Monitoring food and health news

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

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

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

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


31 March, 2010

The chocolate wheelbarrow of Meneer Buijsse

I have finally tracked down the latest wisdom on chocolate from Brian Buijsse, who is something of a chocolate evangelist, it would seem. I reproduce the journal abstract below. The only praise I have for it is the last sentence in it.

The article is basically nonsense. They not only found an effect too tiny to support causal inferences but they found it only by comparing extreme quartiles, which is the statistics of desperation. In other words, they arrived at their conclusion by leaving out half of the data! I could say more (correlation is not causation etc.) but I think it is time Meneer Buijsse found another wheelbarrow to push. Buijsse thinks chocolate is good for your heart but the poverty of his results is more consistent with saying that it has no effect at all

Chocolate consumption in relation to blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease in German adults

By Brian Buijsse et al.

Aims: To investigate the association of chocolate consumption with measured blood pressure (BP) and the incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Methods and results: Dietary intake, including chocolate, and BP were assessed at baseline (1994–98) in 19 357 participants (aged 35–65 years) free of myocardial infarction (MI) and stroke and not using antihypertensive medication of the Potsdam arm of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Incident cases of MI (n = 166) and stroke (n = 136) were identified after a mean follow-up of ~8 years. Mean systolic BP was 1.0 mmHg [95% confidence interval (CI) ?1.6 to ?0.4 mmHg] and mean diastolic BP 0.9 mmHg (95% CI ?1.3 to ?0.5 mmHg) lower in the top quartile compared with the bottom quartile of chocolate consumption. The relative risk of the combined outcome of MI and stroke for top vs. bottom quartiles was 0.61 (95% CI 0.44–0.87; P linear trend = 0.014). Baseline BP explained 12% of this lower risk (95% CI 3–36%). The inverse association was stronger for stroke than for MI.

Conclusion: Chocolate consumption appears to lower CVD risk, in part through reducing BP. The inverse association may be stronger for stroke than for MI. Further research is needed, in particular randomized trials.

Media article here

WI: Assembly panel approves bill allowing sale of raw milk

Gov. Jim Doyle said Tuesday he may favor legalizing raw milk sales to the general public, under the right circumstances. "I think we all understand what the issues here are," Doyle said when asked about the raw milk bill at a news conference in Verona. "There are some people who prefer to drink raw milk, and I think under certain circumstances that's fine. But I think we also need to know that the mass-milk market is one that is healthy and in control."

The governor's comments came after legislation to allow the sale of raw milk to consumers moved a step forward, with lawmakers saying there were enough changes in the proposal to address safety concerns and still meet farmers' needs. Twenty-five states allow some form of unpasteurized milk sales.

Advocates say milk straight from the cow's udder is a bacteria-rich food that can help fend off illnesses and has kept farm families healthy for generations. Critics dismiss claims that raw milk is healthier than pasteurized milk, and they say the raw version is dangerous because of harmful bacteria it may carry.

By an 8-1 vote, the Assembly Committee on Rural Economic Development recommended approval of Assembly Bill 628 that would allow unpasteurized milk sales direct from farms licensed by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The legislation, including an identical version in the Senate, is expected to be voted on by the full Assembly and Senate before their session ends in April.

Would Doyle favor the proposal to legalize raw milk sales? "I have to see what comes to my desk," he said, adding that a bill could probably be crafted that would meet his approval.

Legislators have been swamped with impassioned pleas for and against raw milk sales. "I have heard from a lot of my public health people who are urging me to vote against this. On the other side, I believe in the people's right to do what they want to do, with some restrictions," said Rep. Ann Hraychuck (D-Balsam Lake), a committee member.

Under the latest version of the raw milk legislation, sales could only take place at farms where the milk was produced.

Farmers would have to post a sign declaring that raw milk does not provide the benefits of pasteurization - a process where milk is heated to a high temperature for a brief time to kill bacteria.

The sign would have to say that unpasteurized milk may contain dangerous pathogens. It also would have to say that raw milk is not recommended for certain people including the very young, very old, women who are pregnant or nursing, and individuals with diabetes or compromised immune systems.

Farmers would be prohibited from advertising the sale of raw milk except for an on-farm sign.

Their milk would have to meet all of the requirements of a Grade-A dairy farm license, including delivery of a portion of the raw product to a dairy plant where it would be tested for pathogens. And either the farmer or the consumer would have to provide a sanitary container for getting milk from the farm.

The ability to sell non-pasteurized buttermilk, butter and cream was removed from the legislation. Also, a farmer's license to sell raw milk could be suspended if pathogens were detected in two of four consecutive monthly samples....

More here

30 March, 2010

Jamie Oliver's school dinners 'are more effective than literacy hour'

Placebo alone will give you a 30% improvement in almost anything. Interesting that it didn't help poor kids. The middle class kids probably took the propaganda more seriously

Eating Jamie Oliver’s school dinners improves children’s performance in tests, according to researchers who claim that the celebrity chef’s campaign to improve school food has had more impact than government literacy programmes.

The findings of the two-year study indicate that scores in national curriculum tests at 11 rose in English and science at schools where Oliver’s menus were introduced. Control schools, where junk food was still available, showed smaller or negligible improvements, researchers said.

The news comes as more than half of teachers in a union survey said that classroom behaviour worsened after pupils had eaten a high-sugar or fatty meal.

Forty-two per cent of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said food served at their school was pre-cooked off-site and reheated in the school kitchen.

Researchers at Oxford and Essex universities said that Oliver’s televised campaign to transform the eating habits of pupils by banning unhealthy options from school canteens and introducing more fruit and vegetables had “improved educational achievement”.

The chef was blamed for a decline in take-up of school meals after he exposed the poor quality of food in 2005 and forced the Government to raise nutritional standards. But in a paper presented to the Royal Economical Society today, researchers said that his campaign was a “unique opportunity to assess the causal effects of diet and educational outcomes”.

The proportion of pupils reaching level 4, the standard expected at the end of primary school, in English increased by 4.5 percentage points. The number of those reaching level 5 — the top grade — in science rose by 6 per cent two years after the new menus were put in place.

“The effects we have identified are comparable in magnitude to those estimates... for the literacy hour,” the researchers said. The compulsory hour of literacy for all primary school children, brought in under Labour, had increased the proportion of pupils reaching level 4 in reading by 3.2 per cent, the researchers added.

The improvements noted by the Healthy School Meals and Educational Outcomes study, were small but significant, “given that these effects are within a relatively short horizon and given that the campaign was not directly targeted at improving educational outcomes”.

Researchers looked at test results from the 80 schools in the London borough of Greenwich which formed the pilot for Oliver’s school dinner project. They used neighbouring local authorities as a control group.

The academics failed to find evidence that the campaign specifically helped children on free school meals — a measure of social deprivation. “On the contrary the campaign seemed to have affected most the children from richer socio-economic backgrounds,” the study said.

“This is not necessarily counter-intuitive; it is not unreasonable that children from favourable socio-economic backgrounds adjust more easily to changes in school meals than children from poor socio-economic backgrounds.”


A chocolate bar a day 'can cut the risk of heart disease and stroke'

We hear this so often that I am beginning to believe it. There is not enough info below for me to trace the original journal article but Buijsse has been pushing this wheelbarrow for some years. The health effects reported seem slight from what little I can see

A chocolate bar a day can cut the risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 39 per cent, according to scientists.

Cocoa beans contain flavanols, which are thought to increase nitric oxide in the blood and improve the function of blood vessels. For the same reason, the experts found, dark chocolate is more beneficial than milk or white chocolate due to higher levels of antioxidants and cocoa.

The eight-year study, of nearly 30,000 people aged 35 to 65, confirmed the results of previous, smaller studies into the health benefits of cocoa products.

Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at Wageningen University in The Netherlands who co-authored the subsequent report, found that even one square of chocolate can be beneficial. But if the dose is increased by just six grams, there were 85 fewer heart attacks and strokes per 10,000 people.

However, he conceded that those who ate more cocoa products could have shared other qualities that made them healthier. And he stressed that, with 100g of chocolate containing an average of 500 calories, people should still eat it in moderation since being overweight can generate high blood pressure and heart disease.

"Given the promising health effects of cocoa, it is tempting to indulge in more chocolate," he said. "But we should make sure we are eating as part of a healthy and balanced diet. "Small amounts of chocolate may help to prevent heart disease, but only if it replaces other energy-dense food - such as snacks - in order to keep body weight stable."


29 March, 2010

Junk food 'as addictive as heroin and smoking'

It would be much simpler but much less dramatic to say that opiates and nicotine stimulate the same pleasure centres in the brain as food. We EVOLVED to enjoy certain foods more than others. That came first. Opiates and nicotine came along later. Calling "junk" the food we enjoy most is just arrogance, not science

Bingeing on junk food is as addictive as smoking or taking drugs and could cause compulsive eating and obesity, a study has found. American researchers found burgers, chips and sausages programmed a human brain into craving even more sugar, salt and fat laden food.

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida found laboratory rats became addicted on a bad diet just like people who became dependent on cocaine and heroin.

While the findings cannot be directly transferred to human obesity, it found that overconsumption of high-calorie food triggered addiction-like responses in the brain. But the study, published online in Nature Neuroscience, suggests for the first time that our brains may react in the same way to junk food as it does to drugs.

Dr Paul Kenny, a neuroscientist who led the research, said the study, which took nearly three years to complete, confirmed the "addictive" properties of junk food. "Obesity may be a form of compulsive eating,” he said.

“Other treatments in development for other forms of compulsion, for example drug addiction, may be very useful for the treatment of obesity. "The new study explains what happens in the brain of these animals when they have easy access to high-calorie, high-fat food.” He added: "It presents the most thorough and compelling evidence that drug addiction and obesity are based on the same underlying neurobiological mechanisms.”

In the study, the research team divided the animals into three groups. One got normal amounts of healthy food to eat, another was given restricted amounts of junk food and the third had unlimited amounts of cheesecake, fatty meat products, cheap sponge cakes and chocolate snacks.

There were no adverse effects on the first two groups. But the rats which ate as much junk food as they wanted quickly became very fat and started bingeing.

When researchers electronically stimulated the part of the brain that feels pleasure, they found the rats on unlimited junk food needed even more stimulation to register the same level of pleasure as the animals on healthier diets. "They always went for the worst types of food and as a result, they took in twice the calories as the control rats,” said Dr Kenny.

"When we removed the junk food and tried to put them on a nutritious diet – what we called the 'salad bar option' – they simply refused to eat. "The change in their diet preference was so great that they basically starved themselves for two weeks after they were cut off from junk food."

Dr Kenny said the research supported what obese patients have been saying for years that, like addiction to other substances, junk food bingeing is extremely difficult to stop.

In the rats, the development of obesity coincided with a progressively deteriorating chemical balance in the circuitry of the brain responsible for reward. As these pleasure centres become less and less responsive the animals quickly develop compulsive overeating habits, consuming larger quantities of high-calorie, high-fat foods until they become obese.

The very same changes occur in the brains of rats that over consume cocaine or heroin, and are thought to play an important role in the development of compulsive drug use.

The scientists fed the rats a diet modelled after the type that contributes to human obesity easy to obtain high-calorie, high-fat foods. Soon after the experiments began, the animals began to bloat.


Measure puts calorie counts on menus

It's been shown to have no effect but which Leftist ever cared about evidence?

That Caesar salad you're about to eat? It's 800 calories, and that's without the croutons. The fettuccine Alfredo? A whopping 1,220 calories. You may choose to ignore the numbers, but soon it's going to be tough to deny you saw them.

A requirement tucked into the nation's massive health care bill will make calorie counts impossible for thousands of restaurants to hide and difficult for consumers to ignore. More than 200,000 fast food and other chain restaurants will have to include calorie counts on menus, menu boards and even drive-throughs.

The new law, which applies to any restaurant with 20 or more locations, directs the Food and Drug Administration to create a new national standard for menu labeling, superseding a growing number of state and city laws. President Obama was expected to sign the health care legislation Tuesday.

The idea is to make sure that customers process the calorie information as they are ordering. Many restaurants currently post nutritional information in a hallway, on a hamburger wrapper or on their Web site. The new law will make calories immediately available for most items.

"The nutrition information is right on the menu or menu board next to the name of the menu item, rather than in a pamphlet or in tiny print on a poster, so that consumers can see it when they are making ordering decisions," says Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who wrote the provision.

It was added to the health bill with the support of the restaurant industry, which is facing different laws from cities and states. Sue Hensley of the National Restaurant Association says it will help restaurants better respond to their customers.

"That growing patchwork of regulations and legislation in different parts of the country has been a real challenge, and this will allow operators to better be able to provide their information," she said.

Some meals will be exempt from the calorie counts, including specials on the menu less than 60 days. The law will also apply to foods sold in vending machines, specifically those that do not have visible calorie listings on the front of the package.

New York City was the first in the country to put a calorie posting law in place. Since then, California, Seattle and other places have done so.

The FDA will have a year to write the new rules, which health advocates have been pushing for years. Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said it's one step in the fight against obesity.

"Coffee drinks can range from 20 calories to 800 calories, and burgers can range from 250 calories to well over 1,000 calories," she said.

Still, it's unclear what effect the labeling will have. In a study published last year by the online journal Health Affairs, only half of customers in poor New York City neighborhoods with high rates of obesity and diabetes noticed the calorie counts.

The accuracy of the counts could also be called into question, according to a different study.

In January, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association published a survey of 10 chain restaurants, including Wendy's and Ruby Tuesday, that said the number of calories in 29 meals or other menu items was an average of 18 percent higher than listed. The discrepancies were said to be due to variations in ingredients and portion sizes.


28 March, 2010

Thirty per cent of breast cancer 'is caused by obesity' (?)

The sensation-seeking WCRF again. Their literature reviews are very selective and hence of no authority whatever

Up to a third of breast cancer cases could be avoided if women ate less and exercised more, researchers claim. Experts believe more than 14,000 women a year would probably not develop the disease if they had adopted healthier behaviour from an early age.

Modern lifestyles which feature regular drinking, lack of exercise and increased obesity are fuelling the rise of the disease, the European Breast Cancer Conference heard yesterday. Around 45,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year in Britain.

Carlo La Vecchia, of Milan University, told the conference in Barcelona: 'What can be achieved with screening has been achieved. It's time to move on to other things.'

Dr La Vecchia said the International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that 25 to 30 per cent of cases could be avoided if women were thinner and did more exercise.

But Robert Baan, an IARC expert, said it was not clear if already overweight women could lower their cancer risk by slimming down or if long-term damage had already been done.

Around one in five British women is classified as obese. Research shows they are almost 50 per cent more likely to die from breast cancer than women carrying fewer pounds. [Absolute rubbish! Some studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer and other studies show only very weak positive associations]

It is unclear why obese women are more at risk, although changes in sex hormone levels triggered by weight gain could be behind oestrogen-dependent tumours, which form the majority of cases.

The World Cancer Research Fund last year suggested up to 40 per cent of diagnosed women - around 18,000 a year - could avoid cancer by adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Studies show drinking one large glass of wine a day increases the chances of developing the disease by a fifth, say experts. Again, this could be linked to alcohol raising levels of oestrogen.

Dr Rachel Thompson said the WCRF had reviewed 954 separate studies. 'The evidence is now convincing that drinking alcohol, being physically inactive and having excess body fat all increase risk of breast cancer,' she said. 'There is also convincing evidence that breastfeeding reduces the mother's risk of breast cancer. Overall, we estimate about 40 per cent of breast cancer cases in the UK could be prevented through these lifestyle factors.'

Delegates also heard a warning from a British surgeon that increasing numbers of women who have a breast removed to treat cancer are panicking into having a second mastectomy.

Ajay Sahu, who works at Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, said many women diagnosed with the disease are extremely frightened and make the wrong decision in a hurry - despite little evidence it will improve their survival chances. He said a study of 27 patients who had asked for the removal of their unaffected breast revealed all had overestimated their risk of developing a second tumour by five to ten times. After 'cooling off' for a year, 23 chose not to have the second operation.

The conference will hear today how breast cancer survivors can safely try for a family without triggering a recurrence of the disease. A review of 14 trials, involving thousands of survivors, showed that not only was pregnancy safe, it might improve their chances of beating the disease in the long-term.

Those who got pregnant had a 42 per cent cut in their risk of dying from cancer compared to those who did not have a baby, researchers found.


Another fruity "miracle food"

Journal article here. This appears to be a study done in laboratory glassware so has a long way to go before it should be taken seriously

Eating blackcurrants may help asthma sufferers breathe more easily, according to a new report. A study by Plant & Food Research shows that natural chemicals found in the fruit may help breathing in some types of asthma.

Researchers also found that a compound in blackcurrants, epigallocatechin, may reduce lung inflammation in allergy-induced asthma.

The study, led by Dr Roger Hurst and published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, found that the compound works together with the body's own natural defence mechanism to suppress long-term lung inflammation.

Blackcurrants also contain another inflammation-reducing group of compounds, known as anthocyanins. They are known for their antioxidant properties and have been shown by Dr Hurst's research group to also complement the body's own natural immune responses.


27 March, 2010

Facebook linked to rise in syphilis by British "expert"

A British public health expert has blamed Facebook for a resurgence of the sexually-transmitted disease syphilis, but Australian STI researchers have called the claim "far fetched".

Data published by several British newspapers this week indicated that cases of syphilis had increased fourfold in Sunderland, Durham and Teesside - the areas of Britain where Facebook is most popular.

Professor Peter Kelly, director of public health in Teesside, told The Sun newspaper that "social networking sites are making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex". "I don't get the names of people affected, just figures, and I saw that several of the people had met sexual partners through these sites," he said.

But Shailendra Sawleshwarkar, a research fellow in the University of Sydney's STI research centre at Westmead Hospital, said the same could be said about any communications technology - even the telephone - and instead of blaming social networking sites we should harness them to spread preventative messages.

"It's allowing people to meet more frequently, now that doesn't actually directly mean that it's going to increase the rates of syphilis but it does mean that there's more chance for people to meet and have sex," he said in a phone interview.

"At the moment it seems really far-fetched to link them [Facebook and syphilis] together without looking at the actual behaviour of the people involved. You need to not use a condom to spread these infections, so it boils down to the basic message that's not getting across."

Dr Sawleshwarkar cited figures from the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology & Clinical Research showing the rate of diagnosis of infectious syphilis in Australia increased by 37 per cent in younger people (15-19) and 70 per cent in those aged 20-29 between 2004 and 2008. But he said the rate of infections reached a peak in 2007, and declined in 2008. Figures for last year are not due out until July.

Dr Sawleshwarkar said technologies such as social networking sites and text messaging were increasingly being used by health bodies in Australia to spread information about various sexually transmitted infections and how to prevent them. "I think use of a condom is more important, no matter what means of communication you use [to find sex]."

Facebook said in a statement that the reports of the syphilis link are "ridiculous" and "ignore the difference between correlation and causation".

"As Facebook's more than 400 million users know, our website is not a place to meet people for casual sex - it's a place for friends, family and coworkers to connect and share," the company said.


Beta-blockers find a new role – in battle against breast cancer

Sounds like good news -- if replicated in a proper study

One of the medical breakthroughs of the 20th century, the discovery of the beta-blocker, transformed the treatment of heart disease, angina, strokes, high blood pressure and anxiety. Now, days after the death of its Nobel prize-winning British creator , the wonder drug can claim another unexpected clinical success — as a potential treatment for breast cancer.

Research presented yesterday at the European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona showed that treatment with beta-blockers can help to reduce the spread of cancer in patients with breast tumours and improve their chances of survival.

The first study into the effects of beta-blockers on breast cancer suggests that patients taking the drugs got greater protection against cancer spreading to other parts of the body or returning at the original site.

Beta-blockers, taken by millions of Britons, block the action of stress hormones in the body. The creation of the drugs in the late 1950s by Sir James Black, a Scottish scientist, is considered one of the landmark discoveries of modern medicine.

The study, by scientists at Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham University Hospital, showed that beta-blockers also blocked the high levels of stress hormones found in breast cancer tumours, and which fuel cell proliferation and the movement of cancerous cells.

Des Powe, the study leader, said that though the trial was an initial study and involved a small number of patients, it was “sufficiently convincing for urgent clinical trials to be formed”.

The study looked at data on 466 patients over ten years. Three groups were examined: those being treated for hypertension by beta-blockers, those whose high blood pressure was treated by other medications, and those who did not suffer from hypertension and were therefore not taking any medication. Forty-three of the 466 patients were already taking beta-blockers and, in this group, there were significant falls in both cancer spread and local recurrence. They also had a 71 per cent lower risk of dying from breast cancer compared with the other groups.

Dr Powe said: “We are encouraged by these results, which have already shown that by using a well-established, safe and cost-effective drug, we can take another step on the road to targeted therapy in breast cancer.”

Drugs with unexpected uses: Some of the most high-profile drugs have found new life in unexpected roles, confirming Sir James Black’s maxim “that the most fruitful basis of the discovery of a new drug is to start with an old drug”.

They include:

— Sildenafil (Brand name Viagra). Started life as a potential medication for angina and high blood pressure, but was shown to be of little effect. A noticeable side effect in patients studied proved far more compelling, prompting the arrival of a blockbuster medication for improved erectile function called Viagra.

— Thalidomide (Thalidomid). Developed as a pain-killer and tranquiliser which was found to help morning sickness, resulting in thousands of pregnant women taking it and the discovery of horrific side-effects on the unborn child. Now subject of clinical trials for use in a range of cancers, including small cell lung cancer, and used for erythema nodosum, an inflammation of the fat cells under the skin.

— Duloxetine (Cymbalta, Yentreve). Devised and used as an antidepressant for severe depression and generalised anxiety, but which was also found to be an effective treatment for stress urinary incontinence and pain alleviation linked to diabetic nerve damage.


26 March, 2010

The calorie conqueror: Herbal pill 'can cut your appetite by a fifth ... and even cure a sweet tooth'

Here we go again: A quick and dirty study with no long term follow-up and no mention of side effects from the strong stimulants used. Some of the women taking it were probably too shaky to eat!

It could be the answer to your weight loss prayers - and there is no punishing exercise regime required. Women can cut their daily calorie intake by almost a fifth if they simply take a herbal diet pill, research reveals today.

The supplement has also been shown to help those with a sweet tooth - reducing the temptation to indulge in sugary snacks.

Zotrim, which is based on three South American plants and is freely available from supermarkets and chemists, was tested by scientists at the University of Liverpool.

They found that women who took the pill with their breakfast had a much lower appetite at lunch time - cutting their calorie intake by 17.6 per cent. Of 58 volunteers who were given either Zotrim or a dummy pill in the morning, those on the herbal supplement only picked at their afternoon meal.

The subjects, some of whom were overweight, were observed at a test lunch buffet where they were told to eat as much they wanted. Those on Zotrim ate on average 132 fewer calories - the equivalent of a Milky Way or can of cola.

If the effects were replicated throughout the day, the pill would cut a dieter's daily count by 400 or 500 calories, equivalent to two bars of chocolate or a kebab.

Zotrim is designed to make the user feel fuller for longer. But it also appears to take the edge off a sweet tooth, cutting the women's selection of biscuits and chocolate mousse from the buffet by 27 per cent.

The women taking the herbal pill finished eating around three minutes earlier than the others - indicating they did feel full sooner, the British Feeding and Drinking Group conference will hear today.

Researcher Dr Jason Halford, an obesity expert, said the findings suggest that Zotrim has a 'robust' effect on a dieter's appetite, which could help them lose weight.

The pill, which costs £22.99 for a month's supply, contains caffeine and other ingredients from herbs Guarana, Yerba Mate and Damiana.

The cocktail delays the rate at which the stomach empties by about 20 minutes. The process is not dangerous because it merely extends the length of time taken to digest the food.

However, it makes it difficult for dieters to overeat because they feel uncomfortably full sooner. It is hoped this will make them change their eating habits, stopping them from piling the pounds back on when they stop taking the supplement.

Previous research has shown that Zotrim can help overweight women lose an average of two inches from their waists in just four weeks. Some of those taking part shed five inches from their middles.

Another study credited the pills with helping women lose an average of 11lb in six weeks - those taking a dummy drug lost less than 1lb.

But not all studies of Zotrim have had such good results. A report by consumer watchdog Which? concluded that although there was evidence of significant weight loss in the short-term, the results of long-term follow-up studies have been 'disappointing'.

Zotrim inventor Dr Lasse Hessel said the pill 'helps people cheat on their own stomach'.


High hopes for drug to kill off TB

SYDNEY researchers have made a discovery which could lead to the first new drug in 50 years for the deadly disease tuberculosis. The team, led by Warwick Britton, head of the mycobacterial research program at the Centenary Institute, has identified a protein that is essential for the survival of the TB bugs, and is developing a drug to block it.

Tuberculosis is not common in Australia today, but it is "out of control" in some neighbours, including Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Indonesia, Professor Britton said.

According to the World Health Organisation one-third of the world's population is infected with the bacteria that cause the disease. Once a person is infected the disease can lie dormant - and untreatable - until it attacks.

Particularly worrying are drug-resistant strains, Professor Britton said. If he and his colleagues are successful they will develop a drug that kills the bacteria even while dormant in the lungs. It will also provide a rare non-antibiotic treatment.

Professor Britton estimated that a drug that can be widely used in humans would be available in five to 10 years.


25 March, 2010

Broader smile 'leads to longer life'

But it does NOT follow that smiling more will extend your life. Naturally happier people probably experience less stress

THE broader your smile and the deeper the creases around your eyes when you grin, the longer you are likely to live, according to a study published in this week.

Researchers led by Ernest Abel of Wayne State University in Michigan studied 230 photographs of US major league baseball players who started playing before 1950 and grouped them according to their smiles. The players were rated as "no smile" if they were just looking deadpan at the camera; as "partial smile" if only the muscles around the mouth were involved in their grin; or as "full smile" if the mouth and eyes were smiling and the cheeks were both raised, the study in Psychological Science said .

The players' pictures were taken from the 1952 Baseball Register, a listing of professionals that is packed with statistics such as year of birth, body mass index, marital status and career length, which reflects physical fitness. The wealth of statistics allowed the researchers to control for other factors that could affect lifespan.

Of the players who had died as of June 1 last year, those in the no-smile category lived for an average of 72.9 years, those with partial smiles - just the mouth involved - died at age 75, while the full-smile players lived to the ripe old age of 79.9 on average, the study showed.

"To the extent that smile intensity reflects an underlying emotional disposition, the results of this study are congruent with those of other studies demonstrating that emotions have a positive relationship with mental health, physical health and longevity," the study says.

It was unclear, the authors said, if the baseball players had smiled spontaneously or if their grins were produced under orders from a photographer.

But, in any case, far fewer individuals had full smiles - 23 - than partial or no smiles (64 and 63 respectively), which indicated to the researchers that even if smiles were produced on request, their intensity reflected the player's "general underlying disposition".

So the conclusion could be, if you want to live a long, happy life: hit the books, hit the ball and grin in a way that gives you crow's feet.


Chocolate in favour again

Once regarded as a health sin, chocolate is now being hailed as a superfood because of the high levels of health-boosting antioxidants it contains. Other ingredients include theobromine, which is good for the nervous system.

A recent study at Imperial College London showed chocolate can suppress persistent coughing. Another compound, phenylethylamine, is thought to have a mood-boosting effect. Meanwhile, antioxidants in chocolate are said to protect the skin against UV damage. They also boost cardio-vascular health (these health benefits all accrue from dark chocolate, as it is higher in cocoa solids).

In fact, so good is chocolate that it's no longer just a healthy indulgence - some doctors are now recommending it as a form of treatment. Dr K.K. Atsina, formerly of the University of Ghana Medical School, has used cocoa powder 'as an adjunct to treatment of hypertension and diabetes in my clinic for a very long time'.

Another Ghanaian doctor, Professor F. Kwaku Addai, writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, describes how he recommends two to five cups a day to help protect against malaria. 'I used to get malaria at least once a year,' he says. 'But since 2004, when my family started drinking unsweetened natural cocoa mixed with hot water, we have not had it.' He says other doctors use it to help with everything from eyesight to asthma.

Closer to home, patients of Professor Dan Reinstein, a top laser eye surgeon at Harley Street's London Vision Clinic, are encouraged to eat 'as much as they can' 30 minutes before surgery. 'Patients who eat chocolate prior to laser surgery are less jittery, more alert and more co-operative than those who receive sedatives,' he says.

'For example, with a relaxed, attentive patient I can perform a routine procedure in less than three minutes. 'But the same procedure can occasionally take much longer if the patient is tense and worked-up.'

The natural high many experience after eating chocolate is not, it seems, just in our minds. Professor Donatella Lippi, a medical historian at the University of Florence in Italy, has researched the history of cocoa. She says: 'In the past few years, natural substances such as flavonoids - high concentrations of which are found in cocoa - have been considered as antidepressant treatments.'

Chocolate can also be used to balance low concentrations of brain chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine. These important chemicals are both involved in mood regulation, food intake and compulsive behaviours.

Eating a moderate intake of dark chocolate is also suggested by psychiatrists because of its antidepressant-like effect.

In fact, this therapeutic use of chocolate is ages old. Professor Lippi says: 'In Europe, the relationship between chocolate and medicine dates back to Columbus's voyages to the New World. For example, in 1577, Francisco Hernandez (court physician to the king of Spain) affirmed that chocolate was used to treat liver disease.'

In a treatise published in 1662, Henry Stubbe, the personal physician to Charles II, reported that English soldiers who were in Jamaica lived on a diet of cocoa paste mixed with sugar which was then dissolved in water.

Stubbe noted that chocolate could also be used as an expectorant (which can ease respiratory difficulties), a diuretic or an aphrodisiac. It was also suitable for treating hypochondriacal melancholy. In other words, just eating some chocolate can make you happy.


24 March, 2010

Health warning over statin taken by millions

What a surprise! (NOT)

A statin taken by millions of Britons may increase risk of a condition which can lead to fatal kidney failure at high doses, a drug watchdog has warned.

Simvastatin is taken by around three million people in order to lower their cholesterol and reduce the risk of having a heart attack. However an analysis of clinical trial data in America has found that high doses can cause muscle damage and a rare condition which induces kidney problems and may be fatal. Patients were told not to stop taking simvastatin but advised to talk to their doctor if they have concerns.

The American medicines regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, has issued a warning to patients to be alert to signs of problems when taking the 80mg daily dose of simvastatin. It has also listed drugs that should not be prescribed to those on high doses of statins. Muscle aches and damage are a known side effect of all statins but the risks are generally considered to be outweighed by the benefit in reducing the risk of a heart attack.

The FDA found that patients on the 80mg dose were more likely to develop a severe form of muscle damage called myopathy, compared with those on the lower 20mg dose. Over six years, 52 of the 6,031 patients taking 80 mg doses developed myopathy compared with one person out of the 6,033 taking 20mg. And 11 patients taking the 80 mg dose developed rhabdomyolysis, the most serious form of myopathy which can lead to kidney failure and death, where as none of those on the 20mg dose developed the condition.

The majority of patients in Britain taking simvastatin are on the 20mg and 40mg dose.

The FDA said patients experiencing muscle pain, tenderness or weakness, urine that is dark or red-coloured, or unexplained tiredness, should contact their doctor.

The UK drugs regulator said the side effects are known about and included in patient information with the medication. A spokesman for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said: "The 80 mg per day dose is only recommended in patients with severe hypercholesterolaemia and at high risk for cardiovascular complications. "Myalgia (complaints of muscle aches) is a common side effect of statins, including simvastatin. It is recognised that very rarely statins can cause more serious muscle damage (myopathy) which in some cases may be life-threatening. "There are comprehensive warnings in the product information for prescribers and in the Patient Information Leaflet.

"These warnings advise that the risk of muscle injury is greater: at higher doses of simvastatin; when used in combination with certain other medicines including amiodarone (a medicine used for an irregular heart beat) and other medicines that are recognised to increase the risk of myopathy; and in certain patient groups including those who are more than 70 years old, those with kidney or thyroid problems, those who consume large amounts of alcohol, and those with a history of previous muscle problems during treatment with statins or other lipid lowering drugs.

"As with all marketed medicines the safety of simvastatin is kept under continuous review by the MHRA."

Ellen Mason, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) said: “Simvastatin remains a widely used and well researched drug, which has been around for many years and serious muscle damage is rare. "It is considered a safe drug for many people in the UK to take. The benefits of statins in lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of a heart attack are clear. “Only a small number of people with very high levels of cholesterol would need to take the maximum dose of simvastatin. Any concerned patients who are taking the highest prescribed dose and experience muscle weakness or pain should speak to their GP.”


Health drive in Britain will swallow up supersize bags of potato crisps

The popular 50g 'grab bags' of Walkers crisps will disappear as its parent company slashes the fat, salt and sugar in its brands. PepsiCo, whose brands also include Pepsi, 7Up, Doritos and Quaker Oats, is responding to pressure on food giants to fight obesity and ill-health. The company will introduce a cap of 160 calories on single-serve savoury snacks by 2015.

With more than 250 calories in a 50g 'grab bag' of Walkers crisps, the move spells the end of the size. The company says 50 per cent of its savoury snacks will be baked rather than fried by 2015, and 65 per cent of carbonated soft drink can and bottle sales will be 'no-sugar' by 2015.

A spokesman for consumer group Which? said: 'Consumers are longing to make healthier choices when it comes to the food that they eat and are crying out for companies to improve their offering. 'PepsiCo is savvy enough to know that innovating and providing an increasing range of healthier options is the way to keep their customers happy and their long-term future secure.' [Rubbish! They've been heavied]


23 March, 2010

Seaweed bread could help fight obesity crisis (?)

Sounds like a re-run of Xenical -- which few people stay on for long because of the side effects

Seaweed bread could be the latest weapon in fighting Britain's growing obesity crisis, according to British scientists. A team from Newcastle University has found that seaweed added to bread, biscuits and yogurt can reduce the amount of fat absorbed by the body by up to 75 per cent. The secret is the natural fibre alginate, found in sea kelp and already used in small quantities in food as a thickener. Early taste tests have suggested the idea of adding in greater quantities could be successful.

The findings are being presented at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco.

Dr Iain Brownlee said: "This suggests that if we can add the natural fibre to products commonly eaten daily - such as bread, biscuits and yogurts – up to three quarters of the fat contained in that meal could simply pass through the body. "We have already added the alginate to bread and initial taste tests have been extremely encouraging. Now the next step to to carry out clinical trials to find out how effective they are when eaten as part of a normal diet."

The seaweed may be more effective than current weight loss products sold over the counter, he said. Dr Brownlee added: "There are countless claims about miracle cures for weight loss but only a few cases offer any sound scientific evidence to back up these claims. "Alginates not only have great potential for weight management - adding them to food also has the added advantage of boosting overall fibre content." "These initial findings suggest alginates could offer a very real solution in the battle against obesity."


The latest "wonder" fruit

Good if you want slim mice

The secret to staying slim may lie in a tangy fruit. The juice of the blood orange stops mice piling on weight when fed a high-fat diet, research shows. In contrast, mice fed sweeter oranges more popular in the UK gain significant amounts of fat.

Scientists believe the fat-busting powers of the fruit, grown in Italy and the U.S., may be partly due to its high levels of anthocyanin. This red pigment that gives the orange its deep colour is a type of antioxidant, a natural chemical that helps ward off disease.

The juice damages the ability of cells called adipocytes to accumulate fat, University of Milan researchers told the International Journal of Obesity. Adipocytes are found mostly around the waistline and absorb fat from food to store as energy.


22 March, 2010

Marriage makes you fat

I won't argue with this one

Married people are twice as likely to become obese than their single counterparts, scientists claim. Greek researchers found that married couples were more likely to become fat due to their significantly changed lifestyle as they “let themselves go”. Married men are three times as likely to suffer obesity while married women are twice as likely to have weight problems, it found.

The research, based on the study of more than 17,000 couples aged between 20 and 70, found that married couples exercised less frequently, had less sex, had poor nutrition and were “comfortable” in their lives. Married couples spend more time eating together, sit in front of the TV more and often order takeaway ready meals while exercising less.

Scientists from Salonica and Ioannina Universities, who presented their research on Friday to the Panhellenic Medical Conference, in Athens, concluded that “abdominal obesity, or belly fat” was the worst problem among married people. Prof Dimitris Kiortsis, one of the study's co-authors, said that obesity was found to be directly related to a change in lifestyle. Prof Kiortsis, from Ioannina University who is also president of the Hellenic Medical Association for Obesity, said most married couples also have less sex, which is considered intense exercise that burns calories.

He said that unmarried individuals originally spend a lot of time keeping fit and making themselves attractive in order to find a partner "but once they get married they let themselves go”. "The need to hunt for a partner is reduced," he said. "Stress and anxiety is reduced in a good marriage, there is less smoking, and therefore one's appetite increases."

The study advised married couples to take up more exercise, to have only one home-cooked meal a day, to avoid snacks, and to follow a Mediterranean diet which includes a lot of fruit, vegetables and olive oil. Prof Dimitris Papazoglou, the other co-author from Salonica University, added: "If one of the partners decides to go on a diet, then the other partner also often follows." "Obesity is the biggest threat to public health in the entire world", he said.


The British boy whose blue-tinted glasses have allowed him to read properly for the first time

Tom Heaffey is a bright 18-year-old with a string of good GCSEs [High School exam results] who wants to be an architect. Yet just three years ago, he was virtually illiterate and predicted to fail his exams. Remarkably, his life has been transformed by a pair of blue-tinted glasses, which have enabled him to read properly for the first time.

Tom, who lives near Norwich and is a BTech art and design student, suffers from a neurological condition called Meares-Irlen syndrome, also known as visual stress. Without glasses, when he looks at a printed page, the text appears to jump about, blur and distort. Other symptoms include headaches and migraines.

Some degree of visual stress may affect up to 20 per cent of the population. When Tom was a child, his mother Sarah, 50, knew he was underperforming at school. 'He used to say the words were "fizzing". Eye tests showed his sight was normal, so his teachers concluded he was a slow learner.' 'Trying to read was exhausting and gave me headaches, so I couldn't concentrate for long,' recalls Tom.

It was not until three years ago, just months before his GCSEs, that he was diagnosed with Meares-Irlen. According to Arnold Wilkins, professor of visual perception at Essex University, the condition is a result of the neurons in the visual part of the brain firing too strongly. 'Different neurons in the brain react to different colours,' explains ProfWilkins. 'We discovered that using tinted lenses and overlays reduces the overactivity of these neurons.'

As a patient will respond differently to each hue, Prof Wilkins developed the Intuitive Colorimeter, a testing device that diagnoses the exact colour an individual needs. Patients are asked to read text on a machine that can generate 110,000 different hues. The correct shade will allow the patient to read clearly. This information is used to make the right tint of coloured lens. Tom's lenses are a dark, turquoise blue. When he first put on his glasses, he felt emotional. 'Suddenly, when I looked at a book, I could see how I should always have been able to see.'

By doing three hours of extra work after school every night, Tom passed ten GCSEs, with one A and three Bs. 'Mum cried when I got my results,' he says.

Precision tints not only help sufferers to read but also reduce eye strain and headaches. They have been shown to help dyslexics, migraine and photosensitive epilepsy sufferers and some children with autism.

There are now about 500 Colorimeters in community optometrist practices and a few NHS hospital vision clinics in the UK. The machine is also used in every college of optometry. However, lenses are not available on the NHS. 'I was horrified that parents have to pay around £200 for them,' says Sarah, who has joined the campaign to ensure that any child who suffers specific reading problems and otherwise considered a normal learner, receives a full vision test. 'The cost of NHS provision would be large,' says Prof Wilkins, 'but in the greater context of the expenditure on learning support, the glasses would pay for themselves.'


21 March, 2010

Don’t buy hype on plastic baby bottles

Imagine your infant tossing a glass baby bottle. It shatters and you try to clean it up before your child crawls across the floor. Now imagine a plastic bottle falling — no worry. That is why babies have been tossing break-proof plastic bottles for decades — we value safety. Yet now, environmental activists are urging us to go back to glass, and they have convinced some lawmakers to consider banning the plastic.

Greens say a chemical — bisphenol A, or BPA — used to make plastic baby bottles and many other products is dangerous to humans because high doses are dangerous to rats. Yet humans metabolize and pass BPA quickly before it can have any health impact. Rodents do not. This is true for many substances, such as chocolate and peanuts, which are toxic to rodents but safe for humans.

Moreover, the best available science reveals that consumer exposure to BPA is most likely 100 to 1,000 times lower than EPA's estimated safe exposure levels, for both infants and adults. In fact, there isn't any research showing adverse effects on consumers after 60 years of BPA use. Not surprisingly, panels around the world — in Japan, the EU, Canada, Norway, France and more — have not been able to link BPA to any public health ills and have ruled that BPA is safe at current exposure levels.

Still, greens claim BPA is dangerous because it may be weakly "estrogenic," which they suggest impacts human development. Yet the simple fact that a substance might have weak estrogenic qualities is not cause for alarm or bans. If it were, we would need to ban soy, peas, beans and a host of healthy foods. These foods contain so-called "endocrine mimicking" substances similar to BPA but at much higher levels. According to data from the National Academy of Sciences, exposure to natural "endocrine mimicking" chemicals is 100,000 to 1 million times higher than exposure to similar substances found in BPA. It appears that BPA is less dangerous than a few tablespoons of soy milk. And that's pretty darn safe, even for a baby.

No one can blame parents for becoming alarmed about plastics, since all we hear is misinformation and hype. But we can blame our politicians when they fall for hype, fail to do any homework, and force the rest of us to use less safe or inferior products.


Dangerous boots?

Squeezing into killer heels, many women are happy to endure a little pain in the name of fashion. But medical experts have warned that the trend for cheap Ugg boots is a price too high to pay. They have said that knock-off versions of the designer boots are crippling a generation of young women, 'literally breaking' their feet. With just six months of wear women could saddle themselves with a lifetime of foot deformities, backache and pain in their feet.

And a phrase has even been coined for the gait of devoted wearers - the Ugg 'shuffle' - which describes the lopsided, pigeon-toed way in which cheap versions of the boots force women to walk.

Top brand Ugg Australia boots, which cost from £150, are worn by celebrities including Kate Moss and Cameron Diaz, sparking a craze for the flat, furry generic boots. But low-cost imitations often provide inadequate foot support.

With each step the wearer's feet slide around. This can cause the feet to splay which flattens the foot arch and leads to wear and tear on the joints in the feet, knees, hips and back. As a result leading podiatrist and chiropodists have seen a stark rise in the number of women suffering toe deformities, backache and pain in their feet. They have expressed their concern and warned against children wearing the unsupported boots as their feet are still forming, increasing the risk of long-term damage.

Dr Ian Drysdale, head of the British College of Osteopathic Medicine, said: 'Because these boots are warm and soft, young girls think they are giving their feet a break. In fact, they are literally breaking their feet. 'Their feet are slipping around inside. With each step, the force falls towards the inside of the foot and the feet splay. This flattens the arch and makes it drop. 'The result can be significant problems with the foot, the ankle, and ultimately, the hip.'

Consultant podiatric surgeon Mike O'Neill called the cheap Uggs 'disastrous'. 'As the foot slides around, you get wear and tear on the joints on the inside of the foot. The ankle is in the wrong position, the thigh bone also changes position and you get an abnormal movement in the pelvis, which leads to back problems.' However he agreed that cheap Uggs are fine to wear at home, but not for walking long distances.

While there is often little to visibly distinguish a well-made pair of boots from a badly made pair, even brand leader Ugg Australia admits its boots are 'comfort' not 'performance footwear' and that buyers should be aware of 'knock-offs' which lack reinforced heels or insoles of their boots.'


20 March, 2010

Thou shalt not enjoy thyself: British local council bans ice cream vans from trading outside schools because they 'encourage unhealthy eating'

There's absolutely no proof that ice-cream does any harm, of course. Leftists are uninterested in evidence. They just KNOW

The jingle of the ice cream van tells schoolchildren summer is on the way. But the traditional treat has been banned by one council, which claims they encourage unhealthy eating. Bureaucrats at Hillingdon council have declared that vans which park outside schools will be impounded under new rules. They claim they were forced to act because there is 'a need to encourage healthier eating habits in children'.

But the new regulations have been blasted as petty by ice cream sellers, who insisted that head teachers welcome them with open arms. Peter Bhogal, 45, who has worked as an ice cream man for the past 26 years, said: 'Ice cream is a dessert, it's not unhealthy. 'An ice lolly is only unhealthy if you have three or four in one go. I go round to schools in the afternoon and the head teachers even invite me there. 'Rules and regulations make our work more challenging, and the recession has made it harder too, as people are more cautious with their money.'

The vans have also been banned from high streets on the grounds that they 'cause congestion', leaving sellers with only residential streets in Uxbridge, Ruislip and Hayes in West London.

Mr Bhogal added that in some areas of London vans were being confiscated for flouting the rules. He added: 'I have seen traders who have had their vans confiscated in Westminster for not observing the rules. It costs £30,000 to 40,000 for a van, it's not right. 'You have to observe the law. But if the sun shines, I'll be out there, its a British tradition and they can't ban that.

The new healthy eating regulations apply to secondary schools, primary schools, special schools, under-five centres and nurseries. Kathy Sparks, deputy head of environment and consumer protection at Hillingdon Council, said the new rules were necessary to encourage healthy eating. She said: 'Hillingdon Council is not banning ice cream vans but is tightening rules on where they can stop and trade in light of ongoing complaints and concerns from residents and health organisations. 'Ice cream vans now need a licence to trade within the borough and a number of conditions of this licence will be in place. 'These include not trading outside schools where there is a local and national need to encourage healthier eating habits in children. 'The restrictions will also include town centres in a bid to ease congestion problems and respond to noise complaints that have been received.'

Last April, nearby Harrow council banned all ice cream vans for fear they would cause a nuisance or make children fat, as part of a general crackdown on fast food vans. The council will act on rogue ice cream sellers after being tipped off by residents or council officers in the area. Ice cream vans who break the rules will be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £100, and if it is not paid they face a conviction in the Magistrates' Court and fine of £1,000.

Father-of-four Mr Bhogal said he feared ice cream sellers would quit as a result of the rule changes. 'You will definitely see a reduction in the number of vans in this area this summer because people will close their businesses. "The people who make these decisions will be completely unaffected by this but I have a family to feed and I have a family business to maintain. 'I was speaking to a friend of mine yesterday who does two schools and he was seriously thinking about finishing because of this. 'We are all licensed. We all do things by the book and pay tax on time and this is how we are repaid.

'It is a tragedy because eventually you won't see ice cream vans and they are a British institution.' He added: 'No-one at a school has ever complained to me and I have customers who I served when they were kids. Now they bring their children to me for a treat and that is how ice cream should be treated - in moderation. They can buy a lot worse at fast food restaurants.'


Scientists find way to force cancer cells to die of old age

These are very encouraging early results

INSTEAD of killing off cancer cells with toxic drugs, scientists have discovered a molecular pathway that forces them to grow old and die. Cancer cells spread and grow because they can divide indefinitely. But a study in mice showed that blocking a cancer-causing gene called Skp2 forced cancer cells to go through an aging process known as senescence - the same process involved in ridding the body of cells damaged by sunlight.

If you block Skp2 in cancer cells, this process is triggered, Pier Paolo Pandolfi of Harvard Medical School in Boston and colleagues reported in the journal Nature. And Takeda Pharmaceutical Co's experimental cancer drug MLN4924 - already in early-stage clinical trials in people - appears to have the power to do just that, Dr Pandolfi said.

The finding may offer a new strategy for fighting cancer. "What we discovered is if you damage cells, the cells have a built-in mechanism to put themselves out of business," Dr Pandolfi said. "They are stopped irreversibly from growing."

For the study, the team used genetically altered mice that developed a form of prostate cancer. In some of these, they inactivated the Skp2 gene. When the mice reached six months of age, they found those with an inactive Skp2 gene did not develop tumours, while the other mice did. When they analysed the tissues from lymph nodes and the prostate, they found many cells had started to age, and they also found a slow rate of cell division. This was not the case in mice with normal Skp2 function.

They got a similar effect when they used the Skp2-blocking drug MLN4924 in lab cultures of human prostate cancer cells. To see if this would work in mice, they transplanted the cells and treated the mice with the drug. "We put human cancer cells into mice. We fed them with a drug and these cells do senesce (age)," Dr Pandolfi said. "The same mechanism of damage caused by the sun can be evoked pharmacologically in cancer cells."

He said this Skp2-related aging pathway appears to be active in cancer, and not other cells. "We have no intention of ageing the patient ... only the cancer," he said.


19 March, 2010

Mother's outrage as healthy five-year-old son weighing 58lb is branded obese by British health Fascists

With an active lifestyle and diet rich in fruit and vegetables, five-year-old Cian Attwood would appear to be the picture of health. So his parents were astounded to receive a letter from the NHS saying he is 'clinically obese'. It warned that he is in the fattest one per cent of his age group and risks heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Cian is 4st 2lb when the recommended weight for his age is between 2st 13lb and 3st 11lb. But he is 3ft 10in, taller than average for a five-year-old, and is clearly not fat.

His mother Kriss Hodgson, 27, warned that labelling children as obese while they are still growing could make them anxious and lead to anorexia. 'There's not an ounce of fat on Cian,' she said at the family home in Overdale, Shropshire. 'When he takes his top off he has a concave tummy and you can see his ribs. 'The NHS is making everybody think they need to be celebrity size zero and it's going to give people eating disorders.'

Miss Hodgson and her partner John Attwood, 34, gave permission for their son to be weighed at his primary school last month. A letter from NHS Telford and Wrekin was delivered two weeks later with a chart showing that Cian is 'very overweight - doctors call this clinically obese'. Miss Hodgson added: 'Cian walks into town with his dad and that's a four-mile round trip. He also likes bike riding, fishing, running around the garden and football. 'His favourite foods are peas, sweetcorn, broccoli, chicken and grapes. When I said he'd been called obese our GP laughed in my face.'

Cian is one of thousands of children being weighed as part of the Government's National Child Measurement Programme. It is part of a wide-ranging campaign to combat child obesity, which also led to this week's announcement by chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson that secondary-school pupils would have to take an annual fitness test.

Mary George, from the eating disorder charity BEAT, said: 'Some of the messages these letters are sending out are not necessarily right for young people who are vulnerable-to pressure to have the right body image. 'If a friendly nurse could speak to parents directly, it might do more good. But such officialdom is a scare tactic that takes things to extremes.'

Clare Harland, spokesman for the NHS trust, said: 'Every year children in reception and year six are weighed and measured in school as part of the programme, which is now in its fifth year. 'The data is used locally and nationally to set goals to tackle obesity and deliver the right services to the right people. 'The height and weight measurement is carried out by trained staff and the families of any child can opt out.'


Food Fascists trying to ban iconic Australian foods

Since Australians have one of the longest life expectancies in the world, it would be more logical to ENCOURAGE Australian food favourites

JOHN Joannou knows a thing or two about Chiko Rolls [pic above] and the public's continuing demand for fried food. The Parramatta takeaway store owner dunks, fries and then drains battered products of all sorts - to go with the 150kg of chips he sells every week. But Chiko Rolls, battered savs, potato scallops and other fried morsels are firmly in the sights of a conglomeration of western Sydney councillors.

The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils will ask takeaway shops and cafes to remove the fat and salt in foods in an attempt to make the community the healthiest in the nation. "We want to be the healthiest region in Australia by 2020," the organisation's president Alison McLaren said.

To do so, fast food shops are being asked to have "healthier options" on their menus like McDonald's, which now carries a range of items approved by the Heart Foundation. One plan is to ban the use of palm oil, which is high in saturated fats.

At Lakeside Seafood, Mr Joannou doesn't quite know what all the fuss is about - he switched to healthier cottonseed oil years ago. "People want to eat healthier foods so you have to find ways of giving that to them or as a business you'd die in the backside," he said. "We started doing this years ago off our own bat." Mr Joannou has grilled fish and salads on the menu, and gives the options of no butter on burgers and egg white instead of whole egg.

He said no matter what people would still find a way to have their "bad foods". "I don't think it's going to matter what they tell people - people are still going to want to eat these sorts of foods."


18 March, 2010

Brits finally grow tired of the bumptious Susan Greenfield

The smart Jewish girl who got herself made a Baroness but still wanted more attention. As I also have said on various occasions, her colleagues say that she was more interested in self-promotion than in science. The last sentence below is a polite version of my view about the crap she speaks

During her 12 years at the helm of the Royal Institution, Susan Greenfield has come to be known as “anything but beige”. Undeniably a gifted communicator, she was seen by many as a breath of fresh air blowing through a stuffy establishment when appointed as director. Her supporters see her as an inspiration to aspiring young scientists, a campaigner against sexism in the lab and a smart businesswoman.

However, she has accumulated at least as many enemies as fans. Her detractors accuse her of being more interested in self-promotion than science promotion.

Lady Greenfield has maintained a research career as Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, where she focuses on brain physiology and has founded three biotechnology companies investigating diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

In 1994, Lady Greenfield became the first woman to give the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, and in 1998 she became its first female director. She has appeared frequently on television, written several popular science books and was a recipient of the Royal Society Faraday Medal for science communication. She is probably also the first female scientist to have appeared in photoshoots for Hello! and Vogue and is known for her flamboyant dress sense.

After criticising the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of science, for not having enough female fellows, she was nominated for fellowship in 2004. But some who felt that her scientific credentials were unworthy leaked her candidacy, details of which are normally kept secret, and she was subsequently turned down.

Most recently, Lady Greenfield has courted controversy by warning that the internet — in particular social networking sites — may harm children’s mental development. Others argue that there is insufficient evidence to back the claims.


Soda Taxes Criticized as Ineffective and Unfair

Food activist godfather Kelly Brownell reiterated his call for soda taxes this weekend, claiming that decreasing the cost of healthy food and boosting the price of unhealthy food will encourage better eating habits. As usual, Brownell is ignoring compelling scientific evidence that says otherwise.

A new study from researchers at the University of Buffalo found that making healthy food more affordable had the unintended effect of freeing up more money for junk food. The researchers recruited mothers to shop for groceries in a simulated supermarket and reduced the price of items such as fruits and vegetables. Although the mothers bought more of the discounted produce, they used the extra money to purchase more packaged snacks. “When you put it all together, their shopping baskets didn’t have improved nutrition,” says Leo Epstein, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Buffalo.

Likewise, a 2008 study by Emory University economists examined the impact of changes in states’ taxation rates on obesity levels. They concluded that soft-drink taxes have only a minimal impact on weight because, even when untaxed, soft drinks represent only seven percent of the average soda drinker’s total caloric intake.

It’s noteworthy that Arkansas and West Virginia have soda taxes. And those two states have obesity rates among the nation’s highest. West Virginia ranks third while Arkansas is tied for 10th place.

Despite all this evidence, money-hungry politicians (and ideologues like Kelly Brownell) continue to press for soda taxes. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is calling for a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on all sugar-sweetened beverages, which would force the city’s residents to pay another $70 million in taxes.

The measure is drawing considerable criticism. Members of the Teamsters Local 830 held a protest against the Nutter soda tax during the weekend’s Patrick’s Day Parade. “We understand that the city is broke,” said Teamster Dan Grace. “But it can’t just be on the backs of my members.”

And a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial says a soda tax is unfair to the poor. “Unfortunately, the drink tax is unlikely to improve the health of residents,” the paper’s editorial board notes. “But it will hit those who can least afford it the hardest.”


Too much sex? No such thing — why sex addiction is total BS

American befuddlement over matters of sex is on the increase, in spite of the fact that one can hardly imagine the subject becoming more befuddling to the people of this country than it already is.

Sex addiction is the latest star in America’s sexual burlesque. Sex addiction has of course been a malaprop from its first usage. Addiction was originally and properly defined as a physiological dependence on a substance to which the body had grown accustomed, such as alcohol, nicotine, heroin and various other drugs. The cure was to end the dependency and abstain from further use of the substance in order to avoid a recurrence of the physiological dependency. These treatments do work and many people have been cured of their addictions and never returned to the addictive substance.

Applying such a metaphor to sexual pleasure creates a misleading and ominous innuendo. Sex is not an addictive substance. It’s a human interaction on which the survival of the species is dependent. It is also possibly the most pleasurable and sought after activity known to humankind, and arguably an experience no one should be deprived of. Most normal people consider more rather than less sexual pleasure to be a major objective in life.

Following the substance abuse mode implies that the only cure for an addiction to sexual pleasure would be a celibate or monastic life, a complete renunciation of the alleged addictive sexual pleasure.

The very idea of sexual pleasure as a harmful addiction plays precisely into the hands of one of the most perverse aspects of Western religious history, namely the teaching that sex is a work of the devil redeemed only by the act of procreation itself. Reliance on the notion of sex addiction in counseling and psychiatric treatment is ominous.

Christianity as a world religion has much to commend it on balance. Nevertheless, its posture toward sexual pleasure has been abysmal. In that respect it should be noted that Christianity, of all the major world religions, is the only one to cast sexual pleasure in such a negative light. Never mind that Christianity’s distaff side - Protestants and others - challenged such negativity toward sexual pleasure. They were eventually and unfortunately drowned out in the debate. It is no coincidence that currently the most Christian of nations, the U.S., is also the most negative toward sexual pleasure. (And at the same time the most confused sexually.) Europe as gone blessedly post-Christian.

We must suspect that the sex addiction proponents unconsciously wish to rebuild something like the medieval Christian social order where virtually every cultured and literate person was bereft of sexual pleasure for life, save for sexual pleasure in the service of procreation

Some psychiatrists are now getting into the fray, offering treatment for sex addiction. However, the Bible of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is currently being prepared for its 5th edition, and is wisely declining to introduce sex addiction to its manual. It does, however, come close by introducing the category of hypersexuality as a mental disorder. This neologism is the editors’ own special, and arguably less troublesome, substitute for sex addiction. But as the saying goes, it walks like the proverbial sex addiction duck.

The pundits are now weighing in on the new DSM 5. Allan Frances in The Los Angeles Times is worried that philanderers and rapists will now be able to claim mental illness as a defense of their anti-social behavior and thereby escape punishment. George Will in The Washington Post astutely raises the problem of medicalizing the assessment of character, which he unaccountably blames on liberals. I thought I was a liberal, but I’m as concerned as Will about defining character or the lack thereof as a burden of psychiatric diagnosticians. And by extension, character as an expected outcome of proper medication.

So now according to the working version of the new DSM-5, psychiatrists will be able to assess whether one is having too much sex, or even whether one simply wants too much sex. Or too little. They will presumably have some kind of measuring rod to determine what is too much or too little.

This new project, of assessing who might be wanting or getting too much sexual pleasure, or too little, should create many more jobs for psychiatrists. We’ve been needing something to improve the job market. Maybe this will do it. Perhaps psychiatry will now join hands with the worst elements of Christianity and recreate the medieval Christian dream, a world where the only sexual pleasure allowable is that accidentally associated with the desire to procreate.


17 March, 2010

CT scans now under attack

Based on the stupid old theory that harm and dosage are linearly related when they clearly are not. Low dose radiation can be GOOD for you and has long had therapeutic uses

DOCTORS believe Australians should not shy away from CT scans after concerns were raised about the imaging tests being overused. The health profession watchdog today warned that doctors were ordering potentially dangerous CT scans at higher rates than in comparable countries. "I have been alarmed at the number of these scans ordered without clinical justification,"

Professional Services Review (PSR) director Tony Webber states in the watchdog's latest report. "Practitioners should always consider the risks of radiation exposure particularly in younger patients." The PSR report cites one case where a doctor ordered a scan for a patient who had experienced back pain for less than 24 hours.

But the Australian Medical Association's president Andrew Pesce says the PSR review found just two doctors had improperly ordered CT scans. "Out of the 47,000 doctors who get (Medicare) benefits only two have been found by their peers to be practicing in a way which is so outside normal practice that they've been slapped with a penalty," he said.

The AMA president acknowledged the number of CT scans was increasing slightly faster than other diagnostic imaging. "That may point to the fact that sometimes it's being used without considering other cheaper alternatives that don't expose patients to the extra radiation," he said. "(But) sometimes the best information you're going to get is from a CT scan and it's better to get a good diagnosis." Dr Pesce warned patients against suddenly becoming afraid of imaging.

Media reports that 400 extra Australians were dying of cancer each year due to imaging radiation was just "a theoretical projection" based on possible exposure levels, he said. "Usually if it's done properly it's only because you've actually got a significant risk of having a real problem that needs diagnosis. "People have to be sensible."


Warning - your child is unfit: Parents of British pupils who fail school fitness tests to get letters from health police

Parents of children deemed unfit are to be sent warning letters from schools. Secondary pupils will be forced to take an annual fitness test. If they fail, their parents will be told they are at risk of heart disease, brittle bones and obesity. The scheme was outlined yesterday by the Government's chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson.

He warned that lack of exercise is placing a greater burden on the economy than smoking - costing £8.3billion a year compared with £5.2billion. But the initiative was criticised by campaigners as yet another example of Labour's 'nanny state' interference in family life. Opposition parties said it also showed ministers' plans to improve school sport had completely failed.

The proposal is expected to be piloted at a small number of schools before being extended across the country. Under the scheme pupils will take so-called 'bleep' exercise tests which will see them perform a series of shuttle runs used to measure stamina and fitness.

Sir Liam also revealed ministers were planning to unveil recommendations on the amount of exercise children aged three and four should be doing, because 'many spend too much time on sedentary activities'. He acknowledged his plans would be 'shocking' to many parents, but insisted action was needed. His official annual report, entitled On The State Of Public Health, revealed only a third of adults meet the recommended amount of physical activity - 30 minutes at least five times a week.

It also found that overall child fitness is falling by up to 9 per cent every decade. Sir Liam said the situation was 'startlingly' bad, with only a third of schoolchildren doing the recommended 60 minutes of activity a day. Pupils are supposed to do at least two hours of PE a week, according to Government guidelines. But 10 per cent of children are not even getting this amount of school sport. Critics say Labour is to blame, particularly as since 1997 around 2,000 school playing fields have been sold off.

Parents in England are already sent letters about their children's weight as part of the National Child Measurement Programme. They are informed if their children are overweight for their height in their first and last years in primary school.

But the scheme has been heavily criticised for stigmatising children and labelling them as fat at a young age. In one recent example, five-year-old Lucy Davies, from Poole, was told she was at risk of health problems despite weighing just 3st 9lbs and standing 3ft 9 ins tall.

Parents said they feared their children would be bullied and made to feel inadequate by the new fitness tests. However, Sir Liam said: 'We might get a few shocks in some parts of the country but I think it's well worth doing....

In 2003, physical fitness testing became mandatory for 10 to 15 year olds in California. Each year, more than 1.3million students are assessed in six fitness areas. The children are each given a score representing their level of fitness. Over three years, an improvement of 8.2 per cent has been seen in the level of these scores. In 2007, a similar mandatory test was introduced in Texas for children aged eight to 17.

His report said if everyone did the recommended physical activity, heart disease would fall by 10 per cent, stroke by 20 per cent, type two diabetes by up to 50 per cent, breast cancer by 30 per cent, and osteoporosis-related hip fractures by 50 per cent.

But Margaret Morrissey, founder of the Parents Out Loud pressure group, described the warning letters as 'absolutely disgusting'. 'If the Government goes any further they will be completely intrusive in every aspect of the way parents bring up children,' she added. 'If they were to suggest that about my child, I would probably sue them for defamation of character for basically calling me a poor parent. 'Every child is different; they all have different genes. If you have the wrong genes, the chances are you won't conform to Government targets.'

Dylan Sharpe, from campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: 'While it is important that children are fit and healthy, these proposed annual tests are yet more Government interference and yet more tests for a generation of children who are already constantly under assessment.'

LibDem health spokesman Norman Lamb said: 'Sir Liam Donaldson is right to raise concerns about the state of our children's health but routine "bleep tests" won't by themselves solve the obesity crisis facing the country.'

The Department for Children, School and Families said: 'We think it's an interesting idea and we will consider it.'


16 March, 2010

MA: Support grows for limiting junk food in schools

There seems to be an epidemic of this nonsense but it will achieve nothing positive. Asking that its effectiveness be tested first is too much to ask, of course. Leftists just KNOW

A bill that would ban the sale of sugary drinks and junk food in school vending machines and school stores is gaining momentum in the Legislature, as Massachusetts combats a troubling rise in childhood obesity rates.

The Massachusetts legislation contains school nutrition guidelines from a 2007 report by the Institute of Medicine. Here are some recommended standards for what snacks and beverages should contain:

* No more than 35 percent of total calories from fat.

* Less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fats.

* Zero trans fat.

* No more than 35 percent of calories from total sugars per portion as packaged. (Exceptions include fruits and 100-percent fruit juices without added sugars, vegetables and 100-percent vegetable juices without added sugars, and unflavored nonfat and low-fat milk and yogurt.)

* 200 calories or less per portion as packaged.

* A sodium content limit of 200 mg or less per portion as packaged.

* Foods and beverages are caffeine-free, with the exception of trace amounts of naturally occurring caffeine-related substances.

The House passed it in January, after nearly a decade of debate on similar bills that went nowhere. Now, Senate President Therese Murray has thrown her support behind the effort and is optimistic that members will embrace it in a scheduled Senate vote today.

“We haven’t heard anything negative from members,’’ Murray said in an interview. “Obviously, everyone is very alarmed about the high level of diabetes and obesity rates. It’s a crisis.’’

The bill is one of two the Senate will debate today that aim to foster a healthier learning environment for students. The other legislation sets out to prevent bullying at school and on the Internet.

Legislators say they are motivated by a string of reports in recent years that have revealed the magnitude of the childhood obesity problem. In Massachusetts, 1 in 3 school children was overweight or obese in 2008, up from 1 in 4 two years earlier, according to a report by the Massachusetts Health Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group.

“This is not the only piece of the puzzle to solve childhood obesity, but it’s a significant step forward,’’ said Representative Peter J. Koutoujian, a Waltham Democrat who has been trying to rid school vending machines of unhealthy foods for nearly a decade.

The legislation is the latest push by the state to combat childhood obesity, a top priority of Governor Deval Patrick. Public schools, complying with a new public health mandate, began measuring and weighing first-, fourth-, seventh-, and 10th-graders last fall so they can calculate their body mass index, a standard measurement used to analyze whether someone weighs too much or too little.

President Obama is urging Congress, as it overhauls the Childhood Nutrition Act, to set nutritional standards for food and beverage items sold outside lunch and breakfast programs.

Many Massachusetts school districts — such as Boston, Cohasset, and Lawrence — have taken the lead in replacing junk food in vending machines with more nutritional offerings, such as pretzels, rice cakes, and soy nuts. The movement prompted some education groups to question the need for a state law.

“I defy you to walk into a public school with a Coke machine that sells soda,’’ said Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts School Committee Association, which contends that school districts do not need additional state regulations. “School districts have made the changes. They’ve done what’s best for kids.’’

But public health specialists, many school food service directors, and some legislators say the state needs to step in to ensure the consistency of nutritional standards from one school to another and to force those schools that have been lax to shape up...

More here

Baldies rule! Hair loss 'almost halves the risk of prostate cancer'

If one were to follow the usual logic of epidemiologists, this would lead to a recommendation that men should regularly pull their hair out

It's one thing men under 30 don't want to see in the mirror - the glint of an emerging bald patch. But research suggests those who, like Prince William, are facing a future with less hair should stop fretting at that retreating hairline. Men who start going bald at a young age are up to 45 per cent less likely to fall victim to prostate cancer later in life, scientists have found.

Although half of all men suffer significant hair loss by the age of 50, an American team has linked the high levels of testosterone in those who go bald earlier to a lower risk of tumours. The scientists studied 2,000 men aged between 40 and 47, half of whom had suffered prostate cancer. They compared the rate of tumours in those who remembered their hair thinning by the age of 30 with those who did not suffer hair loss. Men who had started to develop bald spots on the top of their heads as well as receding hairlines had the least risk of cancer.

Hair loss is a source of concern for many young men, with surveys showing nearly half think going bald makes them feel old and less attractive while three out of four have selfesteem problems.

The positive findings published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology will be controversial because previous smaller studies have suggested hair loss increases the risk of cancer. Most baldness is caused when hair follicles, the tiny sacs in the scalp from which hair grows, become exposed to too much dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.

This is a chemical produced by the male hormone testosterone. If there is too much DHT circulating in the blood, the follicles shrink, so the hair becomes thinner and grows for less time than normal. Experts believe men with high levels of testosterone are more likely to lose their hair, especially if baldness already runs in the family.

Those diagnosed with prostate cancer are often given drugs to reduce testosterone levels because the hormone can accelerate the growth of some tumours once they develop. But the latest research suggests being exposed to high levels of testosterone from a young age might actually help to protect against the disease. 'At first, the findings were surprising,' said Professor Jonathan Wright, an expert in prostate cancer at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. 'But we found that early onset baldness was associated with a 29 per cent to 45 per cent reduction in their relative risk of prostate cancer.'

Dr Helen Rippon, head of research management at The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: 'If these results are correct, they could be useful in providing us with a greater understanding of how testosterone behaves in the body and how it can affect different tissues.'


15 March, 2010

US court knocks thimerosal scare on the head

VACCINES containing the mercury-based preservative thimerosal can not cause autism on their own, the special US Court of Federal Claims ruled overnight, according to Reuters.

The ruling ended reimbursement demands of the family of an autistic boy who had filed a civil lawsuit in an Oregon state court against pharmaceutical companies claiming thimerosal, an additive in many pediatric vaccines, contributed to their son’s autism.

While the state court ruled William Mead’s autism was related to the vaccines he received, Special Master George Hastings ruled that the Meads did not present a "scientifically sound theory" linking the disease to the preservative, Reuters reported.

Special Master Hastings said the theory presented by the Meads and the experts who testified on their behalf “was biologically implausible and scientifically unsupported.”

In February 2009, the court ruled against three families who claimed vaccines caused their children’s autism, saying the families had been "misled by physicians who are guilty…of gross medical misjudgment,” Reuters reported.

The three families represented thousands of other families who had petitioned the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.


The Coca-Cola tax? New York mayor proposes 12 cents-a-can levy on sugary soft drinks

New Yorkers who enjoy sugary soft drinks face paying an extra tax after the city’s mayor proposed a levy of 12 cents per can. Michael Bloomberg says tax could raise $1billion of much-needed money for schools and health care. He suggested New York’s state legislature adopts a levy of 1 cent per fluid ounce (around 30ml) of sweetened soda such as Coca-Cola.

That would mean a can, which in the U.S. typically measure 12fl oz, would cost an extra 12 cents, or 8 pence. It is uncertain whether New York state sales taxes, which range between 7 and 8.875 per cent, will be calculated on the price of a can with or without the levy included.

Mr Bloomberg said the soda tax would promote good health by discouraging people from buying soft drinks that are loaded with sugar. Mr Bloomberg, a billionaire and former smoker, had already forced through a ban on smoking in bars in New York while the state also has a ban on unhealthy 'transfats' in food.

He said in his weekly radio address yesterday: ‘In these tough economic times, easy fixes to our problems are hard to come by. ‘But the soda tax is a fix that just makes sense. It would save lives. It would cut rising health care costs. ‘And it would keep thousands of teachers and nurses where they belong: in the classrooms and clinics.’

The city’s health commissioner, Dr Thomas Farley, and his predecessor, Dr Thomas Frieden, have advocated such a move. Last year, after state governor David Patterson proposed the idea, public anger over the plan meant that it was eventually dropped. At the time Mr Bloomberg said the idea was ‘just not one that we’re going to be pursuing’ after noting the ‘enormous outcry’.

But now the mayor is throwing his weight behind the controversial tax after calculating that public opinion has shifted due to New York’s dire public finances. The renewal of the plan also comes at a time when the governor has been weakened and distracted by scandal.

During testimony about the budget before the state legislature in January, Mr Bloomberg - whose history of using his office to tackle public health issues includes an anti-soda advertisement campaign and banning smoking in bars - called the proposal ‘far-sighted.’

Dr Richard Daines, the state health commissioner, said he had noticed a difference. ‘What I think you’re seeing is really a momentum shift in favor of doing it,’ he told the New York Times. Dr Daines added that the new tax differed from the one proposed last year in that it would be levied directly on soda producers and the estimated $1billion in annual revenue would be dedicated to the health care budget, rather than to the general fund.

Mr Bloomberg said the tax would also benefit education.


14 March, 2010

Happiness may protect against heart disease

The most probable explanation for these findings is that healthier people are happier

People who are usually happy, enthusiastic and content are less likely than others to develop heart illness, according to a new study.

The scientists involved say the study, published in the European Heart Journal, is the first to show an independent relationship between positive emotions and coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease. Previous studies had linked happiness with long life, but the exact reasons for that association are uncertain.

Karina Davidson of Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who led the new study, said it suggests heart disease might be in some degree preventable through positive emotions. But it would be premature to make clinical recommendations without further study, she added.

"We desperately need rigorous clinical trials in this area. If the trials support our findings, then these results will be incredibly important in describing specifically what clinicians and/or patients could do to improve health," said Davidson, who directs Columbia's Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health.

Over 10 years, Davidson and colleagues tracked 1,739 healthy adults, split about evenly between men and women, participating in a study known as the 1995 Nova Scotia Health Survey. At the start, trained nurses assessed the participants' risk of heart disease and, with both selfreporting and clinical assessment, they measured symptoms of depression, hostility, anxiety and the degree of expression of positive emotions, which is known as "positive affect."

Positive affect is defined as the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment. These feelings can be transient, but they are usually stable and traitlike, particularly in adulthood, according to researchers. Positive affect is largely independent of negative affect, so that someone who is generally a happy, contented person can also be occasionally anxious, angry or depressed.

After taking account of age, sex, cardiovascular risk factors and negative emotions, the scientists found that increased positive affect predicted less risk of heart disease by 22 percent per point on a fivepoint scale measuring levels of positive affect expression. "We also found that if someone, who was usually positive, had some depressive symptoms at the time of the survey, this did not affect their overall lower risk of heart disease," Davidson said. "As far as we know, this is the first prospective study to examine the relationship between clinicallyassessed positive affect and heart disease."

"We have several possible explanations" for the effect, said Davidson. "First, those with positive affect may have longer periods of rest or relaxation physiologically," making their bodies better able to regulate blood pressure and heart rate. "Second, those with positive affect may recover more quickly from stressors, and may not spend as much time `reliving' them, which in turn seems to cause physiological damage. This is speculative, as we are just beginning to explore why positive emotions and happiness have positive health benefits."


Women who use the Pill can expect to live longer, Royal College of GPs finds

Some rare realism in red below

Research involving 46,000 British women over nearly 40 years has confirmed that the Pill is not linked to long-term health risks from cancer or heart disease, according to the report in the British Medical Journal. While younger women are at slightly higher risk of suffering heart attack, stroke or breast and cervical cancers while taking the Pill, researchers say this effect is negligible, and outweighed by wider benefits.

Any adverse effects of the Pill disappear within ten years of stopping take it, and could easily be counteracted by regular checks and a healthy lifestyle, they said.

Philip Hannaford, a professor at the University of Aberdeen who led the study for the Royal College of GPs, said that over a lifetime, women who took the Pill at any stage were less likely to die from any cause than those who did not. “Our best estimate is that if you took a group of 100,000 women, and they used the pill for a year, on average you would have 52 fewer deaths in those women compared to those using other forms of contraception.”

Professor Hannaford said that the beneficial effects may only be true for women who have taken older-style pills — rather than those on newer drugs, which may have slightly different formulations. But he added that the lower risks were probably not a direct result of the Pill. “It might be that the characteristics of these women, that they are more likely to use health services, have blood checks or other monitoring means they are at reduced risk.”

The study, organised by the Royal College of GPs, began in 1968 when 23,000 women who used oral contraceptives for an average of four years, and a similar number who didn’t, were recruited from 1,400 surgeries across Britain. Early results had suggested that taking the Pill could increase the risk of death, mainly from heart or circulatory disease. The latest findings show that there were 20 more deaths per 100,000 among women younger than 30 who took the Pill, and four more deaths per 100,000 among those aged 30-39. But by the age of 50, the benefits outweighed these risks, with 14 fewer deaths per 100,000 among those aged 40-49, and an even greater effect among older women.

Professor Hannaford said yesterday that the risks were small for women under 45, and were mainly seen in those who smoked, had high blood pressure, or were otherwise at risk of heart disease. “We know that the Pill does cause changes in clotting factors and some of the factors in biochemistry, so the increased risk of heart disease and stroke is explainable,” he said. “The way to minimise the risk is that you don’t smoke, have your blood pressure measured regularly, attend the cervical screening programme and maintain a healthy diet and exercise. That will make your risk very low, and there are also benefits.”

He added that although the Pill was associated with a increased risk of breast or cervical cancer, it could reduce the chances of developing ovarian, bowel or endometrial cancer.

While women should not be complacent about taking any medication, he said: “Many women, especially those who used the first generation of oral contraceptives many years ago, are likely to be reassured by our results. “However, our findings might not reflect the experience of women using oral contraceptives today, if currently available preparations have a different risk than earlier products.”

Patricia Lohr, medical director at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said that the scale and length of the study was “unusual and very helpful”. “It’s reassuring to see that, over time, having used the Pill as a method of birth control is at least as safe as not having used the Pill at all,” she said.


Hollywood Serves Up Food Elitism

Food, Inc. failed to win the best “documentary” Oscar on Sunday, but that likely won’t diminish its influence. If you’ve seen this one-sided hit piece on modern agriculture, you know that it’s a thinly veiled advocacy film for organic and local foods in true Michael Pollan style. That such a film draws so much attention is evidence of Hollywood’s fad fascination with organic foodie-ism.

As author and professor James McWilliams noted yesterday, though, foodie obsessions with a romantic, 19th century-style agriculture are nothing new or novel—people have had such yearnings for decades. And today we write in the pages of The Detroit News to take Tinseltown celebrities to task for their misguided activism that lacks much flavor:
For average Americans, bringing home the bacon gets a lot harder when you have to buy $29-per-pound artisanal cured pork belly. But that hasn't stopped Hollywood's out-of-touch food purists from trying to guilt-trip all of us into changing the way we eat.

Promoting a vegetarian lifestyle by focusing on health benefits may seem intuitive, but it shouldn't be. A 2006 Oxford University study found that vegetarians are just as likely as omnivores to die from strokes, and from colon, breast, and prostate cancer. And research has repeatedly shown that organic fruits and vegetables are no healthier than their conventionally grown counterparts….

When Food Rules writer Michael Pollan sat in the cushy guest seat on Oprah in January, the darling of the "slow food" scene smugly exhorted viewers: "We all can vote with our forks." I couldn't agree more – but I don't think Pollan will like the results.

13 March, 2010

Sunscreens could damage your health, researcher warns

This is just computer modelling crap. Real people are too pesky, I guess. For once the bureaucrats get it right. See last sentence below

Nanoparticles used to make some sunscreens transparent may also be toxic, according to Australian research. A study by Amanda Barnard, of the CSIRO, found the nanoparticles that provided the best transparency and sun protection also had the highest risk of producing free radicals.

Using computer modelling, Dr Barnard analysed the properties of the man-made titanium dioxide nanoparticles found in some sunscreens, testing them in three areas: sun protection, transparency and potential for producing free radicals.

Studying various sizes of particles, she found that the smaller the nanoparticle, the better the sun protection and transparency. "Unfortunately the small ones also have a high surface-to-volume ratio and the surfaces are where the free radicals are produced through a photochemical, or light induced reaction."

Dr Barnard won the 2009 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for physical scientist of the year for her work on nanoparticles - tiny particles used in many products including sunscreens, cosmetics and paints. Her latest research, to appear in the journal Nature Nanotechnology next month, found only particles less than 13 nanometres in size minimised free radical production while retaining other desirable properties. The nanoparticles in sunscreens range from three to 200 nanometres.

The results add to questions about the safety of such sunscreens. The concern is whether the nanoparticles interact with sunlight to produce free radicals that damage tissues or DNA. "Currently it's a situation of 'Is it better to protect yourself from UV rays or hold off and see what happens?' But in the future it may be 'Is it better to protect yourself from UV rays or protect yourself from something else?"' she said.

A spokeswoman for the Therapeutic Goods Administration said "the findings are predicated on a number of assumptions that do not necessarily reflect real life situations or actual product formulations".


NY food Fascists go totally mad

NY restaurants face total salt ban if politician gets his way

The nannying tendencies of New York's civic leaders have reached a new level with a proposal to fine restaurants that add salt to food. Bill A10129 would fine restaurateurs $1000 each time they were caught adding salt to food. Felix Ortiz, a New York assemblyman who proposed the bill, said it would allow diners to choose whether to do it themselves.

The administration of Michael Bloomberg, New York City's mayor, has already outlawed smoking from many public areas, banned unhealthy trans fats from prepared food and ordered many restaurants to list the calories in each item on the menu. He also favours a new tax on sweet fizzy drinks to help cut obesity.

An estimated 1.5 million New Yorkers suffer from high blood pressure and Mr Bloomberg is keen to encourage people to consume less sodium, which can exacerbate the problem. However, the mayor has stopped well short of proposing an outright ban on restaurants adding salt, instead campaigning for a voluntary cut of a quarter over five years.

Mr Ortiz claimed that reducing the sodium content of food could cut deaths in the city by as much as 100,000. My Food My Choice, a coalition of restaurateurs, chefs and consumers, described his proposal as "absurd".


Breakthrough in fight against head lice

IVERMECTIM, a pill prescribed for the skin disease known as scabies, also gets rid of hair lice that are resistant to conventional lotions, a study published overnight says.

Lice affects over 100 million people worldwide each year, especially children of primary school age, according to the paper, appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine. The main treatments are diluted forms of an insecticide called permethrin and malathion, but since the 1990s lice have becoming more and more resistant to these chemicals. That has left parents with little choice other than to be, literally, nit-pickers -- to go through their children's hair with a fine comb to haul out the parasites.

Ivermectin is a promising alternative, say French researchers who led the study. They tested it in a trial involving 812 adults and children in 376 households in Britain, France, Ireland and Israel. Half of the patients were treated with malathion and half with ivermectin, which was administered twice, seven days apart, at a dose of 400 microgrammes per kilo (2.2 pounds). After two weeks, 95.2 percent of the ivermectin group were lice-free, compared with 85 percent in the malathion group.

"Ivermectin is more effective than the best anti-lice lotion, but it should be reserved for difficult, resistant cases," the study's coordinator, Olivier Chosidow of France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), told AFP. Over-using the drug could make it succumb to resistance, following the same path as the lotions, he said.


12 March, 2010

Food allergy fascists make peanuts of us all

Be afraid, be very afraid. The food Nazis are on the hunt through suburban school lunch boxes. Food is no longer a private matter in our educational institutions; parents are quaking in their shoes, terrified that they will be judged on the efficacy of their social responsibility and parenting skills by the contents of the humble pail. The fallout of which means becoming social pariahs based on white bread, or the inclusion of a Tim Tam.

Teachers peer beneath the lids of the not so humble receptacles (very seldom now a simple plastic box – they’re now themed, decorated, iced, chilled, heated, layered, compartmentalised and sheathed) and “tut tut”, or shake their heads at a child’s humble peanut butter sandwich or limp carrot.

Quite often, a ‘parent helper’ is on duty in the classroom and will also investigate what a harried, working mum has flung together and encased in cling wrap, subsequently broadcasting to all and sundry (other competitive mothers) that ‘Little Susie’ came to school with the dregs of the pantry, or an anaphylaxis just waiting to happen.

Do you remember the simple days as a kid, when everyone sat around at lunchtime in the yard, poking despondently at the sad vegemite sandwich and sipping on tepid cordial? Those were the days, when food was simple and only vaguely nutritious, before the prevalence of food allergies and the litigious nature of society.

You were responsible for teaching your own children not to steal other’s lunches and to refrain from picking their noses without a hanky. Now it’s all about fear, the school live in fear of being sued by parents angry that ‘Little Angus’ in the class next door consumed a peanut butter sandwich fifty metres from their ‘Little Johnnie”, the poor mums live in fear of being judged a failure if they don’t whip up a three course meal and box it up everyday.

The poor kids live in fear that they will be made consume their midday repast whilst sitting on the special chair at the front of the class reserved for children who have dared to come to school with natural roasted almonds as a snack, quarantined in case a sliver of a ‘tree nut’ sprays on ‘Little Angus” who has a peanut allergy. If “Little Angus” at the age of 10, doesn’t know enough not to stuff a stray almond in his mouth which he found on the floor, then “Little Angus’s” parents have got a problem on their hands!

What is happening, where did personal responsibility go and privacy for that matter, is food the new frontier of the Nanny State? I don’t advocate my children sharing food, and they are well aware of the dangers of food allergies – they live with a mother who could expire on a mouthful of mango, but this is ludicrous. The guilt, the oversight, the intrusion.

Today I will send my offspring to school with wholegrain wraps, filled with home baked Mediterranean chicken, mayonnaise, chives, home grown cherry tomatoes with a chaser of yoghurt dip and home made berry coulis. Tomorrow, I’m bloody well sending grated chocolate sandwiches on white bread and a chocolate Hershey bar. Take that Food Nazis – I will choose what I feed my kids and I’ll thank you to keep your noses out of my Tupperware – my kids’ impending malnutrition and/or constipation is our own business.


Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of Fatty Foods

Trans fats may be bad for you, but government regulation is worse

States and municipalities across the country--from New York City to the State of California--have banned partially hydrogenated cooking oils, also known as "trans fats," in restaurants under their jurisdiction. This much is apparent: Trans fats are bad for you. But government regulation is bad for you, too. Seemingly innocuous and well-meaning interventions can lead to less innocuous, less benign interventions later. Should we trust the state to regulate what we do, even when it is for our own good? Further, if we're going to regulate, why should we stop at trans fats?

The case against trans fats is well documented, and I will in no way dispute the claim that a diet high in trans fats is bad for your health. But what about personal happiness and liberty? The history of bans on alcohol, tobacco, firearms and now trans fat shows us that much more than our health is at stake.

In the 1990s, people asked whether the prosecution of tobacco companies would lead to the prosecution of fast food restaurants. The government took down Joe Camel--would Ronald McDonald be next? "Don't be ridiculous," they were told. "This is about tobacco, and it's for the children. Besides, trying to regulate food choices would be an unconscionable infringement on personal liberties." But sure enough, here we are a few short years later discussing trans fats and fast food the same way we discussed tobacco.

There is also no such thing as a free "trans-fat-free" lunch. Restricting trans fat consumption requires resources. Police officers could instead use these resources to enforce laws against crimes like theft, property damage, rape and murder, and educators could use these resources in the classroom. Are educators using their time and resources wisely preventing illegal bake sales and making sure school fundraisers and functions sell only stuff that's on the "approved" list?

The concerned citizen-busybody has to ask whether treating adults as if they were children is a wise use of resources. And those who wish to control others' behavior have to ask what gives them the right to do so. Criminalizing voluntary trades with which we disagree--like, say, the decision to trade a few dollars for tasty, trans-fat-laden french fries--trivializes the concept of crime and undermines the legitimacy of the legal system.

A simple reductio ad absurdum shows that regulations aimed at protecting people from themselves are morally absurd. Why stop with trans fats? Why not activities that could pose more of a threat to our individual health and well-being? If we are going to try to control smoking and trans fats because they are dangerous, should we not also try to control risky sexual behavior? Giving the state discretion over what you do in your living room (smoke) made it much easier for them to regulate what you do in your kitchen (cook with or consume trans fats). Letting the authorities into your living room or your kitchen puts them only a few steps from your bedroom, and I for one won't be surprised when they try to invite themselves in.

You might harm yourself when you consume trans fats, but to borrow a phrase from Thomas Jefferson, you neither pick my pocket nor break my leg. Furthermore, it is naive to think that the state will stop at regulating and prohibiting only the things we don't like. When we cede power to the state, we give them the power to do evil as well as good. It's only a matter of time before they use it.


11 March, 2010

Researchers back 'cancer-fighting' papaya

This is just another study in laboratory glassware. Such results are rarely replicated in double blind trials in humans

RESEARCHERS said overnight that papaya leaf extract and its tea have dramatic cancer-fighting properties against a broad range of tumours, backing a belief held in a number of folk traditions. University of Florida researcher Nam Dang and colleagues in Japan, in a report published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, documented papaya's anti-cancer effect against tumours of the cervix, breast, liver, lung and pancreas.

The researchers used an extract made from dried papaya leaves, and the effects were stronger when cells received larger doses of papaya leaf tea. Dr Dang and the other scientists showed that papaya leaf extract boosts the production of key signalling molecules called Th1-type cytokines, which help regulate the immune system.

This could lead to therapeutic treatments that use the immune system to fight cancers, they said in the February issue of the journal and released overnight by the university.

Papaya has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments in many parts of the world, especially Asia. Dr Deng said the results are consistent with reports from indigenous populations in Australia and his native Vietnam. The researchers said papaya extract did not have any toxic effects on normal cells, avoiding a common side effect of many cancer treatments.

Researchers exposed 10 different types of cancer cell cultures to four strengths of papaya leaf extract and measured the effect after 24 hours. Papaya slowed the growth of tumours in all the cultures.


Washington Is More Likely to Shrink Wallets than Waistlines

Washington continues to focus on health care, but more recently some prominent political figures have narrowed in on the health-care issue of obesity. While it may seem like the topic du jour, obesity has long been a national obsession. Weight-loss reality shows are hit programs on network and cable television. Trashy pop culture rags regularly feature pictures of pin thin actresses on their covers accompanying the hurtful headline “packing on the pounds.” Numerous infomercials tout miracle exercise routines and equipment and diet products crowd grocery store shelves, proving that Americans are already plenty concerned about fat. Now Washington is embracing the anti-fat obsession. Unfortunately, the solutions politicians are pushing are no more likely to work than are the diet pills sold on the back pages of magazines. Instead of shrinking waistlines, these efforts are more likely to shrink Americans’ wallets and grow government.

If a policy issue could win the lotto, obesity just hit the jackpot. Named as a premier issue for the First Lady, it has risen to near the very top of the President’s agenda. Pretty impressive when it’s competing against the big boys like oh, you know…war, massive history-making levels of unemployment, wacky dictators with loose nukes, and continuing threats of terrorism. But that’s ok. How will we fight the enemy and get back to work if we’re all too fat to fit though the door frame? Priorities people…first things first!

And the White House isn’t wasting any time. Just last month, the President signed an executive order establishing a task force on childhood obesity. The task force—made up of four cabinet members, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and other high-level White House personnel—is charged with providing the President recommendations on the “development of legislative, budgetary, and policy proposals that can improve the health and well-being of children, their families, and communities.”

Why is it necessary to designate a special group of people to force this task? Isn’t there a really big building in the middle of Washington, DC with something like 64,000 employees and a budget of over $700 billion dedicated to health issues? Yes, there is! And it’s called the Department of Health and Human Services. Heck…the word “health” is even in the department’s title. Someone tell the President!

And that’s not all. There’s another medical official within the federal government dedicated to advising the President on health issues—the Surgeon General, who according to the office’s website, “serves as America's Doctor by providing Americans the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of illness and injury.”

Hmmm….seems to me that childhood obesity might fit perfectly under the purview of that office. And you know what? The Surgeon General agrees. In fact, the current Surgeon General, Regina M. Benjamin, lists childhood obesity prominently on her website and offers tips to parents on how to improve a child’s health and eating habits.

But fine…ignore these qualified officials. Go ahead and set up a little task force to do what maybe a handful of those 64,000 employees at HHS or the Surgeon General’s office could easily do. After all, Washington loves a task force.

So, what exactly will this obesity task force do? What “recommendations” will it dream up and how much will it cost the average family? Drawing from the First Lady’s own comments on the issue, the recommendations will likely target a favorite food bogey-man—sugary drinks and unhealthy foods. Hiking the price of these foods, through sin taxes, is a solution the first lady believes might just work.

Sin taxes are a Washington favorite because they raise revenue but are popular with Democrats and forgivable with Republicans. The arguments for using them can be compelling--shouldn’t we tax smokers for creating higher health-care costs? Won't taxing sugary drinks and fatty foods encourage people to consume less and become healthier? But the fact is, sin taxes only succeed in one area--driving up the cost of food and other products and hurting the average consumer.

Take for instance taxes on sodas. This year, New York Governor David Paterson proposed a penny-an-ounce tax on soda in his state budget. This would amount to a 12 cent hike in the price of every soda and increase the cost of a 12-pack of soda from $2.99 to $5.87. The proposal also included a $38 tax on large bags of syrup sold to restaurants. For families on a strict budget and restaurants already dealing with a diminished customer base, that’s a significant increase. Not to mention, that we can all say a big goodbye to those popular free refills! But Governor Paterson’s proposal is relatively low compared to the taxes for which other politicians have called. Just this week, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter proposed a 2 cent per 12-ounce beverage tax, which is just outmatched by Chicago’s current sugary drink tax of 3 cents.

Unfortunately, the data suggests that these taxes aren't succeeding in driving down American’s weight. Of the top ten fattest states in the Union, three--West Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas—currently tax sodas and sugary drinks.

Some who are concerned about obesity may nod their heads and applaud measures that try to discourage soda consumption. They should ask themselves where the next sin tax will be imposed? Will juice drinks (which in many cases contain more sugar than sodas), energy drinks, coffee, wine or full-fat milk become the next target? What about chips and crackers and cookies and sugar cereals? Who is supposed to determine what is and isn’t healthy? How much higher can we drive food costs for families already struggling to make ends meet?

Americans' preoccupation with weight will continue as will Washington’s habit of meddling in very personal issues. Because Washington loves to meddle…almost as much as they like a task force.


10 March, 2010

Calories on menus: do they work?

Calorie counts on menus and fast food: are they a weapon against obesity, or just more nannying from the Government? Comment from Britain:

I can afford the souvlaki — but can I afford the calories? Your lunch choice is about to become anxiety-inducing. Last summer, The Real Greek became the first restaurant chain in the country to include calorie counts of all dishes on its menus. Since then, Pret A Manger, Wimpy and the Camden Food Company have followed its lead. Pizza Hut, Harvester and several pub chains are considering making local trials national. Within two years, calories on menus could be the rule.

They are all trailblazers for an initiative from the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which believes that providing calories on menus will help us to make healthy eating choices. A national consultation ends this week and, if there is enough support from health bodies, consumers and restaurants, the FSA will push for a voluntary roll-out in all restaurants from this summer.

Yet some have raised voices of concern. Actually, say some experts, putting calories on menus makes no sense if you want to create a healthy attitude to food. “Giving people information like this doesn’t change their behaviour,” says Professor Andrew Hill, an eating psychologist. And those helping people with eating disorders worry that it may promote food anxiety. “There is a real feel of nannying about this,” says Emma Healey, of the Eating Disorders Association, now named Beat. “Calorie-counting is joyless.”

Britain is looking to follow the lead of New York City, where in 2008 new laws compelled fast-food, sandwich and restaurant chains to put calorie information on their menus. Since then, similar laws have been introduced in other US cities. The British move came after FSA research suggested that consumers would like to see such information.

“Whether people are grabbing a snack, eating in a staff restaurant or out for a meal with their family, calorie labelling will enable them to see what choices are healthier,” says Tim Smith, the FSA chief executive. According to research, he claims, people shown a calorie count pick products that have, on average, 100 calories fewer than their normal purchase. His enthusiasm for the scheme has been reflected in the response of some of the 21 companies (450 food outlets in all) that piloted the scheme from June last year by displaying calorie information on menus, boards and shelf-edges. Liz Williams, managing director of The Real Greek, says that it has been “positively received” by customers, notably women on calorie-controlled diets. Clive Schlee, of Pret A Manger, says that his company rolled out the pilots nationwide “because we liked the idea so much”.

But research to back the idea has been less conclusive. The FSA has evaluated its pilots but measured only how easy it was for restaurants to implement calorie-count menus, not whether this led customers to choose healthier products.

A New York Department of Health study in 2008-09 found that customers bought food with fewer calories in nine of the 13 food chains that displayed calorie information, while a Stanford University study on calorie-posting in Starbucks reported a 6 per cent fall in average calories per transaction.

Most of the research is double-edged, though. The Starbucks study concluded that a calorie reduction of 6 per cent would have only modest effects on bodyweight, and that people may compensate by eating more at other meals. Indeed, that is what another study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found: diners given calorie information ate about 14 per cent fewer calories at dinner but made up for it later — and ended up eating just as many calories as uninformed diners.

In another study, 30 per cent of users of fast-food restaurants in New York said that having calories on menus had influenced their meal choice. But when researchers examined their receipts, they found that they were still eating the same number of calories as before.

Neither The Real Greek nor Pret A Manger is adopting the scheme because it believes that it will make people eat more healthily. “I think calorie counts will become the norm,” says Liz Williams of The Real Greek, “but we haven’t really seen any change in what people order.”

So why is the FSA pushing ahead so hard? Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St George’s Hospital, London, says that giving everyone the same messages about which foods are “healthy” does not take into account the importance of variety in diet, or portion size, or how each food needs to be put in the context of others. “Calories aren’t everything,” she says, adding that the FSA should promote the idea of eating the right balance of starchy foods, fruit and veg, dairy, protein, fat and sugar, and not “demonise” calorific foods. “We are losing that feeling of comfort in food, so we are either eating junk meals or making a fetish of measuring calories.”

A 2008 Ofsted survey indicated that a third of ten-year-old girls were worried about their body shape. According to Emma Healey of Beat, eating disorders are caused by genetics, personality type and “a soup of other influences, such as magazine images”. Calories on menus may add to that confusing soup, she says. “We know that for people recovering from eating disorders, seeing information on the calorie content can throw them back into a world where they obsessively counted calories.”

The FSA will announce its final recommendations in the summer. So far, dieters, trendy chains and policy people love the idea; foodies and small restaurateurs (who see it as hard to implement) hate it; junk food chains will go along with it; and those most at risk of obesity don’t really care.

As a recovered anorexic, I have long since left behind those dark days when I recorded every calorific unit that entered my body. Part of getting better was learning how to eat healthily again.

My counsellor had far better advice than to keep eating until I reached the recommended 2,000 calories a day, then stop. She simply reminded me that for every meal my plate should be balanced, with something such as a third carbohydrate, a third fruit or vegetables, then the next third should have a good chunk of protein with a bit of fat thrown in there, too. This may not be a particularly scientific way of doing it, but it does ensure nutritional balance — unlike counting calories.

Splashing the calorie content of food all over menus will only encourage an unhealthy attitude to food. Eating fewer calories is not necessarily better for everyone. What’s in those calories is just as important. Broadly speaking, people know what food is good for them and what is not. Every day most of us choose to eat food that we know is not particularly good for us. Nobody going into a burger joint is looking for a healthy meal. Isn’t it somewhat pointless, then, to display the calorie counts in such places?

And let’s not forget the “live and let die” argument. I’m not advocating that we encourage obesity and an early grave. If people want dietary advice, it should be available — there is certainly plenty of it out there. The same goes for those who want to give up smoking. But if individuals weigh up the pros and cons and decide that they would rather not restrain their eating, taking the risk of shortening their life, then that should be their choice.

The tentacles of the state increasingly threaten individual choice. Alongside a myriad health and safety measures of the no-conkers-in-the-playground type, recent suggestions range from screening the contents of children’s packed lunches to the banning of butter. For goodness sake, let each of us decide how to feed ourselves!

If your jeans are feeling a bit tight and you want to lose a few pounds, by all means hold off on chocolate, take the stairs at work or get off the bus one stop earlier. Enjoy the freedom to decide for yourself how to approach the battle of the bulge . . . if you want to. In the meantime, let’s reserve the right to dine out free from calorific judgment.


The newest chapter in the bizarre world of statin drug dangers

They REALLY don’t want you to think too much about this one. Both Reuters Health and HealthDay News ran nearly identical lead paragraphs in their reporting about a new study of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. The finding: Statin use increases risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

And along with that message, of course, they had to report that this risk is really a very small thing, hardly worth mentioning in light of the magnificence of the life-saving properties of the wonder drug…the Great Statin. It’s as if they’re delivering bad news to a grouchy king who LOVES statins and is likely to have a lowly reporter beheaded if he even suggests that the adored heart drug is less than perfect.

Here’s the Reuters headline: “Cholesterol Drugs Raise Diabetes Risk, Just a Bit.” Do they have any idea how hilarious that is? You can imagine a Reuters reporter holding his thumb and forefinger really close together, up near his eyeball, and squinting when he says in a high squeaky voice, “Just a bit.” Just a teeny weenie bit, Your Highness.

HealthDay went one better, adding this quote from a news release about the study: “In view of the overwhelming benefit of statins for reduction of cardiovascular events…” Yes, the benefits are OVERWHELMING! Why, a reporter might swoon under a spell of the vapors just thinking about the wonderfully overwhelming benefits of statins.

So? Ready to be overwhelmed? Collateral damage, damage, and more damage

University of Glasgow researchers examined the results of 13 large statin trials that included more than 91,000 subjects. Results showed that for every 255 patients treated with statins for four years, one would develop type 2 diabetes. Well that doesn’t sound so bad. Just one little old diabetic for every 255 statin users? Since the benefits are grossly exaggerated (I’m sorry…I meant to say “overwhelming”) what difference do a few extra diabetics make?

A huge difference. About 20 million people take statins in the U.S. So, one case of type 2 diabetes for every 255 patients comes to well over 78,000 people who will develop or already have developed diabetes as a statin side effect. (You can forget about the “four years” business because statin users are users-for-life.)

But if you’re convinced statins are life-saving wonder drugs, then I guess thousands upon thousands of cases of diabetes are acceptable. Not to mention the untold cases of muscle damage, kidney damage, liver damage, and cognition damage.

One of the Glasgow researchers told Reuters Health that the results of their study should put a stop to statin overuse, and the drug will be given “when appropriate for the right reasons.”

Aw, that’s adorable! He must have missed the news that the FDA recently OK’d the use of the statin Crestor for people who don’t have high cholesterol. And that approval came in spite of a Crestor study that showed a link to — yep — increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The world of statins is a world gone mad (and not just a bit!).


9 March, 2010

Sugary soft drinks lead to diabetes (?)

This is just the usual correlational nonsense. The poor are less healthy and also drink more sugary drinks. Correlation does not prove causation. The poor would be less healthy anyway

More people now drink soft, sport and fruit drinks daily, and the increase has led to thousands more diabetes and heart disease cases over the past decade, according to research presented to the American Heart Association's annual conference. The study estimates the increased consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks between 1990 and 2000 contributed to 130,000 new cases of diabetes, 14,000 new cases of coronary heart disease (CHD), and 50,000 additional life-years burdened by coronary heart disease in the US over the past decade. The drinks – excluding 100 per cent fruit juice – contain between 120 to 200 calories per drink and play a major role in the rising tide of obesity.

Now researchers are calling for a health tax on soft drinks to pay for the increase costs of treating victims of coronary disease and diabetes.

Dr Litsa Lambrakos, of the University of California, said: "We can demonstrate an association between daily consumption of sugared beverages and diabetes risk. We can then translate this information into estimates of the current diabetes and cardiovascular disease that can be attributed to the rise in consumption of these drinks."

Over the last decade, at least 6,000 excess deaths from any cause and 21,000 life-years lost can be attributed in the United States to the increase in sugar-sweetened drinks.

Health policy experts suggest curbing the consumption of sugared drinks through an excise tax of one cent per ounce of beverage, which would be expected to decrease consumption by 10 per cent. Professor Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, senior author of the study at the University of California, said: "If such a tax could curb the consumption of these drinks, the health benefits could be dramatic."

Dr Lambrakos said: "We want to make the general public more aware of the adverse health outcomes of consuming these drinks over time. "We want to help support disease prevention and curb consumption of these drinks that lead to poor health outcomes and increased health care costs for the average American."


Humans found to have sixth taste: fat

AUSTRALIAN scientists have shown that humans can detect a sixth taste: fat. And it appears that those people who are highly sensitive to the taste of fat tend to eat less of it, and have significantly lower body mass indexes.

Using a series of taste-testing experiments, researchers from Deakin University have found that humans can identify the taste of fat by its chemical composition, rather than by its texture.

The findings could lead to new ways of treating obesity. The lead researcher, Russell Keast, said: "Fat has a very nice mouth feel to it [but it] appears that fat is activating something in the oral cavity independent of texture."

Dr Keast and his team had a group of people sample various types of fatty acids found in common foods, mixed in with non-fat milk to disguise the texture. Of the 33 people tested, all could detect the taste of fat to a varying degree, he said. Fat flavour can now be added to the other known tastes: sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and umami - a taste for protein-rich foods.

Just like the other tastes, Dr Keast said, the degree of sensitivity to fat differed between individuals. "I may be very sensitive to sweet tastes, while somebody else may be insensitive, this is common throughout the tastes, and it's exactly what we're finding with fat."

After the research group had established that humans could taste fat, they wanted to know if the ability to taste fat had any influence on what people ate. Study participants were divided into two groups, those who were hyper or very sensitive to the fat taste, and those who were not. "People who are very sensitive to fat can taste very low concentrations of it."

Dr Keast then compared the daily diets of both groups and found those people who were hypersensitive to fat ate less of it in their daily diet. They also had lower body mass indexes. "It appears [hypersensitive] people have a mechanism that is telling them to stop eating it, he said. The reverse was happening in people who were not sensitive to the taste, said Dr Keast. "They are over-consuming and this is creating an energy imbalance, which is leading to higher BMI or development of overweight or obesity."

Dr Keast is now looking into why some people are sensitive and others are not.


8 March, 2010

Drink up girls: wine isn’t fattening

Hmmm... Self-reports are weak evidence but it's a straw in the wind

WOMEN who like a glass of wine after work can relax: they are likely to gain less weight than those who stick to mineral water. Moderate female drinkers also have a lower risk of obesity than teetotallers, according to new research. The findings, from a study of more than 19,000 women, is at odds with most dietary advice: that alcohol consumption leads to weight gain.

The research suggests that a calorie from alcohol has less impact on weight than a calorie from other foods and that the way the body deals with alcohol is more complex than realised. One theory is that in regular drinkers the liver develops a separate metabolic pathway to break down alcohol, with surplus energy turned mainly into heat, not fat.

In the study, Lu Wang, a medical instructor at Brigham and Women’s hospital, Boston, and colleagues asked 19,220 American women aged 39 or older with a healthy body weight to describe their drinking habits in a questionnaire. About 38% drank no alcohol.

Over the next 13 years the researchers found that all the women tended to gain weight but the non-drinkers gained the most. The women’s overall weight gain decreased as alcohol intake increased.

There was also a difference according to the type of alcohol: red wine was associated with the lowest weight gain; beer and spirits were linked to the highest weight gain.

The report, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, seems to confirm that there is no clear connection between alcohol consumption and weight gain.


White House adviser: 'Heavier people' bad for economy

The U.S. economy would be in better shape if people weren't so heavy, according to Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the older brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and a presidential health care adviser in his own right.

"I mean, we're all focused on health care, diabetes and heart disease," he said in a recent appearance on the New York Times "Freakonomics Radio" program. "But, there's all sorts of things like the simple that, you know – heavier people – transportation is more, so there's more spent on gasoline, more on jet fuel."

The White House is aggressively pressing for passage of the Democrats' trillion-dollar health-care reform plan while First Lady Michelle Obama has taken up the issue of childhood obesity.

Jeff Poor of the Business and Media Institute says Ezekiel Emanuel's perspective should be taken seriously. "In all the obesity hand-wringing some bizarre remarks from an important person were overlooked," the institute reported. Emanuel, the report said, confirmed that "this condition has a broader impact on our lives, specifically the economy."

"People have had to change, ah you know, the size of doorways, the size of chairs on airplanes and at sports stadiums," said Ezekiel Emanuel in the Feb. 25 appearance. "So there's a lot of hidden costs as well as to the increasing girth of Americans."

Emanuel, a bioethicist at the American National Institutes of Health, said people's size impacts both energy and infrastructure costs.

At the Freakonomics blog, author Stephen Dubner noted Ezekiel Emanuel advises the White House on health-care reform. He said Emanuel made "a strong case for government intervention in Americans' eating habits. When I asked, however, if it was time for a cheeseburger tax, he made clear his limitations. 'That's a political question,' he said. 'I think you got the wrong Emanuel brother.'"


7 March, 2010

More on Vioxx

I wrote yesterday on the reasons why the anti-arthritis drug Vioxx has been withdrawn from sale: People taking it have a small (in absolute terms) extra risk of having a non-fatal heart attack.

A medical correspondent has emailed me with an interesting suggestion, however: The extra heart attacks might be a sign of the drug's success! If Vioxx is better at relieving arthritic pain it might make people taking it more likely to lead active lives -- having more sex, engaging in more outdoor activities etc. And since the extra heart attacks usually occur among people who are already frail or elderly, those extra activities might put enough strain on their hearts to bring on a heart attack in some instances. So the claim that the extra heart attacks are due to the drug itself may be quite wrong. It is just an assumption.

Secret to hangover-free drinking found (?)

This sounds highly unlikely. It would seem to rely on the oxygen being absorbed into the bloodstream from the gut but it seems to me that the oxygen is much more likely to be expelled the way other bodily gases are

THE dreaded morning-after feeling could be a thing of the past after scientists in South Korea came up with a technique that allows drinkers to avoid a hangover. A team of researchers added extra oxygen to drinks and found that the body was then able to metabolize the booze quicker and eliminate the alcohol quicker - cutting down the after affects, Sky News reported.

Healthy humans were given 240ml and 360ml drinks containing 19.5 percent alcohol by volume - all with different amounts of oxygen added. The results, documented in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, showed those who consumed the more highly oxygenated drinks recovered more quickly and saw their blood alcohol levels return to normal more speedily.

Researchers In-hwan Baek, Byung-yo Lee and Kwang-il Kwon of Chungnam National University's College of Pharmacy concluded: "Elevated dissolved oxygen concentrations in alcoholic drinks accelerate the metabolism and elimination of alcohol. "Thus, enhanced dissolved oxygen concentrations in alcohol may have a role to play in reducing alcohol-related side effects and accidents." The only downside the researchers found was that the process also reduced the amount of time drinkers were actually drunk for.

A Korean drinks company is now launching an oxygenated 'soju' drink called O2 Lin - a drink the company says "helps clarify your brain, energizes your body cells, and maintains healthy and resilient skin”. [Wow! is all one can say to that]


6 March, 2010

Arthritis drug Vioxx 'not fit for sale', says Australian judge

I have never been happy with the attack on Vioxx. It has focused mainly on "ad hominem" accusations against the company rather than on the medical evidence. Let me summarize that evidence briefly: Less than one half of one percent of people taking Vioxx get heart attacks and most of them are in frail health anyway. But that tiny rate of heart attacks is still 2 to 4 times greater than the rate observed with some other Cox2 inhibitor drugs. And here is the kicker: Even though Vioxx takers get more heart attacks, they DON'T DIE of them at a rate higher than that seen among patients on other Cox2 inhibitors.

The fact is that all Cox2 inhibitors have troublesome side-effects but the side effects differ somewhat. So patients and their doctors should have a choice: A patient not doing well on one Cox2 inhibitor might do well on Vioxx. But that option has now been taken away. A patient might well have been ready to accept the slightly elevated risk of a non-fatal heart attack in order to have their arthritic pain relieved without other side-effects

The blockbuster anti-athritis drug Vioxx doubled the risk of heart attacks and was not fit to be on the market for arthritis pain, a federal court judge has found. In a landmark decision, Justice Christopher Jessup this morning awarded compensation of $278,000 plus interest to Graeme Peterson, who claimed the drug caused him to have a heart attack in 2003. Mr Peterson sued US pharmaceutical giant Merck claiming he was no longer able to work because of the heart attack.

“I have concluded that across a population the consumption of Vioxx about doubled the risk of heart attack,” Judge Jessup said. “I have held that because Vioxx involved about a doubling of the risk of heart attack, it was not reasonably fit for the purpose of being used for the relief of arthritic pain.”

Mr Peterson, acting on behalf of every Australian who took the drug from its launch in 2001 to its voluntary recall in September 2004, claims that Vioxx contributed to his heart attack in December 2003. He also alleged in the three-month trial held last year that Merck & Co and its Australian subsidiary, Merck, Sharp and Dohme, knew about the cardiovascular risks of the drug and covered it up and engaged in inappropriate marketing tactics.

It was the first civil trial against the pharmaceutical giant outside the US after Merck settled hundreds of lawsuits over Vioxx in the US for $US4.8 billion in late 2007 but did not admit any liability.

The Federal Court case heard allegations that Merck created a “hit list” of doctors critical of the drug who needed to be “neutralised”; trained sales representatives in a Men in Black-style workshop to overcome doctors' concerns that Vioxx caused heart attacks and writing songs (“Go Vioxx, go Vioxx, go Vioxx!!!”) to Ricky Martin-style music to motivate sales staff

Merck has announced that it will appeal the decision.


Frozen vegetables 'more nutritious than fresh vegetables', says report

The health freaks and "organic" devotees won't like one bit of this

Up to 45 per cent of important nutrients are lost in fresh vegetable by the time they are consumed. It can take up to two weeks for fresh produce to reach the table from being picked although the survey found that 80 per cent of shoppers thought the fresh vegetables in supermarkets were less than four days old.

Produce which is frozen soon after being picked with have more nutrients sealed in, scientists from the Institute of Food Research claimed. Meanwhile after 16 days green beans have lost 45 per cent of nutrients, broccoli and cauliflower 25 per cent, garden peas up to 15 per cent and carrots 10 per cent.

The research was carried out by the Institute on behalf of Birds Eye the frozen food manufacturer. Nutritionist Dr Sarah Schenker said: "The nutritional content of fresh vegetables begins to deteriorate from the minute they are picked. This means that by the time they end up on our plate, although we may think we're reaping the vegetable's full nutritionalb enefits, this is often not the case."


5 March, 2010

Now it's CHAIRS that are bad for you

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

The science is in and it's scary. Sitting down is bad for you - very bad. So much so that some workplaces are starting to act. Lissa Christopher, who wrote this story standing up, reports.

The time has come for office chairs to come with a health warning and "upholstered, height-adjustable weapons of mass destruction" might not be too much an exaggeration. Sitting for prolonged periods - and, let's face it, few places compete with the office when it comes to opportunities to park one's behind - is now linked to increased risk of premature death, particularly from cardiovascular disease. It is also associated with increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cancer.

What's more, these risks are not necessarily mitigated by those few hours a week you might spend running, swimming or pumping weights at the gym. That kind of exercise is still important, so don't stop, but sitting for prolonged periods appears to be a health hazard itself, much as smoking is a health hazard even if you also happen to be a devoted jogger. The science is scary and has prompted some bosses to re-think how they make their office staff work.

Some of the most recent findings come from an Australian study published in the journal Circulation in January. It found that for every hour that a person spends sitting in front of the television, their individual risk of death from all causes rose 11 per cent, their risk of death from cardiovascular disease rose 18 per cent and their risk of dying from cancer, 9 per cent.

Professor David Dunstan, of Melbourne's Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute and the paper's lead author, is keen to emphasise that the research is not about TV watching per se but about sitting, wherever it might be. "Television viewing time is a reasonable indicator of a person's overall sedentary pattern," he says. "Modern society has come to mean a lot of us simply shift from chair to chair throughout the day: seat in the car, the office, the couch at home."

Several medical research bodies - including Sweden's Karolinska Institute and, in the US, the University of Missouri-Columbia and the Mayo Clinic - have been looking into the specific mechanisms that link time spent on one's bum with poor health. One is obvious and well-known: fewer calories are burnt, you get fatter and there are health consequences. The other is more insidious. It seems that muscle contractions - even very small ones such as those required to keep us standing upright - trigger important processes to do with the breakdown of fats and sugars. When we sit down, those muscle contractions cease and the processing stalls. The good news is they restart shortly after we stand up again.

"You increase your metabolic rate between 10 and 20 per cent above resting simply by getting up off your bottom - not walking anywhere, but simply standing up," says says Dr James Levine, professor of medicine with the Mayo Clinic.

"And there is a whole cascade of metabolic [phenomena] that are activated within two minutes, perhaps sooner, of getting up and bearing your own weight. That cascade involves insulin receptor activation, lipo protein lipase [an enzyme that helps break down fat] activity and more. And these things are deactivated within several minutes of getting down off your legs." The value to human health of prolonged but low-level movement is vastly underestimated, he says.

Last year, Baker IDI and the cancer prevention research centre at the University of Sydney measured the amount of time people with sedentary jobs spent sitting and found that office, call centre and retail employees spent 77 per cent of the day seated. That's 31 hours a week planted on a chair for an employee working a 38-hour week; 46 if working a 60-hour week.

In a booklet titled Stand Up Australia, published with Medibank Private, they recommended that employers: consider sedentary time in their occupational health and safety policies just as they do seating posture; audit levels of sitting among staff; and "explore opportunities to reduce sitting in the workplace". And there is the challenge: reducing office sitting time while maintaining productivity.

Professor Dunstan could easily spend far too many hours on chair each week himself but he doesn't.

"I've introduced a stand-up desk into my work routine," he says, "and I have become conditioned to being able to stand for a predominant part of the day. And I don't stand still."

Professor Levine has taken on the movement challenge in ways both big and small. "I have a two-metre-long curly cord between the telephone and the handset, so I'm able to just pace around as I talk to you, looking out at the freezing snow of Minnesota," he tells the Herald. He has also been heavily involved with the design of the Steelcase Walkstation, a treadmill desk at which one can use a computer, talk on the phone, read etc, all the while strolling at a sedate two-or-so kilometres an hour. Levine uses one himself and has introduced them (and stationary bicycle desks, too) to a range of workplaces, mostly in the US.


Government demands thicker fries to help Britain's obesity crisis

They have been a staple of British cuisine for more than a century. But traditional chips are the latest target in the Government's war on obesity. Chip shop owners are being encouraged to produce thicker versions because they contain fewer calories and less fat.

The traditional British chip is already thicker - and therefore healthier - than the French fries served by big fast-food chains. Despite this, officials from the Food Standards Agency watchdog are encouraging chip shop owners to produce even thicker versions, much like potato wedges.

Douglas Roxburgh, president of the National Federation of Fish Fryers, described the move as 'totally unfair'. 'They should be concentrating on fast food outlets who make the thin French fries, not the traditional independent chip shop,' he said. 'We will be opposing this as much as we can until they make it a level playing field and start asking McDonald's, KFC and Burger King to change their chip sizes too.' He warned chip shops would also be forced to pay for new chip cutters with different sized blades.

The chef Aldo Zilli said: 'Providing we are not eating chips every day and cooking them in healthier oils, I don't think on this occasion size really has to matter.'

One in four British potatoes is made into chips, or around 1.5million tons a year - enough to stretch around the world 76 times. There are more than 11,000 fish and chip shops in the UK selling 255million meals every year. It is thought chips were first imported into Britain from France in the 18th century as 'pommes frites'. But it was not until the 1850s that Britons developed a taste for them.

The FSA scheme will cover Cambridgeshire, Greater Manchester and Northern Ireland by the end of this month. Officials will visit 80 chip shops to examine how much fat is in their chips and offer advice. If the pilot scheme is successful it will be rolled out across the country and last two years. Other small caterers including Indian and Chinese takeaways will be included. A spokesman for the FSA said: 'The aim of the pilot project is to produce some targeted advice for businesses which is simple, practical and easy to implement.'


4 March, 2010

Science and the toxic scare machine

The excellent article below sums up much that I have been saying on this blog -- JR

United States Federal Agency-sponsored research in public health toxicology is as irresponsible and misleading as the misconduct recently uncovered at the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Can't imagine anything as bad as the IPCC? How about thirty-plus years of panic-mongering about how the environment is a killer and (from the movie Aliens) "we're gonna die, man, we're all gonna die"?

Well of course we're gonna die, eventually. This scientific misconduct suggesting that we are going to die from the environment is intended to scare the most anxious and comfortable society in history. The research is the result of agency money spent to make the public more anxious and push the idea that government is a savior; regulations and programs must be instituted now to rescue us from Armageddon. More news at seven -- or in tomorrow's paper.

Adult professionals should be committed to good science and intellectual effort. In medicine, law, and all intellectual inquiry, we search for the best evidence. In public health research, unfortunately, the basic rules have been discarded in a shocking and disappointing way because the public health research community is poisoned by politics and funding influence. So the inconvenient scientific rules are ignored.

Epidemiologists study population effects, and toxicologists study negative effects. Sir Austin Bradford Hill, British icon of public health research, originated in the early 1950s nine criteria for proving toxicity. His first and most important criterion was evidence of a measurable and significant toxic effect. Other criteria include that the toxic effect proposed has to be plausible, has to make exposure sense, and should be evaluated to make sure some other thing is not in play. All the toxicology criteria are derivative of the effect. The rest of the criteria are sensible rules any momma could come up with. Read them here.

Public health bench studies on toxins expose rats or mice to extreme (just less than killer) levels of toxins. After the rodents are exposed, they are studied for effects or sacrificed and examined. When the researchers tally a death or find on autopsy a disease or a tumor, they assert they have found a toxin, and the public must be protected and warned. Any exposure to the toxin is dangerous. Agency regulators must step in and protect the society.

Population studies in public health look for effects from exposures, and the researchers work and grind small effects that don't prove anything but provide an opportunity to raise a question of toxicity. Even small effects that fail to prove toxicity then become important. The small effect is projected to the society as a big effect, and the researchers and agency pound the table and show projections that the small effect can produce thousands of sick or dead people.

The Federal Judicial Center is the educational institution for federal judges. Judges are designated the gatekeepers for evidence in all judicial affairs, and they make admissibility rulings all the time. The Judicial Center commissioned scientists and lawyers of high reputation to write the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence 2nd Ed. 2000. The Chapter on Epidemiology was written by Leon Gordis, M.D.; Dr. P.H., former chair of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins; Michal Friedman, J.D., Ph.D., MPH of the National Cancer Institute; and Michael Green, J.D. of Wake Forest U. Law School. (See study here.)

At page 375, the authors favorably reference the Bradford Hill Toxicity criteria.

At page 384, they discuss the magnitude of toxic effect required in observational studies that are used in public health toxicology research: "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. Recall that a relative risk of 1.0 means that the agent has no effect on the incidence of disease."

When the relative risk reaches 2.0, the agent is responsible for an equal number of cases of disease as all other background causes. Thus, a relative risk of 2.0 (with certain qualifications noted below) implies a 50% likelihood that an exposed individual's disease was caused by the agent. A relative risk greater than 2.0 would permit an inference that an individual plaintiff's disease was more likely than not caused by the implicated agent.

As an example of EPA misconduct and bad science, none of the important studies on air pollution can claim to comply with the rule on size of effect. That's true of so many other toxicology claims from population studies used by the EPA and other government agencies. Most public health journals are full of studies that break this rule.

Why scare the public with bad studies and exaggerated warnings? That's easy -- follow the money, the power, and the noise. The agencies are the source of funding, and the scientists must find something an agency can work with, or they won't have any funding or job. If the journals don't let the authors bend the rules, then the authors don't get published, and their status as experts is compromised -- but the journals won't have much to publish, so it will compromise the survival of the journals that are part of the academic infrastructure.

Would climate scientists have work tomorrow if today the U.N. said the global warming panic was revealed as a hoax? Same for public health panics and toxicity scares: The academic researchers, agency apparatchiks, and research programs would shrivel if tomorrow the EPA said, "Sorry...we were exaggerating. The planet is actually pretty safe, and only a few things are really toxic. We're shuttin' down the panic division -- get on with your lives."

An overlooked effect of the aggressive agency policymaking based on weak or inadequate science is misdirection of resources. Environmental regulations and compliance requirements can cause economic disruptions, unemployment, and economic hardship. Negative economic developments affect human welfare and are proven by the public health research to cause premature death.

Government agency funding, research, and policymaking should be comprehensively evaluated and tested for validity, but also for risks and benefits.


A raw deal

Farms selling milk straight from the cow vex food regulators, but the demand isn't diminishing. Why can't people be allowed to take their own risks?

The word "raw" sounds like something exciting and maybe a little dangerous. It makes you think of bloody steaks and wrestlers and untanned hides. "Milk," on the other hand, evokes just the opposite: motherhood, kids with sippy cups, and Oscar-winning movies. Maybe it’s the uncomfortable juxtaposition of the two ideas that makes certain people so nervous about raw milk. As demand increases, state legislators, regulators and courts are all reexamining the issue of raw milk. But as some jurisdictions legalize while others crack down, farmers and milk drinkers are stuck in limbo.

Raw milk is simply ordinary milk that hasn’t been pasteurized. Pasteurization—the quick heating and cooling of fresh milk -- kills bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. When Americans first began pasteurizing milk at the turn of the last century, testing was rudimentary and farms were far less hygienic. Milk quality varied tremendously, transit was slow and the milk that made it into cities often veered into unsafe territory. Pasteurization —which eradicated Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria— saved lives.

Today, the situation is different. Testing for the presence of such pathogens is much more precise, and farms are far cleaner. While processing milk remains a good choice for milk shipped to the population as a whole, there are a group of food rebels who would rather drink their milk straight from the cow. Some say they prefer the taste, calling it richer and more robust. Others say that pasteurization kills beneficial enzymes and helpful bacteria along with the baddies. Whatever their reasons for drinking the raw stuff, the proliferation of raw milk devotees willing to take a small risk for better dairy makes regulators unhappy, and they are looking for ways to crack down on milk speakeasies.

Federal law prohibits the transportation of raw milk across state lines for illicit purposes (i.e. selling the milk to consumers rather than processors). But 23 states currently ban the sale of raw milk within their borders as well. When federal or state regulators come across suspicious milk, they have a bad habit of pouring the stuff out first and asking questions later—much to the dismay of farmers who rely on the milk for their livelihood. The Midvalleyvu Family Farm, near Milwaukee, recently drew attention when a Wisconsin state legislator took up its cause after hearing that the regulatory agency that enforces the state’s ban on sales of raw milk had been investigating the owners for months, demanding bank records and canceled checks in addition to contacts and invoices for the farm’s suppliers. Midvalleyvu had been selling raw milk in defiance of the law—but there had been no reported health problems or consumer complaints linked to the farm. Eventually the farm gave up selling raw milk.

But every time an outlet for raw milk gets shut down, a new one opens up, and fans find their way to the moo juice. In Pennsylvania, a Mennonite farmer named Mark Nolt has been a victim of the regulators’ zeal. Starting in 2008, state officials have repeatedly raided his property, confiscating equipment, destroying his inventory and harassing his family because they say he is selling raw milk and cheese in violation of state law. Feds showed up at another Pennsylvania homestead earlier this week, this time on the private land of Amish farmer Dan Allgyer, with a similar mission.

As it stands, the future of raw milk is far from clear. Pennsylvania lawmakers are working on revisions to close loophole in the state’s raw milk laws and the Cheese Reporter (yes, there is such a publication) reports that the FDA may be gearing up to tweak the rules on the aging of domestic raw milk cheese as well. But in other areas of the country, thinking on the issue of raw milk is evolving toward more choice for consumers. Two bills to legalize the sale of raw milk have been introduced in Georgia, for instance. And six other state legislatures are debating the issue as well.

Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said raw milk drinkers are getting “pretty clever” these days. In Canada, a test case recently yielded a victory for raw milk drinkers. Ontario farmer Michael Schmidt was vindicated by the Canadian courts in late January after three years of legal squabbling. While raw milk is legal to drink in Canada, it is illegal to sell. Dairy farmers, unlike their bovine charges, can be a pretty sharp bunch. Schmidt was distributing raw milk, but avoiding regulations by selling his customers a one-quarter ownership stake (good for six years) in each of the 150 cows he keeps at $300 a pop. They own the cow fragment outright, but pay him to provide milking and delivery service. The court ruled that this system was within legally permissible boundaries. (Note that another place this arrangement has cropped up is California, where marijuana cooperatives help medical pot patients work around a similar legal-to-use, illegal-to-sell situation. Contraband is contraband, no matter whether you smoke it or drink it.)

Raw milk is a hot issue right now, with state, local, and federal governments reevaluating their stance on milk as consumer demand increases. The rulemakers have a choice: They can work with the customers they are supposed to be protecting to help them get what they want, or they can declare raw milk drinkers and sellers the enemy and persecute them. Sundlof recently called the “continued and escalating interest in raw milk consumption” a “problem for this industry, and certainly it’s a problem for the FDA.” It’s precisely that attitude that is driving raw milk producers underground and into increasingly elaborate legal arrangements. And while lawmakers and bureaucrats dither, an awful lot of law-abiding farmers are finding that their milk is going sour and their patience is running out.


3 March, 2010

Wake-up call for teen pot smokers

The finding could mean that pot users are more likely to be not too good to start with. I can think of some examples of that. But the use of siblings as controls represents a serious effort to deal with that doubt, if not a conclusive one

YOUNG adults who used marijuana as teens were more likely than those who didn't to develop schizophrenia and psychotic symptoms, a seven-year Australian study found. Those who used the drug for six or more years were twice as likely to develop a psychosis such as schizophrenia or to have delusional disorders than those who never used it.

Research involving more than 3800 young adults, released online by the Archives of General Psychiatry, found long-term users were also four times more likely to have psychotic-like experiences. The findings, by the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland, build on previous research and shows that marijuana use is not as harmless as some people think, lead study author John McGrath said yesterday in an email.

The researchers quizzed 3801 young adults who were born in Brisbane between 1981 and 1984. The participants, whose average age was about 20, were asked about marijuana use. The researchers also measured whether those in the study had psychotic symptoms. The study was the first to look at sibling pairs to discount genetic or environmental influence and still find marijuana linked to later psychosis, the authors said.

"This is the most convincing evidence yet that the earlier you use cannabis, the more likely you are to have symptoms of a psychotic illness," said Dr McGrath, a professor at the institute, in a statement. "The message for teenagers is: if they choose to use cannabis they have to understand there's a risk involved." Researchers were looking for causes of schizophrenia, Dr McGrath said.

Of the 1272 participants who had never used marijuana, 26 (2 per cent) were diagnosed with psychosis. Of the 322 people who had used marijuana for six or more years, 12 (3.7 per cent) were diagnosed with the illness. Overall, 65 people were diagnosed with psychosis, the study said. The researchers also found those who used marijuana the longest were four times more likely than those who didn't to have the highest scores derived from a list of psychotic-like experiences.

Dr McGrath said even those who used marijuana for fewer than three years still had an increased risk of scoring higher than those who had not. "Apart from the implications for policy makers and health planners, we hope our findings will encourage further clinical and animal-model research to unravel the mechanisms linking cannabis use and psychosis," the authors wrote.

Those in the study were interviewed at the ages of 14 and 21, so the symptoms emerged between those two study periods, Dr McGrath said. The study also showed that among 228 sibling pairs, those who didn't use marijuana reported fewer psychotic-like delusions compared with those who used cannabis. That difference was statistically significant and reduces the likelihood that the psychotic problems were caused by genetics or environment, the authors said.

The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.


A gene for Alzheimer's makes you smarter

Once again, it's all in the genes -- good and bad

A GENE variant that ups your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in old age may not be all bad. It seems that young people with the variant tend to be smarter, more educated and have better memories than their peers.

The discovery may improve the variant's negative image (see "Yes or no"). It also suggests why the variant is common despite its debilitating effects in old age. Carriers of the variant may have an advantage earlier in life, allowing them to reproduce and pass on the variant before its negative effects kick in. "From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense," says Duke Han at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

The "allele" in question is epsilon 4, a version of the apolipoprotein E gene (APOE). Having one copy increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's at least fourfold compared with people who have other forms of the gene. A person with two copies has up to 20 times the risk.

One big clue that epsilon 4 might be beneficial emerged several years ago, when Han's team scanned the APOE genes of 78 American soldiers. All had suffered traumatic brain injuries, many while serving in Iraq. Sixteen had at least one copy of epsilon 4. Han's team expected to find that these carriers would be in worse cognitive shape than their counterparts with different versions of APOE, given previous studies that showed elderly people with epsilon 4 fare worse after head injury. But the opposite was true: soldiers with the epsilon 4 allele had better memory and attention spans (Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1136/jnnp.2006.108183).

It wasn't the first study to suggest that epsilon 4 may be beneficial to the young. Back in 2000, researchers showed that young women with epsilon 4 have IQs a few points higher than those with no copies of the variant and score 7 points higher on the non-verbal portion of a common intelligence test (Neuroscience Letters, vol 294, p 179). Then in the Czech Republic in 2001, researchers showed that 87 per cent of epsilon 4 carriers go on to university, compared with 55 per cent of people with another version of APOE. The last group were also more likely to drop out of school

More recently, Jenny Rusted of the University of Sussex, UK, and Natalie Marchant at the University of California, Berkeley, have uncovered still more benefits for young people carrying epsilon 4. Those aged between 18 and 30 with the gene variant excelled at tasks requiring the frontal lobe, a brain region involved in higher cognitive skills. In particular, epsilon 4 carriers did better in a card game that asked them to remember a future plan while busy with another task

Rusted suggests that epsilon 4 helps people focus on important information. But recalling something also requires you to tune out the irrelevant bits, an ability known to decline with age.

Perhaps, Rusted says, without this second capability, epsilon 4's benefits fall by the wayside. Why it has a negative effect in old age, however, is still a mystery, although a study carried out by Clare MacKay at the University of Oxford in 2009 offers a tentative, hypothesis.

Her team asked 20 to 35-year-olds to remember which pictures of animals or landscapes they had seen before, while having their brains scanned with functional MRI. It was an easy task and all performed equally well. But a brain region critical to memory lit up more strongly in epsilon 4 carriers than in the others, raising the intriguing possibility that carriers' brains get overworked in early life, only to be worn out by the time they hit old age. MacKay wouldn't go that far, but she says: "It's possible that your brain is having to work harder when it's younger and this may have consequences for later life."


2 March, 2010

Strange commentary on people of middling weight

Since it has repeatedly been shown that people of middling weight live the longest, how come they are "unhealthy"? One has to suspect bad sampling or heroic assumptions behind the report below -- probably both

JUST a quarter of Australians are at a healthy weight, says a study that puts the total cost of caring for the overweight and obese at over $56 billion a year. Direct health care and other related costs totalled $21 billion, according to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, while government subsidies cost another $35.6 billion a year.

Stephen Colagiuri, Professor of Metabolic Health at the University of Sydney, and his co-authors analysed data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study, collected in 1999-2000 and 2004-2005. He said the research took account of all costs – borne by individuals and the tax-paying public – which flow from the problem of being overweight or obese. "Traditionally, studies report only costs associated with obesity and rarely take overweight into account," Prof Colagiuri said in a statement.

"We found that the direct cost of overweight and obesity in Australia is significantly higher than previous estimates. "As the number of overweight and obese adult Australians continues to increase, the direct cost of overweight and obesity will also continue to rise," he said.

The study took in body weight data from 6140 typically middle-aged people, just over half (54.1 per cent) of whom were women. Just 24.7 per cent of those in the study were deemed to be of normal healthy weight, with 32.4 per cent considered overweight and 42.9 per cent rated as obese, according to their body mass index score or waist circumference. Prof Colagiuri said it was important to account for both overweight as well as obesity as both were associated with an increased risk of health problems and cost.

Healthcare costs flowing from the nation's overweight and obese include ambulance services, hospital visits, prescription medication and items such as blood glucose self-monitoring meters and strips. The research also took account of the cost of transport to hospital, supported accommodation and special food, while government subsidies included aged, disability and veteran pensions, mobility and sickness allowances and unemployment benefits.


A rather odd finding about mothers

Neither women who work full-time nor women who stay at home full time have the healthiest children. It is women who work part time who have the healthiest children. The reason why can only be speculative, however. It could be a random result

Mothers who work part-time raise the healthiest children, while stay-at-home mums are more likely to have kids who are chubby couch potatoes, research reveals. A new study of more than 4500 Australian preschoolers found children of part-time mums ate less junk food, watched less TV and were less likely to be overweight.

The results have sparked renewed calls for family-friendly work policies to promote healthy lifestyles for kids.

Researchers from the University of New England in NSW believe the unexpected finding may be driven by part-time mums being more conscientious on the days they are at home to care for their children.

This could explain why they restrict TV viewing and unhealthy snacks more than other mums, while ensuring their kids are physically active. "It wasn't what we expected at all," said co-author Jan Nicholson, principal research fellow at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne. "When mothers work part-time, there's obviously something about the way the house is run and the way parents are looking after their children that is protective," Professor Nicholson said.

The study, to be published in the international journal Social Sciences & Medicine next month, also shows full-time working mums tend to have less healthy children.

Overall, part-time mums let their children watch about an hour less TV per week than other mums. The children also ate fewer snack foods, had more time to exercise and were exposed to less junk food advertising.


1 March, 2010

Painkillers 'double risk of deafness' for men

The conclusions in the article below may be correct but they don't follow from the evidence. Who are these people who take lots of painkillers? Presumably people with various bodily malfunctions. That their hearing may be part of the pattern of malfunctions is not at all surprising. The pills may have nothing to do with it.

Men who regularly take over-the-counter painkillers are twice as likely to suffer hearing problems than those who don't, a study has shown. Researchers found that younger men are particularly at risk. Taking paracetamol at least twice a week doubles the risk of mild to severe deafness before the age of 50. Other painkillers, including aspirin and ibuprofen, are also linked to hearing loss, the American researchers found.

The findings have not shown that painkillers directly cause deafness, but the scientists say they add to the evidence of a connection between the two.

Doctors have long known that high doses of aspirin can cause temporary tinnitus - or ringing in the ears. However, low doses of the painkiller have been shown to protect against deafness caused by noise and antibiotics. And previous anecdotal evidence has suggested non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen can harm hearing in people.

For the latest findings, researchers from Harvard University, Boston, tracked the health and lifestyles of more than 26,000 men every two years for 18 years. The subjects were asked about their use of painkillers and whether they had hearing problems. By the end of the study, nearly 3,500 reported some type of hearing loss. Taking into account the age, weight, background and medical history of the men, the researchers established a link between hearing problems and common painkillers. Although the study did not look at women, the researchers believe painkiller use could have an effect on their hearing.

Men under 60 who took at least two aspirins every week were 33 per cent more likely to suffer hearing loss than men who took fewer than two aspirins, the study showed. It found no link for men aged 60 and over. Men under 50 who regularly took ibuprofen and other NSAIDS were 61 per cent more likely to have hearing problems, while those aged 50 to 59 were 32 per cent more likely to suffer. Those aged 60 and above had a 16 per cent higher chance of deafness.

But the biggest link was found in men under the age of 50 who regularly took paracetamol. They are 99 per cent more likely to suffer hearing problems. Men aged 50 to 59 who regularly took paracetamol were 38 per cent more likely to have hearing loss, while those aged 60 and over had a 16 per cent greater chance, the researchers report in The American Journal of Medicine. For all groups, regular use meant taking at least two painkillers a week over a long period. The longer the period, the greater risk of hearing loss, it was found.

Dr Sharon Curhan, an author of the study based at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, said: 'Given the high prevalence of regular analgesic use and health and social implications of hearing impairment, this represents an important public health issue.'

The researchers admitted that although they found a connection, they have not shown that painkillers cause hearing problems. The researchers did not have any information on how much noise the men were exposed to did not ask why they took painkillers. However, the scientists say that the drugs may cause damage to part of the inner ear.


A Cure for Character

by George Will

Peter De Vries, America's wittiest novelist, died 17 years ago but his discernment of this country's cultural foibles still amazes. In a 1983 novel, he spotted the tendency of America's therapeutic culture to medicalize character flaws:

"Once terms like identity doubts and midlife crisis become current," De Vries wrote, "the reported cases of them increase by leaps and bounds." And: "Rapid-fire means of communication have brought psychic dilapidation within the reach of the most provincial backwaters, so that large metropolitan centers and educated circles need no longer consider it their exclusive property, nor preen themselves on their special malaises."

Life is about to imitate De Vries' literature, again. The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), psychiatry's encyclopedia of supposed mental "disorders," is being revised. The 16 years since the last revision evidently were prolific in producing new afflictions. The revision may aggravate the confusion of moral categories.

Today's DSM defines "oppositional defiant disorder" as a pattern of "negativistic, defiant, disobedient and hostile behavior toward authority figures." Symptoms include "often loses temper," "often deliberately annoys people" or "is often touchy." DSM omits this symptom: "is a teenager."

This DSM defines as "personality disorders" attributes that once were considered character flaws. "Antisocial personality disorder" is "a pervasive pattern of disregard for ... the rights of others ... callous, cynical ... an inflated and arrogant self-appraisal." "Histrionic personality disorder" is "excessive emotionality and attention-seeking." "Narcissistic personality disorder" involves "grandiosity, need for admiration ... boastful and pretentious." And so on.

If every character blemish or emotional turbulence is a "disorder" akin to a physical disability, legal accommodations are mandatory. Under federal law, "disabilities" include any "mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities"; "mental impairments" include "emotional or mental illness." So there might be a legal entitlement to be a jerk. (See above, "antisocial personality disorder.")

The revised DSM reportedly may include "binge eating disorder" and "hypersexual disorder" ("a great deal of time" devoted to "sexual fantasies and urges" and "planning for and engaging in sexual behavior"). Concerning children, there might be "temper dysregulation disorder with dysphoria."

This last categorization illustrates the serious stakes in the categorization of behaviors. Extremely irritable or aggressive children are frequently diagnosed as bipolar and treated with powerful antipsychotic drugs. This can be a damaging mistake if behavioral modification treatment can mitigate the problem.

Another danger is that childhood eccentricities, sometimes inextricable from creativity, might be labeled "disorders" to be "cured." If 7-year-old Mozart tried composing his concertos today, he might be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and medicated into barren normality.

Furthermore, intellectual chaos can result from medicalizing the assessment of character. Today's therapeutic ethos, which celebrates curing and disparages judging, expresses the liberal disposition to assume that crime and other problematic behaviors reflect social or biological causation. While this absolves the individual of responsibility, it also strips the individual of personhood, and moral dignity.

James Q. Wilson, America's pre-eminent social scientist, has noted how "abuse excuse" threatens the legal system and society's moral equilibrium. Writing in National Affairs quarterly ("The Future of Blame"), Wilson notes that genetics and neuroscience seem to suggest that self-control is more attenuated -- perhaps to the vanishing point -- than our legal and ethical traditions assume.

The part of the brain that stimulates anger and aggression is larger in men than in women, and the part that restrains anger is smaller in men than in women. "Men," Wilson writes, "by no choice of their own, are far more prone to violence and far less capable of self-restraint than women." That does not, however, absolve violent men of blame. As Wilson says, biology and environment interact. And the social environment includes moral assumptions, sometimes codified in law, concerning expectations about our duty to desire what we ought to desire.

It is scientifically sensible to say that all behavior is in some sense caused. But a society that thinks scientific determinism renders personal responsibility a chimera must consider it absurd not only to condemn depravity but also to praise nobility. Such moral derangement can flow from exaggerated notions of what science teaches, or can teach, about the biological and environmental roots of behavior.

Or -- revisers of the DSM, please note -- confusion can flow from the notion that normality is always obvious and normative, meaning preferable. And the notion that deviations from it should be considered "disorders" to be "cured" rather than stigmatized as offenses against valid moral norms.


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

"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.”

"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 salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. 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!


More on salt (See point 5 above): 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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."

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.