensitive," said Dr Pavlakis, who has worked as a paid adviser to Merck.

The federal health department is understood to be discussing how to bring gene tests within its fold. The talks, centred on how tests might be approved and reimbursed under Medicare, are understood to have intensified in recent weeks.

A breast cancer drug, Herceptin, also requires a gene test, but it was originally subsidised outside usual health department mechanisms after intense lobbying.

Graeme Suthers, the chairman of the genetics advisory committee of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia, said: "There is a need for a national policy on genetic testing … This is going to get bigger in terms of numbers and different types of situations."

John Stubbs, the executive director of the advocacy group Cancer Voices Australia, said he supported a standardised regime because it would steer patients towards treatments more likely to benefit them.

Nicholas Wilcken, the director of medical oncology at Westmead Hospital, said it was important to know a patient's KRAS status - even if they could not afford Erbitux, which is only available privately at present - because this might influence how other therapies were offered. But Associate Professor Wilcken said the cost of a genetic test, about $200, was prohibitive for some.

For people who respond well, the total treatment cost typically exceeds $20,000.


4 July, 2010

CA: Assembly passes bill banning BPA in baby bottles

This will give the attention seekers a warm inner glow but there is no science in it. It's the medical version of global warming -- an increasingly worldwide obsession with a non-existent danger

The state Assembly passed a bill Thursday to ban the chemical Bisphenol-A from baby bottles and other items that come in contact with small children.

The Toxin-Free Toddlers and Babies Act, or SB 797, would ban the use of BPA in feeding products, including formula, for children 3 years old and younger.

BPA has been linked with health problems such as infertility, autism, asthma, hyperactivity and breast cancer. In January, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reversed its long-held position that BPA posed no concern, calling for more studies of the artificial hormone that often is used in shatter-proof plastic baby bottles, sippy cups and linings of cans, including those containing baby formula.

Written by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), SB 797 was introduced in early 2009, but was defeated in the Assembly last September. Pavley asked for reconsideration and on Thursday the measure received enough votes to pass. It will return to the Senate for a reconciliation vote in August, at which point it could move on to Gov. Schwarzenegger for his signature. A spokesman for the governor said Thursday that Schwarzenegger had not taken a position on the bill.

Tim Shestek, senior director of state affairs for the American Chemistry Council, said his group continues to oppose the measure. "We don't believe that the Legislature … should be in the business of making decisions on these complex scientific questions," he said. "That's why they created the Green Chemistry Initiative, so state scientists can evaluate chemicals in consumer products."

The Green Chemistry Initiative was a bill that passed the California Legislature in September 2008. It required the California Department of Toxic Substances Control to prioritize chemicals of concern and to put the burden of chemical testing on that agency, not industry.

"Sen. Pavley is supportive of the Green Chemistry Initiative and we look forward to having a process in place so that we can evaluate chemicals of concern, but it's not up and running and we don't know when it will be," said Sen. Pavley's legislative director, Elise Thurau. "This bill is integrated with the green chemistry process."

If passed, SB 797 would require the manufacturers of baby bottles, cups and jars to discontinue use of BPA by January 2012. Makers of infant formula would need to comply by July 2012.


Big Brother row as 'food police' secretly photograph British schoolchildren's packed lunches

Teachers have used 'Big Brother' tactics to spy on children's lunchboxes, it has been revealed. They secretly photographed pupils' packed lunches over six months and analysed the contents.

Staff awarded marks to the food and then showed their findings to outraged parents, offering them advice on how to improve nutrition. Education bosses have now put a stop to the scheme in Gloucestershire after discovering the extent of the surveillance.

Nineteen primary schools have been using the 'packed lunch toolkit', which was devised by Gloucestershire county council and NHS Gloucestershire. Contents were taken out of a random sample of lunchboxes and then photographs taken.

Staff rated the contents against set nutritional standards. They looked for high fat, salt and sugary foods as well as fruit and vegetables. Once the data was collected, a baseline score for the school was calculated. The scheme was devised by the council's healthy schools team but had not been signed off by councillors.

Councillor Jackie Hall, the council's cabinet member for schools, who is also a mother, said she did not know about the scheme. 'I applaud the concept of healthy eating and working with pupils and parents,' she said. 'However, this is a step too far and smacks of Big Brother.'

Among the schools taking part was St Paul's Primary School in Gloucester. Parent Sharon Billingham said she packs healthy lunches for her son Callum, seven. However, she felt the lunch toolkit was a breach of privacy. She said: 'I guess if we were given notice that it was happening then that would be OK but I haven't heard anything.'

But Yvette Gayle, whose nine-year-old daughter Renee Dougan attends the school, said she didn't mind. 'It might encourage parents to pack a healthier lunch for their kids anyway,' she said.

Cheryl Ridler, an education co-ordinator at the school, said the scheme has led to 'a definite improvement in the quality of food' brought in. 'All the parents were very positive about it and we did it in a very nice and careful way, and in no way demanding and intrusive,' she added.

However, Margaret Morrissey, of family pressure group Parent OutLoud, condemned the scheme as 'despicable' and 'unforgiveable'. 'It's Big Brother gone absolutely mad and if it were my child, I'd sue the school,' she said.

Health chiefs have insisted that it was a way of monitoring healthy eating. Gloucestershire NHS director of public health Dr Shona Arora said: 'Childhood obesity is a serious concern. 'Parents are perfectly placed to use their judgment and they are the most important people in helping their children to achieve a balanced diet.'

A Gloucestershire council spokesman refused to disclose its healthy schools budget, which is shared with NHS Gloucestershire. The audit was one of dozens of projects and cost only the time taken to draw up the toolkit, she added.


3 July, 2010

First Experiment to Attempt Prevention of Homosexuality in Womb

Leftist rage predicted

"This is the first we know in the history of medicine that clinicians are actively trying to prevent homosexuality," says Alice Dreger, professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Dreger and collaborator Ellen Feder, associate professor and acting chair of philosophy and religion at American University, have brought to national attention the first systematic approach to prenatally preventing homosexuality and bisexuality. The "treatment" is targeted at one particular population of girls, but the researchers involved in the work say their findings may have implications beyond this population.

The girls and women in question have congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), a serious endocrine disruption that sometimes results in ambiguous genitalia. Their endocrine problem will require medical management from birth onward. Research has shown that females born with CAH have increased rates of tomboyism and lesbianism.

The prenatal treatment at issue, however, does not treat or prevent the CAH. Most clinicians who use prenatal dexamethasone for CAH seek to prevent the development of ambiguous genitalia. But the New York-based group of clinical researchers whose work is traced by Dreger and Feder suggest that prenatal dexamethasone can also be used in this population to prevent the "abnormality" of homosexuality, as well as the "abnormal" interest these girls tend to have in traditionally masculine careers and hobbies.

Dreger and Feder's paper on the topic appears in the Bioethics Forum of the Hastings Center and can be read here.

A new consensus from seven major medical organizations (including the American Academy of Pediatrics) will be published in August indicating that this use of prenatal dexamethasone is experimental and not to be treated as standard of care. This comes in the wake of Dreger and Feder leading an investigation showing that the chief proponent of this off-label use, pediatric endocrinologist Maria New, treated hundreds of women with this experimental drug without proper research ethics oversight.

The FDA and the Office of Human Research Protections are now investigating these formal complaints.


Fit, active and clearly not FAT: So why was British boy, 11, sent devastating letter by NHS telling him to lose weight?

He enjoys an active lifestyle and eats plenty of fruit and vegetables. Tom Halton also appears to have little fat on him. Yet the 11-year-old has been branded 'overweight' by NHS officials.

They wrote to his parents and warned them that at 7st 10lb, Tom was outside the 'healthy range' for children of his age. His mother Tracey said: 'He felt like he had been kicked in the stomach'

They said that if he doesn't change his lifestyle he was at higher risk of cancer, type-two diabetes and heart disease. The recommended weight for Tom's age is between 5st 5lb and 7st 7lb. But at 5ft 1in he is taller than average for an 11-year-old and is clearly not fat.

The letter has so upset Tom, who lives in Barnsley, he has started refusing to eat.

Last night his mother Tracey, 42, a paediatric nurse, accused the NHS of damaging his self-esteem. She said: 'Tom asked, "What's wrong with me?". He said he felt like he had been kicked in the stomach. 'He wouldn't eat his tea and was worried about it when he went to bed. There isn't an inch of fat on him.'

The letter from NHS Barnsley was sent out after Tom was weighed and measured at school for a national health programme. It read: 'If we carry on as we are, nine out of ten children today could grow up with dangerous amounts of fat in their bodies. 'This can cause diseases like cancer , type-two diabetes and heart disease.'

Doctors classify patients' weight using a body mass index that is based on a mathematical formula relating height to weight. In children younger than 16, they use special charts that also take age into account. The Government's National Child Measurement Programme is part of a wide-ranging campaign to combat child obesity.

But Tom's father, Dan Halton, 46, a school governor and youth tutor, calls the letters 'unhelpful and laughable' and has demanded they should stop. 'He is always riding on his bike and he has his own trials motor bike,' he said. 'That is a sport in itself and you have to be fit and strong to handle those motor bikes.'

Tom also enjoys playing football with his friends, Mr Halton said. He added: 'The impression it gives is that your child is fat, it's your fault and they will die from a horrible disease. You can't use tinpot psychology like this on kids or their parents.'

Emma Healey, from the eating disorder charity BEAT, said: 'We should be promoting messages about healthy diet and healthy body size but we must do this sensitively and responsibly. 'A "one size fits all" approach just isn't appropriate.'

Sharon Stoltz, assistant director for public health in Barnsley, said the local NHS were following a Government initiative.


2 July, 2010

Will you live to 100? Scientists say it's in your genes

Mega-pesky for the Left. More evidence for them to ignore: It's all due to poverty, I tell you!

EXPLORERS the world over have long sought the fountain of youth, but now researchers claim they have hit upon something tangible: Genetic sequences that can predict whether you'll live to the ripe age of 100.

But don't give up on diet and exercise just yet.

In an early step to understanding the pathways that lead to surviving into old age, researchers report in the online edition of the journal Science that a study of centenarians found most had a number of genetic variations in common.

That doesn't mean there's a quick test to determine who will live long and who won't — a healthy lifestyle and other factors are also significant, noted the team led by Paola Sebastiani and Thomas T. Perls of Boston University.

Nevertheless, Prof Perls said the research might point the way to determining who will be vulnerable to specific diseases sooner, and there may be a possibility, down the road, to help guide therapy for them.

The team looked at the genomes of 1055 Caucasians born between 1890 and 1910 and compared them with 1267 people born later. By studying genetic markers the researchers were able to predict with 77 percent accuracy which came from people over 100. "Seventy-seven percent is very high accuracy for a genetic model," said Dr Sebastiani. "But 23 percent error rate also shows there us a lot that remains to be discovered."

The centenarians could be fitted into 19 groups with different genetic signatures, they found. Some genes correlate with longer survival, others delayed the onset of various age-related diseases such as dementia. "The signatures show different paths of longevity," Sebastiani said.

In general, the centenarians remained in good health longer than average, not developing diseases associated with old age until in their 90s, according to the study.

The researchers were surprised, Dr Sebastiani said, that they found little difference between the centenarians and the control group in genetic variations that predispose people to certain illnesses. "We found that what predisposes to a long life is not lack of disease associated variants, but the presence of protective variants," she said at a briefing.

In addition, 40 percent of "super-centenarians" aged 110 and over had three specific genetic variants in common.

Prof Perls cautioned that this is a very complex genetic puzzle and "we're quite a ways away, still, in understanding what pathways are governed by these genes." "I look at the complexity of this puzzle and feel very strongly that this will not lead to treatments that will get people to be centenarians," he said. But it may help in developing a strategy and screenings that will help find what treatments will be needed down the road.

While this study, begun in 1995, focused on Caucasians, the researchers said they plan to extend it to other groups, including studying Japan, which has large numbers of elderly.

"Inheritability of longevity has been looked at, so genes do play a role," said Dr Kenneth S. Kendler of the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University. But so do other factors "such as driving motorcycles fast and smoking," said Dr Kendler, who was not part of the research team.

The 77 percent accuracy rate reported in this study is better than other groups have been able to do, Dr Kendler added.

The US study found that about 85 percent of people 100 and older are women and 15 percent men. "Men tend to be more susceptible to mortality in age-related diseases," Perls said. "Once they get a disease they more readily die. Women, on the other hand, seem to be better able to handle these diseases, so they tend to have higher levels of disability than men, but they live longer than men."

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Aging and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.


Home birth triples neo-natal death risk: study

Although home births are desirable in many ways, it does seem clear that they are riskier

It doesn't appeal to everybody, but for some women, having a good birth means delivering in the peace and familiarity of their own home, far from the white glare and hi-tech wizardry of the hospital.

But a big study in an influential medical journal published today may give them pause. Home birth may be best for the woman, the study finds: she is less likely to have medical intervention, from painkilling drugs to forceps to a caesarean section. But, the researchers claim, it carries three times the risk that her baby will die.

The study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology will inflame passions. But, say the researchers from Maine Medical Centre in Portland, the findings must be addressed. "Women, particularly low-risk parous [having given birth before] individuals, choosing home birth are in large part successful in achieving their goal of delivering with less morbidity [damage] and medical intervention than experienced during hospital-based childbirth," they write.

"Of significant concern, these apparent benefits are associated with a near tripling of the neonatal mortality rate among nonanomalous [without birth defects] infants."

The researchers pulled together data from studies in the US and in Europe. They considered a total of 342,056 planned home births and 207,551 planned hospital births.

The increased death rate was in neonates - babies in the four weeks after delivery. The team found double the number of deaths overall among those born at home and triple the number when they removed those with congenital defects from the calculation. The main causes were breathing problems during birth and failed resuscitation after delivery.

Yet women who choose a home birth tend to be in good health and their babies are less often premature or of low birthweight. "It is especially striking as women planning home births were of similar and often lower obstetric risk than those planning hospital births," they write.

In the developed countries of Europe and the US, they say, after birth defects, oxygen deprivation is the next leading cause of death during or after delivery.

In the past two decades, there has been a marked decrease in babies' deaths because of a lack of oxygen during labour and delivery, they say. "Speculative explanations for the trend include more liberal use of ultrasound, electronic foetal heart rate monitoring, foetal acid-base assessment, labour induction and caesarean delivery," they write.

"Our findings, considered in the light of these observations, raise the question of a link between the increased neonatal mortality among planned home births and the decreased obstetric intervention in this group."

The editors in chief of the journal, Thomas J Garite and Moon H Kim, said the report "supports the safety of planned home birth for the mother, but raises serious concerns about increased risks of home birth for the newborn infant".

"This topic deserves more attention from public health officials," they added.

The president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, said there was no clear picture of the relative safety of home births, because it was not possible to conduct randomised trials, where women would be allocated either to give birth at home or on the labour ward.

"The finding that the consequences for the baby are more severe needs to be carefully considered by women, policymakers and care providers," he said. "Certainly, the move towards offering women a choice in their place of birth in the UK needs to be weighed against such evidence."

But he said that a recent study in Scotland had shown that any difference in outcomes for babies disappeared if women considered at high risk of complications during pregnancy and delivery were taken out of the equation. Screening to pick up such women was important, he said, and so were arrangements to get a women to hospital if something went wrong during a home birth. "Mothers should not be alarmed as long as there is a transfer mechanism if there is a difficulty," he said.

He added that it was preferable to have two midwives with good resuscitation skills present at home - one for the woman and another for the baby. Women should also realise that one in three attempting a home birth for the first child ended up being transferred to hospital and one in 10 with a subsequent child - not only because of complications but also for pain relief.

"With the above systems in place and provided women receive one-to-one midwifery care, planned home births for low-risk women are a viable option," he said.

Mary Newburn, head of research at the UK's National Childbirth Trust, said it was "an important study that needs reviewing", but added: "NCT's own detailed review of home birth concluded that, although the quality of comparative evidence on safety of home birth is poor, there is no evidence that for women with a low risk of complications the likelihood of a baby dying during or shortly after labour is any higher if they plan for a home birth compared with planning a hospital birth."


1 July, 2010

Do IVF children suffer birth defects? Largest ever study is launched to find out

This sounds a bit naive. Surely a lot would depend on the health of the mother to start with. Where infertility is related to generally poor health or even to some specific ailment, the offspring might be expected to inherit that poor health genetically. Many ailments are hereditary

And what is the point? We already know that only a tiny minority of IVF babies have health problems. This is just a fishing expedition wasting the taxpayers' money -- motivated by the usual nasty dislike of anything that is popular

More than 100,000 test-tube babies are to have their health tracked amid fears they are at higher risk of heart disease and diabetes in old age.

Some 4.3million babies have been born through IVF since Louise Brown in 1978 but little is known about whether they will suffer health problems in the years to come. They are already feared ["feared"? Fears are a dime a dozen] to be at higher risk of a host of problems as babies and in childhood, ranging from birth defects to autism and cerebral palsy.

In addition, new technologies, such as egg freezing may carry extra risks, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, which is funding the study, warned.

Karl Nygren, deputy head of Eshre's IVF safety group, said that the premature births that often occur in IVF may cause problems many years down the line. The first test-tube babies are still in their early 30s.

Dr Nygren, of Stockholm's Sofia Hospital, said: 'We don't know what happens to these children when they are 40 or 50 or 60 years old. 'There is a theory that says if you are born prematurely you might suffer more diabetes and heart disease but we don't know if that's going to happen. 'We know a lot but we don't know everything - we will have to continue to follow what's happening.'

Dr Nygren told ESHRE's annual conference that the risks were low - but needed to be carefully monitored. He said: 'The bottom line is a good one. At the beginning people thought that maybe monsters would be born because the technique was very dangerous. 'We now know that is not true but we need to watch.'

Some of the health problems seen with IVF are due to the high number of twins and triplets born through the technique. As they tend to be lighter than other babies and born prematurely, they tend to be more illness-prone than other children. In addition, infertile women are more likely to give birth prematurely, for reasons that are unclear.

It is also possible that chlamydia infection, stress and other factors which may have affected the mother's fertility go on to impact on the baby's development in the womb - or that the drugs used create problems.

The researchers will scrutinise the birth, medical and death records of all babies born through IVF in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland since 1982 and compare the results with data on people of similar age conceived naturally. The first results are due next year, with updates very three years.

News of the study comes amid warnings that a 'kinder form' of IVF that avoids the side-effects associated with high doses of fertility drugs may have problems of its own. Half the price of conventional IVF, in-vitro maturation or IVM, involves maturing eggs in the lab, before fertilising them and putting them back in the women. It is particularly recommended for those with health problems such as polycystic ovarian syndrome which could make them react badly to the drugs usually used to mature eggs within the body.

But a study of 165 babies born after IVM found they were up to 9 per cent heavier than other IVF babies and more likely to be delivered by caesarean - an op that carries risks [More weasel language. ALL medical procedures carry risks -- but we have just been told that Caesarians do not carry GREATER risks!] for both mother and child. Pregnancies were slightly longer and the miscarriage rate higher.

Calling for a larger study into the issue, Nottingham University researcher Dr Peter Sjoblom said: 'These findings suggest a significant impact of the IVM procedure on early development. Caution is called for before proceeding with IVM on a large scale.

'For the sake of the health and safety of the babies and their mothers, we need to be following IVM babies from the moment the eggs are matured in the laboratory through to their birth and into adulthood. 'We must make it clear to the public that, at the moment, no major health problems have been observed in children born after IVM. 'Nevertheless, all fertility clinics should share their detailed data, so that we can, hopefully, conclude that there is no reason for concern.'

Tony Rutherford, chairman of the British Fertility Society, welcomed the long-term study in into the safety of IVF. He said: 'I do think it needs to be done, if for nothing more than to reassure the public. We haven't had any hard evidence that it is unsafe.'


A burst of realism from the British government

Jamie Oliver campaigned for healthier school meals in 'Jamie's School Dinners.' However uptake of the dinners has dropped

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley argued the celebrity chef’s efforts to improve children’s diets had actually made matters worse. His attack, in a speech to doctors at a British Medical Association conference in Brighton, angered Mr Oliver – who insisted it was an insult to dinner ladies.

Mr Lansley said lecturing the public on food and health was wrong and he claimed fewer children were eating school meals following the campaign. ‘Jamie Oliver, quite rightly, was talking about trying to improve the diet of children in schools and improving school meals, but the net effect was the number of children eating school meals in many of these places didn’t go up, it went down,’ he said. ‘Children are actually spending more money outside school, buying snacks in local shops, instead of on school lunches.’

However Mr Oliver declared: ‘I’m not encouraged by the news the new health minister has summed up eight years of hard work in a few lines for the sake of a headline. ‘To say School Dinners hasn’t worked is not just inaccurate but is also an insult to the hard work of hundreds of thousands of dinner ladies, teachers, headteachers and parent helpers who strive to feed schoolkids a nutritious, hot meal for 190 days of the year. ‘I’ll post him a copy of the series as he’s clearly never seen it.’

There was a sharp drop in the number of children having school meals after the 2005 campaign revealed the poor quality of the food given to children. However, the most recent figures for 2008/09 show a slight increase in uptake. Some 43.9 per cent of primary school pupils and 36 per cent in secondary schools are having school dinners.

Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, described Mr Lansley’s latest comments as ‘deeply distressing’. He said: ‘I think what Jamie Oliver did was excellent. ‘The whole thing managed to improve school meals and pushed the government into investing more money into them.’

Mr Lansley’s comments are at odds with his stance in opposition when he argued the Tories needed to understand Mr Oliver’s appeal if they were reconnect with voters.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.

2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful

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

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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