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

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

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

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

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

What fast food does to girls


31 July, 2011

FDA Moves to Regulate Walnuts as a Drug

This is certainly heavy-handed. Negotiation about what health effects can be asserted on the label would have been more reasonable

Big Government no longer has to pass the laugh test before expanding its power, which means any bureaucracy can regulate most anything that catches its attention. For example, the FDA is now cracking down on the “drug” we know as walnuts:
Because Diamond Foods made truthful claims about the health benefits of consuming walnuts that the FDA didn’t approve, it sent the company a letter declaring, “Your walnut products are drugs” — and “new drugs” at that — and, therefore, “they may not legally be marketed … in the United States without an approved new drug application.” The agency even threatened Diamond with “seizure” if it failed to comply.

Diamond’s transgression was to make “financial investments to educate the public and supply them with walnuts,” as William Faloon of Life Extension magazine put it. On its website and packaging, the company stated that the omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts have been shown to have certain health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. These claims, Faloon notes, are well supported by scientific research: “Life Extension has published 57 articles that describe the health benefits of walnuts”; and “The US National Library of Medicine database contains no fewer than 35 peer-reviewed published papers supporting a claim that ingesting walnuts improves vascular health and may reduce heart attack risk.”

This evidence was apparently not good enough for the FDA, which told Diamond that its walnuts were “misbranded” because the “product bears health claims that are not authorized by the FDA.”

The FDA’s letter continues: “We have determined that your walnut products are promoted for conditions that cause them to be drugs because these products are intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease.” Furthermore, the products are also “misbranded” because they “are offered for conditions that are not amenable to self-diagnosis and treatment by individuals who are not medical practitioners; therefore, adequate directions for use cannot be written so that a layperson can use these drugs safely for their intended purposes.” Who knew you had to have directions to eat walnuts?

There are actually people who want to live in a country where officious petty tyrants regulate every aspect of our lives. But the rest of us are Americans.


Australian Professor thinks he can create skin cancer vaccine

CANCER expert Prof Ian Frazer is on the verge of a major breakthrough in skin cancer - he hopes to develop a vaccine within a year.

The former Australian of the Year and creator of the world's first cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, has developed a world-first strategy to combat the insidious disease that affects two out of three Australians.

"In my lifetime we should be able to remove the threat of skin cancer from the next generation," the 57-year-old immunology professor said. "The smoking gun evidence is there is a virus or viruses that cause it."

Prof Frazer believes people can "catch" cancer from a virus. He proved his theory by identifying the human papilloma virus (HPV) as the cause of cervical cancer and then developing a vaccine against the virus to rid the female population of the cancer.

Now he is using a similar tactic to try to combat skin cancer, including malignant melanomas. "This group of cancers caused by virus infection present a great opportunity because the idea of vaccinating to prevent a cancer is enormously appealing," he said.

Prof Frazer said the problem was two-fold. "Genetics and variations in people's immune systems may expose some people to greater risk of skin cancer after sun exposure," he said. "If you take away the body's defence systems, skin cancer becomes more common."

His theory is that some viruses - particularly the wart virus or HPV - are embedded in the layers of the skin, which then pose a skin cancer risk for people with damaged immune systems.

"The technology now exists for me to test my theory," Prof Frazer said. "It is very powerful but also very expensive. "Using this tool, we will go hunting for the fingerprints of the virus or viruses present."

Prof Frazer's team will input all the sequenced genetic information on skin cancer - which will take six months - and then get an answer. "We will know if a virus causes skin cancer and what virus it is," he said.


30 July, 2011

Obesity war failing

Heavy-handed tactics aimed at making families seek help for overweight children are a waste of time, an obesity expert declared last night.

David Haslam, a leading GP and chairman of the UK’s National Obesity Forum, says his fellow doctors can spot overweight children the minute they walk through the door. ‘The problem isn’t identifying these people, it’s getting them motivated to lose weight and reduce their risks of disease,’ he said.

His comments came in response to a study showing that most parents who receive letters about the health risks of their children being fat do very little about it.

Dr Haslam, who is a GP in Hertfordshire, said: ‘Sending letters to parents like this is a waste of time. It’s the duty of the healthcare professional, doctor or nurse, when they see a patient whose weight is putting their health at risk to seize the moment – children’s lives are at stake.’

The research comes as experts predict two out of three children could be obese by 2050 if current trends continue. More than one in five is obese at present – so fat it threatens their health.

In the study, researchers at Bristol University contacted 285 families with children aged between five and 16 who were obese. The data came from GP records which had noted the children’s Body Mass Index (BMI) – the measure of weight and height which determines obesity – in the last two years.

The families were all sent a letter telling them their child was significantly overweight and offering them the chance to see their GP about it.

Just 47 per cent of the parents consulted doctors and barely 15 per cent of those who took up the offer ended up with a record of their child’s weight in GP records, suggesting the issue had not been thoroughly investigated. Just 25 fat children ended up in specialist clinics, according to the report in the British Journal of General Practice.

Researcher Dr Jonathan Banks, from the university’s school of social and community medicine, said one in two parents had rejected the opportunity to discuss their child’s weight problems. He said ‘Previous research has found that parents of overweight children find it difficult to seek help from a health professional and that many do not recognise overweight or obesity in their children. ‘It might be expected that parents who were unsure about how to deal with their child’s weight would be prompted by the letter, but the very low take-up suggests resistance to addressing the issue.’

Co-researcher Professor Julian Shields, professor of paediatrics at the university who runs weight management clinics, said GPs also seemed reluctant to deal with an often embarrassing subject with their patients. He said ‘It’s still a taboo area but things have got to change, this is one of the most pressing problems for our children. ‘But it’s difficult for GPs to say to parents their child is fat and something needs to be done without sounding rude, indifferent or blunt’ he added.

A scheme to measure fat children at school, and send warning letters to parents, attracted much criticism when it was launched in 2006, not least because many parents refused to give consent for their children to be screened. Heavier children were more likely to opt out.

Dr Haslam, who is a GP in Hertfordshire, said the latest research showed that better ways were necessary to motivate children and adults with weight problems into shedding the pounds. He said ‘Sending letters to parents like this is a waste of time.

‘The problem is not lack of access to obese children and adults, it’s getting them engaged and motivated into losing weight and keeping it off in the long term. ‘It’s the duty of the healthcare professional, doctor or nurse, when they see a patient whose weight is putting their health at risk to seize the moment – children’s lives are at stake.

‘If a child comes into the surgery with a thorn in a finger, take out the thorn and then ask then what they’re doing about trying to lose weight and how can we help’ he added.


Faith can be a great healer

I am an atheist but if I were a medical professional, I would never discourage religious devotion

With a ten per cent chance of survival, he needed a miracle - and that's exactly what God gave him. Jacob Berger, from Indiana, was diagnosed in 2002 with stage four cancer that was spreading from the upper part of his throat to his brain.

With the size of the tumour, doctors said the chances of him being alive in three or four years was ten per cent. He had already lost his younger sister to a rare form of cancer in 1991, then his mother to breast cancer in 2002. His dad died two years after his diagnosis in 2004.

But Jacob Berger is now cancer free after, he said, God spoke to him and told him to stop his treatment. He did, and he attributes that message to his life and says he is living proof that beating cancer sometimes takes more than medicine.

Not only that, but when he was undergoing aggressive chemotherapy and radiation to shrink his tumour, he became sterile. Or so he thought. He now has two children and another on the way.

Speaking to ABC, he said: 'I woke up in the middle of the night and felt like God told me to stop taking the treatments, and told me it was over now. 'I had confidence that my prayers were going to be answered, and that God was a healer and was going to take care of me.' He listened to the divine advice and when he went for his next MRI, he learned his cancer was gone.

After his cancer diagnosis and losing his father, Mr Berger turned his life around and devoted it to God, joining the Church of Rock.

He said: 'I had two choices - give in to this illness or fight the good fight of faith, and I chose to fight the good fight of faith.'

Although he believes divine intervention worked for him, he would never recommend that anyone stop their treatments. He told ABC: 'I've personally ministered to people with cancer and told them don't refuse what doctors are saying, don't just be ignorant and not go to the doctor. 'I tell them to let them confirm that God is moving in their life.'

Dr Renato LaRocca, Berger's doctor and director of the Kentuckiana Cancer Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, said the odds were against Mr Berger's surviving. He said that while his four treatments played a part in his recovery, he can't explain why Mr Berger is still cancer-free nine years later.

He said: 'Maybe his immune system woke up, maybe there was a lot of mental and spiritual depression, and once he got that focus, that's what helped, but I never underestimate the power of the mind.'

But Mr Berger is defiant. He said: 'It was absolutely a miracle. The bone that had eroded has been replaced by brand new bone and there is no scar tissue.'


29 July, 2011

"Organic" wackos obstructing the battle to feed the world

Monsanto is the heroic Sherman tank leading the battle but it is widely hated by the food romantics. The recent worldwide hike in the price of corn has heavily impacted the poor of the world so the battle is an ongoing one. As analyses have repeatedly shown, the only difference between "organically" grown crops and GM crops is that the organic crops produce much less food per acre. The organic delusion is a murderous superstition but the delusion is strong. See below

More than 270,000 organic farmers are taking on corporate agriculture giant Monsanto in a lawsuit filed March 30. Led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, the family farmers are fighting for the right to keep a portion of the world food supply organic—and preemptively protecting themselves from accusations of stealing genetically modified seeds that drift on to their pristine crop fields.

Consumers are powerful. For more than a decade, a cultural shift has seen shoppers renounce the faster-fatter-bigger-cheaper mindset of factory farms, exposéd in the 2008 documentary Food, Inc. From heirloom tomatoes to heritage chickens, we want our food slow, sustainable, and local—healthy for the earth, healthy for animals, and healthy for our bodies.

But with patented seeds infiltrating the environment so fully, organic itself is at risk. Monsanto’s widely used Genuity® Roundup Ready® canola seed has already turned heirloom canola oil into an extinct species. The suing farmers are seeking to prevent similar contamination of organic corn, soybeans, and a host of other crops. What’s more, they’re seeking to prevent Monsanto from accusing them of unlawfully using the very seeds they’re trying to avoid.

“It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement,” says Public Patent Foundation director Dan Ravicher in a Cornucopia Institutearticle about the farmers’ lawsuit (May 30, 2011), “but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement.”

Even as the megacorporation enjoys soaring stock, the U.S. justice department continues to look into allegations of its fraudulent antitrust practices (The Street, June 29, 2011):

Monsanto, which has acquired more than 20 of the nation’s biggest seed producers and sellers over the last decade, has long pursued a strict policy with its customers, obligating them to buy its bioengineered seeds every year rather than use them in multiple planting seasons. Farmers who disobey are blacklisted forever.

It’s a wide net Monsanto has cast over the agricultural landscape. As Ravicher points out, “it’s actually in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply.” Imagine a world devoid of naturally vigorous traditional crops and controlled by a single business with a appetite for intellectual property. Did anyone else feel a cold wind pass through them? Now imagine a world where thousands of family farmers fight the good fight to continue giving consumers a choice in their food—and win.


Thalidomide approved for use across the NHS half a century after it was banned

A victory for sanity after many years. It was always an interesting and useful molecule but its grievous side-effects in one particular application has until now largely stopped its use

Thalidomide has been approved for use on the NHS - half a century after it caused one of the biggest medical scandals in history. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence have recommended that the drug can be used to treat myeloma - a cancer which hits the bone marrow.

An estimated 10,000 children had defects at birth after pregnant women were prescribed the drug to prevent morning sickness.

After the government finally apologised last year, the drug is today again approved for use across the NHS, the Independent revealed.

Thalidomide was withdrawn from sale in 1961 after it was revealed that it was causing birth defects. It led to wholesale reforms in the drug licensing process, with much tighter regulations put in place.

A component of the drug prevents the growth of new blood vessels in developing embryos, stunting limb growth, researchers discovered.

The drug's UK manufacturer, Distillers Biochemicals, paid around £28million compensation in the 1970s following a legal battle by the families of those affected. Last year Health Minister Mike O'Brien said there were 466 thalidomiders - as victims of the drug are known - supported by the Thalidomide Trust.

As thalidomide makes its return half a century after it was banned, another drug, Velcade, has also been approved for use in treating myeloma. Drugs like thalidomide which are approved by Nice should be made available to patients across the UK.

Eric Low, Myeloma UK chief executive, said: 'It is vital that doctors have various effective treatment options in their toolbox to treat myeloma patients. 'Today’s recommendation confirms the significant role that both thalidomide and Velcade have to play as initial treatment options.'

Thalidomide has been used on the NHS in recent years to treat brain cancer in a limited number of cases, although it is the first time it's use has been formally recommended by Nice.

In the 1990s the drug began to make a return after [Israeli] research showed that it could be used to treat leprosy. There have been suggestions it could also be used to halt the development of prostate cancer.

Prescribing thalidomide is expected to cost £2,100 per treatment cycle and up to 2,000 patients each year could be given it now it has been recommended for use. Myeloma cannot be cured but drugs can be used to reduce the symptoms and stop the spread of cancerous cells.


28 July, 2011

Are hot dogs as bad for you as cigarettes? They are judging by new warning signs

They're as American as apple pie - you'll find them at virtually every cook-out in the land and every sporting event. But now a medical group in Washington D.C. is taking aim at the gold old hot dog.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has just unveiled a billboard in Indianapolis with a picture of hot dogs in a cigarette pack. The message reads: 'Warning: Hot dogs can wreck your health.'

The group is trying to create awareness of a link between hot dogs and colorectal cancer.

The [epidemiological] 2007 study they cite by the [sensation-mongering] World Cancer Research Fund found that one 50 gram serving of processed meat a day, about the same amount in one hot dog, increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 21 per cent.

Hot dogs should come with a 'warning label that helps consumers understand the health risk,' Susan Levin, the committee’s nutrition education director told USA Today, similar to warning labels on cigarettes.

Not all health experts agree, naturally. 'It is not necessary to eliminate consumption of red or processed meat; rather the message is that these foods should not be the mainstay of your diet,' states the guidelines of the American Cancer Society.

But with some of America’s biggest racing events right down the street, the Physicians Committee decided to target Indianapolis Speedway, where NASCAR will hold its Brickyard 400 this weekend, NBC reports.

July is national hot dog month and considering more than 1.1 million hot dogs were sold during last year’s Indianapolis 500, they may have targeted the right audience.


IVF children have bigger vocabulary than unplanned babies

For once we see some reasonable conclusions below. See para. 3 below

Children who were conceived through infertility treatment start school with speech skills up to eight months more advanced than those born after unplanned pregnancies, research suggests.

A study has found that pupils whose parents did not intend to have a baby lagged five months behind planned babies at age five, when their vocabulary was tested, and a further three to four months behind those born after IVF.

However experts say the findings are just down to the developmental gap between rich and poor in Britain. The differences in scores “almost entirely disappear” when family background is taken into account, since children born following assisted reproduction tend to have older, better educated and richer parents.

The paper, published online at on Wednesday, concludes: “Unadjusted analyses show that children born after unplanned pregnancy score poorly in cognitive tests compared with their planned counterparts, while children conceived after assisted reproduction do significantly better in tests of verbal ability.

“These differences are almost entirely explained by confounding by socioeconomic factors, providing further evidence of the influence of socioeconomic inequalities on the lives of children in the UK. To help children achieve their full potential, policy makers should continue to target social inequalities.”

Dorothy Bishop, Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology at the University of Oxford, said: “This study shows how important it is to take social factors into account when looking at child outcomes. Children from unplanned pregnancies have lower scores on cognitive tests than those from planned pregnancies, but they are also much more likely to come from single parent, low income households. Once this is taken into account, there is no impact of an unplanned pregnancy on children's development.”

In the report, Dr Claire Carson, a researcher at the University of Oxford’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, analysed data on 12,136 children included in the Millennium Cohort Study.

Of those studied, 41 per cent were born following an unplanned pregnancy, with 15 per cent of their mothers admitting they felt unhappy or ambivalent about being pregnant.

A further 53 per cent of the pregnancies had been planned and led to conception within a year; 4 per cent of couples conceived after more than a year of trying; and 2.6 per cent had babies after ovulation-inducing drugs or assisted reproduction.

Using the standard British Ability Scales to test verbal ability at age five, the research found that the unplanned children had scores equivalent to a “developmental delay of more than five months” compared with planned ones.

In turn, the planned children lagged behind those born after IVF treatment by “three or four months”.

However these differences were explained by the “generally advantageous socioeconomic position” enjoyed by those born after fertility treatment, with their language skills also benefiting from having better educated parents.

Those born after unplanned pregnancies were more likely to have poor, young or less educated mothers, and to have less access to “books, puzzles, trips to library”.


27 July, 2011

Bowel cancer rate doubles for British men

This is what is to be expected of an ageing population. Old people fall apart in all sorts of ways and there are now a lot more of them. The claims about red meat are just epidemiological garbage

Bowel cancer rates for men have doubled since the 1970s, it was revealed yesterday. More than one in 15 men are at risk of developing the disease compared with one in 29 in 1975. For women, the risk has risen by more than a quarter to one in 19, from one in 26 in the mid-1970s, according to figures released by Cancer Research UK.

Experts say a diet rich in red and processed meat and lacking in fruit and vegetables is partly to blame for the soaring levels.

Sara Hiom, director of health information at the charity, said: ‘An ageing population as well as changes in lifestyle have both led to more people developing cancer than a generation ago.

‘But even though the chances of getting the disease have increased in the population there are many ways that people can cut their own risk. ‘You can reduce your risk of bowel cancer by keeping a healthy weight, being physically active, eating a healthy diet that’s high in fibre and low in red and processed meat, cutting down on alcohol and not smoking.’

In 2008 there were 21,500 cases of bowel cancer diagnosed in men compared with 11,800 in 1975. For women the numbers have gone up from 13,500 in 1975 to 17,400 three years ago.

The figures, published in the British Journal of Cancer, represent the ‘lifetime risk’ of getting the disease, a new method of calculation taking into account people who get cancer more than once or die from other diseases.

Professor Peter Sasieni, the Cancer Research UK epidemiologist who produced the figures, said: ‘As people are living longer the numbers getting cancer have increased and the lifetime risk of developing bowel cancer has gone up. ‘For some cancers, including bowel, the risk of cancer in the next ten years will be much higher for people in their 50s and 60s.

‘But if someone reaches their late 70s and hasn’t yet developed the disease then their risk of getting it during the rest of their lifetime is lower than their risk at birth.’

Survival rates have improved, however, with 50 per cent of bowel cancer patients now living for at least ten years, double the number in the early 1970s due to earlier diagnosis and improvements in surgical techniques.

Scientists warned earlier this year that eating less red meat could prevent 17,000 cases of bowel cancer in the UK every year.

Mark Flannagan, chief executive of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, urged people who are offered screening to accept the offer. ‘It could save your life,’ he said. ‘But we must look at the positives. In around half of cases bowel cancer can now be beaten.’


A Second Avastin Opinion

Oncologists vs. the FDA on the breast cancer drug. Clinical experience has shown that it helps SOME women a great deal but for most it does nothing. Obama nominees work on the "all men are equal" theory so refuse to admit that some patients are different. Politics threatens to kill women. Not that killing people has ever bothered Leftists

The "humanitarians" urging the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw Avastin for women with terminal breast cancer claim there is no other choice: The evidence shows Avastin doesn't work, so too bad. But how to square that view with the highly respected medical group that —reading the same evidence— recommends preserving Avastin as a treatment option?

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network is a consortium of 21 leading U.S. oncology programs that issues practice guidelines on the basis of "sound, evaluative clinical information," according to its mission statement. Last week, the NCCN's breast cancer panel reaffirmed its position that Avastin is "an appropriate therapeutic option" for some patients in combination with chemotherapy. The vote was 24 in favor, with one abstention. No members were opposed.

The FDA's expert panels have now reviewed Avastin three times. All three have rejected it, though the first vote was overruled by the FDA leadership in 2008 to give the biologic drug provisional approval. Cancer division chief Richard Pazdur moved to revoke approval last year after a negative re-review of the evidence, and a final decision is now pending following an unprecedented appeal hearing last month by Avastin's maker, the Roche subsidiary Genentech.

Yet the NCCN has now reviewed Avastin for breast cancer four times since adding it to the compendium in 2005, and each time it has reaffirmed its support. One reason for the group's divergence with government is that it fields practicing oncologists from institutions like Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Texas's M.D. Anderson and Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York. They understand the benefits that Avastin can provide to some (but not all) women in controlling their disease, and the NCCN's advice is appropriately qualified.

The FDA, by contrast, favors statistical purists who think in the abstractions of controlled trials, and its conflict-of-interest rules are meant to exclude doctors who have experience treating specific cancers in the real world. For the FDA, believe it or not, being an expert in breast cancer fatally compromises your objectivity in ruling on a breast cancer drug. The oncologists also don't carry Dr. Pazdur's political agenda to increase his agency's power over cancer drug approvals.

Genentech is merely asking for Avastin to remain available for metastatic breast cancer while it conducts an additional trial to add to the evidence about which patients Avastin does help. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg hasn't said when she'll make a final decision. If you were a patient, would you rather trust a federal regulator or some of the best cancer doctors in the country?


26 July, 2011

Charles? He’s just a snake-oil salesman: Professor attacks prince on ‘dodgy’ alternative remedies

Prince Charles has been branded a ‘snake-oil salesman’ by Britain’s first professor of complementary medicine for supporting ‘dodgy’ alternative therapies.

Professor Edzard Ernst claimed yesterday that the prince’s backing for ‘unproven and disproven’ remedies was an attempt to smuggle them into the NHS despite scientific evidence showing they could be dangerous.

Prof Ernst, who set up Exeter University’s Centre for Complementary Medicine in 1993, left his post last month after claiming that a row with a senior aide to the prince had led to the withdrawal of support from university managers and the drying up of research funds.

He has carried out a series of scientific investigations into complementary medicine such as homeopathy and herbal remedies over the past decade.

Yesterday Prof Ernst told a conference in London that he found evidence that around 20 therapies were useful for various conditions, ranging from Co-enzyme Q10 supplements for high blood pressure to St John’s wort herbal pills for depression.

But the evidence was lacking for alternative therapies such as chiropractic, detox, herbal slimming aids, cancer cures, and homeopathy – which has long been championed by the prince and other members of the Royal Family.

He said such remedies were being peddled by ‘snake-oil salesmen and pseudo science’ and were dangerous to the public, who might be put directly at risk or as a result of rejecting conventional medicine in favour of ‘dodgy’ remedies. Asked whether he classified the prince as a snake-oil salesman, Prof Ernst replied: ‘Yes.’

In a comment for the Journal of Internal Medicine, the professor, who has been nicknamed the Quackbuster for his efforts to root out alternative remedies for which he can find no evidence, criticised the concept of integrated, or integrative, medicine. This advocates treating the patient with conventional and complementary approaches and is backed by the prince.

Prof Ernst said it covered a ‘wide range of unproven and disproven’ therapies, and was ‘nothing other than a cloak of respectability disguising alternative medicine’. He wrote: ‘At best, integrative medicine is well meaning but naive, at worst it represents muddled or even fraudulent concepts with little potential to serve the needs of patients.’

He said he suspected that Prince Charles wanted to get the NHS to supply more alternative therapies despite the lack of scientific evidence for many of them. The prince’s complementary health charity, the Foundation for Integrated Health, closed last year amid a criminal investigation into fraud and money-laundering.

Prof Ernst has clashed with the prince before. He accused him of ‘exploiting a gullible public’ by putting his name to a detox treatment in his Duchy Originals brand. The £10 Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture relied on ‘superstition and quackery’ rather than science and the range should be re-named ‘Dodgy Originals’, he said.

Prof Ernst, 63, has also blamed a row with the prince’s office five years ago for forcing his early retirement from Exeter’s complementary medicines unit in June – two years early. He attacked a report advocating complementary medicine, commissioned by the prince, as ‘outrageous and deeply flawed’.

This prompted a formal complaint from Sir Michael Peat, the prince’s private secretary. Prof Ernst said he had been cleared after a long investigation but blamed lack of support from the university coupled with lack of research funding for a closure threat to the unit.

He claimed he had offered to go if it would save the unit, and his offer was accepted by Professor Steve Thornton, the new dean of the university’s Peninsula Medical School, who agreed to fund the appointment of a successor. A university spokesman said: ‘We are looking to replace Professor Ernst on his retirement with another specialist in complementary medicine. 'We will support that person to raise funds to enable research to continue, but have earmarked £234,000 to support the centre over the next 12 months.’


Migraines, Michele Bachman, and me

by Jeff Jacoby

WHEN THE DAILY CALLER, a news site based in Washington, DC, reported last week that Michele Bachmann gets migraine headaches, it labored to give the impression that it was breaking an important story.

"Stress-related condition 'incapacitates' Bachmann; heavy pill use alleged," the foreboding headline read. (Cue the grim background music.) The article, by Jonathan Strong, depicted a woman who regularly crumples in the face of stress, reacting to the normal aggravations of political life -- a staffer's resignation, a missed flight -- with "medical episodes" that leave her "incapacitated" for days at a time. To cope, she "takes all sorts of pills. Prevention pills. Pills during the migraine. Pills after the migraine. . . . Pills wherever she goes." These "debilitating" migraines "occur once a week on average," and at least three times have landed Bachmann in the hospital. Her staff must "constantly" consult with doctors to "tweak" their boss's medication.

Bottom line? "Some close to Bachmann fear she won't be equal to the stress of the campaign" and some former aides "are terrified" by the thought of a migraine-prone President Bachmann.

All very melodramatic. But a few things were missing from Strong's account. Like the nature of all those "pills" that Bachmann supposedly takes -- addictive narcotics, or something more innocuous? And the identity of any of the unnamed "former aides" whose allegations the story recycles -- what candidates, if any, are they working for now? Missing too was any evidence that a migraine condition is incompatible with the pressures of the presidency or any other high-powered position.

That's because no such evidence exists.

The health of presidential candidates is of course a legitimate news topic. That's especially true since, to quote the historian Robert Dallek,"concealing one's true medical condition from the voting public is a time-honored tradition of the American presidency."

Gone are the days when a presidential candidate with severe medical problems could brazenly claim to be in excellent health and expect to get away with it. During and after the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy -- who suffered from Addison's disease, colitis, urinary tract infections, and the near-crippling pain of degenerative back problems -- took what Dallek called "an extraordinary variety of medications," including steroids, painkillers, antibiotics, and anti-spasmodics. Yet with the help of a friendly press, the Kennedy machine easily downplayed JFK's afflictions; The New York Times, quoting an article in a medical magazine, described him as being in "superb physical condition."

Neither Bachmann nor any other 2012 candidate would get that kind of pass today. By the same token, no candidate should be subjected to anonymous media rumormongering about her health or medical fitness.

Migraine headaches are a uniquely painful misery, as I can attest from long personal experience, but they are not stroke or heart disease or polio or Alzheimer's. At their worst, migraine attacks can involve hours of throbbing head pain, as well as blind spots and other visual abnormalities, intense nausea, chills, and tears streaming from one eye. "That no one dies of migraine," Joan Didion wrote in a famous essay, "seems, to someone deep into an attack, an ambiguous blessing." Such attacks terrified me when I was young; I vividly remember wondering, as an 11- or 12-year-old, if I was dying of brain cancer. Not until I was in college did I learn that my agonies had a name, and that I wasn't the only one to experience them.

More than 35 million Americans suffer from occasional or chronic migraine; many, Bachmann included, control their symptoms with medication. Far from popping "pills wherever she goes," however, she takes medicine only when she has an attack. According to Congress's attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, Bachmann's migraines "occur infrequently" and are helped by sumatriptan, a standard drug for relieving the dilation of blood vessels that causes migraine pain, and odansetron, an anti-nausea drug.

Could someone with a migraine condition be president of the United States? Ask Thomas Jefferson.

In my case, age, not medicine, seems to have been the best therapy; when my odometer passed 40, the migraine attacks started growing less severe. But even before then, migraine wasn't a paralyzing disability. The headaches hurt like hell, but they didn't keep me from getting an education or holding a job. I don't recommend giving a speech or going on TV while having a migraine, but I've managed to do both. I imagine Bachmann has too. Her migraines plainly haven't slowed her impressive rise in national politics, or kept her from setting the GOP primary field on fire. If she were "incapacitated" on a weekly basis, it's unlikely she'd have come so far, so fast.

So is it news that a would-be president once complained of migraine attacks that are "paroxysms of excruciating pain" -- headaches that "came on every day at sunrise and never left me till sunset"? No -- not unless it's news that Thomas Jefferson, who wrote those words, suffered migraines. Ulysses Grant did, too.

Could Michele Bachmann become the next US president? I have no idea. But this much I do know: She wouldn't be the first one to live with migraine headaches.


25 July, 2011

Losing weight on the diet? It won't last

More evidence of the futility of the obesity "war". The war is about control, not health. Controlling people gets a Leftist's rocks off

Scientists have come to a depressing conclusion for dieters: once you are fat, chances are you will stay so. They have found that while diets may help in the short term, the vast majority of dieters just put the weight back on afterwards.

Once people start to pile on the pounds in middle age their weight tends to continue "relentlessly upwards", according to a long-term study of 25,000 men and women.

Rather than concentrate efforts on diets, health campaigners should focus their efforts on stopping people getting fat in the first place, concluded the team from the Government-funded Medical Research Council.

Their work found that, while 12 million try a diet every year, only 10 per cent manage to lose a significant amount of weight. Of those that do, most will put it back on within a year.

They followed the lives of 5,362 men and women born in 1946, and 20,000 more born in 1958, who are part of the MRC's ongoing National Survey of Health and Development.

Rebecca Hardy, from the MRC, told The Sunday Times: "Both groups began increasing in weight in the 1980s and since then people have been increasing in mass all through life.

"For men it goes up steadily through life. For women it starts slowly and accelerates in the mid-thirties. Once people become overweight they continue relentlessly upwards. They hardly ever go back down. "A few lose weight but very few get back to normal. The best policy is to prevent people becoming overweight."

However, the team also said that while diets might not make much of an impact on the weighing scales, they often helped make people healthier by getting them to eat better foods and take more exercise.

About six in 10 adult Britons are either overweight or obese, a figure which is steadily rising.


Can silk cure thrush?

This seems a remarkably silly study. Silk underwear was impregnated with antifungals and the reduction in thrush was attributed to the silk rather than the antifungals!

Ever wondered why Marilyn Monroe – wearing nothing but Chanel No 5 – preferred to sleep on silk sheets? Or why the mother of singer/actress Jane Birkin advised her: “When you’ve got nothing left… get into silk underwear and start reading Proust.”

New research suggests the sensuous fabric isn’t just practical shorthand for allure and intimacy, it also appears to be associated with healing qualities that range from easing the symptoms of the menopause, to anti-ageing, and, most recently, relieving recurrent thrush.

The study, a double-blind clinical trial at the University of Bologna, Italy, concluded that a new range of silk underwear dramatically reduced the itching and redness that can accompany persistent and recurrent vaginal thrush. This fungal infection is common, affecting three in four women at some point in their lives, and for one in 20 it will recur more than four times a year.

Typical treatment in persistent cases is with fluconazole (Diflucan), an anti-fungal agent.

The Bologna team asked half the women in its trial to try DermaSilk Intimo briefs, made from a special silk fabric developed by the Italian firm Alpretec.

The remaining 50 per cent wore cotton; neither group, nor their doctors, were told which fabric was being investigated, and the treated silk actually felt more like a cotton-type fabric than chic lingerie. After six months, about 90 per cent of the group wearing silk found their symptoms reduced, and recurrence of the infection was halved.

So how exactly could silk help? Candida albicans, the yeast that causes thrush, thrives in warm, moist conditions. The briefs are made from fibroin, a medical-grade silk that absorbs excess moisture.

It is also impregnated with an antimicrobial agent that kills a wide range of bacteria and fungi on contact, including C. albicans, and never loses its full activity even with regular washing. It should be pointed out that Alpretec funded the research, but the briefs are part of a clothing range that is now available on NHS prescription.


24 July, 2011

Review of The Great Cholesterol Con by Dr Malcolm Kendrick (John Blake 270 pp)

A useful review by Dr. Alick Dowling, originally presented to the Bristol MedChi society in May ‘07

The Bristol MedChi Society’s programme this year featured “Doctors under Pressure”. Dr Kendrick’s book is relevant, because he is a maverick outsider, tilting at an established theory. “Doctors under Pressure” is also relevant to GPs, in thrall to a policy, imposed by the Department of Health’s setting targets: cholesterol levels to be measured and lowered by statins. It is the GPs and perhaps the advising cardiologists who will be blamed if it turns out that statins were not the best answer.

Readers of the book who start at the back – a surprising number do so – will be impressed by the final Postscript, moderate, full of common sense and in agreement with much of what the medical mainstream has been saying for years. Turn to the Introduction and readers will be faced with a critical view of the Diet-Heart/Cholesterol Hypothesis, presented with mordant humour not perhaps to everyone’s taste, but preferable to the paternalistic material that comes from the DoH.
An example:
“Frankly, the idea that an inanimate molecule can suck cholesterol out of a plaque is so laughable that I can’t begin to explain here how preposterous an idea it is. And moreover, I would challenge any scientist anywhere to explain exactly how it happens. A molecule that travels both ways through a concentration gradient? ‘Of course it does, now run away and play with your friends and leave the adults alone.’

When Dr Kendrick warns about unrecognised dangers of statins, his style changes.
“Taking a statin is now viewed, among doctors, as akin to taking a multivitamin or low-dose aspirin. If this book achieves nothing else but start a debate on this issue, then I will be perfectly content. Perhaps you think statins are harmless, so it doesn’t really matter all that much? Well if you are a foetus, statins are not harmless at all. But be afraid, be very afraid. In April 2004 an article appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine – ‘Central nervous system and limb anomalies in case reports of first trimester statin exposure. Though contraindicated in pregnancy they found 52 confirmed cases of birth defects, as high as anything found with thalidomide and with more serious defects. With statins now available over the counter in the UK there is an increasing danger that warnings about taking statins in pregnancy will go unheeded.”
How many of us know this? The current debate about side effects of statins since a recent article by Dr James Le Fanu is another reason to consider Dr Kendrick’s approach.

Sweeping it under the carpet is not an option when so many people have access to the Internet. His essay on the subject in Panic Nation (2005) demolishing the Great Cholesterol Myth has not been challenged, and now he develops the theme with detailed references starting with the emphasis that cholesterol is vital for our physiology. The case of cholesterol is controversial. Demonised as a cause of heart attacks, cholesterol is a vital component in our body, being a precursor of important enzymes. Its blood level is the cause of much anxiety, made worse by the assumption that its level in the bloodstream is related to the cholesterol in our diet.

Physiologists know this is not true. The cholesterol in our blood comes not from cholesterol in our diet but from what we each manufacture in our livers ourselves. Supporters of the Atkins Diet claim his high-fat diet does not raise cholesterol levels. This suggests natural levels are less susceptible to influence by diet or drugs than many believe.

Should we concern ourselves with the opinion of one doctor who has chosen to challenge the ‘consensus’ about the dangers of high cholesterol levels? Yes:

a) because the ‘consensus’ has often been wrong. Dr Kendrick gives examples:
“Another leech anybody, or perhaps a radical mastectomy, or a tonsillectomy, or a removal of toxic colon? What about that old chestnut ‘no bacteria can live in the human stomach? And ‘strict bed rest following a heart attack’ – how many millions did that kill?”

b) because Richard Feynman, Physicist said:
“Of all the many values of Science the greatest must be the freedom to doubt.”

The DoH, through public health campaigns, promotes false information demonising cholesterol as uniquely harmful. It is surprising that so many have accepted this view, including the absurdities of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol. Edicts from the Department of Health pronouncing official policy, with targets set for GPs, do not inspire confidence. They come with the stamp of certitude, never a suggestion of possible error. The DoH discourages those who question its policies, yet certainties have recently been overturned, as in the case of the organism Helicobacter pylori causing peptic ulcer.

The U-turn regarding ‘Helicobacter pylori’ was not an isolated event. Previous reversals of treatment have been accepted by the DoH, usually ungraciously. We must follow Professor Feynman’s advice and we must doubt – even those of us with perhaps a natural reluctance to question advice from Government sources. We must also confront advice that conflicts with physiology or common sense, both of which apply to the edict that we should believe saturated fat and cholesterol intake affects blood levels.

Though dismissed by the establishment as a lone voice that can be ignored, there are many who support Dr Kendrick’s stance. Dr Richard Asher (1912-1969), a much admired medical educator wrote in 1968, when clofibrate was promoted to reduce cholesterol levels:
“Please do not write any more articles about cholesterol and coronary disease and the diet and drugs which are supposed to influence them. The facts about coronary disease are these: the less atheromatous your ancestors, the harder your tap water, and the more habitual exercise you take, the less likely you are to be troubled by it. Do stop bothering about whether your fats are saturated or unsaturated, help yourselves liberally to butter and stop propagating these erroneous legends.”
Richard Asher also said
“to name something by its supposed cause, whether or not that cause is the right one, is a very serious mistake. However sure of a cause clinicians may be, a diagnostic label must be descriptive and not causal.”
He deplored unconfirmed diagnoses being used, because this perpetuated error and delayed proper evaluation of the condition. A modern example is using the name: Diet-Heart cholesterol syndrome. Many years previously Asher had used cholesterol levels when assessing the dosage of thyroid for myxoedematous patients so he was familiar with their capricious levels. He never thought they had any relevance to heart disease.

The structure of Dr Kendrick’s book is impressive, though the list of Contents does not make this immediately clear – too many of the important sub-headings are buried in the text of the longer chapters. Chapter 1 is not contentious; a description of heart attacks follows mainstream thinking and research.

In Chapter 2 & 3 Dr Kendrick surveys cholesterol (‘good’ and ‘bad’), saturated fats and unsaturated, lipoproteins and triglycerides and disentangles the misnaming and complexities of these and much else.

Chapter 4, the shortest is about statins, prefaced by a quotation “One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine: Sir William Osler (1849-1919).

Chapter 5 describes the rise of the Cholesterol Hypothesis, and in Chapter 6 subtitled “Diet Has Nothing to do with Heart Disease” Dr Kendrick starts to dismantle the diet-heart hypothesis in 21 pages, finishing with a Postscript of favourite quotes.

Chapter 7 The longest: Though many researchers have given up on the idea of the diet part of the diet/heart hypothesis, Kendrick is more isolated in challenging the cholesterol part. He writes as a convert. He used to believe that raised cholesterol levels caused heart disease. However when he realized that raised cholesterol levels were not a risk factor for strokes he had to revise his opinions, and this chapter is the heart of the book. Some readers might find it hard going, but his enthusiasm and style make it worth persevering.

Chapter 8 is the last in this section, entitled Statins and Heart Disease, and involves Dr Kendrick in assessing the many studies that have been made on this controversial subject. He has learnt how to recognize the weasel words that conceal rather than reveal the truth. ‘Might indicate’ ‘could show’ etc. Statistical evidence is often hard to judge – most doctors have had no training in this and Kendrick’s advice is enlightening:
How to do Scientific Studies – for Five-Year-Olds.

Rule 1 If you have more than one uncontrolled variable in your study you can’t prove anything.

Rule 2 If you think you have proved something in a study with more than one uncontrolled variable, Rule 1 shall apply.

Chapters 9, 10 & 11 (63 pages) are in effect a 2nd book (two for the price of one!) and provide an alternative hypothesis for the question What Causes Heart Disease. Readers who are not particularly interested in the ins and outs of cholesterol might well start with this part of the book – perhaps having already read the postscript, but we should at least do Dr Kendrick the courtesy of reading his book when he has taken the trouble to provide so much supporting evidence for his contention.

There are of course criticisms to be made of such an ambitious venture. The number of acronyms can be bewildering– an alphabetical list of them could easily be provided and if these were indexed the lack of a general Index would be easier to bear. An expanded list of Contents would help readers who wanted to refer back or forward.

Most medical readers will learn something new from this wide enthusiastic survey of current treatment for heart disease.

Disclosure: I am grateful to Professor Stanley Feldman, Professor Vincent Marks and the 16 other contributors to the essays: “Unpicking the Myths we’re told about Food and Health” – the subtitle of Panic Nation published July 2005. Many subjects, including Dr Malcolm Kendrick’s essay The Great Cholesterol Myth, considered in Panic Nation provide scientific justification for assertions made earlier on common sense grounds in Enjoy Eating Less. It is a relief to find such a raft of expert opinion to sustain them.

Received direct from author

Seaweed 'is natural way to protect the heart' as algae helps bring down blood pressure

This is all theory. No clinical evidence is presented

It's hardly the most appetising vegetable side dish. But tucking into a clump of seaweed at dinner time could help stave off heart attacks, say researchers. They have discovered key ingredients in the plant that help lower blood pressure, similar to commonly prescribed drugs.

According to a major study, seaweed is a rich source of proteins known as bioactive peptides – which are also found in milk. These chemicals have a similar effect to ACE inhibitor drugs, which are widely prescribed to help lower blood pressure and prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Seaweed is rarely eaten in Britain but has been a staple of the Japanese diet for centuries. Popular varieties include Wakame, used in miso soup, Kombu, and Nori, which is dried and used to wrap sushi.

One of the few types eaten by Britons is the red seaweed called laver, which is used to make laver bread. But experts insist many of the clumps found on our beaches are, in fact, edible. Dr Maria Hayes, of the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Dublin, said seaweed - known as macroalgae - was an 'untapped source' of these healthy ingredients.

The research, published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, looked at evidence from 100 other studies. It called for more effort to exploit the bioactive compounds and 'their potential for use and delivery to consumers in food products'.

The report stated: 'The variety of macroalga species and the environments in which they are found and their ease of cultivation make macroalgae a relatively untapped source of new bioactive compounds, and more efforts are needed to fully exploit their potential for use and delivery to consumers in food products.'

Seaweed is very low in calories and some scientists claim it helps weight loss by preventing the absorption of fat. Japanese researchers recently found that rats fed a certain type of seaweed lost 10 per cent of their weight.


23 July, 2011

Affordable Healthy Food is in the Eye of the Bill-holder

This past Wednesday, Michelle Obama hosted a press conference where she detailed the latest progress on her Let’s Move campaign. It seems she has shifted her focus from exterminating characters marketing unhealthy foods, and decided instead to pretty much shove broccoli and Brussels sprouts into people’s faces.

She announced that corporate giants such as Walgreens and Walmart have joined her fight to provide healthy food to under-served, low-income areas. The pledges from these and other companies promise to create thousands of jobs and bring healthy, affordable food to almost five million people. (And who said world peace wasn’t possible?)

Walgreens pledged to created “food oasis” stores that would provide such amenities as ready-made meals and fresh, pre-cut fruit, promising to create more than 6,000 jobs. Walmart said that it would make an effort to make all its food a little healthier and improve more than 300 stores, estimated to create 40,000 jobs. And several other smaller stores signed up to do their part for the cause.

At first glance, this program seems harmless. A bunch of stores are promising to supply healthier, more affordable items to their consumers, what could possibly be bad about that?

Well, as with everything in life, all good things come at a cost. In this case, $35 million of the proposed budget for 2011 alone and $300 million for 2012, all coming from the already over-stretched taxpayer pockets, which seeing as Obama’s idea of stimulating the economy is taking from those who work and giving to those who don’t, will largely be paid by the upper 2 percent. A demographic that is very likely not to be counted among those who are “under-served.”

So to recap, Michele Obama plans to propose $335 million in spending, in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades, in order to put more fruit on the shelves of the American people. It is understandable to want to try and discourage obesity by advocating for a healthier diet, but quite another to dedicate portions of the national budget to impose lifestyle choices on communities that may not even want it.

The First Lady said herself that it was up to the communities to decipher what their specific needs were, so what if some “at-risk, under-served” communities want to keep their McDonald’s and KFC and aren’t keen on having a Walgreens “food oasis,” but need the jobs it could [potentially] provide? The program lures American’s in with its promise of jobs (as good as tying steak to yourself and jumping in a shark tank) and then locking them into food choices that they might not otherwise make without them realizing what it all meant (this is the part where the shark tears you in half).

Never mind the fact that people have the ability to choose what they eat, and have been choosing what types of food to consume, despite the selection provided for them. Fresh fruit is already sold in a multitude of stores, from big-name supermarkets, to corner stores and even 7Eleven. So why do we need to build more places to buy these items when they are already readily available in locations typically situated in “under-served” areas?

It seems that what Ms. Obama really wants to do is to take her idea of how Americans should eat, and force it on those who are unable to refuse her. Lower income, under-served communities need jobs more than any other demographic in this country and Michele thinks that they also need better nutritional habits.

In order to do that, she is using her bully pulpit to partner the gigantic new healthy food-bearing stores with the promise of increased jobs for those in need. She could have offered them anything and as long as it came with jobs, the communities would be on board.

What our nation needs right now is to focus on our debt, which will only be further exacerbated by the enormous spending increases suggested by this program. People will eat fruit if they want to, or Big Mac’s if they want to and a shiny new store with a big electric sign advertising “Healthy Food Sold Here!” isn’t going to change their minds.


The Pretense of Medical Knowledge

Like his mentor Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek spent his academic career trying to expose the central planner's pretense of economic knowledge. In doing so, Hayek referred to "the knowledge problem." In explaining it, he writes,
The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.…

If we can agree that the economic problem of society is mainly one of rapid adaptation to changes in the particular circumstances of time and place, it would seem to follow that the ultimate decisions must be left to the people who are familiar with these circumstances, who know directly of the relevant changes and of the resources immediately available to meet them. We cannot expect that this problem will be solved by first communicating all this knowledge to a central board that, after integrating all knowledge, issues its orders. We must solve it by some form of decentralization.[1]

Hayek and Mises strongly believed in decentralization because they believed that certainty regarding how to solve economic problems was impossible to attain, and that the best answers could only be arrived at through the spontaneous and uncoordinated actions of millions of individuals interacting freely within the marketplace.

They believed that steering the economy through a centrally planned, one-size-fits-all approach could never account for the thousands of degrees of variation within different individuals' operative knowledge, personal preferences, access to resources, etc. For these reasons, Mises and Hayek feared the unintended consequences of government planning, and rightly pointed out that such planning would necessarily block innovation and inject systemic risk into the system by preventing the market from routinely ferreting out poor practices.

To be clear, Mises and Hayek did not believe that markets were incapable of error. In fact, they believed that market participants would continually make mistakes, but that these mistakes would be corrected more quickly in market conditions than under conditions where government made the rules and had a vested interest in ensuring a certain outcome. I strongly believe that the history of the last century vindicates these men and the Austrian School in general. However, the purpose of this paper is not to explain how government intervention in general and "the knowledge problem" in particular have been responsible for any particular economic problem (that is better left to others), but rather to explain how the knowledge problem has profound implications for my own profession.

One can broaden Hayek's economic knowledge problem to include the practice of medicine by changing only a few key words in the above passage from Individualism and Economic Order.
The peculiar character of the problem of a rational medical order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which patients and physicians must use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate patients and their physicians possess.…

If we can agree that the medical problem of society is mainly one of rapid adaptation to changes in the particular circumstances of time and place, it would seem to follow that the ultimate decisions must be left to the physicians and patients who are familiar with these circumstances, who know directly of the relevant changes and of the resources immediately available to meet them. We cannot expect that this problem will be solved by first communicating all this knowledge to a central board which, after integrating all knowledge, issues its orders. We must solve it by some form of decentralization.

The idea of decentralization, critical to Mises, Hayek, and the Austrian School in general, is diametrically opposed to the prevailing trend to centralize medical decision making. All those who follow this trend share one thing in common: a false sense of certainty that medical decisions, previously made between the individual patient and his physician, can be better guided by an enlightened set of standardized practices determined by groups of experts (i.e., the Independent Payment Advisory Board). In my opinion, those who believe that medical decision making should be centralized are as misguided as those who believe that the federal government, in concert with the central bank, has perfect knowledge of the policies required to grow the economy.

Ultimately, medicine is practiced, not in black and white, but in shades of gray. This is not to say that "the state of medicine is worse than that of total ignorance," as Thomas Jefferson opined in a 1799 letter written to William Green Munford. Quite the contrary; we have developed an impressive, albeit incomplete, understanding of the states of sickness and health all the way down to the molecular level. Even so, it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to say for sure how any individual patient will respond to a particular therapy or surgery, or what the prognosis in days, months, or years will be for any individual patient's disease course. But despite this, institutional experts, central planners in Washington, trial lawyers, and their expert witnesses abandon all humility and insist that if something is done a certain way then a certain medical outcome can be or would have been achieved.

Often such assertions are based on scientific studies, but at best these studies can only help us to make generalizations about populations of patients; they do not tell us about any individual patient in particular. For example, a study might measure the blood-pressure responses of a group of 500 patients receiving drug A and a group of 500 patients receiving a placebo. If those receiving drug A experienced a 10-point decline in their blood pressure compared to the placebo group, all I could tell the patient sitting in front of me is that "in a study that compared drug A to a placebo, the group that took drug A, on average, experienced a 10-point decline in their blood pressure." I can't say with any certainty that the patient in front of me will experience a 10-point decline; he may experience a 20-point decline or no decline at all. Furthermore, he may also have an adverse reaction to the drug that cancels out any potential benefit.

When deciding whether or not to suggest drug A to my patient, I must take into account many factors. For example, if drug A has a narrow therapeutic window and a dangerous side-effect profile, I may not recommend it if my patient is taking multiple other medications or if he often has trouble taking medications correctly. These issues could increase the patient's chance of experiencing serious or even life-threatening side effects, thereby ultimately limiting the drug's potential benefits.

I also need to consider the context of the patient's overall health status. For example, is it worth subjecting the patient to another medication in the context of his other issues? Do the benefits of lowering his blood pressure outweigh the risks of the therapy? How I answer these questions will depend on how I interpret the data from published studies. These are just a few of the many considerations that I, as the physician, need to bear in mind.

Then there are the patient's considerations. He may not desire to take more pills in the setting of an already-large medication burden — many patients feel that medications have insidious effects that make them feel fatigued or miserable even in the absence of a major complication. Alternatively, a patient may opt to try diet and exercise to lower blood pressure before starting a medication. These are just two of the many considerations the patient needs to make.

Now, to restate the point made by Hayek, my patient and I cannot expect that the decision whether or not to take drug A (or to undergo a certain diagnostic study or surgical procedure) will be solved by first communicating all the knowledge we have separately, in addition to that gained through our own physician-patient relationship, to a central board which, after integrating all knowledge, issues its orders. It seems absurd. Unfortunately, this is the direction medicine has been heading for decades now.

One (perhaps the most ill-conceived) manifestation of central planning and the arrogance of medical knowledge is the government's endorsement of "pay-for-performance" measures.

Meeting these measures often requires strict adherence to professional guidelines. And while I see no problem in voluntary organizations making guidelines to be used as general recommendations for their members to follow, I see a major problem when guidelines become dogma. When this occurs,

1). Patients are no longer viewed and treated like unique individuals; instead, they are treated like numbers on an actuarial table.

2). Physicians are no longer regarded by society (and themselves) as thoughtful and caring practitioners; instead, they are regarded as mindless automatons.

At worst, strict adherence to guidelines can subject the individual patient to significant harm. Take for example the real-life case of blood-pressure management in the outpatient setting. Several professional organizations and task forces advise trying to get patients to reach a low blood-pressure number (i.e., <130/80). Unfortunately, this recommendation is most likely an overreach — as many physicians have suspected all along. More recent data suggests that aggressive treatment may increase the risk of serious side effects without conferring a survival advantage.[2]

Leading thinking in the field now considers the question of how best to manage blood pressure as significantly more nuanced and subject to many individual factors.[3] Despite this, pay-for-performance measures still indiscriminately endorse the attainment of low blood-pressure targets. In this case, forced adherence to overly simplistic guidelines is likely subjecting many patients to the potential harm of overly aggressive blood-pressure treatment.[4]

In conclusion, the study of medicine is a science, and science helps us to understand ourselves and the world in which we live.

As to this, there is no doubt. However, while science provides many answers, it provokes at least as many new questions. For this reason, medicine has always been considered both a science and an art. The art involves applying medical science, which is often unsettled, always changing, and still rapidly advancing, to the cases of individual human beings, who are unique in an infinite number of ways.

For both the advancement of the field and the well-being of patients, we should hope this art is not co-opted by governing elites (including those with an MD or MPH after their name) who believe that practicing medicine is as easy as checking off boxes and interpreting numbers on a computer screen. Such a simplistic view is undoubtedly a fatal conceit.


22 July, 2011

An unprecedented 1 in 66 Americans is a diagnosed psychotic

In the usual Leftist way the story below blames drug companies for decisions made by doctors -- showing the usual Leftist contempt for everyone but themselves. The power of intellectual fashions is ignored.

In a related matter, my GP says that he often tries to talk parents out of a referral to a psychiatrist for their child -- telling them that their son is just a perfectly normal lively little boy. But the parents believe teachers who in turn want a more docile class and so insist on a referral

So blame lazy Leftist teachers for all the kids on Ritalin

In the matter below note that is often nursing home managers who demand antipsychotic medications as a "chemical cosh" for difficult inmates. It's their own self-intertest, not drug salesmen, who motivate their demands

For whatever reason, however, there is clearly a huge amount of overmedication

Outselling even common drugs to treat high blood pressure and acid reflux, antipsychotic medications are the single top-selling prescription drug in the United States.

Once reserved for hard-core, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest type of mental illnesses to treat hallucinations, delusions or major thought disorders; today, the drugs are handed out to unruly kids and absent minded elderly.

A recent story in Al Jazeera by James Ridgeway of Mother Jones illuminates the efforts by major pharmaceutical companies to get doctors prescribing medicines like Zyprexa, Seroquel, and Abilify to patients for whom the drugs were never intended.

Focusing on psychiatrists because they rely on subjective diagnoses, the drug reps have been so successful that they've changed the criteria for mental illness and disability payments. Ridgeway quotes former New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell.

"[T]he tally of those who are so disabled by mental disorders that they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) increased nearly two and a half times between 1987 and 2007 - from one in 184 Americans to one in seventy-six. For children, the rise is even more startling - a thirty-five-fold increase in the same two decades. Mental illness is now the leading cause of disability in children."

Particularly vulnerable because medication decisions are often out of their hands the old and the young suffer most.

For kids: the number diagnosed with bi-polar disorder rose 40-fold between 1994 and 2003 and one in five comes away from a psychiatrist with a prescription for an antipsychotic.

Dosing the elderly at nursing homes has become so common that sales reps have coined the term "five at five" -- meaning 5 milligrams of Zyprexa at 5 pm to sedate difficult residents.

For all their nefarious wrangling, in 2009, Lily agreed to pay $1.4 billion, including a $515 million criminal fine. The largest ever in a health care case and the largest criminal fine on any corporation in the U.S. That year, Lilly sold $1.8 billion of Zyprexa alone.


More evidence that high IQ is just one aspect of general biological good functioning

Since the studies by Terman & Oden in the 1920s it has been known that, although not all high IQ people are healthy, most are. They have fewer health problems and live longer. And IQ is the main determinant of educational success, so the findings below are as expected. Kids born with indications of poor health have lower IQs so do less well at school

A health test given to babies minutes after they are born could reveal how well they will do in secondary school, it has been claimed. A study of 877,000 Swedish teenagers compared school exam results with their Apgar scores after birth.

The Apgar is a test which rates the newborn's health on a scale of one to ten and how much medical attention the child needs.

Researchers found a link between an Apgar score of below seven and lower intelligence in later life.

Dr. Andrea Stuart, an obstetrician at Central Hospital in Helsingborg, Sweden, told Msnbc: 'It is not the Apgar score in itself that leads to lower cognitive abilities. 'It is the reasons leading to a low Apgar score (including asphyxiation, preterm delivery, maternal drug use, infections) that might have an impact on future brain function.'

The study appears in next month's issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The Apgar test is given between one and five minutes after birth. It evaluates an infant's heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, skin colour and reflex irritability (sneezing or coughing) on a scale of one to ten. Scores of eight and above are considered to be signs of good health. The test was developed by Dr Virginia Apgar in 1952 and has been a simple and effective way of testing a baby's health since.

Researchers also made the point that only one in 44 newborns with a low Apgar score went on to need special education, so mothers of babies who had low scores did not have cause for concern.

Dr Richard Polin, director of neonatology at Columbia University Medical Center and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn, said: 'Most babies who have Apgar scores of seven or less do perfectly fine.'


21 July, 2011

Vegetarian diet 'helps protect against common bowel disorder'

More speculation. Vegetarians undoubtedly differ from normals in all sorts of ways. They probably take more care of their health generally, for instance. They may also do more exercise and are usually slimmer. So there is no knowing which factor led to the reduced bowel disorder observed

A vegetarian diet could help protect against a common bowel disorder, research has suggested. Vegetarians were found to be a third less likely to get diverticular disease, a condition thought to be caused by eating too little fibre. It causes cramps, bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhoea.

A study led by Dr Francesca Crowe from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, published online by the British Medical Journal, looked at 47,033 British adults, of whom 15,459 were vegetarian.

After an average follow-up of 11.6 years, there were 812 cases of diverticular disease. Vegetarians in the group had a 30% lower risk of having the disease, compared to those who ate meat, fish or both.

The authors said the reason could be the consumption of meat altering the metabolism of bacteria in the colon, and therefore weakening the colon wall and increasing the risk of diverticular disease. They found nothing significant about the amount of meat eaten.

The potential protective benefits of vegetarianism could be obtained even in a short time, the study found.

There also seemed to be a link between eating more fibre and being at lower risk of the disease. Patients who consumed the most fibre, more than 25.5g per day for women and more than 26.1g for men, had a 42% lower risk than those who ate less than 14g per day.


Why taller women are a third more likely to be diagnosed with cancer

This is one finding that is NOT due to social class, as upper class women tend to be taller. Anecdotes prove nothing but I cannot help mentioning that for a time in Britain, I went out with a woman who was 5'10" tall, which is tall for a woman. She traced her ancestry back 1,000 years. On the principle of parsimony, the explanation for the finding below is most likely to be the one I have highlighted in red

Taller women are more likely to get cancer, research reveals today. Their risk of developing some of the most common forms is up to a third greater.

Scientists believe being tall may increase the levels of certain hormones known to trigger tumours.

A study carried out at Oxford University found the risk of cancer increased by around 16 per cent with every four inches of height. The scientists studied the link between height and ten of the most common forms of cancer including breast, bowel, kidney, womb, ovarian and leukaemia by looking at the medical records of one million British women. They found those who were 5ft 9in tall were more than 33 per cent more likely to get cancer than those who were just 5ft.

Researchers say the link may explain why cancer rates have risen so much over the past few decades when our average height has also progressively increased. Over the course of the last century the height of adults in Europe has gone up by more than a third of an inch (1cm) every ten years. And figures show that cancer rates have increased by about 3 per cent every decade. The scientists suggest an increase in height can explain up to 15 per cent of the rise in cancer cases seen over the past century.

They believe one reason for the link is that tall girls tend to start puberty earlier and this is when their bodies begin producing large amounts of the hormone oestrogen, known to trigger the growth of tumours.

The scientists also point out taller people have more cells in their body so they have a higher chance that one will become cancerous.

Jane Green, from the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, said: ‘The fact the link between height and cancer risk seems to be common to many different types of cancer suggests there may be a basic common mechanism, perhaps acting early in peoples’ lives, when they are growing. ‘Of course people cannot change their height. And being taller has been linked to a lower risk of other conditions, such as heart disease.’

Sara Hiom, director of health information, at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Tall people need not be alarmed. Most people are not a lot taller than average and their height will only have a small effect on their individual cancer risk. ‘This study confirms the link between height and cancer paving the way for studies to help us understand why this is so.’

This study only involved women so it is not clear whether tall men are at risk. But past research has linked height with increases in prostate and testicular cancer.


20 July, 2011

Passive smoking harms hearing of teenagers

I abhor smoking but the report below is sheer nonsense. Working class people are more likely to smoke and have more hearing loss. That is all that they have detected. Yet another crappy study dedicated to condemning sidestream smoke

Teenagers exposed to second-hand smoke are twice as likely to suffer hearing loss, according to research. The findings add to the catalogue of health problems already attributed to second-hand smoke, including increased risks of asthma, heart disease and lung cancer.

Teens exposed to second-hand smoke were more likely to have ‘sensorineural’ hearing loss, which is usually caused by problems with the cochlea, the snail-shaped hearing organ of the inner ear. Scientists think passive smoking affects the blood supply to the area.

The damage caused makes it harder for the person to understand speech and has been linked to poor academic performance and disruptive behaviour in school.

Study author Dr Michael Weitzman, from New York University’s school of medicine, said: ‘It’s the type of hearing loss that usually tends to occur as one gets older, or among children born with congenital deafness.’

Dr Weitzman studied more than 1,500 teenagers aged 12 to 19. They were given extensive hearing tests along with blood tests for the chemical cotinine, a substance produced when the body breaks down nicotine. Those teens exposed to second-hand smoke, as measured by cotinine in their blood, were more likely to have sensorineural hearing loss than those who were not passive smokers.

Results of the study, published in journal Archives of Otolaryngology, which deals with head and neck surgery, also showed that more than four out of five affected were not aware of it.

Study co-author Dr Anil Lalwani, from the department of paediatrics at NYU’s school of medicine, said: ‘More than half of all children in the U.S. are exposed to second-hand smoke, so our finding has huge public health implications.’ He added: ‘Milder hearing loss is not necessarily noticeable. Thus, simply asking someone whether they think they have hearing loss is insufficient.’

Dr Weitzman added: ‘The consequences of mild hearing loss are subtle yet serious. ‘Affected children can have difficulty understanding what is being said in the classroom and become distracted. As a result, they may be labelled as troublemakers or misdiagnosed with ADHD.’


Cholesterol at danger level? Why your doctor could be wrong

By John Naish

Recently I broke a strict personal rule by undergoing a complete private health screening. I’d always rigorously avoided such things, but this was obligatory for work. The battery of tests did the exact thing that I feared. It revealed a potential health problem I had never previously known — nor worried — about. The results showed I have high total cholesterol. Mine is 6.6mmol/l — the target is 5.1.

But I won’t be rushing to my family doctor. That’s because as a health journalist, I’ve seen the way the ‘danger’ threshold for cholesterol has been revised steadily down. Twenty years ago, I would have been well inside the ‘healthy’ category (back then you had to be over 7.6 to be considered unhealthy).

But am I being wise to ignore this warning? A new book by an expert on medical screening strongly vindicates my position. As author Dr H. Gilbert Welch explains: ‘There are many conditions that you can now be labelled with simply because you are on the wrong side of a number, not because you have any symptoms.’

Take diabetes — earlier this month it was revealed the NHS is lowering the threshold for diagnosing type 2 diabetes. As a result, the number of cases could rise by 20 per cent — a massive number. That means thousands more people will be treated for the condition without necessarily having any symptoms.

This is just another example of what Dr Welch describes as an ‘epidemic’ of overdiagnosis. In other words, physical abnormalities that will most likely lie dormant for the rest of our lives are being detected and treated as if you are actually ill.

Dr Welch, who is professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in Virginia in the U.S., points the finger at our overzealous use of screening — blood tests and scans — which has caused millions of people to believe they are mortally sick when, in fact, they are perfectly healthy.

Worse, it has led countless numbers to take drugs and undergo surgery completely unnecessarily. As a result, they have suffered everything from botched removals of breast lumps to, says Dr Welch, medication-related car crashes.

At the heart of the problem is a change in medical culture over the past three decades. In the past, people didn’t go to the doctor when they were well — they tended to wait until they developed symptoms. And doctors didn’t encourage the healthy to seek care.

But that has changed. ‘Early diagnosis is the goal. People seek care when they are well,’ says Dr Welch.

‘But a patient who has been overdiagnosed cannot benefit from treatment. There’s nothing to be fixed — he or she will neither develop symptoms nor die from their condition — so the treatment is not needed. 'An overdiagnosed patient can only be harmed. And almost all treatments have the potential to do some harm.’

On top of this, there are changes to the thresholds that doctors use to judge if a person is ill or not. Dr Welch points to the example of diabetes. ‘The old rule, from when I was in medical school 30 years ago, was that if you had a blood-sugar level over 140, you had diabetes. But in 1997 experts changed the international definition. 'Now, if you have a reading of more than 126 you have diabetes. That little change turned millions of people into patients.’

As treatment is expanded to people with progressively milder abnormalities such as slightly high blood sugar, their potential to benefit from treatment becomes progressively smaller. But the risk from dangerous side-effects remains much the same.

Another reason for our modern diagnosis epidemic is the fact that we can see more inside the human body — thanks to high-tech machinery such as MRI scanners and CT scanners. They enable doctors to spot things that might be troublesome — even if they aren’t causing trouble and may very well never do so.

When investigators in three separate studies systematically scanned large numbers of healthy people, they found that about 10 per cent have gallstones, even though they have never had symptoms of gall bladder disease. Around 40 per cent show damaged knee cartilage, even though they have never had knee pain. And more than 50 per cent of people who have never had back pain show bulges in the discs in their spine when scanned by MRI.

In another test, in the journal Radiology, when 1,000 people were given total-body CT scans in commercial clinics, even though they had no problem symptoms, 86 per cent had at least one abnormality detected.

So if you go into hospital for broad-scale scanning tests, doctors are almost bound to find something problematic that needs ‘treatment’, even if it wasn’t what they were originally looking for — and even if it is, in fact, never going to cause problems.

The same sort of problem can occur with public-health campaigns such as Britain’s breast-screening programme. The potential dangers of overdiagnosis have even led the president of the Royal College of GPs, Iona Heath, to decline invitations to attend screening sessions.

Advocates of such screening say it prevents diseases, prompts early detection and saves lives — along with millions of pounds of NHS money. But as Dr Heath explains, a study of research evidence by the respected Cochrane Reviews Library ‘suggests that for every 2,000 women invited to screening for ten years, one death from breast cancer will be avoided but that ten women will be overdiagnosed with breast cancer’.

She adds: ‘This overdiagnosis is estimated to result in six extra tumour removals and four extra mastectomies and in 200 women risking significant psychological harm relating to the anxiety triggered by the further investigation of mammographic abnormalities.’

And now we’re entering new realms of disease-seeking, with the advent of DNA testing. Already, numerous commercial enterprises have emerged that will take your DNA and your money, promising to unlock the secrets of your genes.

But while DNA tests can reveal that you have a raised risk of developing one illness and a lower risk of another, ‘for the vast majority of conditions these predictions are inaccurate to the point of being meaningless’, says Dr Welch.

This is because our genes are not our destiny. Factors such as nutrition and harmful exposure to toxins affect human characteristics, even before birth, as does physical and even intellectual activity in childhood. ‘Virtually all of us will have genetic “abnormalities” if we look for them. So the new world of personal genetic testing has the potential to make all of us sick and arguably poses the greatest threat of overdiagnosis of all.’

Dr Welch is careful to say his scepticism is about testing for problems in people who are, to all intents and purposes, entirely well and free from any symptoms. ‘I am not saying that if you have early signs of symptoms of cancer, you shouldn’t go to your doctor,’ he explains.

‘The question is whether your doctor should be screening for cancers when you are well. It can hurt you. It can lead to you being overdiagnosed and treated needlessly.’

As for me, I’m going to stick to my everyday lifestyle — a vegetarian who exercises a lot — rather than start popping pills.


19 July, 2011

Can a "healthy" lifestyle prevent Alzheimer's?

This is the usual nonsense. The researchers themselves found that education was a big factor and education is a social class component. All that they have shown is that Alzheimer's is one of the many ailments that are more frequent in lower class people. That such people have a disapproved-of lifestyle is incidental

Half of all Alzheimer’s disease cases could be prevented by lifestyle changes such as exercise, eating healthily and not smoking, claim researchers. They say hundreds of thousands of patients could potentially avoid the devastating illness by simply changing bad habits.

Around 820,000 people in Briton suffer from dementia, of whom half have Alzheimer’s, and this is expected to rise to a million within the next ten years.

For the first time, scientists have calculated the extent to which certain lifestyle traits – including lack of exercise, smoking and obesity – all contribute to the disease. Researchers found that in the Western world, an inactive ‘couch potato’ lifestyle was the most important possible cause. Smoking, obesity in middle-age, high blood pressure and diabetes all increased the risk. Together, the modifiable risk factors contributed to 50 per cent of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide.

The study, published in the journal Lancet Neurology, found that not going to secondary school also made developing the disease more likely.

The researchers did not explain why education was important in reducing the risk of dementia, but it backs up several major studies that have found that spending years at school and university appeared to protect against memory loss in old age.

Scientists speculate that intense studying may make the brain better equipped to cope with the symptoms.

The Alzheimer’s Society has predicted that by 2021 there will be more than a million Britons living with dementia and this will rise to 1.7million by 2050. The numbers are expected to soar as more people live until their 80s and 90s, when they are at highest risk.

But there is now growing evidence that the disease may be partly caused by unhealthy diets, smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol as they cause damage to blood vessels in the brain, leading to death of brain cells.

The researchers want to carry out more work to find out how many people can prevent the disease by making small changes to their lifestyle.

Lead researcher Deborah Barnes, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California in San Francisco, said certain causes would be more important in different countries.

In the U.S. and UK, for example, most people go to secondary school but many will lead sedentary ‘couch potato’ lifestyles – so a lack of exercise may be more important.

Dr Barnes, who presented the findings at the Alzheimer’s Association international conference in France, said: ‘In our study, what mattered most was how common the risk factors were in the population. For example, in the U.S., about one third of the population is sedentary, so a large number of Alzheimer’s cases are potentially attributable to physical inactivity.

‘Worldwide, low education was more important because literacy rates are lower or people are not educated beyond elementary school. ‘Smoking also contributed to a large percentage of cases.’

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘If further research can prove that the observed risks are causes, then simple changes like quitting smoking and taking regular exercise could have an enormous impact.’


An old scare: Do I pee too frequently?

This seems to be theory and anecdote-based. No evidence is quoted, even though the advice has been around for decades

Dashing to the toilet at every opportunity may be harming your bladder, say experts.

Are you in the habit of always popping to the loo right before you leave the house? Do you avail of every toilet you see when you're out and about – just in case? If so, you may be doing yourself more harm than good with this seemingly innocent habit.

"Some people go to the toilet frequently because they think 'I'd better go before I leave', which you should never do," says Dr Elizabeth Farrell, a gynecologist with the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women's Health. "Frequent trips to the toilet means your bladder never gets a chance to fill up. Then because it never reaches its full volume - it shrinks."

So how many times a day should the average person urinate? "The normal range is between four and six times a day, including up to two visits to the loo during the night," explains Dr Farrell. In other words, once every four hours is considered normal. "Certainly anything under two hours would be too frequent," she adds.

Of course, there are a few factors that influence the frequency of voiding. "It's very dependent on how much you drink and your bladder capacity," says Dr Cindy Pan. "Sometimes people over drink with water, giving themselves urgency of the bladder. Other things that can stimulate the bladder include caffeine, soft drinks and spicy foods." Being dehydrated or suffering from interstitial cystitis are triggers too, adds Dr Farrell.

Getting help and taking steps to rectify the issue is vital to avoid bladder problems later in life, says Dr Farrell. "It is a significant constraint and some women are socially isolated because of it," she explains. "I have patients who come in and say they know where every toilet in the city is, because they're afraid that if they can't find a loo they'll wet themselves."

If you do find yourself doing the dash a bit too often, see your GP to ensure there are no underlying issues. "A urine infection is an abnormal condition that can cause frequent urination, as can diabetes or a neurological problem like a spinal cord injury," says Dr Pan. "Most of the time it's not going to be anything like that, however. It's usually just a behavioral thing."

The good news is that you can learn to retrain your bladder. "The best thing to do is try to hold on a bit more and resist the urge to void all the time," says Dr Pan. She also suggests keeping a diary of your fluid intake and how often you're voiding so you can work with your GP to fix the problem.

Pelvic floor exercises are also a must, says Dr Farrell, particularly post-childbirth. "See a pelvic floor physiotherapist for tips and exercises," she advises.


18 July, 2011

Just two glasses of wine a day raise a woman's risk of death if she has breast cancer

The usual epidemiological nonsense. They don't look at WHY some women drink more. Could it be that they are working class? If so that could explain the results -- as working class women have worse health anyway

Just a couple of alcoholic drinks a day could dramatically reduce a woman’s chance of survival if she develops breast cancer, a study reveals.

Women who drank as little as two small glasses of wine on a daily basis were more likely to die from the disease if they later developed it than those who drank less, the research suggests.

Though previous studies have shown alcohol consumption increases the risk of contracting breast cancer, this is believed to be the first to show it also raises the risk of a woman dying from it once she has.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute in Milan studied 264 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1987 and 2001. They had also taken part in lifestyle studies that gathered information on their alcohol consumption before diagnosis. They were divided up according to whether they drank nothing at all, ‘moderate’ amounts of up to 13 grams of alcohol a day, or ‘high’ amounts of 13 grams plus.

A typical 125ml glass of wine contains between eight and 12 grams of alcohol while a pint of strong lager contains nearly 24 grams.

Researchers then matched up the results with data showing how many women had died in the ten years after being diagnosed with the disease, using this information to calculate relative survival rates. Among non-drinkers, the relative survival rate was 88 per cent, and 89 per cent for moderate drinkers.

But the rate for women who drank 13 grams or more on a daily basis was 65 per cent – meaning they were significantly less likely to survive in the ten years after diagnosis.

In a report on their findings, published in the Italian journal Tumori, the researchers said: ‘The finding[s]...lend some support to the evidence that alcohol may influence cancer progression and survival.’ However, they admitted one flaw in the study was a lack of information on how much alcohol the women drank after being diagnosed.

Last night, experts said the research adds to evidence connecting alcohol with the disease. Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK’s science information manager, said: ‘There’s now a large body of evidence linking increasing alcohol consumption to breast cancer. The more a woman drinks, the higher her risk. ‘This small study adds another piece to this bigger picture. It suggests that women who drink more, and who go on to develop breast cancer, might have worse outcomes.’

Carolyn Rogers, a clinical nurse specialist for Breast Cancer Care, said the link was well established. She added: ‘It has also been suggested that regularly consuming more than the recommended amount of alcohol may increase the risk of breast cancer recurring in those already diagnosed.’

But Dr Susie Jennings of Breakthrough Breast Cancer warned: ‘Not all research in this field is consistent so we still can’t be sure of the effect of drinking alcohol on breast cancer survival.’

A previous study of 1.3million women across the UK by Oxford University found their chances of getting breast cancer rose by 7 per cent for every unit of alcohol they drank a day. A typical 125ml glass of white wine is equal to 1.5 units.


Food rebellion! Campbell's to add salt back into Select Harvest soups: "Health" doesn't sell

Reducing salt may be healthy for consumers, but it doesn't seem to be going down well for business. At an investor meeting on Tuesday, Campbell Soup Co.'s incoming chief executive, Denise Morrison, announced an about-face: The company, which won kudos from health advocates for lowering sodium in its soups a few years back, will be adding salt back into its 31 Select Harvest soups in an effort to improve the way they taste.

The soups, which are marketed as a more natural option made with "real ingredients," initially had about 700 to 800 milligrams of sodium in a serving, Reuters reported. Company executives -- led by Morrison, who used to head the company's North American soup, sauces and beverages business -- had reduced salt levels to about 480 mg. Now those levels will shoot back up to 650 mg per serving. (Healthy Request soups will not get a salt boost.)

Eating too much salt has been widely associated with increased cases of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, though recently some researchers have raised questions about sodium's negative health effects (see related stories, to left). The FDA recommends no more than 2,300 mg of salt per day. A 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine noted that most Americans get about 3,400 mg each day. The biggest culprits? Restaurant food and packaged foods, such as canned soups.

Health advocates expressed dismay at Campbell's move. In a statement released Wednesday, Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, asked, "Why resort to salt? Why not improve tomato soup [flavor] with more and better-quality tomatoes, or chicken noodle soup with more chicken?"

But Wall Street licked its lips. Campbell's soup sales have been weak, and the company faces a lawsuit over its soups' lower-sodium labeling, which some consumers have complained is misleading. But after the Tuesday announcement of the salt strategy and other product initiatives focused on improving taste, the company's stock price went up 1.3%.


17 July, 2011

Another nanoparticle study

This is another study purporting to show bad effects from motor vehicle exhausts. Sadly, the topic has become involved with Greenie beliefs. Read here what happens if your findings don't suit the Greenie agenda. In the circumstances all findings in the area have to be treated with a priori suspicion. Only findings that suit the Greenie agenda are likely to get published.

Aside from a priori doubts, however, there are clear weaknesses in this study particularly. The "sample" size of only 16 is amazingly small and could easily give unreplicable results.

And what they found borders on the trivial. They found that inhaling diesel exhaust increased blood pressure and reduced the tendency of blood vessels to dilate. I think being made to inhale diesel exhaust would raise my blood pressure too! The smell alone is pretty obnoxious.

And (pace the Daily Mail) there was no evidence of the blood vessel effects doing any wider damage

Combustion-derived nanoparticulate induces the adverse vascular effects of diesel exhaust inhalation

By Nicholas L. Mills et al.


Aim: Exposure to road traffic and air pollution may be a trigger of acute myocardial infarction, but the individual pollutants responsible for this effect have not been established. We assess the role of combustion-derived-nanoparticles in mediating the adverse cardiovascular effects of air pollution.

Methods and results: To determine the in vivo effects of inhalation of diesel exhaust components, 16 healthy volunteers were exposed to (i) dilute diesel exhaust, (ii) pure carbon nanoparticulate, (iii) filtered diesel exhaust, or (iv) filtered air, in a randomized double blind cross-over study.

Following each exposure, forearm blood flow was measured during intra-brachial bradykinin, acetylcholine, sodium nitroprusside, and verapamil infusions.

Compared with filtered air, inhalation of diesel exhaust increased systolic blood pressure (145 ± 4 vs. 133 ± 3 mmHg, P< 0.05) and attenuated vasodilatation to bradykinin (P= 0.005), acetylcholine (P= 0.008), and sodium nitroprusside (P< 0.001).

Exposure to pure carbon nanoparticulate or filtered exhaust had no effect on endothelium-dependent or -independent vasodilatation.

To determine the direct vascular effects of nanoparticulate, isolated rat aortic rings (n= 6–9 per group) were assessed in vitro by wire myography and exposed to diesel exhaust particulate, pure carbon nanoparticulate and vehicle.

Compared with vehicle, diesel exhaust particulate (but not pure carbon nanoparticulate) attenuated both acetylcholine (P< 0.001) and sodium-nitroprusside (P= 0.019)-induced vasorelaxation. These effects were partially attributable to both soluble and insoluble components of the particulate.

Conclusion: Combustion-derived nanoparticulate appears to predominately mediate the adverse vascular effects of diesel exhaust inhalation. This provides a rationale for testing environmental health interventions targeted at reducing traffic-derived particulate emissions.


The 'super tomatoes' fortified with minerals that combat cancer

This is just speculation. No proof of any benefit

It is the perfect excuse to have that last piece of pizza. ‘Super tomatoes’ fortified with minerals have just hit shelves across the UK.

Ordinary tomatoes – which are already viewed as one of the superfoods – have been enriched with selenium, a powerful anti-oxidant that boosts the immune system and may prevent cancer. The mineral, found naturally in foods such as Brazil nuts, shellfish and liver, is also important for the thyroid gland, which determines how quickly the body uses energy and also produces proteins.

The new tomatoes, which cost £1.99 for 300g, have gone on sale in Marks & Spencer. Food scientists for the company turned their attention to the mineral because it is lacking in UK diets. Low concentrations in farm soil means little of the mineral finds its way into home-grown foods. There is evidence that a deficiency may lead to heart disease and, while it does not tend to directly cause illnesses, it can make the body more likely to catch infections.

Dr Carina Norris, of the Nutrition Society, said the tomatoes were a great way to get the nutrient into our diets. ‘Selenium plays an important role in supporting the immune system, and it’s thought that getting adequate selenium reduces our risk of cancer,’ she said.

‘But many people in the UK don’t get enough from their diets – the latest data suggests the average person consumes well below the (daily) target of 60microgrammes for women and 75 for men.

‘So to get a “difficult” nutrient like selenium into a food that more or less everyone eats – such as tomatoes – has to be a good thing.’ The tomato is the latest product developed by Marks & Spencer to try to improve customers’ health.

It follows the store’s Vitamin D-enriched milk, yoghurts and juice developed to help tackle health problems caused by a lack of sunshine, such as rickets.

M&S produce technologist Dr Simon Coupe said: ‘We want to make it easy for our customers to eat healthily and our new tomatoes are win-win – the taste of summer with a boost for your immune system.’


16 July, 2011

Too much internet use 'can damage teenagers' brains'

The usual junky epidemiological reasoning. How do they know that the brain patterns they observe are not what caused kids to become big computer users in the first place? They don't. It could be that people with poor social functioning are the ones most likely to turn to computers

Excessive internet use may cause parts of teenagers’ brains to waste away, a study reveals. Scientists discovered signs of atrophy of grey matter in the brains of heavy internet users that grew worse over time.

This could affect their concentration and memory, as well as their ability to make decisions and set goals. It could also reduce their inhibitions and lead to ‘inappropriate’ behaviour.

Researchers took MRI brain scans from 18 university students, aged 19, who spent eight to 13 hours a day playing games online, six days a week.

The students were classified as internet addicts after answering eight questions, including whether they had tried to give up using computers and whether they had lied to family members about the amount of time they spent online.

The researchers compared them with a control group of 18 students who spent fewer than two hours a day on the internet.

One set of MRI images focused on grey matter at the brain’s wrinkled surface, or cortex, where the processing of memory, emotions, speech, sight, hearing and motor control occurs.

Comparing grey matter between the two groups revealed atrophy within several small regions of all the online addicts’ brains. The scans showed that the longer their internet addiction continued, the ‘more serious’ the damage was.

The researchers also found changes in deep-brain tissue called white matter, through which messages pass between different areas of grey matter in the nervous system. These ‘structural abnormalities were probably associated with functional impairments in cognitive control’, they said.

The researchers added that these abnormalities could have made the teenagers more ‘easily internet dependent’, but concluded they ‘were the consequence of IAD (internet addiction disorder)’. ‘Our results suggested long-term internet addiction would result in brain structural alterations,’ they said.

The study, published in the PLoS ONE journal, was carried out by neuroscientists and radiologists at universities and hospitals in China, where 24million youths are estimated to be addicted to the internet.

In Britain, children spend an average of five hours and 20 minutes a day in front of TV or computer screens, according to estimates by the market-research agency Childwise.

Dr Aric Sigman, a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, described the Chinese research as a ‘wake-up call’. He said: ‘It strikes me as a terrible shame that our society requires photos of brains shrinking in order to take seriously the common-sense assumption that long hours in front of screens is not good for our children’s health.’

Baroness Greenfield, professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, described the results as ‘very striking’. [She would] She said: ‘It shows there’s a very clear relationship between the number of years these young people have been addicted to the internet and changes in their brains. ‘We need to do more experiments and we need to invest more money in research and have more studies like this.’

The neuroscientist has previously warned there could be a link between children’s poor attention spans and the use of computers and social-networking websites. She is concerned that not enough attention is being paid to evidence that computer use is changing young people’s brains.

Professor Karl Friston, a neuroscientist at University College London, told the Scientific American journal the techniques used in the small-scale study were rigorous. He said: ‘It goes against intuition, but you don’t need a large sample size. That the results show anything significant at all is very telling.’


Companies bullied into curbing "junk" food ads for kids

The nation's largest food companies say they will cut back on marketing unhealthier foods to children, proposing their own set of advertising standards after rejecting similar guidelines proposed by the federal government.

A coalition of food companies -- including General Mills, ConAgra and Kellogg -- plan to announce the guidelines Thursday. The companies said the effort will vastly change what is advertised, forcing them to curb advertising on one out of three products currently marketed to children.

The new standards, which will allow companies to advertise food and beverage products to children if they meet certain nutritional criteria, could force some brands to change recipes to include less sodium, fat, sugars and calories. While many companies have trumpeted their own efforts to market healthier foods to kids, the agreement would apply the same standards to all of the participating companies.

"Now foods from different companies, such as cereals or canned pastas, will meet the same nutrition criteria, rather than similar but slightly different company-specific criteria," said Elaine Kolish of the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a group formed by the industry to address marketing issues.

The group's proposal was pushed along by a government effort to do the same thing. The Federal Trade Commission and several other government agencies were directed by Congress to come up with voluntary guidelines for marketing junk food to children, and those were issued earlier this year. The industry balked at that proposal, saying the voluntary standards were too broad and would limit marketing of almost all of the nation's favorite foods, including yogurts, cereals and even some whole wheat breads.

Not surprisingly, the proposal issued by the government is stricter than the standards the companies are pushing for themselves. While the government proposal put broad limits on fats, sugars and sodium that would apply to marketing of all foods, the industry has suggested different guidelines for different foods, saying that is a more practical approach.

The industry guidelines for children's cereals, for example, would allow them to be advertised if they have around 10 grams of sugar a serving, while the formula used by the government would discourage advertising for cereals that have 8 grams of sugars in an equivalent serving. That would mean General Mills would still be able to advertise Honey Nut Cheerios cereal under the industry guidelines but would be discouraged under the voluntary government guidelines.

Another difference between the proposals is where companies are allowed to advertise. While the government guidelines are broad, discouraging advertising of unhealthy foods on packaging and in stores, along with in the media, the industry guidelines would apply to media -- television, radio, print, video games and the Internet -- but not packaging. That means the little bee on the front of the Honey Nut Cheerios box would stay under the industry proposal and go under the government draft.

Even if the industry standards are not as strict as the government guidelines, they still represent progress on the part of the companies. Many companies now advertise any children's cereals that have less than 12 grams of sugar, down from 15 or 16 grams of sugars a decade ago.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, praised the industry for pushing for uniform standards for all of the companies, though she said they do not go far enough. She said she hopes the industry standards are a jumping-off point for negotiations with health advocates and the government. "We are definitely open to negotiating something to make (the voluntary government standards) more workable," she said.

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the Democrat who wrote the language directing the government to develop the standards, said he believes the industry proposal falls short. "With childhood obesity rates rising, now is the time for all parties to rally around those guidelines and begin implementing them, rather than coming up with competing proposals," he said.

That may be a while off. House Republicans have included a provision in next year's Federal Trade Commission budget that would delay the government standards by asking the government to study the potential cost and impact of the guidelines before implementing them.

If they are not delayed by Congress, a final draft of the standards could come by the end of the year.


15 July, 2011

Could tea and coffee protect against MRSA? Study shows drinkers half as likely to carry the superbug

This is pretty wacky. Who does NOT drink tea or coffee? Are the non-drinkers below people who are big users of illegal drugs perhaps? Is that what gives them more MRSA? No wonder the authors advise caution about the results

People who regularly drink tea or coffee may be less likely to be carriers of the 'superbug' MRSA, according to a U.S. study.

Out of more than 5,500 Americans who took part in a government study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, those who drank hot tea or coffee were about half as likely as non-drinkers to contract methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in their nostrils.

But exactly what the information means is still unclear, say researchers. 'Hot tea and coffee have been found to have antimicrobial properties,' wrote lead researcher Eric Matheson, of the University of South Carolina, Charleston. 'Consumption of hot tea or coffee is associated with a lower likelihood of MRSA nasal carriage.

In general, about 1 percent of the U.S. population carries MRSA in the nose or on the skin, but does not get sick.

The idea for the study came from the fact that, in both the lab dish and in humans, topically applied or inhaled tea extracts have shown some anti-MRSA activity, Matheson said. Less research has been done on coffee compounds, but there is some evidence of antibacterial powers there as well.

Matheson's team found that, indeed, tea and coffee drinkers were less likely to carry MRSA. Overall, 1.4 percent of the study group harbored the bacteria in their noses. But those odds were about 50 per cent lower among people who said they drank hot tea or coffee, versus non-drinkers.

The big caveat, though, is that the link does not prove that tea or coffee are the reason for the lower risk, Matheson said.

The study shows an association between the two, 'but you never can conclude causation from an association. I can't tell you that this finding isn't just a coincidence,' he said.

The researchers tried to account for several other factors, such as age, income or self-rated health, but the beverages were still linked to lower odds of being a MRSA carrier. 'Our findings raise the possibility of a promising new method to decrease MRSA nasal carriage that is safe, inexpensive, and easily accessible,' Matheson wrote.

One issue is that even if coffee and tea drinkers do have a lower risk of carrying MRSA, whether that makes them less likely to actually fall ill is unknown.

Matheson said there is also still debate about whether MRSA carriers are at increased risk of developing an active infection.

For now, Matheson stops short of recommending that people start drinking coffee or tea in the hopes of fending off MRSA. 'Based on one association study, that would probably be too much,' he concluded.


Amazing turnaround: British doctors want more homebirths

Maybe I have a suspicious mind but I think I know why. They just want to reduce their workload. As public servants, they get paid regardless

Women should no longer assume they will give birth in hospital with a doctor on hand. In a watershed moment, leading medical experts declared that mothers should be given more opportunity to have babies at home because a maternity ward is not necessarily the 'safer option'.

A report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggests that as many as a third of all women should give birth 'without a doctor going anywhere near them'.

It calls for a radical shake-up in the NHS which could lead to thousands more women having babies at home, as was the case 50 years ago.

In 1959, more than a third of women gave birth at home but by 1988 this had fallen to a low of 0.9 per cent. By last year this had risen only slightly to 2.4 per cent, figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

The report states that only women most at risk of suffering complications – such as those expecting twins or triplets, the obese, diabetics or those in their 40s – should have to give birth in hospital.

In addition it calls for dozens of maternity wards in smaller hospitals to be closed or merged into 'super units' to ensure those most likely to suffer complications receive the best care.

It warns that currently there are too many maternity units but not enough top-level consultants able to intervene should there be problems during the birth.

Often they are looked after by junior doctors with limited experience, particularly at nights and weekends when there are fewer staff on duty.

There are also concerns that maternity wards are becoming increasingly less safe because a shortage of midwives has left them at breaking point.

The report says that expectant mothers who are unlikely to need an emergency caesarean or suffer life-threatening complications such as pre-eclampsia should be offered the chance to have their babies in local birthing units or in their own homes.

At present, just three per cent of women give birth at home. A further seven per cent use midwife-led units – which are small centres designed to provide a more homely environment than hospitals.

Senior health experts warn that the present system is 'not acceptable, nor sustainable'. The number of women going into labour every year is a fifth higher compared with a decade ago.

And higher proportions are suffering complicated labours due to rising levels of obesity and women delaying motherhood until their late 30s and 40s.

Anthony Falconer, president of the RCOG, said: 'Too many babies are born in the traditional "hospital" setting'. He added: 'There is a perception among patients that they still see the hospital birth as the safer option. The use of some of these midwife-led units is not as great as it should be. These places are very safe and appropriate to have babies.'

Dr Falconer said: 'Roughly a third of women need a doctor, roughly a third need midwives and roughly a third might need both.'

David Richmond, vice president of the RCOG who wrote the report, said that most women could have their babies in a local birthing centre 'without a doctor going anywhere near them'.

'Do they need to be in an institution that can do MRI scans and renal transplants and brain surgery? Probably not. So we need to have this network of care where the woman is guided to the right part of the network to receive her care.'

Earlier this year the Royal College of Midwives warned that maternity units were 'at breaking point' due to a shortage of around 3,500 midwives.

Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the RCM warned that unless staffing levels were drastically increased women and their newborns would be put at risk.

In response to the report she said: 'It clearly supports local care for women who do not need specialist support and supports midwife-led maternity units, informed choice for women about options for childbirth, and women-centred care models. The RCM thoroughly supports and endorses all these aspects of the report.'

But campaigners warned that putting pressure on women to have their babies in local birth centres could also put them in danger. They also pointed out that as these centres don't administer epidurals – strong pain-relieving injections – women would be forced to suffer unnecessarily.

Maureen Treadwell of the Birth Trauma Association said: 'The problem with maternity care at the moment is that women can appear low risk at the start and develop horrendous problems during the birth.'

She also warned home births could become an expensive business for the Health Service. She said: 'If a woman wants a home birth, she will need two midwives and an ambulance – and there simply won't be enough resources for this to happen on a large scale.

Last November a damning report by senior midwives said mothers and newborn babies were being put at risk by cuts to maternity services. It found that at least one in three labour wards were being forced to axe staff as part of belt-tightening.


14 July, 2011

Don’t base policy on crapulous alcohol statistics

Alcohol. The anti-alcohol lobby say just one drink increases your risk of cancer, and news yesterday was that cigarette-warning-style labels will start appearing on bottles of booze. The social costs of alcohol are often cited as an additional reason to crack down on it. Here, Dr Eric Crampton casts a sceptical eye over how that social cost is measured

If I told you that surfing cost the Australian economy a billion dollars and that we consequently should make life jackets compulsory, you could be forgiven for thinking that the number represented some real cost to the community; perhaps the cost of rescuing surfers caught in rips or medical care for those injured in accidents.

But if you found out that the vast majority of that figure was the combination of surfers’ expenditures on their boards and the costs of holidays they took heading up to Yallingup, you might think twice about endorsing the policy recommendation. And you might wonder a bit why anybody would have thought those costs could matter for policy.

And so it is with the often-cited social costs of alcohol. In 2008, Macquarie University’s Professor David Collins and the University of Queensland’s Associate Professor Helen Lapsley estimated that alcohol consumption cost Australia some $15 billion for the 2004/5 fiscal year.

The figure proved popular, being cited dozens of times on Australian television and radio, more than 100 times in newspaper articles and op-eds and it’s been referenced on a dozen occasions in Australia’s Parliament by nine MPs. With one large number proving popular, others like Professor Robin Room went on to produce even larger figures.

But what isn’t widely understood is that these papers use a method that, like the surfing example, mostly counts the costs drinkers impose upon themselves. This “Cost of Illness” method varies considerably from standard methods of economic analysis. There are many ways of producing a cost figure, but once we stray too far from standard economic method, we cannot interpret the produced figure as being economically meaningful.

There has emerged a cottage industry of academics and consultants using this Cost of Illness method to produce large figures for Ministries of Health from Canada to Australia. When the method counts over a billion dollars that drinkers spend on their own alcohol in Australia, but dismisses that those drinkers just might have enjoyed having a drink, the practice borders on advocacy.

In its final report which was publicly released in May last year, the Henry Tax Review argued that alcohol tax is a blunt tool for addressing harms caused by alcohol, but that tax can address these spillover costs where marginal social costs otherwise exceeds the price of alcohol.

But methods that include private costs as public provide a distorted picture of the appropriate level of taxation; the Henry Review urged caution about relying on these methods used by Professor Collins and Associate Professor Lapsley. As the $15 billion figure includes a large proportion of costs which fall on the drinker, the figure is meaningless from an economic and policy perspective.

Together with Matt Burgess of the Institute for the Study of Competition and Regulation and Brad Taylor from Australian National University, I have had a close look at the $15 billion figure and compared it to the figure that would have emerged had more standard economic method been used in its construction.

The end result was that policy-relevant annual costs of alcohol consumption in Australia were no more than $3.8 billion. To provide perspective for examination of spillover costs, the total tax take from alcohol (excluding GST) for the same financial year was $4.1 billion.

In other words, alcohol consumers contributed more in tax than they cost others through the health system and traffic accidents. The new $3.8 billion figure is not the result of cost-benefit analysis – more work would need to be done to quantify the benefits of drinking. Rather, it is the figure that emerges when we apply standard economic method and count only the costs tabulated by Professor Collins and Associate Professor Lapsley that truly count as spillovers.

Unfortunately, political discussion of alcohol’s sometimes tragic costs is too often clouded by emotion. It’s not that we do not care when a drinker falls ill or, worse still, loses his or her life.

But if we are going to count the costs that some drinkers impose upon themselves through their consumption, a fair analysis would also have to count against those private costs the benefits that drinkers enjoy from a night out or from a quiet drink at home. Or, it would not present costs drinkers impose upon themselves as being costs to society.

On Thursday, I will be presenting to the Australian Conference of Economists in Canberra as part of the Conference’s annual “Dodgy” awards. I’ll be arguing that preventative health suffers from the worst application of economic analysis to policy, Professor Collins and Associate Professor Lapsley’s report and how it’s been treated in policy discourse will help me to make that case.


Doubts over Nestle hypoallergenic baby formulas

BABIES who drink hypoallergenic formula milk are no less likely to develop allergies when they are older than other children, a study has found.

The finding by researchers in Melbourne raises questions about whether parents should ignore health guidelines recommending whey-based hypoallergenic formulas for babies considered at risk of developing allergies.

Tests were carried on more than 600 babies with a family history of allergies to see if giving them hypoallergenic formula helped prevent them from developing conditions including eczema, asthma and allergic rhinitis when they were older.

The babies were given either a partially hydrolysed whey (pHWF or hypoallergenic) formula made by Nestle, cows' milk or soy formulas after their mothers stopped breastfeeding.

Each had skin-prick allergy tests - for milk, egg, peanut, dust mite, rye grass and cat dander - when they were six, 12 and 24 months old. Follow up assessments were then made when they were six or seven years old.

But the researchers found those babies who drank the hypoallergenic formula were just as likely to develop allergies as children who drank the cows' milk or soy formulas.

Adrian Lowe, a research fellow at the Murdoch Children's Institute who led the study, said the findings contradicted widespread advice on hypoallergenic formula and suggested breastfeeding could be more beneficial in preventing allergies.

"A number of guidelines recommend that when babies are being weaned from breastmilk, if the parents are worried about allergies, they go on to these hypoallergenic formulas," he said. "But our study showed it doesn't really make any difference.

"Families at high risk of allergies should be encouraged to breast feed for the many known benefits associated with breast feeding, and if parents need to move on to formula that that decision need not be based on the belief that one formula will reduce the risk of allergies compared to another."

Allergic diseases have doubled in western countries in the past quarter-century. The most common conditions in children are food allergies, eczema, asthma and hay fever. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy estimates that up to 40 per cent of children in Australia and New Zealand are affected by allergy disorders.

It recommends that mothers who cannot breastfeed and who are worried about their babies developing allergies use hypoallergenic formula in the first four to six months of their baby's life.

Nestle, which sponsored the study, defended the effectiveness of its hypoallergenic formula, saying several studies including a large trial carried out in Germany, had shown significant benefits. "There have been at least eight different meta-analyses conducted and all conclude that HA is recommended for reducing the allergy risk in high-risk infants," a spokeswoman said.

"Having said that, while partially hydrolysed whey-based infant formula may benefit children who are not breastfed compared to cows milk formula, Nestle firmly believes that breast feeding is always best for babies."


13 July, 2011

Drinking too much water 'can be bad for your health': Benefits are a myth

It is said to help us prevent kidney damage, lose weight and increase concentration levels. But experts now warn that drinking eight glasses of water a day is not good for you after all – and could be harmful. They say that scientific claims behind long-standing government guidelines are worse than ‘nonsense’.

The NHS – along with leading doctors and nutritionists – advises the public to drink about 1.2 litres (or two-and-a-half pints) of water per day. However, a report describes the danger of dehydration as a ‘myth’ and says there is no evidence behind claims that water prevents multiple health problems.

Glasgow-based GP Margaret McCartney says the NHS Choices website’s advice that people should drink six to eight glasses a day is ‘not only nonsense, but thoroughly debunked nonsense’. She adds that the benefits of the drink are often exaggerated by ‘organisations with vested interests’ such as bottled water brands.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr McCartney also points out that research shows drinking when not thirsty can impair concentration, rather than boost it, and separate evidence suggests that chemicals used for disinfection found in bottled water could be bad for your health.

Drinking excessive amounts can also lead to loss of sleep as people have to get up in the night to go to the toilet, and other studies show it can even cause kidney damage, instead of preventing it.

Worryingly, Dr McCartney also warns that taking on too much water can lead to a rare but potentially fatal condition called hyponatraemia, which sees the body’s salt levels drop and can lead to swelling of the brain.

In 2003 actor Anthony Andrews, who starred in the ITV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited, was hit by the illness after drinking too much water during rehearsals for a West End role.

Another doctor quoted in the article adds there is no basis for claims that water helps people to lose weight by suppressing their appetite. Professor Stanley Goldfarb, a metabolism expert from the University of Pennsylvania in the U.S., says: ‘The current evidence is that there really is no evidence. ‘If children drank more water rather than getting extra calories from soda, that’s good ..... [but] there is no evidence that drinking water before meals reduces appetite during a meal.’

About 2.06 billion litres of bottled water was drunk in Britain last year, compared with 1.42 billion litres in 2000. Despite this increase we still drink three times as much tea, and five times as much beer.


Morgellons Disease continues to defeat scientists

Burrowing bugs, delusions or a nervous disorder? Why can't medical scientists get to the bottom of Morgellons Disease

Nick Mann was convinced that something was burrowing into his skin. The 48-year-old father of two had been for a walk in the beautiful grounds of Abney Park Cemetery, down the road from his home in Hackney, east London.

It was sunny and he'd been wearing shorts and sandals. That evening, his legs began itching. Marks sprang up all over his body. "I just knew something was on me," he remembers. "Something digging or biting into my skin."

Over the coming days, lesions opened up on his body. Running his fingertips over them, he could feel something inside: it felt like spines or fibres, he says. He began to feel tormented. What were these bugs? How many were there? Would he ever be rid of them?

One afternoon, in desperation, Nick stripped naked in his kitchen and determined to dig one out as soon as felt it 'bite'. "I stood there for three or four hours, waiting," he says. "As soon as it did, I went for it with a hypodermic needle. There was one on my nipple."

He pales slightly. "You know, I can't get that out of my head. It was so painful. I dug the needle in and felt it flicking against something that wasn't me. And I just carried on digging and scooping." It took nearly four hours. "At one point my wife came in and saw blood dripping down my leg."

By the end of the afternoon, Nick had dug out three of the mysterious entities from his body. They were so small, he says, you could only see them when they moved. Having managed to transfer them into a jar, he proudly showed his wife. Karen peered into the pot. She could see nothing. Nick, however, knew he was on the verge of discovering what this strange and maddening condition was.

It was back in 2001 that the first modern-day reports of a mysterious "fibre disease" began to emerge from the US. When Mary Leitao's two-year-old son complained of "bugs in his skin" and subsequently broke out in lesions, the worried mother examined him with a toy microscope.

Under the lens, she found bizarre, many-coloured fibres. Leitao christened the condition Morgellons Disease, after a similar bizarre outbreak of "harsh hairs" on children that was reported in the 17th century. She was compelled to name it herself for a simple, but surprising reason: doctor after doctor dismissed her concerns. They said she was neurotic; that it was a figment of her imagination.

A decade later, Leitao's Morgellons Research Foundation claims to have been contacted by more than 12,000 families from all over the world. All of them claim to have the itch, the lesions and the fibres. But the vast majority of sufferers had been dismissed by medical professionals as being mentally ill, with a condition known as Delusions of Parasitosis, in which sufferers are falsely convinced that they are infested.

Despite this, in 2006, there was enough pressure put on the American government for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] to form a task force to look into the matter. "We're not ready to concede there's a new disease," a spokesman said at the time. "But the volume of concern has stepped up because a lot of people are writing or calling their congressmen about it."

One of the few academics to accept that Morgellons might be real is Randy Wymore, associate professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University. "I thought it sounded crazy," he remembers. "I knew it was thought to be delusional, so I asked some Morgellons sufferers to send samples of the fibres, figuring if it was delusional, they would never show up. But 48 hours later, Fed Ex packages started arriving. I borrowed a microscope to examine them. And they looked a little odd."

Wymore asked agents in the forensics department of the Tulsa police department for a second opinion. "Within about 30 seconds, one of them said, 'Uh, I don't think I've ever seen anything like this'." The fibres didn't match any of the 85,000 organic substances they had on their files. "I was both shocked and not shocked," recalls Wymore. "I already thought these fibres were kind of unusual, and this just validated it."

Wymore has now been working on the DNA of the fibres for five years. So far, none of the samples he has sent into the laboratory has proved to be anything mysterious. Results have included nylon, cotton, a human hair, a fungal fibre and a rodent hair.

Yet more evidence that Morgellons patients are merely delusional? World-renowned neurologist Dr Anne Louise Oaklander is not so sure. Oaklander, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, is an expert in itching. She believes that sufferers might have developed nerve disorders that are being misdiagnosed.

"Morgellons is not a disease with a unifying cause, but a constellation of symptoms that can be caused by different underlying diagnoses," she says. "In my experience, these patients have a severe itch disorder that's unexplained, and because itch is the sensation that we feel when an insect lands on our skin, or grubbing about among the hairs of our body, these patients make a logical conclusion: which is that there must be insects here, causing these insect-like sensations."

She explains that the brain can mistakenly experience the feeling of insects if the nervous system was damaged following shingles and sciatica, or by the growth of spinal cord tumours. "What often happens, though, is a physician does not find a skin disorder, so jumps to a psychiatric conclusion. But what they should be doing is looking for underlying neurological explanations."

So what all does this mean for Nick Mann? Are the fibres in his skin real? Is he delusional? Or does he have an undiagnosed nerve disorder?

In fact, Nick turned out to be an extraordinary case. While it's common for GPs to diagnose patients claiming to suffer from unexplained itching as delusional, this was unlikely in his case, because Nick himself is a GP. "I took the three mites I'd caught to our local Homerton Hospital," he says. "A technician mounted one on a slide, put it under a microscope and said 'Beautiful'. Everyone gathered around saying 'Ooh, look at that'."

It was definitely something. But they didn't know what. "They sent it to the Natural History Museum, which identified it within a day," says Nick, "as a Tropical Rat Mite."

Although museum experts doubted the mites could live on the skin, the GP has no doubt that is what they were doing. "What these mites do is go in through the hair follicles and find a blood vessel at the bottom. That's where they sit and that's what the 'fibres' are – their legs folded back."

Nick, who treated himself with an antiparasitic drug to eradicate the infection, can only guess that he picked up the mites walking in the cemetery. Despite the name, they are not exclusive to hot climates.

Nick believes it likely that many patients who claim to have Morgellons are actually infected by Tropical Rat Mites. However, he agrees with Dr Oaklander that this diagnosis is unlikely to explain all cases. "There doesn't appear to be a single explanation for it," he says.

Perhaps the mystery will finally be solved when the Centers for Disease Control release their report. Currently in the peer-review process, publication is thought to be imminent.


12 July, 2011

Social climbing is good for you: Those who get on in life end up healthier

This is just a subset of the pervasive finding that higher social class people are healthier

It's good news for the Hyacinth Buckets of the world - social climbing is good for your health. Those who improve their status in life have a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes, according to a study.

Scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, studied the backgrounds and medical records of 12,030 people born between 1926 and 1958. By looking at their parents’ jobs, the scientists worked out whether a person had climbed the social ladder, stayed the same or moved down.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, showed that people who stayed in the more disadvantaged group were 42 per cent more likely to have high blood pressure – a condition linked to heart attacks and strokes – than those from wealthier backgrounds.

But those who did better than their parents cut this risk by a fifth, while people who went down the social ladder were more likely to have high blood pressure.

People who went down the social ladder by having worse jobs than their parents or being unemployed raised their chances of having high blood pressure. The condition– also known as hypertension - increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes by putting extra strain on the heart and blood vessels.

Around one in three adults in Briton have high blood pressure and it is strongly linked to being overweight, smoking, drinking excessively, not taking exercise and eating too much salt.

The authors concluded: 'In conclusion, this study shows a positive association between low parental socioeconomic status and risk of hypertension, indicating that effects of socioeconomic status on blood pressure start early in life.

'However, upward social mobility was associated with a decreased risk of hypertension, and the results indicated that those who experienced downward social mobility had an increased risk of hypertension. 'These findings suggest that the risk of hypertension associated with low parental social status could be modified by social status later in life.'


'Unstoppable' sex disease: New strain of gonorrhoea that resists all antibiotics could spread quickly

A sexual disease that is resistant to all drugs has been discovered by scientists. They warn the strain of super-gonorrhoea could spread very quickly unless better treatments are developed. Although only one case has been confirmed, experts fear many more may have gone unreported.

Until now gonorrhoea has been very easy to treat with antibiotics called cephalosporins. Patients usually need only a single pill or jab. But Swedish scientists who have analysed the new strain found in Japan believe that over the decades the disease has mutated to become resistant to current treatments.

Magnus Unemo, of the Research Laboratory for Pathogenic Neisseria in Orebro, described it as an alarming discovery. ‘Since antibiotics became the standard treatment for gonorrhoea in the 1940s, this bacterium has shown a remarkable capacity to develop resistance mechanisms to all drugs introduced to control it,’ he said.

‘While it is still too early to assess if this new strain has become widespread, the history of newly emergent resistance in the bacterium suggests that it may spread rapidly unless new drugs and effective treatment programs are developed.’

Dr David Livermore, of the Health Protection Agency, said that while antibiotics were still effective at treating gonorrhoea there were signs of growing resistance to them. ‘Our lab tests show that the bacteria are becoming less sensitive to these cephalosporins, with a few treatment failures reported,’ he added.

‘This means that we are having to change the type of cephalosporin that is used and to increase the dosage. ‘The worry is that we will see gonorrhoea becoming a much more difficult infection to treat over the next five years.

‘Prevention is better than cure, especially as cure becomes harder, and the most reliable way to protect against sexually transmitted infections – including resistant gonorrhoea – is to use a condom with all new and casual partners.’

The new strain of the sexually transmitted disease called H041 - was found in Japan and leaves doctors with no other option than to try untested medicines to combat it. Left untreated it can cause infertility in women and men and can be life threatening if it spreads to the blood and joints.

Some 16,700 Britons are infected with gonorrhoea every year and it is one of the most common STIs after chlamydia. The 16-24 age group accounts for almost half of all cases.

Rebecca Findlay, from the Family Planning Association, urged wider use of contraception. ‘Prevention is better than cure, especially as cure becomes harder,’ she said. ‘Prevention becomes more important because we know antibiotics won’t always work. ‘Gonorrhoea can affect people of all ages and everyone should be now focusing on looking after their sexual health.’

One of the problems with gonorrhoea is that its symptoms take time to become apparent. Around half of women and one in ten men will not be aware they have the disease for several months. In women, the infection can spread to the womb and ovaries and increase the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease.

The very painful condition has been linked to infertility and ectopic pregnancy, wherein the foetus develops outside the womb and cannot survive.

Men can also develop infections in the testes and prostate gland which can reduce their fertility.

Rates of sexually transmitted infections have increased over the past decade, although the number of cases has begun to level off. Experts have blamed increased promiscuity, particularly among the young.


11 July, 2011

It's Time to End the War on Salt

The zealous drive by politicians to limit our salt intake has little basis in science -- and it's SciAm saying so

For decades, policy makers have tried and failed to get Americans to eat less salt. In April 2010 the Institute of Medicine urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate the amount of salt that food manufacturers put into products; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already convinced 16 companies to do so voluntarily. But if the U.S. does conquer salt, what will we gain? Bland french fries, for sure. But a healthy nation? Not necessarily.

This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. In May European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.

Fears over salt first surfaced more than a century ago. In 1904 French doctors reported that six of their subjects who had high blood pressure—a known risk factor for heart disease—were salt fiends. Worries escalated in the 1970s when Brookhaven National Laboratory's Lewis Dahl claimed that he had "unequivocal" evidence that salt causes hypertension: he induced high blood pressure in rats by feeding them the human equivalent of 500 grams of sodium a day. (Today the average American consumes 3.4 grams of sodium, or 8.5 grams of salt, a day.)

Dahl also discovered population trends that continue to be cited as strong evidence of a link between salt intake and high blood pressure. People living in countries with a high salt consumption—such as Japan—also tend to have high blood pressure and more strokes. But as a paper pointed out several years later in the American Journal of Hypertension, scientists had little luck finding such associations when they compared sodium intakes within populations, which suggested that genetics or other cultural factors might be the culprit. Nevertheless, in 1977 the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs released a report recommending that Americans cut their salt intake by 50 to 85 percent, based largely on Dahl's work.

Scientific tools have become much more precise since then, but the correlation between salt intake and poor health has remained tenuous. Intersalt, a large study published in 1988, compared sodium intake with blood pressure in subjects from 52 international research centers and found no relationship between sodium intake and the prevalence of hypertension. In fact, the population that ate the most salt, about 14 grams a day, had a lower median blood pressure than the population that ate the least, about 7.2 grams a day. In 2004 the Cochrane Collaboration, an international, independent, not-for-profit health care research organization funded in part by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, published a review of 11 salt-reduction trials. Over the long-term, low-salt diets, compared to normal diets, decreased systolic blood pressure (the top number in the blood pressure ratio) in healthy people by 1.1 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 0.6 mmHg. That is like going from 120/80 to 119/79. The review concluded that "intensive interventions, unsuited to primary care or population prevention programs, provide only minimal reductions in blood pressure during long-term trials." A 2003 Cochrane review of 57 shorter-term trials similarly concluded that "there is little evidence for long-term benefit from reducing salt intake."

More here

Faddist rubbish: Teenage girls' junk food diet leaves them starved of vitamins

This "research" appears to have been funded by commercial "health food" purveyors and the "Complete Nutrition" website is a hard sell operation for every health fad under the sun. I can also find no details of the alleged research anywhere. There is a list of Ms Ruxton's publications here but the one described below is not included.

A typical teenager probably thinks nothing of a diet packed with pizza, sweets and sugary drinks. But by that age what they eat is already taking a severe toll on their health, research shows.

Millions of teenagers are dangerously low in key vitamins and minerals, experts have warned – with girls faring worst.

An appetite for junk food is feeding a ‘ticking timebomb’ of disease and ill health, researchers have concluded.

They found teenagers of both sexes were among the biggest guzzlers of salt, alcohol and sugar-laden soft drinks. At the same time, they shun fruit, vegetables and oily fish. Almost half of teenage girls are dangerously low in iron, magnesium and selenium. Iron, found in red meat, liver, beans, nuts and green leafy vegetables, is vital for the production of healthy red blood cells and helps keeps memory and attention sharp. Magnesium, from shellfish, whole grains and nuts, helps keep bones strong, while selenium keeps the immune system healthy.

One in ten girls is dangerously low in calcium, putting them at risk of brittle bones and falls and fractures in old age. And one in six is severely short of iodine, a mineral key to brain development in the womb.

Teenage boys are also a concern, with one in ten lacking in zinc, which is key to the production of sperm, the healing of wounds and the recovery of muscles after exercise.

The researchers believe teenagers’ diets are particularly bad because they are starting to feed themselves for the first time, often skip meals and many are starting to experiment with cigarettes, which cut appetite. In addition, many girls will be on spurious diets which advise cutting out certain foods to keep them slim or their skin glowing.

Carrie Ruxton, an independent nutritionist, and Emma Derbyshire, a nutritionist at Manchester Metropolitan University, crunched together the results of 38 studies into diets and their consequences for health.

Dr Ruxton said: ‘While things like heart disease and cancer affect people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, the very early stages happen several decades before. ‘It may be boring thinking about your health when you are 14, 15, or 16, but it is really important to lay down the balanced diet you are going to follow of the rest of your life.’

They conclude in the journal Complete Nutrition: ‘The diet quality of teenagers and young adults is fundamentally important. During this life-phase, dietary requirements may be high due to rapid physical and mental development. ‘Unfortunately, this is often hampered by social factors, body image concerns and the fact that many young people “live for the minute”, being unaware of how current diets can affect later health.

‘To many young people, middle age and the risk of chronic disease impacting on their life may seem far off. But the foundations of conditions such as cardiovascular disease are laid in childhood.’

The analysis was funded by the Health Supplements Information Service.


10 July, 2011

More health Fascism in Australia

Have they learnt nothing from America's experience of prohibition?

THE most powerful clinical body within the WA Health Department has called for an increase in the legal drinking age to 20 or 21.

The Clinical Senate of WA has presented a position statement to Health Minister Kim Hames urging the move as one way to combat rampant alcohol abuse and its impact on the health system and young lives. New figures show alcohol-related hospital admissions cost WA taxpayers $95 million a year.

The senate's call puts the influential group at direct odds with Dr Hames, who told The Sunday Times that he did not support lifting the age.

The senate comprises 75 elite health professionals, including Public Health executive director Tarun Weeramanthri, chief medical officer Simon Towler, Princess Margaret Hospital boss Robyn Lawrence and King Edward Memorial Hospital boss Amanda Frazer.

It has called also for an end to the practice of handing out alcoholic gifts at medical conferences and dinners.

The senate's chair Kim Gibson said evidence from the World Health Organisation and other eminent bodies had shown that raising the drinking age helped to reduce alcohol-related injuries. "The driving age and the drinking age are very close in WA," she said. "If you're able to separate them, you can have some impact on the road trauma figures."

She said also that 18-year-olds were too immature to drink. "One issue is the maturity of the brain and behaviours around risk," she said. "The younger population is into risk-taking and so if you wait for more maturity you're not matching the risk-taking with the alcohol consumption." [But they are old enough to risk their lives in the armed forces??]


Scarring womb lining could double IVF success rate

This is based on a very small sample so should be treated with caution until a large double-blind trial is carried out

Women undergoing IVF could almost double their chances of pregnancy by undergoing a 10 minute procedure that involves scarring the lining of the womb, according to a study presented this week.

The Brazilian research found that performing a small biopsy of the endometrial wall before embryo implantation - resulting in a tiny scar - increased the chance of an ongoing pregnancy from 38 to 63 per cent.

The operation lasts around ten minutes and can be carried out without anaesthetic, although many women take painkillers around 30 minutes beforehand.

Dr Fernando Prado Ferreira, who led the study at Santa Joana Maternity Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, believes the biopsies help embryos implant better in the womb, although why this might be so is currently unclear.

In the trial of 144 women whose average age was 33, 46 IVF patients were given biopsies and 98 were not. Dr Ferreira, based at the Federal University of São Paulo, said: “Having a biopsy prior to IVF treatment almost doubled the chances of pregnancy over those who did not.” He has presented the findings at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Stockholm.

Earlier studies have shown similar findings, and Dr Ferreira said his team's research added to evidence that the technique worked. “The results are very consistent and could mean that the endometrial biopsy is routinely used in all future treatments,” he said

Explaining what might be happening, he went on: “The endometrial biopsy appears to lead to scarring in the uterus that provides better adhesion of the embryo, either through the scarring itself or through substances called cytokines released when the wound is caused in the womb.”

However, studies to date have been relatively small, and experts have cautioned that there are “many unanswered questions” such as selection of patients and the number of biopsies needed. Dr Ferreira conceded that more studies were needed to confirm the effect and understand the mechanism.

Eduardo Pandolfi Passos, scientific director of the Latin American Association of Reproductive Medicine, said the results should be treated with caution so as not to “create a false expectation” in patients.


9 July, 2011

Abortion 'increases risk of premature birth'

This is an unusual study in that it DID control for social class. It also replicates many previous findings. As abortion fills me with horror, I am certainly inclined to accept its conclusions. Scientific honesty impels me to note the weaknesses of the study, however.

Failure to control for both smoking and IQ are large lacunae. Smokers are known to be more sexually promiscuous and greater risk takers generally. So were the smokers in the sample more likely to have abortions? Almost certainly. And smokers are also more likely to have lower birthweight babies. So it could be that we are simply seeing the effects of smoking here, not the effects of abortion.

Similarly, high IQ people are both healthier and most likely better at avoiding unwanted pregnancies. So we could be seeing an IQ effect here too

Abortion appears to increase the chance of giving birth prematurely in a subsequent wanted pregnancy by a third, according to a British study.

Having a surgical abortion could increase the risk of giving birth before 37 weeks by even more than that, found academics at Aberdeen University.

Prof Siladitya Bhattacharya, a gynaecologist, and a team made their conclusions after comparing the second pregnancies of 170,000 women who had previously had an abortion, to 458,000 undergoing their first pregnancies. They found those who had experienced abortions were 33 per cent more likely to subsequently deliver pre-term than those who had never had an abortion.

They were also 44 per cent more likel to give birth extremely prematurely – before 34 weeks.

The academics controlled for social factors like class – known to be have an effect on pre-term delivery – but were unable to take into account smoking because of a lack of information.

The study was presented on Monday at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Stockholm, Sweden.

Prof Bhattacharya’s wife, Dr Sohinee Bhattacharya, an epidemiologist, who gave the presentation, said the physical act of surgical abortions in particular could damage the cervix.

She explained: “When you do a dilatation of the cervix, quite heavy, thick instruments are used. “Especially in younger women, under 25, it is particularly shown to have an effect because the cervix is quite tight.”

Their study showed that women who underwent surgical abortion were 27 per cent more likely to give birth prematurely in their next pregnancy than those who'd had a medical abortion. The team has not yet analysed the overall increased risk of pre-term birth for each type of abortion, compared to women who have not had an abortion.

Prof Bhattacharya noted that women who had undergone an abortion were only as likely to deliver prematurely as those who had previously miscarried. But he said every effort was needed to understand all the factors that led to premature deliveries. “It is important because pre-term birth is a major cause of death - and short and long-term disability - in babies.

“It also causes the NHS millions in terms of neo-natal care and millions more in terms of support for those with continuing disabilities.”


Drug gives hope to women who suffer recurring miscarriages

This is very good news indeed if replicated

British scientists believe they have found a cheap, commonly used drug which can improve the chances of giving birth to a healthy baby among women who have recurrent miscarriages.

Prednisolone is a steroid which is frequently used to help control asthma symptoms. But now fertility experts at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust have discovered it could also work to significantly reduce the risk of miscarriage.

In a trial of 160 women, all of whom had suffered three or more consecutive miscarriages, they found that those given a daily dose of the drug were much more likely to go on to have a live baby. In the women given prednisolone, 60 per cent went on to give birth. But in those given a placebo, only 40 per cent did so.

Professor Siobhan Quenby, from the trust, described it as a “huge step forward”. She said: “I am delighted with the initial outcome of the trial. This is a huge step forward for people who have the heartbreak of unexplained miscarriages. "But we will need a much bigger trial if we are going to turn these findings into a cure.”

However, she added: "I am confident within as little as a few years we will be able to offer a new test and treatment for repeated miscarriages."

The findings were presented on Tuesday at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Stockholm.


8 July, 2011

Brush, floss if you want to get pregnant, Stockholm fertility conference told

Less healthy women (as indexed by their having gum disease) found it harder to conceive. How surprising! There is NO evidence reported below directly linking oral hygeine habits to conception. And we are looking at a conference paper here so it is hard to check further. Prof. Hart does not list the paper on his website.

Since the women were mostly Asian they may not have absorbed Western imperatives about toothbrushing etc. That all gum disease is directly linked to lack of teeth brushing is an absurd assumption

UPDATE: I have now found the conference abstract. Still no mention of any direct evidence of oral hygiene habits

WOMEN who wish to fall pregnant should be advised to brush their teeth and floss regularly as gum disease affects chances of conception, a fertility conference in Stockholm was told.

Periodontal disease can delay the time it takes to conceive by two months on average, an effect similar to that of obesity in women, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) heard today at its annual meeting.

The evidence comes from a medical study conducted in Western Australia on a group of 3416 pregnant women, most of them young and of Asian background. It took women with gum disease just over seven months to become pregnant, compared to an average five months for counterparts with healthy gums.

For non-Caucasian women with gum disease, the period increased to a year. The study took other factors such as smoking and body weight into account.

The suspected culprit is inflammation caused by oral bacteria, which may have a knock-on effect on tissue in the reproductive system, doctors believe.

This is the first time gum disease has been identified among the factors that affect the chances of a pregnancy, said chief investigator Roger Hart, a professor of reproductive medicine at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

Prof Hart cautioned that dental hygiene was only one part of "a whole package of healthy lifestyle". "You have to make sure you're the appropriate weight, and many women need to lose weight, they need to stop smoking, they need to curtail alcohol to a minimum amount, they need to take folic acid, they need to ensure they've got the rubella (German measles) vaccination," he said. "But yes, if they've got gum disease, that should be treated."

Periodontal disease has been associated in previous research with miscarriage and premature birth, as well as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, respiratory and kidney disease.


Prohibition and the health care cost argument

Money coerced from taxpayers, and allocated by politicians, accounts for almost half of the health care funding in the United States. When the Big Daddy State starts passing out free money, Nanny State prohibitions aren't far behind.

From seat belt laws, to smoking bans, to prohibition of (some) drugs, prohibitionists have led their propaganda campaigns against personal freedom with a "health care cost" argument. "Society" (by which they mean, taxpayers) will bear the health care costs from vehicle injuries, diseases from second-hand smoke, and addiction.

And now, they are extending their successful agitprop campaigns to salty, sugary, or fatty foods -- that is, all the foods you like!

But make no mistake: Their muckraking logic could extend to nearly EVERY facet of your life. What isn't healthy for you should be regulated or banned, because "society" will have to pay for your healthcare costs.

The prohibitionists have it exactly backwards...

The health care costs of supposedly "irresponsible" behavior isn't a reason to ban the behavior, it is a reason to get the government to stop paying for health care.

There are two big reasons for this.

First, it isn't just a tired old slogan that "people should be free to decide for themselves." Everyone's bodies and circumstances are different, making one-size-fits-all standards irrational. We may have been "created equal," but the Creator did NOT make us the same . . .

Some may benefit from the pain-killing or psychological effects of now-illegal drugs.

Some may flourish with strong bodies and long lives with a diet that federal bureaucrats say is unhealthy.

Others will weigh the risks of two different courses of action, and decide, for themselves, that they will derive greater benefit from the seemingly riskier course.

In other words, one person's "irresponsible behavior" is another person's rational pursuit of happiness.

Second, it is unfair to force taxpayers to pay the health care costs of others. It is unfair, for instance, to pay the rehab costs of an addict for something he did to himself. The promise of tax-subsidized services actually INCREASES the number of people with unhealthy lifestyles, because it REDUCES their risks.

In general, people should provide for themselves, and take responsibility for their own behavior. And, they should be free to pool their resources in the event of catastrophes and other unfortunate life events. Yes, they can today enroll in tightly-regulated and often government-subsidized insurance plans, but often the costs are too high because of the State's involvement.

In the age before excessive government subsidy and regulation, people found ways to help each other without The State.

In "Welfare Before the Welfare State" Joshua Fulton writes about mutual-aid societies and fraternal organizations:
By the 1920s, at least one out of every three males was a member of a mutual-aid society. Members of societies carried over $9 billion worth of life insurance by 1920. During the same period, 'lodges dominated the field of health insurance.' Numerous lodges offered unemployment benefits. Some black fraternal lodges, taking note of the sporadic nature of African-American employment at the time, allowed members to receive unemployment benefits even if they were up to six months behind in dues.

These societies frequently held behavioral standards similar to those desired by modern prohibitionists:
Mutual-aid societies also enforced moral codes. In 1892, the Connecticut Bureau of Labor Statistics found that societies followed the 'invariable rule' of denying benefits 'for any sickness or other disability originating from intemperance, vicious or immoral conduct.' Many societies refused to pay benefits for any injury sustained in the 'participation in a riot.' Some lodges even denied membership to people who manufactured explosives or played professional football.

The difference is that these standards were voluntary. If you wanted to continue a life of "intemperance, vicious or immoral conduct," you would be kicked out of these societies, but they couldn't throw you in jail.

Mutual Aid societies provide a model by which individuals could protect their own health and finances, and be part of a community of people who shared the same moral standards -- WITHOUT compelling anyone else to follow the same lifestyle.

We don't need prohibitions. We just need to be free to take care of ourselves and others with compassion, without compulsion or coercion -- that is, without The State.


7 July, 2011

A cloud over our lives: Air pollution linked to learning problems and depression

This is an old chestnut that has become involved with Greenie beliefs. And there are few people in public life as dishonest as Greenies. Read here of what happens if your findings don't suit the Greenie agenda. In the circumstances all findings such as the one below must be treated with grave suspicion

Air pollution has long been blamed for a host of heart and lung related illnesses. Now scientists believe long-term exposure to smog can also make people lose their memory and become more depressed - as it physically alters the brain.

It could have huge implications for city dwellers across the world, it has been claimed.

'The results suggest prolonged exposure to polluted air can have visible, negative effects on the brain, which can lead to a variety of health problems,' said Ohio State University's Laura Fonken. 'This could have important and troubling implications for people who live and work in polluted urban areas around the world.'

The study, which appears in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, is the first to show the negative impact of air pollution on the brain, rather than just the heart and lungs.

Researchers from Ohio State University's Department of Neuroscience collaborated with the university's Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute. The team included Qinghua Sun, associate professor of environmental health sciences, and Sanjay Rajagopalan, professor of cardiovascular medicine.

Previously the Davis research group had used mice to find that fine air particulate matter causes widespread inflammation in the body, and can be linked to high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. In the new study mice were exposed to either filtered or polluted air for six hours a day, five days a week for 10 months - nearly half their lifespan.

The polluted air contained fine particulate matter, the kind of pollution created by cars, factories and natural dust. The fine particulates were tiny, the average width of a human hair, and can reach deep areas of the lungs and other organs.

The mice were exposed to the equivalent matter that people who live in polluted urban areas could expect. After 10 months of exposure the researchers then performed a variety of behavioral tests on the animals.

In a learning and memory test, mice were placed in the middle of a brightly lit arena and given two minutes to find an escape hole leading to a dark box where they would feel more comfortable.
The mice who breathed polluted air took longer to learn where the escape hole was located. They were also less likely to remember where the escape hole was when tested later.

The mice who breathed polluted air took longer to learn where the escape hole was located. They were also less likely to remember where the escape hole was when tested later. In another experiment mice exposed to the polluted air showed more depressive-like behaviours, with higher levels of anxiety.

The researchers tested the hippocampal area of the mice brains to find out how air pollution leads to changes in learning, memory and mood. Results showed clear physical differences in the hippocampi of the mice who were exposed to polluted air compared to those who were not.

The researchers looked specifically at branches that grow off of nerve cells (or neurons) called dendrites, which have small projections growing off them called spines, which transmit signals from one neuron to another. Mice exposed to polluted air had fewer spines in parts of the hippocampus, shorter dendrites and overall reduced cell complexity.

In other studies researchers found chronic exposure to polluted air leads to widespread inflammation in the body, which is linked to a variety of health problems in humans, including depression.


As women AND men inject Human Growth Hormone, we reveal the toxic truth about the new elixir of youth

Having recently passed his 40th birthday, Graham Marks was beginning to notice how the years were taking their toll. Despite being a dedicated gym-goer, he had started to put on weight and found his energy levels flagging. But the final straw came when he tore a ligament in his leg. Doctors told him it would take him three months of wearing a brace before he would recover.

Unhappy about such a long lay-off, Graham, who runs a successful electronics business in the South of England, turned to the other men in his gym for advice on how to speed up the healing process. Almost unanimously, they suggested he did what they did — start injecting himself with a substance called human growth hormone (HGH).

Naturally made in the pituitary gland, the hormone stimulates growth. In the past, it was harvested from corpses before being injected into below-average-height children. Now synthesised in laboratories, it is being used in ways never originally intended.

‘I found some for sale on the internet, bought it and started taking it,’ he says. ‘And my leg recovered in just six weeks.’

That was 18 months ago and Graham hasn’t looked back. He was so impressed by the effect it had on his body that he injects himself with £10 worth of the drug every single day. In that time, he has lost two-and-a-half-stone in weight and put on a noticeable amount of muscle. But, he says, there is more.

‘In my opinion, HGH is a miracle drug. When used in moderation, it will slow down ageing in the body. And it helps to heal everything quicker. Last year, when the bad flu went around, I had friends who were ill with it for up to two weeks. I caught it and recovered in a few days.’

On top of that, he noticed an increase in his sexual libido and improvement in the condition of his skin. A friend who is also using it reported that his thinning hair had started to re-grow.

They are extraordinary claims and ones that are echoed not only in the world of muscle-bound fitness-fanatics but also among those who simply want to halt the body’s ageing process in its tracks.

Earlier this summer, singer Robbie Williams admitted he had consulted doctors in LA about taking HGH simply so he could look and feel younger. ‘It’s what all the old fellas are on in LA — it makes them look 40 instead of 60,’ said Williams, who is 37. ‘It’s improving their health, their memory, their hair and skin.’ (In the end, the singer opted for a course of testosterone injections instead.)

Women, too, are flocking to try out what has been dubbed ‘cosmetic surgery in a syringe’. The youthful-looking trio of Demi Moore, Jennifer Aniston and Madonna are all rumoured to have had HGH jabs.

Dr Lionel Bissoon is one of America’s leading anti-ageing gurus. The rich and famous queue up at his New York clinic to be treated with the drug. ‘For many, this is the fountain of youth and it’s very, very popular,’ he says. ‘My patients say they look good, feel strong and even sleep better. Very few people are disappointed.’

Of course, the ministrations of Dr Bissoon do not come cheap: regular treatment can cost up to £1,200 a month. And therein lies the rub. The vast majority of those using HGH both here and in America cannot afford such costs. Instead, they purchase it over the internet from foreign-based websites and then inject themselves.

In so doing, they blindly trust that what they are sent actually does contain some HGH — rather than being counterfeit or contaminated with unknown substances that could harm or even kill them.

But that isn’t the only risk. HGH is not licensed as an anti-ageing drug. While some studies have suggested it can help the body heal itself and improve athletic performance, other experts believe its anti-ageing abilities have been wildly exaggerated. Worse still, there are growing concerns about the dangers that HGH may pose to health.

Studies show that high levels can lead to swelling of the soft tissues in the body; abnormal growth of the hands, feet and face; high blood pressure; blood clots; diabetes; increased sweating; and excessive hair growth.

Organs — including the heart, liver and kidneys — may also undergo excessive growth, leading to potentially life-threatening problems such as cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle. Cancer risks are also thought to increase.....

One person who has first-hand experience of its effects is Dr Cecilia Tregear, a Harley Street medic who specialises in hormone treatments. ‘I took HGH several years ago,’ she admits. ‘I tried it when I turned 50 to find out if all the fuss was justified. What I noticed were initial, apparently positive effects on my energy levels and my libido rather than physical changes. ‘It certainly didn’t make me look any younger. But even the positive effects were temporary. I lost some fat, but not my wrinkles. My feeling is that the benefits have been exaggerated.’

Her view is backed up by a review of all the research into HGH conducted by scientists at Stanford University in California in 2007. It concluded that using the growth hormone resulted in small changes in body composition and an increased likelihood of conditions such as diabetes. ‘On the basis of this evidence,’ said the review, ‘growth hormone cannot be recommended as an anti-ageing therapy.’

But words such as that are unlikely to carry much truck with the likes of Graham Marks who believe that, in HGH, they have found the secret to eternal youth. ‘I know that I’m never going to be young again, but this stuff keeps me younger longer,’ he says. ‘I honestly feel it has taken at least a decade off my body age.’

But could it actually end up taking years off his life? It is something that he and the others taking part in this dangerous experiment will only discover when it is too late.

More here

6 July, 2011

Cutting back on salt 'does not make you healthier' (despite nanny state warnings)

Cochrane reviews are reviews of the best available evidence on the subject so attempts to discredit this study are unconvincing. That the review looked at "only" seven studies would indicate that other available studies were not of review quality

Eating less salt will not prevent heart attacks, strokes or early death, according to a major study. Its findings contradict all recommendations by the Government and medical profession urging the public to reduce the amount of salt they consume.

Research involving nearly 6,500 people concluded that there was ‘no strong evidence’ that lowering levels in the diet reduced the risk of heart disease or premature death. In fact it found that cutting back on salt actually raises the likelihood of death in some patients with heart problems.

The researchers from Exeter University say that the benefits of cutting back on salt may have been ‘overestimated’. They also point out that there are other important lifestyle factors such as eating fruit, taking exercise, following a low-fat diet and not smoking which will also affect the health of an individual.

The findings have been criticised by campaigners and other scientists, who say there is strong evidence that reducing levels of salt will protect the heart.

They say the reason the study did not show that cutting back on salt prevented heart attacks may be because the people involved reduced their intake only for short periods of time.

Large amounts of salt in the diet increase the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Currently adults are advised to eat no more than 6g of salt a day – or one teaspoon – but it is estimated they average 9g a day.

The Government has begun working with manufacturers, fast food firms and restaurants to try to get them to reduce the amount of salt in their products. And in recent years there have been campaigns urging the public to try to cut down on foods high in it, such as ready meals, takeaways and cereals.

But research published today in the Cochrane Review journal concludes there is limited evidence that cutting down on salt reduces the risk of illness or early death.

The authors from Exeter University looked at seven published studies involving 6,489 people. Some had high blood pressure, others had normal blood pressure and they had all been put on salt-reduction diets.

But the authors found that there was no evidence that cutting down reduced deaths or heart disease in either group. And they found that patients with heart failure who cut back on salt were actually at higher risk of death – possibly because the change in diet is such a shock to the body.

But the researchers insist that their study does not mean government salt reduction campaigns have been a waste of time. Lead researcher Rod Taylor, from the University of Exeter, said: ‘Perhaps surprisingly we didn’t find any statistically significant reduction in death or cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.’

He pointed out that most of the previous research showing that diets low in salt prevent heart disease do not account for the fact people who eat less salt are healthy in general – they take exercise, eat plenty of fruit and tend not to smoke.

He suggested the public would need to cut back on salt for long periods to benefit. The only way this could be done would be to get restaurants, fast food chains and office canteens to reduce the content in their meals.

Katharine Jenner, of Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said: ‘It is very disappointing that the message from this small review indicates that salt reduction may not be beneficial. ‘This is a completely inappropriate conclusion, given the strong evidence and the overwhelming public health consensus that salt raises blood pressure which leads to cardiovascular disease.

‘This review is based on just seven studies that were not designed to test the effects of sodium reduction interventions on cardiovascular events and mortality.’

Simon Capewell, professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, said the study was disappointing and inconclusive.


Light drinking during pregnancy 'is safe' and will not harm your baby, claim experts

Expectant mothers can drink small amounts of alcohol without harming their baby, claim experts. Enjoying one or two glasses of wine a week - about two units - does not raise the risk of premature birth or impair the foetus's growth.

According to research - which looked at 36 studies from around the world on alcohol intake and pregnancy - it is safe to drink the equivalent of half a unit a day.

The finding is likely to add to the confusion surrounding alcohol and pregnancy. Department of Health guidelines advise expectant mothers to abstain completely.

But researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto found that consuming 10g of alcohol a day – just over half a unit – would not harm the unborn baby’s development or increase the chance of premature birth.

It means women should be able to enjoy one or two glasses of wine – one or two units – once or twice a week without harming their unborn child.

But drinking any more than 10g of alcohol a day – just over half a unit – substantially increased the dangers, the researchers told BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Women who drank 30g a day – about one and a half glasses of wine – raised the chance of the foetus being undeveloped or of going into labour prematurely by nearly a quarter.

Drinking heavily has been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth and babies are more likely to be born with deformities.

Patrick O’Brien, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: ‘Women should be careful about the amount of alcohol they consume when pregnant, especially in the first trimester. ‘The RCOG advises if a woman gets pregnant, she should abstain from alcohol. ‘However, if she would like to have a drink, current evidence shows one or two units, once or twice a week, is acceptable after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

‘This does not mean women can use this as an excuse to indulge in more than the recommended amount in the UK.’

It is very difficult to know exactly how many units there are in a glass of wine or measure of spirits. For this reason many health experts recommend women abstain completely throughout pregnancy.


5 July, 2011

Taking ibuprofen every day 'can raise the risk of strokes'

All I think this shows is that people ill enough to take a lot of strong painkillers are prone to other disorders. The painkillers may have nothing to do with it

Painkillers including ibuprofen and common arthritis treatments can drastically increase the risk of strokes, warns a major study. Patients taking the drugs daily are more likely to develop an irregular heartbeat - which can be deadly.

Research involving 30,000 patients found that the group of treatments which includes ibuprofen raised the risk of this complication by 40 per cent. And a group of painkillers known as Cox-2 inhibitors, which include Celebrex and other common drugs for arthritis, increased the likelihood by 70 per cent.

Research has already shown that ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs, and Cox-2 inhibitors increased the risk of heart disease. Certain treatments have been taken off the market because the risk was so high.

But this is the first time scientists have found that the drugs raised the likelihood of abnormal heart rhythm - known as atrial fibrillation - which can lead to a stroke.

The study in Denmark looked at 32,602 patients who had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation from 1999 to 2008.

It found that patients who had been using drugs such as ibuprofen every day within the previous two months were 40 per cent more likely to develop an abnormal heart rhythm.

Those who started taking Cox-2 inhibitors daily within the previous two months were 70 per cent more likely to develop the condition.

The study published online in the British Medical Journal found that the elderly, those with rheumatoid arthritis or with chronic kidney disease were at a particularly high risk.

It also found, however, that patients who had been on the drugs for longer than two months seemed to be less at risk than those who had just started taking them.

The exact numbers of people taking both types of drugs regularly is not known. Experts last night stressed that the risk was low.

Natasha Stewart, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: 'This study suggests a link between common pain relief medicines and an increased risk of developing particular abnormal heart rhythms, known as atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter.

'However it’s important to note that the overall risk from these drugs and abnormal heart rhythms is still small. Those most at risk were the elderly or people with other illnesses, such as chronic kidney disease or rheumatoid arthritis.

'The study also noted that NSAIDs, which include ibuprofen, carried a lower risk than drugs in the COX 2 inhibitor group. 'Doctors are rightly already cautious about prescribing COX 2 inhibitors for people with heart and circulatory disease or at high risk of developing it.

'As with any drug, there are risks and benefits to be had. Talking these through with your GP will help ensure the benefits outweigh any risks involved.'


Two-minute 'cure' for glaucoma

This sounds hopeful but I doubt that it should be introduced generally without waiting for any possible side-effects to emerge

A two-minute 'cure' for glaucoma that uses intensely focused beams of ultrasound has been unveiled by scientists.

Most cases of glaucoma, which affects about 600,000 people in Britain, are caused by a build-up of pressure in the eye. This can damage the optic nerve and, in time, lead to loss of vision and even blindness.

At the moment those with mild to moderate glaucoma tend to be treated with eye drops which relieve some of the pressure. Those with more serious cases undergo surgery to unblock thin tubes which normally drain away an eye liquid called aqueous humour.

Now French scientists have come up with a technique using focused ultrasound, which enables them to heat up and kill cells in the tiny gland that produces aqueous humour and stop it secreting so much.

Prof Philippe Denis, an ophthalmologist in Lyon who has undertaken pioneering surgery with the technique, said: "We turn off the tap, and reduce the pressure in the eye".

Fabrice Romano, chief executive of EyeTechCare, which came up with the procedure, said it was safe and painless, more reliable than both traditional and laser surgery - and quicker. "It can be done in less than two minutes," he said.

He stressed that, like all treatment, it could at best stop damage caused by glaucoma, and not reverse that already sustained by the optic nerve.

The company, which is presenting results from its first 20 patients at the World Glaucoma Congress in Paris this weekend, hopes the procedure will be available in Britain early next year. It is likely to cost about £500 per eye, but the firm hopes it will be available on the NHS in time.

David Wright, chief executive of the International Glaucoma Association, a London-based charity, welcomed the technique.

He said: "The EyeTechCare development of high frequency ultrasound to treat glaucoma is an interesting innovation which, should wider and longer term clinical trials show the same results as those already carried out, would be a most welcome and useful addition to the current range of glaucoma management techniques."


4 July, 2011

New cellphone study doubts cancer risks

Hatred of anything popular ensures that this "controversy" will go on for many years yet

MOBILE phones may not increase the risk of brain cancer, a study has found, just a month after the World Health Organisation said using the devices may cause tumours.

Studies from several countries have failed to show an increase in brain tumours, up to 20 years after mobile phones were introduced and 10 years after the technology became widespread, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection's committee on epidemiology wrote in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The findings of the committee, which included scientists from Australia, challenge those of an International Agency for Research on Cancer review.

However, the debate is likely to continue because data is limited and researchers cannot prove the complete absence of an impact on the world's 4.6 billion mobile users.

"This is a really difficult issue to research," David Spiegelhalter, the Winton professor of the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, said. "This report is clear that any risk appears to be so small that it is very hard to detect."

The International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection sets guidelines for exposure limits to radiation, including radio frequency fields emitted by mobile phones.

The panel reviewed all previous studies on the link between mobile phone use and brain tumours, including the largest epidemiological study to date, known as Interphone, which could not find a definite link between mobile use and certain types of brain tumours.

Last month the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the Geneva-based WHO that classifies cancer risks, said exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields was greater from handsets than phone towers and base stations.


'Wonder pill' that claims to contain your entire five-a-day quota of fruit and veg goes on sale in UK

Another outing for the antioxidant religion, apparently. It's also an Amway-type racket

A daily 'wonder pill' said to contain all five portions of fruit and vegetables has gone on sale today. The supplement, called Juice Plus+, is popular in America and has a string of celebrity fans including TV adventurer Bear Grylls and the German Olympic team.

The UK distributer Justin Dodd believes the pills, which come in three different blends, could help busy people 'hit their five-a-day.' Mr Dodd, MD of specialist training firm Evolve Training UK, said: 'Juice Plus+ really is a wonder pill in every sense. 'It literally contains all five portions of your recommended minimum five-a-day, and can be taken on-the-move without any fuss.

'This means everyone can still get their intake of vital vitamins, regardless of how busy they are.'

The pills contain no fat and less than 1 g of dietary fibre, protein and sugar. The 'wonder' pill doesn't come cheap. A month's supply costs £35.50 and a minimum order is four months.

The U.S producer of the pills, Natural Alternative International, claims it is the 'next best thing to eating fruits and vegetables' and say the supplements provide nutrition from 17 different greens and grains. They also say the pills can reduce the effects of a high-fat meal.

The company points to 16 clinical studies that found the pill supported the immune system, boosted heart health and effectively increased antioxidant nutrients in the body.

However, although the research was published in peer-review journals, most of it was funded by the manufacturer. The company say such sponsored projects are normal practice in the industry.

Scientists at the University of California Berkeley have also shed doubt on the glowing testimonials for the product. They said it was impossible to deliver' nutrients of five servings of fruits in several capsules weighing 850mg.

They added in their Wellness Guide to Dietary Supplements: 'No capsules can substitute for fruits and vegetables, which contain the best balance of nutrients and phytochemicals.' 'You cannot "concentrate" significant amounts of them in a capsule.'

They warned that the supplement was distributed through a multi-tiered marketing scheme that gave it an exaggerated value and cost.

But writing on, Dr Isadore Rosenfeld from New York Hospital Weil Cornell Medical Center defended the product. He said: 'It is not marketed either as a fiber supplement or as a substitute for eating more fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains.'

Mr Dodd added today: 'Juice Plus+ has not been designed to replace real food because it is real food. That said, it should only be used as part of a healthy lifestyle - and fruit and vegetables should be very much on the menu.'

Only about a third of Britons are thought to eat their five fresh fruits and vegetables a day as advised by the Department of Health.


3 July, 2011

Children 'face liver disease epidemic' because of poor diet and lack of exercise (?)

A top liver expert has warned that hundreds of thousands of children may have a potentially fatal condition associated with alcoholics due to their poor diets and lack of physical activity.

Professor Martin Lombard, the Department of Health’s first liver tsar, says rising levels of obesity mean as many as half-a-million children under the age of 15 could have an early form of fatty liver disease, which can lead to cancer, strokes and heart problems.

However, Prof Lombard has been criticised for basing his figures on the average number of obese adults who develop fatty liver disease, rather than clinical evidence.

Conservative MP Dan Poulter, a former doctor, said: ‘I’m wary about making assumptions without hard clinical evidence. We risk scaring parents unnecessarily.’

Hospital liver units have reported seeing increasing numbers of young people with fatty liver disease – which Prof Lombard calls a ‘silent killer’ because it is symptomless until it becomes very serious.


Beetroot juice again

It does appear that nitrates in beetroot juice induce temporary vasodilation but lots of things do that -- including alcohol. I know which one I would rather drink. And would not athletes using it be banned for using a "performance-enhancing drug"?

Beetroot juice could help athletes beat the best. The brightly-coloured juice gives cyclists such a boost that they can shave vital seconds off their time, Exeter University research shows.

The benefits of beetroot juice don’t end there, with previous studies from the university crediting it with increasing stamina. Lowering blood pressure, warding off dementia, and even giving pensioners the extra energy they need to make a trip to the shops, could all also be in its power.

While the list of benefits may seem remarkable, scientists say the can be explained by the abundance of nitrite in the veg. Once inside the body the chemical gets to work widening the blood vessels, speeding oxygen flow to the muscles – including the brain – and allowing them make the most of the oxygen breathed in.

In the latest study, the Exeter team asked nine men who cycle competitively to compete in time trials over 2.5 miles and 10 miles. Before setting off, they drank just under a pint of beetroot juice. They repeated the two routes on a different day, but this time fuelled by beetroot juice missing its nitrite.

When the cyclists drank the nitrite-rich, ordinary beetroot juice they were 11 seconds quicker over the shorter distance and 45 seconds quicker over the longer route. While this may not sound like much, the top two riders in last year’s Tour de France were separated by just 39 seconds.

Tests on the Exeter cyclists showed that the nitrite allowed their muscles and hearts to work more efficiently, the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reports.

Researcher Professor Andrew Jones said: ‘This is the first time we’ve studied the effects of beetroot juice, and the high nitrite levels found in it, on simulated competition. ‘These findings show an improvement in performance that, at competition level, could make a real difference – particularly in an event like the Tour de France where winning margins can be tight.’

And it is not just professional athletes who could benefit, with better use of oxygen making it easier for the old and frail to complete everyday tasks, including summoning up the energy needed to walk to the shops.

The study used shop-bought beetroot juice but home-made versions should also be beneficial.

However, there could be an unexpected consequence. A quirk of genetics means that eating beetroot leaves some people producing purple urine, or 'beeturia' as it is known to scientists.


2 July, 2011

Avastin Fight Highlights Limits Of Big, Random Trials

A Food and Drug Administration special advisory panel voted 6-0 on Wednesday to withdraw approval of the drug Avastin for treating late-stage breast cancer, sticking to its usual scientific standards despite some patients' pleas to disregard them.

The recommendation was based on the best scientific evidence currently available, but the controversy highlights the limits of the science the FDA uses to determine drug effectiveness.

"Large, randomized-controlled trials are the 20th century," said Peter Pitts, president of the conservative Center for Medicine in the Public Interest. "The 21st century is the age of personalized medicine, where we need better molecular diagnostics to determine which subpopulation reacts to which treatments."

Avastin blocks the growth of new blood vessels to tumors, and is already FDA-approved for late-stage colon and lung cancer.

In 2008 the FDA granted accelerated approval of Avastin for use in late-stage breast cancer based on one randomized trial that found it slowed the progression of late-stage breast cancer.

In late 2010, the FDA withdrew approval based on two trials that found Avastin did little to slow progression, did not improve overall survival from late-stage breast cancer, and that it posed serious health risks, including death.

Randomized-controlled trials often involve large samples of patients. Such studies determine if a drug has a widespread benefit. But this is also a limitation. A treatment may work for a subpopulation in the sample, but since it doesn't work for most people in the sample, the average shows that the treatment is ineffective.

"The concept that you're looking for one magic bullet that cures a ton of patients at once is the wrong idea," said Terry Kalley, who founded Freedom of Access to Medicines in response to the FDA's 2010 decision on Avastin. "Cancer is likely to be cured by several therapies that target different subpopulations." Kalley says his wife Arlene has been taking Avastin, along with chemotherapy, for 27 months.

Roche asked the FDA to extend its approval of Avastin until it conducts a study that "would include a biomarker component to identify patients who may be more likely to derive a more substantial benefit from Avastin."

But that is in the future. "Unfortunately, the data we have right now (don't) allow us to know if there is such a subpopulation," said Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action.

Jaggar is concerned that Roche is using this as a stalling tactic to keep Avastin on the market. The Swiss drug giant could lose nearly $1 billion in sales, analysts say. "We must insist that breast-cancer patients are receiving drugs that have been demonstrated to work," Jaggar added.

Others say regulators should keep Avastin approved for now. "The FDA should say the evidence isn't there right now, but we will work with Genentech and patient groups to develop the appropriate diagnostics," said Pitts. "But the FDA needs to leave the indication on the label so people can still use it and be reimbursed for that."

If the FDA rescinds Avastin for late-stage breast cancer, at least until subpopulations are studied, then Genentech/Roche cannot market the drug for that purpose.

Doctors could still prescribe Avastin for the off-label use. But it's unlikely that government programs like Medicare and Medicaid or private insurance will cover Avastin — which costs $80,000 or more per year — for breast cancer.

An estimated 17,500 women suffer from late-stage breast cancer.

Many people like Terry testified at the hearings about Avastin. But without better data, such stories are little more than anecdotal.

The flip side is that if it turns out that Avastin does help some subpopulations, such women today will suffer as long as the FDA does not approve the drug for late-stage breast-cancer treatment.


Children risking ill health and shorter life by eating 50% too much salt every day

But only if you believe official guidelines are scientifically based. They are not. They are just a poorly-founded guess

Children are routinely eating too much salt, risking ill health and a shorter life. Typical amounts are at least 50 per cent more than the recommended daily maximum but some consume almost double.

Health experts warn that the processed foods and sauces at the heart of the nation’s diet are fuelling a dangerous daily overdose. High salt consumption pushes up blood pressure, which in the long term can lead to strokes and heart attacks. These are the country’s biggest causes of death and disability.

Health campaigners took two typical daily menus enjoyed by many children and calculated the salt content to be 9.3g to 9.6g. However, for a child aged seven to ten, the recommended maximum is just 5g. Eating 9.6g of salt in a day would be 92 per cent above this amount – nearly double.

The menu which contained this much salt started with a bowl of cereal for breakfast, followed by a muffin for a mid-morning snack. Lunch included a ham and cheese sandwich, a pack of crisps, cheese dip snack and a biscuit, which had a combined salt content of 3.7g. Dinner included potato croquettes, chicken nuggets, baked beans and ketchup

Safe daily amounts of salt vary depending on age and size, starting at 1g or less for babies. If the entire nation cut down to these levels, doctors estimate that 70,000 heart attacks and strokes would be prevented in just one year.

Consensus Action on Salt and Health has been campaigning for food manufacturers and supermarkets to remove hidden salt. Campaign director Katharine Jenner said: ‘Popular foods like bread, cereal, baked beans, cheese, tomato sauce and processed meats are some of the biggest culprits. So try not to feed your child them every day. ‘Also, throw away the salt cellar. If you eat food which tastes less salty, your taste buds adapt really quickly.’

She warned: ‘The higher the blood pressure in childhood, the higher the blood pressure will be in adulthood. ‘By getting your child used to less salt, you are protecting their health in the long term.’

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has set up a voluntary scheme, the Responsibility Deal, to encourage firms to meet salt reduction targets. The major supermarkets and leading brands such as Heinz, Kellogg’s, Subway and Mars have signed up.

Miss Jenner said: ‘It is in their best interests if they want to prolong the lives of their customers.'


1 July, 2011

"Elixir of life" discovered on Easter Island

A very speculative extrapolation from people with a rare disease. Interesting that it is already used as an anti-rejection drug. No reports of the people receiving it in that connection suddenly bouncing around like Fred Astaire!

A drug has been discovered which scientists believe can reverse the effects of premature ageing and could extend human life by more than a decade.

Rapamycin, which has been nicknamed the “forever young” drug, was created from a chemical found in the soil on Easter Island, one of the most remote places on Earth and 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile.

It was used in experiments on children suffering from Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (HGPS), a rare genetic condition in which ageing is hyper-accelerated and sufferers die of “old age” at around 12 years.

HGPS causes a dangerous process whereby a protein called progerin builds up in every cell of the body, causing them to age prematurely. Rapamycin cleaned the cells of progerin, which swept away the defects and left healthy cells.

Researchers in the United States, who include Francis Collins, a pioneering genetic scientist and collaborators from Harvard Medical School, are expected to start looking at whether the drug could be used more widely, after similarities between HGPS and the normal ageing process were uncovered.

Rapamycin is already used to suppress the immune system in organ transplants.

Dimitri Krainc, one of the study's co-authors, said: “Even a small activation of this 'debris removal' system would extend the health and life-span of our cells and organs.”

The work was reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.


Sweets (candies) are 'good for children and may stop them from getting fat in later life'

This would appear to be support for the view that the war on obesity is one of the causes of obesity. Kids who are NOT told that sweet things are wicked are less likely to see such things as exciting and are more measured in their consumption of such things.

A social class explanation of the finding seems unlikely unless we assume that middle class people give their kids more sweets -- something that is usually attributed to working classs people

It is an astounding claim that flies in the face of decades of nutritional wisdom. Eating sweets might actually stop your child from getting fat, researchers say. According to their study, youngsters who regularly eat chocolate bars and other treats are significantly less likely to be overweight or obese than those who do not. The effect apparently extends to adolescence, when those who eat sweets are even more likely to be thinner.

The findings appear to contradict the vast bulk of research which indicates that sweets are not only bad for your teeth but bad for your body too. It could also make the job of parents who try to steer their children away from sugary treats even more difficult.

Researchers at Louisiana State University in the U.S. monitored more than 11,000 children and young people between the ages of two and 18 from 1999 to 2004. The data showed that children who ate sweets were 22 per cent less likely to be overweight or obese than those who did not. Among adolescents, even more – 26 per cent – were likely to weigh less than their counterparts who did not eat sweets.

Across all ages there were also lower levels of C-reactive protein in sweet-eating children. High levels of the protein are thought to raise the risk of heart problems and other chronic illnesses.

Explaining the survey results, the researchers said that children who were fed the right portions of sweets from an early age learned the vital skill of ‘food discipline’.

They also said those who ate treats just on special occasions were more aware of their eating habits and able to ‘successfully navigate the calories in, calories out balance’.

Dr Carol O’Neil, lead researcher, added: ‘The study illustrates that children and adolescents who consume candy are less likely to be overweight or obese. However, the results of this study should not be construed as a hall-pass to overindulge. ‘Candy should not replace nutrient-dense foods in the diet. It is a special treat and should be enjoyed in moderation.’

Britain is said to be on the brink of an obesity epidemic with nearly one in ten six-year-olds and 15 per cent of 15-year-olds in England classified as obese, Department of Health figures reveal.

Recently experts at the American Association of Pediatrics warned that Western countries have created a ‘perfect storm’ for childhood obesity as a result of advertising pressure and inactive lifestyles.

Southampton-based dietitian Priya Tew said that children who were given treats by their parents learned lessons that stood them in good stead later in life. ‘It could be that children get used to treats but learn to have smaller portions and not have them every day,’ she said, adding: ‘I’d be interested to see how much exercise the children in the study carried out because it might be that the children who eat the most sweets run around the most.’

The study results were reported in the journal Food and Nutrition Research.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.

2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful

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

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

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

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

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

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

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like