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

What fast food does to girls


30 June, 2011

Diet drinks make you FATTER

The effect reported seems to be an unusually large one and may therefore be of interest but the evidence is epidemiological so is not decisive. It could well be people who are prone to overeating anyhow who use such drinks heavily

They are the calorie-free way of having a sweet treat, but diet drinks could still make you fat, scientists have warned. A ten-year study of almost 500 men and women linked low-calorie soft drinks with bulging waistlines – even when taken in small quantities.

Those who downed two or more diet fizzy drinks a day saw their waistbands expand at five times the rate of those who never touched the stuff, a diabetes conference heard.

The results were so dramatic that the American researchers advise that people ditch their diet drinks and use water to quench their thirst instead. Those who cannot bear to give up the sugar rush may be better off drinking normal full-sugar fizzy drinks.

Professor Helen Hazuda, of the University of Texas’s health science centre, said diet sodas and artificial sweeteners may foster a sweet tooth, distort appetite and even damage key brain cells. As a result, treating them as healthy alternatives may be ‘ill advised’. The professor, who no longer drinks diet colas and lemonades, said: ‘They may be free of calories but not of consequences.’

Professor Hazuda tracked the health and habits of 474 adults for an average of nine and a half years. She then compared the growth in waistline of those who consumed diet drinks with the others, including some who only buy regular fizzy drinks.

Overall, those who favoured diet drinks saw their waists expand 70 per cent faster. But ‘frequent users’ – defined as those who drink two or more cans a day – saw a 500 per cent greater increase in girth, the American Diabetes Association conference heard.

Significantly, the results still stood even when other factors such as exercise, social class, education and smoking were taken into account.

With pot bellies being blamed for ills from heart disease to diabetes and cancer, the researchers said: ‘These results suggest that amidst the national drive to reduce chronic consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, policies that would promote the consumption of diet soft drinks may have unintended deleterious side-effects.’

A second study, involving some of the same researchers and carried out on mice, linked sweetener aspartame with the sort of damage in the pancreas that can occur early in diabetes.

The researchers said they think that artificial sweeteners may distort appetite, leaving us craving extra-sweet and unhealthy treats. They may also damage brain cells involved in feelings of fullness, while the lack of real sugar could also stop us from feeling full.

Sharon Fowler, who was involved in both pieces of research, said: ‘Artificial sweeteners could have the effect of triggering appetite but unlike regular sugars they don’t deliver something that will squelch the appetite.’

Professor Hazuda said that her study was the fourth large-scale piece of research to link diet drinks with ill health. She added: ‘I think prudence would dictate drinking water.’


Cancer patients prescribed chewing gum to aid recovery from surgery

An unpublished study!

Doctors at a leading London hospital are advising bowel cancer patients to chew sugar-free gum after their operations, in order to get their digestive systems back to normal so they can get better faster.

Studies have found that patients undergoing surgery likely to affect their bowel function were fit enough to go home as much as two days earlier than other patients if they chewed gum.

Chewing gum has helped new mothers recovering from caesarean sections, as well as patients undergoing stomach surgery, who can suffer from painful cramps until digestion returns to normal, research has found.

Now surgeons at University College London Hospital are asking patients booked for bowel cancer surgery to bring supplies of sugar-free gum with them, to be chewed three times a day, for an hour, after their operation.

Consultant colorectal surgeon Alastair Windsor said the trial is part of a programme to find new ways to help patients recover from treatment. He said many patients undergoing many types of surgery likely to affect their digestive system could benefit from bringing gum to hospital - but advised them to ask their own doctor first.

Mr Windsor said: "One of the things that delays people recovering from surgery is that they get what is called an ileas - where the bowel goes to sleep. "It seems that chewing gum can stimulate the saliva, which starts enzyme production in the pancreas, and that then stimulates gastro-intestinal activity."

The trial, which began six months ago, has yet to publish results, but the surgeon said so far patients were responding well to it. He said: "Patients seem to like it and in particular to like the fact they are doing something to aid the recovery. We don't yet know how far it is speeding up their recovery, but there doesn't seem to be a downside to it."

The surgeon added: "If I was a patient going into hospital for surgery, I would say talk to your medical team first, but from all the research done, it seems that chewing gum is something that can help patients and for most people, it is certainly unlikely to do any harm."

Different studies from across the world have shown faster recovery when patients are asked to chew gum, but it is not known whether the act works as a placebo, improving patients' sense of well-being, and reducing stress - which could in itself improve bowel function - or whether the impact is physical.


29 June, 2011

Another attack on BPA

Journal article here. The critical factor in such studies is the level of exposure. A basic principle of toxicology is that the toxicity is in the dose. And humans get very tiny exposures to BPA through packaging -- just a few molecules at a time. So the key factor in this study is whether or not the mice were given even tinier does (given that mice are much much smaller than humans). It seems hard to imagine. The authors state that the dose they administered was "likely to provide circulating serum concentrations close to those observed for humans" but this does not seem to have been tested and the sampling used to assess normal human levels was not mentioned. On the whole, it seems likely that the mice were given a much heavier dose than humans would normally receive.

One also notes that many other studies have shown no ill effects and if you do enough studies (and this field is an obsessional one) you will get some apparently significant effects by chance alone

UPDATE: Just a very quick note made without re-reading the article. The reported effects were not "ex hypothesi". In fact the original hypotheses were comprehensively disconfirmed. The authors apparently then went on a data dredging spree, examining a very large number of possible differences. Under those circumstances some significant contrasts are likely to be found by chance alone. That is of course very poor science -- with the results being suitable for hypothesis generation but unable to justify any firm findings

A gender-bending chemical found in food packaging may reduce a man's ability to attract a female, researchers warn. A study from the University of Missouri found male mice who were exposed to bisphenol A as babies became demasculanised and 'behaved more like females.'

Study author associate professor Cheryl Rosenfeld, said the chemical had suppressed the early production of testosterone, which the females could sense. 'The BPA-exposed deer mice in our study look normal; there is nothing obviously wrong with them. Yet, they are clearly different,' she said. 'Females do not want to mate with BPA-exposed male deer mice, and BPA-exposed males perform worse on spatial navigation tasks that assess their ability to find female partners in the wild. '

The research could have implications on how BPA affects human development and behaviour. 'These findings presumably have broad implications to other species, including humans, where there are also innate differences between males and females in cognitive and behavioral patterns,' Rosenfeld said.

Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is used to harden plastics, is one of the world’s most widely manufactured chemicals and can be found in dozens of everyday items including baby bottles, CD cases and food and drink packaging. Because the chemical mimics oestrogen, many scientists believe it interferes with the way hormones are processed by the body.

Although several animal studies have shown it to be safe, others have linked Bisphenol A to breast cancer, liver damage, obesity, diabetes and fertility problems.

In the study, female deer mice were fed BPA-supplemented diets two weeks prior to breeding and throughout lactation.

The mothers were given a dosage equivalent to what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers a non-toxic dose and safe for mothers to ingest. At weaning the deer mice offspring were placed on a non-supplemented BPA diet and their behavior tested when they matured into adults.

Male deer mice exposed to BPA were less desirable to female deer mice, who literally turned their noses up at them. This meant the females did not consider them genetically suitable mates.

'We can use this evolutionary approach to the study of BPA to determine to best way to assess differences in the risks to boys and girls to early exposure to this chemical,' said David Geary MU Curators' Professor of Psychological Sciences.


Television creates 'perfect storm' of childhood obesity

This is a "policy statement", not science. There have been many gravely mistaken policies in medical science

Television creates a "perfect storm" of childhood obesity, paediatricians warn today. The mixture of long-hours sitting doing nothing in front of the box, exposed to advertising for unhealthy products, means today's children both get too little exercise and end up consuming foods which make them put on weight.

The caution comes from the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP), in a policy statement about children, obesity and television.

It advises parents to limit their time their children spend watching non-educational programmes to two hours per day, and take the television screeens and computers out of their sons' and daughters' bedrooms.

Commenting on the statement, the lead author, Dr Victor Strasburger, said: "We’ve created a perfect storm for childhood obesity – media, advertising, and inactivity. "American society couldn’t do a worse job at the moment of keeping children fit and healthy – too much TV, too many food ads, not enough exercise, and not enough sleep."

Although the warning was about American children, it could almost as easily apply to British ones as well. Studies show that British children watch on average almost as much as their American counterparts.

Dr Strasburger said children saw £5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food."

The policy statement is published in Monday's edition of the AAP's journal, Pediatrics.


28 June, 2011

Can mothers 'eating for two' put babies at risk from eating disorders and a low IQ?

A super-duper scare cooked up for the obesity war. But it's just the usual epidemiological nonsense. They have shown that fat women have less healthy babies -- but why? Could it be that obesity is greatest among lower class mothers and they are less healthy anyway? Social class is a PERVASIVE predictor of health outcomes. When will epidemiologists develop some honesty about what is going on? I'm not holding my breath

Pregnant women who ‘eat for two’ could be damaging their babies’ IQs, research shows. They may also put them at risk of developing behavioural problems, eating disorders and mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.

Doctors have long known that obese pregnant women are more likely to suffer blood clots, but the long-term effects of a mother’s overeating on her child’s health are not well understood.

Now a review of existing research has found evidence that obese women or those who put on excessive amounts of weight when pregnant could be harming their children’s development.

Scientists from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, looked at a dozen studies. Research in the U.S. found that children of obese mothers tended to have IQ scores five points lower than the results of those whose mothers were a normal weight.

Swedish studies showed children were more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder if their mothers were obese.

And work on Australian teenagers suggested a child’s chance of having an eating disorder increased by 11 per cent for each point their mother’s body mass index increased during pregnancy.

The researchers, whose findings are published in Obesity Review, believe hormonal and chemical changes may explain the results.


SKINNY gene raises risk of heart disease and diabetes

They may be the envy of their fuller-figured friends, but slim people shouldn’t feel too self satisfied. Being trim doesn’t guarantee they are healthy.

Researchers have found a so-called ‘lean gene’ that helps them keep weight off but also raises their odds of developing diabetes and heart disease. The link is particularly strong in men, meaning those with washboard stomachs may not be quite as healthy as they think.

Scientists compared the genetic codes of more than 75,000 people with the ratio of fat to muscle in their bodies. This revealed an extremely common gene called IRS1 to be linked to leanness.

But while we are used to hearing about the many health benefits of being thin, IRS1 seemed to buck the trend. Those with the gene had higher levels of dangerous blood fats and found it harder to process sugar.

This put them at a 20 per cent higher risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes – the form that develops in middle-age and is often blamed on obesity.

As the gene is only linked to lower levels of fat stored just below the skin, known as subcutaneous fat, it may be that people who have IRS1 stash theirs elsewhere. If fat is wrapped around the heart, liver or other organs it could lead to life-threatening conditions.

The study, reported in the journal Nature Genetics, involved teams at 72 institutions in ten countries.

Lead scientist Dr Ruth Loos, of the MRC Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge, said: ‘People, particularly men, with a specific form of the gene are more likely to be lean and to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 'In simple terms, it is not only overweight individuals who can be predisposed for these diseases, and lean individuals shouldn’t make assumptions that they are healthy based on their appearance.’

She suggested that the effects may be more pronounced in men because they store less fat than women, and could be more sensitive to changes in its distribution.

Professor Nick Wareham, the unit’s director, added: ‘The research will provide new insights into why not all lean people are healthy and, conversely, why not all overweight people are at risk of metabolic diseases.’

Professor Jeremy Pearson, of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘These results reinforce the idea that it is not just how fat you are, but where you lay down fat that’s particularly important for heart risk. ‘Fat stored internally is worse for you than fat stored under the skin.’


27 June, 2011

Banning BPA Will Kill People

Alan Caruba

The lies being told about Bisphenol-A, BPA, via the print and broadcast media, and via the Internet are a destructive tsunami intended to ban its use. If successful, people will die.

In previous parts of this series on BPA, I have identified environmental organizations and public relations firms that have worked as sponsors and/or purveyors of systematic falsehoods about BPA.

The inescapable conclusion is that there is an intricate matrix of comparable groups behind a global fraud that reeks of the same pathology and methodology as the disgraced and debunked “global warming” hoax. But the results of a successful BPA hoax could have deadly consequences.

BPA has been in use for more than a half century and as such, it is among the most tested substances in use today. It is used to line the insides of metal containers and to make shatterproof safety plastics. Unlike what the junk science merchants would have us believe, BPA is not a carcinogen, it is not mutagenic and it’s not an ‘endocrine disruptor.’

Stated simply, BPA improves human health and safety.

Dr. Angela Logomasini, PhD, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, authored the report “Anti-BPA Packaging Laws Jeopardize Public health,” and concluded, in reference to efforts at the state level to restrict BPA, that “these policies threaten to undermine food safety because BPA is used to make resins that line metal cans and other packaging to prevent the development of dangerous pathogens and other contamination.”

The safety characteristics provided by BPA in making shatterproof plastic are no less valuable. Consider this simple and common scenario: a new mother trying to care for her infant while literally juggling a telephone, a cooking utensil and a glass baby bottle. This is actually one of the reasons that bottles made of hardened, shatterproof plastic became so popular so quickly; they were safe to use and spared mothers the risk of shards of shattered glass in homes with infants and toddlers.

We take for granted that we eat all manner of food packaged in cans as well as food and drink in plastic bottles. Imagine if you could not be sure that it was safe to eat or drink? Imagine if you had to fear the contents of a metal can of soup every time it was opened? Or feared what might happen if you drank soda from a plastic bottle?

Banning the use of BPA would put the contents of billions of cans and bottles at risk of contamination, a function that BPA protects against every day and everywhere around the planet. The risk of a BPA ban is clear; there are no alternatives to BPA that have a similarly tested safety profile.

Thousands of studies have been conducted on BPA and not a single one of them has ever shown any harm to human health from BPA in normal consumer use.

This truth was illustrated in an April article by author Jon Entine who reported “A comprehensive review by the German Society of Toxicology of thousands of studies on BPA concluded, ‘(BPA) exposure represents no noteworthy risk to the health of the human population, including newborns and babies.’” During June 2011 in Europe more people died from eating organic vegetables than ever exhibited so much as a symptom of illness due to BPA over the past half century.

While activists clamor for bans on BPA, they’re largely mute when asked what the alternative might be. A report in noted that Dr. John Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, stated “There is a great deal of research underway at this time, but the fact remains there is no readily available alternative to BPA for all the types of metal food and beverage packaging currently in use.” The likelihood of finding a substitute is literally “years away.”

Opponents of BPA seek to intimidate and marginalize credible researchers by condemning their ‘links’ to industry – accusations that are as specious as the non-existent ‘links’ of BPA to physical ailments – yet Rost’s safety concerns were underscored in a May 12 opinion piece in the New York Times which stated what scientists have been saying all along; “Swapping out BPA-free bottles, teething rings and sippy cups for substitutes whose dangers are unknown isn’t keeping our children safe."

Banning BPA would not only constitute a health threat, it would have a catastrophic economic impact on the provision of all food and drink packaged in metal or plastic containers. The assault on BPA is an assault on the vast bulk of humanity that depends on safe, protected containers.

The anti-BPA propaganda, all of which use the vague phrases that BPA “may” pose this threat, “might” pose that threat, “could” have some effect, “has been linked”, is baseless. It plays to the fears of those also read and hear an endless range of specious claims about chemicals of every description. That fear has a name, chemophobia.

Just as the anti-PBA propaganda continues, so do the alleged “studies” that link it to “possible”, “potential” hazards. Time and again, they prove to be an insult to the scientific method.

The sensible consumer knows that mere “exposure” does not constitute a threat or hazard. Every day we are “exposed” to all manner of things we safely eat and drink simply because the exposure is so small—parts per billion—as to constitute no hazard and because the body naturally excretes substances such as BPA on a daily basis.

This pernicious assault on the use of Bisphenol-A must be stopped.


Australian scientists in snakebite ointment breakthrough

Rubbing snakebites with an ointment that slows the functioning of lymph glands could boost survival times by 50 per cent, according to new research by Australian scientists.

In experiments on humans and mice, researchers showed a class of compounds called nitric oxide donors delays the entry of toxins from potentially deadly snakebites into the blood stream.

Nitric oxide (NO), a molecule involved in regulation of blood pressure and the control of brain activity, has been shown to lower blood pressure in patients who suffer acute strokes.

The new finding is of more than academic interest: every year, 100,000 people worldwide die from snakebites, and another 400,000 must amputate limbs that have been injected with poison.

It has long been known that many snake venoms contain large molecules that transit the human body's lymphatic system before entering the bloodstream.

Separately, scientists have also established that nitric oxide slows down a pumping mechanism within the lymphatic system, a part of the body's immune system that carries a clear fluid - called lymph - toward the heart.

Dirk van Helden, a researcher at the University of Newcastle, put these two facts together to suggest a possible treatment for snakebites.

"We hypothesised that a nitric-oxide-releasing agent applied topically would slow lymphatic transit time and entry of the venom into the circulation, delaying onset of toxicity," he and his colleagues wrote in the study.

To test their theory, the researchers injected a venom-like substance into one foot of 15 volunteers, and measured the time it took for the toxin substitute to reach lymph nodes in the groin.

The experiment was later repeated, except this time the drug-laced ointment was spread around the puncture within one minute of the injection.

The transit time dropped from an average of 13 minutes to 54 minutes, four times slower. Further experiments using real toxins in rats yielded roughly the same results.

Finally, the researchers compared the survival time in rats injected with venom that were treated with the ointment against those that were not, and found the nitric oxide rats kept breathing 50 per cent longer.

"These results point to a new method of snakebite first aid that may also be useful for bites to the torso or head," the researchers concluded.

Currently, the most common treatment is to immobilise the patient and restrict blood flow as much as possible until medical assistance is available.


26 June, 2011

Being married can boost your chances of beating cancer, say scientists

All that this proves, I suspect, is that people in poor health are less likely to get married. Good to see that the authors have thought of that

A study by Penn State College of Medicine and Brigham Young University in the U.S. revealed that sufferers who were married had a 14 per cent lower risk of death. The bonus of having a spouse was shown to be equally beneficial to men and women.

The survey also noted that married patients with the condition were more likely to be diagnosed early in the disease's development and often opted for more aggressive forms of treatment.

Scientists are unsure how a marriage license can help sufferers, but speculate that spouses act as an important informal caregiver and supporter, boosting how the disease is managed.

'Controlling for the stage that the cancer was detected is key. Without that, it's hard to know whether the analysis is just picking up a diagnosis effect,' Sven Wilson, a study co-author and professor at Brigham Young University, said.

'Having a spouse helps you kind of pinpoint problems and get them treated more quickly. You can think of a spouse as kind of an informal nurse or caregiver.'

The study did not look at whether the married people were already healthier than single people. According to the report, healthy people may be more likely to get or stay married.


Hormone link in cold cure

A CURE for the common cold is one step closer following an important discovery by researchers at the University of Queensland. And the secret to getting rid of those nasty bugs could be in female hormones.

Scientists at the UQ School of Medicine at Princess Alexandra Hospital have made an important discovery about how the immune system reacts to rhinoviruses the most common type of virus to cause colds.

"What turned up unexpectedly was this big gender difference," team leader Professor John Upham said. "Women make a much stronger immune response to the virus than men do, but only below the age of 50. "Over that age, the difference between men and women goes away which suggests it is not a gender thing but a hormonal thing."

The differences disappear after menopause, so the virus is probably regulated by sex hormones - oestrogen or progesterone. Prof Upham said the results were crucially important for finding new ways of combating rhinoviruses.

"While these viruses are just a nuisance in healthy people, they can make people with asthma or other chronic lung diseases very unwell and (see them) end up in hospital," Prof Upham said.

As yet, the researchers haven't identified exactly which hormone it is but that will be essential in the development of a vaccine.

"That vaccine will specifically target people with asthma because they are the ones who end up in hospital," he said.

"Knowing the difference between men and women is really important as we examine people with asthma. "We can now work out why women with asthma don't receive the beneficial effects of the hormones."

The research was funded by the Asthma Foundation of Queensland and the National Health and Medical Research Council.


25 June, 2011

Obama's Food Police in Staggering Crackdown on Market to Kids

Tony the Tiger, some NASCAR drivers and cookie-selling Girl Scouts will be out of a job unless grocery manufacturers agree to reinvent a vast array of their products to satisfy the Obama administration’s food police.

Either retool the recipes to contain certain levels of sugar, sodium and fats, or no more advertising and marketing to tots and teenagers, say several federal regulatory agencies. The same goes for restaurants.

It’s not just the usual suspected foods that are being targeted, such a thin mint cookies sold by scouts or M&Ms and Snickers, which sponsor cars in the Sprint Cup, but pretty much everything on a restaurant menu.

Although the intent of the guidelines is to combat childhood obesity, foods that are low in calories, fat, and some considered healthy foods, are also targets, including hot breakfast cereals such as oatmeal, pretzels, popcorn, nuts, yogurt, wheat bread, bagels, diet drinks, fruit juice, tea, bottled water, milk and sherbet.

Food industries are in an uproar over the proposal written by the Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “The most disturbing aspect of this interagency working group is, after it imposes multibillions of dollars in restrictions on the food industry, there is no evidence of any impact on the scourge of childhood obesity,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president of the Association of National Advertisers.

The “Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulation Efforts” says it is voluntary, but industry officials say the intent is clear: Do it, or else.

“When regulators strongly suggest a course of action, it’s treated as a rule, not a suggestion,” said Scott Faber, vice president of federal affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “Industry tends to heed these suggestions from our regulators, and this administration has made it clear they are willing to regulate if we don’t implement their proposal.”

It’s not just the food industry that will be impacted. Hundreds of television shows that depend on the advertising revenue, such as the Nickelodeon Channel, ESPN, and programs including "American Idol" will be affected, critics of the proposal say—at a cost of $5.8 trillion in marketing expenditures that support up to 20 million American jobs.

If the food is not reformulated, no more ads or promotions on TV, radio, in print, on websites, as well as other digital advertising such as e-mail and text messaging, packaging, and point-of-purchase displays and other in-store marketing tools; product placement in movies, videos, video games, contests, sweepstakes, character licensing and toy branding; sponsorship of events including sport teams and individual athletes; and, philanthropic activity tied to branding opportunities. That includes softball teams that are sponsored by food companies and school reading programs sponsored by restaurants.

“The Interagency working group recommends that the food industry, through voluntary self-regulatory efforts, make significant improvements in the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children and adolescents ages 2 to 17 years,” the proposal says.

“By the year 2016, all food products within the categories most heavily marketed directly to children should meet two basic nutrition principles. Such foods should be formulated to … make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet and minimize the content of nutrients that could have a negative impact on health and weight.”

The foods most heavily marketed directly to children and adolescents fall into 10 categories: “breakfast cereals, snack foods, candy, dairy products, baked goods, carbonated beverages, fruit juice and non-carbonated beverages, prepared foods and meals, frozen and chilled desserts, and restaurant foods.”

Beth Johnson, a dietician for Food Directions in Maryland, said many of the foods targeted in this proposal are the same foods approved by the federal government for the WIC nutrition program for women, infants and children. “This doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” Johnson said. “It’s not going to do anything to help with obesity. These are decisions I want to make for my kids. These should not be government decisions.”


Lithium - a new weapon in the fight against Parkinson's?

In mice

Lithium "profoundly prevents" brain damage due to Parkinson's disease, according to early-stage tests of the commonly-used medicine. The research, which follows studies indicating that it slows the progress of Alzheimer's, suggests lithium could be a cheap therapy to combat a range of brain disorders common in the elderly.

Scientists at the Buck Institute for Ageing in San Francisco made the finding in a study of mice. They hope to conduct their first trials in humans soon.

Compounds of lithium - itself a soft alkali metal - have been used for over 50 years to treat mania and mood swings. But its effect on a range of neuro-degenerative diseases is only starting to be appreciated. Earlier this year a small-scale study of people with mild cognitive impairment -trouble with memory and thinking - found it delayed the onset of full-blown Alzheimer's.

Psychiatrists believe it slows the formation of amyloid plaques and brain cell tangles thought to cause the disease.

The American researchers think lithium works in a similar way to prevent Parkinson's, which is caused because specific brain nerve cells die. They said their study - the first in animals - showed it stopped the build up of toxic proteins and cell death.

Prof Julie Andersen, of the Buck Institute, said trials in people to determine the correct dosage could start soon. "The fact that lithium's safety profile in humans is well understood greatly reduces trial risk and lowers a significant hurdle to getting it into the clinic," she said.

The mice were fed lithium at low doses, she added, suggesting that it could be effective in Parkinson's patients at "subclinical levels", which would avoid known side-effects of high doses including kidney problems. The study is published today (FRI) in the Journal of Neuroscience Research.

Lithium is also a cheap 'generic' drug, meaning its use could be expanded with minimal cost to the NHS. About 120,000 people in Britain have Parkinson's, which causes tremors, muscle stiffness and slow movement. At the moment there is no cure, although there are a range of treatments to reduce symptoms.


24 June, 2011

Could a 2-month low-calorie diet defeat diabetes? Trial patients were able to throw away tablets

A very tiny study but promising

The form of diabetes that blights the lives of millions of middle-aged Britons could be wiped out by cutting calories severely for just two months, research suggests. After a small-scale trial, diabetics who consumed just 600 calories a day – the amount many people would eat at lunch alone – were able to throw away their tablets.

Eighteen months on, some are still free of type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and usually occurs in middle age.

The Newcastle University researchers described the result as remarkable and said it proves that the condition that affects 2.5million Britons need not be a life sentence. It also paves the way for new treatments for those who cannot stick to the drastic diet.

Professor Roy Taylor, the study’s lead author, said: ‘This is a radical change in our understanding of type 2 diabetes. ‘While it has long been believed that the disease will steadily get worse, we have shown that we can reverse it.’

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin – a hormone key in the conversion of sugar into energy – and the insulin that is made does not work properly.

The condition is often controlled initially with a stringent diet and exercise regime. But many sufferers see their health worsen and eventually need tablets or insulin injections.

Diabetics are more likely to develop heart disease, blindness, kidney disease and nerve and circulatory damage, which at its worst can lead to amputations. Reversing the condition could therefore improve long-term health and quality of life.

The researchers put 11 men and women with type 2 diabetes on a diet of 600 calories a day for eight weeks. After just a week, some of their blood sugar readings had returned to normal, the journal Diabetologia reports.

After two months, fat levels in the pancreas had returned to normal and the organ was able to pump out insulin without any problems. Some patients no longer needed tablets to control high blood pressure.

The researchers believe that a strict diet melts away fat clogging up the pancreas, allowing it to operate normally.

Three months after the end of the diet, seven of the 11 men and women were still diabetes-free. Now, 18 months on, four of the five that have been in touch with the researchers still have no signs of diabetes.

Dr Iain Frame, of Diabetes UK, which funded the study, warned that no one should go on such a drastic diet without speaking to his or her doctor.


Fatal cocktail of common drugs putting elderly at risk

It's no news to hear that the elderly take pills by the shovelful but it is interesting to see evidence of harm from that. Being epidemiological however, the evidence can be taken only as a straw in the wind. That people who take more pills might be less healthy is not exactly a surprise

Hundreds of thousands of older people are being put at increased risk of death or developing dementia by taking combinations of common medicines to treat routine illnesses, according to a new study.

Well-known brands of hay fever tablets, painkillers and sleeping pills pose a previously unknown threat to people’s health when taken together, British scientists claim. Many are available over the counter at pharmacies as well as being prescribed by GPs, nurses and chemists.

Today the scientists behind the study call for doctors to recognise how dangerous these drug combinations can be and to prescribe harmless alternatives instead. [Like what?]

Researchers from the University of East Anglia and the University of Kent identified 80 widely used medications that, when used in combination, were found to increase the risk of serious health problems.

The drugs, including common allergy treatments Piriton and Zantac, as well as Seroxat, an anti-depressant, are thought to be used by half of the 10 million over-65s in Britain. Many of the drugs, when taken in combination, were found to more than treble an elderly patient’s chance of dying within two years.

Common bladder medications, heart drugs, eye drops and asthma treatments were also among those found to pose a risk.

All the drugs work by blocking a key chemical in the nervous system called acetylcholine.

The researchers placed each of the drugs into one of three groups based on how effectively they blocked acetylcholine. The more effective the drug was in blocking the chemical, the more dangerous it was in high doses.

The most dangerous included the antihistamines chlorphenamine (used in the brand Piriton) and promethazine (used in Phenergan), the anti-depressant paroxetine (used in Seroxat) and the incontinence drug oxybutynin (used in Ditropan).

The heartburn drug ranitidine (used in Zantac), beta blocker Atenolol, the painkiller codeine and some eye drops were among the drugs in the mildest category.

Low-risk drugs were graded one point while high-risk drugs were graded three. The study found that patients who took a combination of drugs that added up to four points or more — such as a high-risk antihistamine combined with low-risk eye drops — had a 20 per cent chance of dying within two years, compared with just seven per cent for over-65s who did not take anything.

The risk of dying increased by a further 25 per cent for each additional point accumulated, the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, concluded.

The scientists suggest that the combination of treatments could also exacerbate dementia. In patients showing early signs of mental impairment high doses could “tip them over” into a more confused state, they said.

Previous research has shown that acetylcholine-blocking drugs could have a harmful impact on the brain.

But the new study, which looked at data collected over 20 years, is the first to examine the cumulative effect of the medications. It shows for the first time that mixing drugs has a significant impact on a patient’s chance of death.

The study also identified the risk in a far greater range of drugs than had previously been documented, meaning that GPs may have been prescribing pills to patients without knowing the potentially deadly side-effects of combining medication. Ian Maidment, one of the researchers and a pharmacist at Kent University, said: “What is really the problem is the additive effect. It is the cumulative burden which is very damaging.

“It is not just the obvious medicines, it is things like heart drugs and antihistamines, and lots of doctors and nurses and pharmacists may not be aware that these medicines have this problem.”

Researchers examined the medication records of more than 13,000 people aged 65 or older over two decades and found 48 per cent were using at least one of the drugs on the list.

Dr Chris Fox, of the University of East Anglia, said: “In the future doctors may use this tool to reduce their patient’s score below four and that’s fine, but above that is the danger area.”

The risk, the scientists said, was that patients, particularly those with dementia, may be regularly taking over-the-counter drugs that their doctor is unaware of, or which they do not really need, bringing their dosage up to a dangerous level.

Mr Maidment added: “With dementia, these drugs are particularly risky in the early stages, which we call mild cognitive impairment, where the brain is just at a tipping point. This extra insult can tip people over or worsen dementia.”

All medications, including those that are available over the counter, should be reviewed regularly by expert clinicians to prevent potential risks, he added.

Dr Fox said “hundreds of thousands” of elderly people in Britain could be putting themselves at risk from the drugs but that more research was needed to explain the exact cause.

Instead of stopping their medication or rushing to the doctor, patients should seek their doctor’s advice at their next routine appointment, he said.

Rebecca Wood, the chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Further investigation needs to establish exactly how and why (these) drugs are increasing mortality, which might offer clues to safer drug design.”

Dr Tim Chico, an honorary consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, said: “All drugs have possible side-effects, but the results of this study should not lead anyone to stop current medications without discussing this with their doctor first … it is important to balance the proven benefits against the risk of side-effects.”

The report said that an increase in the use of medication in recent years meant the number of people affected could be even higher than estimated.

A spokesman for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said: “Our priority is to ensure that patients are taking acceptably safe medicines. All medicines have side-effects — no effective medicine is without risk.

“It is important for people taking anticholinergic medicines not to stop taking them. If they have any questions or concerns then they should contact their doctor in the first instance.”


23 June, 2011

Sugar doesn't make you fat

FOOD scientists claim that new federal draft dietary guidelines reflect nutritional "dogma" and perpetuate the "myth" that sugar is as dangerous as fats and salt.

"Sugar has been unfairly demonised in the national dietary guidelines," said consultant dietitian Bill Shrapnel, deputy chairman of the Sydney University Nutrition Research Foundation. Along with Sydney University nutritionist Jennie Brand-Miller, Mr Shrapnel is highly critical of the newly released draft Australian Dietary Guidelines prepared by a National Health & Medical Research Council working group.

A list of the key recommendations, but without their scientific justification, was posted recently on the NH&MRC website and discussed by the council last week.

Reflecting existing guidelines, the draft document recommends people limit their intake of foods and drinks containing fats, salt, alcohol and sugar.

"Unlike saturated fats, trans fats, salt and alcohol, sugar doesn't actually do any direct harm to the human body," said Professor Brand-Miller, author of The Low GI Diet and recipient this month of an Order of Australia.

Mr Shrapnel and Professor Brand-Miller argue a sweet touch at the end of a meal isn't a dietary sin. Sydney restaurateur Lucio Galletto couldn't agree more. "A beautiful dessert with different types of sugar makes you feel good. Sugar is not why you get fat."

Professor Brand-Miller says he's correct. Studies show that Australians are eating less sugar, but gaining more weight.


"Alternative" therapies can be very dangerous

A self-help guru has been found guilty of three counts of negligent homicide after a deadly "sweat lodge" ceremony resulted in the death of three participants.

Jurors reached their verdict with remarkable swiftness: they took less than 10 hours to convict James Arthur Ray on Wednesday following a four-month trial.

The eight men and four women were given the option of convicting Ray of manslaughter, but decided on the lesser charge instead. He faces a maximum of nearly 12 years in prison.

More than 50 people participated in the October 2009 sweat lodge that was meant to be the highlight of Ray's five-day "Spiritual Warrior" seminar near Sedona.

Three people died following the sauna-like ceremony aimed at providing spiritual cleansing. Eighteen people were taken to hospitalised, while several others were given water to cool down at the scene.

Prosecutors and defence lawyers disagreed over whether the deaths and illnesses were caused by heat or toxins. Ray's lawyers have maintained they were a tragic accident. Prosecutors argued Ray recklessly caused the fatalities.

Ray used the sweat lodge as a way for participants to break through whatever was holding them back in life.

He warned participants in a recording of the event played during the trial that the sweat lodge would be "hellacious" and that participants were guaranteed to feel like they were dying, but would do so only metaphorically.

"The true spiritual warrior has conquered death and therefore has no fear or enemies in this lifetime or the next, because the greatest fear you'll ever experience is the fear of what? Death," Ray said in the recording. "You will have to get a point to where you surrender and it's OK to die."

Witnesses have described the scene following the two-hour sweat lodge ceremony as alarming and chaotic, with people vomiting and others dragging "lifeless" and "barely breathing" participants outside. Volunteers performed CPR.

More than 20 people were transported to hospitals. Kirby Brown, 38, and James Shore, 40, died upon arrival. Liz Neuman, 49, slipped into a coma and died more than a week later.

In court on Wednesday, members of Neuman's family and a friend of Brown held hands and smiled when the verdict was read. "Justice was served in there," Neuman's ex-husband, Randy Neuman, said later.

Ray quickly left the courtroom with his parents and brother after the hearing.

Sweat lodges typically are used by American Indians to rid the body of toxins by pouring water over heated rocks in the structure.

Ray became a self-help superstar by using his charismatic personality and convincing people his words would lead them to spiritual and financial wealth. He used free talks to recruit people to expensive seminars like the Sedona retreat that led to the sweat lodge tragedy. Participants paid up to $US10,000 ($9500) for the five-day program intended to push people beyond their physical and emotional limits.

Ray's popularity soared after appearing in the 2006 Rhonda Byrne documentary The Secret, and Ray promoted it on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live.

But his multimillion-dollar self-help empire was thrown into turmoil with the sweat lodge deaths. Ray ended his seminars shortly after but has continued to offer advice throughout his trial via the internet and social networking sites.


22 June, 2011

Facebook users have more friends

This will be nasty news to "Baroness" Greenfield, the smart Jewish girl who brown-nosed her way to a peerage by pandering to elite prejudices. She condemns the way ordinary people make "too much" use of TV and computers while selling computer software herself

Facebook, it turns out, isn't just a waste of time. People who use it have more close friends, get more social support and report being more politically engaged than those who don't, according to a new national study on Americans and social networks.

The report comes as Facebook, Twitter and even the buttoned-up, career-oriented LinkedIn continue to engrain themselves in our daily lives and change the way we interact with friends, co-workers and long-lost high school buddies.

Released Thursday by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the report also found that Facebook users are more trusting than their non-networked counterparts.

When accounting for all other factors - such as age, education level or race - Facebook users were 43 percent more likely than other Internet users to say that "most people can be trusted." Compared with people who don't use the Internet at all, Facebook users were three times more trusting.

The reason for this is not entirely clear. One possible explanation: People on social networks are more willing to trust others because they interact with a larger number of people in a more diverse setting, said Keith Hampton, the main author of the study and a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

When all else is equal, people who use Facebook also have 9 percent more close ties in their overall social network than other Internet users. This backs an earlier report from Pew that, contrary to studies done earlier in the decade, the Internet is not linked to social isolation. Rather, it can lead to larger, more diverse social networks.

Social-networking users also scored high in political engagement. Because LinkedIn users (older, male and more educated) fall into a demographic category that's more politically active than the general population, they were most likely to vote or attend political rallies. But after adjusting for those characteristics, Facebook users, especially those who use the site multiple times a day, turned out to be more politically involved than those who don't use it.

Overall, the average American has a little more than two close confidants, 2.16 to be exact, according to the report. This is up from an average of 1.93 close ties that Americans reported having in 2008. There are also fewer lonely people: 9 percent of respondents said they had no one with whom they could discuss important matters. That's down from 12 percent in 2008.

The report didn't try to dig into cause and effect, so it's not clear whether the widening use of social networks is causing less loneliness. But it did find that people who use the Internet are less socially isolated than those who don't. Those on social networks, even less so - just 5 percent said they had no one to talk to about important stuff.

The researchers also got numbers to back up what's in the mind of many Facebook users past a certain age: Yes, all your old high school classmates really are coming out of the woodwork and "friending" you. The average Facebook user has 56 friends on the site from high school. That's far more than any other social group, including extended family, co-workers or college classmates.

Facebook's settings let users add the high school they attended to their profile, along with the year they graduated. Other users can then search for their classmates and add them as friends for a virtual reunion.

"It's really reshaping how people maintain their networks," Hampton said. In the past, when people went to college or got jobs and moved away from their home towns, they left those relationships behind, too. This was especially true in the 1960s, when women not in the work force would move to the suburbs with their husbands and face a great deal of isolation, Hampton said.

Now, with social networks, these ties are persistent. "Persistent and pervasive," Hampton said. "They stay with you forever."

The survey was conducted among 2,255 adults from Oct. 20 to Nov. 28, 2010. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points for the full sample.


High doses of statins could increase risk of diabetes

More epidemiological naivety. All we see here is that ill health can be general. People with high blood pressure (etc.) are more likely to get diabetes too

High doses of cholesterol-lowering pills can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, researchers warn. They have found that patients taking intensive courses of statins were 12 per cent more likely to get the disease.

But experts pointed out that that the risk was far outweighed by the substantial benefits – the pills were shown to reduce the likelihood of heart attacks by 16 per cent.

More than seven million people in Britain now take statins - as many as one in three adults over the age of 40. It is not known exactly how many are on high doses of more than 80 miligrams a day, but it is likely to only be a small proportion most at risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow looked at five previous studies involving 32,700 patients. They were either on high doses of 80 mg or moderate doses of 20mg to 40 mg.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found there were 149 extra cases of type 2 diabetes recorded amongst the patients on high dose statins, representing a 12 per cent risk.

The authors concluded: 'Our findings suggest that clinicians should be vigilant for the development of diabetes in patients receiving intensive statin therapy.'

Statins are extremely effective in lowering levels of cholesterol, the fatty substance in the blood that clogs up arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes.

Last night experts urged people not to stop taking the pills on the basis on this evidence. Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: 'Nobody should stop taking their prescribed statins because of the evidence shown in this research.

'Statins play a vital role in protecting the hearts of many, many people and the benefits still far outweigh any risks associated with diabetes. 'The increased risk occurred predominantly in those taking a high dose of these drugs, whereas most people are on low or moderate doses. 'Always speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your medication. Don’t simply stop taking it.'

Experts also pointed out that patients on statins may have been at higher risk of diabetes in the first place if they were overweight.

Libby Dowling, clinical advisor at Diabetes UK said: 'This analysis of previous studies has found that high doses of statins increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, yet at the same time reduce the risk of heart disease.

'What we don’t know from this research is whether the people being prescribed the high-dose statins were overweight as having a large waist puts you at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes anyway.


21 June, 2011

Fat and happy Australians have long lives

The traditional Australian diet of meat pies, sausage rolls etc. could hardly be more "incorrect". It's full of fat. But Australian life expectancy is high anyway. Time for a redefinition of "healthy" food?

THE number of people dying early because of chronic health problems is falling, boosting the life expectancy of Australians, a new government report has found.

The report, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) today, has for the first time come up with 42 indicators linked to chronic illness.

It found the number of people aged under 75 dying from chronic illness - like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental illness - had dropped by almost 20 per cent in the decade-long study period ending in 2007.

This has contributed to gains in the life expectancy of Australians, with males born between 2006 and 2008 expected to live to 79.2 years - an increase of three-and-a-half years since about a decade earlier.

Females born between 2006 and 2008 would live for 83.7 years - an rise of 2.3 years since 10 years earlier, according to the report, entitled Key indicators of progress for chronic disease and associated determinants. [In Greece, home of the fabled "Mediterranean" diet, the life expectancy for males is 77.36 years and for females 82.65 --LOWER than Australia]

Chronic diseases are usually long-lasting, persistent and may be associated with disability, the AIHW says.

"The indicators were developed as a first step to consistent reporting, which will, over time, be able to provide information about progress with preventing and managing chronic disease in Australia," said Ilona Brockway of the AIHW's Population Health Unit.

Researchers reported a mixed bag of results when it came to risk factors associated with chronic disease, such as smoking, unhealthy diet and inactivity.

"On the positive side, daily smoking continues to decrease, with less than 18 per cent of Australian adults now smoking daily, compared with over 24 per cent in 1991," Mrs Brockway said.

"On the other hand, almost a quarter of Australian children are currently overweight or obese. "For adults, the figure is around 60 per cent, and the trend has been increasing. "Excess weight is associated with many chronic conditions, so the increase shown in these statistics is of concern."


Food debate: Stick to persuasion

If you were to believe the mythology du jour, McDonald’s is nearing the final phase of its diabolical plan to capture the hearts and minds of you and your children. That goofy-looking clown (smiles on the outside, atherosclerosis inside) is throwing a desperate hail-Mary pass to his bulbous purple sidekick, hoping to score one for trans fat. And McDonald’s isn’t alone: The entire French-fry-industrial complex is working its shadowy marketing magic, cunningly seducing us out of a responsible diet. Giga-gallons of irresistible soda, laced with high fructose corn syrup, are washing down scads of industrial corn-fed meat tainted with the sweat of exploited labor.

Luckily for you an intrepid band of investigative journalists has “lifted the veil” on all this disgusting manipulation, demonstrating the perverse nature of our Fast Food Nation. Obesity, type-II diabetes, maybe even adolescent acne will be safely regulated away by a new breed of urban intellectuals vigilantly managing the food system. Schools will serve nothing but organic, all-local cafeteria fare. Whataburger will submit its marketing schemes to a nutrition board to determine if it is subliminally alluring. Prices for “good” food will be made “affordable” through a judicious system of health-care subsidies.

Organic Broccoli in Every Pot

According to Eric Schlosser of Food Inc. fame, “The American people are becoming really, really unhealthy and this is an issue we can’t just leave to individuals deciding to bicycle instead of drive their car. We need governments worldwide to be taking action to reverse the problem.”

We need government action to “reverse the problem”? Why didn’t we think of that? How shrewd. When Franklin Roosevelt instituted the first large-scale farm subsidy programs, government reversed the problem of “unbalanced production.” When government helped convert hundreds of millions of tons of ammunition-grade ammonium nitrate into the first large-scale corn fertilizer programs, they did a bang-up job reversing the problem of excess wartime capacity. When the government encouraged corn production through artificial stimulation of the ethanol market, it helped develop a sub-industry of distiller grain-feed to be processed by ever-larger herds of cattle in ever-larger feedlots.

Yes, our corn-based food system is largely a result of really cheap corn paid for at taxpayer expense. The health fallout from this ridiculous system must now be “solved” by the same kind of government tampering that gave it to us? I’m missing something.

Power to the People

Look, I get it. A diet of Big Macs and Cherry Coke isn’t pretty. I would probably agree with Schlosser about what constitutes a healthy diet. I like a meal of fresh and locally procured produce as much as any food activist. In fact I’ve taken my food consciousness a step further and spend most of my time and energy growing healthy food for conscientious consumers. The happy meals they make of it are a far cry from the drive-thru option, and I’m glad for that.

The difference is that I’m not attempting to foist my views of food morality through regulation. While I happen to share the tastes of the elites who know what is good for the rest of us, I draw the line at imposing it on others. I too would like to see schools serving better food and have done my small part to help it happen. I too would like to see sustainably raised products become more affordable and have been trimming costs to make them more accessible.

But before we congratulate ourselves too primly, I’d like to point out that the despicable eating habits of the pathetic “individuals” vilified by Schlosser have already moved far ahead of him.

Fast-Food Overhaul

I first got wind of this fact during a weak moment at Wendy’s. Like responsible parents everywhere, we avoid fast food for the most part. Everyone has his limits, however, especially when the natives in the back seat get restless. We pulled in, trying to hide our “Grassfed Beef” emblazoned door panels. Not only do the iconic pigtails offer a rather remarkable salad (spinach leaves, cranberries, mandarin oranges and bleu cheese), but the crafty buggers even gave the kids educational flash cards and puzzles. As our brood plowed through a package of freshly cut apples, I couldn’t help but wonder what Wendy’s was up to. Nothing good, you can be sure.

Subway (you know, Jared and his huge pants) is now the world’s most commonplace food joint, outstripping even the megalithic McDonald’s. Burger King, the troublemaker known for pumping the infectious aroma of flame-broiled burgers into public spaces, is now offering its latest fare on a ciabatta bun. Ciabatta? That’s so chic even Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize it. How are those cretins on the street to relate?

The Way Forward

I have to credit Schlosser and his gang. The work they have done in educating the eating public is wide-ranging and important. So why not leave it there? Why sully it with blatant attempts to push it into the realm of “governments worldwide”? Michael Pollan, a somewhat more muted activist, says it well:

"I really have a lot of faith — and I know that it’s considered naive by some people on the left — that consumers can change things. I have seen too many cases of what happens when consumers decide to inflect their buying decisions with their moral and political values. It brings about change."

Indeed it does. The vibrant social debate over what makes for good food and where to get it is an excellent one to have. But let’s keep it (and the choices people make) out in the open, not behind the counter of the State. The unintended consequences of State dabbling are usually too hard to swallow.


20 June, 2011

Certain inborn personality traits and having a good social network lead to long life -- not diet and exercise

The Terman study was of high IQ children so the results may not generalize very much

We’re always being told the secret of eternal youth lies in working less, banishing stress, pushing ourselves through a brutal daily exercise regime and being relentlessly cheerful. But fascinating new research from the U.S. has turned that thinking on its head.

By studying death certificates of 1,500 boys and girls who took part in a landmark research project in the 1920s, researchers have identified personality traits and lifestyle choices that really ensure a long life — and those that don’t.

Psychologists Dr Howard Friedman and Dr Leslie Martin traced what happened to the children who took part in Dr Lewis Terman’s 1921 study. They interviewed those still alive, and catalogued the lives and health of those who had died.

Although many passed away in their 60s, others lived well into old age. To their surprise, Dr Friedman and Dr Martin found that the longer-lived among them did not find the secret to health in broccoli, vitamins and jogging. They were more likely to share patterns of living; their personalities, careers and social lives having a real relevance to long-term health.

Having a large social network, engaging in physical activities that naturally draw you in (rather than feeling obliged go to the gym), giving back to your community, enjoying your career and nurturing a happy marriage or close friendships can do more than add years to your life.

‘Our society spends a fortune on fad diets, drugs and short-term remedies, but there is often disappointingly little effect on our longevity,’ says Dr Friedman. ‘Standard medical advice often backfires, leaving us overweight and overstressed as we struggle to follow specific edicts.’


This is the best predictor of longevity. If you’re careful with money, thoughtful and detail-oriented, you are more likely to live a longer life. Conscientious people tend to be sensible, less likely to smoke, drink to excess, abuse drugs or drive too fast, and they follow doctors’ orders.

The research shows that conscientious people are biologically predisposed to be healthier and enjoy a longer life, possibly because they have different levels of certain chemicals in their brains, including the neurotransmitter serotonin (those with low levels tend to be much more impulsive).

The study found conscientious people also tend to live longer because they seem to be naturally drawn into healthier and happier situations and relationships — marriages, friendships and work.
If you’re not conscientious, you’re not necessarily doomed, but you’re not likely to change your lifestyle rapidly. Those who started out ‘unconscientious’ but entered positions requiring maturity and growth — and so increased their levels of prudence and persistence — closed much of the gap on naturally conscientious people.

More here

The prostate cancer vaccine that targets tumours with an '80 per cent success rate'

Rodent study only so far but if the vaccine is fully developed and results replicated, this would be very good news indeed

A vaccine that destroys advanced prostate cancers while leaving healthy tissue untouched has been developed by scientists. In laboratory tests, the gene therapy jab successfully wiped out 80 per cent of cancers without causing serious side effects.

The British researchers behind its creation said it was a 'completely new approach' and predicted that it could start trials on people within a few years.

Although the jab has been tested on prostate tumours, they believe it could work on a range of other deadly cancers including breast, lung and pancreatic cancer.

Unlike a conventional vaccine which is given to prevent infection with a virus or bacteria, the new treatment is used after someone has contracted cancer.

Prof Alan Melcher, from the University of Leeds, who co-led the research, said clinical trials could be underway within 'a few years' and that the same technique could work for a host of cancers. ‘So far it looks safe and if it continues to look safe there’s nothing we wouldn’t rule out,’ he said.

Vaccines work by stimulating the body’s immune system to recognise antigens - distinctive proteins that are found on surfaces of cells. Most vaccines are designed to teach the body to seek out and destroy viruses or bacteria. However, scientists are also developing vaccines that provoke an immune response to cancer cells.

The new cancer jab is a form of gene therapy. Researchers first created a library of thousands of randomly-selected snippets of genetic code taken from a healthy prostate and then inserted them into a virus. The modified virus was then cultured in a laboratory and then injected into the bloodstream of a mouse with prostate cancer. When the mouse’s immune system was exposed to the modified virus, it produced an array of antibodies – each one geared up to recognise a different antigen on the surface of a prostate cancer cell, the researchers report in Nature Medicine.

Professor Richard Vile, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota who took part in the study said: 'Nobody really knows how many antigens the immune system can really see on tumour cells. ‘By expressing all of these proteins in highly immunogenic viruses, we increased their visibility to the immune system. 'The immune system now thinks it is being invaded by the viruses, which are expressing cancer-related antigens that should be eliminated.’

Progress has already been made towards developing a similar vaccine treatment for melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Past attempts at gene therapy cancer vaccines often used just one gene from a tumour cell to stimulate the immune system. But finding the right gene has proved difficult. And using two or more genes has raised fears that the immune response would be too strong for the patient to handle.

The researchers used two versions of the vaccine – one based on human prostate tissue, the other using mouse tissue. Both worked, although the human version was more effective.

Injecting the vaccine into the blood, rather than the tumour itself, appeared to prevent the immune system going into 'overdrive' and attacking healthy tissue.

Prof Peter Johnson, of the charity Cancer Research UK, which funded the Leeds team, said: 'Although the vaccine didn’t trigger the immune system to overreact and cause serious side effects in mice, it will need to be further developed and tested in humans before we can tell whether this technique could one day be used to treat cancer patients.'

‘Although we are hopeful that the results of this study could help to form the basis of a new cancer vaccine in future, it is important to remember that the researchers have only investigated the potential of their vaccine in mice. ‘Further research looking at its effect in men is needed before we can be sure of the usefulness of this vaccine. We look forward to the outcome.'


19 June, 2011

US researchers find excessive TV viewers are at higher risk of death, diabetes

Another rubbishy meta-analysis. No systematic control for social class, in other words. All they have found is that middle class people watch less TV and middle class people are healthier generally

PEOPLE who watch excessive amounts of television are at higher risk of diabetes, heart problems and early death, a comprehensive review has concluded.

US researchers analysed a range of studies published in the past 40 years and found too much television really can kill you. The results of the meta-analysis performed by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health are published in the June 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than two hours per day of TV-watching increased the risk of type two diabetes and heart disease, while more than three hours a day boosted a person's risk of dying prematurely.

Each two-hour increment in viewing per day was linked to a 20 per cent higher risk for type two diabetes; a 15 per cent increased risk for fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular disease; and a 13 per cent higher risk for all-cause mortality. "While the associations between time spent viewing TV and risk of type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease were linear, the risk of all-cause mortality appeared to increase with TV viewing duration of greater than three hours per day," the study said.

The habit of plunking oneself down in front of the television and watching for hours makes up about five hours of daily activity on average in the United States, but is also a prevalent practice around the world.

In Europe, people spend about 40 per cent of their daily free time, or three hours, in front of the tube, and in Australia the average is 50 per cent of daily free time or four hours, the study said.

"The message is simple. Cutting back on TV watching can significantly reduce risk of type two diabetes, heart disease, and premature mortality," said senior author Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard.

"We should not only promote increasing physical activity levels but also reduce sedentary behaviours, especially prolonged TV watching."


Cellphones are unlikely to cause cancer because brain tumours are not clustered within the radiation range emitted from most devices

The debate over exactly how dangerous mobile phones are to users took a fresh twist today with the publication of a fresh report. Researchers from the University of Tampere in Finland have directly contradicted recent findings from the World Health Organisation.

The Finnish report says mobile phones are unlikely to cause cancer because brain tumours are not clustered within the radiation range emitted from most devices, a new report finds.

However the WHO warned for the first time that mobile phones may cause cancer and have urged users to limit their use. The warning came following Interphone's research from 13 countries that found that even just using a phone for 15 minutes a day could substantially increase the risk of a brain tumour. And that according to their researchers they say it could take 15 to 20 years for primary cancers to develop.

Researchers in Finland however contradicted that report and found people who spent the most time on mobiles were no more likely to experience tumours located within five centimetres of the phone, where '90 percent of the radiation' is emitted.

Their results back up an earlier study at the University of Manchester who found that there has been no change in the rates of the disease - despite 70 million phones being used in the UK.

Today's findings from the University of Tampere in Finland were revealed as the World Health Organization announced that, upon review of available scientific evidence, mobile phones should be classified as 'possibly carcinogenic.'

Study author Dr Suvi Larjavaara said although the results may be reassuring, they are certainly not conclusive. She said cancer could take a long time to develop and only five per cent of the people included in the study had been using mobile phones for at least 10 years.

Larjavaara acknowledged that these latest findings contradict the WHO's latest announcement, which placed mobile in the same cancer risk category as coffee and chloroform.

Last year, a study including 13,000 mobile users over 10 years found no clear answer on whether the handsets cause brain tumors. However, another study from last February suggested that using a mobile phone can change brain cell activity.

Use of mobile phones has increased hugely since their introduction in the mid-1980s. About five billion mobile phones are currently in use worldwide.

One issue that arises when studying the risks of phone use is that people often don't recall how much time they spend on the phone.

Larjavaara and colleagues decided to look at the location of tumours, reasoning that an excess of tumours close to the phones would implicate the devices. Ninety per cent of the radiation released from phones is absorbed by the brain tissue located within five centimetres of the handset.

Researchers mapped the exact location of 888 brain tumors diagnosed between 2000 and 2004 relative to where people would hold their mobile while talking. They found no correlation between the two. The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

However, another scientist who has also performed studies on long-term mobile phone users advised caution about the results. Dr Elisabeth Cardis from the CREAL-Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, said the definition of exposure 'is overly simplistic, in my opinion.'

She said previous studies have found that the most exposed area is generally located around the ear. 'I expect there is substantial misclassification of exposure in the analyses published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, and hence it is not possible to draw conclusions about the presence or absence of a risk,' she concluded.


18 June, 2011

Cheap blood pressure drug 'slashes breast cancer risk'

This is a fairly convincing study but one still has to ask WHY were some women using beta blockers while most were not? Was it that most were middle class and hence more vigilant about their health?

A drug used to treat high blood pressure costing less than 5p a day could cut the risk of women dying from breast cancer. Researchers found the beta blocker propranolol, a drug developed 40 years ago, cut the chances of dying by up to 81 per cent.

Women using it in the year before falling ill were 76 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancer than those not using it. The breakthrough could lead to the drug being investigated for both the treatment of breast cancer and prevention of recurrence.

The findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, support the results from a smaller study last year by scientists from Nottingham University. That showed a 71 per cent reduction in breast cancer deaths among women already using beta blockers for high blood pressure.

Propranolol was developed in the 1960s to treat high blood pressure, angina, heart failure, anxiety and even migraine. There is growing evidence that the effect of beta blockers on stress hormones could also have major benefits in cancer.

Laboratory studies suggest the drugs prevent stress hormones reaching their target which, in cancer cells, prevents the hormones from stimulating and activating them.

The latest study at Trinity College, Dublin, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the U.S., looked at more than 5,000 women in Ireland diagnosed with breast cancer between 2001 and 2006.

Altogether 70 women were taking propranolol for conditions such as high blood pressure before their diagnosis and 525 were on another type of beta blocker, atenolol.

When they compared survival rates with another 4,738 breast cancer patients who had not been taking the drugs, they found propranolol users were 81 per cent less likely to have died from their condition after five years than non-users.

Mortality rates among women on atenolol were similar to those not taking blood pressure medication. Researchers believe this may be because propranolol acts on two types of receptors on the surface of cells but atenolol only acts on one.

The researchers said: 'The results suggest that the use of propranolol is associated with less advanced disease at diagnosis and lower breast cancer-specific mortality.'

They said women using propranolol in the year before a breast cancer diagnosis were significantly less likely to have an advanced tumour that had spread to other parts the body.

They added that the 'most notable result' was the finding that propranolol users had a significantly lower risk of dying of breast cancer.

The team acknowledged the number of propranolol patients in the study was low and said: 'We cannot exclude the possibility that the results were due to chance.'

It is estimated that two million Britons take beta blockers, which are prescription-only drugs. However, in recent years newer drugs such as ACE inhibitors have been used to control high blood pressure.

Although beta blockers are long-established and cheap because they are available as generics, they can have side-effects such as dizziness, sleeping problems and may raise the risk of type two diabetes.

Doctors would be unlikely to prescribe them for treatment of breast cancer but the hope is that new drugs could exploit the newly discovered anti-cancer mechanism.

Experts at the University of California Los Angeles said future breast cancer treatment trials should collect data on beta blocker use because it could be a 'critical target' for future treatment and prevention of recurrence.

Cancer Research UK stressed bigger trials were needed before beta blockers could be considered as an anti-cancer treatment.

Around 48,000 women in Britain are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.


Olive oil could lower stroke risk

Some reasonable reservations about the implications below and again we also have to assk WHO were the big olive-oil users. Were they more affluent people? The rich have better health and live longer anyway

Consuming olive oil could almost halve the risk of stroke in older people, scientists have found. Researchers at the University of Bordeaux looked at the medical records of almost 8000 people aged 65 and over living in three French cities.

All participants had no history of stroke, and were monitored for five years, according to the paper published in US medical journal, Neurology, this week.

Olive oil use was categorised into "no use", "moderate use" - which meant it was used in cooking or as dressing with bread - and "intensive use" - which meant it was used in every way.

Researchers recorded 148 strokes, and, examined diet, exercise, body mass index and other stroke risk factors of all participants.

They found those who regularly used olive oil for both cooking and as a dressing lower their risk of stroke by 41 per cent, compared to those who never used the product.

Australian dietitian, Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos, said this is the first time the effect of oil on stroke had been reported.

While the size and length of the study gives it strength, Professor Itsiopoulos, head of dietetics at La Trobe University, admitted the finding were limited. "It is difficult to attribute the outcomes just to olive oil because it's very difficult to measure accurately what the olive oil intake of a person is," she told AAP.

In an editorial that ran alongside the report, Professor Nikolaos Scarmeas, from Columbia University, says it is hard to say what elements of olive oil are proactive in stroke prevention. He admitted the effect of olive oil could be indirect because it's used to make healthy foods taste better.


17 June, 2011

A "healthy" recipe from the NYT

The man was well until his wife baked him a “healthy recipe” from the NYTimes “Healthy recipe section: Fava bean and artichoke stew.

He soon became pale and jaundiced, and it took awhile for the ER doc to figure out why the man was sick. He had an acute hemolytic crisis, where his red blood cells burst, leaving him anemic, and soon he became jaundiced as the liver attempted to remove all the lose Hemoglobin from his system, and then his kidneys shut down…

The cause? A case of “Favism”: the man suffered from G6PD deficiency, a common blood problem that can lead to the blood cells bursting if you take certain common medicines, including some anti-malaria medicines, Sulfa drugs, Furadantin, some pain killers or…eat fava beans.

That is why this problem is often called “Favism”.

Indeed, the problem with fava beans had been noticed as far back as the days of Pythgoras, whose followers avoided the beans and even the pollen from the flowering plants, which sounds like superstition except that several of the articles mention the pollen problem. Reportedly the beans contain two problem chemicals:

The compounds vicine and isouramil, abundant in fava beans, are hypothesized to be the causative agents of the hemolytic response (Beutler, 1994).

The hemolysis is usually mild, and often discovered when you do a workup why a person is anemic.

Acute hemolytic crises can be dangerous (theoretically you could die if enough hemoglobin is released that it clogs up the kidneys and causes renal failure) and can also be caused by infection.

Most cases in the US are in blacks, but others who get it include Italians and Arabs. (there is also an Asian version of the disease).

More here

FAS: the gestation of a dubious idea

It is moralism, not evidence, that underpins the advice that pregnant women should abstain from alcohol

A new scheme, announced on Sunday, that will ‘train midwives to give pregnant women advice on the dangers of alcohol’ has provoked controversy because the drinks firm Diageo, whose brands include Smirnoff and Guinness, is reportedly stumping up £4million to fund it. But it is the content of the scheme, not the organisation that is funding it, that should be provoking comment.

UK public health minister Anne Milton has claimed the scheme is ‘a great example of how business can work with NHS staff to provide women with valuable information’. But some doctors have raised ethical objections to the involvement of the drinks industry in the scheme. Vivienne Nathanson, long-time advocate of complete abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy and head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, has so far been the main voice of criticism arguing that there is a conflict of interest, ‘because it’s in the interest of the drinks industry for people to continue to drink and it’s in the interests of health for people to drink much less, and certainly not to drink in pregnancy or to drink really minimally’.

In reality, however, the scheme does not throw up any conflicts of interest. In general pregnant women are not heavy drinkers; promoting alcohol abstinence for this group is not going to dent sales. What it will do is to remove any doubt about Diageo’s willingness to embrace the state-approved mantra of ‘responsible drinking’. After all, what better way for Diageo to demonstrate its commitment to ‘responsible drinking’ than to make a great show of protecting the defenceless unborn baby, and ‘empowering women’ with information about having a healthy pregnancy? Diageo can be entirely relied upon to be ‘on message’.

Besides, arguments over the origin of the funding miss the point. What should really be at the centre of the debate are the ideas and claims about alcohol and pregnancy that midwives are going to be educating women about. The real scandal is that the Liberal-Conservative government now overtly authorises the ‘abstinence is the only true way’ message, and is funding an organisation called the National Organisation on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NoFAS UK) to train midwives to promote that idea. It raises important questions about the nature of health policy and the obsession with intervening in the ‘early years’ of a child’s life – which now seems to include pregnancy, too.

NoFAS UK is the London-based affiliate of a North American lobbying organisation, NoFAS, established in 2003. Hitherto its activities have included an annual ‘pregnant pause’ where people involved with NoFAS UK (including men with balloons up their jumpers pretending to be pregnant) stand perfectly still at London’s Victoria train station for nine minutes, at nine minutes past nine on 9 September, to show passers-by that ‘women only need to pause from drinking alcohol for nine months in pregnancy to ensure that their babies will be born without the alcohol-related brain damage known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)’. NoFAS’s website also features its ‘alcohol and egg’ video, in which someone breaks an egg into a glass, pours in vodka and invites the viewer to see the egg ‘cook’. These offerings may seem strange, but NoFAS now seems to be taken seriously enough to train the nation’s midwives.

The core belief of the organisation is that alcohol is a dangerous substance, and that any alcohol consumed during pregnancy can harm the developing fetus. In promoting this outlook, NoFAS is involved in what sociologists call moral entrepreneurship. The organisation’s aim is to foster high levels of concern about a hitherto unrecognised problem and ensure that the ‘wrong’ of drinking anything at all in pregnancy is taken seriously. As sociologists have noted, one distinctive feature of today’s moral entrepreneurs is that they increasingly present their claims in medical or scientific terms. In turn, the solution to problems becomes new codes of conduct for behaviour, apparently sanctioned by the authority of medical science.

In her informative book on the development of FAS as a social problem in the US, Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsibility: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the Diagnosis of Moral Disorder, Elizabeth Mitchell Armstrong points to the rise of what she calls medical entrepreneurs, individuals with a powerful sense of mission regarding their assessment of ‘the evidence’ who seek to ‘impress their… vision on the rest of society’.

A particular understanding of the relation between alcohol consumption and fetal development emerged in the US. Those who originally coined the term Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in the early 1970s (a term used to describe a rarely occurring set of distinct problems found in babies born to some alcoholic women) engaged in ‘subtle broadening of the problem’ from the outset. They commented, for example, that no case of FAS had ever ‘been reported in a human being with a negative maternal history of ethanol use’. In other words, the knowledge that consumption of high levels of alcohol in pregnancy was associated with developmental problems in the fetus was taken to mean that FAS could only be avoided for sure if no alcohol is consumed. This point has been made in another way by historian Janet Golden, who explains that abstinence advocates shifted the definition of the problem that needed to be addressed away from maternal alcoholism (a serious problem for individuals requiring careful treatment and specialist intervention) to consumption of alcohol as a substance (a general behaviour to which the response is public health campaigns promoting abstinence for all).

British medical entrepreneurs around this issue have a similarly broad attitude to evidence about FAS. For example, the psychiatrist Raja Mukherjee, routinely a key speaker at NoFAS’s training events, justified abstinence advocacy in a 2005 commentary subtitled ‘abstinence from alcohol is the only safe message in pregnancy’. His case for abstinence was made through reference to ‘emerging evidence’ of an ‘inconclusive nature’ (studies on rat brains, observational studies of children’s behaviour and unpublished evidence). Thus in a departure from conventional justifications for policy, it was the inconclusive nature of the evidence – what is unknown rather that what is known - that formed the basis for the argument for policy change.

Following this logic, NoFAS promotes the notion of alcohol harm as a ‘spectrum’ (called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, FASD), with varying amounts of harm caused by different levels of alcohol consumption. According to advocates of FASD as a concept, alcohol causes a variety of problems including intellectual, memory, mood and attention disorders. It is also argued that often FASD goes ‘undiagnosed’, or is misdiagnosed, ‘for example as autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)’, or that autism and ADHD are in fact symptoms of FASD. Further, we are told that FASD, when undiagnosed, can lead to ‘secondary disabilities’ that can include loneliness, school expulsions, addictions, chronic unemployment, promiscuity, unplanned pregnancies, poverty, criminality, prison, homelessness, depression and suicide.

The starting point is a presumption that any alcohol is damaging. It follows that when we consider problems children have, we should work backwards to maternal alcohol-consumption as the cause. Hence if a child of any age has problems and the mother drank at all during pregnancy, the suggestion is that there is likely to be a causal connection.

In the US, the medical entrepreneurs’ idea that alcohol consumption explains pretty much everything that ‘goes wrong’ with children gained traction with policymakers very rapidly. The US was the first country where alcohol abstinence advocacy became the official approach (in 1981). For some years, this was widely considered an ‘American’ view. For example, a Guardian article in 1991 notes: ‘The case for abstinence is not based on evidence. It is based on the logic of better safe than sorry. It is tempting, especially for an expectant mother, to say that any risk, however small or theoretical, is too great. But that is absurd. Everything about light drinking during pregnancy makes it the kind of theoretical risk that Americans are unlikely to evaluate sensibly. Doctors are innately cautious and made more so by lawyers hovering overhead with malpractice lawsuits.’

By 2007, however, the English Department of Health (DH) decided to advise women to abstain from alcohol in pregnancy. As was noted at the time, the DH did so in contradiction to the findings of its own review of studies on the subject, which found no evidence linking ‘low to moderate’ levels of alcohol consumption with the sorts of problems that feature in descriptions of FASD.

There is no question that 2007 marked a turning point in official approaches to this issue. As was argued on spiked at the time, there was an official admission that there was ‘no new evidence’ to explain the revised advice and that the chief merit of the new policy was that it was ‘clear and unambiguous’ rather than truthful.

Not commented on at the time, however, was the fact that ‘evidence’ as defined by NoFAS was already incorporated into official thinking and cited in the new advice: ‘The National Organisation on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome [NoFAS] estimates for the UK as a whole that there are more than 6,000 children born each year with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder [FASD].’ No account of the origin of the statistic ‘more than 6,000 children born each year with FASD’ can be found on the NoFAS website. According to the NHS Information Centre, the figure was generated by extrapolating estimates of the incidence of FASD for ‘Western countries’ and combining these with the official estimate of 700,000 live births in Britain each year. In other words, it is a ‘guesstimate’ of the incidence of a condition whose existence itself is questionable.

Armstrong’s analysis suggests that whether or not medical entrepreneurs achieve their goals depends on whether their vision resonates with already-existing policy concerns. US studies argue that wider cultural conditions in that country explain why FAS expanded and why the case for abstinence made sense to policymakers from the early 1980s onwards.

The same is true for Britain more recently. An approach that has no basis in conventional understandings of evidence has taken root, from the mid-2000s onwards, in the context of an official view that the way to solve any and all social problems is to ‘intervene early’. Educating pregnant women about their behaviour has emerged as the ultimate exemplar of the belief that the way to ‘get to the causes of problems’ is to change the way parents raise their child (and to go further by extending programmes to modify parenting practices backwards to the womb).

It would be a real pity if the debate about the new training scheme for midwives stays stuck in its current groove about who should fund this drive to monitor and modify behaviour in pregnancy and parenting. Other questions entirely need to be raised about where we will end up if this evidence-lite, early-intervention policy is continued.


16 June, 2011

Californian school district bans flavoured milk

Milk contains many important nutrients so this is likely to be destructive to health overall. Kids like sweet things

THE Los Angeles Unified School District has become the largest US school district to ban flavoured milk in a move to combat child obesity.

The school board voted today to eliminate chocolate and strawberry-flavoured milk from schools as of July 1.

Board member Tamar Galatzan was the only board member to object to the milk ban, saying the district was being short-sighted about the nutritional benefits outweighing the added sugar in flavoured milk.

Superintendent John Deasy proposed eliminating flavoured milk after television chef Jamie Oliver brought the issue to the district's attention during recent TV shows.


Food Fascism Lays Groundwork For Additional Control

Wonder what the food fascists advocating dietary asceticism scarfed down as children. As anyone that has sat through an evangelistic missionary testimonial knows, those griping the loudest about your errant ways are usually the ones that could make a sailor blush before they came to religion.

A Chicago school’s policy of controlling what students eat is an example of the threat posed to human liberty by public education. Sad thing is many private educators are just as eager to usurp parental authority. Compounding that, if schools are religious, they’ll then compile lengthy theological justifications why you are not a “good Christian” if you don’t have a smile plastered across your face regarding the handed-down decree.

If babykillers insist that the government should keep its laws off the body of women wanting abortions, who in the name of Hades are these civil servants to tell anyone what they can or cannot eat for lunch? Students forced to eat food they don’t want should toss it in the trash in defiance or preferably hold mass puke rallies and refuse to clean up their own regurgitation.

If educational authorities are granted control over what we eat in the name of protecting us from ourselves, where does this intervention end?

Do education flacks have the authority to tell parents what they may feed their own children in the confines of their own homes?

With each passing decade and generation, it seems the areas central planners claim jurisdiction over continue to expand and the areas over which we exercise jurisdiction and personal preference continue to contract.

A short while ago, parents would have never put up with bureaucrats telling them what they could and could not feed their children. Now the principals at schools where these kinds of policies are being implemented claim no parents have come forward to complain about them.

Thus, once today’s young skulls full of mush, as Rush Limbaugh calls them, become acclimated to such detailed micromanaging of their existence at such a young age, expect that kind of command mentality to manifest itself in an array of other issues.

Think you know what career change might make you happy? Sorry, you can’t change your job because credentialed government technocrats have determined you are in the position that optimizes their vaunted multi-year plan.

It might be that human liberty and large scale enterprise may not be as closely related as they have been perceived to be in the minds of those that would consider themselves as anti-statist or individualist conservative in their ideological orientation. Already, a number of businesses forbid employees from smoking in the name of keeping health costs in check and I have clashed before with those that think that corporate prerogatives take precedent over those of the individual to such an extent that private property should be forfeit to whatever party has the larger bank account.

So what is to prevent multinational conglomerates as interested in managerial social engineering as they are in raising a profit from forbidding employees from bringing their own food to work? Students already conditioned into this during their school years will think nothing of such a policy as it is extended into the workplace.

It has been said that an army travels on its stomach. Likewise, those seeking to enslave a once free people realize that the surest way of doing so is not so much through grandiose parades and theatrics but by rather by conditioning the individual to seek the approval of the state in the most mundane and personal of matters.


15 June, 2011

Relax, your cellphone won't kill you, experts say

There is no evidence that mobile phones are any more carcinogenic than coffee or pickled vegetables and Australians should be cautious of any mobile phone "gimmicks" promising to reduce radiation exposure, Australian health and bioengineering experts say.

One professor even rounded on top Sydney neurosurgeon Charles Teo for linking mobile phone use with cancer, arguing his view is out of step with mainstream science.

Earlier this month the World Health Organisation (WHO) sparked global alarm after declaring that it was "possible" mobile phones could cause cancer.

But question marks have been raised about whether any reduction in radiation is even necessary, as on the WHO's list of things that could cause cancer, mobile phones sit in the same category as 266 other common products including coffee and pickled vegetables.

Australian experts generally agree that the non-ionising radiation given off by mobile phones is too weak to damage human health.

But University of Wollongong Professor Rodney Croft, executive director of the Australian Centre for Radio Frequency Bioeffects Research (ACRBR), warned people to be cautious about "a number of gimmicks" purporting to reduce mobile phone radiation risks.

He said the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) did not say that there was a link between mobile use and cancer but rather that they were unable to rule it out because of insufficient data at present.

"Many studies have shown that there is no measurable effect. This is obvious, of course, because there are millions of people using cell phones and if there had been any cancer inducing effect it would have been obvious by now."

Coster said studies had not been able to devise a link between low dose electromagnetic waves and cancer. "So far the only real effect [on human tissue] that has been noted is from intense RF [radio frequency] fields used in MRI machines that can cause light flashes [phosgenes] but even that is rare and requires very strong RF fields." he said.

Coster said that even if users were to completely shield themselves from the electromagnetic signals emitted by phones they would not be able to make calls.

The views about mobile phones and cancer differ markedly from those expressed by Teo, founder of the Centre for Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney.

"There is an increasing body of evidence that there is an association between brain tumours and mobile phones," said Teo, adding the WHO report should be a "wake up call" alerting people to the links between mobiles and cancer.

But Croft said Teo's views "do not appear to be consistent with the current state of science".

The largest and longest study of mobile phone use, dubbed Interphone, covered 13 countries and found no overall link between mobile phone use and brain tumours. However, the study, published last year in the International Journal of Epidemiology, also reported that study participants with the highest level of mobile use also had a 40 per cent higher risk for glioma, an aggressive brain tumour.

A separate Israeli study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology found heavy mobile users had a 58 per cent higher risk of parotid gland tumours. The parotid gland is a salivary gland near the ear.

And Swedish research that analysed 16 studies on mobile phone use found a doubling of risk for acoustic neuroma (a tumour that occurs where the ear meets the brain) and glioma after 10 years of heavy mobile phone use.

However, all these studies are observational and show only an association between mobile phone use and cancer rather than a causal relationship. The overall rate of brain cancers worldwide has not changed in the time mobile phone use has become ubiquitous.

No studies have been conducted into the health effects of Bluetooth earpieces, but medical professionals have warned that they could actually expose users to more radiation than a mobile phone as the emissions go directly inside the ear.

Some have called for new rules forcing manufacturers to label their mobiles according to their emissions - or the SAR value - but Anderson said this was unnecessary because mobiles were already tightly regulated for safe exposure.

In Australia the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) already stipulates that the SAR limit for mobile phones is 2W/kg. The iPhone 4, for example, has a SAR rating of 1.17 W/kg.

"The SAR limits are very conservatively designed to protect against any potential adverse heating effects," Anderson said. "The equivalent 'SAR heating' of placing your hand against your face would be far more than the power absorbed by the RF EMF exposure of a mobile phone."


Woman's sleep side may affect chance of having stillborn baby

Some strange findings here but the effects are tiny in absolute magnitude so may be due to random factors

WHICH way a woman sleeps late in her pregnancy could affect her chances of having a stillborn baby, new research has revealed. The study found women who slept on their right side, or on their back, the night before they gave birth had double the risk of a stillbirth compared to those who slept on their left side.

The New Zealand research has raised the question of whether women should be advised to sleep on their left side late in their pregnancies.

University of Auckland PhD student by Tomasina Stacey, also found that women who get up to go to the toilet once or not at all on the last night of their pregnancy are more likely to have a stillborn baby.

Those women who regularly sleep during the day in the last month of pregnancy are also more likely to suffer a stillbirth, the investigation found.

And those who slept longer than average at night also increased their risk of stillbirth. However no link was found between snoring or daytime sleepiness and risk of late stillbirth.

Despite improved obstetric and neonatal care, the rate of stillbirth has been largely unchanged for more than 10 years in Australia. Australia is ranked 15th in the world for the rate of stillbirths, with seven in every 1000 Australian births results in stillbirth.

The New Zealand study, which appears in the British Medical Journal today, involved interviewing 155 women in Auckland who gave birth to a stillborn baby and who were compared to a control group of 310 women. Their age, smoking status, body mass index and social deprivation level were also taken into account.

Ms Stacey and her research team stressed that the increased risk of sleeping on the right side or on the back, compared to sleeping on the left side, was small, and more research was needed.

The "absolute risk'' of late stillbirth for women who went to sleep on their right side or back was 3.93 stillbirths per 1000 births, while for those who slept on their left side it was 1.96 stillbirths per 1000 births.


14 June, 2011

Moderate to Heavy Exercise Protects the Aging Brain?

This is a pretty rubbishy study. Self-report is a very weak form of data that needs to be handled with great care and precautions to mean anything but I see to mention of that. The journal article is Lower prevalence of silent brain infarcts in the physically active by Willey et al.

My guess is that middle class people were more likely to give "correct" answers about exercise and middle class people are in general healthier anyway. The fact (below) that the poorest people showed no benefit from exercise supports that interpretation

A new study supports moderate to intense exercise for older people as researchers believe the activity can lessen the chance of small or silent strokes. “These ‘silent strokes’ are more significant than the name implies, because they have been associated with an increased risk of falls and impaired mobility, memory problems and even dementia, as well as stroke,” said study author Joshua Z. Willey, M.D., M.S.

“Encouraging older people to take part in moderate to intense exercise may be an important strategy for keeping their brains healthy.”

Researchers followed 1,238 people who had never had a stroke for a period of six years. Participants completed a questionnaire about how often and how intensely they exercised at the beginning of the study; then had MRI scans of their brains after six years when they were an average of 70 years old.

The study is found in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN).

A total of 43 percent of the participants reported that they had no regular exercise; 36 percent engaged in regular light exercise, such as golf, walking, bowling or dancing; and 21 percent engaged in regular moderate to intense exercise, such as hiking, tennis, swimming, biking, jogging or racquetball.

The brain scans showed that 197 of the participants, or 16 percent, had small brain lesions, or infarcts, called silent strokes.

People who engaged in moderate to intense exercise were 40 percent less likely to have the silent strokes than people who did no regular exercise.

Individuals who participated in light exercise had similar factors to those that did not exercise. “Of course, light exercise has many other beneficial effects, and these results should not discourage people from doing light exercise,” Willey said.

Unfortunately, socioeconomic status appears to influence outcomes as well; researchers did not find beneficial effects (of moderate to intense exercise) among people with Medicaid or no health insurance. “It may be that the overall life difficulties for people with no insurance or on Medicaid lessens the protective effect of regular exercise,” Willey said.


Infant formula linked to childhood diabetes, study shows

The methodology seems weak (social class controls?) but there are other studies showing that hydrolyzed milk protects against allergies so there could be something in this. My major reservation is that most milk these days is homogenized so one would not expect much gain from further hydrolization

CHOOSING the right formula could stave off infant diabetes, according to a new global study distributed today. The study showed that if a mother transitions from breastfeeding to "highly hydrolyzed formula", which is broken down for easier digestion, the infant may have a lower risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes can be fatal unless treated indefinitely with insulin.

The study, lead by Dr Mikael Knip of the University of Helsinki, examined infants carrying an HLA genotype, which puts them at risk for developing diabetes later in life.

The trial, published in the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition, showed promising results in infants who underwent the transition from breastfeeding to the easily digestible hydrolyzed formula. By age five, the signs of diabetes in those children had decreased by 50 percent in comparison to children who moved from breastfeeding directly to foods such as cereals, fruit, or other types of formula.

"Short-term breastfeeding and early exposure to complex dietary proteins, such as cow milk proteins and cereals, or to fruit, berries, and roots have been implicated as risk factors," for type 1 diabetes, the authors wrote.

Most available formulas have a base of cow's milk, which can be difficult for infants to digest before their first birthday.

The study's findings were confirmed in a follow-up analysis when the children were ten years old. The trial is currently occurring in 77 centers in 15 countries worldwide.


13 June, 2011

EC directive 'bans blood donations after US trips'

Blood donors are being banned from giving blood for a month after returning from the US because of a European directive. Donors who reveal they have just returned from the States are being told to defer their appointments because of the - very small - risk that they might be harbouring the West Nile Fever virus.

In 2004 and 2005, the National Blood Service started screening donors who had been to North America for the virus, which is borne by mosquitoes and can be passed on via infected blood donations. They found no infected donors.

That followed a 2003 epidemic across North America, where it had previously been almost unheard of.

In 2004 an European directive (2004/33/EC) was then introduced stipulating a mandatory 28 day no-donation rule for people who had returned from areas with "ongoing transmission" of the virus to humans, such as the US and Canada. It came into effect the following year.

Last year there were 1,021 reported cases of West Nile Fever in the US, according to its Center for Disease Control (CDC), resulting in 57 deaths. Many American states reported few cases, including Washington DC (District of Columbia) , Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The virus can cause inflammation of the brain, called encephalitis, as well as meningitis and acute inflammation of the spinal cord. Since 2004 there have only been two cases reported in Britain, both of which originated in Canada.

The website of the National Blood Service admits that "many of the rules implemented in the UK on who can give blood are a requirement of European law".

Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP, said last night that the directive sounded like the typical product of the EC bureaucracy. He said: "They very often supply solutions to non-existent problems, because the job of the bureaucracy is to justify it's existence". He added: "I've observed over many years how they will always tend to err on the side of maximum regulation in order to justify their budgets, rather than saying 'To what problem is this a solution?'"

A spokesman for NHS Blood and Transplant, which runs the National Blood Service, said officials had "no discretion" to deviate from the directive. She said: "Because we are a government body, we follow the EC guidelines. There's no discretion." She added: "We are working up plans to implement a [screening] test because the West Nile virus is becoming endemic in Europe."


If it's endemic in Europe itself, what is the sense of the Anerican ban? I think this is just a pretense of superiority. Perhaps America should ban Germans from visiting America in case they are carrying the deadly E.coli strain that originated in German organic farms

More British kids being diagnosed as obese

There have always been fat kids. It's genetic. The main difference is that fat is now diagnosed as a disease where once it was not. Increased diagnosis does not mean increased incidence

Dramatic evidence showing how young children and even babies are falling victim to the obesity epidemic is disclosed today.

Babies are being treated in hospital because of their weight – some after being weaned on puréed junk food – and children as young as six are suffering strokes.

Doctors say rising numbers of babies and toddlers are being diagnosed as clinically obese and even suffering weight-linked diseases that normally appear in later life.

Figures show that hundreds of children under three are being treated for obesity at hospitals around the country. At least 40 babies aged under one have been admitted in the past five years.

Public health experts warned that because hospitals only see the most extreme cases, the true levels of obesity among babies and young children will be far higher.

Specialists working in hospital obesity clinics report that they are seeing one year-olds who weigh as much as three stone – nearly twice as much as healthy youngsters of the same age.

They say much of the problem is being caused by parents who attempt to wean their babies while they are too young and feed them inappropriate foods.

Doctors have seen babies fed crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks. In some cases parents have been found to be giving their infants puréed chips with milk, or mashing up takeaway food. Experts said some parents needed to be taught what to feed babies. The data also shows that many of the overweight children are suffering breathing difficulties and displaying the early signs of obesity-related diabetes.

In two extreme examples, a six year-old and an eight year-old suffered strokes that were thought to have resulted from their weight.

The figures, which were released by 66 of Britain's 168 acute hospital trusts under the Freedom of Information Act, show that more than 5,500 children under the age of 16 were diagnosed or treated for obesity in hospitals in the past five years. Some of the youngsters had surgery such as gastric bands and gastric bypasses to treat their condition.

In one case a 15 year-old who weighed more than 25 stone was treated at a hospital in North Staffordshire before her family took her to Mexico to have a gastric band fitted.

Entire families have also been sent on healthy eating and dietary counselling courses.

Forty-four of the hospital trusts contacted provided figures for diagnosis and treatment broken down by age. Four hundred children under five were treated in hospital after being diagnosed with clinical obesity. These included 40 children under one, 49 one year-olds and 85 two year-olds.

Dr Ken Ong, clinical lead for childhood obesity at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, said: "I certainly see children under the age of two years old. We are seeing more and more referrals in that age range.

"The one and two year-olds we see are massively obese but it is only the very extreme who are coming to hospital clinics. There will be many more who are in the community or are not being recognised at all. The popular hope is that it is just baby fat and they will grow out of it, but our studies show that it is more likely to continue being obese and even become more obese."

By the time they leave primary school, one in three children is classified as obese. Research suggests that unhealthy eating can "programme" young children's tastes for the rest of their life. Other researchers are finding evidence that a child's genes may be programmed in the womb by the lifestyle of their parents.

Paul Sacher, of the British Dietetic Association and chief research officer for MEND, a charity that runs obesity treatment and prevention programmes, said many parents simply did not know what they should be feeding their children.

He added: "I see children all the time who are being given a lolly, a chocolate bar or packet of crisps. I see mums pouring fizzy pop into their baby's bottles and in parts of Wales they put chips in milk in bottles."


12 June, 2011

FDA vs. USDA: An Epic Game of [Organic] Chicken

In light of recent differences between the new regulations dictated by the National Organic Standards Board (a section of the US Department of Agriculture) and those of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defining exactly how chickens should be raised, and in what ways they must be raised in order to be certified “organic,” the fate of the entire organic chicken market may be in jeopardy.

The freshly proposed USDA regulations conflict directly with the policies already put in place by the FDA which apply to all animals, certified and non-certified organic, in reference to the safety of the meat for human consumption. A poultry farmer who would like to get his chicken certified and sold as organic, will be shocked to discover that in order to comply with the FDA regulations, which are required in order to sell the chicken at all, one must be in violation of the USDA regulations which then prevent the chicken from being labeled as “certified organic”.

And so the inter-Obama Administration standoff begin, and organic food lovers everywhere are wondering, who will back down first?

In 2009, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnered with the FDA to implement a program that would reduce Salmonella among livestock, including those intending to be certified organic. This program, among its numerous edicts, required that the livestock be kept in cages or poultry houses, and subjected to a very strict cleaning regimen so as to minimize the risk of the spread of Salmonella.

According to the draft guidance for “Prevention of Salmonella Enteritidis in Shell Eggs during Production, Storage, and Transportation”, the FDA requires that these measures be taken because they “limit the fecal-to-oral mode of transmission between chickens because they reduce the amount of fecal matter that accumulates where other chickens are exposed to it”.

The document goes on to point out all of the other ways that disease can be passed, such as through the waste of pests and rodents contaminating the food troughs or the living space, which is why they require “physical barriers” in which to house the chickens so that they are kept far away from any possible contaminants. Interestingly enough, even though salmonella is 100 percent naturally occurring, mainstream Americans aren’t clamoring for it to be included in their organic chicken.

In the years since those rules were promulgated, the USDA formulated a set of proposed rules defining exactly how organic chicken was to be raised, as differing from the raising of non-organic (but somehow also non-synthetic) chickens. In order for a food to be certified organic, it must comply with all of the USDA’s regulations on organic food, or else it will not receive the label and thus be unable to be sold as organic.

One of the main tenets of the USDA’s proposal, was that “organically managed poultry must have year-round access to outdoors. Organic livestock facilities shall give poultry the ability to choose to be in the housing or outside in the open air”. You know, just in case Foghorn Leghorn decides he wants to sunbathe for a bit before adjourning to his boudoir.

The regulations proposed by the USDA directly refute the FDA’s safety regulations and are a blatant attempt to exercise their power by threatening the refusal of the ‘certified organic’ seal if their rules are not followed. However if a farmer is found not in compliance with the FDA’s regulations, his chicken will not be allowed to be sold at all.

Given this, it would make more sense for the USDA to conform their regulations to fit those of the FDA so as to allow as many organic farmers as possible to meet the growing demand. Although the FDA wrote a letter outlining their concerns with the proposed rules, the USDA responded with a letter of their own, basically saying “it’s my chicken, and they’ll live outside if they want to.”

The Obama agency game of chicken leaves poultry farmers in a peck of trouble if they want their fowl certified organic. “In this case, the Obama Administration is literally regulating a farmer out of business,” Congressman Jack Kingston commented, “they are throwing down new rules and regulations so fast, the Administration itself can’t even keep things straight. How is the average American supposed to compete?” And so, it seems there are many pages of negotiations ahead before any of these chickens can cross the road.


Forever young: The pill that will keep you youthful by preventing the ills of old age

If you are a mouse. Human growth hormone was once seen as such a drug but its side effects tended to make you die younger

A ‘forever young’ drug that allows people to grow old gracefully could be available in just ten years, a leading scientist said last night. Professor Linda Partridge, an expert in the genetics of ageing, said that the science is moving so quickly that it will soon be possible to prevent many of the ills of old age.

By taking a pill a day from middle-age, we will grow old free from illnesses of the body and mind such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease. People could work for longer – or simply make the most of their retirement. Some research even suggests skin and hair will retain its youthful lustre.

Professor Partridge, of University College London, said: ‘I would be surprised if there weren’t things within ten years. If told you could take a drug that has minimal side-effects and that’s going to keep you healthy for another five or ten years and then you’ll drop off your perch without disability, most people would want it.’

Extraordinary as the professor’s prediction may seem, it is based on a host of promising scientific studies from around the world. They have discovered key genes linked to longevity and health – and found ways of tinkering with them, at least in animals.

In one of the remarkable examples, a Harvard University doctor made old mice young again, in experiments that mirrored the plot of The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, where the lead character played by Brad Pitt ages in reverse.

At the start of the experiment, the animals’ skin, brains, guts and other organs resembled those of an 80-year-old person.

Within just two months of being given a drug that switches on a key enzyme, the creatures had grown so many new cells that they had almost completely rejuvenated. Remarkably, the male mice went from being infertile to fathering large litters.

Other research has shown that chains of reactions in the body involving insulin and related hormones are key to health and ageing. This means that years of research into diabetes could have yielded medicines that can be reinvented as anti-ageing drugs.

Professor Partridge told the Cheltenham Science Festival that some medicines abandoned by drug companies may soon be dusted off and put to use. She said: ‘There are drugs there already, some of them are just sitting in cupboards. I’d be surprised if people don’t start taking them out. ‘The principle is for drugs that if taken from middle-age will ward off quite a broad array of diseases rather than doing things piece-meal or acting when the diseases appear.’

However, she said any drugs would have to be shown to be extremely safe before they were given to healthy people to combat ageing.


11 June, 2011

Germany: Organic sprouts are cause of E. coli outbreak

One German organic farm has now killed far more people than the death toll from the Fukushima nuclear reactor accident and the Gulf oil spill combined

Investigators have determined that German-grown vegetable sprouts are the cause of the E. coli outbreak that has killed 29 people and sickened nearly 3,000, the head of Germany's national disease control center said Friday.

Reinhard Burger, president of the Robert Koch Institute, said even though no tests of the sprouts from an organic farm in Lower Saxony had come back positive for the E. coli strain behind the outbreak, an investigation into the pattern of the outbreak had produced enough evidence to draw the conclusion.

"In this way, it was possible to narrow down epidemiologically the cause of the outbreak of the illness to the consumption of sprouts," Burger said at a press conference with the heads of Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment and Federal Office for Consumer Protection. "It is the sprouts."

The breakthrough in the investigation came after a task force from the three institutes linked separate clusters of patients who had fallen sick to 26 restaurants and cafeterias that had received produce from the organic farm.

"It was like a crime thriller where you have to find the bad guy," said Helmut Tschiersky-Schoeneburg from the consumer protection agency. "They even studied the menus, the ingredients, looked at bills and took pictures of the different meals, which they then showed to those who had fallen ill," said Andreas Hensel, head of the Risk Assessment agency.

Hensel said authorities were lifting the warning against eating cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce, and explicitly urged consumers to start eating those vegetables once again. "Lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers should be eaten again - it is all healthy produce," he said.

Burger said it was possible that all of the tainted sprouts have either been consumed or thrown away by now, but still warned that the crisis is not yet over and people should not eat sprouts.

While the farm in the northern German village of Bienenbuettel that has been blamed for the outbreak was shut down last Thursday and all of its produce recalled, the experts said they could not exclude the possibility that some tainted sprouts were still being used by restaurants or cafeterias and people could still get infected with E. coli.

Also, since it has not yet be established why the sprouts were bad - whether the seeds had been contaminated or the farm's water - the experts said it was possible that other nearby farms could also be affected.

Germany has been the epicenter of the outbreak, with 2,808 sickened, 722 of whom are suffering from a serious complication that can cause kidney failure. The World Health Organization says 97 others have fallen sick in 12 other European countries, as well as three in the United States.

In recent days the numbers of people being reported ill have been dropping, but it was not clear whether the epidemic was waning or consumers were just successfully shunning tainted vegetables.

More here

Minimum prices for alcohol

By Luke Malpass, commenting from Australia

The term ‘nanny state’ gets a bad rap. Those who believe the state should protect people from themselves fulminate about this pejorative label. ‘But don’t you understand?’ they say, ‘we are helping people; “nanny state” is used by people who don’t care about others.’

But what is using the coercive power of the state to curtail potentially risky behaviour, if not nannying?

Nanny might soon be given another lever. The federal government is considering a recommendation from the National Preventative Health Agency (a new bureaucracy whose job is to recommend laws and taxes to prevent people from consuming alcohol, tobacco and fast food) to introduce a minimum sale price per standard drink of alcohol. Taxes aren’t working, apparently because competition (usually considered a virtue) has kept prices of some types of liquor low. Moreover, people are drinking too much! So a minimum price is being mooted to discourage drinking.

A minimum price regime, in effect state-mandated price fixing, would make liquor a more protected industry. It would encourage trade in illegal cheap alcohol, and would also be highly regressive. Low-income drinkers would have to spend an even higher portion of their income to have a drink. No doubt the minimum price would rise over time, as it became obvious that alcohol consumption had not been sufficiently reduced.

Minimum prices are blunt impositions that hamper the operation of entire markets. In the case of alcohol, they would penalise people who drink in safety and moderation.

Minimum prices are a woefully inadequate way to try and prevent some of the problems of excessive alcohol consumption such as violence and alcohol poisoning. People addicted to substances are the least affected by price increases.

At best there could be a slight reduction in harmful drinking (but at what cost to other drinkers?); at worst, those who are poor and have an alcohol problem will substitute liquor alcohol for meths or something even more dangerous.

This proposed policy fails on the grounds of equity, efficacy and the ‘do no harm’ principle. It won’t even be effective nannying.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 10 June. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

10 June, 2011

Back off: It’s my plate

Yesterday the USDA and First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the government's new nutritional chart, which you can check out at the suggestively nannyish URLs or ("Please, guv, could you choose my plate? You know best.") It's a sort of segmented cafeteria dish with unequal compartments, slightly larger for "vegetables" and "grains," slightly smaller for "fruits" and "protein," along with a "dairy" circle on the side. A few thoughts:

1.) They seem to have skipped the whole "constitutional authority for the federal government to involve itself in lecturing citizens on what to eat" section. Could it be because there is no such obvious source of authority?

2.) Given that the government has been coming out with these charts for decades, this one is admittedly easier to understand than the awful "pyramid" that came before. Pretty much any graphic they tried — even one based on a Jackson Pollock painting — would have been an improvement on that darn pyramid.
[pullquote]They seem to have skipped the whole 'constitutional authority for the federal government to involve itself in lecturing citizens on what to eat' section.[/pullqupte]

3.) There's a subliminal sort of cleverness to the chart which may offer insight into the Obama administration's thinking. It manages not to mention meat, for instance. It makes "dairy" a little blue circle so you think of nonfat milk or yogurt instead of, say, melted cheese. There's no dessert plate at all — this is the pie chart that doesn't want you to eat pie. There's also no mention of sugar or calories on the graphic, apparently on the theory that if people don't see those things on a government chart, they'll forget they like them.

4.) While clever, it's also a bit incoherent: along with food groups like grains and veggies, there appears a slice for "protein," even though there's protein in grains, dairy and so forth.

5.) Like all such recommendations out of Washington, including earlier versions that did more to push cheese and starch options, this one came out of negotiations that reflected input from farm and producer interest groups. Just something to remember before taking nutrition advice from the federal government, especially since that nutritional advice has often been wrong in the past.

6.) Accompanying the chart is a series of confidently dished-out advice tips on various other nutritional matters, such as "Enjoy your food, but eat less," "Switch to fat-free or lowfat (1%) milk," and "Choose the foods with lower [salt content]." Confident though these may be, these are simply wrong, at least if indiscriminately applied to anyone and everyone. Not all of us struggle with obesity or high blood pressure; some of us, in fact, including some who are elderly or infirm, should be encouraged to get all the calories we need. Serving kids nonfat milk is not an unambiguously good choice if it means they will choose to drink less milk. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that low-salt diets may pose their own health risks. For that matter, some people — some whole national cuisines, in fact — manage to take in an adequate nutritional balance while dispensing entirely or nearly so with categories like dairy or fruit.

7.) The wider controversy is going to be not over the chart itself, but how far the administration will go to pursue the rapidly expanding agenda of the "food policy" sector. All sorts of nannyish and coercive ideas are emerging from that sector nowadays: proposals at the FDA to limit salt content in processed foods; mandatory calorie labeling, which poses a significant burden on many smaller food vendors and restaurants; new mandates on food served in local schools; advertising bans; and on a local level efforts to ban things like Happy Meals at McDonald's. No wonder many parents, local officials and skeptics in Congress are beginning to say: Back off, guv. It's my plate.


Raw milk mania

The feds recently conducted a year-long sting operation (yes, really.) to arrest an Amish farmer for selling raw milk in DC. Fortunately, raw milk devotees have not allowed this ridiculous law to go unnoticed:

"AMERICA, sleep well. After a year of surveillance, an undercover operation, and a pre-dawn raid by gun-toting U.S. marshals, the country is safe from an Amish farmer. Dan Allgyer’s crime? Selling unpasteurized milk to a food co-op in the Washington area.

But raw-milk advocates, the feds are learning, do not go down easily. About 400 people protesting Mr. Allgyer’s arrest arrived on Capitol Hill earlier this month with a cow named Morgan, a milking stool, plastic cups, and plenty of passion. Toasting their favorite drink, they pointed out that the signers of the Constitution also drank raw milk and proclaimed “the right to choose what to eat and drink” without government interference."

Perhaps one of the reasons this story has managed to get some media attention (despite the obvious factor of an Amish man being arrested) is the complete absurdity of legislating milk.

One of my best professors in college was a progressive with whom I disagreed on…a lot, to put it mildly. He was right, however, when he said that it was always important to consider what would actually happen given a certain legislative outcome, as opposed to what our worst fears for the situation might be.

In this case, were raw milk totally legal (as it has been for most of our nation’s history), what would actually happen is that raw milk fans would keep drinking it, and everyone else would keep avoiding it. It’s not like there’s a giant Amish conspiracy to somehow slip unpasteurized whipping cream onto the shelves of your local Giant without you noticing. These people are not raw milk terrorists:

Moreover, leaving people who like their milk raw alone is not unprecedented - even in the modern developed world:

Throughout Europe, uncooked milk is the norm, dispensed in vending machines in Switzerland, Austria, France, Italy, Slovenia and the Netherlands. It is healthy, adherents say, because it contains fat that is not broken down by homogenization and is free of antibiotics and hormones, because cows are raised in small herds on pastures.

Nutritionist Sylvia Onusic, a raw milk devotee, said heating milk diminishes its taste. “Raw milk is a potential hazardous food, but only in the United States, and I guess Canada, too,” she said. (Raw milk is also banned in Australia and Scotland.) “It’s a totally different food world here. Everything is sterilized and beaten into submission.”

Unlike more polarizing substances such as marijuana and other drugs, it is difficult for me to see why anyone would even consider raw milk a serious threat - let alone organize a sting operation against an Amish farmer for selling it to willing, informed customers.

Moreover, what kind of government outlaws consumption of milk in its natural state? I don’t often use the term “nanny state,” but it’s truly appropriate here. As Ron Paul has put it, “If we are not even free anymore to decide something as basic as what we wish to eat or drink, how much freedom do we really have left?”

If you’ve got a few minutes, maybe give your rep a ring about H.R. 1830, which would legalize the sale of raw milk across state lines, removing federal authority from this totally inappropriate corner of our grocery stores to which it has crept.


9 June, 2011

"Good" food improves exam results?

That the definition of "healthy" food was eccentic below (are "local" foods really better for you?) suggests that we are just seeing a "Hawthorne" effect here -- or, more generally, a placebo effect. It's the attention and enthusiasm that has an effect, not the food. No double blind controls, it would seem.

Obese children eating unhealthy food are more likely to have poor exam results, an experiment has revealed. Researchers found that school children eating good food at lunchtime are four times more likely to concentrate in the afternoon.

This led to pupils' exam marks showing a massive improvement with inspection rates by education watchdog Ofsted soaring.

Nearly 4,000 schools took part in the Food For Life Partnership (FFLP). The research, which was carried out by a team from the University of the West of England, also revealed that pupils' interest in healthy foods had an effect on their eating habits at home and their parents' shopping habits.

It found that serving fresh food instead of harmful fats found in biscuits, burgers and cakes had a quick effect on pupils' academic achievement and behaviour. Emma Noble, director of FFLP, said: 'This is carrying on the healthy eating project in schools started by Jamie Oliver but this is a longer term project looking at what young people eat in and out of school. 'Very quickly they found that serving a child good food at lunchtime makes them four times more likely to concentrate in the afternoon,' according to the Sunday Express.

Many of the schools involved in the project set up their own gardens. And it was discovered that children would enjoy eating vegetables they had grown themselves - despite normally turning their noses up at them.

Ian Nurser, headteacher of St Peter’s Church of England School in Wem, Shropshire, said results at his school had been boosted since the schoolchildren started eating healthier meals each day. 'They are very proud of knowing what they should be eating and take a great interest in putting together a healthy meal each day. 'They all learn about links to local produce and really think about things. Our results have steadily improved since we started this project.

'What pupils are learning in the garden and how to cook to a high level are life skills not available to most young people, with 12 per cent of value added in terms of boosted results.'

Libby Grundy, FFLP director, said that despite being pleased with the results of the experiment, she was concerned that cuts to local authority school meal budgets could see more unhealthy ready meals in schools. She said: 'With one in 10 children classed as obese just as the programme looks as if it has reached the tipping point, cuts to school meal budgets could undo all the good work.'


'A significant step forward' in the fight against Alzheimer's: Mad cow disease drug found to block onset of dementia

A drug used to fight mad cow disease could offer hope of a significant breakthrough in the treatment of Alzheimer's. Two of the antibodies in medication for Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease block the onset of the most common cause of dementia, scientists have discovered. The unexpected findings came as they were developing treatments for CJD.

In a 'significant step forward' in the battle against Alzheimer's, it was found that the antibodies prevent a rogue protein called amyloid beta from gathering in the brain and damaging nerve cells.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, revealed that antibodies ICS-18 and ICSM-35 help to preserve brain function and prevent memory loss, the symptom which most characterises the devastating impact of Alzheimer's.

Lead researcher Professor John Collinge, from University College London, said: 'We're thrilled that this discovery shows in mice that these two antibodies which we are developing to treat CJD may also have a role in treating more common forms of dementia like Alzheimer's disease.

'If these antibody drugs prove to be safe in use to treat CJD we will consider whether studies in Alzheimer's disease should be carried out.'

Professor Dominic Walsh, a co-author of the study from University College Dublin, said: 'A unique aspect of this study is that we used amyloid beta extracted from human brain, the same material we believe is causing memory loss in patients with this devastating disease and we identified two antibodies that could block this effect.

'The use of these specific antibodies is particularly exciting since they have already undergone extensive pre-clinical testing for use in treating CJD. 'Thus a lot of basic work has already been done and could fast-track these antibodies for use in humans. The next step is further validation in other disease models of Alzheimer's and then safety trials in humans.'

Trials of drugs developed from these studies start on patients with CJD next year but could now be fast-tracked for Alzheimer’s sufferers.

Meanwhile, a brain scan that can detect Alzheimer's years in advance could be available within 12 months. PET scans that show the early stages of Alzheimer's disease by detecting beta amyloid should be widely available by next year, scientists announced yesterday.


8 June, 2011

USDA Spending $10 Million to Promote Farmers' Markets in Michelle Obama's 'Food Deserts'

The heading above is as it appears on the blurb below. It is very precisely worded. It omits any claim that there ARE any food deserts. It just refers to places that are claimed by Mrs Obama to be food deserts. The entire concept of food deserts is just another bit of Leftist mythology that had being dying out until Mrs O revived it.

In urban areas people can always buy food somewhere near where they live -- though not perhaps food approved of by the elites. Even fruit and vegetables are more available than is sometimes claimed. When a particular "food desert" is closely examined, it will usually be found to have small shops run by Koreans, Indians, Hispanics etc that do sell the fruits and vegetables that are in demand among their clientele.

Mrs O, however, seems to have transmogrified the concept of a food desert into the absence of a supermarket, showing a grasp of reality that is every bit as shallow as her husband's. I guess we shouldn't laugh. The idea that supermarkets are a source of fresh food is just supermarket propaganda. Some fruits and vegetables keep well in cold storage and apples (for instance) on sale in a supermarket can be a year or so old!

The U.S Agriculture Department is offering $10 million in grants -- twice as much as last year -- to promote farmer's markets, roadside stands and other healthy food outlets across the country.

The priority this year is to bring fresh food to people living in rural and urban "food deserts," a concept advanced by First Lady Michelle Obama. Food deserts are defined as areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly those composed of predominantly lower-income neighborhoods and communities.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the availability of the taxpayer-funded farmers' market grants last Friday, at the opening of the 2011 USDA Farmer's Market in Washington.

The Farmers' Market Promotion Program [3] (FMPP) funds projects that "contribute to the economic and physical health of communities around the country," the USDA says. The goal is to “increase domestic consumption of agricultural commodities” by improving and expanding farmers markets, or creating new ones.

Merrigan singled out a small farmers' market in Cleveland, Mississippi, which is using an FMPP grant to develop a market on two donated acres.

"The project is also teaching students production skills and entrepreneurship, and providing community members with freezing, canning, and pickling techniques to preserve the harvest for year-round healthy eating," the USDA said. "Upgrades to market equipment and promotions supported by FMPP, along with increased production, have drawn in more vendors (up 57 percent), more customers (up 44 percent), and expanded the market season on both ends (spring and fall)."

Last year, Michelle Obama called on Congress to create a $400 million-a-year program to encourage the establishment of supermarkets in places she called “food deserts.” As previously reported, Mrs. Obama -- in a March 10, 2010 speech -- described food deserts as areas without a supermarket where "families wind up buying their groceries at the local gas station or convenience store, places that offer few, if any, healthy options.”

She gave the speech one month after launching her "Let's Move" campaign to end childhood obesity in the United States.

The Farmers Market Promotion Program was created during the George W. Bush administration, through a 2002 amendment to a 1976 law. But this year's focus on "food deserts" is new.

The USDA says a total of $14.5 million in grants was awarded for the Farmers Market Promotion Program between 2006 and 2009. Approximately $5 million was allocated for 81 grants in Fiscal Year 2010, while $10 million has been allocated for each of Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012.

The money is to be spent on the marketing and promotion of farmers markets; consumer education and outreach; equipment purchase; transportation and delivery; training farmers in business planning and record-keeping; or waste management and "green technologies."

The application process to obtain an FMPP grant "takes energy and organization," the USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service says. In fact, the guidelines explaining how to apply for an FMPP grant total 43 pages.


An apple a day keeps the doctor away... as long as you eat the peel

And if you are a mouse or a fruit fly

An apple a day really could keep the doctor away – as long as you don’t throw away the peel. The chemical behind the apple skin’s waxy shine is being credited with a host of health benefits from building muscle to keeping the lid on weight.

Ursolic acid also keeps cholesterol and blood sugar under control, meaning an apple a day could do wonders for all-round health.

Researcher Christopher Adams said: ‘Ursolic acid is an interesting natural compound. It’s part of a normal diet as a component of apple peels. ‘They always say that an apple a day keeps the doctor away…’

The importance of apple peel was discovered after Dr Adams, a U.S. expert in how hormones affect the body, set out to find a drug that stops muscles from wasting, keeping pensioners strong as they age and cutting their risk of hard-to-heal fractures.

He said: ‘Muscle wasting is a frequent companion of illness and ageing. ‘It prolongs hospitalisation, delays recoveries and in some cases prevents people from going back home. It isn’t well understood and there’s no medicine for it.’

In order to remedy the situation, Dr Adams, of the University of Iowa, studied the genetic changes that occur when muscles waste or atrophy. He checked a pool of 1,300 chemicals for one that would counter the changes – and hit on ursolic acid.

The researcher then supplemented a normal diet in mice with small amounts of the compound and subjected them to a battery of health tests. The creatures’ muscles got bigger and their grip became stronger.

The benefits didn’t end there. The mice fed the apple peel chemical had lower levels of cholesterol and other blood fats blamed for clogging up the arteries and damaging the heart, and had around a third less body fat.

It is thought that ursolic acid enhances the effects of insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1, two hormones key to muscle growth. It is particularly concentrated in apple peel but is also found in cranberries and prunes and in basil, oregano and thyme.Dr Adams said: ‘We know that if you eat a balanced diet like mom told us to eat you get this material. People who eat junk food don’t get this.’

He added that the goal is to establish whether apple peel is as good for humans as it is for mice – and work out how many apples we might need to help make muscles bulge and waistlines shrink.

If large amounts of ursolic acid are required, it is likely that people will have to take it in concentrated form, either as a supplement or a drug.

Reporting his findings in the journal Cell Metabolism, Dr Adams said: ‘Given the current lack of therapies for muscle atrophy, we speculate that ursolic acid might be investigated as a potential therapy for illness-related and age-related muscle atrophy.’ Obesity and diabetes might also be in its grasp, he added.

Other recent research has credited an apple a day with keeping the undertaker away – at least in flies. Fruit flies given an apple extract lived 10 per cent longer and found it easier to walk, climb and move about as they aged.

Researchers who questioned women about their diets found that those who regularly ate apples were around 20 per cent less likely to suffer heart attacks and strokes.


7 June, 2011

For once Obama sets a good example -- ignores food freaks

As Kevin reported earlier this week, the USDA got rid of the food pyramid and replaced it with a food plate, a cost of millions to the taxpayer, so people can better understand how to feed themselves.

Shortly after the new and improved plate was released, President Obama chowed down on what his wife, Michelle, probably wouldn't approve of: Chili dogs...two of them.
When his wife unveiled the USDA's new nutritional plate yesterday, there definitely wasn't a space for chili dogs.

But that didn't stop Barack Obama wolfing down two in Toledo today - with fries and an extra bowl of chili on the side.

The president happily munched on the unhealthy meal before he visited the city's Chrysler factory, and even teased one of his hosts for ordering ketchup, a faux-pas in his home town of Chicago.

Yesterday she unveiled the USDA's new healthy-eating guide, which replaces the famous 'My Pyramid' with a plate divided into four nutritional quadrants: fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins.

But as her husband chowed down at the famous Rudy's Hot Dog with Toledo's mayor, the only sign of 'vegetables' appeared to be some fried onions.

He ordered the house speciality chili dog, which comes with mustard, onion, chili sauce and cheese, and topped it up with a bowl of chili and a portion of fries on the side.


Make mine a Subway: Turkey sandwich diet helps British father-of-two lose five stones

A fast food fan has lost a staggering five stone in nine months by eating nothing but Subway sandwiches. Carsten Renken, 41, ditched his diet of burgers, fried chicken and microwave meals after doctors warned him that he was dangerously overweight.

He made the unusual decision to eat nothing but six-inch club sandwiches filled with turkey, ham, beef and salad for lunch and dinner. Each sandwich contains 298 calories.

Mr Renken has managed to drop from 16st 8lbs [224lb] last September to 11st [154lb] today. Meanwhile his waistline shrank from 44in to 31in.

The father-of-two from Coventry, said: 'I live a busy life so convenience was the only option, but I've found a fast food that works for me. 'I couldn't face totally giving up fast food. We all have our vices and this is mine.

'I like Subway sandwiches but it's important that people know I'm totally independent of the chain. I'm not doing this for money or free Subs. I'm doing this because obesity is a growing problem and I want to share my success story with everyone. 'I want people to know that although fast food can cause the problem, it can be your way out of it too.'

The father-of-two used to consume up to 5,000 calories per day - almost twice the recommended daily allowance for men. But he knew it was time to tackle his spiraling weight during a holiday in Sweden when his 13-year-old daughter said he was the fattest man at the resort.

Mr Renken's breakfast used to consist of a double sausage and egg McMuffin with a substantial side-order of hash browns and fries.

Lunch would be a feast of KFC fillet tower burgers or two double-bacon cheeseburgers from Burger King.

For dinner, he would munch on fatty microwave meals or indulge in large greasy portions of chips from the local chippy.

But Mr Renken is now on 'first name terms' with staff at his local Subway branch in Coventry.

Store manager David Rollason, 25, said: 'Carsten has been coming here for so many months now and we always know what his order will be. 'We're his local Subway and he knows the service is quick. He has become a very familiar face and we always enjoy a bit of banter with each other. 'When he first started coming here, he was very overweight, but when you line up a picture of him now with one of him then, the difference is amazing. 'His weight loss has been so dramatic.'

Kathy Cowbrough, Dietitian and Public Health Nutritionist, said: ‘What Mr Renken has done is what most people need to do to lose weight - cut the amount he is eating by controlling his portions. For him it’s made easy by having the same thing every day where he knows how that he is consuming 1,100 calories a day.

‘For weight loss depending on a person's energy needs we recommend a deficit of 500 calories per day and aim for around 1200-1500 calories.

‘However, it would be worth him keeping a food diary and comparing it with the Eatwell plate as this gives guidance on proportions of food groups to eat to give the body the nutrients it needs. This way he can make sure he is not missing out on any crucial food groups.’


6 June, 2011

Stressed at the office? Break out the pomegranate juice - it will make you more enthusiastic about your job

This would seem to be just corporate puffery -- research NOT done under double blind conditions. That the stuff contains anti-oxidants is a concern though, considering the evidence that such molecules SHORTEN your life

Pomegranate juice could help beat stress at the office, research claims. It has been shown to lower workers' heart rates and make them feel more enthusiastic about their jobs.

Scientists studied a group of volunteers who drank 500ml of the juice every day for two weeks. At the beginning and end of the study their pulse rate was measured and they filled in a questionnaire describing their mood and feelings about their job.

The research – funded by the Pomegreat juice company – showed almost all of the workers reported being more enthusiastic, inspired, proud and active. They were less likely to describe their feelings as distressed, nervous, guilty and ashamed compared with the beginning of the fortnight and most had lower pulse rates.

Experts claim increasing numbers of Britons are affected by work-related pressures. Figures from the charity Mind show around a fifth of employees called in sick at some point last year as they were stressed.

Lead researcher Dr Emad Al-Dujaili, of Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, said: 'On the basis of these findings there is a justified argument for busy workers to drink pomegranate juice to help alleviate chronic stress and maintain good health.

'There is growing evidence that pomegranate juice delivers wide-ranging health benefits that merit further research. 'It is very rare indeed for an all-natural juice to offer the range of health benefits that we are seeing in pomegranate juice.'

Last year the same researchers claimed that pomegranate juice could help to combat middle-aged spread. After just one month, volunteers who drank a bottle of pomegranate juice every day were found to be less likely to develop fatty cells around their abdomen.

They also had lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease. Scientists also claim pomegranate juice can help to fight cancer, heart disease and the aging process. It is high in antioxidants, chemicals which help neutralise harmful oxygen molecules – called free radicals.


Scientists discover 'werewolf' gene which could spell the end for baldness

A 'werewolf' gene which causes hair to grow all over the body has been found by scientists, who say the discovery could lead to a remedy for baldness. They have tracked down a genetic fault which is behind a rare condition called hyper- trichosis, or werewolf syndrome, where thick hair covers the face and upper body. They say they may be able to use drugs to trigger a similar gene mutation in people to encourage hair to grow on bald patches.

But the scientists stressed that tackling baldness was still many years away. They do not yet know how they would be able to trigger hair to grow in bald patches without causing excessive growth all over the body.

Werewolf syndrome is extremely rare, with only 50 recorded cases in the past 300 years. One is Supatra Sasuphan, an 11-year-old girl from Thailand who was named as the world's hairiest child in the Guinness World Records in March.

Men with the condition have hair all over their face, including eyelids, and upper bodies. Women tend to just have hair in patches although Supatra has it covering much of her face.

Scientists from the University of Southern California, working with researchers from Beijing, discovered the gene in a Mexican family and Chinese family who both had the condition – known in the medical world as CGH.

Professor Pragna Patel, of the university's Institute for Genetic Medicine, said certain genes appeared to have been 'turned on', which may trigger the excessive hair growth. In the future, scientists could use drugs to 'turn on' genes, which could trigger hair growth.

Professor Patel added: 'If in fact the inserted sequences turn on a gene that can trigger hair growth, it may hold promise for treating baldness.'


5 June, 2011

Most 'wasting money on health supplements' finds NHS report

Interesting and pleasing that both antioxidants and Omega 3 get the thumbs down

Most are wasting money on vitamin pills and other health supplements that do them no good, an NHS report has warned.

The market for dietary supplements and vitamins was worth more than £670 million in 2009, according to NHS Choices, which provides general health information.

But, in a new report titled Supplements: Who needs them? the authors concluded: "During our work it has become clear that the widely perceived benefits of certain supplements simply do not have enough robust evidence to support them."

This was partly due to press coverage, partly due to the way they were marketed, and partly due to "the sheer volume of misinformation floating around on the internet."

The report found that vitamin supplements to be a particular area of wasted cash.

Accounting for almost a third of the overall market, at £208 million, the report stated: "There are clearly plenty of people buying vitamin supplements but, surprisingly, only certain groups are considered to benefit from taking them."

This included those over 65; those with darker skin and those who were not exposed to a lot of sun - who should all take vitamin D supplements - and all children from six months to five years, who should take a multivitamin (A, C and D) supplement.

The authors wrote: "If you fall outside of these groups and buy vitamin pills then the chances are that you will be spending your money on surplus amounts of vitamins you've already gained through your diet."

The jury was still out on antioxidants, it reported, concluding that research indicated "it would seem sensible for most of us to rely on a balanced diet" for our intake of the compounds.

There was "little evidence" that some weight loss products sold by "reputable retailers" worked, while a review of how they were marketed found half breached advertising regulations.

It reported there was also "little evidence" that vitamin C supplements were "beneficial within the general community in terms of preventing infection" from cold viruses, although the authors conceded they did seem to reduce cold duration "a little".

However, there was recent evidence that zinc was effective in fighting cold viruses, although it "may not seem worth the expense" at £35 for a five month supply.

While it is recommended that people who have suffered a heart attack eat two to four portions of oily fish a week, it reported that more trials were needed to "confirm suggestions of a protective effect on cardiovascular health".

Neither was there "compelling evidence" that omega-3 fatty acids helped boost children's brainpower, the report warned.

It concluded: "Overall, it is clear that we may be placing our hope in products that still require far more testing."


Ovarian cancer discovery gives hope to women after biggest breakthrough in two decades

A drug has been hailed as the biggest breakthrough in 20 years of ovarian cancer research after trials showed it can increase patients’ life expectancy by up to eight months.

British researchers found Avastin, which is used to treat breast and bowel cancers, is also effective against ovarian cancer.

The disease has been called the ‘silent killer’ because it often has no symptoms in the early stages and in 80 per cent of cases is not detected until it has spread. Currently, the only treatment is chemotherapy following surgery.

Annwen Jones, chief executive of the charity Target Ovarian Cancer, said: ‘It is the first glimmer of hope that there are significant advancements in treatments for ovarian cancer on the horizon.

'There is a moral imperative to ensure Avastin is fast-tracked through the necessary regulatory processes.’

The research, which was revealed at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual conference yesterday, involved more than 1,500 women across Europe with advanced ovarian cancer.

All had their tumour removed and received chemotherapy, but those also given Avastin, which starves tumours of the blood they need to grow and spread, lived on average 7.8 months longer than the control group.

Lead investigator Dr Charlie Gourley, from the Edinburgh Cancer Research UK Centre, said: ‘We would like to be able to make ovarian cancer a chronic, rather than fatal, disease.’

Roche, which manufactures the drug, has applied to the European Medicines Agency for a licence to use it to treat ovarian cancer, which means it could be available before the end of the year.

It will then need to be approved by the Government’s drugs watchdog NICE before it is widely available. In the meantime, women can apply to the Government’s Cancer Drugs Fund to receive the drug.


4 June, 2011

Eating a high-fat diet during pregnancy 'increases the risk of stillbirth'

If you are a monkey. Humans may be better adapted to such a diet. It's unlikely to be a normal monkey diet

Pregnant women who tuck into fatty foods are at greater risk of having a stillbirth, a study reveals.

Researchers found an unhealthy diet decreased the blood flow from mother to baby via the placenta - the temporary organ that nourishes the foetus.

Previous studies have found nearly all pregnancy complications - from abnormal foetal growth to premature labour - are in some way linked to a damaged placenta.

Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University hypothesised that eating a high-fat diet during pregnancy could also increase the risk of placental inflammation and the risk of stillbirth.

The team studied two dozen pregnant Japanese macaques monkeys, an animal that has a placental structure similar to humans.

Half were given a diet where one third of the calories came from fat while the others were placed on a control diet that had just half that amount.

The researchers found the monkeys that ate a high-fat diet experienced a decrease in blood flow from the uterus to the placenta of up to 56 per cent. They also charted a rise in placental inflammation.

This was the case regardless of whether the monkeys were obese or slender.

Lead investigator Dr Antonio Frias, said: 'This study demonstrates that maternal diet during pregnancy has a profound influence on both placental and fetal development.

'The high-calorie, high-fat diet common in our society has negative effects on placental function and may be a significant contributor to adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as stillbirth.'

Additional studies are needed to determine exactly how a high-fat diet decreases placental blood flow, the researchers said. Future studies also will investigate the impact of dietary changes and diet supplementation on improving outcomes in both monkeys and humans.

The findings were published in the June edition of the journal Endocrinology.


No IVF on the NHS if your husband smokes

This is ideology rather than science. Where is the evidence of harm?

Men whose partners want to get IVF treatment on the NHS are being made to take 'breathalyser' type tests to ensure they do not smoke either. It has been common practice for years for health authorities that pay the bills for NHS patients, to insist that women seeking IVF treatment are not smokers. There is clear evidence that smoking both reduces the chances of a successful implantation and harms the developing baby.

But now primary care trusts (PCTs) are raising the bar, despite there being limited evidence that smoking before conception leads to seriously damaged sperm.

They have started making the requirement this year, said Prof Simon Fishel, managing director of Care Fertility, Britain's biggest private provider of IVF to NHS patients.

He said: "I can understand why the NHS is bringing in this policy, but what must be hard for couples is seeing the man in the street who smokes 50 fags a day, and has six kids."

Male partners are either being mouth-swabbed for evidence of smoking or being asked to blow into a device that measure carbon monoxide (CO) content in exhaled air. It is so sensitive that it picks up CO from just an occasional cigarette. Women are being refused treatment until their partners get a completely clear 'green' signal.

A recent Japanese study, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, has linked smoking in fathers during their partners' pregnancies with earlier menopause in daughters.

But Prof Fishel said prising apart whether biological damage in children was due to passive smoking during childhood, or damage to sperm and egg DNA caused by parents smoking before conception, was almost impossible. He said the evidence was "not conclusive" that smoking's effect on DNA was powerful enough to cause serious problems in children, although it was clear that smoking did cause potentially harmful 'epigenetic' changes in sperm and eggs.

NHS organisations now insisting on both parents being non-smokers include the East Midlands Specialist Commissioning Group, NHS Yorkshire and Humberside, and NHS South Staffordshire, said a spokesman for Care Fertility.

Susan Seenan, of Infertility Network UK, said: "If they are basing this on medical evidence, than I don't think couples would have an argument with it. "But if they are doing it simply to ration treatment, then that would be wrong."


3 June, 2011

Are mobile phones frying our brains?

Mobile phone danger seems to be a perennial story in the media. I got my first mobile phone before the world wide web had been invented, but I am sure that there must have been people using their Roneo machines to run off fliers warning of the dangers and then attaching them to lamp posts with sticky tape.

I remember seeing someone very concerned about mobile phone radiation danger using a hands-free earpiece. All very safe against brain cancer, but he had the handset sitting in his lap. I thought at the time that he hadn't thought things through very well. Part of the problem is that a large number of people don't think things through very well.

Let's start off by looking at how the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation is made up. Shorter wavelengths mean higher energy and it is generally accepted that cancer caused by DNA disruption requires wavelengths less than that of visible light. Above ultra-violet the photons simply do not possess the necessary energy.

While everyone is in agreement about shorter wavelengths, concerns about longer wavelengths are selective. Remember that all electromagnetic radiation is the same thing - it only varies in wavelength and frequency (they go together - you can't change one without changing the other).

People worried about electromagnetic radiation seem to be quite happy with the visible part of the spectrum, although it is always a nice joke to ask the most strident "we don't need any EMF here" campaigners if they really are opposed to all wavelengths and frequencies.

Above visible light there seem to be several spectrum bands which cause concern. Nobody seems too worried by the television and broadcast radio signals which fill the air around us. While they might be pushed out by quite high-powered transmitters there doesn't seem to be any incentive for scaremongers to frighten people, or perhaps they realise that arguing for the elimination of television might be a hard sell.

Then there are microwaves, low-frequency emissions from power lines, low-power communication such as WiFi and Bluetooth, and the big one, mobile phones.

Everyone has seen how a microwave oven heats things quickly and has mandatory safety features to keep the waves inside. Most people, however, are happy to accept that the radiation stays inside the oven (even if they don't understand how this is achieved), so, like television and radio, it would be a very hard sell to get people to give up the convenience.

The power line problem is another perennial but it seems to be quiet at the moment. Maybe the explanation behind the headline "Rare cancer in children doubled near power lines" when the rate has gone from 1 per million to 2 per million because one more case has occurred has finally got through to the journalists who report these scares. Or perhaps people really do like to have the lights on and be able to eat microwaved food in front of the television and are prepared to accept the risk from the wires.

The WiFi and Bluetooth scares seem to usually involve some school administration which has refused to have a wireless network installed because of threats of legal action by parents if the kids ever show signs of not growing up geniuses. Again, this seems to be a low priority problem at present, maybe because the almost ubiquity of home wireless networks has educated people to the fact that convenience outweighs the risk.

That leaves mobile phones and this means two types of problems - towers and handsets.

Opposition to towers is relatively easy to understand. They look like something out of a science fiction movie and they obviously push out a powerful signal because they need large power supplies Yes, they are quite powerful transmitters, but to put yourself at risk you would have to climb up and put your head right in front of one of the directional antennas, and even then your biggest risk would come from falling off.

Apparently there are more mobile handsets in Australia than people, so if there is any problem with them then it has the potential to be a very big problem indeed. The facts are, however, that the power of an individual handset is very low (your microwave oven puts out about 4,000 times as much power) and the wavelength of the radiation means that it cannot destroy DNA or the cells around it. (The latter also applies to the towers.)

The number of handsets in use around the world, the decades over which the phones have been in use, and the apparently almost unmeasurable rate of problems like brain cancers which can indisputably be blamed on the phones should be enough to make people feel safe using them. Until the next scare story in the paper comes along.

And speaking of that next scare story, did you know that coffee causes cancer? In fact, it's more dangerous than mobile phone rays. Almost as dangerous, in fact, as the radioactive argon gas that seeps into your house from the bricks in the walls and the rocks underneath. Or the black bits on the outside of a barbequed steak. Or the pickles in a hamburger.


Girls' lack of iodine 'could harm babies' (and it's due to a lack of milk?)

Lack of milk, my a**. It's caused by the fear of salt that governments foster. Sea salt normally has some iodides in it naturally -- and most table salt these days is sea salt

Schoolgirls have dangerously low levels of iodine, which could put the health of future generations at risk, claim British researchers.

Two-thirds of teenagers are deficient in the trace mineral, says a new study, partly because consumption of milk has plummeted in recent years.

But lack of iodine in pregnancy can lead to mental retardation in babies, with researchers saying even ‘mild’ levels of deficiency can be harmful.

Experts are calling for iodine to be added to salt – as already happens in some countries – or to folic acid supplements routinely recommended during the early stages of pregnancy.

The study is the latest to warn of a growing number of young and pregnant women who may jeopardise the future health of their babies by not eating a balanced diet, or taking additional vitamins and minerals.

A new study in The Lancet medical journal looked at girls aged 14-15 years from nine schools throughout the UK.

Researchers analysed urine samples from more than 700 girls and found two-thirds were deficient in iodine.

Altogether, half had mild iodine deficiency, a further 16 per cent had moderate and one per cent severe deficiency. They studied teenage girls because young women are most liable to see the ill-effects if they get pregnant.

However, the study concluded the UK population as a whole is ‘now iodine deficient’.

Dr Mark Vanderpump, who led the researchers, said the potential impact of iodine deficiency in pregnancy could not be under-estimated. He added: ‘Mild iodine deficiency impairs cognition in children, and moderate to severe deficiency in a population reduces IQ by 10-15 points.’

Adding iodine to salt, as happens in countries like the U.S. and Switzerland, ‘remains the most cost-effective way to control iodine deficiency’ says the study.


2 June, 2011

An Epidemic of False Claims

Competition and conflicts of interest distort too many medical findings

By John P. A. Ioannidis, writing in SciAm

False positives and exaggerated results in peer-reviewed scientific studies have reached epidemic proportions in recent years. The problem is rampant in economics, the social sciences and even the natural sciences, but it is particularly egregious in biomedicine. Many studies that claim some drug or treatment is beneficial have turned out not to be true. We need only look to conflicting findings about beta-carotene, vitamin E, hormone treatments, Vioxx and Avandia. Even when effects are genuine, their true magnitude is often smaller than originally claimed.

The problem begins with the public’s rising expectations of science. Being human, scientists are tempted to show that they know more than they do. The number of investigators—and the number of experiments, observations and analyses they produce—has also increased exponentially in many fields, but adequate safeguards against bias are lacking. Research is fragmented, competition is fierce and emphasis is often given to single studies instead of the big picture.

Much research is conducted for reasons other than the pursuit of truth. Conflicts of interest abound, and they influence outcomes. In health care, research is often performed at the behest of companies that have a large financial stake in the results. Even for academics, success often hinges on publishing positive findings. The oligopoly of high-impact journals also has a distorting effect on funding, academic careers and market shares. Industry tailors research agendas to suit its needs, which also shapes academic priorities, journal revenue and even public funding.

The crisis should not shake confidence in the scientific method. The ability to prove something false continues to be a hallmark of science. But scientists need to improve the way they do their research and how they disseminate evidence.

First, we must routinely demand robust and extensive external validation—in the form of additional studies—for any report that claims to have found something new. Many fields pay little attention to the need for replication or do it sparingly and haphazardly. Second, scientific reports should take into account the number of analyses that have been conducted, which would tend to downplay false positives. Of course, that would mean some valid claims might get overlooked. Here is where large international collaborations may be indispensable. Human-genome epidemiology has recently had a good track record because several large-scale consortia rigorously validate genetic risk factors.

The best way to ensure that test results are verified would be for scientists to register their detailed experimental protocols before starting their research and disclose full results and data when the research is done. At the moment, results are often selectively reported, emphasizing the most exciting among them, and outsiders frequently do not have access to what they need to replicate studies. Journals and funding agencies should strongly encourage full public availability of all data and analytical methods for each published paper. It would help, too, if scientists stated up front the limitations of their data or inherent flaws in their study designs. Likewise, scientists and sponsors should be thorough in disclosing all potential conflicts of interest.

Some fields have adopted one or several of these mechanisms. Large international consortia are becoming commonplace in epidemiology; journals such as Annals of Internal Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association instruct authors to address study limitations; and many journals ask about conflicts of interest. Applying the measures widely won’t be easy, however.

Many scientists engaged in high-stakes research will refuse to make thorough disclosures. More important, much essential research has already been abandoned to the pharmaceutical and biomedical device industries, which may sometimes design and report studies in ways most favorable to their products. This is an embarrassment. Increased investment in evidence-based clinical and population research, for instance, should be designed not by industry but by scientists free of material conflicts of interest.

Eventually findings that bear on treatment decisions and policies should come with a disclosure of any uncertainty that surrounds them. It is fully acceptable for patients and physicians to follow a treatment based on information that has, say, only a 1 percent chance of being correct. But we must be realistic about the odds.


Scientists test cancer drug that might heal a broken heart

Scientists are testing a drug that can mend a broken heart. Experiments found the medicine, which is usually used to treat cancer, shrank enlarged and diseased hearts back down to near normal size, allowing them to work properly again. Now the drug is about to be given to human heart patients for the first time.

In the future, it could be used to prevent and treat heart failure – one of the biggest causes of hospital admissions and death.
Living on the edge: More than 750,000 in the UK suffer from heart disease - with 40 per cent dying within a year of diagnosis

Living on the edge: More than 750,000 in the UK suffer from heart disease - with 40 per cent dying within a year of diagnosis

The drug’s powerful effect could provide a godsend for some of the millions worldwide suffering from heart failure, in which a weakened heart struggles to pump blood around the body.

Caused by heart attacks, high blood pressure and other conditions, more than 750,000 people live with it in the UK alone, with everyday tasks such as eating, dressing and getting out of bed leaving many sufferers breathless and exhausted.

Treatments range from drugs to transplants but with up to 40 per cent of those affected dying within a year of diagnosis, it has a worse survival rate than many cancers.

The medicine tested belongs to a family of drugs called histone deacetylases, which are already used to treat tumours.

But research from the University of Texas’s Southwestern heart centre shows that they also temper autophagy, a process in which cells eat their own proteins.

Autophagy allows cells to tidy up unwanted debris. But when it gets out of control, too many vital parts are eaten and the cells die. In hearts, this can further damage those which are already diseased.

This inflammation results in biological changes that can damage the heart and increase the risk of a heart attack, says a report in the European Heart Journal.

The researchers gave the drug to mice with high levels of autophagy and enlarged hearts that could fail, with incredible results. Joseph Hill, the heart centre’s chief of cardiology, said: ‘The heart decreased back to near its normal size, and heart function that had previously been declining went back to normal. That is a powerful observation where disease regression, not just disease prevention, was seen.’

He hopes the drug could be used to repair hearts damaged by heart attacks and other forms of disease. Dr Hill told the Daily Mail: ‘There is a huge need for new treatments for heart failure. ‘The final common pathway for most types of heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks or valve disease is heart failure and it is sky-rocketing.’

He is about to start small, preliminary tests on heart patients. If successful, larger-scale trials will follow.

The tests that led to the breakthrough began ‘decades ago’ on yeast, said the researchers, but only now does it seem likely it can be adapted to the human heart.

Dr Hill said: ‘This is one of those exciting, but rare, examples where an important finding made originally in yeast moved into mouse models and is soon moving to humans.’

Last night, Professor Jeremy Pearson, the charity’s associated medical director, said: ‘This is an intriguing study which suggests that an anti-cancer drug can, unexpectedly, be beneficial in heart failure – a condition which urgently needs new medicines to help treat it.’


1 June, 2011

Mobile phone radiation a possible cancer risk - WHO

It might as well be "Dr. Who". Their actual conclusion? "There could be some risk". There could be some risk in using paperclips too. This is a nothing statement made to satisfy the enemies of everything popular

RADIATION from mobile phones may cause brain cancer and people should use texting and free-hands devices to reduce exposure, the World Health Organisation has declared.

The warning is based on evidence that intensive use of mobile phones and other wireless devices might lead to an increased risk of glioma, a malignant form of brain cancer.

WHO's the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that the radio frequency electromagnetic fields generated by such devices was "possibly carcinogenic to humans".

Does the WHO warning make you more wary about using a mobile phone? Tell us below in comments

WHO had previously said that there were no ill-effects from mobile phone use.

A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries made the warning after assessing hundreds of published studies into the potential cancer risks posed by electromagnetic fields.

The scientists said there was not enough evidence to conclude that radiation from mobile phones was safe, but there was enough data to show a possible connection to tumours.

Evidence of harm

Jonathan Samet, who chaired a meeting of the scientists in the French city of Lyon, said: "The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cellphones and cancer."

The WHO has put mobile phone radiation on a par with about 240 other agents for which evidence of harm is uncertain, including talcum powder, working in a dry cleaner's, pesticide DDT, petrol engine exhaust and coffee.

Two studies in particular, the largest conducted over the last decade, provided evidence that mobile phone use was associated with higher rates of glioma, "particularly in those that had the most intensive use of such phones", Dr Samet said.

A number of individuals tracked in the studies had used their phones for 10 to 15 years. "We simply don't know what might happen as people use their phones over longer time periods, possible over a lifetime," he said.

Brain cancer

There are about five billion mobile phones registered in the world. Both the number of phones in circulation, and the average time spent using them, have climbed steadily in recent years, the working group found.

The IARC cautioned that their review of scientific evidence showed only a possible link, not a proven one, between wireless devices and cancers. "There is some evidence of increased risk of glioma" and another form of brain cancer called acoustic neuroma, said Kurt Straif, the scientist in charge of editing the IARC reports on potentially carcinogenic agents.

"But it is not at the moment clearly established that the use of mobile phones does in fact cause cancer in humans," he said in a telephone press conference.

The IARC does not issue formal recommendations, but pointed to a number of ways consumers can reduce risk.

"What probably entails some of the highest exposure is using your mobile for voice calls," Dr Straif said.

"If you use it for texting, or as a hands-free set for voice calls, this is clearly lowering the exposure by at least an order of magnitude," or by ten fold, he said.

A year ago the IARC concluded in a major report that there was no link between mobile phones and brain cancer, but the review was widely criticised as based on out-of-date data that did not correspond to current usage levels.

The new review, conducted by a panel of 31 scientists from 14 countries, was based on a "full consensus," said Robert Baan, in charge of the written report, yet to be released.

Exposure data, studies of cancer in humans, experiments on animals and other data were all evaluated in establishing the new classification.

The IARC ranks potentially cancer-causing elements as either carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic or "probably not carcinogenic." It can also determine that a material is "not classifiable".

Cigarettes and sunbeds, for examples, are rated as "group 1", the top threat category.


Cannabis use 'damages the brain in early teens', frightening new study reveals

This could just mean that only dummies start using pot early

Children who smoke cannabis before their 15th birthday perform much worse in mental tests than those who start at a later age, warn researchers. A study of chronic cannabis users found those who started in their early teens struggled with a range of neuropsychological tasks.

But those who started later did not have the same difficulties, says a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The findings add to growing evidence that the drug damages the developing brain, with greater harm caused by early exposure.

Marijuana is the most common illicit drug among adolescents in the UK with more than four in ten admitting having taken it.

Research carried out at the Federal University of Sao Paulo in Brazil looked at the mental functioning of 100 cannabis users after around ten years of consistent use, and almost 50 non-users.

They found 49 ‘early’ users whose habit began before the age of 15 were much worse at sustained attention, impulse control and executive functioning. In a card-sorting test they made many more errors than 55 youngsters who got the habit later and 44 people who had never taken the drug.

Lead researcher Dr Maria Fontes said: ‘We found that early-onset, but not late-onset, chronic cannabis users had deficits in their cognitive functioning. ‘Adolescence is a period in which the brain appears to be particularly vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of cannabis. ‘The brain before the age of 15 is still developing and maturing, so exposure to cannabis during this period may be more harmful.’

On average, the early-onset group had used cannabis for 10.9 years – equating to a lifetime consumption of 6,790 joints each.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin

"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions

Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

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

12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here

Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding in double-blind studies for their usual recommendations

The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.

Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here

This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.

I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like