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


30 June, 2009

Australia: Food fanatic father

I suppose this is one endpoint of the "obesity" war. He sounds like a bit of a nut but you can't entirely blame him for believing all the tripe about "obesity" that is constantly poured out in the media these days

A COURT has banned a Victorian father from weighing his son. The Family Court orders also prevent the dad discussing the nine-year-old's weight with, or within earshot of, the boy, the Herald Sun reports. The man could face sanctions including fines or jail if he breaches the order and a series of others set by the judge.

Justice Nahum Mushin imposed the restrictions at the end of a bitter 16-day custody hearing where the child's health was a major flashpoint. The court heard the dad is fixated on the fact his disabled son's weight exceeds 40kg, and he blames his ex-wife for the blowout. The father - who can't be identified for legal reasons - accused the mother of allowing the boy to watch too much television, eat fatty foods and exercise little.

He was concerned the child's weight was having an impact on the effectiveness of various medications. The boy suffers from a range of medical problems. The mother accused the man of denigrating the boy about his weight, and of using his size as a reason to criticise her.

Doctors and teachers trying to care for the boy were alienated by the man's aggressive behaviour, the court heard. The man's conduct to the child's main doctor was "harassing, aggressive and confrontational", the court found in a judgment published last month. The dad - who wanted his son to change schools - also wrote "derogatory, dictatorial and sarcastic notes" in a diary to a teacher, the court heard.

The judge ruled the children should live with the mother and granted her sole responsibility for decisions about the boy's health and education.

Justice Mushin described the case as "extremely protracted and bitter". "There is enormous antipathy between the parties. Throughout this trial I searched for, and could not find, any point of convergence between them with regard to their parenting," he ruled.


Australian scientists claim swine flu vaccine breakthrough

Scientists at the University of Queensland have developed a vaccine for swine flu. The breakthrough against the influenza A(H1N1) virus will be announced at the university's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology tomorrow.

Five Australians with swine flu have died while more than 3000 have been diagnosed. "It's one of the first swine flu vaccines made but, unfortunately, it can't be used in Australia yet," a university spokesman said. "It's not registered for use in Australia yet."

Meanwhile, scientists from CSL say its Melbourne laboratory has created an effective sample of a vaccine against the influenza, but human trials are needed to determine the right dosage and may not be available until next winter. Fairfax Media says the federal government has ruled out releasing the vaccine early to vulnerable groups such as the elderly or those with chronic illnesses.

Rachel David from CSL said results of the trial - involving 240 healthy adults from South Australia - would determine when the 10 million doses ordered by the government would be distributed. Dr David said the earliest the vaccine would be ready for use is mid- to late-August, but if the virus continued to produce mild symptoms the government might delay distribution until next year. The Therapeutic Goods Administration, the government and public health experts, not CSL, would control when the vaccine is available.

All five people who have died in Australia with swine flu - two Western Australians and three Victorians - had underlying health conditions.


29 June, 2009

Tasty food is bad for you(?)

Now the food Fascists want to make our food less tasty, apparently. Note that Kessler is too much of a nut even for California. He was unceremoniously fired last year as Dean of the medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. So treat his colourful assertions with caution. Food producers undoubtedly have some role in what we eat but your weight is mostly genetically determined

JUNK foods such as Snickers bars and ketchup really are irresistible. Manufacturers have created combinations of fat, sugar and salt that are so tasty many people cannot stop eating them even when full, according to America’s former food standards watchdog. David Kessler, former head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has warned that snacks, cereals and ready meals devised by food scientists can act on the reward centres of the brain in the same way as tobacco.

He argues that manufacturers are seeking to trigger a “bliss point” when people eat certain products, leaving them hungry for more. “It is time to stop blaming individuals for being overweight or obese,” said Kessler. “The real problem is we have created a world where food is always available and where that food is designed to make you want to eat more of it. For millions of people, modern food is simply impossible to resist.”

While at the FDA, Kessler was best known for his attacks on the tobacco industry, which he accused of manipulating cigarettes to make them even more addictive. In a new book, The End of Overeating, he suggests food manufacturers have achieved a similar result using precise combinations of fat, sugar, salt and texture to make foods “hyper-palatable”.

Kessler cites Heinz tomato ketchup and Starbucks white chocolate mocha Frappuccino as examples of the thousands of modern foods that have been engineered to stimulate feelings of pleasure. A study carried out by Kessler with researchers at Yale University using functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques, showed that about 50% of obese people and 30% of those who are overweight were prone to so-called “excessive activation”. “The right combination of tastes triggers a greater number of neurons, getting them to fire more,” said Kessler. “The message to eat becomes stronger, motivating the eater to look for even more food.”

In other research, scientists have used rats to study how different combinations of fat, sugar and salt trigger the release of neurotransmitters in the brain’s pleasure centres. The most powerful combination involved sucrose (table sugar) mixed with chocolate and alcohol – the same mixture found in desserts such as tiramisu.

Kessler said: “Many of us have what’s called a ‘bliss point’ – the point at which we get the greatest pleasure from sugar, fat or salt. “As more sugar is added, food becomes more pleasurable until we reach the bliss point, after which it becomes too sweet and the pleasure drops off.” The same thing happens with fat and salt. At the optimum point, food stimulates many people’s appetites instead of suppressing it, according to Kessler, who ran the FDA from 1990 to 1997 and is now professor of paediatrics, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California.

There have been a series of warnings about obesity in Britain. A landmark report by the National Audit Office in 2001 found that 20% of adults were obese – a figure that has since risen to 25% – while a further 38% were overweight.

The findings alarmed Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, so much that he warned of a “health time bomb” – particularly among children. In 2007 the government’s science-led Foresight report said: “The wide variety and appeal of modern foods, with their increased palatability and ability to heighten sensory stimulation, drive us to reward ourselves with more food.”

Experts claimed that such evidence showed the need for state intervention. However, when Gordon Brown announced the Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy early last year, he said: “There should be no doubt that maintaining a healthy weight must be the responsibility of individuals first – it is not the role of government to tell people how to live their lives.”

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University and a government adviser, said politicians’ obsession with promoting “choice” was damaging public health. “If I walk to my local park for some exercise,” he said, “I pass more than 30 food outlets before I get there. It’s that combination of availability, advertising and seductive taste that makes modern food so addictive. ”


Obama's FDA wants to class a vitamin as a drug so it can ban it until it has undergone many years of testing

That it is therapeutically useful has already been established in proper double-blind studies -- e.g. here -- JR

Kidney disease causes almost 500,000 Americans to require dialysis or a transplant.22 Diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage kidney disease.23 With today’s epidemic of type 2 diabetes, the market for a drug that protects against diabetic complications is huge.

Based on scientific data documenting its remarkable biologic effects, a drug company paid for studies to prove the efficacy of pyridoxamine in protecting against diabetic complications.

One of these studies showed that pyridoxamine slowed the rate of rise of a marker of kidney failure (creatinine) by 68% and improved certain parameters of kidney function in humans. This company spent about $100 million funding various pyridoxamine studies before it ran out of money. The FDA wants to protect pharmaceutical financial interests, even if pyridoxamine is never approved as a new drug. According to the FDA, pyridoxamine cannot be marketed as a dietary supplement because: “pyridoxamine is authorized for investigation as a new drug for which substantial clinical investigations have been conducted and their existence made public…”

The FDA’s twisted position is that if vitamin companies can offer low-cost pyridoxamine supplements, then there is no incentive for a drug company to invest hundreds of millions of dollars getting it approved as a prescription drug. Said differently, to protect the financial interests of a pharmaceutical company, the FDA is willing to deny every health-conscious American access to the life-saving benefits of pyridoxamine, which include preventing the very disease the drug company is seeking to have pyridoxamine approved to treat!


Even under the FDA’s fast track program, obtaining new drug approval can take decades. In the case of pyridoxamine, which has been around since life evolved on earth, there are numerous hurdles that have to be cleared before it becomes an official “drug.”

Assuming successful completion of a Phase IIb trial—this assumes an end-of-Phase II meeting and formal vetting of Phase III (pivotal, registrational) trial design(s) and associated study endpoints—and assuming at least two Phase III trials involving 1,500 patients studied for at least six months (and at least 500 patients studied for at least one year, and at least 200 studied for two years), with estimates for Phase III trial recruiting of 12 months and a nine-month turnaround time from the FDA following NDA (new drug application) submission, an estimated timeline would suggest that pyridoxamine might be available around 2014.

Until these clinical trials are completed, an outside FDA review committee recommends approval, and FDA bureaucrats grant approval, pyridoxamine will never be available to American citizens. The death toll from heart attack, kidney failure, and a host of other diseases preventable with pyridoxamine may then reach into the millions.

The FDA pretends to “protect the public health.” This cruel hoax is once again exposed by this bureaucratic edict that seeks to deny Americans access to a critically important disease-fighting nutrient.

Pyridoxamine is Found Naturally in Our Food! Pyridoxamine occurs naturally in fish, chicken, walnuts, carrots, eggs, and other foods. People ingest small quantities each day. The FDA apparently feels so empowered that it thinks it can by proclamation ban an ingredient people obtain in their normal diet.

By defining the safest form of vitamin B6 (pyridoxamine) to be a “new drug,” the FDA has once again capitulated to pharmaceutical financial interests at the expense of the public’s health.

What if Pyridoxamine is Approved as a Drug? On March 25, 2008, the company seeking to have pyridoxamine approved as a “drug” stated that it will be conducting a Phase IIb study on diabetic patients with kidney disease. The estimated study completion date is August 2010.

If this study demonstrates a successful clinical outcome, it will then be submitted to the FDA for so-called “fast track” approval. It could take several years, if ever, before FDA approval is granted for pyridoxamine. In the meantime, according to the FDA’s Byzantine logic, no American is “allowed” to have pyridoxamine, effectively condemning millions to needless suffering and death.

If pyridoxamine is ever approved, it will only be for very limited indications, such as end-stage kidney failure and diabetic neuropathies. Unless you happen to suffer from these diseases, you will find it difficult to obtain a “pyridoxamine prescription.” Then again, the cost of “prescription pyridoxamine” will be so astronomical that few will be able to afford it anyway.

If pyridoxamine becomes a new drug, the federal government will spend millions of tax dollars paying full retail price for it via the corrupt Medicare Prescription Drug Act, which adds another absurdity to the FDA’s proposed ban.

More than 26 million Americans over age 20 suffer chronic kidney disease, which represents 13% of the adult population! Diabetes and poorly controlled blood pressure are the leading causes of kidney failure, meaning this epidemic is largely preventable with early detection. Annual blood chemistry tests and regular blood pressure checks can identify deteriorating kidney function early and enable one to initiate corrective actions. Unfortunately, millions of Americans do not have regular blood tests (or blood pressure checks), resulting in the silent development of end-stage renal disease. For too many victims, they don’t find out their kidneys have failed until admitted to a hospital emergency room with severe symptoms.

End-stage renal disease is the name for kidney failure so advanced that it cannot be reversed. End-stage renal disease means that kidney function is so poor that the patient cannot be kept alive without aggressive and often only partially effective treatment.

There are 336,000 Americans receiving chronic dialysis treatment right now. Another 136,000 Americans are surviving with a kidney transplant.22 These treatments can induce serous side effects that shorten the patient’s life span. The annual cost of dialysis alone is about $70,000, most of which is borne by Medicare (which is facing near-term insolvency)...

The FDA is seeking to ban pyridoxamine, which has been demonstrated to significantly delay the progression of kidney disease. Pyridoxamine has been shown to slow the elevation of creatinine, a blood marker of kidney function by 68%.24 These data indicate that many of those destined to perish from kidney disease will be dying prematurely because of the FDA’s draconian actions to keep pyridoxamine away from the public....

We know that pyridoxamine was used as a dietary supplement in the early 1990s. If we can prove that pyridoxamine was sold in the United States prior to October 1994, the FDA will not be allowed to ban it. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act protects supplements marketed prior to October 1994.

If you used pyridoxamine prior to October 1994, please let us know so we can add your name to an affidavit and use any evidence you have to overturn the FDA’s proposed ban on pyridoxamine.


28 June, 2009

Chemical ban will not help kids

Activists and some politicians are exploiting parents' legitimate concerns for their children's health by trying to convince state governments to pass a ban on the safe and eminently useful chemical bisphenol-A (BPA).

BPA has been used in many familiar guises for decades, with absolutely no reliable evidence of harm to humans of any age. Considering its many uses, one might say it's almost ubiquitous. Among the most common uses: plastic bottles of many types--it's required in the manufacture of shatter-proof polycarbonate plastic, which is also invaluable in baby bottles, bike helmets and protective car-seats, eyeglass lenses, and medical devices of many kinds. The resin coatings that protect the integrity of canned food and beverages--as well as nearly all electronic circuit boards--also depend on BPA.

So what's all the fuss about? It has been claimed that low doses of hormonally-active substances in the environment may cause health problems, but this allegation is highly controversial. Multiple studies by both government and private researchers have not shown any evidence of adverse effects in humans. My organization, the American Council on Science and Health, published a peer-reviewed scientific assessment of the available data, including both animal and human studies, that found no compelling evidence that people are being put at risk by the trace levels of exposure to BPA.

Since BPA is found in our bodies--although at extremely minute amounts--some groups have seized upon this as an excuse to frighten parents and seek government and media attention. However, with our increasingly sophisticated analytical techniques, near-infinitesimal quantities of almost anything can be detected in our blood and tissues. Even the Centers for Disease Control have stated that the mere presence of a substance in our bodies does not mean that it's harmful.

Periodically, activists with an anti-chemical agenda pick up on these issues and start pressuring politicians at various levels of government to ban or restrict consumer products, based on nothing more than hypothetical dangers like this one.

Despite what's been painted as received truth in the activist blogosphere, the FDA's conclusions are based on the full weight of scientific evidence after their review of hundreds of studies from all sources, not just a few industry-funded studies. Official scientific analyses worldwide have comprehensively reviewed the actual data, and have reached similar conclusions: BPA in consumer products is safe as currently used.

If states take a stricter view of BPA than the U.S. FDA, and even the ultra-precautionary EU, what will be activists' next target? With a safety track record spanning more than fifty years, BPA is one of the best-tested substances in commerce. What would replace BPA in the many applications it is essential for? Will glass replace shatter-proof baby bottles? Will some other chemical replace it in bike helmets--only to come under activist attack in a year or two, since the safety record of any replacement will be more suspect than this well-known substance?

Let's not throw the baby bottles out with the bath water. There isn't a shred of scientific or medical sense in the proposed ban of bisphenol-A. If there were, wouldn't the regulators and their expert scientific advisors around the world have taken notice, after decades of its safe consumer use? Regulators should resist the political pressure to target BPA and follow the scientific and medical database supporting BPA's continuing safe use--for all ages of consumers.


Australia: Using taxpayers' money to save obese people from themselves is futile nanny statism

By Dr Jeremy Sammut

The Rudd government’s National Preventive Health Taskforce will next week call for obese people to be given tax breaks or cash subsidies to offset the cost of gym memberships and fitness equipment.

Public health lobbyists have hailed this step as a new dawn in the fight against obesity. But really, it highlights the mixed success of the last 40 years of public health promotion campaigns – on which Australian governments currently spend about $2 billion per year.

Despite what the misleading Body Mass Index statistics allegedly tell us about the nation’s expanding waistline, the healthy lifestyle message has seeped into the culture. First it was jogging and cutting red meat and dairy out your diet. Now it’s cutting out sugars altogether and going to the gym three times a week.

Many Australians order salad instead of chips. Snack on low-fat yoghurt instead of ice-creams. And pass when the cheese platter comes around. They even pay for gym memberships out of their own pockets so they can work out before or after work or during their lunch hours.

And for their trouble, the government is about to force them to subsidise the unhealthier habits of people who haven’t the will and self-discipline to follow their good example. And to pay for what? Ab-crunchers that will sit dusty and dormant in the garages of the slothful and indolent?

The high priests of the nanny state are at it again. As usual, bad behaviour is being rewarded and good behaviour is punished. And the importance of individual responsibility is being ignored entirely.

The above is a recent press release from the Centre for Independent Studies

27 June, 2009

Scottish scientists raise hopes of new treatments for autism

This is pretty nutty. Only 5 out of 121 autistic kids had the gene abnormality and they think they have found THE autism gene. What a lot of bollocks!

Scottish scientists have discovered a gene linked with autism, raising the prospect of the development of new treatments for the condition. Drugs to control autism could be developed within five years as a result of the findings, according to the doctor who led the research team at the University of Aberdeen. The condition affects more than 500,000 people across Britain and there is no cure.

The study, published yesterday, began seven years ago with one child with severe autism. The boy attended the genetics clinic at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where he was found to have a rare re-arrangement of chromosomes in which one had broken and swapped with another. By using genetic mapping techniques, researchers discovered that this realignment had disrupted a gene known to be important to memory and learning. When they extended the study to examine 120 other families with autism, they found that four other children — two siblings in two separate families — had faults in the same gene, known as EIF4E.

It is estimated that 1 per cent of the British population suffers from autism, a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way that a person communicates and relates to those around them. The condition occurs in varying forms of severity, and some people require lifelong care.

The research was led by Zosia Miedzybrodzka, reader in medical genetics at the University of Aberdeen and honorary clinical geneticist at NHS Grampian. She said that the study was a significant step towards the discovery of a treatment. “When I started doing genetics I believed that conditions such as autism, that people are born with or develop when very young, would be hard-wired and that there was little you could do about it,” she said. “But what we are learning now is that they are modifiable, and that is very exciting. I think we could be trying out drugs in five years. It is not a cure, but something that would potentially improve the condition dramatically.”

Dr Miedzybrodzka said that the work suggested that a correction of EIF4E abnormalities could improve symptoms in people whose autism did not result from a fault in the gene. “If you fix the problem at the endpoint then you also fix problems further upstream,” she said.

She paid tribute to the parents of the boy who prompted the research, pointing out that the study was an extra complication for the family as they struggled to cope with his condition. “It has been a long process and the family has been key to allowing us to get the blood samples we needed from the boy. With his condition, which was very severe, that was no trivial thing,” she said. The parents of the child, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We are delighted that the work that started with our son brings so much hope for the future.”

Carol Evans, national director at the National Autistic Society Scotland, said that the research could shed new light on the condition. She emphasised, though, that much could be done to help to manage the condition until a treatment is found. “Various studies over many years have sought to identify candidate genes but so far inconclusively,” she said. “Whilst it is important that this research continues, it is also crucial that those living with the condition have access to appropriate advice and information, as the right support at the right time can make an enormous difference to people’s lives.”

Autism is a lifelong developmental condition affecting the way that the brain processes information. The condition is on the rise in Britain, but many experts believe that the increase is because of improved diagnosis. While people can have varying degrees of autism, all sufferers share similar symptoms, including problems with verbal and non-verbal communication, difficulties with social interaction and repetitive behaviour, or narrow, obsessive interests. Boys are four times as likely to develop autism as girls. Research indicates that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may account for changes in brain development.


The "prevention" dream

When it comes to health care spending, an ounce of prevention is seldom worth a pound of cure. Take Mrs. Jones, a hypothetical 55-year-old obese woman at risk for diabetes. It costs $900 a year to hire a personal lifestyle coach to help her lose weight and prevent diabetes. Suppose that the coaching works for Mrs. Jones, and she is spared diabetes and all the resulting health bills. But research shows that for every person like Mrs. Jones, six other people just like her get nothing out of such a program. They either don't lose weight or get diabetes anyway or wouldn't have developed it in the first place. The yearly cost of the prevention program for those six people: $5,400. That's probably more than Mrs. Jones' health bills from diabetes would have amounted to. There goes your pound of cure.

The truth is, shockingly few prevention efforts actually save the health care system money overall, despite claims by the president and some in Congress. Discussing daily aspirin use with people at risk of heart disease does save money. So do vaccinations for children. When doctors talk to smokers and offer medication to help them quit, that, too, saves money. But those are the exceptions.

Prevention is a good deal, some experts say, if you can buy one year of perfect health for less than $50,000. The most-recommended prevention efforts - like flu shots for adults, Pap smears for women and colon cancer screening for people over 50 - meet that cutoff. But they certainly don't save money.

Some say cost is beside the point, since those things save lives at what's deemed a reasonable expense. Back to Mrs. Jones. Helping 100 people like her would cost $270,000 over three years, but also would prevent 15 new cases of diabetes, avoid the need for blood pressure or cholesterol-lowering pills in 11 people, avoid $65,500 in medical spending for all 100 people and prevent 162 missed days of work due to sickness.

Dr. Ronald Ackermann at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis said recent studies suggest that offering the diabetes prevention program to groups of 10 people - instead of one-on-one coaching - can lead to similar benefits and cost as little as $15 per month. The YMCA is offering just such a group program. Retired accountant Paul Mullen, 66, of Indianapolis, has lost 18 pounds since May and brought his blood sugar down because of lifestyle changes he learned. He pays $115 for the yearlong program, on top of his Y membership fee. He feels better, his knees don't hurt as much and he can't wait to see his doctor's reaction when he gets his next checkup. "I should have done it years ago," he said. "My daughter-in-law got after me. The wife did, too. So far, it's worked."

Michael Maciosek of HealthPartners Research Foundation in Minneapolis found that of 25 highly recommended prevention strategies, 15 cost less than $35,000 for every year of perfect health gained. Those are definitely bargains if you're using the arbitrary cutoff of $50,000 per healthy year to decide what's a good investment in health spending. And some economists say Americans would be willing to spend even more than that, say $100,000 per perfect health year.

No one really knows how much of the U.S. health care dollar goes toward prevention. The most commonly cited number _ 3 cents of every health care dollar _ is based on 20-year-old data. An updated number _ nearly 9 cents of every health care dollar _ represents about $194 billion, said George Miller, who led the research for the Altarum Institute, a nonprofit consulting group.

Legislation pushed by Senate Democrats mentions "prevention" repeatedly. The Senate panel heading up health reform also calls for more research on prevention, creates a new interagency council to coordinate a national health promotion strategy and permits insurers to give incentives for health promotion and disease prevention.

President Barack Obama as recently as April said investing in prevention "will save huge amounts of money in the long term." And it has become almost an article of faith among Republicans, Democrats and business leaders that prevention reduces health care costs. But the Congressional Budget Office last week issued a statement on health care overhaul that dismissed the notion that prevention saves money. Prevention "would have clearer positive effects on health than on the federal budget," the CBO said.

The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease wants the budget office to be more generous with its review of prevention, to take a longer time frame and to calculate savings to the private sector in lower absenteeism and higher productivity. But researcher Peter Neumann of Tufts Medical Center said counting on disease prevention to save money "promises painless solutions to our health cost problems. I don't think they're going to be painless and they have to be done."

Supporters say each prevention effort should be held to the same standards as surgical techniques, drugs and medical devices, and not be expected to save dollars: Does it work and at a reasonable cost? Prevention efforts with high value, although not cost-saving, include flu and pneumococcal shots for adults, Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer, colon cancer screening for people 50 and older, and screenings for vision problems, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and problem drinking. Each of those things costs less than $35,000 per year of perfect health.

Those strategies are a good place to start when money is limited, experts say. "Some preventive services save money and some don't. Many of the services that don't save money improve people's lives at relatively low cost," said Robert Gould, president of the nonprofit Partnership for Prevention. "I think that's what the American public wants from health reform."


Peanut butter 'wards off heart disease' among diabetics

This is just data dredging: To be ignored unless followed up by specific tests. The effect was weak (and therefore probably evanescent) anyhow but I suppose that they had to say something to justify their work. The findings CERTAINLY cannot automatically be generalized to non-diabetics

Peanut butter sandwiches could be the secret to beating heart disease, says a study. Snacking on peanuts or peanut butter at least five days a week can nearly halve the risk of a heart attack. The nuts are thought to lower bad cholesterol, help reduce inflammation in the body and boost the health of blood vessels around the heart.

Between 1980 and 2002, researchers at Harvard Medical School analysed the diets of more than 6,000 women who had type 2 diabetes, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. All the volunteers completed food questionnaires every two to four years. When the researchers matched up the results with data on how many went on to suffer heart attacks or strokes, they found those regularly eating peanuts had the greatest protection.

In a report on their findings, published in the Journal of Nutrition, they said the risk was reduced by up to 44 per cent. 'Consumption of at least five servings a week of one ounce of nuts or one tablespoon of peanut butter was significantly associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease,' they said.

In the UK, poor diet and lifestyle has led to a surge in cases of type 2 diabetes, from 1.5million five years ago to 2.25million now. Ellen Mason of the British Heart Foundation said: 'It is beneficial to include nuts in our diets as they are low in the saturated fats that raise our cholesterol.

'However peanut products can be full of added sugar or salt so check the label first. Also don't forget that nuts are high in overall calories. 'Eating more of one food in isolation will not make a dramatic difference to your health if you are inactive and don't have a balanced diet.'


26 June, 2009

Do you want to live longer? Then put on weight

Has the obesity craze run its course? How long can the obesity warriors keep ignoring the facts? I see that there is a rearguard action in the last paragraph, though, so we may have to put up with the obesity warriors for a while yet. Note that it was BMI that most of the scare stories were based on. Now that BMI is not giving the results the fanatics want, they are pooh-poohing it

Those of us carrying around a few extra pounds should take heart - the slightly overweight seem to live longer than those of 'healthy' weight. Contrary to the much publicised message that you must be slim to be healthy, a study also found that those classed as obese fare no worse than those of normal weight. Researchers said it was clear that a person's weight was not the be all and end all of good health. It is better to be plump and exercise than slim and sedentary, the study found

For instance, a stressed-out, sedentary person of normal weight may be in worse shape than a plumpish individual who exercises and keeps stress levels under control. The researchers in the U.S. and Canada tracked the health and habits of more than 11,000 Canadians for 12 years. The men and women were divided into five categories based on their Body Mass Index, calculated by dividing their weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. Using pounds and ounces, the weight in pounds is multiplied by 703 and divided by the height in inches squared. This means that a 5ft 10in man weighing 11st 2lb would have a BMI of 22.3, placing him within the 'normal' weight range. A rating below 18.5 is regarded as underweight, above 25 is overweight and above 30 regarded as obese. Those with a BMI of above 35 were classed as extremely obese.

During the period studied, the underweight were 70 per cent more likely to have died than those of normal weight, followed by the extremely obese. However, the obese lived roughly as long as those of normal weight. Those classed as overweight, meaning they were carrying a stone or so too much for their height, were 17 per cent less likely to have died, the journal Obesity reports.

Researcher Mark Feeny, of Kaiser Permanente Northwest Centre for Health Research in Oregon, said: 'It's not surprising that extreme underweight and extreme obesity increase the risk of dying but it is surprising that carrying a little extra weight may give people a longevity advantage.'

Dr Feeny, who falls into the overweight category, said there could be several explanations for the result. For instance, concern about the health of the overweight and obese may mean that problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes are more likely to be spotted and treated, improving health. And those who start out slightly heavier will have more reserves to call on should they lose weight due to ill health as they get older. Finally, a person's lifestyle has to be factored in.

In Britain, Dr David Haslam, a GP and chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said that previous studies had come to similar conclusions - and that BMI was not an accurate indicator of health. He said: 'You can have a high BMI because you are made of muscle and bone but you are fit and athletic. 'Waist circumference is a much better predictor of risk. Abdominal obesity is bad for you, that is a cast iron fact. 'This study shouldn't be used as an excuse to put on weight.'


Miracle of the drug that mends your faulty genes

Christine Falleti has spent much of her life combating the crippling effects of cystic fibrosis (CF). Now 34, she is painfully aware that she's approaching the age when most people with CF die. Two friends with the disease already have. But last year she took part in a test of a new drug that led to a dramatic improvement in her symptoms. Suddenly, she had a reason to hope her chances of dying might be reduced. And it's not just patients with CF who might benefit. The drug Christine was trialling is one of a new generation that could revolutionise the treatment of far more common diseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer and diabetes. For the first time, instead of treating the symptoms, it looks as if these drugs actually repair the effects of genes that cause disease.

CF affects 8,000 people in the UK and is caused by a mutation in just one gene, known as CTFR. It results in the patient's lungs and gut becoming lined with thick mucus. Breathing can be difficult and digestion is poor because the extra mucus stops nutrients being properly absorbed. Like many CF sufferers, Christine needs more than 15 medications every day to treat her symptoms. 'It takes three hours to clear my airways,' she says. She uses a device like a life-jacket which, when inflated, vibrates her chest to shake the mucus free. Before going to bed, she does a dozen upside-down exercises while her partner slaps her upper back, sides and chest to loosen the phlegm.

Until now there haven't been any drugs that can treat CF - or indeed any of the thousands of deadly conditions caused by a faulty gene, such as haemophilia and Huntington's chorea. Doctors can only help patients deal with the symptoms. But that could change. The drug Christine took, called VX-770, promises a revolution because it is able to reduce the damage caused by the mutation in the gene. The result was less mucus clogging up her lungs. Within two weeks of starting the drug (as part of an American trial), she was breathing more easily.

'I felt completely different,' says Christine, a teacher from Ohio. 'I could laugh without it turning into a five-minute coughing fit. Exercise became so much more enjoyable and easier.'

But once she stopped the drug after the four-week trial, her breathing was soon as bad as it had been before. And that wasn't the only downside. 'It's frustrating knowing there is something that can make you feel better but you can't have it.'

There are three other similar drugs for treating CF being tested; again, these target the faulty genes rather than the symptoms. Being able to correct errors in the CF gene means it should be possible to do the same thing for patients who have harmful mutations in other genes. 'If these drugs fulfil their promise, it will be a major breakthrough,' says Professor Kate Bushby, of the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, who has been involved in testing one of them.

CF has always been at the cutting edge of gene research. The CTFR gene was the first to be linked to a specific disease 20 years ago. 'That discovery caused huge excitement,' says Professor Bushby. 'Everyone thought we'd start replacing the faulty genes with healthy ones prepared in the laboratory - genetic diseases would be history. But it proved much trickier than we thought.' Putting the healthy genes into the cell came with side-effects. In some cases, the newly inserted genes were attacked by the patient's own immune system. Even worse, in one trial, children given replacement genes developed leukaemia. So rather than replacing these damaged genes, American scientists began searching for drugs that could repair them instead.

At the forefront of this was Dr Robert Beall, director of the American Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, who raised $175 million from various sources, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates's charity.

The problem for CF patients is that their faulty gene affects a protein which is vital for transporting water in the airways and other passageways - this causes a lack of water, which is why their mucus is so thick. Dr Beall and his team have identified two chemicals that can improve the way the protein works, and have turned them into two drugs (which could be used in combination). The drug Christine was given boosts the effectiveness of the protein needed to transport water around the body.

The drug based on the other chemical works in a different way; it corrects a mistake in the way the protein is made. In most CF patients, this protein is slightly the wrong shape. The second new drug, VX-809, is able to tweak it back into shape. This second drug opens up the possibility of treating other illnesses, such as Alzheimer's and cancer, where again a protein hasn't been made properly and is also slightly the wrong shape.

'Poor protein folding is one of the main things that goes wrong when a gene becomes faulty in all sorts of other conditions,' says Dr David Sheppard, a physiologist at the University of Bristol, who has been researching these two drugs. 'What we need now is a large-scale trial to prove that benefits outweigh risks.'

One of the conditions the drugs might help with is male infertility. 'It can be caused by thick mucus in the vas deferens, the tube that carries sperm to the penis,' says Dr Sheppard. 'Patients have a faulty CF gene, but no other symptoms.'

Around 10 per cent of CF sufferers have none of the water-carrying protein at all. They could be helped by a third drug, called Ataluren, which tricks the cells into ignoring the faulty gene's message. In an Israeli study of the drug, the rate at which CF patients coughed dropped dramatically. Someone with CF coughs around 650 times a day (a healthy rate is fewer than 16 times); on Ataluren, the coughing rate dropped to 450 a day. Altaluren is being trialled in the UK as a possible treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the deadly muscle-wasting disorder for which there is no cure.

Meanwhile, Christine is keen to continue using the new drug. She says: 'Every Monday, I call the clinic to see if I'm going to be put on to another longer trial with VX-770. 'All I can do is cross my fingers and keep on with the other treatments, but none of them has the effect that VX-770 did.'


25 June, 2009

Don't worry, be happy, health study says

Personality, chemical linked. They seem to have overlooked that extroverted people are probably more active and thus get more exercise. The positive effects could be just the result of more exercise

Say hello, get socializing and be happy. Medical researchers have established a direct link between a buoyant, outgoing personality and better health. A study released Wednesday by the University of Rochester Medical Center found that extroverts -- particularly those who are happily engaged in their everyday lives -- have dramatically lower blood levels of an inflammatory chemical linked to clogged arteries, heart attacks and strokes. "The 'life force' is linked to [a] body's ability to withstand stress," the study said, suggesting that extroverts have a "survival advantage" over their less engaged peers.

"Our study took the important first step of finding a strong association between one part of extroversion and a specific, stress-related, inflammatory chemical," said Benjamin Chapman, lead author of the study and an assistant professor within the Rochester Center for Mind-Body Research, part of the university's psychiatry department. He's talking simple, happy stuff, essentially. The potentially damaging levels of the inflammatory chemical interleukin-6 can retreat in a person who has " 'dispositional energy,' or a sense of innate vigor or active engagement with life," the study said.

It followed 103 adults older than 40, gauging their personalities with a standard psychological test and measuring levels of interleukin-6 in their blood. Those who were heartily involved in life had measurably lower amounts of the inflammatory chemical. The study revealed that this tendency was particularly pronounced in older women. "If this aspect of personality drives inflammation, dispositional energy and engagement with life may confer a survival advantage," Mr. Chapman said. The study was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers speculated that the findings could have some impact on preventive medicine. "Beyond physical activity, some people seem to have this innate energy separate from exercise that makes them intrinsically involved in life," Mr. Chapman said. "It will be fascinating to investigate how we can increase this disposition toward engagement. Potentially, you might apply techniques developed to treat depression like 'pleasurable event scheduling' to patients with low dispositional energy, where you get people more involved in life by filling their time with things they enjoy as a therapy."


The cancer cream 'that gets rid of sun wrinkles'

Efudix has been around for years. It is basically a chemical burning agent. It is pretty unpleasant to use. Note the comment below about inflammation

A cream used to treat early signs of skin cancer can erase wrinkles and make skin look younger, claim researchers. There has long been anecdotal evidence of Efudix reversing ageing effects on patients.

So a University of Michigan team studied a group of 56 to 85-year-olds being treated for actinic keratoses - a form of precancer usually found on the face, neck and forearms. The 21 patients used Efudix twice daily for six months.

Study leader Dr Dana Sachs said: 'People's skin was much softer. The texture was improved. There were fewer wrinkles around the upper cheek and eyes. 'Not only were their precancers gone but the quality of their skin seemed to be improved.' The study, in the Archives of Dermatology, also reported skin was more toned, less yellow and with fewer brown spots. Almost all patients rated their skin as improved - even though it was left with inflammation some described as 'looking like raw hamburger meat'.

The researchers claimed the cream has potential as a cosmetic treatment because of its relative low cost compared with laser resurfacing, a widely available treatment for improving sun-damaged skin. The cream, which is prescription-only, costs the NHS around £18 for a 20g tube.

But leading consultant dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe, of the Cranley Clinic, London, who also works in California, said he had stopped prescribing it for patients. He said: 'I stopped using it around five years ago in Santa Monica and London because the side effects heavily outweigh the benefits. 'It causes uncontrolled irritancy that is a major problem during the four weeks of initial treatment and sometimes for weeks afterwards. 'Patients would stop using it before they were supposed to because of the irritancy and redness of the skin.

'It produces its effect by peeling away the surface of the skin, which would make it appear younger, but only works on lines that are produced by sun damage. 'If your wrinkles are due to any other cause then it won't work. 'I use much better treatments now including lasers and Solareze, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory cream that does not have the same side effect,' he added.


Bone density test for women on osteoporosis drug ‘pointless’

Because it is almost always beneficial. There certainly can be too much monitoring in some circumstances. Monitoring can be just bureaucratic ass-covering

Monitoring bone density in older women who are taking anti-osteoporosis drugs is a waste of time and money, scientists said yesterday. The bone disease osteoporosis is a serious problem for older women in particular because bone density falls as oestrogen levels dwindle during the menopause.

Some guidelines say that postmenopausal women’s bone density should be monitored, although experts have questioned whether the costly process can really show how a patient is responding to treatment by osteoporosis drugs.

Researchers in Australia and the US attempted to settle the debate by estimating how much the effects of alendronate, a widely-used osteoporosis drug, differed between individuals. Analysing data from a previous trial involving more than 6,000 women, they found that almost all — 97.5 per cent — of those treated with alendronate showed at least a “modest” increase in their bone mineral density and this effect did not vary much between individuals.

In a paper published by the British Medical Journal, the scientists said that this made monitoring individuals’ response to treatment unnecessary and, because of the potential to mislead, best avoided.

Commenting on the study, Juliet Compston, Professor of Bone Medicine at the University of Cambridge, said the clear implication was that patients could be given inappropriate advice if changes in bone mineral density were used to monitor treatment. Routine monitoring during the first few years of treatment “cannot be justified because it may mislead patients, lead to inappropriate management decisions, and waste scarce healthcare resources”, she argued.


24 June, 2009

Study finds living near fast food outlet not a weighty problem for kids

A new study by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) researchers contradicts the conventional wisdom that living near a fast food outlet increases weight in children and that living near supermarkets, which sell fresh fruit and vegetables as well as so called junk food, lowers weight.

The IUPUI investigators in economics, pediatrics, geography and urban planning compared children's weights over time before and after one of these food purveyors moved near the children's residences. Living near a fast food outlet had little effect on weight and living near a supermarket did not lower it.

The IUPUI researchers also report that residing near certain recreational amenities -- fitness areas, kickball diamonds, and volleyball courts -- lowers children's body mass indexes (adjusted for normal childhood growth). The researchers estimated that locating one of these facilities near the home of an overweight eight-year-old boy could lower his weight by three to six pounds. Surprisingly, living in proximity to a track and field facility (typically on the campus of a middle or high school) was associated with weight gain.

Reducing obesity in children is a high priority in health care and public policy, yet its causes and, consequently, what medical interventions might be effective, are not well understood.

"This study contradicts anecdotal information and provides scientifically verified insights into a wide range of variables that we hope will help physicians and public policy makers fight childhood obesity more effectively," said the study's first author Robert Sandy, Ph.D., professor of economics and assistant executive vice president of Indiana University.

The IUPUI research, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research's Economic Aspects of Obesity, utilized electronic medical records of visits over 11 years to pediatric clinics in inner city Indianapolis to determine the effects on body mass of environmental changes, such as the opening or closing of a convenience store or the installation of a playground or opening of a recreational trail.

The researchers looked at data for more than 60,000 children between the ages of 3 and 18. The children were 53 percent African-American, 30 percent Caucasian and 12 percent Hispanic. Most were poor, and publically insured.

The effect of each environmental change, for example the closing of a fast food establishment or installation of a baseball diamond, was studied at 0.10 mile, 0.25 mile, 0.50 mile and 1.00 mile from a child's residence.

Earlier studies typically have looked at one moment in time, the so-called snapshot approach, not a decade-long expanse of data. "Previous studies did not benefit from the wide range of information we acquired such as details of both sick and well doctor visits, changes in a child's address, annual food service establishment inspection data, aerial photographs of neighborhoods and crime statistics over time. And other studies have not taken into account, as we did, families self-selecting their locations - for example families who value exercise may be more likely to live near a park," said Dr. Sandy.


'No proof' for filling baby teeth

Filling rotten baby teeth may be an unnecessary trial for children to endure, experts say. Some 40% of five-year-olds in the UK have tooth decay and at least one in 10 of these are treated with fillings. But anecdotal evidence from 50 dentists gathered by Manchester University researchers suggests filling baby teeth may not offer significant benefits. Advisers to the NHS are now beginning a study on treatment options to provide dentists with clear guidelines.

Experts already know there is wide variation in care which means that a young child with signs of tooth decay could have no treatment, a filling or the tooth pulled out depending on which dentist they attend. Without any clear guidelines, dentists currently have to rely on their experience and judgement to decide whether or not to intervene. If the child is in severe pain and having sleepless nights, and the parent is confident that their child will cope with and benefit from the treatment, then the choice may be clear.

But when the decay is not causing symptoms, it can be difficult to decide what is in the child's best interests given that their tooth will ultimately fall out by the time they are 11 anyway. Indeed, anecdotal evidence gathered from the case notes of 50 dentists suggests filling baby teeth may achieve nothing but expose children to the discomfort of an injection and the sound of the drill.

Professor Martin Tickle, of the University of Manchester, found no difference in the numbers of extractions for pain or infection whether baby teeth had been filled or not. And when he surveyed the parents of all five-year-olds living in Ellesmere Port and Chester in 2003, he found only 6% would want their child to have a filling if they had symptomless decay in a baby tooth. In comparison, a third would want the dentist to monitor the tooth but provide no treatment.

Experts working for the Health Technology Assessment Programme plan to recruit over 1,000 children from across the UK to take part a study that will compare the outcomes of three treatment options. They are conventional drilling and filling, no fillings or a painless paint-on tooth treatment that merely seals and contains the decay.

Lead investigator Dr Gail Topping, of the University of Dundee, said: "This is a really big question to answer. "At the moment there is no clear winner and we do not know which is best to recommend. There is no guidance or mandate. "At the moment, dentists are doing what they believe is the right option for the child on a case by case basis." She said dentists would welcome evidence-based guidelines because the treatment decision can be a difficult one to make.

Kamini Shah, dentist and honorary secretary of the British Association for the Study of Community Dentistry, said: "There are two schools of thought, one being that baby teeth can cause pain and sleepless nights and so dentists should fill. "The other is that actually the evidence around filling baby teeth is questionable. "Sometimes you need to adopt a pragmatic approach rather than go in with all guns blazing. "If a child is very uncooperative but has a mouthful of non-symptomatic holes you might decide to apply a fluoride varnish to stabilise the disease rather than to do conventional fillings." Painted on with a small brush, the banana-flavoured varnish is totally painless and can slow or even stop the decay if applied often enough.

Dr Shah said: "That way you gain the child's confidence and can work on prevention. You do not want to upset the child and make them phobic of future treatments. "The problem arises when children come in aged three or four and it is their first experience of the dentist and it is because they are in pain. "In that scenario you can well imagine that they might not be most cooperative."

She said in extreme cases, and when the decay was so bad it necessitated treatment, a child might be referred for anxiety management or have the teeth removed under general anaesthetic.

Recently, an eight-year-old girl starved to death because of an apparently severe dental phobia. Sophie Waller, from St Dennis in Cornwall, is thought to have been so traumatised by her phobia that she refused to open her mouth after having eight teeth removed under general anaesthetic.

The full trial will run for four years from 2011 across England, Scotland and Wales, with a feasibility study starting in the coming months.


23 June, 2009

Some wide ranging food skepticism from Britain

Extracted from "Global Warming And Other Bollocks: The Truth About All Those Science Scare Stories" by Professor Stanley Feldman and Professor Vincent Marks. It reprises most of what I have been saying on this blog


Received wisdom, repeated by many doctors and public health professionals, says we can remain fit and avoid disease by cutting out certain 'bad foods' from our diets. Indeed, it is variously claimed that 35-50 per cent of all cancers are caused by the food we eat.

But while they are despised by the culinary elite, readily available hamburgers, sausages and pizzas have provided good nutritional value for many low-income families, who in previous days could afford only low-protein, high-carbohydrate, high-fat meals such as bread and dripping, and chip butties.

In fact, fears about hamburgers and sausages in Britain are especially irrational. Most countries have a national dish based on minced or processed meat - and none is suffering from an epidemic of junk food-inspired illness. For example, meatballs are used in many guises in the Middle East, chopped meat on a bed of onions is a national dish in the Balkans, and mince is also used in countless Italian sauces.

The terrines and pâtés of France and Belgium also contain processed chopped meat. Obesity is not caused by these foods, but by those who choose to gorge on them. Studies claiming to show the negative impact of a 'junk food' diet usually have little scientific validity.


A widespread belief has emerged that organic foods are better for you than others because they do not contain 'chemicals' used in large- scale conventional farming.

This dogma is wrong. All plant nutriment comes from the air, in the form of CO2, and from water-soluble chemicals in the soil. The composition of these chemicals is the same, whether they come from a plastic bag or from 'natural' manure or compost. They are certainly the same by the time they are on your plate.


Salt is an essential food. Without it, we would die. Land-based mammals-such as humans control their body temperature by sweating and panting. Sweating is impossible without sufficient salt. In fact, strenuous exercise in a person depleted of salt causes overheating and death.

The Government has caved in to the anti-salt zealots in its advice to reduce salt intake. However, there is, in fact, very little, if any, truly scientific evidence that cutting back on it will do you any good.


The much-disparaged Turkey Twizzler, bugbear of TV chef Jamie Oliver, is made of recovered turkey meat and provides the same amino acids as normal turkey breast.

Corned beef, now an unfashionable meat product, is also no less nutritious than any other beef, although, like Turkey Twizzlers, it is also a reclaimed meat product.

Turkey Twizzlers are fine: The recovered meat provides the same amino acids as regular turkey breast meat


The medical (and social) consensus is that cardiovascular disease is caused by being overweight, by having a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet and by unhealthy activities such as smoking.

While being morbidly obese, eating nothing but lard and smoking 60 a day will probably lead to an early grave, there is nevertheless a lot of confusion about the precise link between lifestyle and this, the biggest killer of all.

Many people with high cholesterol levels in their blood do not get heart disease. Many people with very low levels do.

The very low levels of heart disease recorded in some populations, notably the Japanese, may have more to do with cultural variation and prejudice than with medical reality (in many societies, what are, in fact, heart attacks are often listed on death certificates as 'strokes').

Furthermore, some of the lowest levels of cholesterol and arterial sclerosis are to be found in populations such as the Inuit and Siberian hunter-gatherers, who live on a diet which is incredibly high in saturated fat.


Everything seems to be bad for you these days, but there is also plenty of scientific evidence to the contrary. Eggs seldom contain salmonella, even if some chickens do. Cholesterol in the diet does not cause fatty deposits in your arteries. There is probably little difference between the effect of saturated and unsaturated fats.

In those with normal kidney function, salt does not cause high blood pressure. Those with a body-mass index of between 25 and 32 live as long as or longer than those with a lower BMI. And avoiding the sun causes vitamin D deficiency; a suntan is nature's natural sun block, although sunburn is to be avoided.


Anti-mercury campaigners believe that the mercury used in dental fillings will make you ill (mercury is a potent poison).

But a single amalgam filling provides just 0.03 micrograms/day of mercury, which is almost 3,000 times less than the safety level permitted for persons with occupational exposure to mercury, and is too small to be responsible for any symptoms.


Stupid and incomprehensible thinking behind EU rules on low-alcohol wines

It's just power-mad bureaucrats who get their jollies by saying "No'. There is no rational reason behind it

For years New World vineyards have been reducing the alcohol content in wines through technology - and, for years, their European counterparts have sniffily rejected such methods. Now French research has shown that the Americans and the Australians had it right all along.

Tests have proved that techniques previously dismissed as unworthy of European tradition can enable vineyards to lessen alcohol levels by as much as 3 per cent without putting off drinkers. Producers on the Continent are ready to market their bottles in Britain but there is a hitch: officials in Brussels appear intent on banning the new generation of de-alcoholised wines being developed by scientists and vineyard owners.

"It's absolutely absurd for Europe to prohibit this at a time when health officials are trying to persuade people to consume less alcohol," said Claude Vialade, who has developed a wine with 9 per cent alcohol, called So Light, on her Domaine Auriol estate in the South of France.

Traditionalists and modernisers continue to disagree over the two main methods for producing wine with a diminished alcohol content. The first involves harvesting grapes which are immature and have a low sugar level, giving rise to a wine naturally low in alcohol. It is authorised in the European Union, but produces bottles dismissed widely as imbuvables (undrinkable). The second uses fully matured grapes to produce a normal wine, from which alcohol is extracted through techniques such as reverse osmosis. This method - de-alcoholisation - is common in Australia and California, but banned under the EU's arcane winemaking regulations.

However, pressure for reform is building after work conducted by 12 scientific teams co-ordinated by Jean-Louis Escudier, director of the wine unit at the French National Institute for Agronomic Research. His study contradicted the belief that only wines containing between 12 and 14 per cent alcohol were acceptable, suggesting that Europe's dismissal of New World methods was based on little more than snobbery. Mr Escudier says tests on more than 1,000 people demonstrated that producers could reduce the alcohol content by up to three percentage points without an ordinary drinker noticing. "In blind tastings, French consumers like quality wines with a reduced alcohol content as much as standard wines," his report said.

"In other words, you can go from 14 per cent to 11 per cent or from 13 per cent to 10 per cent without a problem," Mr Escudier told The Times.

The issue is sensitive at a time when French wine consumption has slumped to 43 litres per head in 2008 - down from 47 litres the previous year and 120 litres in 1959 - largely as a result of health and drink-driving campaigns.

Andre Barlier, sales and planning director at FranceAgriMer, the French agricultural statistics office, said: "The situation ...can now be described as depressing and worrying."

Brussels is proposing a small change in EU regulations to authorise dealcoholisation for the first time - but only by a maximum of two percentage points.


22 June, 2009

Chubby people live longest: Japan study

Another confirmation that middling weight is best

Health experts have long warned of the risk of obesity, but a new Japanese study warns that being very skinny is even more dangerous, and that slightly chubby people live longer. People who are a little overweight at age 40 live six to seven years longer than very thin people, whose average life expectancy was shorter by some five years than that of obese people, the study found. "We found skinny people run the highest risk," said Shinichi Kuriyama, an associate professor at Tohoku University's Graduate School of Medicine who worked on the long-term study of middle-aged and elderly people. "We had expected thin people would show the shortest life expectancy but didn't expect the difference to be this large," he told AFP by telephone.

The study was conducted by a health ministry team led by Tohoku University professor Ichiro Tsuji and covered 50,000 people between the ages of 40 and 79 over 12 years in the northern Japanese prefecture of Miyagi. "There had been an argument that thin people's lives are short because many of them are sick or smoke. But the difference was almost unchanged even when we eliminated these factors," Kuriyama said.

Main reasons for the shorter lifespans of skinny people were believed to include their heightened vulnerability to diseases such as pneumonia and the fragility of their blood vessels, he said.

But Kuriyama warned he was not recommending people eat as much as they want. "It's better that thin people try to gain normal weight, but we doubt it's good for people of normal physique to put on more fat," he said.

The study divided people into four weight classes at age 40 according to their body mass index, or BMI, calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their squared height in metres. The normal range is 18.5 to 25, with thinness defined as under 18.5. A BMI of 25 to 30 was classed as slightly overweight and an index above 30 as obese.


Revolutionary Australian Artificial heart design

Developed with no government support -- just as with the British inventors of IVF. Propping up failures is what governments do

QUEENSLANDERS have created the world's first artificial heart which fits inside a human body and can mimic the pumping fluctuations of a healthy heart. The titanium device – which is about the size of a fist – will provide an alternative to heart transplants, doctors say. It has the potential to save thousands of lives a year worldwide, and will provide significant savings for government-run and private health systems, its inventors believe.

The device – to be marketed under the name Bivacor – also will deliver an alternative for people with heart disease over the age of 65, who are currently considered by most doctors to be too old for heart transplants. The key element of the Bivacor's revolutionary design is a pump that can duplicate the function of both the left and right sides of the heart in a single, small device. Driven by tiny electromagnets, the pump's twin rotors can alter speed and position to suit blood-flow demands that fluctuate depending on a patient's activity.

Most existing artificial hearts or supportive pump devices are external, and usually pump through just one side of the heart. That places extreme limits on patient mobility and can reveal problems on the other side of a diseased heart.

The Bivacor allows patients to move around and reduces the risk of infection, by being secured inside the body and without external tubes.

A team of biomedical engineers, intensive-care specialists, cardiac surgeons and cardiologists has been working on the project for seven years at Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital, one of Australia's leading heart hospitals. One of the group, engineer Dan Timms, 30, devised key elements of the design after watching his father die of heart failure at the hospital two years ago.

He perfected the artificial heart's impeller – a twin fan inside the pump that can spin at different speeds and also tilt to adjust blood flow and pressure. Dr Timms unveiled his invention at a recent heart conference in Paris.

Professor John Fraser, 40, director of the Critical Care Research Group (CCRG) at Prince Charles and the leader of the Bivacor development team, said the invention was lauded by heart experts. "After Daniel gave his presentation, the conference concluded that the device would revolutionise artificial heart technology," Prof Fraser said. "One of the world leaders in cardiology exclaimed, 'Within 10 years, all artificial hearts will be based on this revolutionary Queensland design'."

Once in production, the Bivacor, which has been patented, is expected to cost about $60,000 a unit. That compares with external heart machines – which cost up to $600,000 each – that are currently used on patients who can wait in hospital for up to six months for a heart transplant.

Remarkably, most of the funding for the Bivacor project – about $250,000 so far – came from the Prince Charles Hospital Foundation raising funds through selling ice creams at the Ekka. [Annual agricultural show] "Despite repeated attempts, there has been no money forthcoming from Queensland Health or Government," Prof Fraser said. "Jon Roberts (chief executive of Prince Charles Hospital) has been outstanding, but can only do so much to support us."

The Bivacor is expected to be in clinical trials in the next three years if the team can secure funding of $3 million. A German company has approached the team to fund development, which has both pleased and disappointed the research team. "It would be a shame to see such a Queensland home-grown project go overseas," Prof Fraser said. Representatives of the CCRG team are in Europe this week to discuss the development of Bivacor with international companies.


21 June, 2009

Organic nags: Michelle Obama, Marian Burros

Steve Milloy does a great demolition job below. Note particularly his comments in square brackets

Marian Burros, the New York Times’ fossilized, elitist, organic food nag, today tried to lampoon the crop protection industry and the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) in a article for defending conventionally produced food from Michelle Obama’s air-headed slander.

In a letter to the White House defending its products against the First Lady’s aspersions concerning their safety, the Mid-America CropLife Association referred to the pesticides and herbicides as “crop protection products” — a “euphemism,” according to Burros.

To the extent “crop protection products” is a euphemism, it’s a necessary one given that Burros and her ilk have spent the last 40 years publicly denigrating perfectly safe pesticides, feriltizers and other chemicals as dangerous. There is no evidence that any legally applied pesticide has ever harmed anyone.

Let’s keep in mind that it is only through “crop protection products,” conventional farming, and pesticides and herbicides — whatever name you want to use — that Western farmers have been able to supply the food that the burgeoning world’s population so desperately needs. In contrast, none of the food policies that Marian Burros advocates could come close to accomplishing what U.S. farmers have through the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Next, Burros tries to lampoon ACSH’s Jeff Stier because Stier said in an interview on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show that if only organic food were produced, obesity and starvation would increase. “Starvation and obesity simultaneously,” was Burros’ snarky comment.

Stier was right, of course, and Burros was, once again, way off base. If we only produced organic products, we’d have less and more expensive food. Organic products necessarily take up more land and require more inputs (water, fertilizer and labor) — and then run the risk of being wiped out by pests. In the U.S., people wouldn’t starve but, to save money, their diets would shift toward less expensive, but more calorie-dense processed foods — leading to more obesity. In the rest of the world, the reduced production of food could very well lead to shortages and starvation.

Dumber/more dishonest (take your pick) than Burros is Michelle Obama, whose political gardening at the White House this blog has noted previously. At yesterday’s Harvest Party for the politically exploited local school children, Michelle Obama continually showcased how ill-prepared she is to pontificate on diet and health:

Obama: “Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high-blood pressure are all diet-related health issues that cost this country more than $120 billion each year.” [This is an absolutely made-up figure. There is no evidence that diet alone is responsible for the alleged conditions and cost.]

Obama: “Nearly a third of the children in this country are either overweight or obese…” [Wrong. CDC says the figure is about 17%]

Obama: “…and a third will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetime.” [Less than 8% of Americans have diabetes, according to the NIH.]

Obama: “In Hispanic and African American communities, those numbers climb even higher so that nearly half of the children in those communities will suffer the same fate.” [False. The figures for minorities are generally significantly less than twice that of white children.]

Obama: “And for the first time in the history of our nation, a nation that is one of the wealthiest on the planet, medical experts have warned that our younger generation may be on track to have a shorter life span than their parents as a direct result of the obesity epidemic.” [There is no basis in fact for this dire prediction.]

Obama: “So how did we get here? How did we get in this position where we have become such an unhealthy nation, and our children are at risk?” [Ridiculous. As a whole, the U.S. is not unhealthy and neither are its children. More Americans are living longer than ever before.]

Obama: “And the fact is there are a lot of factors, but some of the more simple ones are that too many kids are consuming high-calorie food with low nutritional value…” [Obama served cupcakes to the children at the event.]

Obama: “Well, I’ve learned that if [food is] fresh and grown locally, it’s probably going to taste better. [About locally produced food, should Washington, DC children be denied, say, Florida orange juice because it’s not local? Does Obama plan to construct a White House Orange Grove?]

Obama: “But unfortunately, for too many families, limited access to healthy fruits and vegetables is often a barrier to a healthier diet.” [This is typically due to their expense, especially when they’re locally grown and/or organic.]

Obama: “In so many of our communities, particularly in poorer and more isolated communities, fresh, healthy food is simply out of reach. With few grocery stores in their neighborhoods, residents are forced to rely on convenience stores, fast food restaurants, liquor stores, drug stores and even gas stations for their groceries.” [Poverty is the root problem, not fruit/vegetable availability.]

Obama: “And I want you guys to continue to be my little ambassadors in your own homes and in your own communities, because there are kids who are going to watch this. They’re going to watch this on TV, they’re going to read a report about it or maybe their parents will read a report, and they’re going to see through you just how easy it is for kids to think differently about food. And you’re going to help a lot of people.” [Yeah, you're going to help a lot of fast food, processed food, food transportation and food retail employees out of work for no good reason.]

Marian Burros should be put to an organic pasture where she can chew her crud. As for Michelle Obama, it makes you long for the days of Bess Truman when the First Lady was hardly ever seen and much less heard from.


Prostate cancer patients recover after using new drug ipilimumab

Sounds remarkable

Two men with advanced and inoperable prostate cancer have recovered after being treated with an experimental antibody drug. The patients, who are now free of cancer, were taking part in the trial of a drug called ipilimumab that boosts the immune system. Before treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, each of them had aggressive tumours that had grown into abdominal areas.

Eugene Kwon, the trial leader, said: “The goal of the study was to see if we could modestly improve upon current treatments for advanced prostate cancer. The candidates for this study were people who didn’t have a lot of other options. However, we were startled to see responses that far exceeded any of our expectations.”

First, the patients received traditional hormone therapy to remove testosterone, which fuels prostate cancer. Researchers then introduced a single dose of ipilimumab. The drug boosts the immune system’s response to the cancer. Both patients saw their prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels drop to the point where they became eligible for surgery. PSA is a protein in the blood that allows doctors to monitor prostate cancer.

When the surgeons made their incisions, they had a surprise. Dr Michael Blute, a Mayo clinic urologist, said: “The tumours had shrunk dramatically. I had never seen anything like this before. I had a hard time finding the cancer.”

Dr Kwon said: “This is one of the holy grails of prostate cancer research. We’ve been looking for this for years.” John Neate, chief executive of The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: “If these early and small-scale results are replicated in larger trials, this represents a potentially very exciting development.”


20 June, 2009

Heart Attack Grill 'a taste worth dying for'

Here's what the health freaks do not want you to know: Cardiovascular disease is RARE in Eskimos who continue to eat their 'traditional' diet of seal meat, fat and blubber and who eat almost no greens, fruits and vegetables. Someone who ate regularly at the place below could well be PROTECTING his heart. The owner should rename his place "The Eskimo Grill"

A HOSPITAL-themed restaurant in the US is being criticised for serving up an extremely unhealthy menu, including massive burgers, and having waitresses dressed in sexy nurses outfits. Even before entering the Heart Attack Grill in Arizona, US, customers are warned of the unhealthy treats waiting inside by a large sign reading “Caution: This place is bad for your health”.

On the menu are burgers named after open-heart surgical procedures including Single, Double, Triple and Quadruple Bypass Burgers, which range from half a pound (226 grams) to two pounds (900 grams) of beef. Also included is unlimited Flatliner Fries, which are cooked in lard, along will full sugar cola, cigarettes without filters, hard liquor and beer.

The Quadruple Bypass Burger contains around 8000 calories (33,600 kilojoules), fitting for a restaurant whose motto is “a taste worth dying for”. Those who are watching what they eat need not bother visiting – there are no diet options available.

At the restaurant customers are called “patients” and are banded for identification. Wheelchair service is provided to customers who finish the Quadruple Bypass Burger, where the "nurse" of their choice takes them back to their car.

The restaurant was founded in 2005 by "Dr Jon", who isn’t a real doctor but who has worked for years as a nutritionist. Dr Jon admits that eating at the restaurant can end up sending you to the emergency room, and thought it appropriate to give the restaurant the feel of a hospital. “I founded the Heart Attack Grill as a simple place where a guy can get a good burger, a cold beer, and not worry about being on a restrictive diet,” Dr Jon said. “I run perhaps the only honest restaurant in America: hey this is bad for you and it’s going to kill you.”

The restaurant has come under attack from activist groups and the government over the waitresses’ nurses outfits, including a threatened shut-down from the Arizona Attorney General in 2006. “Since I thought that it would be funny for a 'bad for you' place to have a hospital theme, it only seemed natural to me to put the waitresses into Nurse outfits,” ‘Dr Jon’ said. “I thought to myself, 'sex does sell, this could be a good idea'. What I didn't realize at the time was that I was about to set off a debate of epic proportions.”

Professional nurses took offence to what they saw as the “degradation” of nurses by the restaurant, igniting a battle which saw Dr Jon being arrested for attempting to open a live fire hose on a group of picketing nurses.

A compromise was reached when Dr Jon put a disclaimer on his website stating: "The use of the word 'nurse' above is only intended as a parody. None of the women pictured on our website actually have any medical training, nor do they attempt to provide any real medical services. It should be made clear that the Heart Attack Grill and all its employees do not offer any therapeutic treatments".

The future of the restaurant, according to Dr Jon, lies in its ability to successfully transition into a diet centre, competing with established weight loss giants such as Jenny Craig, Nutri-System, and Weight Watchers. "The new Heart Attack Grill Diet Centers will offer the American public something that no other program has ever been able to do... a diet program that you actually enjoy and can stick with for a lifetime," Dr Jon said.

The restaurant remains extremely popular with people looking for unhealthy meals, and is never out of the spotlight for long. “Not a single week has gone by without me having given an interview with some radio, magazine, or television station somewhere in the world,” ‘Dr Jon’ said.


British taste choices are defined by region, Nottingham food scientists find

In the Midlands they like the spicy flavour that triggers taste buds on the front of the tongue, while in Scotland it is rich, creamy flavours that linger on the palate

Research has indicated that people’s culinary preferences depend on where they were born. Scientists from the University of Nottingham found that taste preferences could be broken down like regional accents and were highly dependent on an area’s history. In the North East, for example, foods are enjoyed by taste buds on the tip of the tongue — which pick up sour flavours — because, claim the researchers, the region has a history of hungry industrial workers demanding meals that offer immediate sustenance.

The researchers, who surveyed 13,000 people on behalf of Costa Coffee, said that in contrast, across the Pennines in Manchester and Liverpool, foods with soft, rounded flavours that linger on the palate were popular, perhaps because of the region’s soft water.

Greg Tucker, a food psychologist, and Andy Taylor, Professor of Flavour Technology at the University of Nottingham and an adviser to Heston Blumenthal, the chef, said that the research was based on the fact that different parts of the tongue tend to pick up varying flavours. The front of the tongue is sensitive to sweet flavours and the back picks up the taste of bitter foods. The sides of the front of the tongue usually detect sour flavours, while the middle tastes salty foods and a little-known taste called umami, best represented by soy sauce.

Professor Taylor said: “Taste is determined by our genetic make-up and influenced by our upbringing and experience with flavours. “Just as with spoken dialects, where accent is placed on different syllables and vowel formations, people from different regions have developed enhanced sensitivities to certain taste sensations and seek foods that trigger these.” Mr Tucker, managing director of the Marketing Clinic, based in Cambridge, said: “I suspected that there might be some minor differences from region to region but I was quite surprised that the variations were so pronounced. “Taste preferences are predetermined by a combinations of economics, culture and genetics. ‘Taste dialect’ is a good phrase because just as you get dialects in any other countries, so you get taste dialects that are driven by different factors.”

The researchers found that those living in the South had the least defined taste dialect of all the regions. The Scots are the slowest eaters.

South West: Sweet flavours. Apples are a favourite and often used in Cornish pasties, as the region is rural and fruit-growing. Sage is often used in dishes from the region

South East: The region has perhaps lost its distinctive palate owing to the number of different ethnic groups that have moved here. People tend to be the most adventurous about food

Wales: An industrial past, so strong-tasting foods that have cut through the dirt and grime down mines have always proved popular. Onions and leeks are a hit, as is Worcestershire sauce

The Midlands: Curry is a favourite, but not necessarily because of the large Asian communities

North West: People here like to eat comforting food. Lancashire hotpot contains many of the flavours enjoyed in the region

North East: Food that provides an instant hit of satisfaction is appreciated most. Fish and chip shops serve scrapings of overcooked chips from the corner of the deep fat fryer to customers who use their incisors to crunch food and taste chips at the front of their tongues

Scotland: Scots like rich, creamy foods that are comforting and linger on the palate. A rich fudge known as tablet is a delicacy, perhaps replaced by deep-fried Mars bars


19 June, 2009

Is lack of vitamin D linked to swine flu?

This is an improbable speculation. Vitamin D is added to butter and margarine these days so everybody should be getting enough. Though I suppose that the anti-fat brigade may have reduced usage of butter and margarine among some people. As for the reason why health is unusually poor in Scotland, why are we not mentioning Scotland's rate of alcohol consumption and the inactivity that accompanies high rates of unemployment?

Scotland has a disproportionately high number of swine flu cases. There could be a simple reason. It was all very predictable, I suppose, that when the first UK death from someone suffering from swine flu came, it did not come from St Ives or St Andrews. Jacqueline Fleming lived on a rundown council estate in Glasgow; she came from the other Scotland, the bleak one we garland with jokes and statistics but ultimately prefer to ignore.

The H1N1 outbreak is an uncomfortable reminder that the health gap both between the rich and the poor in Scotland, and between Scotland and practically everywhere else in Europe, is not only inescapable - it is, sadly, one of the things that define this country. How symbolic that Ms Fleming, 38 - the first person with swine flu outside the Americas to die - lived of all places in poor little Carnwadric, a deprived council ward in the West of Scotland. She is, in death, a Scottish landmark, an unintended indictment of this country's disproportionately woeful health record.

Ms Fleming apparently suffered from strokes and seizures. She was described as “a good, quiet woman”; a full-time mother, who lived an existence constrained by lack of opportunity and income. She was expecting her third child. When she caught the illness, which had occurred at a local primary school, she was made doubly vulnerable through her chronic condition and by virtue of the pregnancy. She fell gravely ill, gave birth to her baby at 29 weeks and died two weeks later without regaining consciousness. Her child, Jack, who did not have the virus, died 24 hours later: a private double tragedy that echoed round the world.

The following day, I was invited on The Jeremy Vine Show. We want to ask, said the researcher, why Scotland? Why is swine flu cutting swaths across Scotland, and killing people? The unvoiced question hovered: what's wrong with you people that makes you the sickest in half the world? You can understand where they were coming from. Scotland has 530 confirmed cases of swine flu, 441 possible cases and 300 clinically diagnosed possibles - a total of more than 1,200. By comparison, bigger countries are relatively unscathed. England, with ten times the people, only has 1,062 cases, Austria 7, Portugal 3, France 80, Germany 170, Spain 488 and Ireland 12.

Beneath the soundbites, there are several answers. One can say with absolute certainty that there has been better monitoring here. NHS Scotland and its many limbs, Health Protection Scotland and Health Scotland and NHS Quality Improvement Scotland and the Healthcare Environment Inspectorate and the Information Services Division - I could go on - are just part of one of the most impressive health service data engines in the world. In this regard Scotland purrs along like a Rolls-Royce: few other nations have information that combines high-quality data, consistency, national coverage and the ability to link data to allow patient-based analysis and follow-up. No case of swine flu has a chance of getting away from that lot.

And yes, of course, there's much to monitor. Scotland possesses a health record that would make a Third World dictator wince: hospital admissions from alcohol up 7 per cent on the previous year and up 17 per cent on five years ago; chronic levels of disability from strokes, coronary heart disease and cancer; lung cancer; drug use; a diet built on fat and sugar; and soaring levels of obesity. Surely these endemic weaknesses are what makes us vulnerable to swine flu?

Yes - but it's not the whole answer either. Since devolution, and the pumping in of billions of pounds, NHS Scotland is a fairly magnificent operation. Rates of ill health are declining, although the gap between the most deprived areas and the most affluent is widening, and England's health, similarly blessed with extra funding in the good times, is improving faster than Scotland's.

Which brings us face to face with the disconcerting thing they call the health deficit: the unexplained gap between Scotland's health outcomes and that of the rest of Britain; a gap that still persists even when the epidemiologists factor in all the lifestyle issues; the gap, in other words, that makes the Scots sick no matter how much money is spent on them.

It was fashionable for a while to talk about the biology of poverty, explaining it away by poor housing and a history of deprivation; cooked up with low self-respect and expectation.

But could the puzzle have a simpler answer? Recently The Times has revealed astonishing research showing the links between low vitamin-D levels and poor general health. Multiple sclerosis, cancer and diabetes are just some of the diseases linked to an immune system compromised by lack of the vitamin. And the Scots, living in a cloudy climate, are known to be twice as likely to be vitamin D deficient as the English. Increasing numbers of scientists suspect vitamin D could be the Scots' Achilles' heel.

Influenza, we know, strikes in the winter when vitamin D levels are naturally lowered - hence a possible reason why swine flu is at present widespread in Australia, where it's winter. Could the disproportionate prevalence of H1N1 in Scotland be related to endemic low levels of vitamin D among the population - especially those least likely to buy themselves supplements? It is a huge, intriguing question.


British Navy captain bans brussels sprouts

Good man!

A BRITISH navy captain has banned brussels sprouts from his ship, labelling them the "devil's vegetable". Commanding officer Wayne Keble delivered the order to his 390-strong crew on HMS Bulwark because he hates the vegetable, Britain's Daily Telegraph reported. But he denied speculation he imposed the ban because sprouts make the sailors suffer from flatulence in the cramped conditions on board.

Keble disclosed his order after he was asked to confirm reports he had banned fried foods from his ship on health grounds. He said: "The only thing I have banned on board is brussels sprouts. They are the devil's vegetable and the only thing I do not like, and the only thing I hate. "Brussels sprouts are absolutely banned on board HMS Bulwark. I do not eat them so I do not know what the after-effects are.'' The distinctive smell of sprouts is caused by sulphur compounds released when cooked.

A spokesman for the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence said sprouts had only been banned from the captain's table. But a source on board the ship said Keble was "very serious'' about the ban and refused to allow any sprouts on board. "This ban is no joke ... The MoD can say what they like but Captain Keble runs the ship and he has categorically said that sprouts are banned,'' the source said.

HMS Bulwark is at present deployed in the Mediterranean and Far East.


18 June, 2009

Eat-your-greens fight a lost cause

George Bush Senior became a hero to little boys everywhere when he banned broccoli from all his dinners and said: "I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli"

CHILDREN really do hate their vegies and parents are apparently hopeless at doing anything about it. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's snapshot of Australian children released today shows the level of disdain children have for their greens. The report, A Picture of Australian Children 2009, citing a 2007 nutrition survey, says: "Only a very small proportion of children met the recommendations for daily serves of vegetables (excluding potatoes) - 3 per cent of 4- to 8-year-olds and 2 per cent of 9- to 13-year-olds. "Even with the inclusion of potatoes, the proportions remained low (22 per cent and 14per cent respectively).

National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines recommend one serve of fruit and two serves of vegetables a day for children aged four to seven, one serve of fruit and three serves of vegetables for those eight to 11, and three serves of fruit and four serves of vegetables for ages 12 to 18. A serve is about half a cup.

The report's author, Deanna Eldridge from the AIHW's Children Youth and Families unit, said vegetable consumption was a key concern related to children's health and wellbeing. "This is a crucial figure to highlight, because this is occurring at a time when young bodies are growing and developing," she said.

Accredited practising dietician Kate Di Prima said that however hard parents might find it to get children to eat vegetables, they must persist. "Parents find it very difficult to encourage children to eat green vegetables and fruit," Ms Di Prima said. "They are happy to eat dairy foods and soft pastas and rice, but when it comes to chewing something with more than a bland taste, parents battle."

The prime concern about low levels of vegetable consumption was the lack of fibre in children's diets and the health consequences that flowed on, such as constipation, she said. Ms Di Prima said she advised parents to start small and build up. "Put a bit of carrot and a bit of broccoli on the plate," she said. "Or grate some zucchini and put it in with the pasta. This will put some balance in their diet. It's better than nothing." Don't cave in if a child is not co-operating, she said. Let them go to bed without eating anything rather than take the easy option and fill them up with some milk or yoghurt.

Parramatta mother Alexis Henderson said she improvised to make sure her five-year-old son, Brooklyn, ate enough vegetables. "You can mash them up, hide them, you can cook a cake with pumpkin in it, or make corn muffins," Ms Henderson said. She said Brooklyn did pretty well at home, but getting him to eat vegetables at school lunch was tricky. "It's hard when most other kids are bringing chips and Nutella sandwiches and all sorts of unhealthy things."


Discovery could ease cancer pain

A breakthrough could lead to drugs to alleviate the pain experienced by cancer patients. The biology of cancer pain is different to other types of pain, often rendering analgesic drugs ineffective. Work by a German team, published in Nature Medicine, shows that blocking a specific type of hormone-like molecule produced by tumours could help. The team showed that the molecules make nerve endings grow in nearby tissue, causing an acute sensation of pain.

Pain is one of the most debilitating symptoms associated with the many forms of the disease. It can become excruciating as cancer advances, but tackling it has proved difficult for doctors.

The molecules highlighted by the latest study, by a team at Heidelberg University, were known to play a role in the development of blood cells in the bone marrow. But this is the first time they have also been shown to have a role in causing pain. The researchers hope their work could lead to new drugs to block this action.

Dr Mark Matfield is scientific adviser to the Association for International Cancer Research, which partly funded the work. He said: "Identifying one of the ways in which cancer causes pain - in fact, perhaps the main mechanism - is a crucial step towards drugs that could bring relief to cancer sufferers across the world."

Dr Joanna Owens, of the charity Cancer Research UK, said: "It's important that we continue to improve pain relief for people with cancer, and this study reveals an intriguing new avenue to explore. "What's particularly encouraging is that this research could one day lead to drugs that can block pain locally at the tumour site - which could ultimately lead to more effective pain relief with fewer side effects."


17 June, 2009

Australia: Health nazis losing obesity war

THE Aussie pie, pizzas and sausage rolls are back in school canteens as the war against child obesity falters and threatens to collapse. Lollies, ice creams, chips and even banned sports drinks have also re-emerged on school menus because thousands of families are snubbing healthier foods.

Nutritionists and dietitians are desperately trying to rescue the $750,000 school health campaign launched five years ago by former Premier Bob Carr. They are offering "low fat" Aussie beef pies, pizzas made with wholemeal pita bread and vegetables and chicken burgers to children who turn their noses up at salads and wraps.

The anti-health push is greatest at secondary level where students leave school grounds to eat at local fast food outlets or order in takeaway pizza on their mobile phones.

Dietitians have told The Daily Telegraph some schools are offering pies to children three times a day - at breakfast, recess and lunch. In a bid to reverse the trend the Healthy Kids School Canteen Association is taking over some school food operations. Low fat pies, pizzas and sausage rolls, with ingredients that meet health guidelines and home-made lasagne are now the front line items aimed at winning customers back.

Friday is pie and pizza day at Holy Cross Primary School at Glenwood in Sydney's west - portion sizes limited to healthy amounts - and the kids are lining up to get their orders. Canteen Association dietitian Jennifer Madz said Holy Cross would become a template across the state. "The problem is parents see the canteen as a treat and expect treat food there. We are trying to change the behaviour," Ms Madz said. "High schools are a special problem where students with money in their pockets go off campus to lunch in local fast food outlets. We are working on a plan to combat that."

Canteens hit by the global recession claim profits have been eroded as students resist low-fat menus.

While most sugary drinks are banned from school canteens, the food industry has manipulated some products to get around the rules. To get a non-milk-based gelato accepted the manufacturer added calcium and reduced the portion size. Banned Powerade became "Powerade Light" and juice was carbonated and sold in a can so children would think it was a softdrink. Under the nutrition rules foods are divided into red (no more than twice a term), amber (to be selected carefully and in smaller servings) and green (fill the menu) categories.

But enforcement has been almost non-existent and the Catholic and independent school sectors are not bound by them.


Trial shows rituximab can slow progress of rheumatoid arthritis

Treating rheumatoid arthritis with a drug currently used only when patients are severely disabled appears to slow the progression of the disease dramatically, a study suggests.

A trial involving rituximab, an advanced antibody drug, has shown a remarkable reduction in symptoms for patients in the early stages of the disease. It has led one expert to claim that it could lead to a “paradigm shift” in the use of arthritis therapies.

Almost 500,000 people in Britain are affected by rheumatoid arthritis, which occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the joints. About 40 per cent of sufferers are forced to stop work during the first five years of their illness. The condition costs the economy about £4 billion a year.

A total of 755 patients took part in the Image trial, led by Professor Paul-Peter Tak, from the University of Amsterdam. All participants had recently received an arthritis diagnosis and had generally suffered the disease for less than a year.

After a year of treatment, those receiving a combination of methotrexate, a “gold standard” early-stage treatment, and rituximab were found to be three times as likely to have fewer symptoms — and a reduction pronounced enough to meet the criteria for remission — than those on methotrexate alone. During the second six months, continuing joint damage was almost completely halted in patients treated with rituximab.

Currently most patients go through a set order of treatments as the disease progresses, moving from ordinary anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, to anti-rheumatic drugs such as methotrexate, which slow progression and delay joint damage.

In severe cases newer drugs called biologics may be used, including treatments that block an immune system signalling molecule called tumour necrosis factor (TNF). Under current guidelines, patients qualify for rituximab, which is marketed as MabThera, only on failing to respond to an anti-TNF. Originally developed to treat leukaemia, the injected drug targets specialised white blood cells that play a key role in the immune response behind rheumatoid arthritis.

Of the patients receiving the methotrexate and rituximab combination, 30.5 per cent experienced significant reduction of symptoms, compared with 12.5 per cent taking only methotrexate. A course of rituximab treatment costs £3,492 — significantly less than the £12,000 cost of a typical anti-TNF drug. Coupled with the new trial data, this is likely to have a bearing on how rituximab is made available.

The findings were presented last week at the annual meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism (Eular) in Copenhagen. Professor John Isaacs, a leading rheumatologist from the Institute of Cellular Medicine at the University of Newcastle, said: “These positive data clearly show the efficacy of using rituximab earlier and could signal a paradigm shift in the use of this drug.”

A task force of Eular experts is developing new evidence-based guidelines for the management of rheumatoid arthritis. Ailsa Bosworth, of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, said: “These results are a very encouraging sign for the future for patients in the early stages. If I could have prevented damage when I was first diagnosed, it would have changed my life.”


16 June, 2009

Atavists attack food from GMOs

Practically everything we eat is genetically modified. Tomatoes were originally yellow, for instance. Treating GMOs as an undifferentiated group is mindless. If a particular GMO has a problem that should be studied but all those GMOs released have been already studied extensively. Studies done by opponents of GMOs -- such as those reported below -- are probably just examples of the experimenter expectation effect and should not be taken seriously. If the FDA was once dubious about GMOs, it has found since from research that many are safe and has approved them. It is a very cautious organization, overcautious in the estimation of many

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) has issued a warning urging the public to avoid genetically modified foods and has also called for a moratorium on GMOs until long-term, independent studies can prove their safety. The group has also called for required labeling of foods that contain GMOs, a move that has been strongly opposed by the Food and Drug Administration and Big Biotech which cooperatively purport that consumers should not have the right to know whether or not the foods they buy come from traditionally bred or genetically engineered sources.

While urging for more independent studies, the AAEM paper cites its own studies alleging that genetically modified foods cause serious adverse health effects, emphasizing more than a mere "causal association" as is commonly assumed. These effects include rapid aging, severe alterations to the major bodily organs, infertility, immune problems, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and disruption to proper insulin regulation, among others.

Many doctors are warning their patients to avoid GMOs as well, recognizing the distinct correlation between GMOs and disease. Ohio allergist Dr. John Boyles believes genetically engineered foods are so dangerous that people should never eat them. Biologist Pushpa M. Bhargava, following the review of more than 600 scientific journals, has concluded that the drastic deterioration of Americans' health in recent years can be attributed to GMOs being introduced into their diets.

Experimental studies of genetically engineered foods and their effects in the body are disturbing, to say the least. Biologist David Schubert of the Salk Institute has stated that children are the most likely people to experience the adverse effects of GMOs, noting that apart from adequate safety studies, children become "the experimental animals". In truth, every citizen is a guinea pig when genetically altered organisms are introduced into the food supply without adequate safety studies let alone honest labeling.

In the animal studies that have been conducted, some noteworthy findings have been discovered about GMOs:
Female rats fed genetically modified soy saw most of their babies die within three weeks compared to the 10% death rate experienced by rats fed natural soy. The babies that survived in the genetically modified-fed control group were also born smaller and had problems getting pregnant later on. Male rats fed genetically modified soy experienced a change in testicular color from pink to dark blue, as well as altered young sperm and significant changes in their DNA.

Indian buffalo that consumed genetically modified cottonseed experienced various birthing complications including infertility, abortions, premature delivery, and prolapsed uteruses. Many of the calves that survived birth died shortly thereafter.

In the United States, about 24 farmers reported that their pigs became sterile after consuming genetically modified corn.

Genetically modified corn and cotton, purposely engineered to create their own built-in pesticide called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), have been indicted in several studies to provoke intense allergic and immune reactions and death. Since the levels of Bt produced in the plant represent thousands of times more a concentration of Bt than natural Bt spray, the effects are greatly amplified. Shepherds whose sheep grazed on Bt cotton after harvest witnessed thousands of their sheep die. Post mortem examinations revealed severe irritation and black patches in the intestines and liver, as well as enlarged bile ducts. All sheep fed the Bt cotton eventually died within 30 days while those that grazed on natural cotton remained healthy.

Bt corn was also responsible for the deaths of cows, horses, water buffaloes, and chicken in both Germany and the Philippines. Genetically modified tomatoes fed to rats were shown to cause bleeding stomachs and eventually killed many of the rats.
These are just a few examples of the many catastrophic effects of using genetically modified organisms as food.

Probably the worst finding in the AAEM report is the fact that GMOs can live and reproduce in the intestinal flora of the body long after being eaten. The genes present in the genetically modified organisms transfer into the DNA of intestinal bacteria, the good bacteria that digests food and maintains bodily health. This reprogramming can cause the intestinal flora to begin reproducing Bt pesticides, for example, rather than producing the living bacteria it is supposed to. The permanent, deadly implications of these alterations are mind boggling since intestinal flora is crucial for life.

Despite consensus from most FDA scientists in the early '90s declaring that genetically modified foods are inherently dangerous and could lead to all sorts of serious health problems, politics won out as mandates were given from Washington to promote biotechnology and GMOs in spite of apparent and obvious dangers. This led to the promotion of Michael Taylor, former attorney for Monsanto, as head of GMO policy at the FDA, a move that led to the official denial by the agency of any knowledge or substantiated concern by any FDA scientists about the safety of GMOs.

Despite findings in some 44,000 pages of internal FDA memos and reports released in 1999 due to a lawsuit, findings that contained the warnings from then scientists about the "unintended negative side effects" of genetic engineering, official FDA GMO policy has been scrubbed clean of the truth and purports blatant lies in its defense of GMOs as safe. In fact, current policy emphatically states that no safety studies on GMOs are even required or necessary; it is instead up to Big Biotech to determine the safety of its own genetically modified organisms if it so chooses.

Many people may remember the deadly epidemic in the late 1980s from the genetically engineered version of L-tryptophan, a food supplement, that was introduced into the market. An estimated 10,000 people became permanently disabled and about 100 died. Yet despite the rapidly occurring, deadly effects from this particular GMO immediately following its release, including noticeable changes in the blood, it took over four years to identify the existence of this epidemic.

Many concerned doctors hypothesize that the disease-causing symptoms of GMOs being consumed today will take years to show up, further besetting the efforts of those who are trying to expose the dangers of GMOs. Current data is showing that since 1996 when genetically modified crops were first introduced, the incidences of people with three or more chronic diseases has jumped from 7 percent to 13 percent.

In addition to all the existing evidence, AAEM is urging its members, the scientific community, and those in medicine to continue gathering case studies and initiate epidemiological research to help determine, once and for all, the effects of GMOs on human beings in addition to their effects on animals.

It is wise to avoid foods that contain GMOs and ingredients that are genetically engineered. These include non-organic corn and soy derivatives, canola and cottonseed oils, and sugar from sugar beets. Ingredients such as corn starch, corn meal, and soy lecithin are great examples of common ingredients that are suspect. Unless labeled as non-GMO or explicitly organic, these common ingredients are most likely genetically modified and should be avoided at all costs.

Lastly, the mindful citizen should contact grocers, food manufacturers, and restaurants to inquire about genetically modified ingredients and oppose their usage. As increasing numbers of people begin to seek out this information across the food supply-chain and purposefully avoid products that contain GMOs, producers and retailers will phase them out in order to meet demand. This can be seen in the gradual elimination of toxins such as high fructose corn syrup from food as consumers learn about its effects and avoid products that contain it.


$2.5B spent on testing "alternative" cures. Nothing of any note to show for it

Ten years ago the government set out to test herbal and other alternative health remedies to find the ones that work. After spending $2.5 billion, the disappointing answer seems to be that almost none of them do. Echinacea for colds. Ginkgo biloba for memory. Glucosamine and chondroitin for arthritis. Black cohosh for menopausal hot flashes. Saw palmetto for prostate problems. Shark cartilage for cancer. All proved no better than dummy pills in big studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The lone exception: ginger capsules may help chemotherapy nausea.

As for therapies, acupuncture has been shown to help certain conditions, and yoga, massage, meditation and other relaxation methods may relieve symptoms like pain, anxiety and fatigue.

However, the government also is funding studies of purported energy fields, distance healing and other approaches that have little if any biological plausibility or scientific evidence. Taxpayers are bankrolling studies of whether pressing various spots on your head can help with weight loss, whether brain waves emitted from a special "master" can help break cocaine addiction, and whether wearing magnets can help the painful wrist problem, carpal tunnel syndrome.

The acupressure weight-loss technique won a $2 million grant even though a small trial of it on 60 people found no statistically significant benefit — only an encouraging trend that could have occurred by chance. The researcher says the pilot study was just to see if the technique was feasible.

"You expect scientific thinking" at a federal science agency, said R. Barker Bausell, author of "Snake Oil Science" and a research methods expert at the University of Maryland, one of the agency's top-funded research sites. "It's become politically correct to investigate nonsense."

Many scientists say that unconventional treatments hold promise and deserve serious study, but that the federal center needs to be more skeptical and selective. "There's not all the money in the world and you have to choose" what most deserves tax support, said Barrie Cassileth, integrative medicine chief at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. "Many of the studies that have been funded I would not have funded because they seem irrational and foolish — studies on distant healing by prayer and energy healing, studies that are based on precepts and ideas that are contrary to what is known in terms of human physiology and disease," she said.

In an interview last year, shortly after becoming the federal center's new director, Dr. Josephine Briggs said it had a strong research record, and praised the many "big name" scientists who had sought its grants. She conceded there were no big wins from its first decade, other than a study that found acupuncture helped knee arthritis. That finding was called into question when a later, larger study found that sham treatment worked just as well.

"The initial studies were driven by some very strong enthusiasms, and now we're learning about how to layer evidence" and to do more basic science before testing a particular supplement in a large trial, said Briggs, who trained at Ivy League schools and has a respected scientific career. "There are a lot of negative studies in conventional medicine," and the government's outlay is small compared to drug company spending, she added.

However, critics say that unlike private companies that face bottom-line pressure to abandon a drug that flops, the federal center is reluctant to admit a supplement may lack merit — despite a strategic plan pledging not to equivocate in the face of negative findings.

Echinacea is an example. After a large study by a top virologist found it didn't help colds, its fans said the wrong one of the plant's nine species had been tested. Federal officials agreed that more research was needed, even though they had approved the type used in the study. "There's been a deliberate policy of never saying something doesn't work. It's as though you can only speak in one direction," and say a different version or dose might give different results, said Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired physician who runs Quackwatch, a web site on medical scams.

Critics also say the federal center's research agenda is shaped by an advisory board loaded with alternative medicine practitioners. They account for at least nine of the board's 18 members, as required by its government charter. Many studies they approve for funding are done by alternative therapy providers; grants have gone to board members, too. "It's the fox guarding the chicken coop," said Dr. Joseph Jacobs, who headed the Office of Alternative Medicine, a smaller federal agency that preceded the center's creation. "This is not science, it's ideology on the part of the advocates."

Briggs defended their involvement. "If you're going to do a study on acupuncture, you're going to need acupuncture expertise," she said. These therapists "are very much believers in what they do," not unlike gastroenterologists doing a study of colonoscopy, and good study design can guard against bias, she said.

The center was handed a flawed mission, many scientists say. Congress created it after several powerful members claimed health benefits from their own use of alternative medicine and persuaded others that this enormously popular field needed more study. The new center was given $50 million in 1999 (its budget was $122 million last year) and ordered to research unconventional therapies and nostrums that Americans were using to see which ones had merit.

That is opposite how other National Institutes of Health agencies work, where scientific evidence or at least plausibility is required to justify studies, and treatments go into wide use after there is evidence they work — not before. "There's very little basic science behind these things. Most of it begins with a tradition, or personal testimony and people's beliefs, even as a fad. And then pressure comes: 'It's being popular, it's being used, it should be studied.' It turns things upside down," said Dr. Edward Campion, a senior editor who reviews alternative medicine research submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine.

That reasoning was used to justify the $2 million weight-loss study, approved in 2007. It will test Tapas acupressure, devised by Tapas Fleming, a California acupuncturist. Use of her trademarked method requires employing people she certifies, and the study needs eight. It involves pressing on specific points on the face and head — the inner corners of the eyes are two — while focusing on a problem. Dr. Charles Elder, a Kaiser Permanente physician who runs an herbal and ayurvedic medicine clinic in Portland, Ore., is testing whether it can prevent dieters from regaining lost weight.

Say a person comes home and is tempted by Twinkies on the table. The solution: Start acupressure "and say something like 'I have an uncontrollable Twinkie urge,'" Elder said. Then focus on an opposite thought, like "I'm in control of my eating." In Chinese medicine, the pressure is said to release natural energy in a place in the body "responsible for transforming animal desire into higher thoughts," Elder said.

In a federally funded pilot study, 30 dieters who were taught acupressure regained only half a pound six months later, compared with over three pounds for a comparison group of 30 others. However, the study widely missed a key scientific standard for showing that results were not a statistical fluke.

The pilot trial was just to see if the technique was feasible, Elder said. The results were good enough for the federal center to grant $2.1 million for a bigger study in 500 people that is under way now.

Alternative medicine research also is complicated by the subjective nature of many of the things being studied. Pain, memory, cravings, anxiety and fatigue are symptoms that people tolerate and experience in widely different ways. Take a question like, "Does yoga work for back pain?" said Margaret Chesney, a psychologist who is associate director of the federally funded Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland. "What kind of yoga? What kind of back pain?" And what does it mean to "work" — to help someone avoid surgery, hold a job or need less medication?

Some things — the body meridians that acupuncturists say they follow, or energy forces that healers say they manipulate — cannot be measured, and many scientists question their existence.

Studying herbals is tough because they are not standardized as prescription drugs are required to be. One brand might contain a plant's flowers, another its seeds and another, stems and leaves, in varying amounts.

There are 150 makers of black cohosh "and probably no two are exactly the same, and probably some people are putting sawdust in capsules and selling it," said Norman Farnsworth, a federally funded herbal medicine researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Even after a careful study, "you know one thing more precise and firm about what that agent did in that population with that outcome measurement, but you don't necessarily know the whole gamut of its effectiveness," as the echinacea study showed, Briggs said.

The center posts information on supplements and treatments on its Web site, and has a phone line for the public to ask questions — even when the answer is that not enough is known to rule in or rule out benefit or harm. "I hope we are building knowledge and at least an informed consumer," Briggs said.


15 June, 2009

How awful! Food production is rational and efficient -- and -- gasp! -- the producers make a profit!

Much better to be "green", "local", "organic" etc. Fortunately we still get a choice about that, though

The new documentary Food Inc. takes aim at corporate giants behind the U.S. food supply. As director Robert Kenner and food advocate and author Michael Pollan tell Steve Inskeep, they made the film in order to raise Americans' awareness about where their food really comes from.

Pollan says he wanted to address "the pastoral illusion we're spinning in the way we market food... You would think it comes from farms and that ranches with big hats are producing the meat."

In fact, say Pollan and Kenner, America's food comes primarily from enormous assembly lines, where animals and workers are being abused.

There are benefits to the current system; as Pollan points out, Americans spend less than nine percent of their income on food — less than any other people in history. But, he adds, the benefits have come "at an exorbitant cost, because the system depends on cheap fossil fuel to work. The system depends antibiotics to work. The system depends on abuse animals to work. And if people want to pay those costs for cheap food, that's great, but let's tell them about the costs first."


Stillbirth risk triples for Scottish women who choose home delivery with private midwife over NHS

Homebirth has a long tradition in Scotland and what this shows is that women who expect problems would rather go to a private midwife than the NHS! This is a great reflection on the NHS. If the NHS did not treat women like no-account cattle, their first choice in such cases would surely be a hospital

Women who give birth at home aided by an independent midwife are almost three times as likely to have a stillbirth than those who deliver their child in hospital. Home births have long been debated amid concerns about their safety, because specialist care is not on hand in case of serious complications. However, the number of mothers choosing this option have been rising since 1988 and now about 2.5 per cent have a home birth.

NHS babies were more likely to be premature and admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit than those delivered by an independent midwife

Scientists from the University of Dundee studied records of more than 8,6000 women who gave birth in Scotland between 2002 and 2005. This included 1,462 who used the Independent Midwives Association (IMA) and 7,214 who relied on the NHS. They found the risk of stillbirth or neonatal death within a month of birth was 1.7 per cent in the IMA group compared with 0.6 per cent in the NHS group.

However, independent midwives had more patients who knew there would be problematic births, and were expecting twins or had a history of complications in labour. When 'high risk' cases were excluded from both groups, there was little difference between them. [But is that the point? Surely high risk cases should be in hospitals?]

The authors also pointed out that home births had a number of advantages when comparing the two groups. IMA mothers were significantly more likely to start labour spontaneously and have an unassisted birth than NHS mothers. They also took fewer pain relieving drugs.

Their babies were significantly heavier than mothers who had babies in hospital. NHS babies were also more likely to be premature and admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit. Finally IMA mothers were much more likely to breastfeed successfully than NHS mothers.

Belinda Phipps, Chief Executive of the National Childbirth Trust said: 'Women at high-risk of complications are still entitled to choose a home birth and I think we have to ask why they are made to feel that their only option is to turn away from the health service.'


14 June, 2009

Dangerous junk science in the health care debate

Never do these anti-salt freaks mention the disastrous effects of iodine deficiency that their advocacy could cause. And iodine deficiency is already widespread, probably as a result of the incessant anti-salt campaigns. Iodized table salt is the major source of iodine for most people. And it's not only the iodine in salt that is important: so is the sodium. Google "hyponatremia" if you want to read of deaths from low sodium levels in the bloodstream. For more on the dangers of LOW salt intake, see here

Settled science rarely is. Except to those with a vested policy interest in the debate. True to form, a recent diatribe by Michael F. Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest acknowledges none of the widely available data that conflict with his passionate crusade against table salt. However, to a debate that has raged for decades, Jacobson does bring a modern twist:
As legislators struggle to craft a health-care program that covers every American…Congress should direct the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture to require industry to reduce sodium levels [in food] by half over the next five to 10 years.
Notice that government-provided universal health care is taken for granted. Unsurprisingly, so is the constitutional authority of Congress to dictate market terms to the private sector. If this is really a question of health, why not ask if exposing patients to the cost of their unhealthy lifestyle choices (instead of further obscuring them through legislation and health entitlement bureaucracy) might encourage people to alter such habits voluntarily?

Jacobson never asks because the debate is not about health, it is about control. And freedom is not a public option. He simply pronounces:
There are basically three ways to deal with the money issue [in providing universal health care]. One is to cover fewer people and slash services —defeating the very purpose of the legislation. A second is to bring in more revenues. The third is to trim costs. A smart mix of the second and third could help prevent the first. And doing so could be accomplished partly at the dinner table.
As long as Congress sets the menu.

A fourth way, apparently not considered by Jacobson, would be to reform the employer-based health care system and allow true market competition to provide individuals with affordable coverage that meets their needs. Then informed consumers making personal cost-benefit analyses can take an active role in their own treatment.

Of course, these days it seems that informed citizens taking an active role in anything is precisely what the government does not want.


Stress CAN make hair go grey (but it may in theory also protect against cancer)

But only in mice and only when stress is defined as exposure to ionizing radiation and drugs used in chemotherapy! If you want a laugh, compare my realistic heading above with the original newspaper heading

Stress really can make your hair go grey, scientists have found. As the pressure builds, the stem cells that replenish your hair colour become damaged, leaving the tell-tale silver crown, a study has shown. But the very visible sign of ageing appears to also have a beneficial effect - reducing the risk of cancer, a leading expert has claimed.

When scientists from Kanazawa University in Japan studied the effects of radiation and other chemicals on the fur of mice, they found that their coats greyed early. This is because stem cells in their hair follicles were forced to mature, slashing the production of melanin - the chemical that gives colour to the hair and skin, the team explains in the journal Cell.

But Dr David Fisher, chief of the department of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, said that blocking these stem cells, which have damaged DNA, from dividing is also beneficial. It could stop you developing a tumour, which is a ball of damaged cells that grow out of control. ‘Greying may actually be a safety mechanism,’ said Dr Fisher. ‘They’ve shown that this mechanism is actually removing damaged stem cells. ‘The good news is if you do find yourself greying, you’re probably better off not having those cells persist.’

He said the findings, reported in the journal Cell, have ‘far-reaching’ consequences because they suggest that early maturation and differentiation in other groups of stem cells could help prevent cancer as well. Stem cells are the life source of the body, continually making copies of themselves which may differentiate into other cell types. When those located in the hair follicles of mice stopped replicating, the animals soon ran out of that cells that create pigment in their fur.

Dr Fisher commented on the findings made by Dr Emi Nishimura at Kanazawa University in Japan, who he worked with at Harvard. Dr Nishimura had previously discovered the stem cells within hair follicles and showed that their depletion during aging causes hair to turn grey. For this study, her team exposed mice to radiation and drugs used in chemotherapy, then monitored changes in the colour of their fur as well as the status of their stem cells. By looking at the hair follicles under microscopes, they saw when the stem cells turned into other cell types and linked the change to greying hair. A similar mechanism may operate in people, she said.

The findings challenge existing theories about how the body tries to protect itself when it suffers genetic damage from radiation or other toxins, Dr Nishimura said.. People have speculated that cells die when their DNA is damaged by apoptosis, a scientific term for cell suicide, Dr Nishimura said. This would stop damaged cells from growing uncontrollably as tumours.

But these findings suggest the body has another way to protect itself, she said. "Probably the tissue is trying to get rid of risky stem cell populations which have a lot of DNA damage,’ she said.

People constantly face a range of toxic agents that can damage their DNA from household and industrial chemicals, ultraviolet radiation from the sun and X-rays, and their effect on the body accumulates, Dr Nishimura said.

Dr Fisher said that the new findings ‘imply that age-related greying could be a result of accumulated DNA damage.’ It will take further experiments to prove the theory and to demonstrate that what’s true of stem cells in hair follicles is true of other types of stem cells. Dr Nishimura said she is planning other experiments to investigate these possibilities.


13 June, 2009

Red wine ingredient is a 'wonderdrug'

Here we go again: The antioxidant religion. That moderate drinking simply relaxes you, thus reducing stress-related diseases, seems not to have been considered. That taking antioxidants in pill form actually REDUCES your lifespan suggests that they are not what gives wine its benefits

An ingredient of red wine really is a 'wonderdrug', claim scientists, after research suggested it kills cancer cells and protects the heart and brain from damage. Researchers claim moderate drinking of red wine appears to reduce "all causes of mortality" and protects people from age-related disorders such as dementia, diabetes and high blood pressure. They said that the key ingredient appears to be resveratrol which in small doses acts as an antioxidant protecting organs but in larger quantities kills dangerous cancer cells.

"The breadth of benefits is remarkable – cancer prevention, protection of the heart and brain from damage, reducing age-related diseases such as inflammation, reversing diabetes and obesity, and many more," said Professor Lindsay Brown of the University of Queensland.

The conclusions were drawn by Professor Brown and her team after a "mini review" of a number of recent studies about the health benefits of red wine published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The biochemists said that red wine appears to contain a number of antioxidants - naturally-occurring protective compounds - which are good for your health but that resveratrol was the most powerful. They concluded that it "shows therapeutic potential" for cancer and heart disease and may aid in the prevention of age-related disorders that affect the brain and the body.

The ability to protect healthy cells but kill diseased ones was still puzzling scientists, the study claimed, but they said the most likely explanation was low concentrations "activate survival mechanisms of cells while high concentrations turn on the inbuilt death signals in these cells".

But the researchers warned that moderation was the key as too much drinking causes multiple organ damage.

Professor Stephen Taylor, also at the University of Queensland, said that resveratrol is the "compound du jour" and that its beauty was that it is a medicine most people enjoy taking. "I think that red wine has both some mystique and some historical symbolism in the west and of course, some various pleasures attached to its ingestion, all of which give it a psychological advantage edge, food-wise," he said. He said "not many of us can or will eat a couple of cups of blueberries a day for years on end" but we were happy to have a glass of wine.

Professor Brown said the research was starting to explain reports from the last 200 years that drinking red wine improves health. "It is a cliché that nature is a treasure trove of compounds," she said. "But studies with resveratrol show that this is correct. We need to understand better the vast array of compounds that exist in nature, and determine their potential benefits to health."



Apologies for not giving a link to premature death from antioxidant pills. Here's one

Steak-lovers have little chance of children

This is a REAL doozy. I don't know how my father had four children, two conceived rather late in life. Like many Australians of his generation, he ate steak every day. And he certainly wasn't big on fruit and vegetables (unless you call beer a vegetable!). Anyway, below it is just the old antioxidant religion again. It's a very small and limited study: Of men attending a Spanish fertility clinic. And how come 31 of them DIDN'T have "reproductive problems"?? Why were they there?

Men who gorge on steak, burgers and full-fat cream have such poor quality sperm they stand little chance of fathering a child, scientists say. Those who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables have higher quality sperm that swims faster, according to new research.

Scientists in Spain found good quality sperm is a direct result of a diet high in antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables and especially in peppers, citrus fruits and spinach. Antioxidants work by slowing or stopping the oxidation of other molecules in the body which has a direct effect on both the number of sperm and their ability move fast.

Sperm are fewer and slower in men who eat few antioxidants and instead feast on meat and full-fat dairy products. Lead researcher Jaime Mendiola, of the University of Murcia, Spain, said: "A healthy diet is not only a good way of avoiding illness, but improves the quality of semen. "Men who eat lots of meat and full-fat dairy products have much poorer quality sperm than those who eat lots of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. People who eat more fruits and vegetables are ingesting more antioxidants, and this is the important point."

The scientists spent four years studying men in two fertility clinics in Spain to see if anything in their diets or exposure to pollution at work was making it difficult for some to father children. "We saw that, among the couples with fertility problems coming to the clinics, men with good semen quality ate more vegetables and fruit, which means more vitamins, folic acid and fibre and fewer proteins and fats, than those with poor sperm quality," Professor Mendiola said.

In his next study he will examine if it matters if men receive their vitamins from food or from pills. The study carried out among 61 men, 30 of whom had reproductive problems and 31 who didn't. The research was published in the journal 'Fertility and Sterility'.


12 June, 2009

Mushrooms on superfood list

The report below is typical of a myriad of enthusiastic claims about the benefits of mushrooms. There is however no flavour of scientific objectivity about the report. It appears to be just a piece of PR puffery from yet another enthusiast. Note however that there have been suggestions that, regardless of what nutrients mushrooms may contain, they also contain a compound that INTERFERES with nutrient uptake in the stomach. I eat mushrooms myself but I do so because of the taste alone and always in small amounts combined with other foods. Normal edible mushrooms also been shown to have toxic effects to some degree. Uncooked edible mushrooms can certainly give you cancer. And we also know that "there are toxic levels of metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury as well as the presence of radioactive contamination" in common mushrooms. I could go on but I think I have said enough to show that the report below is unbalanced

Mushrooms have earned the ranking of a superfood by Australia's leading scientific agency. Studies suggest the edible fungus is capable of helping weight loss, preventing disease and possibly even could be a cure for vitamin D deficiency.

CSIRO Associate Professor Manny Noakes, a best-selling author who wrote The Total Wellbeing Diet, has released a report into mushrooms at the Australian Dietitians Association annual conference. Dr Noakes reviewed 11,000 international papers on the health benefits of mushrooms, finding a diverse range of nutrients. "I was always a mushroom-lover but the research has shown me even more about the rich range of essential nutrients they offer," Dr Noakes said.

The research showed mushrooms were the only non-animal food to provide a natural source of Vitamin D, delivering one of the strongest anti-oxidant effects of all foods.
WHY some experts saying eating mushrooms is good for your health:

THEY are a natural source of Vitamin D and provide essential B group vitamins riboflavin, niacin and biotin.

MUSHROOMS are low in salt and are packed with essential minerals such as selenium, phosphorus and potassium.

THEY help strengthen the body's immune system and attack killer cells that can lead to tumours and cancer. They also may hold clues to help combat Alzheimer's.
It also showed mushrooms contain a healthy dose of B-group vitamins riboflavin, niacin and biotin, and a range of essential minerals such as selenium, phosphorus and potassium while being low in salt.

The CSIR0 believes mushrooms may boost the body's immune system, increasing its ability to fight bugs and attack killer cells, beating off viral infections such as influenza and tumours that cause bowel and breast cancer.

"While many believe B12 is only found in animal foods such as milk, research has now confirmed that it is available in mushrooms in modest amounts and, more importantly, in a form that is easily absorbed by the body," Dr Noakes said. "It was believed to be coming from compost, but that has been disproven. "It is a major surprise. "The common mushroom is also unique because it contains glutamate, known to enhance flavour and associated with umami, which is the `fifth flavour' and creates what we call `deliciousness'. "It makes you feel satisfied and full. "This means it has the potential to maintain appetite control without having to eat a lot."

While many Australians are generally cautious about sun exposure, there is a growing body of evidence that low levels of vitamin D contribute to a range of diseases including osteoporosis, diabetes and some cancers. The unique nature of mushrooms is that the action of sunlight is able to trigger the production of vitamin D.

Growers are planning to deliver vitamin D-rich mushrooms for sale during the next 12 months, providing consumers with a natural solution to the vitamin D problem. The CSIRO is continuing a range of research projects into the benefits of mushrooms, including their ability to ward off Alzheimer's disease.

The above story by Suellen Hinde appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 7, 2009

Magnetic fields test “reflexes” of autism

This seems very crude but maybe it's a useful first step

Scientists are trying a new approach to unravel the workings of the autistic brain: the neurological equivalent of banging a patient's knee with a hammer to test reflexes. Instead of a hammer, though, researchers are pressing a flat paddle against patients' heads and creating a magnetic field that triggers brain cell activity.

As the quest to understand autism has grown more urgent, researchers have used brain scanners to peer into autistic minds, searched for faulty genes, and scrutinized the play of 1-year-olds.

The work has provided theories - but few concrete answers - about what goes awry to cause social isolation, repetitive behaviors, and communication problems that afflict an estimated one in 150 children with autism spectrum disorders. The hunt has focused on everything from "mirror neurons," brain cells some researchers think enable people to understand other's actions and intentions, to an overgrowth of local connections in the brain.

Now a small but growing number of researchers see hope in a tool called transcranial magnetic stimulation, which lets scientists spark activity in specific areas of the brain and watch what happens to patients' behavior. The technology may illuminate some of the biology behind the disease, and some specialists speculate it may one day offer a treatment.

"There's a lot of mystery about autism - it's not as if there's a well-understood story of what's going on at all, and there's a huge variety of autism, too," said John Gabrieli, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Transcranial magnetic stimulation "is fantastic for identifying brain regions that are essential for specific mental functions. . . . I think if we can start to use it more systematically with autism, one could hope we'd understand a lot more about what's going on."

Gabrieli said he hopes to team up with researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who are already getting preliminary results with the technology, finding that autistic brains appear to be more malleable than those of other people.

Researchers at the Boston hospital's Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation used rapid, repetitive stimulation to simulate what happens in the brain when people learn a new task. Then they gave a single pulse of stimulation and measured minute muscle twitches that told them how long people's brains maintained connections formed by the initial stimulation.

In people with no evidence of autism, changes lasted about 30 minutes, on average. But in people on the autism spectrum, the initial stimulation caused brain changes that lasted much longer - on average an hour and a half. "As they're going through their world, their brains are changing their circuits much more and much longer," said Lindsay Oberman, a postdoctoral researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess. "They're making connections, just not breaking them at the same rate as normal people." That suggests to Oberman that important cognitive processes may be getting stuck on labyrinthine side roads.

Researchers in the laboratory are also investigating whether stimulating a specific area of the brain improves language skills.

John Elder Robison, 51, said he decided to participate in the experiments because it wasn't until he reached adulthood that he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, a disease on the autism spectrum. "I have a strong desire to do this to benefit people like me," Robison said. "I knew how much I had struggled as a young person - not knowing, being called 'retard' or 'freak.' This might help young people."

Use of transcranial magnetic stimulation to investigate autism is in its early days, but the technology is well-established. In the noninvasive procedure, a current travels through two loops in a figure-eight-shaped paddle, creating a changing magnetic field. The paddle is pressed against the patient's head, and the changing field induces an electrical current in brain tissue.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as a depression treatment last fall. The main side effect is a risk of seizure, but the risk is low, researchers say, because years of research have provided insight into how to use the technology safely.

While such stimulation may turn out to be a useful tool in autism research, Michael Merzenich, emeritus professor at the University of California at San Francisco, cautioned that a limitation of the technology may be that so much has gone wrong in the autistic brain. "Virtually any way you would probe it in detail, you'd quickly reveal abnormalities," Merzenich said. "My question is, if I start poking around . . . it's a pretty complex, multivariable mess that I'm poking. How likely is it that's going to lead to great insight?"

Dr. Manuel Casanova, a neuroscientist at the University of Louisville, began using the technique on patients a few years ago. Casanova was interested in groups of brain cells called minicolumns, which are abnormally small in autistic people and seem to lack what he calls an inhibitory "shower curtain" that prevents activity from spilling into the rest of the brain. His idea was to boost the shower curtain using the stimulation.

Casanova reported last year in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders that when he used repetitive stimulation on 13 high-functioning people with autism spectrum disorder, the treatment seemed to improve synchronization between brain regions. The patients were also able to sit still longer, follow directions better, and reduce repetitive behaviors.

Initially, he paid for the research out of his own pocket, but last week he received gratifying validation - a grant from the National Institutes of Health to support his work over the next four years.

Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a psychiatry professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, recently submitted a grant proposing a study using the technique. He would like to use it to inhibit activity in a part of the brain that may be suppressing the activity of "mirror neurons" - brain cells that appear to be active both when a person moves and when the person watches someone move.

Robison, the Asperger patient, said he believes some of the experiments at Beth Israel Deaconess have helped him, and Oberman and colleagues have been encouraged by their attempts to use the tool as a treatment. But researchers embracing the tool also urge caution. "These are just the very first steps - it's the first man on the moon just collecting rocks and looking at the composition of the rocks," Iacoboni said. "There is a very strong rationale for doing this; that's why it's promising. But people shouldn't hope we've found anything yet."


11 June, 2009

Junk diet is `like a narcotic'

All that was apparently shown here is that rats got to like human foods and acted disturbed when given only rat pellets again. If someone fed me rat pellets instead of my normal diet, I would get pretty disturbed too. It undoubtedly shows that rat pellets are unappetizing but what else it proves I fail to see

PEOPLE who eat too much junk food can become addicted to it in the same way a drug-user becomes dependent on narcotics, ne research shows. Researchers at the Sansom Institute in South Australia have found that excessive consumption of foods high in fat and sugar triggers the release of dopamine in the central reward pathwav in the brain.

"This creates a feeling of pleasure not dissimilar to that caused by drugs of abuse," lead researcher Zhi Yi Ong said. "Repeated activation of the dopaminergic reward pathway is associated with the development of addiction."

Ms Ong and her team used rodents to explore junk food dependence feeding them biscuits, Nutella, peanut butter, Froot Loops and Cheetos for two months.

"Their desire for junk food ended up over-riding their physiological hunger signals," she said. The rodents also displayed anxiety when the researchers replaced their junk food with standard food. "The ability of chronic junk food intake to produce junk food dependence may explain why many individuals struggle to control their desire for these foods," she said.

The above story by Suellen Hinde appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 7, 2009

Bubs'IQ plummet from lack of iodine

IODINE deficiency among pregnant women has reached such alarming levels. they will produce a generation of dumber children. a leading expert warns. Endocrinologist Professor Creswell Eastman has just completed a study of 400 pregnant women at Sydney's Westmead Hospital and found 60-70 per cent of them were iodine-deficient - up from 50 per cent a few years ago.

Iodine is a trace element essential for brain growth in a developing foetus and to maintain normal thyroid function, growth and metabolism.

Professor Creswell, vice-chair of the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, said women involved in the study were only getting half the iodine they required. "Children born to mothers who are moderately iodine-deficient have lower IQs ... It is dumbing down our population," Prof Eastman said. "We could solve the whole problem if we could convince the Government that all salt for human consumption should be iodised," Prof Eastman said.

The above story by Sharon Labi appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on June 7, 2009

Table salt IS already all iodized as far as I know. Salt used in food manufacture probably is not however. So it is the health nuts warning people off adding salt to their food who are causing this problem

10 June, 2009

Oily fish can halt the progress of late-stage eye disease

But it can also give you eye disease in the first place! I shouldn't laugh but this really is an amusing set of findings. If I took the findings seriously, I would never eat fish again!

People with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) should eat oily fish at least twice a week to keep their eye disease at bay, say scientists. Omega-3 fatty acids found in abundance in fish like mackerel and salmon appear to slow or even halt the progress of both early and late stage disease.

The researchers base their findings on almost 3,000 people taking part in a trial of vitamins and supplements. The findings are published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.

An estimated 500,000 people in the UK suffer from AMD, which destroys central vision. Experts have already suggested omega-3 may cut the risk of getting AMD by a third, and now this latest work suggests these fats also benefit patients who already have the disease.

Progression to both dry and wet forms of advanced AMD disease was 25% less likely among those eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. People with advanced AMD who also consumed a low-GI diet, eating of foods that release their sugar more slowly, and who took supplemental antioxidant vitamins and minerals like vitamin C and zinc appeared to reduce their risk of disease progression by even more - by up to 50%. Substituting five slices of wholegrain bread for white bread every day out of a total intake of 250g of carbohydrate might cut out almost 8% of advanced age related macular degeneration over five years, say the authors.

Surprisingly, however, the supplements were counterproductive for those with early AMD, negating the benefits of omega-3 fats, and even appeared to increase the risk of disease progression. Those who took all the antioxidant vitamins plus zinc, and who a high daily intake of beta carotene - found in yellow and green vegetables - were 50% more likely to progress to advanced disease.

The researchers at Tufts University, Boston, believe omega-3 fatty acids offer protection against AMD by altering fat levels in the blood after a meal that can be damaging to the body. But they say it is not clear whether patients should also consider taking supplements as well as omega-3 because of their mixed findings.

They suggest that eating two to three servings of fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, shellfish, and herring every week, would achieve the recommended daily intake (650mg) of omega-3, substantially cutting the risk of both early and late stage AMD.

The UK's Food Standards Agency says people should eat at least two portions of fish a week including one of oily fish. But they caution that too much oily fish is bad because it can contain low levels of pollutants that can build up in the body. Most people can safely eat up to four portions a week, but girls and women who might have a baby and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should limit their intake to two portions a week.

A spokeswoman from RNIB said good nutrition was very important for both general and eye health. "These findings appear to be consistent with previous research that has shown that eating omega-3 poly-unsaturated fats as part of a balanced diet may help prevent the development of age-related macular degeneration, the main cause of severe sight loss in the UK. "RNIB hopes that this will further highlight why looking after your eyes should be a key motivation in maintaining a healthy lifestyle," she said.


The breastfeeding trend goes over the top

Australian mothers beg for black market breast milk, risking serious disease transmission

MOTHERS desperate to feed their babies breast milk are advertising for donated human milk in an unofficial milk black market that bypasses health authorities. The trend is part of an international return to wet-nursing, according to advocates who say the "breast is best" message is getting through. A Gold Coast milk bank has fielded more than 160 requests from New South Wales women wanting to find or donate milk. The natural baby food is proven to contain antibodies against illnesses and infection and has been linked with everything from higher intelligence to fewer allergies.

But mothers without their own supply are left to go it alone in NSW, risking passing on diseases including HIV and hepatitis through unscreened milk. Mothers Milk Bank founder Marea Ryan said mothers were forced underground because banks - including her own in Queensland and another in Western Australia - can only cater for a local supply. "The interstate mums have to have a donor as a private arrangement - another mother who is happy to give them milk," she said. "I think it is increasing as people become a lot more aware of the benefits of breastfeeding."

She added that mothers should see blood tests from donors before feeding their baby donated milk. One Sydney woman who arranged frozen breast milk over the internet said she copped abuse, despite insisting on a medical clearance. "I got lots of mothers telling me it was disgusting, asking how could I give another woman's milk to my baby," she said. "It was full on." The Sydney mother blamed her feeding troubles on a past breast reduction and mastitis, coupled with her daughter's whooping cough. "It was horrible. I'm a big believer in breast feeding," she said. "Knowing she was sick when she was born, you just want to give them the best."

Breastfeeding Australia national spokeswoman Carey Wood said World Health Organisation guidelines recommended "cross-feeding" ahead of formula. "We know the best thing for babies is their mothers' own milk," she said. Ms Wood said breast milk was produced by mothers specifically for the age of their baby. "Milk for an 18-month-old or two-year-old, that's not exactly what a newborn needs," she said.

The association does not condone private arrangements and asked a Senate Inquiry for a national network of breast milk banks in 2007. In the US, breast milk has sold online for as much as $1.90 for 20ml.


9 June, 2009

Can crash diets be good for you?

New research appears to show that crash diets can be a safe and effective way of keeping the pounds off. But for how long?

We all know the nutritional rules, don’t we? Crash dieting is just a code for losing muscle and water. As soon as we stop, we’ll simply regain the weight — and, likely, plus some. Yo-yo dieting will merely mess up your metabolism.

In spite of this, we’ve kept doing the crazy diets. The bottom line was that we were thin. So what if we fasted for 48 hours, drinking only water, diet cola and black coffee, then munched a 400-calorie meal, then fasted again for 48 hours more? We lost 1st in four days — even if it was dangerously extreme.

My own life has borne witness to the Scarsdale diet: I had a green salad and no cake for dinner on my 16th birthday. I lived through “Smashgate”, a regime of Smash mashed potato, for days, until I realised that it was about 10 times as calorific as I’d thought. At university, it was all about calorie counting — anything from 700 to 1,200 calories a day. In my first job, I worked through a haze of starvation on the simple but deadly “stone in four days” plan. I picked Thursdays for the first night of a fast, so I could offset dinner hunger pangs by late-night shopping at Topshop.

Sooner or later, most of us say goodbye to this miserable way of life. When sensible women want to lose weight, we rethink emotional eating patterns, up the exercise and get sustainably healthy, losing 1lb per week tops, right?

Maybe not. We could all be about to head back to the weird world of crash dieting. For new research from Tufts University in Massachusetts says that crash diets can actually work better than slow weight loss. Susan Roberts, professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts, says the latest research from her lab shows that “sensible, healthy crash diets actually do as well for long-term success as slow diets and, for some people, can actually work better”.

She distinguishes between good and bad crash diets, however. The one she advocates goes further than the usual 1,500 calories a day typically advised for women to lose 1lb per week, but is not extreme, never dipping below 1,200 calories for women (or 1,800 for men). “We studied two groups, in which we cut either 10% or 30% of calories, and tried to keep them at it for a year,” she explains. “In the end, they were in a similar place — the 30-percenters definitely did not do worse, despite having a more stringent programme.”

What is more, she adds, people who get tempted easily may be better candidates for fast, strict diets than gentle weight loss: “A small calorie cut can work for the sensible crowd, but seems to almost backfire for people who get tempted by food. Disinhibited eaters [a psychological term referring to people who give up on diets easily when presented with food opportunities] actually did really badly on the 10% diet.”

Certainly, if you’re addicted to overeating, it can be easier dramatically to cut out all your favourites, rather than learn moderation, which is perhaps why meal-replacement diets have been found to be one of the most successful ways to lose weight (see Simon Glazin, above). “Despite the hype about slow diets being better, there has actually been very little research into whether losing weight fast or slowly works better in the long run,” argues Roberts. “The trouble with slow diets is people tend to feel they are getting nowhere and give up. Fast keeps you excited and feeling like you’re making progress.” Other experts take a very different view and insist any kind of diet is bunkum. “Diets depend on failure,” says the psychotherapist Susie Orbach, who has explored women’s attitudes to eating in such books as Bodies. “They need to fail, otherwise there would be no repeat customers.”

Others, such as Dr Peter Rowan, an eating-disorder consultant from the Cygnet hospital in London, warn that dieting and eating disorders go hand in hand. “The large majority of patients with anorexia and bulimia have the illnesses triggered by weight loss. Even a sensible weight-loss diet can trigger an eating disorder in someone who is vulnerable, but there is evidence to suggest that the more severe the weight loss, the more likely the diet is to trigger an eating disorder.”

Roberts dismisses extreme crash diets that promise huge losses, as well as fasting, as “snake oil”, but says that to lose as much as 20lb in eight weeks on 1,200 calories a day, plus 30 minutes’ daily exercise, is safe, provided the diet is balanced, with plenty of low-GI, high-protein foods to keep you full. And the weight loss will last, she says, if you “change what you eat permanently” to generally healthy habits.

Dr Shahrad Taheri, director of the weight-management clinic at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, agrees that 1,200 nutritious, low-GI calories per day is the lowest a woman should go, but warns: “Most people’s weight problems occur over a number of years and reflect a lifestyle of selecting calorie-dense foods combined with reduced physical activity — this needs time to change.”


The bug that can blast away cancer: Drug made from virus extends patients' lives

Sounds plausible and the initial results sound hopeful

A common virus which causes stomach upsets is giving hope to cancer patients - by boosting their immune system and blasting away tumours. Almost 80 patients with advanced forms of liver cancer, head and neck tumours and breast cancer are taking part in trials using a drug made from the reovirus. A number, who have struggled to benefit from chemotherapy, have seen astonishing results, with tumours shrinking and in one case disappearing altogether.

Experts say it is too soon to say if Reolysin is the 'magic bullet' that will kill off cancer, but they believe it may offer a way of extending the life of patients given a short time to live. Reolysin appears to kill off cancer cells by rupturing their walls, creating a chain reaction of 'explosions' which rip through tumours. As the tumours shrink they become less harmful and more easily treatable by chemotherapy. At the same time, Reolysin seems to 'wake up' the immune system so it can recognise cancer cells as invaders, prompting the body to mount an attack on harmful cells.

One liver cancer patient, Andrew McManus, 65, said last night: 'To put it bluntly, I could well be dead by now without this treatment.'

Reovirus infection occurs often in humans, but most cases are mild - causing a stomach upset. Its role in human disease is uncertain. Canadian firm Oncolytics Biotech Inc, which created Reolysin, is working on trials with researchers from St James's Hospital in Leeds, the Royal Marsden Hospital in London and the Royal Surrey County Hospital. The drug is administered intravenously via a drip, with a patient receiving eight fiveday courses of treatment spread over six months. The only side-effects appear to be a flu-like ache and a raised temperature.

Lead researcher Professor Alan Melcher said: 'We have had a few dramatic responses to Reolysin but we still have to be very cautious about getting up too much hope. We cannot say people have been cured. However, it is exciting and has got real potential.'

One man, Henry Nelson, 74, of Halifax, with cancer of the head and neck saw a lump the size of a tennis ball in his neck almost disappear after chemotherapy plus Reolysin.

Professor Melcher said: 'It is a completely different approach to treating cancer. It is not just another drug. It is a virus and it seems to be very well tolerated in combination with chemotherapy. 'There is no magic bullet with cancer, but these combinations seem to be working.'

Experts say larger trials are needed before Reolysin can be widely available to patients. That could take up to five years. In UK trials, 15 head and neck cancer patients have been treated so far. Of 12 for whom results were available, five have had a partial shrinkage of their tumours and in four the disease stabilised for between two to six months. Oncolytics also announced positive results from its other UK trials, for patients who have tumours which have failed to respond to standard therapy. Of 17, 15 experienced stable disease or better.

Liz Woolf, of Cancer Research UK, said 'If it proves successful in larger trials, the reovirus could one day become an effective new treatment to be used alongside chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery to benefit people with some types of cancer.


8 June, 2009

Probiotic supplements have 'no proven benefit for healthy people'

Good to see some reasonable skepticism

Probiotic drinks are of no benefit to healthy people and may harm those with low immune systems, a leading microbiologist has warned. Michael Wilson, Professor of Microbiology at University College London, said there were some cases when topping up on "good bacteria" could help recovery from illness, but understanding of the supplements is "shaky" and needs a more robust scientific investigation.

"There are certain instances when probiotics are useful but the problem is there's no regulation," Prof Wilson said. "They are regarded as food supplements not medicinal products – anyone can get a suspension of bacteria and market it as a probiotic," said Prof Wilson, speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival. "With medicinal treatments, the pharmaceutical industry makes sure the things they produce are safe."

He said that there was some "instinctive sense" that adding to the gut flora will help with adverse events. In recent years, probiotics have been promoted as a healthy food supplements, in the form of yoghurts, drinks and capsules, and the market is worth an estimated £200 million in Britain.

Clinical trials have shown that eating live bacteria can help sufferers of certain illnesses, such as antibiotic-associated diarrhoea, and there is evidence they can help women who have recently given birth to lose weight. However, according to Prof Wilson, for people with compromised immune systems, increasing the bacterial load could lead to health problems.

"No bacterium is totally innocuous. If you are healthy there is probably no harm in taking probiotics, but there is also no benefit. But to increase the bacterial burden if you are immuno-compromised is asking for trouble," he said.

A spokesman for Yakult, one of the leading probiotic brands, disputed Prof Wilson's warning. "We have 75 years of studies, carried out by independent scientific research bodies in the UK, Europe and Japan, including human trials, which have all demonstrated the health benefits of supporting the gut flora with Yakult."

A spokesman for Danone, the company which produces Actimel and Activia probiotic yoghurts, added: "The efficacy of these products has been shown in many studies and the results have been published in highly reputed scientific journals. "Most recently an independent study, published in the British Medical Journal, showed a significant reduction in the incidence of C difficile-associated diarrhoea in hospitalised patients who drank Actimel twice a day."


There's more to breastfeeding than meets the eye

ANIMAL milk production was biochemist Peter Hartmann's specialty as a young scientist, but when Britain joined the common market in the early 1970s and European dairy products displaced Australian ones, his funding collapsed and he began applying his knowledge to humans. At the University of Western Australia, he focused instead on that "incredible organ", the lactating breast. "At that time, breastfeeding was at the lowest point ever in Australia, it wasn't seen as the 'in' thing to do research on," Hartmann says.

Last month, it was announced that Hartmann, with computer expert and UWA pro vice-chancellor (research and research training), Robyn Owens, had been awarded the $160,000 British Rank Prize for nutrition. Hartmann's desire to work out a simple, effective way of measuring breast volume, and then milk volume within the breast, was facilitated by Owens's expertise in adapting computer technology called "Moire topography". This method involves projecting stripes on to a breast and measuring the distortions caused by the shape of the breast, which allows calculation of volume.

"One of the stories here is that cross-disciplinary collaboration is very powerful. In WA, these collaborations are easier because you can be at an institution within 10 or 15 minutes," Hartmann says. This teamwork made possible a world of discoveries about breastfeeding. These ranged from basic research such as establishing that humans lactate differently from dairy cows and laboratory animals, [Another example of the often-poor generalizability from animal models] to present work growing breast tissue from stem cells produced in milk.

And while it was already relatively simple to work out how much milk a baby was receiving at each feed - by weighing the infant before and after - that gave no clue about how much each breast was producing, and the capacity of each breast. "One of the things our research clearly showed was that the baby was choosing how much milk to take at each feed, so we could say a baby's appetite varied, they were not always 'clearing their plates'," Hartmann says.

It transpired that the more the baby drained from a breast, the more the breast produced. And that breasts operated independently of each other. One might be very full for one feed and the other much less so, but the position could be reversed from feed to feed. It was also possible to work out how empty a breast was by the amount of fat in the milk. If the milk produced was fatty, the breast was giving up its last reserves.

There is much more to do and know, Hartmann says. "We don't have any (medical) specialty in looking at this important function, so if you have a problem and go to your GP and he can't help, there's nowhere else to go."


7 June, 2009

Chocolate Milk's 'Natural' Muscle Recovery Benefits Match or May Even Surpass a Specially Designed Carbohydrate Sports Drink

This is a very small study but interesting

Soccer players and exercise enthusiasts now have another reason to reach for lowfat chocolate milk after a hard workout, suggests a new study from James Madison University presented at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting. Post-exercise consumption of lowfat chocolate milk was found to provide equal or possibly superior muscle recovery compared to a high-carbohydrate recovery beverage with the same amount of calories.

In this study, 13 male college soccer players participated in "normal" training for one week, then were given lowfat chocolate milk or a high-carbohydrate recovery beverage daily after intense training for four days. After a two week break, the athletes went through a second round of "normal" training, followed by four-day intensified training to compare their recovery experiences following each beverage (with the same amount of calories). Prior to the intense training, at day two and at the completion of this double-blind study, the researchers conducted specific tests to evaluate "markers" of muscle recovery.

All of the athletes increased their daily training times during the intensified training, regardless of post-exercise beverage yet after two and four days of intensified training, chocolate milk drinkers had significantly lower levels of creatine kinase - an indicator of muscle damage - compared to when they drank the carbohydrate beverage. There were no differences between the two beverages in effects on, soccer-specific performance tests, subjective ratings of muscle soreness, mental and physical fatigue and other measures of muscle strength. The results indicate that lowfat chocolate milk is effective in the recovery and repair of muscles after intense training for these competitive soccer players.

This new study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting milk may be just as effective as some commercial sports drinks in helping athletes recover and rehydrate. Chocolate milk has the advantage of additional nutrients not found in most traditional sports drinks. Studies suggest that when consumed after exercise, milk's mix of high-quality protein and carbohydrates can help refuel exhausted muscles. The protein in milk helps build lean muscle and recent research suggests it may reduce exercise-induced muscle damage. Milk also provides fluids for rehydration and minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium that recreational exercisers and elite athletes alike need to replace after strenuous activity.

Nearly 18 million Americans play soccer, according to American Sports Data, and millions more engage in recreational sports. Many experts agree that the two-hour window after exercise is an important, yet often neglected, part of a fitness routine. After strenuous exercise, this post-workout recovery period is critical for active people at all fitness levels - to help make the most of a workout and stay in top shape for the next exercise bout. Sweating not only results in fluid losses, but also important minerals including calcium, potassium and magnesium. The best recovery routine should replace fluids and nutrients lost in sweat, and help muscles recover.

Increasingly, fitness experts consider chocolate milk an effective (and affordable and enjoyable) option as a post-exercise recovery drink. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans drink three glasses of lowfat or fat free milk every day. Drinking lowfat chocolate milk after a workout is a good place to start.

Reference: Gilson SF, Saunders MJ, Moran CW, Corriere DF, Moore RW, Womack CJ, Todd MK. Effects of chocolate milk consumption on markers of muscle recovery during intensified soccer training. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2009;41:S577.


Your child’s Body Mass Index is nobody’s business but yours

My daughter is desperately excited by her upcoming fifth birthday – not least because apparently she will ‘look like six’. She’s not daft; she knows that the labels on the clothes that I buy her now read ‘Age 6-7’, and that she is taller and heavier than some of her friends.

My daughter is not fat – although according to recent research from Newcastle University, eviscerated by Tim Black on spiked, as a parent I would be the last person to admit that she was. But she isn’t a skinnymalinks either. I’m quite pleased about this because I think she looks healthy and beautiful, and my instincts tell me that denying children pudding and sending them to bed hungry is neither necessary nor desirable in this day and age.

The trouble is, when you are constantly incited by government campaigns, health professionals and media reports to calculate and then worry about your child’s Body Mass Index, you find yourself doubting your instincts – and looking at your child in a very peculiar way. Will she pass the test? you wonder, when the school weigh-in programme comes around. If I put a chocolate biscuit in her lunchbox, will people think it’s my fault that she failed?

And so it was when, towards the end of last school term, I received a letter from the local NHS Community Services regarding the ‘height, weight, vision and hearing’ screening programme for reception-class children. Parents were advised to complete a form, which asked for basic health information about the child and gave the opportunity to consent – or not – to their child ‘receiving the Health Assessment Service offered’, and return it to the school forthwith. The covering letter was explicit in its advice that parents really should consent to this: we were told the Health Assessment was necessary ‘to identify any unmet health needs that may impact on your child’s education’; and that if we did not consent, or failed to return the form, ‘your GP will be notified’.

Now, I am not the most organised of parents when it comes to returning forms; but in this case, I actively dithered. I have no problem with vision and hearing screening offered through the school, not least because I can see how problems with eyesight and hearing really can ‘impact on your child’s education’. But screening for height and weight is a different matter. This is a political initiative, introduced a few years ago as part of the government’s war on obesity.

The introduction, in 2006, of a national ‘weigh-in’ scheme via schools, through which parents could be advised about how far down the scale of morbid obesity their children were sitting and through which the government could collect statistics to beef up their claims of a rampant fatness epidemic, was all about meeting the political objective of tackling a presumed public health problem (1). It had, and has, nothing to do with education – unless you take into account a fat kid’s ability to shine at PE.

This was given tacit recognition in the early days of the weigh-in scheme, when parents were given the ability to opt their child out of this aspect of the Health Assessment. But it was quickly discovered that the ‘target group’ – that is, children with less-than-perfect BMI scores – were being removed from the programme by their parents, defeating its stated objective of helping parents to recognise their child’s chubbiness and take appropriate lifestyle measures to address this; and the rules changed to make all parents comply with the screening.

The upshot, certainly in our neck of the woods, was that the political height and weight screening became lumped together with the medically more important hearing and vision screening, and parents are forced to ‘consent’ to all of this or face the scrutiny of their GP. The only basis on which you can ‘opt out’ is by refusing to allow your child’s height and weight measurements to be included in the government’s data collection statistics. Which is what, after far too much soul-searching, I eventually did. Not having the ability to register a protest about my child being weighed or having her individually graded on a scale of fatness (both of which I cared about) I took the only available opportunity of registering any kind of objection, by refusing to let anonymous, meaningless figures about my child be included in national statistics (about which I really don’t give a monkey’s).

Then a funny thing happened. Three weeks into the new school term, I received a message from my GP’s surgery asking me to get in touch, followed by a phone call from a very nice woman involved in the Health Assessment service. The woman explained to me that they had received my consent form after the screening had already taken place in school, and asked whether I would like them to arrange some separate screening for my daughter. I accepted the offer, although I also explained that if I thought there was a problem I would be happy to talk to my GP. After a brief pause, she admitted that, while my daughter had not been screened for vision and hearing because my consent had not been given, they had gone ahead with the height and weight screening, with the result that I would receive a letter telling me how tall my daughter was and how much she weighed, and that these statistics would have already been passed on for collection in the government’s data.

The woman was very apologetic, and took pains to reassure me that all this data was ‘anonymised’. I explained that I did not actually mind the data being collected, but that it seemed rather strange that my lack of consent could be taken seriously when it came to the medically-important part of the screening service that I did want to access, but ignored when it came to the very bit of the service that I was worried about. I raised my concerns that the height and weight screening was a political measure that had nothing to do with my child’s education, and pointed out that – unlike eyesight and hearing – I was perfectly capable of measuring height and weight myself. The woman agreed with me that the height and weight screening was indeed political, and said that was causing those working in this field a lot of problems with parents becoming upset and confused by the whole thing – the last thing that health professionals want to happen.

So, I asked, am I likely to receive a letter categorising my child as underweight, normal, overweight, obese? The woman explained that no, this year they were not categorising children like this, because last year several parents became understandably very upset on hearing that their child had been awarded a fat grade. Consequently, this year parents would be receiving (as I did) a letter that simply informed us how tall and heavy our child was, along with a general paragraph on the importance of having a healthy weight. But, as she pointed out, this would lead to complaints, too, as parents were utterly confused about ‘what it meant’. In other words, simply being told that your child weighs x kilos begs the question of whether you are then supposed to go and work out their Body Mass Index and its presumed relationship to healthy weights and diets – or whether you just chuck the letter in the bin.

I haven’t chucked the letter in the bin – but only because I want to keep it as proof that I do not require surveillance by my GP. The telephone call from my local surgery, staffed by busy, conscientious people who are brilliant when you are ill, turned out to have been placed because I had not returned the screening form in time, and they just wanted to check ‘whether everything is okay’. As it goes, I am not worried that they might be worried – the GP practice knows my family, and I am confident that they realise that the reason we are not visiting the doctor all the time is because, actually, the kids are pretty healthy. But they, too, are forced to play along with an agenda that forces parents to ‘consent’ to surveillance practices that both parents and health professionals know are based on political objectives rather than health imperatives.

What a waste of everybody’s time, skill and energy this all is. And how bad it is for children, that so many people are scrutinising their bodies for signs of a glitch in the BMI calculation, rather than seeing them as little people with so many more exciting challenges ahead than worrying about what they had for breakfast.


6 June, 2009

How the humble hydrangea shrub could hold the key to curing MS, diabetes and arthritis

This sounds like very good news indeed

Its bright and beautiful flowers bring a splash of colour to gardens all over Britain. But it seems the hydrangea is more than just a pretty bloom. A drug made from its roots could be used to treat a raft of common diseases, researchers say. The colourful shrub - a staple of Chinese medicine - has the power to 'revolutionise' the treatment of multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and some forms of diabetes and arthritis, scientists claimed yesterday. These diseases occur when the immune system attacks the body.

Existing treatments are expensive, have to be injected, and do not address the biological cause of the problem. Powerful drugs which suppress the immune system can be used as a last resort but leave patients at risk of infections and other serious side-effects. Now it appears that a medicine derived from the hydrangea's root could offer an alternative.

Experiments found that it blocked the formation of a type of white blood cell involved in autoimmune disease. Crucially, the drug does not seem to affect other kinds of cell vital to the body's defences - meaning it does not otherwise inhibit the immune system. Mice with a multiple sclerosis-like disease were far less severely affected when given low doses of the hydrangea-based drug, which is called halofuginone, the journal Science reported. Halofuginone is already used to treat a rare autoimmune disease which affects the skin and internal organs.

Much more research would be needed for it to be given the green light to treat other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. However, scientists say it is a promising avenue of research. Dr Anjana Rao, of the Children's Hospital in Boston in the U.S., said: 'Halofuginone may herald a revolution in the treatment of certain types of auto-immune and inflammatory diseases.' Her fellow researcher Dr Mark Sundrud added: 'This is really the first description of a small molecule that interferes with auto-immune pathology but is not a general immune suppressant.'

Hydrangea root has traditionally been used to relieve inflammation and 'cleanse' the joints. It is one of the 50 staple herbs of Chinese medicine and is also a traditional medicine of north American Cherokee Indians. An extract of hydrangea leaf is also said to have anti-malarial properties.


Paralysed stroke victim 'cured' with botox

An Australian stroke victim who has been paralysed for more than two decades can walk again after being injected with botox. Russel McPhee, from Gippsland, Victoria was a fit, healthy meat worker who played football, cricket and basketball when, at the age of 26, he collapsed suddenly at work. When he woke in hospital he was told he had suffered a devastating stroke and that he would never walk again. "I felt my life had ended," he told The Times. "I lost my job, my wife left me, I ended up with nothing."

Today, Mr McPhee, 49, can walk almost unaided for up to 20 metres and can cover 100 metres with a walking frame. "I thought I would die in my wheelchair,” he said. “My life has started all over again. "I have seen people cry when they realise I’m standing beside my chair. Tough men, blokes I went to school with and played sport with, weep when they see me.”

His dramatic improvement came after treatment with botox, or botulinum toxin injections at the St John of God rehabilitation centre in Nepean, Victoria. Just one month after his first injection, he was able to stand up and walk a few yards, with a helper on either side. Now he can walk the length of a room with only a guiding hand on his arm.

Botox is an accepted treatment for the type of paralysis commonly associated with strokes - it was used to treat muscle spasm years before it was adopted by the cosmetics crowd. But patients usually show the best effects if they are treated soon after a stroke. Such a dramatic improvement after so long is almost unheard of.

Mr McPhee’s doctor, rehabilition specialist Dr Nathan Johns said botox on its own would not have worked without Mr McPhee's own extraordinary strength of will. "When he came to us the spasticity in his muscles had not been treated for 20 years so it was very strong,” said Dr Johns. "Usually giving a patient botulinum toxin relieves the stiffness by relaxing the muscle, but it also weakens the muscle which means the patient would not regain much mobility. "But Russell had unusually good muscle power despite the fact that he’d been in a wheelchair for so long.”

Crucially, Mr McPhee had repeatedly, over the years, attempted to get out of his wheelchair and stand on his own. He was not successful, managing at most a few seconds on his feet before he collapsed. “Often I would lie on the floor for hours, just hoping that someone might drop by so they could pick me up again," he said. Those repeated, heart-breaking attempts to stand built up a core muscle strength on which his doctors and physiotherapists were able to work.

Dr Johns said; "We injected the botulinum toxin directly into his muscles 18 months ago. After 10 days the muscles started to relax and in 12 weeks, as the botulinum toxin took effect and he started intensive physiotherapy, we saw a marked improvement."

Russell's journey to mobility came when he was re-united with a childhood sweetheart, Kerry Crossley, who determined to help him walk again. Ms Crossley was referred to Dr Johns who was, said Mr McPhee: "The first person to give me hope. "Dr Johns took one look at me and said; ‘Botox will fix you up'. Twenty years ago I had been told I might not even live but here he was saying he could help me walk. It was a very emotional moment. Suddenly I had a chance. "The first time I was able to walk was amazing. My son was only a few months old when I had the stroke and I have always wanted to show him that I could walk like other dads."

Dr Johns said: "He is the best example we have of such significant gains after treatment with botulinum toxin. Other patients have shown improvement, but they were already ambulant.”

Professor John Olver, one of Australia's top stroke experts, said Mr McPhee's recovery after so long in a wheelchair was "highly unusual but quite feasible." Professor Olver, the Medical Director of Epworth Rehabilitation in Victoria said: "We use botulinum toxin routinely for patients with spacticity which has been caused by stroke, brain damage or heart disease. “But we use it very early on, usually within weeks of a stroke, to prevent the spasticity from becoming a problem. "After stroke muscles tend to become very stiff or spastic which can prevent movement. "Sometimes the spasticity is so severe we inject those muscles with botulinum toxin, which relaxes the muscles enough to allow a physiotherapist to strengthen and stretch them. "It is unfortunate that this patient had to wait for 20 years and extremely unusual that his treatment was so successful after being immobile for so long. But he's very fortunate that his muscles are strong enough to allow him to be able to walk."

Mr McPhee is now planning to get rid of his walking frame altogether. "I want to go dancing with Kerry and play basketball with my son," he said.


5 June, 2009

Men live longer if (not because) they marry a younger woman

Bravo! We get the most obvious explanation in paragraph 3. A change off the high-flown speculation we usually get in epidemiology

Men are likely to live longer if they marry a younger woman, new research suggests. A man's chances of dying early are cut by a fifth if their bride is between 15 and 17 years their junior. The risk of premature death is reduced by 11 per cent if they marry a woman seven to nine years younger. The study at Germany's Max Planck Institute also found that men marrying older women are more likely to die early.

The results suggest that women do not experience the same benefits of marrying a toy boy or a sugar daddy. Wives with husbands older or younger by between seven and nine years increase their chances of dying early by 20 per cent. This rises to 30 per cent if the age difference is close to 15 and 17 years.

Scientists say the figures for men may be the result of natural selection – that only the healthiest, most successful older men are able to attract younger mates. "Another theory is that a younger woman will care for a man better and therefore he will live longer," said institute spokesman Sven Drefahl.

The study examined deaths between 1990 and 2005 for the entire population of Denmark. On average in Europe, most men marry women around three years younger.


An aspirin a day 'can do more harm than good'

Healthy adults who take daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks could be doing more harm than good, warn researchers. A major study shows that although regular use can cut the rate of non-fatal heart attacks, it can also increase the risk of internal bleeding by a third. The findings cast doubt over proposals for ‘blanket prescription’ of the Polypill, a multi-drug tablet including apsirin which is being developed to combat heart problems.

A report last year suggested most healthy men over 48 and women over 57 would benefit from having aspirin prescribed. The Polypill would be a cheap and simple way of doing this.

The new study in The Lancet medical journal found that healthy people who take aspirin reduced their already small risk of heart attack or stroke by 12 per cent, while the small risk of internal bleeding increased by a third. This means there were five fewer non-fatal heart attacks for every 10,000 people treated, but this was offset by a comparable increase in bleeding - one extra stroke and three cases of stomach bleeding per 10,000 people treated.

In the secondary prevention studies - where patients were taking aspirin to prevent a repeat attack - aspirin reduced the chances of serious vascular events by about one-fifth and this benefit clearly outweighed the small risk of bleeding. In both sets of trials the reductions in risk were similar for men and women.

The study, funded by the UK Medical Research Council, was headed by Professor Colin Baigent of the Clinical Trial Service Unit and Epidemiological Studies Unit at Oxford University. Prof Baigent said 'The latest research does not seem to justify general guidelines advocating the routine use of aspirin in all healthy individuals. 'Drug safety really matters when making recommendations for tens of millions of healthy people. 'We don't have good evidence that, for healthy people, the benefits of long-term aspirin exceed the risks by an appropriate margin.'

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said the polypill was still being tested, but it was vital to consider the potential problem of side effects in healthy people and 'proceed with caution'.

Ellen Mason, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said 'This study on the use of aspirin in primary prevention, partly funded by the BHF, provides further confirmation that in those without existing heart disease there is limited benefit from taking aspirin due to the risk of bleeding. 'For this reason it is better for doctors to weigh up the benefit and risk of prescribing aspirin on an individual basis, rather than develop a blanket guideline suggesting everyone at risk of heart disease is routinely given aspirin. This ensures patient safety.'


4 June, 2009

Must not make health claims for green tea if you are a tea company

But it's fine if you are a health faddist or a publication-hungry medical scientist

An advert for Tetley tea has been banned because it misled viewers into thinking that a cuppa has health benefits. The TV commercial shows a young woman who decides not to go jogging and instead drinks a cup of green tea. A voiceover says: 'For an easy way to help look after yourself, pick up Tetley Green Tea. It's full of antioxidants.'

The advertising watchdog ruled that this implied the tea was beneficial to health, when in fact there is no evidence to suggest it is better for you than water.

Four viewers complained that the advert suggested Tetley Green Tea had the same or similar health benefits as exercise. In the commercial the woman is seen warming up for exercise. She opens her front door, as if to go for a jog, but sees it is raining she goes back inside. She is then seen making a cup of tea as the voiceover is heard and the words 'As part of a healthy diet and lifestyle' appear on screen.

The Advertising Standards Authority said the commercial breached codes dealing with evidence and accuracy. A spokesman said: 'While it did not imply the tea had the same or similar health benefits to exercise, it did imply that the tea had some general health benefits beyond hydration, in particular because it contained antioxidants. 'As we had not seen any evidence to demonstrate that green tea, or the antioxidants in it, had general health benefits, we concluded that the ad was misleading. 'The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Tetley not to imply that a product had greater health benefits than it did if they did not hold substantiation for the implied claims.'

Tetley said the advert had promoted tea as part of a healthy lifestyle, 'hence the inclusion of the on-screen text and the depiction of a young, fit woman who clearly led a healthy lifestyle'.


Information overload from Twitter, Facebook, TV robs us of compassion?

This is all just theory and speculation: No proof at all. You might just as well believe in global warming

THE glut of information streaming through the internet is making us less compassionate, scientists say. Continually flowing data from Twitter, Facebook, email, mobile phones, and TV is moving too fast for the brain's "moral compass" to process, according to two separate scientific studies. Scientists say the rapid-fire nature of these sources is too much for emotional processing, which requires significant time and reflection.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, recently found that human traits such as empathy, compassion, altruism, tolerance and emotional stability are hard-wired into our brains, The Times reports. But their associated neurons seem to be mainly in the prefrontal cortex – a slower area of the brain that is bypassed in stressful situations.

“Psychosocially positive behaviours such as admiration and indignation are more work for the brain than basic emotions such as pain response,” says Dr Dilip Jeste in Archives of General Psychiatry. “Constant bombardment by outside high-intensity stimuli is not likely to be healthy. It may prevent people from having an opportunity to digest the information, match it with culturally resonant reactions and then execute well-considered behavioural responses.”

Similar research by the University of Southern California's Brain and Creativity Institute found that humans can register another person's pain and fear instantly, but it takes longer to develop socially evolved responses such as compassion. “The rapidity of attention-requiring information, which hallmarks the digital age, might reduce the frequency of full experience of emotions, with potentially negative consequences,” warns the research paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

Antonio Damasio, the study’s co-author, says: “I’m worried about what is happening in the abrupt juxtapositions that you find, for example, in the news. Perhaps all we can say is, ‘not so fast’.”

Felix Economakis, a chartered psychologist who specialises in stress, told The Times that brains are definitely suffering information overload. “Technology is making quantum leaps, bombarding us with new things to focus on, but we have not been able to catch up and adapt. Our brains’ attention levels are finite. When everything is screaming at us, we start withdrawing so that normally nice people become unempathetic."


3 June, 2009

An economist recommends vegetarianism

Sad to see an intelligent man fall for such malarkey. One hopes that he does not base his ideas in economics on one popular book and a shallow reading of the relevant literature. The author of the book answers his critics with ad hominem arguments so that should tell you all you need to know

You can shrink your lifetime medical costs by eliminating the food tax you impose on yourself. Just as taxes on wages and goods impose an excess burden on the economy, eating too much of animal products imposes an excess burden on your body, causing disease.

It has been conventional wisdom that for optimal health, one should avoid processed food and too much fat, salt, and sugar. But comprehensive evidence has now found that animal products are unhealthy. The China-Oxford-Cornell Diet and Health Project, known as the China Study, has found that eating meat and milk products increases the risk of getting diabetes, heart problems, cancer, and other diseases.

The findings, based on 8000 statistically significant links between dietary factors and disease, are in the book The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II. Critics of the book, such as in Wise Traditions, say that the book is too sweeping in its conclusions from the study, but the authors also base their conclusions on their own experience and other studies.

The China Study was conducted by a partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. The subjects who ate plant foods lived longer and healthier lives than those who ate meat and dairy. Also, vitamin pills and other supplements are not a good substitute for a good diet. Supplements provide nutritional insurance if one’s diet is already healthy. Exercise is also helpful for health, but diet is more important.

Our culture is a powerful enemy of good nutrition. Almost all the food in a cafeteria, restaurant, or food store is unhealthy. Go to a party, and they will offer cookies, cakes, and fatty little dumplings. Doctors contribute to the problem, as few of them study nutrition, and few have read the China Study. Ask a doctor if it is good to eat meat, and the standard answer will be, “Yes, in moderation.”

Government contributes to the problem. First they subsidize the mass production of grains, which indirectly subsidizes the production of pork and beef. Americans then get sick eating pasta and meat, and so the government subsidizes their medical costs. The huge and growing spending for medicate is a result of subsidized bad diets.

Very few of those who read this article will be persuaded to change their diets, which is good, because you should read the book and other studies to judge for yourself. But few who read this article will go on to read about The China Study or even look at the book’s web site. The human mind is naturally conservative and lazy, and few will seek out new information even if it could well save you from a painful early death.

Nature played a cruel trick on us by making cheese and cooked meat taste good, but one can imagine a skull and crossbones when one sees these goodies, and one can enjoy healthy foods such as cherries and lychee fruit.

There are many reforms that need to be made to slash medical costs. These include changing the tax system to avoid favoring employer-provided insurance, changing the legal system to loser-pays for lawsuits, legalizing all drugs and medical services, and eliminating laws that mandate various insurance provisions. But the greatest reform of all is to prevent disease.

Economically enlightened folks often wonder why the world resists the efficiency tax shift that replaces punitive taxes on wages and goods with levies on land value. Think about why you are now resisting making a radical change in your diet. Such self-reflection will then give you a hint about why others resist healthy economic policies.


Pill 'dramatically shrinks skin cancer tumours by 30%'

Sounds hopeful

A pill has dramatically shrunk tumours in patients with advanced melanoma, one of the deadliest skin cancers. Preliminary results from a small trial found tumour size was reduced by 30 per cent. Patients receiving the experimental treatment lived for around six months without their disease getting worse.

Results from the Phase 1 trial were released at the meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Orlando. U.S. investigators said the drug, known as PLX4032, is designed to block a genetic mutation in a cellular pathway called BRAF, that occurs in up to 60 per cent of melanomas and about 8 per cent of all solid tumors.

Malignant melanoma, also known as melanoma, is the most serious type of skin cancer and every year in the UK more than 10,400 people are diagnosed with it and almost 2,000 people die. It is the most common kind of cancer for women in their 20s. Worryingly, the number of people diagnosed in the UK has quadrupled since the 1970s - making it the most rapidly increasing cancer.

Melanoma is treatable if caught early, but patients who develop metastatic disease - where the cancer has spread - are rarely cured with available treatments, with just five per cent still alive five year after diagnosis.

In the trial, nine of out of 16 melanoma patients with the mutation who were treated with clinically relevant doses had tumor shrinkage of at least 30 per cent. Patients treated with PLX4032 lived for around six months without their disease getting worse and more than half experienced significant shrinkage of their tumours, including patients where the cancer had spread to the liver, lung and bone.

Most drug-related adverse events, including rash and photosensitivity, were classified as mild, although serious adverse events were observed in some patients after longer-term treatment.

Dr Keith Flaherty, of the University of Pennsylvania and the trial's lead investigator, said: 'PLX4032 has shown both tumour shrinkage and delay in tumour progression in patients whose tumours harbour a BRAF mutation, as well as improved quality of life for symptomatic patients. 'Seven years after BRAF mutations were first identified we have validation that this mutation is a cancer driver and therapeutic target. 'In addition to a new and important chapter in the story of targeted therapy development in cancer, we are especially excited for our melanoma patients for whom there are few treatment options.'

PLX4032 works in a highly innovative way by selectively targeting and destroying tumour cells carrying the BRAF mutation, an important mediator of cell growth and division.

The drug, being developed by privately-held Plexxikon Inc and Roche, will go into larger trials later this year along with a diagnostic test to select mutation-positive patients for clinical trials, and ultimately for treatment with PLX4032.


2 June, 2009

Sandwiches now under attack

If you start with silly assumptions, you arrive at all sorts of silly conclusions. According to the stupid rules these "health" witch-doctors have dreamed up, roast dinners would be banned to. They will only be happy if we all live on lettuce. Repeated scientific studies have shown no benefit in a low fat diet and danger in a low salt diet.

FANCY a dose of salt and fat with your sandwich? Some sangers contain as much salt as six packets of potato chips and more saturated fat than a Big Mac. Expert analysis for the Herald Sun has uncovered the truth about some lunch favourites - and the news is not good for your heart or blood pressure. "Just because you buy a sandwich it doesn't necessarily mean it is better than junk food," accredited practising dietitian Milena Katz said. "You really need to be careful about the type of filling you choose rather than falling into a false sense of security."

Ms Katz said sandwiches packed with processed meats, drenched in sauces and combined with cheese could be a recipe for clogged arteries, stroke and heart attacks. The best choices limit fillings to one type of protein - such as meat, eggs or tinned fish - with salad or vegetables on multigrain bread.

A review of menus at Subway, Muffin Break, SumoSalad and bb's cafe found some products had startling amounts of salt and the bad saturated fat responsible for boosting cholesterol. One of the worst cases was a satay chicken wrap from Muffin Break with a whopping 1840mg of sodium - almost the entire recommended daily limit for an adult, and equivalent to the salt in six 45g bags of Smith's crinkle cut potato chips. It also had 11.5g of saturated fat, more than the 9.7g in a Big Mac.

Salami and pepperoni lovers tucking into a Subway spicy Italian six-inch sub are swallowing 1580mg of sodium, the amount in more than five packets of chips, and 11.2g of saturated fat. A bb's cafe chicken caesar panini had the salt content of almost six packets of chips, while SumoSalad's tuna cheese long roll contained less saturated fat than the burger, but the equivalent of the salt in four bags of chips.

The outlets said the items chosen were part of many options that included healthier choices. Selected companies make nutritional details available at stores and/or on websites. But people buying sandwiches from other shops are choosing blindly because sellers are not obliged to display nutritional fine print.

Steffi Burns, 16, was shocked when shown the sandwich report card. "Oh my gosh. I thought all kinds of sandwiches would be healthier than fast food, especially Maccas," the Diamond Creek teen said. Steffi said she usually took a salad to school. Her favourite sandwich is toasted ham, cheese and tomato.

Ms Katz said that while many people were aware of trimming fat, alarm bells should ring about salt, especially in the first 20 years of life. A homemade sandwich using finely sliced roast meat and salad or vegetables on multigrain bread was far healthier than bought sandwiches with processed meats full of preservatives, she said.

Some researchers say Australian adults are on average overdosing on at least twice the salt they need, risking high blood pressure and serious health problems. National watchdog Food Standards Australia New Zealand estimates one in three Australians exceed the recommended adult daily limit of no more than 2.3g (2300mg) of sodium, or about 1 1/2 teaspoons of common salt. Most of the sodium in food comes from salt (sodium chloride) added for flavour or as a preservative to extend shelf life. Low-salt foods contain 120mg of sodium per 100g.


New drug olaparib offers hope to women with genetic breast cancer

This sounds great but it must be kept in mind that some cancers regress spontaneously and that the long term effects have yet to be established

A new drug for genetic breast cancer could help thousands of women with hereditary forms of the disease, the first tests on patients suggest. A study involving 54 women with advanced genetic breast cancer found that the drug olaparib could stop the growth of tumours, and shrink them in more than 40 per cent of cases. In one case, a woman’s tumour disappeared completely after treatment with the drug, according to results to be presented at a science conference today.

About 5 per cent of the 46,000 cases of breast cancer in Britain each year are caused by defects on the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes, which put women at much higher risk of developing aggressive cancers of the breast or ovaries. Many women who test positive for the mutations have their breasts removed as a precaution, as they have an 80 per cent risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.

Olaparib, made by AstraZeneca , is the first of a new class of drugs specifically designed to treat BRCA-related cancers to be tested on patients. If further tests are successful, they could be used at an early stage to treat or prevent disease occurring within affected families, scientists say.

Pharmaceutical companies are also due to present targeted therapies for cancers of the lung, stomach and ovaries this week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Orlando, Florida, the world’s largest gathering of cancer scientists.

Andrew Tutt, director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit at King’s College London, who led the trial, said that the results for olaparib were “very promising”. “We are hopeful that olaparib could provide a targeted treatment for women with BRCA-related breast cancer,” he said. “Some women also develop breast cancer before they know they are carrying the gene, or see it recur if they have been diagnosed previously.”

Charlotte Sword, 40, has had breast cancer diagnosed twice, because of the potentially deadly mutation to the BRCA-1 gene which runs in her family. Her younger sister Audrey has suffered it three times. Both women have had double mastectomies and their ovaries removed. “Breast cancer has left a horrific mark on our family due to a mutation being passed down the paternal line”, Mrs Sword said yesterday. “I have three nieces who could benefit from this treatment, and could be spared the dreadful illness and side-effects of treatment that my sister and I had to go through.”

Olaparib works by blocking a protein that makes cancer cells which have a BRCA fault unable to repair their own DNNA. This causes the cancer cell to die and means that the tumour should either stop growing or get smaller. Because the drug works in a targeted way, it kills cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone in a way that chemotherapy does not, which could help to reduce the punishing side-effects of cancer treatment.

In the study carried out at hospitals in Britain, Europe, the US and Australia, 27 patients took 100mg oral doses of olaparib while another 27 took 400mg doses. More than 40 per cent of tumours in the higher dose group reduced significantly in size, while all tumours were prevented from progressing for an average of six months.

The Times reported this year that the London community of Ashkenazi Jews is being offered screening for BRCA genes that raise risks of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. Ashkenazi have a high incidence of BRCA-related breast cancer.

The NHS currently offers BRCA testing, but only for women whose relatives have had cancer because of the mutations. But up to 50 per cent of people with the faulty genes do not have a family history of the diseases, largely because the gene can be carried by men.

Dr Tutt said that orlaparib may also have potential as an early-stage or preventative treatment. He added: “It is important to remember this drug is at a very early stage of development.” Herbie Newell, Cancer Research UK scientist at the Northern Research Institute, Newcastle University, said he was “extremely encouraged” by the study’s results. He said: “Olaparib is one of a family of targeted therapies currently in clinical trials and Cancer Research UK expect that this new class of anti-cancer treatments will make a significant impact in the fight against cancer."


1 June, 2009

Western diet linked to teen's poor mental health

As we see from the original journal abstract following the article below, the study was more sophisticated than most in that there was some attempt to take social class into account. Maternal education is controlled for. It is however primarily paternal education that influences social class and there are other factors as well. So we have not escaped the influence of the fact that working class people eat more junk food and have poorer health generally. What they found could therefore have been a class effect, not a food effect.

I also suspect the factor-analytic approach used. I know factor analysis well, which is why I rarely use it. Factor identities are usually far from clear and relationships with them can be substantially altered by removing just one or two items from them. Conclusions derived from them are usually therefore pretty arbitrary. That one of the factors is identified as Western, whereas all or most of the participants were presumably Western, tends to raise the eyebrows a bit. Such a general appellation suggests that the factor was highly heterogeneous in its loadings, thus making generalizations about it very shaky. Looking at the individual foods and their relationships with behaviour would be much less inferential -- though appropriate error-rate adjustments would have to be made, of course (Let me hazard a guess that an experiment-wise error rate approach would have shown no statistically significant relationship between any food and any measure of mental health!). Identifying fruit and vegetables as the critical element in a factor that apparently comprised around 100 different foods is certainly an act of faith rather than a committment to rigorous hypothesis testing

A NEW study in WA has shown a link between Western-style diets and more mental health problems in teenagers. The research paper, from WA's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, has just been published online in the respected international journal Preventive Medicine. Report author and leader of Nutrition studies at the Institute, Dr Wendy Oddy, said the results were based on detailed analysis of diet records and behaviour checklists that were collected from more than 1600 West Australian 14-year-olds in the Raine Cohort Study.

“Our analysis found that higher levels of behaviour and emotional problems were associated with a more Western-style way of eating, namely a diet high in takeaway foods, red meat, confectionary, soft drinks, white bread and unrefined cereals,” Dr Oddy said. “We also showed that these problems were less among teens with a more healthier style of eating, specifically those who ate more fruit and vegetables. “This suggests that if we want to reduce the high rates of mental health problems among young people, then improving their overall diet could be a good place to start.”

The study participants' food intake was assessed using a 212-item food frequency questionnaire. The Child Behaviour Checklist was used to assess internalising mental health problems, such as withdrawn and depressed behaviours, and externalising mental health problems, such as delinquent and aggressive behaviours.

Dr Oddy said previous studies have shown that one in five children are expected to develop some form of mental health problem by the time they reach adulthood, and that 50% of all adult mental health problems develop during adolescence. “We know that since 1985, children and teenagers have been increasing their energy intake by consuming more soft drinks and processed foods.

The number of overweight adolescents has doubled and obesity has tripled in that age group. At the same time there have been marked increases in sedentary behaviours such as TV viewing and computer use,” Dr Oddy said. “Investigating factors that influence mental health in young people must be a high priority. These findings show that there is a need to look at the overall diet, rather than concentrate on individual nutrients.”


The association between dietary patterns and mental health in early adolescence

By Wendy H. Oddya et al.

Objective: To investigate associations between dietary patterns and mental health in early adolescence.

Method: The Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study is a prospective study of 2,900 pregnancies recruited from 1989-1992. At 14 years of age (2003-2006; n=1,324), the Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) was used to assess behaviour (characterising mental health status), with higher scores representing poorer behaviour. Two dietary patterns (Western and Healthy) were identified using factor analysis and food group intakes estimated by a 212-item food frequency questionnaire. Relationships between dietary patterns, food group intakes and behaviour were examined using general linear modelling following adjustment for potential confounding factors at age 14: total energy intake, body mass index, physical activity, screen use, family structure, income and functioning, gender and maternal education at pregnancy.

Results: Higher total (b=2.20, 95%CI=1.06, 3.35), internalizing (withdrawn/depressed) (b=1.25, 95%CI=0.15, 2.35) and externalizing (delinquent/aggressive) (b=2.60, 95%CI=1.51, 3.68) CBCL scores were significantly associated with the Western dietary pattern, with increased intakes of takeaway foods, confectionary and red meat. Improved behavioural scores were significantly associated with higher intakes of leafy green vegetables and fresh fruit (components of the Healthy pattern).

Conclusion: These findings implicate a Western dietary pattern in poorer behavioural outcomes for adolescents. Better behavioural outcomes were associated with a higher intake of fresh fruit and leafy green vegetables.

Preventive Medicine, Article in Press

Cherry juice could be the new sports drink after scientists found it helps ease pain after running

Maybe it is a natural analgesic -- like aspirin. This did not seem to be a double-blind, study, though

People who drank the unsweetened juice while training for a long distance relay reported much less duress after exercise than those who did not. Scientists believe cherries' benefits are likely because of the fruit's natural anti-inflammation power – attributed to antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins which also give cherries their bright red colour. As well as recommending it as a new 'sports drink', they say the findings could have far-reaching benefits for the millions currently taking over-the-counter medication to reduce muscle pain.

A growing body of research suggests cherries could reduce inflammation related to heart disease, arthritis and may even help maintain muscle strength for those suffering from fibromyalgia a common and chronic widespread pain disorder.

In the study, sixty healthy adults aged between 18 and 50 years who drank 10.5 ounces cherry juice twice daily in the week before the long-distance race had far less muscle pain than those who consumed another juice. On a scale from 0 to 10, they had a two point lower self-reported pain level at the completion of the run – a clinically significant difference.

While more research is needed to fully understand the effects of tart cherry juice the early findings, presented at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference in Seattle, indicate cherries may work like common medications used by runners to alleviate post-exercise inflammation.

Dr Kerry Kuehl, sports medicine physician at Oregon Health and Science University, said: "For most runners, post-race treatment consists of RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation – and traditional NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). "But NSAIDS can have adverse effects – negative effects you may be able to avoid by using a natural, whole food alternative, like cherry juice, to reduce muscle inflammation before exercise."