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

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

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

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

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

What fast food does to girls


31 March, 2012

Just one glass of wine a day linked to breast cancer

This appears to be a meta-analysis and while such analyses are important their results can very easily be swung in the direction expected by the researchers.  The data input seems to  have been epidemiological so proves nothing anyhow.  Alcohol drinking may be simply a proxy for how careful people are about their health generally.

Just one good double blind study is needed for firm conclusions.  Given that, all the meta-analyses would be superfluous.  The journal article is "Epidemiology and Pathophysiology of Alcohol and Breast Cancer: Update 2012"

Women should stick to just one glass of wine a day and those with a family history of breast cancer should abstain altogether as researchers find even moderate alcohol consumption increases chances of developing the disease.

A review of research on alcohol and breast cancer has found that just one drink a day can increase the risk of breast cancer by five per cent.  Women drinking 'heavily' by having three or more drinks a day are up to 50 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who abstain, it was found.

It could mean that thousands of cases of breast cancer in Britain each year are caused by alcohol.

The link between breast cancer and alcohol is already known but it has not been clear if there was an the increased risk with low levels of consumption or a 'safe' threshold, below which there was no effect on breast cancer.  There are around 48,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer in Britain each year and just under 12,000 women with the disease die annually.

The analysis of 113 research papers was published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism.

The researchers from the University of Heidelberg in Germany and the University of Milan, in Italy, wrote in the journal: "Since several populations show a high prevalence of light drinkers among women, even the small increase in risk we reported — in the order of five per cent — represents a major public health issue in terms of breast cancers attributable to alcohol consumption."

In the research, a drink was defined as 10 to 12 grams of ethanol, the equivalent of up to 1.5 UK units, or around one 125ml glass of average strength red wine or a pint of lager.

The researchers found that the more women drank the higher their risk of breast cancer, and calculated that each 10g of alcohol per day was linked to a ten to 13 per cent increased risk of cancer.

For every 200 women, 20 are expected to develop breast cancer during their lifetime. If they all drank 1.5 units every day, an extra one woman would develop cancer because of alcohol, the research suggests.

Lead author Prof Helmut Seitz wrote: "Since there is no threshold level of ethanol for breast cancer risk, the breast is one of the most sensitive organs for the carcinogenic action of alcohol. Healthy women should not exceed one drink a day (equivalent to 10–12g of ethanol).

"Women at an elevated risk for breast cancer such as those with a positive family history, or conditions associated with an increased breast cancer risk should avoid alcohol or consume alcohol only occasionally."

It is thought alcohol affects the female hormone oestrogen which can fuel certain forms of breast cancer.

Sarah Williams, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Research has already shown that the risk of breast cancer increases the more alcohol a woman drinks.  "But this new study adds to the evidence that drinking even small amounts of alcohol – about one drink a day – can slightly increase the risk of breast cancer.

"Women can help reduce their risk of breast cancer by reducing the amount of alcohol they drink, keeping a healthy weight, and being physically active.”


One-a-day heart pill to stave off stroke is given the green light

Warfarin (rat poison) is very dangerous so an alternative is good news

The first once-a-day anti-clotting drug for patients with an irregular heartbeat has been given the green light for use on the NHS.  Rivaroxaban works as well as warfarin, a treatment based on rat poison which has been used since the 1950s, but with fewer side effects.

Hundreds of thousands of patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) could be eligible, which may prevent 5,000 strokes a year.

The drug is the second new anti-clotting agent to get the go-ahead from the NHS rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which recently approved Pradaxa.

AF is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting up to 1.2 million Britons and causing 12,500 strokes a year.  In AF, the upper chambers of the heart are out of rhythm and beat much faster than normal, which allows blood to pool and generate tiny blood clots which can trigger a stroke.

Rivaroxaban is expected to become a blockbuster drug. As a daily pill, it has a key advantage over Pradaxa, which must be taken twice a day.

AF patients have to take anti-clotting agents for life, but Nice says the new drugs offer value for money either as a replacement for warfarin or for patients who cannot take it.

At £2.10 a day, Rivaroxaban is slightly cheaper than Pradaxa (£2.50), but there is still a big price differential with warfarin. The new drug costs £64 for a month’s supply, compared to warfarin’s cost of only £1, plus clinic visits. Some of the clinic costs associated with monitoring warfarin may be recouped, says Nice.

Warfarin, which is still used in large doses to kill vermin, has been given routinely to AF patients for decades, reducing the rate of stroke by up to two-thirds at the cost of increased bleeding.

But it is inconvenient for patients because careful monitoring and regular blood tests are needed to prevent excessive bleeding from cuts or stomach ulcers.

A consensus conference by the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh estimated 5,000 strokes and 2,000 premature deaths a year could be avoided through effective detection and treatment of AF, with only half of patients currently receiving drugs.

Trudie Lobban, chief executive and founder of the Atrial Fibrillation Association, said prevention and treatment of strokes should be an NHS priority.

She added: ‘After 60 years when warfarin was the only option for patients we now have a choice of agents that will have a significant impact on strokes and quality of life. They are opening the way for raising awareness and education, and encouraging GPs to check for AF.’

Rivaroxaban was developed by Bayer AG and Johnson & Johnson and is expected to make peak sales worth two billion euros a year in Europe.

Dr Peter Coleman, of The Stroke Association, said: ‘Warfarin is a highly effective treatment for stroke prevention, but it is not suitable for everyone.  ‘We’re pleased to hear that GPs will have another safe medication in their armoury to treat patients with atrial fibrillation.’

Professor Carole Longson, of Nice, added: ‘We know that people taking warfarin can find it difficult to maintain their blood clotting at a proper level and are often not within the target therapeutic range.

‘Rivaroxaban, like dabigatran etexilate, which Nice recently approved as an option for this indication, can benefit people with AF in these circumstances.’


30 March, 2012

Sniffles could be snuffed out in asthmatics

This may be good news for asthmatics but for others the effect would seem to be similar to Tamiflu or Relenza

 Melbourne drugmaker Biota yesterday reported the stunning success of its antiviral compound named Vapendavir.  Tested in 300 asthmatic patients infected with the cold-causing human rhinovirus, the clinical trial showed that cold symptoms eased quickly and the duration of the infection was shortened considerably.

Patients given a placebo experienced the worst cold symptoms at 2.5 days, whereas those dosed with Vapendavir began rapid recovery after just 1.7 days. Alfred Hospital senior specialist in respiratory medicine Dr Robert Stirling said Vapendavir had the potential to "significantly impact the disabling symptoms of the rhinovirus bug".

"If this reduces the intensity and duration of a respiratory cold, especially in asthmatics, it is an important finding," he said. "I think eventually we will be able to incorporate this treatment into our usual practice and we will find the economic benefits will outweigh health costs of treating infected patients. This could signal the death of the sickie."

Colds and flu cost Australian companies more than $7 billion a year in lost time.

But the cure has to be tested in a bigger group of patients and Biota needs to satisfy regulators that it will fill an unmet need in healthcare before it is available to the public. Market experts estimate this may take only a few years.

And even if the product is marketed specifically for asthmatics, it would be possible for healthy people to access it to cure colds quicker, RBS Morgans analyst Scott Power said.

Biota chief executive Peter Cook said the trial was designed for asthma patients whose breathing deteriorates when they catch cold.


Congressional Blowout Over Cosmetics Law Reform

Today, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on cosmetics regulation to consider whether Congress should beef up federal law to ensure public health and safety. Ironically, many calls for federal action came from industry, mostly small firms that simply want the freedom to innovate and market products across state lines without running up against 50 different sets of rules and who want to restore consumer confidence about the safety of their products.

Unfortunately, federal action may move the debate in a different, not-so-positive direction, particularly given the viewpoints expressed by lawmakers who will craft the “reforms.”

The ultimate problem is that these lawmakers focus on hazard rather than risk and they downplay, if not largely ignore, the benefits of the products. Hazard-based standards only consider whether something has the potential for harm at some level or under some specific circumstance. A chemical may be dubbed “hazardous,” even if it poses little risk at existing exposure levels. For example, water can be considered hazardous because excessive consumption can produce fatal “water intoxication.”

Risk involves the probability that something will happen. For example, the risk of water intoxication is low from taking a few sips of water, but the risk level increases an individual continues to consume the water at higher and higher levels. But the hazard posed by the water remains the same in all instances. Likewise, we have many “hazardous” chemicals in our homes — everything from cleaning supplies to bug spray to olive oil (which can make you slip if spilled on the floor). Each can be a hazard, but the risk depends on how we use them. Fortunately, we can benefit from each of these products while managing the risks to keep them low.

Accordingly, hazard assessment alone is not a good justification for regulation, but instead is usually one step in the risk assessment process. To determine actual risk, regulators must then consider actual or estimated exposures. Yet current regulatory trends are moving toward a focus on using hazard alone as a justification for regulation.

Rep Janice D. Schakowsky (D-Ill.), sponsor of the cosmetic law reform bill–the so called “Safe Chemicals Act” (H.R. 2359) — repeatedly focused on the “hazards” posed by chemicals during the question and answer session. Rep. Schakowsky’s arguments gained support from Dr. Michael DiBartolomeis, who gave testimony representing the California Department of Public Health. During the question and answer session, he stated that no cosmetic product should contain any “carcinogen.”

DiBartolomeis completely disregards the fact that it’s the dose that makes the poison. Many chemicals are classified as carcinogens simply because extremely high levels give lab rats cancer, even when there is no measurable impact on humans exposed to trace levels. If we followed his advice, we would have to also ban broccoli, carrots, and coffee because high levels give lab rats cancer.

Given such nonsense from members of Congress and government regulators, “reform” could be dangerous for the industry and consumers who might see lower-quality products as a result. In fact, Schakowsky’s bill would impose a host of information mandates and taxes on the industry that will be expensive — particularly for the many small businesses selling specialty products — simply because lawmakers want to regulate all possible “hazards.”

There have been few problems caused by cosmetics under existing law to warrant such an extreme regulatory approach. Still bill supporters point to one case where a hair product — the Brazilian Blowout — caused irritations and other health problems. But the problem did not result because existing law is too weak but because the product did not comply with it. Fortunately, the issue was resolved using existing regulatory authorities. See more on that the “Brazilian Blowout” in CEI’s paper on cosmetics, which addresses the issue in detail within the appendix.

In addition, the bill would demand that companies prove that their products pose “reasonable certainty of no harm,” which essentially amounts to a zero risk standard — technically impossible to meet. EPA applies that standard to pesticides, and as a result, has removed many valuable pesticide uses despite little evidence of any problems.

The final result of the cosmetics “reform” may be the elimination of valuable products, increasing health risks. For example, what might happen if regulators ban formaldehyde, which is used as a preservative in cosmetics? Some products may spoil exposing consumers to infectious agents. That’s exactly what happened with one company, Arbonne International, who removed it from their products in an effort to be “green” (see CEI paper for details).


29 March, 2012

A diet that works? Fat chance

Not only are weight-loss programs a waste of time, they can play havoc with our normal metabolisms.

A year is a long time in the life of a Hollywood starlet. One day you're thin, the next you're not. Just ask Mila Kunis. In August last year the Black Swan actress upset women everywhere with her less than helpful observation that "people who say they can't lose weight are lying".

Kunis shed nine kilograms for her role in Black Swan and celebrated her weight-loss "victory" by trampling her gym-toned legs all over the self-esteem of her sisters.

High on her success, Kunis told the Daily Mail: "When people say 'I can't lose weight', no, no, no, you can. Your body can do everything and anything, you just have to want to do it."

It's bad enough that women the world over are taught to believe that anyone larger than size 0 is undisciplined and lazy, but, according to Kunis, we can add "liar" to the list of character flaws.

Fast forward eight months, and Kunis has changed her tune. In the April edition of Harper's Bazaar she lets slip that not only has she regained the weight she lost on her way to becoming a swan, but her body has changed shape, and not in a good way.

"When I gained it back, it went to completely different areas. Not my rear … I'd be happy if my arse got bigger. All the weight that left my chest went to my side hip, my stomach."

Kunis' belated realisation that diets don't work will not surprise the average woman who spends 31 years of her life trying to lose weight.

It also won't surprise anyone acquainted with weight loss science. More than 50 years of research confirms that diets have a failure rate of between 95 to 98 per cent. That's right - of every 100 people who diet, 98 of them will either lose no weight or will soon regain any weight they do lose.

According to the US National Institute of Health technology assessment conference, "[weight-loss] interventions produce short-term losses followed by weight regain, and no current treatments appear capable of producing permanent weight loss".

Not a single diet or weight-loss treatment works. Not one. And that doesn't apply just to extreme fad diets that come and go as quickly as a bread roll to a carb-starved ex-Dukan Dieter. What decades of research tells us is that diets do not work. Full stop.

Worse, Columbia University researchers suggest that our bodies may burn fewer calories than normal for as many as six years after we diet because the metabolisms of people who have lost weight through dieting are slower than people of the same weight who did not diet.

Imagine that your friend is naturally a size 10 and you're a size 12. You may be able to diet to get down to the same weight as your friend, but once you're there you cannot eat what she eats.

If you eat the same number of calories as your non-dieting friend, you will most likely gain weight and she won't. That's because you've screwed up your metabolism for six years - possibly longer - and your friend's metabolism is still operating normally. This is your reward for the joy-sapping, soul-destroying, life-consuming deprivation of dieting. Worse still, you will regain more weight than you started out with.

Melbourne University professor Joseph Proietto, head of the weight control clinic at Austin Health, has found that dieters' bodies behave like they are starving, still trying to regain the lost weight a full 12 months after the diet has ended.

Participants in a study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine reported feeling hungrier and more preoccupied with food than before they lost weight. This is not surprising because the researchers found that the levels of ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, was about 20 per cent higher than at the start of the study and that the hormones that suppress hunger and stimulate metabolism were abnormally low.

"What we see here is a co-ordinated defence mechanism with multiple components all directed towards making us put on weight," Proietto says. "This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment." And if you don't believe the scientists, then just look to our celebrity experts such as Mila Kunis. By her own admission, dieting has permanently changed her body.

With such a high failure rate, it's time to stop perpetuating the lie that losing weight is just about wanting it enough. Because it's not us who have failed. It's the diets. And every time a smug skinny mini makes a catty comment in the press, she fails us all.


Eating a small amount of chocolate regularly could actually help you lose weight

These results are from a self-report questionnaire so are far from conclusive

For chocolate-lovers feeling guilty about their indulgence it is the best kind of news – eating more can help keep you thinner.

Although chocolate contains more calories than many other foods, those who eat it regularly have less body fat than those who don’t, a study shows.

Researchers suspect the calories in chocolate are not like ‘normal’ calories.  The ingredients in chocolate appear to make your metabolism work harder, which means they offset the fat that might otherwise have stayed around.  As a result, the metabolic effects of certain ingredients make chocolate a good slimming food because it is calorie- neutral, says the U.S. study.

The study, published last night, did not specify which type of chocolate was best.

But it appears to back up the claim by Hollywood star Katharine Hepburn about her slim physique when she said: ‘What you see before you is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.’

Study leader Dr Beatrice Golomb, from the University of California at San Diego, said: ‘Our findings appear to add to a body of information suggesting that the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining their ultimate impact on weight.

‘In the case of chocolate, this is good news, both for those who have a regular chocolate habit, and those who wish to start one.’

The scientists investigated the chocolate-eating habits of 972 men and women with an average age of 57 for a study of statins – cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The participants did not have any known heart problems but were asked diet and lifestyle questions including: ‘How many times a week do you consume chocolate?’ Their Body Mass Index, which relates weight to height, was also recorded.

The surprising findings showed those who ate chocolate on more days of the week than average were statistically likely to have a lower BMI.

This was despite the fact that people who ate more chocolate did not consume fewer calories overall, or take more exercise. In fact they ate more. Chocolate consumption was associated with greater overall saturated fat intake from other sources.

Volunteers had an average BMI of 28 – meaning they were overweight – and ate chocolate on average twice a week.

The study did not look at what type of chocolate the participants ate or how much. As a result, no link was seen between the amount of chocolate eaten and either higher or lower BMI.

The researchers warn the study’s findings may not apply to all products containing chocolate and do not rule out the possibility that some people can put on weight with frequent modest chocolate consumption.

But the results, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, broadly fit with previous research on rats showing benefits from some chemicals found in chocolate, including speeding up the metabolism.

Epicatechin, one chemical derived from the chocolate ingredient cocoa, has been shown to boost numbers of mitochondria, the cells’ energy-generating ‘power houses’.

Mitochondria burn up calories and epicatechin reduced weight in rats whose calorie intake and exercise levels were unchanged. Another antioxidant ingredient theo bromine is a stimulant.

Other studies have found that the benefits of chocolate can include a drop in the risk of heart disease and strokes, a reduction in blood pressure and a cut in the risk of diabetes.


28 March, 2012

The expert branded a woman hater for saying breast cancer screening ruins lives

A rare medical researcher who looks at the big picture

What could be more sensible than having a mammogram?  If a tiny tumour is growing in your breast, you want to find it as soon as possible and treat it before it has a chance to spread and become life-threatening.  This simple idea is the basis of a worldwide breast scanning industry that costs billions every year.

The UK programme was launched in 1988, and according to triumphant figures released last week it is screening more women than ever before — nearly 1.9million a year (at a cost of around £96 million).

‘By bringing forward detection and diagnosis, screening helps us find those cancers that might otherwise not be caught until later in life,’ said Sarah Sellars, assistant director for the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes.

However, some experts question whether national screening programmes for breast cancer are such a good idea.  For more than a decade, Peter Gotzsche, a leading Danish professor and statistician, has argued they are a serious mistake: not only do they do little to reduce the death rate from breast cancer, but because women haven’t been told the truth about the risks of mammography, some endure painful disfigurement and completely unnecessary treatment that may have shortened their lives.

Two years ago, when he looked at the figures produced to mark the 20th anniversary of the UK screening programme, Professor Gotzsche’s analysis suggested that for every 2,000 women screened regularly for ten years, just one will benefit from the screening.   At the same time, ten healthy women will, as a consequence, become cancer patients and be treated unnecessarily.

The director of the NHS cancer screening programme, Julietta Patnick, says Gotzsche’s analysis is ‘inaccurate’.  Rather than one life being saved for every ten women who received unnecessary treatment, she says, the true figure was much closer to a one-to-one ratio.

But Gotzsche has blue-chip credentials — he is professor of clinical research design and analysis and leader of the Nordic Cochrane Center at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, and an expert in the statistics needed to assess the risks and benefits of screening.

Yet for almost ten years there has been a concerted campaign to discredit him, while scanning authorities in the UK, U.S. and Europe have done little to address his criticisms.

Many women will be vaguely aware that recently there have been some criticisms of mammograms.  Some may recall the news last October that the NHS leaflet on scanning given to women is to be reviewed following claims it exaggerated benefits and did not spell out the risks.

Analysis of the problems quickly becomes technical and is only available in hard-to-obtain, specialist journals.  Which is why Professor Gotzsche has written a book, Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies And Controversy.

He claims there has been a shocking campaign by the authorities to keep his alternative analysis from women.

The first time he raised concerns was in 2000.  Professor Gotzsche set out his case in an explosive article in the medical journal The Lancet.

Based on analysis of the results of the screening programme in Sweden it concluded mammography was ‘unjustified’ — and it generated a furious response.  Experts in the screening industry expressed ‘dismay’ that it would erode public confidence in screening and urged women to ignore it.

The Department of Health issued a press release saying the NHS Breast Screening programme was a success and there was no new evidence in The Lancet report.

‘Our review was described as riddled with misrepresentations, inconsistencies and errors of method and fact,’ says Professor Gotzsche.  ‘But often the attacks didn’t even challenge my research — they were simply personal. I was said to be ignorant, careless and on a crusade against screening.’

His report was originally commissioned by the Danish Board of Health, but when it was delivered the board tried to classify it as a ‘non-paper’, so it couldn’t even be accessed through the country’s Freedom of Information Act.

One of Professor Gotzsche’s chief opponents, Laszlo Tabar, was the author of one of the Swedish trials analysed in The Lancet.  He claimed it showed scanning to be effective and safe and still holds that view.  Recently Tabar said scanning was the best thing to happen for women in 3,000 years, adding: ‘There are still people who don’t like mammography.  'Presumably, they don’t like women.’

Professor Gotzsche says: ‘People who like women, and women themselves, should no longer accept the pervasive misinformation they’re consistently exposed to.’

But what can be wrong with checking to catch breast cancer as early as possible?  If every tumour that showed up on a mammogram eventually spread around the body, no one could object. But cancer isn’t like that.

‘It is a biological fact of life that we cannot avoid getting cancer as we get older,’ says Professor Gotzsche.  ‘It’s so common nearly all middle-aged people will have some sign of it and most of them will die without having had any symptoms as a result.’

In other words, scanning finds cancerous changes that would otherwise never have caused a problem in your lifetime.

But once a mammogram picks up something that might be a tumour, you’re on your way to becoming a cancer patient because there are no reliable ways of telling if you’ve got the slow-growing or disappearing type, or if it is going to become dangerously invasive.

You will be sent for a biopsy and, if it’s cancerous, you get the full cancer works — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and possibly have your breast removed.  Thousands who would otherwise have remained perfectly healthy — because their cancers would never have caused a problem — become cancer patients.

In his book, Professor Gotzsche quotes a British woman who described what it could involve.  Her scan found a carcinoma in situ — a type of cancerous change in a cell that, in most cases, does not develop into the potentially lethal, invasive form of the disease. 

‘I expect I have been classified a screening success,’ she said.  ‘Yet everything about my experience tells me the opposite. Screening has caused me considerable and lasting harm.  'Two wide excisions, one partial mutilation (sorry, mastectomy), one reconstruction, five weeks’ radiotherapy, chronic infection, four bouts of cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection), several general anaesthetics, and more than a year off work.’

Thousands of women don’t go through anything as gruelling, but the sheer number overdiagnosed comes as a shock.  Professor Gotzsche has calculated that each year about 70,000 British women are recalled after a ‘false positive’ mammogram result.

In some cases, the cell changes detected by the mammogram weren’t cancerous.  But Professor Gotzsche is really concerned about cells that are cancerous but would never have caused problems.

Known as overdiagnosed cancers, they result in women treated unnecessarily.  Working out how many women had this unnecessary treatment is very complicated, which is why the debate gets so fierce.

‘The crucial question is, how many lives does it save?’ Professor Gotzsche adds.  ‘Is it enough to justify the harms inflicted on the healthy population?’

The screening programme officially saves an estimated 1,400 lives every year, but the professor found this couldn’t be true.

By using these figures, says Professor Gotzsche, the NHS has failed to give women honest information on which to make a decision and that just one life is saved while 10 women will be treated unnecessarily.

Some scanning experts have launched vicious personal attacks in response to Professor Gotzsche’s statistical analysis.

‘What is remarkable to me,’ wrote one, ‘is that this man calls himself a scientist since he obviously, knowingly ignores the scientific method to further his own agenda. I cannot believe his is so intellectually deficient.’

Professor Gotzsche has never said women shouldn’t be scanned — he believes women should get a realistic estimate of the benefits and risk, which, right now, they aren’t. That, he says, is a scandal.


More cholesterol needed

ONE patient persuaded John Kastelein to explore the radical idea that would anchor his future career. The cardiologist was at work in an Amsterdam hospital when a 36-year-old was brought into emergency. Tall and lean, non-smoking and physically fit, the man had collapsed with a heart attack.

"All his coronary arteries were terribly obstructed and he got operated on right away," said Professor Kastelein, now chairman of the genetics of cardiovascular disease at the University of Amsterdam. The damage was so severe that seven of his arteries had to be bypassed.

"In young people, surgeons often use the mammary artery that runs parallel to the breastbone on both sides, to patch into the heart,'' he said. "That artery never has atherosclerosis [blockages] so the surgeon was totally amazed to find both mammary artery walls had become diseased."

Investigations revealed the patient, Piet Snoek, had a gene mutation that blocked all production of high density lipoprotein (HDL) - the "good cholesterol".

His case "completely convinced" Professor Kastelein that the protective effects of HDL were as significant a part of the heart disease story as the well-known damage wrought by low density lipoprotein "bad" cholesterol. He set out to demonstrate a heresy: that raising cholesterol could help the heart, provided the cholesterol in question was HDL.

"Every manipulation that raises HDL in a mouse or a rabbit is beneficial," said Professor Kastelein, who will deliver a plenary address in Sydney today at the International Symposium on Atherosclerosis.

Fifteen years later, Mr Snoek is still alive. Professor Kastelein and colleagues have used drugs to completely eliminate LDL from his body, compensating for the absence of HDL. "Heart disease is the result of the balance of these two," he said.

Several drug companies have begun synthesising HDL - which attaches to cells that mop up LDL, steering them into the circulation - following a heart attack.

"We have shown we can mobilise cholesterol from the arterial wall. We can move amounts of cholesterol that in my mind are very clinically significant," Professor Kastelein said. The next step is to use heart scans to evaluate whether this reverses artery damage.

Philip Barter, of the Heart Research Institute in Sydney, said raising HDL had ''the potential to be as important on top of [cholesterol-lowering] statins as statins were on nothing".


27 March, 2012

Paracetamol (Tylenol): The stealthy killer lurking in every home

This can hardly be emphasized enough

Paracetamol is one of the most common painkillers we use — every day thousands of packs are sold in supermarkets and chemists, and it’s our favourite remedy for dealing with a headache.

But should there be tighter controls over its sale, when one of the hidden side-effects can be devastating liver damage?

The family of Desiree Phillips certainly thinks so — the 20-year-old single mum died last August of acute liver failure caused by paracetamol poisoning.

In pain after an operation to remove non-cancerous lumps in her breasts nine days earlier, Desiree was recovering at home, taking ‘a few more’ tablets than the recommended maximum daily dose of eight 500mg tablets, when she was found unconscious and rushed back to hospital.

She underwent a liver transplant but it was not successful.

Paracetamol had built up in her body without anyone noticing — the drug produces a by-product known as NAPQI, which attacks the liver. As it gradually accumulates, it can result in a ‘staggered’ overdose.

Last November, a medical journal published research showing that just a few extra paracetamol daily can be fatal and that a staggered overdose is much more likely to be fatal than a deliberate one. Doctors say that when the danger levels of toxicity are reached, many patients show no symptoms for 24 hours, by which time it may be too late.

The Government is rightly concerned about the effect of binge drinking on our livers — hence David Cameron’s campaign to introduce minimum pricing of alcohol — but overdosing on paracetamol, not booze, is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the UK.

Yet still the National Health Service say there’s no cause for concern. Millions of us use the drug with no side-effects. But when you are in chronic pain — the elderly with aching joints or a workaholic suffering from repetitive headaches — more and more of us think: ‘To hell with the stated daily dose, I’ll just take a couple more.’

I’ve written before about the dangers of addiction to over-the-counter drugs such as Nurofen Plus, but paracetamol is available in so many combinations, as well as a hot drink, it’s easy to see how someone could unwittingly be building up toxic levels in their system.

There are no checks when you buy a packet of paracetamol, unlike codeine. That needs to end. All painkillers should be carefully controlled — because we have become a nation of massive pill-poppers. An ageing population is being handed huge amounts of prescription drugs to deal with arthritis and spinal degeneration. These drugs are often supplemented with over-the-counter preparations which no one is monitoring.

The number of people addicted to non-prescription painkillers is soaring and still the Government doesn’t intervene. Now, there’s a new danger — 39,000 packs of co-codamol, containing paracetamol and codeine, which are three times stronger than the dose stated on the packet, have gone on sale by mistake.

A spokesman for the UK medicines regulator said: ‘If you feel you have taken the wrong strength tablet, and in the unlikely event you feel unwell, speak to your GP.’ That sounds pretty complacent to me.

Finally, I tried an experiment. I stopped taking two paracetamol for a headache a year ago. One 500mg pill works perfectly. So why are manufacturers still telling us to take two, four times a day?


Popcorn has more antioxidant levels than fruits and veggies, study claims

A nasty one for the food freaks, who all seem to believe in the failed antioxidant gospel. Anything people enjoy is BAD, according to them

POPCORN, when it's not slathered in butter and coated in salt, is already known to be a healthy snack food and now a group of scientists say it may even top fruits and vegetables in antioxidant levels.

The researchers said they found great amounts of antioxidants known as polyphenols in popcorn and explained that the substances are more concentrated in the snack, which is made up of about four percent water, while the antioxidants are more diluted in fruits and vegetables, many of which are made of up to 90 percent water.

That's the same principle that gives dried fruits an antioxidant edge over their fresh counterparts.

One serving of popcorn has up to 300mg of polyphenols, which is much higher than previously believed and nearly double the 160mg for all fruits per serving, according to the researchers, who presented their findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Diego.

They also found that the crunchy hulls of the popcorn have the highest concentration of polyphenols and fiber.

"Those hulls deserve more respect," said researcher Joe Vinson of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. "They are nutritional gold nuggets."

The scientists warned, though, preparation is key to culling popcorn's health benefits. "Air-popped popcorn has the lowest number of calories, of course," Vinson guided.

"Microwave popcorn has twice as many calories as air-popped, and if you pop your own with oil, this has twice as many calories as air-popped popcorn. About 43 percent of microwave popcorn is fat, compared to 28 percent if you pop the corn in oil yourself."


26 March, 2012

Two cups of tea a day boost your chances of having a baby (?)

Good to see an admission below that tea itself may not be the causative factor

Two cups of tea a day may help boost a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant, according to a study. It found women were 27 per cent more likely to become pregnant if they regularly drank tea compared with those who did not.

However, the same research found consuming two cola-style fizzy drinks daily seems to reduce a woman’s prospects of conceiving – and it makes no difference if the cola is a diet or sugary version. Women who drank these soft drinks at least twice a day reduced their chances of becoming pregnant by 20 per cent.

There was no effect on the chances of pregnancy for women who preferred to drink coffee.

The findings were based on a group of 3,600 women who were actively trying to have a baby.

The study’s author, Professor Elizabeth Hatch, of Boston University in the United States, wanted to determine if caffeine intake had any effect on women trying for a baby. While there have been other studies on the subject, their results have not been conclusive.

They have also used methods which are thought to be unreliable, based on interviews with pregnant women who were asked to remember the amounts of tea, coffee and soft drinks they consumed before they conceived.

Instead, Prof Hatch monitored each of the volunteers for a year.

Danish women were chosen for the research because every Danish citizen is given a civil registration number at birth, allowing health officials to recruit and then screen individuals through the internet.

The women, with an average age of 28, formed the largest group ever studied to evaluate a link between caffeine consumption and pregnancy.

Prof Hatch said: ‘We found that women who drank tea two or three times a day did have a 27 per cent increased chance of becoming pregnant. We don’t know how they took the tea or if they added milk or lemon, but they had this increased chance of getting pregnant over women who did not drink tea at all.

‘It may be linked to caffeine but clearly there may be other factors linked with the women’s lifestyle or there may be beneficial properties in tea itself.’

She added: ‘I think drinking two or three cups of tea a day for anyone wishing to get pregnant will be fine. I would love to say tea is a miracle cure to get pregnant but that is not realistic. There may be other factors. The tea drinkers tended to be older women and there may be something else in their diet or lifestyle that helped.’

'Tea contains a lot of antioxidants which are very good for male and female fertility'

Green tea has previously been linked with increasing women’s chances of becoming pregnant.

However, in this study women were asked to record their consumption of green or herbal tea in the same section and no link with increased chance of pregnancy was found.

Further research will seek to identify whether drinking green tea helps women became pregnant.

Follow-up work will establish more about the health and size of the babies born to the tea-drinking mums and if the women endured shorter or longer pregnancies or suffered miscarriages.

Maha Ragunath, consultant in reproductive medicine at the Care Fertility Centre in Nottingham, said special properties in tea aided fertility. She added: ‘Tea contains a lot of antioxidants which are very good for male and female fertility. ‘But I don’t think women trying for a baby should now drink lots of tea – it’s everything in moderation.’

Laurence Shaw, associate director at the Bridge Fertility Centre in London, said: ‘I would say to any woman over 35 trying to become pregnant to get proper advice and don’t start drinking ten cups of tea a day.’


British scientists develop 80p-a-day pill that can slow progress of osteoarthritis to some degree

Even a little helps

A pill that slows the progression of crippling arthritis has been developed by British scientists.

The 80p a day costing treatment has been found to reduce the damage caused to knee joints by osteoarthritis by a third. Studies have also shown that it drastically lowers pain and improves patient's movement.

Oxford scientists behind the treatment believe it may be available on the NHS within the next year.

Around eight million people in Britain suffer from osteoarthritis and 140,000 hip and knee replacements are performed on the NHS as a result of the illness. It causes the cartilage lining the bones to wear away which leads to damage to the joints, particularly the knee and hip. There is no cure at present and patients with mild symptoms are normally given exercises or painkillers. Those with more severe forms of the disease may need hip or knee replacements.

Scientists at the University of Oxford and University of Southampton carried out a trial on 1,683 patients with osteoarthritis that had caused damage to their knee.

Half were given this new pill called Protelosa and the other half a placebo. Over the next three years the scientists measured their pain, their ability to move the knee joints and any deterioration of the cartilage.

They found that those on the pills suffered an average of a third less damage to the cartilage. So if they were taking them for three years the progression of the disease would be slowed by one year.

The pills contains the chemical strontium ranelate which is thought to encourage the body to produce cartilage.

Professor Cyrus Cooper who presented his findings at the European Congress on Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis in France said: 'This is a major breakthrough.

'Osteoarthritis is a painful and debilitating condition, and for over 20 years we have been searching for a treatment that would allow us to alter the course of the disease, rather than just manage the symptoms.

'The results today are it, and could totally change the way we treat osteoarthritis.

'For the first time we have a treatment that can slow the development of this debilitating disease and could reduce or even eliminate the need for expensive and painful joint replacement surgery.'

The drug is already used to treat osteoporosis - thinning of the bones.

But it is expected to be licensed by the drugs watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, for use on arthritis patients within the next few months.

After that the NHS rationing body NICE will consider whether it should be available on the NHS.

But as the drug is so cheap and it has been found to be so effective, the scientists are confident it will be given the green light.


25 March, 2012

Parents don't need to worry about TV dulling their kids' senses as Harry Potter movies make them MORE creative, say researchers

Another blow to the stupid "fears" of "Baroness" Greenfield

Watching Harry Potter films could make young children more creative, claims a study. Carried out by Lancaster University, it’s the first attempt to study whether there are any educational benefits in exposing children to magical content like witches and wizards, Santa Claus, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy.

The study examined if there was a link between magical thinking and creativity in preschool children – and it found that there was.

The small-scale study involved 52 four to six-year-old children. The youngsters were split into two groups and shown two 15-minute clips from Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone.

The findings show that after watching the clips, the group who watched the magical scenes in general scored ‘significantly better’ in all three areas than their peers in the other group.

Researchers Dr Eugene Subbotsky, Claire Hysted and Nicola Jones from the Department of Psychology at Lancaster University concluded that: ‘Magical thinking enables children to create fantastic imaginary worlds, and in this way enhances children’s capacity to view the world and act upon it from multiple perspectives.

‘The results suggested that books and videos about magic might serve to expand children’s imagination and help them to think more creatively.’

Magical thinking involves believing in supernatural events like animals speaking human languages, or a witch flying on a broomstick.

This involves the ability to construct an alternative world and research has shown that most four to six-year-olds think magically in everyday life.

Some of the scenes include animals talking and witches and wizards performing spells and using wands, while other scenes featured the same characters but without any magical content.

The children were then tested for creativity which included being asked to pretend they were a rabbit or driving a car. They were also asked to think of different ways of putting plastic cups in a bin and for alternative uses for the cup.

The children who had watched the magical scenes performed significantly better on the creativity tests.

The researchers concluded that rather than just being used for entertainment, ‘magical thinking can be viewed as an additional source of development of imagination and divergent thinking in children.’


A sustained critical assault could not keep Maccas down

The fact that the second biggest profit centre for McDonalds (after the USA) is France is both amusing and thought provoking: Delivering tasty food at a low price is a major and very popular achievement

We started to get more worried about our waistlines. Maccas and the fast food industry got the blame. We became more sophisticated in our taste in food. And we’re a nation of caffeine addicts. So we weren’t lovin’ the shortage of short blacks.

But when confronted with every fear we’ve had that could’ve damaged their business, McDonalds have made sure that our Happy Meals still make us happy.

“Do you want fries with that?” became “do you want a fries or a salad with that?” As Masterchef altered our perceptions of good food and Wagyu steaks became popular, Ronald introduced us to the Angus burger. And many people love a good cafe, so Maccas became one. One that’s “a little bit fancy” at that. There’s a big but though.

Maccas have become a sophisticated brand. But the truth is their core business has barely changed. It’s still all about keeping us hooked on generally fatty fast foods. Case in point: Maccas are trialling selling six-packs of Krispy Kreme’s glazed donuts

Krispy Kreme’s signature donuts are notoriously addictive. It’s impossible to just have one. They consist of “a potent mix of sugar and fat that we know primes the brain to seek out more and more sweet and fatty food,” nutritionist Susie Burrell said yesterday.

But that’s only one ingredient in cooking up a successful fast food chain. Maccas have had enduring popularity for more than 40 years now.

When you think of Krispy Kreme donuts you think of big globs of fat. Especially when they’re covered in a mountain of sugary coating, covered in more sugar, with sugar on top. You think of Chief Wiggum from The Simpsons.

That’s not the only reason Maccas has survived though. McDonalds have tried to remain appealing to us at each stage of our lives.

I’d say a high percentage of us went to a Maccas birthday party when they were young. Probably with an ice cream cake. Kids have long been fascinated by their Happy Meals.

Maccas have sponsored a number of adolescent sports through the years. I remember receiving McDonalds vouchers as prizes for Little Athletics. Another Puncher remembers a Big Mac voucher being the prize for winning a teenage tennis comp in the 1980s.

An inordinate number of adolescents have been known to use Maccas play equipment. Many adults develop a Maccas habit for life. And when kids start growing up and drinking alcohol, they soon learn that a vat of grease from McDonalds is the best hangover prevention tool or hangover-easing solution.

And all along Maccas has adapted with the winds of change. When their competitors started telling us to Eat Fresh, Maccas brought out fresh products and fresh uniforms themselves.

The uniforms might be different, your burger might consist of a higher quantity of lettuce and the “restaurants” might just a little bit fancier than they used to.

But Ronald’s still laughing all the way to the bank for the same reasons he was a decade ago.


24 March, 2012

Diets and exercise are unnecessary, new book claims

Big Fat Lies, by Australian writer David Gillespie, offers a devastating critique of the commercial diets followed by millions of Australians, including Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig.

He also offers a successful weight loss solution that doesn’t cost a cent.

After assessing decades of medical research, Gillespie concludes that many people end up putting on weight when following popular diet plans. Or they end up losing just a couple of kilos despite years of deprivation, expense and calorie-counting, he finds.

Some techniques, such as shake meal replacements, do help people lose weight, but are very hard to stick to, he says.

However, Gillespie - a former lawyer turned home-grown food expert - does suggest a way forward for those who need to lose weight.

Gillespie also argues that exercise alone won’t help people lose weight, as working out makes us hungrier and burns through relatively few calories

He says people can lose weight and improve their health by cutting two things from their diet: sugar (particularly fructose) and polyunsaturated seed oils such as canola, sunflower, soy and rice bran.

“By doing nothing apart from avoiding two ingredients, you’ll lose weight, skip past a list of chronic diseases … and save yourself a bucket of money while you are at it,” he says. “It will cost you nothing."

In the book, just released by Penguin, Gillespie also argues that exercise alone won’t help people lose weight, as working out makes us hungrier and burns through relatively few calories.

Gillespie also launches a tirade against the multi-billion dollar vitamin industry, suggesting that expensive vitamin supplements are not necessary for people with a balanced, healthy diet – and may even be dangerous.

Yesterday a spokeswoman from the Dieticians Association of Australia said there was no “one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss”.

“DAA suggests seeking expert advice and support from an accredited practising dietitian,” she said.

Emma Stirling, a nutrition advisor from Weight Watchers, disputed Gillespie’s findings. She said more than 100,000 Weight Watchers members “have lost weight with us, reached their goal and maintained a healthy weight”.

And a spokeswoman for the Celebrity Slim meal replacement plan said the program had “helped tens of thousands of people lose weight in a healthy, effective and sustainable way”.

“We wholeheartedly believe in meal replacement programs as an efficacious and sustainable way to lose weight,” she said.

Australians spent almost $800 million on diet programs, diet foods and weight-loss surgery in 2010-11.


Listening to Mozart doubles survival rates after a heart transplant

If you are a mouse

Listening to Mozart improves the outlook for mice undergoing heart transplants, a study has found. Verdi had the same effect, increasing the time before the organs failed - but New Age music from Enya had no impact.

Scientists traced the response to the spleen, where changes occurred to levels of immune system signalling molecules and cells.

The Japanese researchers were unable to say whether music could influence organ rejection in humans.

But they pointed out that music was known to reduce stress, enhance relaxation, distract from pain and improve the results of clinical therapy.

For the study, laboratory mice were given heart transplants and exposed to one of three types of music - Verdi's opera La Traviata, a compilation of Mozart performances, and New Age music by Irish star Enya.

A number of mice were made to listen to non-musical monotone sounds. Exposure was for six days from the time of surgery.

Compared with Enya and monotone sounds, Verdi and Mozart significantly prolonged transplant organ survival, in some cases more than doubling it.

Immune system effects in the spleen were found to be the cause.

Listening to classical music was associated with lower levels of immune system signalling molecules interleukin-2 and interferon gamma. Levels of the anti-inflammatory molecules interleukin-4 and interleukin-10 were increased, together with numbers of immune response-regulating white blood cells.

The scientists, led by Dr Masanori Niimi, from Teikyo University in Tokyo, wrote in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery: ‘Our findings indicate that exposure to opera music, such as La Traviata, could affect... aspects of the peripheral immune response... resulting in prolonged allograft (transplanted organ) survival.’


23 March, 2012

The anti-meat campaigners won't like this

Women who cut out red meat 'twice as likely to suffer from depression or anxiety'. Red meat is a normal part of the human diet so cutting it out could run many risks

Women who cut red meat out of their diet are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, according to a study. Those who eat less than the recommended amount of lamb and beef were twice as likely to be diagnosed with the mental health disorders, researchers in Australia have found.

The study of more than 1,000 women showed that completely switching to protein such as chicken and fish is not as healthy as many believe.

'We had originally thought that red meat might not be good for mental health, as studies from other countries had found red meat consumption to be associated with physical health risks, but it turns out that it actually may be quite important,' said Felice Jacka, from Deakin University, Victoria.

'When we looked at women consuming less than the recommended amount of red meat in our study, we found that they were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder as those consuming the recommended amount.'

The associate professor added: 'Even when we took into account the overall healthiness of the women’s diets, as well as other factors such as their socio-economic status, physical activity levels, smoking, weight and age, the relationship between low red meat intake and mental health remained.

'Interestingly, there was no relationship between other forms of protein, such as chicken, pork, fish or plant-based proteins, and mental health.

'Vegetarianism was not the explanation either. Only 19 women in the study were vegetarians, and the results were the same when they were excluded from the study analyses.'

But the professor, whose results have been published in the journal Psychotherapy Psychosomatics, advised women not to exceed the recommended amount of red meat either. 'We found that regularly eating more than the recommended amount of red meat was also related to increased depression and anxiety,' she said.

'We already know that the overall quality of your diet is important to mental health. But it seems that eating a moderate amount of lean red meat, which is roughly 3-4 small, palm-sized serves a week, may also be important.'

The study by Deakin’s Barwon Psychiatric Research Unit took place in the Geelong region.

Associate Professor Jacka also suggested that women should stick to organic, grass-fed meats whenever possible. 'We know that red meat in Australia is a healthy product as it contains high levels of nutrients, including the omega-3 fatty acids that are important to mental and physical health,' she said.

'This is because cattle and sheep in Australia are largely grass fed. In many other countries, the cattle are kept in feedlots and fed grains, rather than grass. This results in a much less healthy meat with more saturated fat and fewer healthy fats.'

The Department of Health recommends consuming no more than 70g of red meat a day.


An aspirin every day 'cuts cancer death risk by 37%' and can stop disease from spreading

Without looking at the details, these findings seem sound. But in taking it daily the real issue is side effects -- effects which may not be evident with occasional use. Does it reduce all-cause mortality is the only important question

Taking a daily dose of aspirin lowers the chance of dying from cancer by more than a third, major research shows today.

It reveals that the pills not only reduce the likelihood of contracting the illness, they also protect against it spreading. Oxford scientists say the evidence is so strong that in future the NHS watchdog NICE may issue guidelines telling doctors to prescribe aspirin to cancer sufferers.

In one of a series of studies involving 200,000 patients, the academics found aspirin cut the risk of dying of cancer by 37 per cent if patients took it every day for five years.

Another study found that taking aspirin for three years reduced the chance of men developing cancer by 23 per cent, and women by 25 per cent.

Researchers also found that once patients had been diagnosed with cancer, their chance of it spreading was cut by 55 per cent if they took daily doses of aspirin for at least six and a half years.

For some time scientists have known that aspirin protects against certain types of cancer, particularly those affecting the bowel and throat.

But this is the first time they have revealed it could also treat the illness by preventing tumours spreading to other organs – or ‘metastasising’ – which is often fatal.

Professor Peter Rothwell, whose studies are published today in the Lancet, said extra research needed to be carried out ‘urgently’.
Wonder drug

Professor Rothwell who is based at the University of Oxford and John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, said: ‘If NICE were to prioritise it, it would certainly be influential. ‘It’s certainly time to add prevention of cancer into the analysis of the balance of risk and benefits of aspirin.

‘So far, all the guidelines have just been based on the prevention of strokes and heart attacks. ‘This research really shows that the cancer benefit is as large, if not larger, than the benefit in terms of preventing heart attacks and strokes. ‘It does change the equation quite drastically.’

Aspirin is known to reduce the effectiveness of key cells, called platelets, which cause the blood to clot. For this reason it is prescribed to patients who have had heart attacks and strokes to reduce the chance of blood clots and try to prevent it happening again.

Scientists think that platelets are also involved in the formation of cancerous tumours. And they believe that they spread the illness to other areas of the body. So by making these cells less effective, aspirin helps prevent and treat cancer.

But despite this compelling evidence, Professor Rothwell urged patients not to start taking aspirin every day purely to try to prevent cancer. Aspirin can have harmful side effects including stomach ulcers and internal bleeding in the intestines.

Other risks in adults include kidney disease and tinnitus – or ringing in the ears.

But he said that the thousands of patients currently taking aspirin to prevent heart attacks and stroke would almost certainly be also reducing their risk of dying from cancer.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: ‘This is an exciting development. ‘It adds to the other established ways of reducing cancer risk – not smoking, keeping a healthy bodyweight and cutting down on alcohol.

‘It’s a good idea for people thinking of taking aspirin to discuss it with their GP, as it can sometimes have side effects such as internal bleeding especially in people over 70.

‘The research also suggests that aspirin may help to prevent cancer from spreading in the body, so it could be beneficial for people already diagnosed with cancer.

‘However, because of the risk of bleeding, patients should discuss this with their specialist before starting to take aspirin, and be aware of the potential for increased complications before surgery or other treatments such as chemotherapy.’


22 March, 2012

Raw milk not banned in England -- so far

Department store sells it

Upmarket store Selfridges has been accused of potentially putting customers at risk and breaking the law by selling ‘raw’ milk.

It is selling the milk, produced on an organic farm in Sussex, from a vending machine and insists it is hugely popular and regularly sells out.

Many traditionalists enjoy raw milk, believing it tastes nicer and may even be better for them.

However the Government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) and its experts insist that raw milk, which is not heat-treated or pasteurised to kill off harmful bugs, is a public health threat.

Its health and legal experts have put the store and the farmer involved on notice that they are at risk of prosecution.

Historically, consumption of raw milk was associated with the spread of TB in humans, plus food poisoning bugs such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli O157.

As a result, raw milk has been banned outright in Scotland as a health threat since 1983. There are various exemptions in the rest of the country which allow sales direct by farmers to the public at the gate, at farmers’ markets and via the internet.

At the same time retailers are freely allowed to sell cheese made from unpasteurised milk.

The future of controls on the sale of raw milk were discussed by the FSA board yesterday, where members were divided on the need for action.

An expert paper submitted to the board warned: ‘The potential risks associated with the consumption of raw drinking milk have long been recognised.

‘Between 1912 and 1937, about 65,000 deaths from bovine tuberculosis were reported in England and Wales. In addition, raw milk was associated with many cases of brucellosis, food poisoning and other diseases.’ However, these same experts accepted that there have been no reported cases of illness associated with the milk for the past ten years.

Board members said the lack of known cases of illness in recent years might be due to the low numbers drinking the milk. Others suggested the absence of evidence that people are falling ill means the FSA need not spend time and money investigating the issue.

Member for Northern Ireland, Dr Henrietta Campbell, said the time has come for an outright ban across the entire country. She said: ‘We have to make absolutely clear in our message to the young, the old and the immune-compromised that they should not drink raw milk. Anyone else who does it is foolish. ‘I would go further and look for a ban on the sale of raw milk.’

Colleague, Clive Grundy, said: ‘It only takes one incident for this to be a very serious issue. We would be discussing this in very different terms if that one were a fatality. That deeply concerns me.’

The FSA board has given approval for a research and consultation project on whether new controls, including a ban, should be introduced.

After the meeting, a spokesman said: ‘Both Selfridges and the farmer have been informed that the FSA believes sales of raw cows’ milk from retail premises are an offence under the food Hygiene regulations. Enquiries are on-going.’

Selfridges began selling the raw milk supplied by Hook & Son, from Longleys Farm in Hailsham, Sussex, in December.

The farm insists it contains beneficial bacteria that are destroyed by pasteurisation and that consumption could reduce children’s risk of suffering allergy-related conditions such as eczema and hay fever.

Selfridges said the FSA has failed to provide clear information on whether its sale of raw milk from a vending machine is illegal.

Selfridges food director, Ewan Venters, said: ‘We have always supported unique products like raw milk. We see ourselves, like many farmers markets, as a platform to launch a variety of choice for our customers to enjoy. ‘We have stringent checks in place to make sure that the products we sell meet the standards of governing bodies, we feel raw milk should be available to everyone.’

Its senior technical manager, Melisa Clottey, said: ‘So far we have not received any indication this form of sale is illegal. If this position changes, we will of course ask Hook and Son to remove the vending machine and cease trading.’


Scientists finally solve 75-year-old riddle of how controversial electric shock treatment can treat severe depression

I doubt that this is the whole story. Social factors in the process were identified by H.J. Eysenck about 60 years ago

Scientists have finally discovered how one of psychiatry's most controversial treatments can help patients with severe depression.

Researchers at Aberdeen University have discovered that ECT - or electro-convulsive therapy - affects the way different parts of the brain involved in depression 'communicate' with each other.

They found that the treatment appears to 'turn down' an overactive connection between areas of the brain that control mood and the parts responsible for thinking and concentrating.

This stops the overwhelming impact that depression has on sufferers' ability to enjoy normal life and carry on with day-to-day activities.

This decrease in connectivity observed after ECT treatment was accompanied by a significant improvement in the patient's depressive symptoms.

The ECT treatment, which is 75-years-old, involves an electric shock being passed through the cortex of a severely-depressed patient to 'cure' them.

Its graphic portrayal in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next won Jack Nicholson an Oscar.

The controversial treatment was introduced in 1938 by an Italian neurologist Ugo Cerletti, who was allegedly inspired by watching pigs being stunned with electric shock before being butchered in Rome. The animals would go into seizures and fall down, making it easier to slit their throats.

At the time psychiatric orthodoxy held - wrongly - that schizophrenia and epilepsy were antagonistic and one could not exist in the presence of the other.

Deciding to try the stunning technique on his patients, Dr Cerletti found electric shocks to the head caused his most obsessive and difficult mental patients to become meek and manageable.

Later the treatment was found to be effective in treating severe depression but its mode of action has remained until now a complete mystery.

The study involved using MRI to scan the brains of nine severely depressed patients before and after ECT, and then applying entirely new and complex mathematical analysis to investigate brain connectivity.

Professor of Psychiatry at the university Ian Reid, who is also a consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen, said: 'We believe we've solved a 70 year old therapeutic riddle.

'ECT is a controversial treatment, and one prominent criticism has been that it is not understood how it works and what it does to the brain.

'For all the debate surrounding ECT, it is one of the most effective treatments not just in psychiatry but in the whole of medicine, because 75 per cent to 85 per cent of patients recover from their symptoms.

'Over the last couple of years there has been an emerging new perspective on how depression affects the brain.

'This theory has suggested a 'hyper-connection' between the areas of the brain involved in emotional processing and mood change and the parts of the brain involved in thinking and concentrating.

'Our key finding is that if you compare the connections in the brain before and after ECT, ECT reduces this 'hyper-connectivity'.

'For the first time we can point to something that ECT does in the brain that makes sense in the context of what we think is wrong in people who are depressed.'

Although ECT is extremely effective, it is only used on people who need treatment quickly: those who are very severely depressed, who are at risk from taking their own lives, and perhaps cannot look after themselves, or those who have not responded to other treatments.

Professor Reid said: 'The treatment can also affect memory, though for most patients this is short-lived.

'However if we understand more about how ECT works, we will be in a better position to replace it with something less invasive and more acceptable.

'At the moment only about 40 per cent of people with depression get better with treatment from their GP.

'Our findings may lead to new drug targets which match the effectiveness of ECT without an impact on memory.'

Professor Christian Schwarzbauer, chair in neuroimaging at Aberdeen, who devised the maths used to analyse the data, said: 'We were able to find out to what extent more than 25,000 different brain areas 'communicated' with each other.

'The method could be applied to a wide range of other brain disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, or dementia, and may lead to a better understanding of underlying disease mechanisms and the development of new diagnostic tools.'

The team's findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


21 March, 2012

Nanny State Run Amuck: Bloomberg Bans Food Donations in New York City

Food Might Be Salty or Too High in Calories, City Explains

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration is now banning all food being offered to the city's homeless shelters. New York City's bureaucrats have become so singularly focused on what people eat, says the National Center for Public Policy Research, that they've lost their common sense.

"So much for serving the homeless: The Bloomberg administration is now taking the term 'food police' to new depths, blocking food donations to all government-run facilities that serve the city's homeless," writes Jeff Stier, director of the National Center for Public Policy Research's Risk Analysis Division, in an op-ed in Monday's New York Post.

"In conjunction with a mayoral task force and the Health Department, the Department of Homeless Services has recently started enforcing new nutritional rules for food served at city shelters. Since DHS can't assess the nutritional content of donated food, shelters have to turn away good Samaritans," writes Stier.

New York City DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond told the National Center's Stier that the complete ban on food donations is consistent with Mayor Bloomberg's emphasis on "improving nutrition for all New Yorkers."

As Stier writes, "A new inter-agency document controls what can be served at facilities -- dictating serving sizes as well as salt, fat and calorie contents, plus fiber minimums and condiment recommendations."

"Diamond insists that the institutional vendors hired by the shelters serve food that meets the rules but also tastes good; it just isn't too salty, " writes Stier. "So, according to the commissioner, the homeless really don't need any donated food."

Stier's research reveals that there's more to the story.

"For over a decade, Glenn Richter and his wife Lenore have led a team of food-delivery volunteers from Ohab Zedek, the Upper West Side orthodox congregation. They've brought freshly cooked, nutrient-rich surplus foods from synagogue events to homeless facilities in the neighborhood," explains Stier. " The practice of donating such surplus food to homeless shelters is common among houses of worship in the city," he writes in the op-ed.

Mr. Richter's experience suggests Commissioner Diamond and the Bloomberg administration are out of touch.

"[Glenn Richter] says the beneficiaries -- many of them senior citizens recovering from drug and alcohol abuse -- have always been appreciative of the treats he and other OZ members bring. It's not just that the donations offer an enjoyable addition to the 'official' low-salt fare; knowing that the food comes from volunteers and from community members warms their hearts, not just their stomachs," writes Stier.

"So you can imagine Richter's consternation last month when employees at a local shelter turned away food he brought from a bar-mitzvah," says Stier in the piece.

Richter, Stier writes, "is a former city Housing Authority employee, while his wife spent 35 years as a South Bronx public school teacher, so they're no strangers to bureaucracy and poverty. But an exasperated Richter says, 'this level of micromanagement is stunning.'"


Concern about listeria means pregnant women miss out on nutrition

SOME pregnant women are being overly cautious about avoiding what are traditionally considered "no-no'' foods, such as soft cheeses, pates and sashimi, a researcher says.

Professor Clare Collins, of the University of Newcastle, studied the eating habits of 7000 Australian women to see if they were missing out on important nutrients as a result of avoiding "risky'' foods that potentially carried listeria.

Oysters, smoked fish, delicatessen meats, salad bar salads and pre-cut fruit are also considered high risk for carrying the listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

The bacteria can lead to listeriosis, a rare form of food poisoning that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and neonatal infection.

Because of hormonal changes during pregnancy, mums-to-be are at particular risk of infection, Prof Collins says.

Reporting her findings in the journal Public Health Nutrition, Prof Collins said her study found that women who ate the most listeria foods reported more frequent miscarriages, but had high levels of the nutrients needed to have a healthy baby.

Conversely, those who ate moderate or low amounts of listeria foods had less miscarriages but also lower levels of nutrients like calcium, folate and Omega 3 acids.

"In those with moderate and low exposure there was no excess risk of miscarriage but the problem was their nutrient intakes were then worse,'' Prof Collins said. "We're saying pregnant women need to be given more advice on how to eat healthy.

"If all they hear is risky foods, and they drop out all the potential listeria foods, their micro-nutrient intake is going to be really bad. "They will potentially then be at risk for things like neural tube defects. Or they'll put their own health at risk.''

She said existing listeria guidelines for pregnant women were entirely legitimate but needed to be rewritten to provide more information about what could be eaten, as well as what should be avoided.

"It would be nice to see the guidelines coupled with evidence of what pregnant women can eat to meet their nutrient requirements,'' she said.


20 March, 2012

Homeopathy is worthless... says an expert in the subject as he claims it is unethical to prescribe treatments on NHS

Homeopathic potions do not work and it is unethical to give them on the NHS, a leading scientist has claimed. Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine, also described the logic behind homeopathy as bizarre and accused homeopaths of lying to their patients.

The NHS spends around £4million a year on homeopathy, despite calls from the British Medical Association for the funding to end.

The discipline – which has won the backing of Prince Charles – claims to prevent and treat diseases by using dilute forms of materials that in higher concentrations could produce the symptoms of the condition.

Homeopaths also believe that the greater the dilution of the medicine, the more potent the potion, and so ingredients are mixed in tiny amounts with water or alcohol.

A typical remedy could have one part of an ingredient to one trillion, trillion parts of water. Although scientists argue the potions are so dilute they are unlikely to contain any of the original substance, homeopaths claim the water retains a ‘memory’ of the active ingredient, which it passes to the body to help fight the illness.

But Professor Ernst said that even if an ultra-dilute homeopathic solution was somehow different from pure water, this would not make it an effective drug.

Writing in the Society of Biology’s magazine, The Biologist, he said: ‘How would this difference explain positive health benefits? The water in my kitchen sink also differs from pure water after the washing up but this does not mean it is good for my health.’

Professor Ernst, a former homeopath who now researches complementary medicine at Exeter University, said the treatments could be dangerous if people chose them over conventional medicines with proven benefits. He accused homeopaths who cite studies showing the treatments work of ‘cherry-picking’ results.

However, the professor saved his most scathing criticism for the Government. He said if a homeopath doesn’t tell a patient that the treatment is worthless, he is not telling the truth. Modern medical ethics state that patients must be fully informed and telling lies to patients is not acceptable. ‘It follows that the Government’s decision to continue offering homeopathy on the NHS is not ethical.’

The Commons science and technology committee recently criticised state funding of the treatments, saying it conferred scientific legitimacy.

Dr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, said: ‘The UK spends literally billions of pounds every year ensuring that the new and existing conventional medicines we take are effective, safe and fit for purpose. ‘It makes no sense to allow other treatments through public expenditure to be made available without application of the same standards.’

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: ‘We believe in patients being able to make informed choices about their treatment, and in a clinician being able to prescribe the treatment they feel most appropriate in particular circumstances, which may include complementary or alternative treatments such as homeopathy.’ He said that in 2010 around 0.001 per cent of the overall drugs bill was spent on prescriptions for homeopathic medicines.


Alternative medicine crackdown in Australia

Tests required for scientific medicine should be required "a fortiori" for quack medicine too

Homeopaths are facing a fight to defend their practice in Australia after the National Health and Medical Research Council flagged it might declare their work baseless and unethical.

A draft public statement seen by The Age concluded it was "unethical for health practitioners to treat patients using homeopathy, for the reason that homeopathy (as a medicine or procedure) has been shown not to be efficacious".

The confidential statement, which was not meant to be distributed, is based on a 2010 evaluation of homeopathy by the British House of Commons science and technology committee, which declared it was no more efficacious than a placebo.

Homeopathy is based on the principles of "like-cures-like" and "ultra-dilutions". The first says substances that can cause symptoms can be used in diluted form to treat the same symptom in an illness, and the second says the more dilute a substance is, the more potent it is.

While homeopathy continues to enjoy the support of Britain's royal family and is funded through the UK's National Health Service, the House of Commons report found its principles were "theoretically weak" and "scientifically implausible".

The draft statement by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council said that although homeopathy was not harmful in its own right, it might pose a risk to patients if safe and efficacious conventional treatments were delayed in favour of homeopathic treatments.

It said homeopathy, which uses a large range of animal, plant and mineral products, should not be confused with herbal remedies.

A council spokesman would not comment on the draft, but said it was reviewing the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicines, including homeopathy, and would release its findings in due course.

Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton backed the council's draft statement. He said he hoped it would force health insurers to reconsider their funding of homeopathy, as well as other "questionable" therapies such as iridology and reflexology.

"I think it will put them in a very difficult situation … If the NHMRC looks at the evidence and says this doesn't work, we can't support it, you'd have to ask the insurers if they will continue to fund something that a very reputable body disagrees with," he said.

The Australian Association of Professional Homeopaths Inc says 47 health insurers, including Medibank Private and NIB, cover homeopathic consultations and medicines.

Australian Homeopathic Association president Greg Cope said there was strong evidence to support the practice, including clinical trials that were now being submitted to the NHMRC for consideration.

He said there were about 700 registered homeopaths in Australia under a self-governed registration model, and they worked to a code of conduct. Consultations typically cost $50 to $100, with medicines usually costing a further $10.

Mr Cope said he had been lobbying Canberra to set up a formal registration scheme, similar to those for doctors and nurses. He said health insurers were wise to fund homeopathy, which was used by thousands of Australians. "It's a very popular therapy and I imagine it would reduce their expenses because it attracts people using low-cost healthcare," he said.

Writing in the Journal of Law and Medicine this week, Melbourne barrister Ian Freckleton, SC, said several recent deaths involving homeopaths highlighted the dangers involved when they steered people away from conventional medicine.

Dr Freckleton cited the case of Perth woman Penelope Dingle, who died from bowel cancer in 2005 after spending about $30,000 on unsuccessful homeopathic treatments, including extracts from the venus flytrap plant.

He also cited the death in 2009 of Gloria Thomas, age nine months, after her parents favoured homeopathy over conventional medicine for severe eczema.

Dr Freckleton said although many aspects of Western medicine had not been able to stand up to full scientific analysis of their underpinnings over time, there was an "urgent need" for the health sector, consumer protection authorities and policymakers to protect the community from dangerous homeopathic practices.

He said homeopaths had used crushed-up pieces of the Berlin Wall to treat depression.

And in the latest edition of the journal Spectrum of Homeopathy, the authors detailed the use of wolf's milk for eczema and bulimia, cheetah's blood for multiple sclerosis and tiger's blood for depression. "It's quite remarkable," he said.


19 March, 2012

A blast from the past about Alzheimer's

The OPTIMA project has been going as long as I can remember but its founder (below) still seems to think vitamins are a way forward. There must be an awful lot of vitamin deficiency around if that is true

The fundamental problem with Alzheimer drug research is that it is almost entirely based on the ‘amyloid hypothesis’, a theory about what causes AD that appears increasingly invalid.

Amyloid is an insoluble toxic protein deposited between the nerve cells of the brain that has been shown to kill them. In 1991, scientists in London discovered that a mutated gene in the precursor protein to amyloid (beta-amyloid) caused a rare genetic form of AD. Since then, drug companies have considered that manipulating amyloid lies at the heart of dealing with AD.

But this puts all their eggs in one basket. Billions of pounds have been spent, and every single trial has failed. Some drugs made the symptoms of dementia worse.

Research should be geared towards intervening at an early stage. This is key to slowing down or stopping nerve cell death associated with AD. Once the nerve cells have died and the brain has shrunk, it’s too late.

I am the founding director of the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA), which studies the causes of dementia. Last year we recruited 270 elderly people with memory problems and gave them Vitamin B tablets – folic acid (800 micrograms), B12 (500 micrograms) and B6 (20 milligrams).

The supplements, which cost as little as 10p a day, were found to slow shrinkage of the brain by an average of 30 per cent a year – and slow the rate of cognitive decline – in people with high blood levels of homocysteine. Raised levels of this amino acid can increase the risk of developing AD three or four-fold.

By regulating homocysteine with B vitamins, we showed for the first time it is possible to slow the progress of the disease, if you start early. More trials are needed to test whether continued treatment can delay its progress indefinitely, but B vitamins have been shown to be as good clinically as Aricept – and better in that they slow the disease progression rather than ease the symptoms.

There is no way of knowing who is predisposed to AD, apart from extremely rare familial forms of AD.

But those with memory problems should have their homocysteine measured and be started on B vitamins, under medical guidance. Normal dietary intake isn’t enough. One (200ml) glass of semi-skimmed milk contains 2.5 micrograms of B12, and most manage to eat five micrograms a day. But we do know people with high Vitamin B intakes are less likely to develop dementia, so every little helps.

Large-scale studies are needed to see if nutrition and exercise can slow the conversion of memory impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. We also need to know if they improve the response to drugs such as donepezil.

For OPTIMA, the next step is a trial of 1,000 people with MCI to see if B vitamins prevent the conversion to dementia over a two-year period. Can AD be beaten? I am optimistic.


Thousands of British MS sufferers to be offered world-first daily pill to battle disease

It's obvious that nothing works terribly well but some relief is better than none

Thousands of people with MS could benefit from the first pill to treat the disabling disease. The NHS rationing body has approved the drug fingolimod which can halve relapses compared with standard interferon injections.

Experts hoped the once-a-day pill will replace injections and hospital infusions for at least 5,000 sufferers a year.

In its initial assessment, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) said the drug was not value for money despite admitting it works. But after considering extra evidence on its effectiveness Nice decided to give the go-ahead for use on the NHS.

Dr Eli Silber, a consultant neurologist who leads the MS service for South London based at King’s College Hospital, and was involved in trials, said: 'We’ve waited a long time for an effective oral treatment to offer patients who are continuing to relapse on first line injections. 'Today’s decision increases treatment choice. Because it is a highly effective oral agent it may change the way MS is managed in the UK forever.

'With more active forms of MS, we have a limited window of opportunity to make a difference to patients’ lives - many are young people who are raising families and starting their careers. 'I want to get appropriate patients onto this therapy as quickly as possible.'

MS is the most common disabling neurological condition, affecting almost 100,000 Britons - 50 young people are diagnosed each week.

It involves damage to myelin, a protective sheath surrounding nerve fibres of the central nervous system which means the body’s immune system attacks itself.

Symptoms range from mild, occasional illness involving numbness, muscle weakness and eye problems to rapid and severe deterioration, resulting in serious disability.

Trial results in the New England Journal of Medicine last year showed fingolimod, also known as Gilenya, cut relapse rates and progression of the disease. Patients treated with fingolimod had a 50 per cent cut in disabling relapses compared with commonly used injections of beta interferon.

The chances of progressing to a worse form of the disease were cut by about a third, without significant side effects.

The new drug appears to dampen the immune response that causes nerve damage in multiple sclerosis.

The £19,000 annual cost of the drug compares with the £21,000 annual cost of hospital infusions using Tysabri, and manufacturer Novartis has devised a patient access scheme that cuts the price.

MS specialists say the drug could make overall savings for the NHS, because fewer patients would need hospital treatment costing £3,000 a time after relapse and disability is lessened.

The draft guidance from Nice means it will be funded by the NHS in England and Wales after final guidance is issued next month. The drug, made by Novartis, was rejected for NHS use by the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC).

Nick Rijke, Director of Policy & Research at the MS Society, said: 'We are delighted; this decision signifies a major step forward in the treatment of this devastating condition. 'Gilenya has been found to be highly effective in trials and taking a daily tablet will come as welcome relief from frequent, often unpleasant, injections.

'Making this new treatment available will increase patient choice for thousands of people with MS across England and Wales, but we’re deeply disappointed by the SMC’s decision in Scotland - and urge them to reconsider.'

Professor Carole Longson, Director of the Health Technology Evaluation Centre at NICE said: 'Following new information provided during the consultation, the analyses show that for these people (with highly active MS), treatment with fingolimod will be a cost effective option for the NHS, if Novartis provides the drug at a discounted price, as proposed in its patient access scheme.'


18 March, 2012

Margarine makes you aggressive - and should not be fed to school pupils

What rubbish! It's just the class effect. Margarine is cheaper so poor people buy it and they are more prone to physical aggression

Margarine can actually make you angry - and should not be fed to school pupils, a new study has warned.

A chemical called 'trans fatty acids' - found in large quantities in margarine, and also in other fast foods - makes people aggressive and irritable.

Researchers studied 945 people with varying diets - and found those who ate large quantities of the chemical were consistently more aggressive.

The researchers warn that schools - and prisons - should look their menus to ensure diet isn’t playing a part in aggressive behaviour.

Dr Beatrice Golomb - a professor at the University of California and lead author of the paper for Plos ONE - said: ‘We found that greater trans fatty acids were associated with greater aggression.

'High levels of the trans fatty acids were more consistently predictive of aggression and irritability.

‘This adds further rationale to recommendations to avoid eating trans fats - the detrimental effects of trans fats may extend beyond the person who consumes them to affect others.’

The chemicals are already known to be bad for health - and can cause efffects such as high cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, oxidation, inflammation, and cardiac problems.

Fast food chain McDonalds switched oil to cut down trans fats after a lengthy campaign.

University of California researchers tested 945 men and women to test the relationship between dTFAs and aggression or irritability.

They questioned participants’ on life history of aggression, conflict tactics and self-rated impatience and irritabilty on an ‘overt aggression’ scale - tallying recent aggressive behaviour.

The results - adjusted for sex, age, education and use of alcohol or tobacco products - showed there was a link between those eating foods containing the chemicals, and heightened aggression.


Rainforest remedy to cure toothache: Amazonian plant is turned into painkilling gel

Good if it pans out but most of these wonder discoveries don't

The agony of toothache can leave you willing to go to the ends of the earth in search of a cure. But you may need to look no further than the depths of the rainforest.

A rare red and yellow plant from the Amazon could offer more effective pain relief than existing drugs and treatments, scientists have claimed.

The ancient herbal remedy is so potent that it might even replace uncomfortable anaesthetic injections for certain procedures – and provide a natural remedy for teething babies.

Cambridge University anthropologist Dr Francoise Barbira Freedman came across the budded plant more than 30 years ago when living with a secretive Peruvian tribe known for practising shamanism.

During her trip she suffered severe pain in her wisdom teeth. She was given the remedy by the tribe’s medicine men and the discomfort ‘went away immediately’.

The plant used by the tribal medicine men is set to revolutionise worldwide dental treatment

The plant used by the tribal medicine men is set to revolutionise worldwide dental treatment
Pugh on the amazing pain-relieving plant

Years later, she was asked to provide Cambridge with some examples of rainforest remedies, and added the Acmella oleracea plant to the list.

Describing the inclusion as an ‘afterthought’, she said: ‘It was added to the bottom of the list, but somehow the list got reversed, and it was the first one tested back in the UK. It was immediately successful and we’ve never looked back.’

Using extracts from the plant, the researchers have developed a gel which blocks the pain receptors found in nerve endings – and could be on the market in only two years’ time.

In early trials, it helped relieve pain during removal of teeth that were impacted, or stuck below the gum line.

The gel was also considered more efficient than the standard anaesthetic used when patients with gum disease need pain relief for scaling and polishing. The effects lasted longer, and patients were more likely to attend follow-up appointments.

In informal tests carried out by a Peruvian dentist, the plant extract also helped treat mouth ulcers and ease pain caused by dentures, braces, gum disease and having teeth removed. And to top it off, there are no known side-effects.

Dr Freedman, who plans to share any profits from the sale of the gel with the Keshwa Lamas community in Peru, said: ‘This treatment for toothache means we could be looking at the end of some injections in the dentist’s surgery.

‘We’ve had really clear results from tests so far, particularly for procedures such as scaling and polishing, and there are many other potential applications.’

These range from soothing the pain of teething in babies to relieving irritable bowel syndrome.

The researcher, who is about to make another visit to the rainforest community, went on: ‘We think people prefer to use natural products and this is particularly the case for baby teething, for which, to my knowledge, there is no clinically tested natural alternative.’

Researchers at Ampika, the company founded by Dr Freedman to commercialise the gel, plan to publish the trial results in an international dental journal and conduct further tests in several countries.

They also want to refine the formula to develop a higher strength and longer-lasting product.


17 March, 2012

Diabetes link to white rice

WTF? The whole of Asia has got diabetes? Most Asians have rice with every meal.

This is probably just another class effect. The Asian people who ate very little else but rice were probably the poor and the poor have worse health generally

HEALTH researchers say they have found a link between higher consumption of rice and Type 2 diabetes.

"What we've found is white rice is likely to increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, especially at high consumption levels such as in Asian populations," says Qi Sun of the Harvard School of Public Health. "But at the same time people should pay close attention to the other things they eat. "It's very important to address not just a single food but the whole pattern of consumption."

Speaking to the British Medical Journal, the team said the link emerged from an analysis of four previously published studies, carried out in China, Japan, Australia and the US.

These studies followed 350,000 people over a timescale from four to 22 years. More than 13,000 people developed Type 2 diabetes.

In the studies carried out in China and Japan, those who ate most rice were 55 per cent more likely to develop the disease than those who ate least. In the US and Australia, where consumption of rice is far lower, the difference was 12 per cent.

Participants in the two Asian countries ate three or four servings of rice a day on average, compared to just one or two servings a week in the Western countries.

White rice is the dominant form of rice eaten in the world. Machines produce its polished look by hulling and milling, leaving a grain that is predominantly starch.

Brown rice, by contrast, has more fibre, magnesium and vitamins, and a lower "glycaemic index," a measurement of sugar content, than white rice.

Sun said the study did have limitations, including full details about what the volunteers ate in addition to rice. "I don't think I can put forward a 100-per cent confirmed case, given that this is a meta-analysis of four original studies," he said.

"But I see a consistency across these studies and there is biological plausibility that supports the association between white rice consumption and diabetes."


Britain's great heart attack mystery

An amusing exposition of disagreement among the "experts" -- showing how little they really know

Good news at last - deaths from heart attacks are down and falling fast, according to research from Oxford University published a few weeks ago. This showed the death rate has dropped by an extraordinary 50 per cent in just ten years. There were also fewer heart attacks.

The researchers said half the decline was because we’ve cut back on smoking and take statins to lower cholesterol. The other half they put down to better emergency care.

But this comes as something of a surprise because as a population we are actually getting unhealthier: our rates of diabetes and obesity are soaring and they push up heart disease risk. What’s more, even if we aren’t obese or have diabetes, 60 per cent of us don’t take nearly enough exercise and we are still eating too much heart-clogging fat and sugar. So could there be some other reason for the fall in deaths from heart attacks?

‘The Department of Health naturally wants to claim the drop in heart attacks shows their prevention strategies are working,’ says Edwin Gale, emeritus professor of clinical sciences at the University of Bristol. ‘But it does look as if the benefits of bringing down risk factors like high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and too much fat and sugar could be riding on an existing downward trend.’

Professor Gale is referring to the fact that deaths from heart attacks have been dropping for decades and some experts say they don’t really know why. When it comes to prevention, it’s widely agreed that bringing down blood pressure and stopping smoking have helped to lower risk, but there is disagreement about just how important cholesterol, obesity and exercise are.

Some suggest our current obsession with these means we’re in danger of ignoring the part played by other factors such as stress and microbial infection. The mystery of the falling heart attack figures has been investigated by Dr James Le Fanu, a leading GP and author.

‘People generally assume heart attacks have been around for ever,’ he says. ‘In fact, they haven’t. They first appeared on the medical radar in the 1930s and by the end of the war the number of deaths they caused had shot up ten times.’ They kept on rising until the end of the 1960s when, just as mysteriously, they started to decline. ‘Low-fat diet became the big explanation by the 1970s,’ says Le Fanu. ‘But it’s not convincing.’

As he shows in his book, The Rise And Fall Of Modern Medicine, fat consumption in various countries stayed at around 40g daily between 1960 and 1980, while deaths from heart attacks fell. It is only slightly lower in the UK now.

So what caused the rise in the first place? Le Fanu suggests it could be due to a microbial infection. ‘The pattern of a fast rise in deaths and then a decline is typical of an infectious epidemic,’ he says. One possible culprit is the bacteria in the mouth that normally cause gum decay (known as periodontal bacteria). Inflammation is a feature of heart disease and the body responds to infection with inflammation.

Just last month the American Heart Journal reported that Japanese scientists had found periodontal bacteria in blood clots of patients who had suffered a heart attack. ‘These bacteria might have a role in plaque inflammation and instability,’ commented the lead researcher. Other studies have found similar links, although exactly how the process works is unclear.

‘It is tempting to speculate that the rise and fall in heart attacks may be due to differences in the rates of infection,’ says Dr Yoon Loke, senior lecturer in clinical pharmacology at the University of East Anglia medical school. Another more controversial theory is that the decline in deaths since the Sixties is linked to stress: as the very high stress levels caused by the Great Depression and then World War II dropped away, so did heart attack deaths, goes the thinking.

There is little denying that stress can be dangerous. Several years ago, a large study of more than 24,000 people published in The Lancet recorded: ‘Persistent severe stress makes it two-and-a-half times more likely that an individual will have a heart attack compared with someone who is not stressed.’

Dr Malcolm Kendrick, a GP and author of The Great Cholesterol Con, argues that stress is an ignored factor in heart disease. ‘We are not talking about a stressful day at the sales,’ he says. ‘But you see a fast rise in deaths from heart disease in war zones and places where there has been major social breakdown, like the Soviet Union after the Berlin Wall came down. Compared to that, social conditions in Europe and the U.S., where heart attack rates are falling, have been pretty stable.’
You see a fast rise in deaths from heart disease in war zones and places where there has been major social breakdown

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) denies there is anything mysterious going on. It concurs with the Oxford researchers, saying that half the decline in deaths is down to improved emergency treatment and that the rest is due to people following the standard advice for cutting heart risk.

More recently, that includes taking statins, the drugs that lower cholesterol. Indeed, the BHF suggests statins might have saved us from the effects of rising obesity and diabetes. ‘The late 1980s was also the time that obesity and type 2 diabetes rates began to rise,’ says a spokesman. ‘It’s a plausible hypothesis that, without the introduction of statins, we could now be looking at an increasing rise in heart attack deaths rather than a fall.’

Remarkably, in fact, the BHF claims certain lifestyle changes such as eating a low-fat diet, keeping your weight down and exercising have never had much effect. This may come as a shock to anyone who’s been watching what they eat, taking measures such as removing the skin from roast chicken.

‘Compared with cutting smoking, and lowering hypertension (high blood pressure) and cholesterol levels, obesity, fat consumption and exercise have a relatively weak influence on the risk of coronary heart disease,’ says the BHF.

Other experts don’t agree that statins have been that successful, or that relying on drugs is the best way to keep us healthy. Two major recent studies have found that as many as 1,000 otherwise healthy people have to take them for just one person to avoid dying from a heart attack.

‘Drugs can be beneficial if you’re ill or have a seriously raised risk, but many people are being over-diagnosed and over-medicalised,’ says Professor Gale. ‘The best advice for staying healthy is to remain slim and eat sparingly but well, take exercise and swallow as few pills as you can.’

This means there still seems to room for debate about what exactly has been cutting deaths from heart attacks. So apart from taking steps to handle stress better and maybe being more aware of the risks of gum disease, what else should you be doing?

If a low-fat diet isn’t the solution, maybe a low-carbohydrate one will turn out to be more effective. It certainly seems to be better for keeping blood sugar down. High blood sugar is one of the factors fuelling the rapid rise in diabetes. Finding how best to avoid developing heart disease in the first place is still important because even if you don’t die from a heart attack thanks to excellent emergency care, you may be at risk of other things, says Dr Loke.

‘Heart attack survivors are much more likely to die from a nasty debilitating condition called heart failure.’ This causes extreme tiredness and weakness, breathlessness and swelling in the legs, ankles and feet. Dr Loke warns: ‘Over two million people are living with heart failure in the UK and the number is rising.’


16 March, 2012

Do diet supplements help you lose weight? Fat chance!

Study found few 'wonder pills' had randomised clinical trials to back up dietary claims

Diet supplements are often advertised as `extreme fat burners' or `craving quashers'. But evidence used to support these claims simply doesn't add up, a leading U.S nutrition expert has warned.

Professor Melinda Manore from Oregon State University analysed the research used to support hundreds of diet pill claims. She found no evidence that any single product was a 'wonder pill' causing significant weight loss and found some even had detrimental health effects.

'What people want is to lose weight and maintain or increase lean tissue mass,' Prof Manore said. 'There is no evidence that any one supplement does this. And some have side effects ranging from the unpleasant, such as bloating and gas, to very serious issues such as strokes and heart problems.'

Prof Manore looked at supplements that fell into four categories: products such as chitosan (found in shellfish) that block absorption of fat or carbohydrates, stimulants such as caffeine that increase metabolism, products like conjugated linoleic acid that claim to change the body composition and appetite suppressants such as soluble fibres.

She found that many products had no randomised clinical trials examining their effectiveness, and most showed less than a two-pound weight loss benefit compared to the placebo groups.

She added that most research studies did not include exercise. 'I don't know how you eliminate exercise from the equation. 'The data is very strong that exercise is crucial to not only losing weight and preserving muscle mass, but keeping the weight off.'

A few products, including green tea and low-fat dairy supplements were found to have a modest weight loss benefit of 3-4 pounds but most of these supplements were tested as part of a reduced calorie diet.

'For most people, unless you alter your diet and get daily exercise, no supplement is going to have a big impact', Professor Manore said.

As a dietician and researcher, the professor said the key to weight loss is to eat whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean meats, reduce calorie intake of high-fat foods, and to keep moving.

'Adding fibre, calcium, protein and drinking green tea can help,' she said. 'But none of these will have much effect unless you exercise and eat fruits and vegetables.'

The study is online in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.


Another demolition of the recent red meat scare

I pointed out the basic holes in it but another writer has really gone to town on the garbage. Just an excerpt:

Food Frequency Questionnaires: A Test of Superhuman Memory and Saint-like Honesty

To kick this analysis off, let’s take a look at how the study was actually conducted. As the researchers explain, all of the diet data came from a series of food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) that the study participants filled out once every four years, starting in the 1980s and ending in 2006. (If you’re feeling brave, you can read the questionnaire yourself (PDF) and try imagining how terribly the average, non-diet-conscious person might botch their responses.) The lifestyle and medical data came from additional questionnaires administered every two years.

The full text of our study offers some additional details
In each FFQ, we asked the participants how often, on average, they consumed each food of a standard portion size. There were 9 possible responses, ranging from “never or less than once per month” to “6 or more times per day.” Questionnaire items about unprocessed red meat consumption included “beef, pork, or lamb as main dish” (pork was queried separately beginning in 1990), “hamburger,” and “beef, pork, or lamb as a sandwich or mixed dish.” … Processed red meat included “bacon” (2 slices, 13 g), “hot dogs” (one, 45 g), and “sausage, salami, bologna, and other processed red meats” (1 piece, 28 g).

Notice that one of the foods listed under “unprocessed red meat”—and likely a major contributor to that category—is hamburger, the stuff fast-food dreams are made of. Although this study tracked whole grain intake, it didn’t track refined grain intake, so we know right away we can’t totally account for the white-flour buns wrapped around those burgers (or many of the other barely-qualifying-as-food components of a McDonald’s meal). And unless these cohorts were chock full of folks who deliberately sought out decent organic meat, it’s also worth noting that the unprocessed ground beef they were eating probably contained that delightful ammonia-treated pink slime that’s had conventional meat consumers in an uproar lately.

Next, we arrive at this little gem:
The reproducibility and validity of these FFQs have been described in detail elsewhere.

Ding ding, Important Thing alert! As anyone who’s spent much time on earth should know, expecting people to be honest about what they eat is like expecting one of those “Lose 10 pounds of belly fat” banners to take you somewhere other than popup-ad purgatory: the idealism is sweet and all, but reality has other plans.

And so it is with food frequency questionnaires. Ever since these questionnaires were first birthed unto the world, scientists have lamented their most glaring flaw: people tend to report what they think they should be eating instead of what actually goes into their mouth. And that’s on top of the fact that most folks can barely remember what they ate yesterday, much less what they’ve eaten over the past month or even the past year.

As a result, researchers compare the results of food frequency questionnaires with more accurate “diet records”—where folks meticulously weigh and record everything they eat for a straight week or two—to see how the data matches up. If we follow that last quote to the links it references, we end up at one of the validation reports for the food frequency questionnaire used with the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Here’s where it gets interesting:
Foods underestimated by the FFQs compared with the diet records (ie, the gold standard) included processed meats, eggs, butter, high-fat dairy products, mayonnaise and creamy salad dressings, refined grains, and sweets and desserts, whereas most of the vegetable and fruit groups, nuts, high-energy and low-energy drinks, and condiments were overestimated by the FFQs.

This shouldn’t come as a shocker if we consider human psychology. Unless we literally live in a cave, most of us are constantly inundated with messages about how high-fat dairy, meat, sweets, desserts, and anything delicious and creamy is going to either make us fat or give us a heart attack—while it’s more like hallowed be thy name for fruits and veggies. Is it any wonder that folks tend to under-report their intake of “bad” foods and over-report their intake of the good ones? Who wants to admit—in the terrifying permanency of a food questionnaire—that yes, they do bury their salad in half a cup of Hidden Valley Ranch, and they do choose white bread because 12-Grain Oroweat tastes like lightly sweetened wood chippings, and sometimes they even go a full three days where their only vegetable is ketchup? If food frequency questionnaires were hooked up to a polygraph, we might see some much different data (and some mysteriously disappearing respondents).

Another reference in our study du jour takes us to a validation report for the Nurses’ Health Study questionnaire. And here we find the same trend:
Mean daily amounts of each food calculated by the questionnaire and by the dietary record were also compared; the observed differences suggested that responses to the questionnaire tended to over-represent socially desirable foods.

Of course, if everyone over-reported or under-reported their food intake with the same magnitude of inaccuracy, we could still find some reliable associations between food questionnaires and health outcomes. But it turns out that how much someone fudges their food reporting—especially for specific menu items—varies wildly based on their personal characteristics. Using an Aussie-modified version of the Nurses’ Health Study questionnaire, a study from Australia measured how accurately people reported their food intake based on their gender, age, medical status, BMI, occupation, school-leaving age, and use of dietary supplements. Like with the other validation studies, it compared the results of the food frequency survey with the Almighty Weighed Food Record.

The surprising results? Folks with a “diagnosed medical condition”—including high cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and heart disease—were much more likely to mis-report their meat consumption than folks without a diagnosed medical condition, generally overestimating their true intake on food frequency questionnaires compared to the weighed food record. Why this occurred is one of life’s great mysteries, but it might have something to do with the fact that people who develop diet- and lifestyle-related diseases pay less conscious attention to what they eat. (In this study, women were also more likely to inaccurately report their intake for a wide variety of foods—a phenomenon that’s been examined in greater depth by other researchers.)

So what does this mean for studies based on food frequency questionnaires, like the one currently hijacking the news outlets? Unfortunately for lovers of scientific accuracy, it means that meat consumption and modern diseases might be statistically more likely to show up hand-in-hand by mere fluke. If sick folks have a tendency—for whatever reason—to say they’re eating more meat than they really are, that’ll have profound effects on any diet-disease associations that turn up in observational studies, where correlations hinge so heavily on the accuracy of the data. And if the results of that Australian study are applicable not only in the Land Down Under but also in the Land Up Over, it could mean that meat is pretty much doomed to look guilty by association with disease whenever food frequency questionnaires are involved. Woe is meat!

Red-Meatophiles: A Species of Their Own

Now that our confidence in food frequency questionnaires should be thoroughly and disturbingly shattered, let’s hop back to the study in question. To gauge the effects of red meat consumption on mortality, the researchers for our Red Meat Consumption and Mortality study divided folks up into five quintiles based on their red meat intake. The first quintile represents the people who reported the fewest servings per day, while the fifth quintile represents the shameless red-meat gluttons who indulged in the most (or rather, reported indulging in the most). Luckily for us, the researchers provided a magical table of marvels comparing various diet and lifestyle variables between the quintiles. Please take a minute to look at it yourself and, if you feel so compelled, bask in its glory.

If you secretly suspected that this was a “people who eat red meat do a lot of unhealthy things that make them die sooner” study, you can now gloat.

Here are a few lifestyle variables I graph-ified for greater visual impact. (“Red Meat Intake” is measured in servings per day, and “Physical Activity” is measured in hours of metabolic equivalent tasks.)

As you can see, the folks eating the most red meat were also the least physically active, the most likely to smoke, and the least likely to take a multivitamin (among many other things you can spot directly in the table, including higher BMIs, higher alcohol intake, and a trend towards less healthy non-red-meat food choices). Although the researchers tried their darnedest to adjust for these confounders, not even fancy-pants math tricks can compensate for the immeasurable details involved in unhealthy living, the tendency for folks to misreport their diet and exercise habits, and whatever mild insanity emerges from trying to remember every food that hit your tongue during the past year.

And in case you didn’t spot them yet, our magical table has two particularly ogle-worthy things. The first one’s this:

If you had any doubt that people fib on food questionnaires, this should put your mind at ease. Take a look at the average (reported) calorie intake for the women in the first quintile of red meat consumption. Yes, that does say “1200 calories.” Yes, that is low enough to make most people wake themselves up at night as they unconsciously gnaw on their own arm in a quest for nourishment. And the red-meat-avoiding men aren’t much better, clocking in at a bit over 1600 calories for fully-grown adults. If there really is an 800-calorie gap between the folks with the lowest and highest red meat consumption, there’s obviously something much more significant going on in their diets than the color of their chosen animal foods. And if—in a much more likely scenario—there’s some major mis-reporting going on, that only bolsters the notion that we shouldn’t trust food frequency questionnaires any farther than we could throw ‘em.

SOURCE (See the original for graphics)

15 March, 2012

Another classic of untested medical "wisdom"

Heather Justice was just 25 when cervical cancer struck. To save her life, surgeons had to perform radical — and distressing — surgery to remove her womb and vagina, but unfortunately that wasn’t the end of her ordeal.

For Heather’s surgeon had been struck by the fact that hers was a particularly rare and aggressive type of cervical cancer only usually seen in post-menopausal women.

Further investigations led to the start of one of Britain’s longest-running and most shocking drug scandals. Heather, now 59, was the UK’s first confirmed case of DES-related injury.

DES, or diethylstilboestrol, was prescribed to pregnant women — including Heather’s mother Gladys — from the Fifties to the Seventies in the mistaken belief that it prevented miscarriage. Instead, it left behind a hidden legacy of damage to the foetus.

The drug is now making headlines in Britain because a leading American compensation lawyer, Aaron Levine, has announced that he plans to coordinate a UK-wide hunt for women like Heather Justice — ‘DES daughters’ — to launch a class-action claim.

Up to 300,000 Britons may have been exposed to the drug, but the vast majority will be unaware of this risk to their health. DES was discovered in 1938 by British researchers and developed as a cheap, super-strong form of the female hormone oestrogen.

It was given widely to women at risk of miscarrying, as it was thought to bolster their reproductive systems. But by the Fifties, studies showed DES did not improve the chance of a successful pregnancy. Then scientists found it could even be dangerous and might cause breast tumours.

However, GPs prescribed it until 1971, when the drug’s makers finally admitted it could have a profound impact on the health of those exposed to it in the womb — causing cancers and gynaecological abnormalities in women and testicular problems in men.

Heather’s mother, Gladys, was put on DES pills in the early Fifties because she had miscarried once, before becoming pregnant with Heather. No one thought any more of it until Heather was 25. She had just given birth to her second son and had a routine smear test.

‘They found something suspicious,’ she remembers. ‘Doctors did more tests and found I had a form of cervical cancer normally only seen in post-menopausal women.’

The cancer, called clear-cell adenocarcinoma, was so invasive that surgeons had to perform a hysterectomy and partial vaginectomy. Heather, a mother-of-two from Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, said: ‘I was only 25 — so young to be going through all of this. It was late December when the doctors discharged me, and my husband, David, wondered if they were letting me out to have one last Christmas.’

Instead, thanks to the doctors’ skill, Heather has been cancer-free for more than three decades. ‘The hysterectomy left me very ill and weak for three months,’ she says. ‘I felt lucky, however, that I’d had my two boys when I was so young. I needed a lot of help initially, but you can’t be ill for long with two under-fives around. If I hadn’t had my sons, I’d have been a lot more depressed.

‘My mother was quite upset about it, though. She did not want to have done anything to harm me. She was only doing what the doctor told her. Like me, she has always blamed the drug companies.’

It was only by chance that her surgeon, John Monahan, had worked with American experts who had discovered the link between her rare cervical cancer and maternal exposure to DES. Mr Monahan rang the hospital where Heather was born and got her mother’s case notes, which confirmed that Heather’s mother had been prescribed DES.

It was a rare find: NHS hospitals used to keep obstetric records for only 25 years before they were destroyed. The records of countless other DES victims’ mothers have been lost this way. But crucially — as is typical with the vast majority of surviving case notes — Gladys’s record does not say which company had made the drug she was prescribed.

DES was never patented in the UK. It was prescribed so casually that patients’ notes may record it only sketchily, if at all.

Since then, the results of this carefree attitude have become terribly evident. Studies show that DES daughters face a 40-times greater risk of cervical cancer. And up to a third have suffered some form of abnormality of the cervix, uterus or fallopian tubes, resulting in an increased risk of infertility, ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages and premature births.

Furthermore, DES daughters are 50 per cent more likely to start the menopause early and have an increased risk of auto-immune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. And DES was not only used on women as a ‘pregnancy wonder drug’. It was also given to pubescent girls who were predicted to grow ‘too tall’. It is estimated that tens of thousands in Europe, almost certainly including Britain, were treated this way from the Fifties to the beginning of the Seventies.

But again, medical note-keeping is too lax for anyone to be certain.

Many doctors at the time believed growing taller than 5ft 8in should be considered a medical malady in young women because their ‘gawky’ size would make it hard to find husbands.

The pills were supposed to propel girls through puberty faster, giving their bones less time to grow. In fact, no one knows if the drugs even had that effect because no proper follow-up studies were performed. Last year, Dr Emile Hendriks of the Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, studied 239 women in the Netherlands who had been left growth-stunted by DES.

Her research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found the women were 15 per cent less likely to have successfully become pregnant and around 20 per cent more likely to have stillborn babies than women not been given the drugs.

Tests showed women given DES as girls were almost three times as likely to have failing ovaries. And it is not just women who have been affected: boys whose mothers took the drug while pregnant are also likely to pay a heavy cost because it may also damage men’s fertility. It was used in 1944 as the first ‘chemical castration’ agent, forcibly given to rapists and other male sex offenders to kill their sex drives.

Studies in the U.S. show that the sons of women who took DES while carrying them have a higher risk of genital problems, such as undescended or underdeveloped testicles, cysts on the back of the testes and lowered sperm count. However, because of poor NHS record-keeping, thousands of potential victims may never know for sure that their problems with cancer and fertility were caused by DES.

But even when people in Britain have discovered their mothers took DES during pregnancy, they have not been able to seek compensation through UK courts. Under Britain’s legal system, each victim is required to sue the exact drug company that made their mother’s pills, even though their NHS notes do not identify them. Similar victims in the U.S. and Australia have won compensation because their countries’ legal systems do not demand this information.


Dying for a sausage? As yet another study says too much red meat could kill us, the truth is you needn't give up that juicy steak after all

I had Forfar Bridies (a meaty Scottish pasty) for dinner last night and cevapi (Yugoslav skinless sausage) for dinner the night before that. For tonight? Probably a Tandoori platter -- JR

Don't choke on your bacon buttie, but in the medical profession’s relentless quest to find ever more things that may kill us, health officials are turning up the heat on red meat — again.

A major new study of 120,000 people has shown that reducing the amount of beef, pork and lamb in our diet to 1½oz a day could prevent one in ten early deaths in men, and one in 13 premature deaths in women. The Harvard University findings are just the latest in a long line of studies suggesting that our love of juicy red meat is slowly killing us.

Some anti-cancer campaigners say the evidence is so damning we should avoid processed meat altogether. No crispy bacon for breakfast; no sausages on the barbecue; no ham sandwiches and no burgers topped with ketchup.

But other nutritionists say the risks are exaggerated and that cutting out red meat from our diets could do more harm than good.

So who’s right? And what is the confused cook supposed to eat?

The latest research found that eating one extra portion of steak, lamb or pork every day — about the size of a pack of cards — increased a person’s risk of dying from heart disease by 16 per cent, and raised their chance of developing a fatal cancer by 13 per cent.

Processed meats — such as hams, sausages and burgers — were more deadly. Adding two rashers of bacon or a sausage to breakfast increased the chance of premature death by 20 per cent. But how much red meat should we be eating?

The Department of Health recommends we all have no more than 2½oz (70g) of red meat a day. For example, that would be three sausages on a Monday, three slices of lamb on Tuesday, a quarter-pounder on Wednesday, a small steak on Thursday and fish or poultry over the next three days. But the Harvard authors say even that is too much.

This anti-bacon backlash will have surprised many meat lovers. After all, human beings have been happily devouring red meat for millennia.

Marks found on fossilised animal bones in Ethiopia show that one of our ancestors — the ape-like Australopithecus afaransis — was butchering antelope and cattle 3.4 million years ago.

Meat is a rich source of fat and protein, and many anthropologists believe mankind needed to switch to meat-eating to give us the nutrition essential to evolve bigger, smarter brains.

However, we shouldn’t follow the example of our ancestors too closely.

For much of human history, most people would have died from infectious disease, childbirth, injuries or malnutrition long before they had to worry about cancer and heart disease — illnesses of middle and old age. So our forebears could have eaten slabs of bison to their hearts’ content — something else would have killed them by the age of 30.

So what is it in red meat — and particularly processed meat — that is so harmful? The evidence is far from conclusive.

All types of red meat, whether processed or unprocessed, contain a form of iron called haem — the pigment that gives red meat its colour. Iron is an essential nutrient.

However, haem can also trigger the formation of a class of harmful chemicals called ‘nitroso compounds’ (NOCs) in the body and some types of these chemicals have been linked to bowel cancer.

Barbecued or chargrilled meat is thought to be particularly bad for us. For, when meat is charred, compounds called Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed. Again these are thought to increase the risk of bowel cancer.

The worst type of meat is that which has been cooked and processed. These contain cancer-causing haem, HCAs and PAHs as well as preservatives called nitrates and nitrites, which also increase the risk of bowl cancer. However, the links between red meats and heart disease are less clear.

Some nutritionists believe the high doses of salt in processed food may be to blame. Professor Frank Hu of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, author of the new research, blames the saturated fats in all red meat for clogging up arteries.

But not all nutritionists are convinced. Many believe the benefits of red meat are too often overlooked.

Laura Wyness, of the British Nutrition Foundation, says: ‘The evidence for an association between red meat consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease is inconclusive.

‘Although red meat contains saturated fat, it also provides nutrients that can protect against cardiovascular disease such as omega 3 fatty acids, unsaturated fats, B vitamins and selenium.’

In fact, red meat contains many nutrients such as selenium and vitamins D, B3 and B12.

Wyness warns that some of these are already in worryingly short supply in the diets of some sections of the population. Too little iron in the diet causes anaemia while zinc is essential for growth in childhood and fighting off infections.

Richard Young, of the Soil Association, believes British consumers should be careful when drawing conclusions from U.S. studies.

‘Not all red meat is the same,’ he said. ‘In America, most cattle are fed large amounts of grain. In Britain, the majority are fed on grass and that makes a big difference to the quality of the meat.”

In studies, grass-fed cattle have been shown to have higher levels of beneficial omega 3 fatty acids compared to grain-fed livestock — nutrients that can protect against heart disease.

The most recent data suggest that in Britain, most of us meet the guidelines laid out by the Department of Health. Men consume an average 2½oz (70g) of red meat each day while women eat 2oz (52g). However, a third of the population are still red meat gluttons, devouring more than 3½oz or 100g a day.

Jessica Harris, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said the risks should be put in context.

‘The risks of smoking massively outweigh these risks,’ she said. ‘Red meat isn’t as important as being overweight or drinking alcohol. But that’s not to say it isn’t making a significant contribution.

‘Eating less red meat and processed meat doesn’t guarantee that you don’t get cancer, but it makes sense to control the things we can control.

‘We don’t want to be kill-joys and eating meat a few times a week isn’t likely to cause any great problems. But if people are having lots of processed meat and red meat every day, they should think twice.’

As the anti-red meat movement grows stronger, carnivores will inevitably feel their lifestyles are under threat. The Department of Health is under pressure to reduce its recommended red meat intake even further. But for some health campaigners, that won’t be enough.

How long before health campaigners lobby for laws which would ban children from burger bars, or before workplace canteens are ‘encouraged’ to phase out traditional breakfast fry-ups?

Smokers have already been forced out on to the streets. How soon before they are joined on the pavement by office workers clutching illicit bacon butties?


14 March, 2012

Huge study claims red meat boosts risk of dying young

Epidemiological nonsense. Food fads are probably much more common among middle class people and they are healthier anyway. So all we are seeing here is the usual class effect, not an effect of meat eating per se

Eating a portion of processed red meat daily can boost a person's risk of dying young by up to 20 per cent, says a long-running US study of more than 120,000 people.

While the research by Harvard University experts offers more evidence that eating red meat increases the risk of heart disease and cancer, it also counsels that substituting fish and poultry may lower early death risk.

"This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death," said Frank Hu, senior author of the study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers gleaned their data from a study of 37,698 men who were followed for 22 years and 83,644 women who were tracked for 28 years.

Subjects answered surveys about their eating habits every four years. Those who ate a card-deck-sized serving of unprocessed red meat each day on average saw a 13 per cent higher risk of dying than those who did not eat red meat as frequently. And if the red meat was processed, like in a hot dog or two slices of bacon, that risk jumped to 20 per cent.

However, substituting nuts for red meat lowered total mortality risk by 19 per cent, while poultry or whole grains lowered the risk by 14 per cent and fish did so by 7 per cent.

The authors said between 7 and 9 per cent of all deaths in the study "could be prevented if all the participants consumed fewer than 0.5 servings per day of total red meat".

Processed red meat has been shown to contain ingredients such as saturated fat, sodium, nitrites and some carcinogens that are linked to many chronic ailments including heart disease and cancer.

"More than 75 per cent of the $US2.6 trillion ($2.5 trillion) in annual US health care costs are from chronic disease," said an accompanying commentary by Dean Ornish, a physician and dietary expert at the University of California, San Francisco.

"Eating less red meat is likely to reduce morbidity from these illnesses, thereby reducing health care costs."


One soft drink a day raises 'heart attack danger' by 20 per cent according to U.S study

This rubbish is from the same database as in the article above so the same comments apply

Drinking one sugar-laden soft drink every day could dramatically increase the odds of having a heart attack.

A study of more than 40,000 men suggested that a daily sugar-sweetened drink raised the chances of having a heart attack – including a deadly one – by 20 per cent.

In contrast, diet varieties that use artificial sweeteners were given a clean bill of health by the study’s authors.

Researcher Lawrence de Koning said the body may compensate for the sugar rush of soft drinks by making its own supply of fats, and some of these will be bad for the heart.

Tests on blood samples showed those who drank the sugary beverages tended to have higher levels of dangerous blood fats and of proteins linked to heart disease. Levels of ‘good’ cholesterol were lower, the journal Circulation reported.

The study also found that the more sugary drinks someone had, including still fruit squashes to which sugar is added during manufacturing, the more the risk rose.

Importantly, the link stood when other factors such as smoking, weight, alcohol and exercise were taken into account.

The U.S. research team made their link after analysing information provided by men who were asked every two years between 1986 and 2008 to provide detailed information about their diet.

Tallying the information showed that compared to never drinking sugary soft drinks, having 350ml a day – a standard can contains 330ml – raised the risk of a heart attack by 20 per cent.

Previous research has linked sugary drinks with diabetes and weight gain.

Dr de Koning, of Harvard University, said that although his study did not link diet soft drinks with heart problems, ‘better choices’ are available.

He said: ‘Water, coffee and tea are probably the best choices, after that would be low-fat milk. It is not clear whether fruit juice is a good replacement. There is a lot of sugar in it but it does have added benefits such as vitamins and fibre.’ Tea and coffee should be taken without sugar, he added.


13 March, 2012

How giving your children five-a-day can actually damage their teeth

You can't win!

Children who are encouraged to drink large amounts of fruit juice as part of their 'five a day' could be damaging their teeth, dentists have warned. They are concerned that health- conscious parents who regularly give their children juices and smoothies bursting with fruit could be doing long-term damage.

Kathy Harley, dean of the dental faculty at the Royal College of Surgeons, warned that half of five-year-olds had signs of wear to their tooth enamel. She has called on schools to offer milk or water to pupils during breaks instead of fruit juice, which has a high acid content.

Dental erosion, which is irreversible, is caused by acid attacking the surface of teeth – and citrus fruit juices in particular are very acidic. While fruit juices contain a range of vitamins that are good for your health, they are also often high in natural sugars, which cause tooth decay.

Miss Harley suggested parents should give their children fruit juice as a treat once a week, for example on Saturdays. The NHS recommends only one 150ml glass of fruit juice per day, which counts as one of the recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.

It suggests people drink the juice with a meal as this can help to reduce damage to the teeth.

Drinking more than one glass of juice a day does not count as more than one portion of fruit, as it does not contain the fibre found in the whole fruit. Juicing or blending fruit releases the sugars inside and is worse for the teeth if drunk frequently. Some researchers also say drinking juice slowly can cause more damage to teeth.

Dentists have previously warned that, while tooth decay is less common as more children and adults brush their teeth regularly than in the past, dental erosion is a growing problem due to acidic drinks.

Research published last year by King's College London Dental Institute, based on a study of 1,000 people aged between 18 and 30, suggested eating an apple could be worse for teeth than drinking a fizzy drink because of the acid it contains.

Experts recommend people continue to eat fruit but drink water afterwards to wash away the acid or eat something containing calcium, such as cheese, which neutralises acid.

Damien Walmsley, an adviser to the British Dental Association said: 'If you are having fruit, keep it to meal times. That [may] go against the [recommendation of] five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but it is not a good idea snacking on it because of the continual drip, drip on to the tooth.'

The Department of Health said it had no plans to remove fruit juice from the five-a-day. A spokesman said: 'It contains nutrients, including vitamins which are important as part of a healthy, balanced diet.'


Who needs Viagra? Scientists claim impotence can be cured permanently with sonic blasts

This sounds like very good news, pasrticularly for older men

It seems an unlikely treatment, but impotent men are being offered what is claimed to be the first permanent cure for their condition – sonic blasts applied to the affected area.

The sound-wave treatment is being hailed as an alternative to drugs such as Viagra and Cialis.

But while medication treats symptoms, the new sonic therapy is said to tackle the cause.

Erectile dysfunction, which affects up to a quarter of men over 40, is most commonly caused by the hardening of the arteries, restricting blood flow. But pioneers of the ED1000 treatment say the vibrations encourage new blood vessels to form.

Although the treatment sounds discomfiting – it involves directing pressurised sound waves directly on to the genitals – patients have been assured that it is pain-free.

Those undergoing the procedure – which involves 12 quarter-hour sessions over a nine-week period – are told to expect a tapping sensation as 100 blasts of sound waves are delivered each minute, followed by a tingling feeling afterwards.

Two years after the first trials, patients report that it has a long-lasting effect – although it is not understood why sound-waves have such an effect on the tissue that it begins producing new blood vessels.

Similar sonic waves are already used to destroy kidney stones, improve blood flow in heart muscle, and to ease the inflammation of joints.
Pioneers of the ED1000 treatment (pictured) say the vibrations encourage new blood vessels to form

Pioneers of the ED1000 treatment (pictured) say the vibrations encourage new blood vessels to form. It involves directing pressurised sound waves directly on to the genitals - but it is pain-free

Doctors in Israel used the same principles to pioneer the technique, but using lower-powered waves.

The treatment is now being offered in the UK for the first time at the private Spire Murrayfield hospital in Edinburgh. It charges £1,500, plus consultation fees, for the sessions.

Consultant urological surgeon Roland Donat, who began treating patients last month, said the procedure was a ‘revolution’ in the management of impotence. He said: ‘I read the pilot study and thought, if this works I really want it for my patients.

‘The ideal candidates are those who have a physical explanation for their impotence, such as hardened arteries or diabetes. It will not work if the problem is psychological or stress-related. But the results so far are really very encouraging. ‘Men can be very severely affected by impotence and it can lead to relationship or self-esteem problems.

‘The interesting thing is that the same device and technology is also being used to treat heart patients and those with leg ulcers.’

During initial trials in Israel, 20 men treated using sound-waves noted an improvement in their condition after around seven weeks.

Drugs such as Viagra can cost up to £8 a tablet, which adds up to a huge cost burden on the NHS.

The treatment will be offered at other clinics in Leeds and London’s Harley Street shortly.


12 March, 2012

We're here! We're gluttons! Get used to it!

Over at Megan McArdle’s place, she’s on a leave of absence for some as-yet-unnamed project. In her stead, Katherine Mangu-Ward picks up one of Megan’s common refrains about Americans and obesity:
Fat people know they’re fat. They know why they’re fat. And they know that being fat kinda sucks.

This may seem obvious, but think about how many anti-obesity initiatives — federal, state, and local–are aimed at promoting the message that being obese or overweight has terrible consequences and/or warning grazers and gorgers off specific food choices.

Two new papers from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo economist Michael L. Marlow take on this weird gap between the problem government anti-obesity efforts seem to be trying to solve and problems that actually exist. Obesity is an expensive, sticky problem, no doubt about that. But Americans themselves aren’t deluded on that point. The fat=bad message has been sent and received, thank you very much.

Yet government interventions like menu labeling requirements, public awareness campaigns about the dangers of sugary soda, zoning regulations to limit the prevalence of fast food restaurants, programs to eliminate “food deserts” and bring supermarkets to poor neighborhoods are multiplying. They fail, writes Marlow in a Mercatus Center working paper out this month, because they are little more than taxpayer-funded sermons to the chubby, chubby choir.

One of Megan’s constant points is that for most people, weight is almost destined by genetics to stay within a certain range. Try to stay outside that range very long, and you have to rely on near-superhuman willpower. And it’s an argument that probably holds a certain amount of weight in an evolutionary biology world. If food is constantly scarce, there’s really no genetic basis to select for overeating or not, as everyone is forced by scarcity and constant activity to remain slim. But in the abundance of modern America, that external scarcity doesn’t exist. Calories are cheap and plentiful, to the point that obesity is a major problem for America’s poor — not something you see in most countries.

I’ve had to fight this battle personally for the last decade, as my weight has risen and fallen. Now, I’m unlucky in the sense that I think my “natural” weight puts me in the overweight category of BMI, but perhaps lucky in the fact that even when I’ve been in the obese category, I don’t look gargantuan. At 6’5″, my body can hide a lot of weight.

Since high school, my weight has fluctuated anywhere from 210 to 275 pounds. I don’t put much stock in BMI, because the best shape I’ve been in my life — exiting high school after 7 years of regular martial arts training — I was 225 lbs. That’s a BMI of 26.7, squarely “overweight”… And I was nothing of the sort. I dropped through college as I shed muscle mass to about 210 leaving college (still at the BMI number of 25), and then got a job where I made enough money to afford a lot more food & beer. Since then, I’ve been up to 260+, down to 230, up to 275, and now down to 240 (and dropping).

How have I reached those weights? Well, it’s not because I didn’t know what I was ingesting. It’s because I didn’t care. I know some people (like my sister-in-law) for whom food isn’t really a driver of life. I don’t understand those people. I love food. I really love beer. And when I say food & beer, I’m not talking about mixed field green salads and Michelob Ultra… I’m talking about deep dish pizza and double IPA. I want to eat, and I want to eat a lot. My name is Brad, and I am a glutton.

Right now, I’m trying to take that weight off. And I’m doing so by the simplest method — counting calories. A few weeks back, I had out-of-town coworkers over for pizza & beer, and overindulged a bit. The next day, when getting into a political debate with one of my coworkers over the drug war, he mentioned that overeating was like an addiction, and how it must carry so much guilt along with it. I interrupted — the previous day I had basically skipped breakfast & lunch to prepare for the evening, and that pizza & beer (& wings & garlic knots… MMMMM!!!!) evening was 3400 calories, one meal being itself 1200 over my new daily allotment. And I had to tell him that there was no guilt involved. I can eat that much and feel normal, not guilty. In fact, it’s the calorie restriction that feels unnatural — every day I’m hungry and dreaming of food. It’s not a fun way to live!

I know I’ve been at unhealthy weights. When I’ve been at the upper end of the range, I haven’t needed government to tell me that I was trending towards unhealthy & disgusting; I have a wife. Government hasn’t done much to make me thinner, either. While I appreciate the fact that so many restaurants here in CA now have to post calorie counts on menus, it’s not like this information was hard to find before. And the calorie counts wouldn’t make any difference to my behavior _unless I already wanted to lose weight_. It’s purely convenience. My brother-in-law is roughly the size I was when I was at my heaviest, and has no desire to change right now — the fact that California mandates restaurants post this information doesn’t change his behavior at all (as it doesn’t change most peoples’ behavior).

Why are so many Americans fat? Because we like to eat — and we can afford to do so. Willpower is hard — we haven’t needed it for most of human history, when food was scarce. And food is delicious. I like salad, but few things are as satisfying as an italian beef sandwich and some nice salty french fries. On the “Right”, we often suggest that everything would be great about socialism except for the fact that it runs absolutely contrary to human nature. As a result, every government that’s tried socialism has failed in spectacular fashion. Well, everything’s great about dieting except that it runs absolutely contrary to human nature. Is it any wonder that government attempts to make us thin have failed?


The real meaning of "Toxic Substances Control Act modernization"

The Shift from Science-Based Standards to Over-Precaution

Republicans, Democrats, industry representatives, and environmentalists all say they agree that it is time to “modernize” the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA—pronounced “tosca”), the federal law that regulates chemicals not covered under other federal laws. Some say the law needs an overhaul because it is too weak and has accomplished little, while others maintain that modest changes to facilitate greater data collection and chemical testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could improve implementation. Both views suggest that reforms should grant the EPA greater powers to advance public health.

In reality, changes to TSCA are highly unlikely to have any measurable positive effect on public health, given the scant evidence that the trace-level chemicals that TSCA regulates have any significant health impacts. Rather, a stronger TSCA law may harm human well being by leading to bans on many valuable products, undermining innovation, and diverting resources from valuable enterprises to meet burdensome regulatory mandates.

TSCA’s one commendable attribute is that it imposes a reasonable risk-based standard, one that applies many regulatory accountability standards, including some covered in President Obama’s executive order on regulatory reform. It allows the EPA to regulate when a chemical poses an “unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment.” If the EPA finds that a chemical does in fact pose such an unreasonable risk, it may prohibit its use, impose regulations limiting its use, mandate recordkeeping, set disposal regulations, require posted warnings related to its use, and other requirements. It states further that the agency must apply such restrictions “to the extent necessary to protect adequately against such risk using the least burdensome requirements.”

This is a rational and solid risk-based standard that is unique within U.S. environmental law. It directs the EPA to focus on scientifically robust, well-designed studies. It also demands that the agency consider both cost-benefit considerations and potentially adverse outcomes of its regulatory actions. Citizens should demand at least as much before any governmental body issues regulations that undermine the freedoms necessary for society to progress and innovate.

Yet TSCA reform proposals all strike at the heart of this standard, calling instead for a hazard-based, precautionary approach. Some would model the new rule after the “reasonable certainty of no harm” standard set in the Food Quality Protection Act, which has produced a host of unnecessary bans and regulations on valuable products that are used to help ensure affordable food production and control of dangerous pests.

Additional data mandates under TSCA are also unnecessary and dangerous. Contrary to many claims, the EPA has managed to use the law to impose thousands of regulations, collect substantial data under both mandatory and voluntary programs, and demand testing of chemicals. Still, the EPA and environmentalists would like greater power to collect “new” data on a number of chemicals that have already been studied extensively by private companies, government agencies, and research bodies around the world. The EPA is unlikely to discover damning information regarding chemicals that have been used for decades without indication of adverse health concerns. Instead, mandates for additional study will simply divert research dollars away from more valuable research and development efforts.

TSCA’s actual failures stem from cases where the EPA has succeeded in taking regulatory actions under the law. The agency has been able to use the law to impose some needless regulations related to lead-based paint, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxin, and other substances. Obama administration efforts to revitalize the law indicate that the EPA can use the law to impose a host of new regulations as well as make symbolic statements about chemicals to adversely impact their use in the U.S. marketplace—even without congressional authorization.

“Modernization” will most likely empower the agency to take these programs in an even more arbitrary and capricious direction, undermining freedom, innovation, and economic growth in exchange for no measurable public health benefits.


11 March, 2012

Paracetamol (Tylenol) should be prescription only

I agree entirely. I have long said that it is far more dangerous than aspirin yet aspirin seems to be out of fashion. In the pharmaceutical corridor at my local supermarket there is a great range of painkillers but you have to look hard to find the little corner where they have a small amount of aspirin for sale

The family of a young mother who died after taking too many paracetamol tablets to help cope with pain following routine surgery have called for the drug to be prescription only.
Paracetamol Tablets, health, pills

Single mum Desiree Phillips, 20, was buying the painkillers over the counter and had upped her dose to "a few extra tablets" a day, an inquest heard. The talented singer was found unconscious next to a pack of the tablets at the home where she lived with her 11-month-old son.

Desiree was rushed to hospital where doctors diagnosed liver failure due to paracetamol poisoning. She was transferred to a specialist hospital for a liver transplant operation but died when it failed.

Desiree had auditioned for X-Factor and was hoping for a career in showbusiness after recording an album of seven songs.

After the hearing her grandfather Desmond Phillips, a chef, said: "This shows that Paracetamol should be prescription only. "It can be a very dangerous drug. "If a painkiller is that dangerous, it should be prescribed. Cigarettes have a label saying "smoking kills" but paracetamol packets don't look dangerous. "Desiree was taking a staggered dose - only one or two a day but before we knew it she had done her self terrible liver damage."

Mr Phillips told the hearing: "Desiree's death was sudden, tragic and unexpected. "She's had routine surgery for lumps in her breasts which were not cancerous. "Afterwards she was in a lot of pain - we had to look after her baby because it hurt her too much to hold him. "She had taken paracetamol to ease the pian - she was taking a few too many over the daily dose but we never expected this to happen."

Blonde Desiree, of Llanelli, West Wales, was found passed out by her new boyfriend Andrew Laycock. Mr Laycock told the inquest: "I was concerned because I'd not had any texts from Desiree so I went around to the house. "She was curled up on the sofa and I could see she's been sick. There were packets of paracetamol there.

"I called an ambulance and she was rushed to hospital. "A doctor told me it was serious so I waited through the night with her."

The inquest, in Llanelli, heard Desiree died on August 26 last year after being transferred to Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth hospital.

The cause of death was liver failure caused by paracetamol toxicity and the inquest heard there were high levels of painkillers in her bloodstream.

Carmarthenshire Coroner Mark Leyton recorded a narrative verdict. He said: "Desiree was using paracetamol for pain relief and may have been exceeding the normal dose. "But it remains unclear whether it was a built up or whether she took a large single dose."

Desiree's 18-month-old son Jayden is being cared for by her family.

Desiree's mother Ayshea, 39, said: "Desiree was beautiful and had an infectious personality, she was always bubbly and we were always having a laugh. "She loved Jayden, she couldn't do enough for him. He doesn't deserve to be growing up without a mum because of this.'

A Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency spokesman said: 'Paracetamol is a safe and effective painkiller when used correctly and when dosage recommendations are followed. 'Every pack has a warning about overdose and instructions not to take more than eight tablets in any 24-hour period.'


Food alarmists target Coke

The CSPI are just Leftist attention-seekers determined to make a nuisance of themselves. Their "science" is very biased and selective. Scares sell newspapers, however, so their influence is out of all proportion to their importance

Coca-Cola is changing its top secret recipe to avoid having to put cancer warning labels on their beverages. The move came amid mounting pressure from an American consumer watchdog group to ban an additive used in the caramel colouring of cola.

The compound under debate is called 4-MEI and the Center for Science in the Public Interest claims it causes cancer.

They launched a public campaign against the use of the additive, which led Californian authorities to add it to its list of carcinogens.

To avoid having to introduce risk labels on their products, Coca-Cola have agreed to make nationwide changes to the 125-year-old formula. Pepsi- which is the world's second favourite soft drink after Coke- will also make similar changes to their manufacturing process. It is unconfirmed whether the changes will be made to the soft drinks in Australia.

The advocacy group filed a petition against the colouring with the Food and Drug Administration in February. The appeal highlighted a study which found the chemical led to tumors in lab rats and mice.

The American Beverage Association (ABA) said the campaign against 4-MEI exaggerated the risks. In a statement, the ABA noted a person would need to drink more than 2,900 cans of cola every day for 70 years to reach the lowest dose levels the mice received.

“This is nothing more than CSPI scare tactics, and their claims are outrageous. The science simply does not show that 4-MEI in foods or beverages is a threat to human health,” the statement said.

Coca-Cola also denies the caramel colouring causes any public risk but agreed to alter the recipe to avoid having to conform to California's labelling conditions.


10 March, 2012

Arthritis sufferers '40 per cent more likely to develop fatal heart problems'

The absolute numbers are however so low as to be trivial

Arthritis sufferers are far more likely to develop fatal heart problems and strokes, a major study reveals today. It shows that patients with rheumatoid arthritis have a 40 per cent higher risk of suffering from an irregular heartbeat which can lead to heart attacks and death.

They have also been found to be at 30 per cent greater risk from suffering strokes.

Danish researchers believe the inflammation of joints that occurs in arthritis may cause the heart to beat irregularly - a condition known as atrial fibrillation. This can lead to the formation of blood clots which in turn can trigger a stroke.

Around 400,000 people in England and Wales suffer from rheumatoid arthritis which causes debilitating pain and swelling in the joints.

Scientists from Copenhagen University studied more than 4 million people of whom 18,250 had rheumatoid arthritis over a period of five years. Those with rheumatoid arthritis were 40 per cent at higher risk of atrial fibrillation and 30 per cent higher risk of strokes than the general public.

Although this seems like a big increase, the overall risk still of having heart problems or strokes still remains low. In a group of 1,000 normal patients, six would likely suffer from atrial fibrillation in any given year while 5.7 would be likely to have a stroke.

But amongst a group of 1,000 rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, 8 would be expected to have atrial fibrillation while 7.6 would be likely to have a stroke.

However the researchers - whose findings are published on the website - point out that doctors need to be aware of these heightened risks amongst their patients.

Professor Michael Ehrenstein, of Arthritis Research UK said: ‘Inflammation plays a central role in rheumatoid arthritis and in the disease process of many other related conditions, so it’s not surprising that it may also play a role in the development of atrial fibrillation.’

Rheumatoid arthritis tends to strike between the ages of 40 and 70 and is more common amongst women than men. It happens when the body’s immune system attacks the cells lining the joints making them swollen, stiff and very painful. Experts believe that it may trigger inflammation of the blood vessels which in turn triggers heart problems.

In 2010 Swedish researchers who had looked at 400,000 people found the condition was also linked to heart attacks. They were found to be 60 per cent more at risk compared to other patients.


Passing electric current through the brain 'lifts half of patients from depression'

This is not exactly new. Electroconvulsive therapy goes back many decades. So this finding has some precedent. What appears to be different is that a much weaker current is applied

Passing electric currents through the brain has been found to lift half of patients out of depression, according to a new study.

Stimulating the brain with a weak electrical current was even beneficial for patients who hadn't responded to other treatments such as anti-depressants.

The randomised controlled trial of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) by researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Black Dog Institute in Sydney Australia is the largest to have ever been carried out.

Patients remain awake and alert during the procedure, which involves a non-invasive form of brain stimulation by sending a depolarising electrical current into the front of the brain through electrodes on the scalp.

And the study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, showed the therapy was a successful treatment for many participants.

Trial leader Professor Colleen Loo, from UNSW's School of Psychiatry, said: 'We are excited about these results. 'This is the largest randomised controlled trial of transcranial direct current stimulation ever undertaken and, while the results need to be replicated, they confirm previous reports of significant antidepressant effects.

'The trial saw 64 depressed participants who had not benefited from at least two other depression treatments receive active or sham tDCS for 20 minutes every day for up to six weeks. 'Most of the people who went into this trial had tried at least two other antidepressant treatments and got nowhere. 'So the results are far more significant than they might initially appear — we weren't dealing with people who were easy to treat.'

Results after six weeks of treatment were better than those after just three weeks, suggesting the therapy works better over an extended period.

Participants who improved during the trial were offered follow up weekly 'booster' treatments - with about 85 percent showing no relapse into depression after three months.

Professor Loo continued: 'These results demonstrate that multiple tDCS sessions are safe and not associated with any adverse cognitive outcomes over time.' She added that tDCS is simple and cost effective to deliver and only requires a short visit to a clinic.

The study also turned up additional unexpected physical and mental benefits, including improved attention spans and information processing. One participant with a long-standing reading problem said his reading had improved after the trial and others commented that they were able to think more clearly.

Dr Loo continued: 'Another participant with chronic neck pain reported that the pain had disappeared during the trial. 'We think that is because tDCS actually changes the brain's perception of pain. We believe these cognitive benefits are another positive aspect of the treatment worthy of investigation.'

The researchers are now looking at an additional trial to include people with bipolar disorder, with early results from overseas suggesting tDCS is just as effective in this group.


9 March, 2012

Married Adults Are Three Times as Likely to Survive Major Surgery as Singles

This may not be an outcome of marriage but rather of the sort of people who marry -- these days much more likely to be middle and upper class people, who are healthier anyway

For all the perceived problems and strife marriage can bring, there have to be some upsides. Here's one: if you're married, you're over three times more likely to survive heart surgery than someone who's single. Take that, bachelorhood.

While previous studies have suggested that marriage is related to decreased risk of early death, this study zeroed in on how it affects recovery from surgery. The researchers looked at 500 patients undergoing coronary bypass surgery, and found that those who were married were three times more likely to survive the first three months following it. Ellen Idler, one of the researchers, told Science Daily:

"That's a dramatic difference in survival rates for single people, during the most critical post-operative recovery period. We found that marriage boosted survival whether the patient was a man or a woman... The findings underscore the important role of spouses as caregivers during health crises."

Indeed, it's that basic reasoning behind the finding-that spouses provide an effective support network-that means the effect is extremely likely to apply across a broad range or surgeries, and not just those performed on the heart.

A shame, then, that the boost in survival odds is becoming increasingly rare: barely half of US adults are married these days, the lowest proportion ever recorded.


Tobacco warning labels are the least of FDA's sins

A U.S. District Judge has struck down the Food and Drug Administration's new graphic cigarette labels on the grounds that they violate the First Amendment. The labels, depicting visibly horrendous health problems, such as cancerous mouths, obstruct the tobacco company's freedom of expression, the decision argues. These labels "were neither designed to protect the consumer from confusion or deception, nor to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks; rather, they were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response calculated to provoke the viewer to quit or never start smoking."

I don't know if I agree with this reasoning. To me, the labels do in fact seem "designed. . . to increase consumer awareness of smoking risks." That they do so through the evoking of "a strong emotional response" doesn't seem all too relevant to me.

The more fundamental issue for me would seem to concern the rights of the tobacco company and their customers to make an exchange of a product that everyone knows is harmful without the meddling of government. This principle would extend to all warning labels, however. What is the difference between a mandated label that simply says that smoking can cause cancer and one that displays an image of the negative effects of smoking at work? It would seem the difference is purely one of degree, not of kind, and although many Americans might be comfortable with the warning being in text and not being visual, I don't see how this can be a distinction on which a case turns on First Amendment grounds.

If I were going to apply the Constitution to this case, I wouldn't bother with the First Amendment. I would invoke the long-neglected Tenth Amendment. It is perhaps my favorite of the first ten (although the Ninth is quite good too): "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

This means that the federal government can't legally do anything that isn't authorized in the Constitution. I would submit that the Constitution does not allow for the existence of a Food and Drug Administration at all. All regulation of food and drug labeling is, constitutionally, left up to the states. All matters concerning drug regulation of any kind is none of the federal government's business-with the possible exception of alcohol, where the 21st Amendment interestingly declares alcohol and its importation prohibited in states, territories, and U.S. possessions where it is banned, which might simply be a redundancy but could conceivably involve the federal government in the prosecution of state alcohol laws and the preservation of those laws. Every other drug-tobacco, aspirin, opiates-are none of the federal government's business.

The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for vast human suffering, on top of being unconstitutional. Gross images on tobacco products are nothing compared to the misery and death unleashed by this agency, which enforces its edicts through heavily armed operatives and prevents Americans from having access to life-saving drugs, killing thousands a year.

Everyone should read Robert Higgs's book on this lethal institution. And see the Institute's FDA Review website. In a free society people should be allowed to ingest what they wish. But in even a half-decent society, a dying person should be allowed any shot to save his life, so long as it hurts no one else. The FDA systematically deprives the most vulnerable among us even of this most basic right. On many health issues, the rest of the industrialized world is less free than the United States. On this issue, Americans are treated barbarically compared to most of Europe, although the U.S. government has been bent on changing that through the despotic mission of "regulatory harmonization."

If the issue is the public health, on which many of these cases seem to turn more than on sheer constitutionality, judges should consider the FDA's track record and strike down the whole agency. I'm strongly against the mandated tobacco labeling. But I'd rather the agency do that, and only that, than its less controversial charge of piling up the corpses in the name of drug safety.


8 March, 2012

The £1.40 heart pill lifesaver: 10,000 patients a year could be saved by newly-licensed drug

The disgrace here is that it took so long for the drug to be made available. How many people have died needlessly in the last 5 years?

A pill costing only £1.40 a day could save the lives of thousands of heart failure patients every year. The drug ivabradine, which slows the heart rate and improves its pumping ability, cut deaths by up to 39 per cent in trials.

Professor Martin Cowie, consultant cardiologist and specialist in heart failure at the Royal Brompton Hospital, said that at a conservative estimate it could save between 5,000 and 10,000 lives a year. It could also slash National Health Service costs by cutting hospital admissions by more than a quarter.

Ivabradine, also known as Procoralan, is licensed in the UK for treating angina and has been available on the NHS for around five years with a good safety record. But today it is being licensed by European safety regulators for treating heart failure.

The NHS drug-rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, has yet to decide whether it is affordable for treating heart failure, but around 20,000 patients currently take it for angina.

Prof Cowie, who was involved in a trial of 6,500 patients, insisted it would save the NHS money. He said: ‘I hope this gets approved because it’s very good value for money in reducing the number of hospitalisations alone.’

Made by Servier, the drug is relatively cheap, costing the NHS about £500 a year per patient. Around one in five of 900,000 Britons with heart failure – almost 200,000 patients – could benefit from the treatment.

Trial findings showed a 39 per cent reduction in death from heart failure, a 17 per cent drop in the risk of dying from any cause and a 26 per cent cut in the need for hospital stays among patients using the drug.

Prof Cowie said today’s European licensing decision was ‘great news for both doctors and patients, and is a significant step forward in the management of heart failure’. He added ivabradine would make a dramatic difference to many who could not take beta blockers, the standard drugs used to reduce heart rate. He said even some on the maximum beta blocker dose still had a heart rate that was too fast – more than 75 beats a minute.

Ivabradine lowers the rate to around 60 beats a minute without reducing blood pressure, which means the damaged heart pumps more efficiently at a slower rate.

Prof Cowie said: ‘Heart failure is a very common problem. We have trial results showing ivabradine not only improves symptoms and prevents disease progression, but also helps patients return to normal daily activities and increases their enjoyment of life.

'One in five patients could benefit – the key to whether current treatment is working is whether their heart beat is still too high. This is easy to check – a doctor just has to take their pulse, or the patient can do it.’

Around 100,000 people a year are thought to die from heart failure, which occurs when damage to the organ leaves it too weak to pump blood efficiently around the body. About 68,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, increased heart rate and swollen ankles.

Treating heart failure soaks up one to two per cent of the total NHS budget, with direct medical costs alone amounting to £625million a year.


Cannabis-like chemical could help keep couch potatoes slim

A long way from this leading to a drug, however

A natural cannabis-like chemical in the brain may hold the key to keeping couch potatoes slim, early research suggests. Scientists in the US found that blocking the compound allowed mice to gorge on high fat food and take little exercise without putting on weight or becoming unhealthy.

The genetically modified animals produced limited amounts of the endocannabinoid 2-AG, a chemical related to the active ingredient in cannabis. All mammalian brains, including those of humans, contain 2-AG, which is believed to control neural circuits involved in metabolism.

'We discovered that these mice were resistant to obesity because they burned fat calories much more efficiently than normal mice do,' said study leader Professor Daniele Piomelli, from the University of California at Irvine.

'We had known that endocannabinoids play a critical role in cell energy regulation, but this is the first time we found a target where this occurs.' The mice stayed slim because they developed a hyperactive form of 'brown fat' - a special type of fat that generates heat and keeps animals warm.

Not only did they not gain weight when fed a high-fat diet, but they failed to develop any of the expected signs of metabolic syndrome. This is a combination of problems such as obesity and high blood pressure which increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

But the scientists, who report their findings in the journal Cell Metabolism, caution that it is too soon for couch potatoes to be celebrating.

'To produce the desired effects, we would need to create a drug that blocks 2-AG production in the brain, something we're not yet able to do,' said Prof Piomelli. 'So don't cancel that gym membership just yet. But as you hit the treadmill, think about the added health benefits if you could train your brain to make fewer endocannabinoids.'


7 March, 2012

Now HRT is GOOD for you

After all the hysteria about HRT giving women cancer, we are suddenly marching in the opposite direction! I thought (and said) that the original panic was nonsense and this is the latest bit of evidence in support of that view

Women taking a specific form of HRT may be protected against breast cancer, researchers say. They found that oestrogen-only hormone replacement therapy cuts rates of the disease by nearly a quarter.

The findings add to growing evidence that the drug is safe despite a U.S. study in 2002 that linked it to breast cancer, heart disease and other ills. In the three years after the scare, the number of UK women taking HRT to help them through the menopause halved to one million.

Around a quarter of the 2.5million women now taking it are thought to be on the oestrogen-only form. Commonly given to those who have undergone hysterectomies, it prevents symptoms such as night sweats and hot flushes.

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle studied 7,645 menopausal women over six years. Half had been taking oestrogen-only HRT tablets, the other half had been given dummy pills. They found that those on oestrogen-only HRT were 23 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer.

And if they did develop the illness they were 63 per cent less likely to die than the other women.

The treatment seemed to deter the growth of tumours but appeared not to protect women who either had a family history of breast cancer or had suffered benign breast disease.

Garnet Anderson, author of the study, which is published today in The Lancet, warned that although the drug had benefits, it also entailed risks. It is known to increase the likelihood of blood clots and strokes – as with the combined form of HRT.

Dr Anderson added: ‘These latest results should provide reassurance about breast safety of oestrogen use for durations of about five years for women with a hysterectomy seeking relief from post-menopausal symptoms.’

Rachel Greig, of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘This is a strong study which may provide reassurance to women of the effects of oestrogen-only HRT, a certain type of HRT that is used to treat menopausal symptoms in women who have had a hysterectomy. ‘However, it’s important to remember there are different types of HRT and other large studies have shown these can increase the risk of breast cancer as well as other health problems.

‘In the meantime we advise women to speak to their GP if they have questions about treatments for the menopause.’


Drug could treat arthritis by stopping immune system from attacking joints

Sounds hopeful

A drug that could ‘stop arthritis in its tracks’ is being tested in a British laboratory. In ‘very exciting’ but early-stage tests, the drug prevented the inflammation responsible for the pain, swelling and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis.

Much more work is needed but the research could lead to an effective and inexpensive way of treating the condition that affects 350,000 Britons. The disease causes chronic pain and inflammation in affected joints, and is triggered when elements of the immune system attack the body.

White blood cells known as T-cells are integral to the process.

Study leader Dr Graeme O'Boyle, from the University of Newcastle, said of the research development: 'Imagine that the damaged joint is covered in flags which are signalling to the white blood cells. 'Traditional treatments have involved pulling down the flags one by one, but what we have done is use an agent which in effect 'blindfolds' the white blood cells. 'Therefore, they don't know which way to travel and so won't add to the damage.'

The research was funded by the charity Arthritis Research UK, and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using tests on a genetically engineered mouse with a human-like immune system, the team discovered that a compound called PS372424 blocked the ability of T-cells to invade joints.

Only the white blood cells implicated in rheumatoid arthritis are affected, meaning there is no wider suppressant effect on the body's immune system.

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said: 'Although modern treatments have changed the outcome for many patients with rheumatoid arthritis, firstly not all patients respond to them and secondly, even in those patients who do respond in some way, we can't completely get rid of the inflammation that damages their joints.

'This research is very exciting, as although it is in its early stages, if it can be transferred to humans it could shut down the inflammation that causes rheumatoid arthritis.'

Work will now be conducted to improve the drug-like properties of PS372424 with a view to preparing it for clinical trials.


6 March, 2012

Taking vitamin E supplements may actually WEAKEN bones, study shows

Note that vitamin E is a prime "antioxidant" -- LOL

It is dubbed the anti-ageing vitamin. But vitamin E may make bones old and frail before their time. Animals fed on a diet supplemented with the vitamin had bones 20 per cent weaker than those that ate normally, a preliminary study found. Worryingly, the effect was seen after just eight weeks.

The scientists behind the research said that given the popularity of vitamin E supplements, a larger study on people is now warranted.

The vitamin, which occurs naturally in cereals, nuts, olive oil and egg yolks, is credited with helping hold back the hands of time by 'fighting ageing from within'.

Benefits are said to include cutting the risk of heart disease, cancers and cataracts, as well as helping keep the mind sharp into old age and the skin supple.

One of the world's most popular supplements, it is taken daily by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Britons. In the US, more than one in ten adults take vitamin E tablets.

The latest study, detailed in the journal Nature Medicine, looked at the effect of alpha-tocopherol, the most common form of the vitamin, on bone strength.

Bone is constantly changing, with old bone broken down and new bone being built. Osteoporosis occurs when old bone is broken down by the body far more quickly than it is replaced.

In the Japanese study, mice genetically modified to have low levels of the vitamin in their blood, grew bones that were extra-thick. This was found to be due to them being poor at breaking down old bone, rather than good at making new stuff. When vitamin E was added to the animals' diet, their bone density returned to normal.

In another experiment, giving normal mice alpha-tocopherol vitamin E supplements at doses equivalent to those taken by people, led to their bones thinning by a fifth in just two months. The same result was seen in rats.

Researcher Dr Shu Takeda, of Keio University in Tokyo, called for a larger study on the vitamin's effect on human bones.

Professor Helen MacDonald, an advisor to the National Osteoporosis Society, said: 'There is nothing to worry about if you are getting plenty of vitamin E from your diet but those taking high doses of the nutrient in supplements need to be wary.

'You have to remember this research was carried out on animals and findings in humans can be very different. But more research is needed.'

An estimated three million Britons have osteoporosis, with 230,000 breaking weakened bones each year and 1,150 dying each month after fractured a hip.


Colon cancer drug hope through research into inflammatory bowel disease

A TEAM of Queensland researchers has developed a world-first treatment for the leading cause of colon cancer.

The University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience has been working for more than a decade on a medication for inflammatory bowel disease, a condition that is estimated to affect 30 million people worldwide.

"We thought that certain enzymes involved in digesting food in the gut may, if uncontrolled, cause inflammatory bowel disease, so we developed a drug that blocks the effects of these enzymes on colon cells," one of the research team leaders, Dr Rink-Jan Lohman, said.

"Not only were we able to treat and prevent the symptoms, our drug was effective at 10 per cent of the dose of current treatments and it can be given in tablet form rather than injected."

The researchers believe that the drug might show similar benefits in treating other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, and could prevent a variety of cancers from developing.

"If we can treat diseases like inflammatory bowel disease adequately we can likely reduce the risk of colon cancer in the population in the future," he said.

To move a drug to human trials costs millions of dollars, so the IMB team must get further funding to advance their research.

"The process of taking a drug from a promising molecule to a product on the shelves takes years, but discoveries such as these should give sufferers hope that better treatments will one day be available," Dr Lohman said.

The study has been published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.


5 March, 2012

Pressures to diet weighing on children

And all based on a political fad with very dubious science behind it. Dieting usually ends up making you FATTER

CHILDREN as young as four, panicked by aggressive anti-obesity messages, are starving themselves.

In 2010-11, 42 primary school children were admitted to hospital for eating disorders and the number of under-12s seeking help at Eating Disorders Association Queensland almost doubled from the previous year.

There was a 100 per cent increase in the number of cases relating to primary school boys. More than 500 parents in total made contact.

The shocking new figures come as food warrior and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver yesterday called for Government's to regulate what goes in to school lunchboxes.

In Australia this week, Mr Oliver said: "I think school lunch boxes are the wild west. "Diet-related disease is costing more money to any government in the world - it is a miserable bastard of an epidemic. "So your government needs to catergorically control what is and isn't appropriate in a school lunch, and it needs to educate parents what to put in those lunch boxes."

However, experts closer to home are now warning of a new health crisis with children confused about the anti-obesity message.

"We are just starting to see in the figures the fallout from the 'thin at all costs' anti-obesity message being forced on our kids," said Desi Achilleos, the co-ordinator of Eating Disorders Association Resource Centre.

"The message is not working for children who are overweight and is creating a class of self-loathing healthy-weight children.

"In 2010-11, we dealt with 47 per cent more primary school children than the previous year. The youngest was a preschooler.

"Last week I had a call from a guidance officer in a state school asking my advice about a Grade 2 child, a six-year-old girl who refuses to eat. She says that she hates her body and no one will marry her if she's ugly."

A staff member at the group was told of a healthy-weight primary school child being picked on by friends for having a muffin in her lunchbox.

The association is putting much of the blame at the feet of the state's schools. Damning feed-back from clients paints a picture of schools using food diaries, classroom weigh-ins and public humiliation.

"There are horror stories, but as a whole primary schools are well-meaning and adhering to curriculum guidelines, but nutrition needs to be taught in a broader context of collective health. We would recommend more collaboration with parents and caregivers - they are making the food choices for kids," Ms Achilleos said.

Brisbane GP Leanne Barron, who treats kids with eating disorders, said: "I have seen a five-year-old who has lost 3kg in one school year because she is so frightened of taking 'unhealthy' food and of not being able to eat the quantity of 'approved' foods in her lunch box.

"Fanaticism by the broader community has led to classroom weighing, lunchbox nazi-checks by teachers and schools vying to have the 'healthiest tuckshop' while in their playgrounds underweight children and teenagers shiver through the heat of Queensland summers, unable to maintain a healthy body temperature."

According to Ms Achilleos: "Queensland schools are doing their best to address nutrition through the Australian Curriculum Guidelines of a 'no-harm' approach."

However, the association is adamant the use of a food diary in some state schools breaks the "no harm" policy and slams any shaming of children for their food choices.

Asking kids to be accountable for their food choices when they are not the ones choosing their food is concerning," Ms Achilleos said. "Also, things like the calling out of sizes of sports uniforms at sports time can be very damaging."

Amanda Dearden, co-ordinator of Isis: The Eating Issues Centre Inc, told The Sunday Mail that Isis, in collaboration with the Queensland Eating Disorders Advisory Group, has met Education Queensland representatives a number of times to express concern about the growing number of young children with eating disorders.

Education Queensland told The Sunday Mail some state schools had hired a nutritionist and acknowledged the presence of food diaries but insisted they were optional.


Cheap acne antibiotic could alleviate symptoms of schizophrenia

This is certainly hopeful but will probably apply only to a subset of schizophrenics. Schizophrenia has a substantial inherited component

A cheap antibiotic usually used to treat acne could alleviate the symptoms of schizophrenia, international studies have found. The National Institute for Health Research will start 175 recruiting patients for a £1.9m UK trial of the drug, minocycline, next month.

The study comes after a chance observation in Japan caused researchers to test the drug in patients with schizophrenia first in Japan itself, and then all over the world. Trials have already been held in Israel, Pakistan and Brazil where schizophrenic patients treated with the drug showed significant improvement.

Scientists believe schizophrenia and other mental illnesses including depression and Alzheimer's disease may result from inflammation in the brain. Minocycline has anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects which could account for the positive findings.

The first account of the antibiotic's positive effects appeared in 2007, when a 23-year-old Japanese man was admitted to hospital suffering from persecutory delusions and paranoid ideas. The subject had no psychiatric history and blood tests and brain scans showed nothing unusual. He was started on halperidol, a powerful anti-psychotic drug, but it had no effect. However when he developed severe pneumonia a week later and was prescribed the antibiotic, the infection was cleared and the psychosis resolved within two months.

However, minocycline does not work as a cure. When the patient stopped taking the drug, his psychiatric symptoms got worse again. But another treatment with minocyline made him better again.

The UK trial will recruit patients recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, Jeremy Laurance, a member of the Schizophrenia Commission, told The Independent. Half the patients will take minocycline with their standard anti-psychotic treatment, the other half will take a placebo.

Brain scans will be carried out at the beginnning and end of the year-long trial to compare loss of grey matter which is an effect of schizophrenia. Tests will also measure inflammatory markers in the blood.

Paul Jenkins, CEO of the charity Rethink Mental Illness told MailOnline: 'We welcome the early promise shown by minocycline in treating psychosis in people with schizophrenia.

'Nowhere near enough time or money currently goes into to researching treatments for schizophrenia or other serious mental illnesses, which cause pain and suffering for many thousands of families across the UK.'


4 March, 2012

How marijuana clouds the memory

THE link between marijuana and memory loss is well known, but now scientists have found exactly how the drug causes forgetfulness.

Marijuana impairs users' working memory - the ability to retain and use information over short periods of time - a major downside of the medical use of marijuana.

The researchers say the discovery, published in the scientific journal Cell yesterday, could help scientists create medical marijuana that does not impact on a person's memory while still treating their pain.

They said the knowledge of how memory was affected could also be applied to other cells, to help other memory-loss concerns. "We may find a way to deal with working memory problems in Alzheimer's," the researchers said.

French and Canadian neuroscientists found that marijuana users suffered memory loss because the main psychoactive ingredient, THC, affects the support cells of neurons, known as astroglial cells, but not the neurons themselves, as previously thought.

"We have found that the starting point for this phenomenon - the effect of marijuana on working memory - is the astroglial cells," study researcher Giovanni Marsicano said.

The researchers made the discovery after initially investigating why receptors that respond to both THC and signals naturally produced in the brain were found on astroglial cells.

"The study shows that one of the most common effects of cannabinoid intoxication is due to activation of astroglial CB1Rs (cell receptors)," the researchers say.

University of Adelaide pharmacologist Associate Professor Rod Irvine said the effect of marijuana on short-term memory loss was related to dosage. "The heavier the use, the more likely it is to have an impact on memory," he said. "It's probably not going to have an effect on light or occasional users."

Australians are among the world's biggest potheads. A study released late last year found that as many as 14.8 per cent of people aged 15 to 64 had used the drug at least once in the previous year.

Marijuana is not prescribed for medicinal use in Australia, but Prof Irvine said it was a common excuse for many recreational users of the drug.


World’s first biodegradable joint implant grows new joints

Joint replacements have a big history of failure so we can only hope that this version works well

Joint implants should always be made of materials like titanium, so they can last the lifetime of the patient ... right? Well, not according to researchers at Finland's Tampere University of Technology. They've developed a product known as RegJoint, which is reportedly the world's first biodegradable joint implant. Unlike permanent implants, it allows the patient's bone ends to remain intact, and it creates a new joint out of their own tissue.

In arthritic joints, the cartilage that protects the connecting ends of the bones has become compromised. This allows the bones themselves to grate against one another, causing pain and reducing the joint's range of movement. A traditional permanent implant replaces the ends of the affected bones with low-friction man-made material.

RegJoint, however, takes a different approach.

The implant has been in development since the mid 90s, and is intended for use in the small finger and toe joints of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis patients. It is made from a polylactide copolymer, and is inserted within the joint capsule of the affected digit.

Once in place, it reduces pain by acting as a cushioning spacer between the exposed bone ends, while also also restoring a reasonable range of movement, and keeping the already-compromised cartilage from being damaged further. Additionally, however, it triggers the body to produce new fibrous tissue, which proceeds to gradually replace the implant. According to the university, all that's left eventually is a fully-functioning "neojoint," made from the body's own cells.

Recently, RegJoint received CE Mark approval, which will allow it to be sold within Europe - it has already been used in over 200 patients, in clinical trials. Assisting in its development were Conmed Linvatec Biomaterials and Scaffdex Ltd., which is now bringing the implant to market.


3 March, 2012

Smoking, drinking teens are the unhappiest of all.... and fruit and veg is the secret to a good life

This is just a study of social class. It's mainly working class people who smoke, for instance, and being working class in Britain is not a happy experience

Teenagers who smoke, drink alcohol and eat junk food are significantly more likely to be unhappy than their clean- living counterparts, a study has found.

About 5,000 children were questioned on their appearance, family, friends, school and life as a whole, and had their happiness levels rated. Researchers discovered that those who never drank alcohol were between four and six times more likely to have higher levels of happiness than those who did, while those who shunned cigarettes were about five times more likely to have high happiness scores than young smokers.

The authors of the study, based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University, used data from Understanding Society, a long-term study of 40,000 UK households, to analyse the home life and health-related behaviour of about 5,000 ten to 15-year-olds.

Their results found that unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol and not taking exercise were closely linked to substantially lower happiness scores, even when factors such as family income and parents’ education were taken into account.

Higher consumption of fruit and vegetables, and less eating of crisps, sweets and fizzy drinks, was associated with high happiness levels. Also, the children who played a lot of sport were deemed happier.

Cara Booker, co-author of the research, said that children could be turning to damaging vices to cope with their unhappiness. She said: ‘Another explanation could be that youths who smoke and drink first fit themselves into certain groups that tend to be unhappier, and then they find themselves unhappy. It becomes a vicious cycle.

‘It’s probably a combination of both. Some will take up smoking because they want to feel more adult, but then find themselves hanging out with people who are less happy and then they become less happy.

‘But if you’re participating in sports and have a social group who are also interested in the same things, you’re happier versus not doing much of anything.’

The study found that between the ages of 13 and 15, teenagers’ food consumption became unhealthier – only 11 per cent reported eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables every day – and their participation in exercise fell. And the figures for alcohol consumption revealed 8 per cent of ten to 12-year-olds admitted having had an alcoholic drink within the last month, rising to 41 per cent among 13 to 15-year-olds.

Dr Booker added: ‘The message [to teenagers] is that you need to be as healthy as possible, and participating in more adult behaviour such as smoking and drinking is not necessarily going to make you happier.’


Bitter orange extract can help you lose weight, lower cholesterol and prevent diabetes (?)

Whether the change in blood lipids observed leads to a longer lifespan is the important question and there is no evidence of that below. They are just generalizing from what they believe about statins

That lifespan claims for statins are dubious has been shown by Kauffman and others. The best explanation for most of the claims seems to be that researchers WANT reality to reflect their theories. See also here.

There is also a large issue with therapeutic compliance. Many of the people who are prescribed statins suffer side effects which lead them to abandon the drugs -- thus distorting any trials they may be in

A fruit extract loved by tea drinkers for the aromatic flavour it lends to Earl Grey tea could help you lose weight, lower cholesterol and protect against diabetes. The bergamot orange, grown in the Mediterranean, is being hailed as ‘nature’s statin’. It contains chemicals called citrus polyphenols that appear to block production of blood fats, boost metabolism and prevent cholesterol absorption in the gut.

Doctors who gave the extract to heart patients and diabetics claim dramatic benefits. Some of their patients have avoided taking statins, which may have side-effects.

Research on more than 200 patients with high levels of blood fats, carried out by the University of Cantanzaro in Italy, found ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) reduced by 39 per cent after a month of taking the extract. It also reduced blood sugars by 22 per cent and raised ‘good’ cholesterol by 41 per cent.

But Cathy Ross, of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This was a small study and more robust research is needed.’

The extract, which is marketed as BergaMet and comes from Australian firm NatHealth Solutions, is awaiting approval as a food supplement in the UK.

Given as a 1000mg tablet to be taken before meals it also reduced blood sugars by 22 per cent and raised 'good' cholesterol by 41 per cent. Each tablet is made of the extract and pulp of bergamots grown on the coast of Calabria in Italy.

Lead researcher Dr Vincenzo Mollace, Professor in the faculty of pharmacology at the University of Cantanzaro said: 'Bergamot contains extremely large amounts of polyphenols, as compared to other citrus species.

'Two of these, Brutelidin and Metilidin, directly inhibit cholesterol biosynthesis in a similar way to statins and they are not found in any other citrus derivatives.'

In separate research, a leading cardiologist in Australia is giving BergaMet to more than 700 patients, some of whom have avoided the need for statins, while others are on a reduced statin dose but are still seeing major reductions in harmful cholesterol, but with the added benefit of protection from diabetes because their blood sugars are regulated.

Another benefit is patients have lost weight. In one case, a male patient weighing a staggering 26st lost over 2st in just a month on BergaMet.

Around one in four adults in the UK is thought to have a genetic predisposition to develop insulin resistance, meaning that weight gain and a lack of exercise puts them at a higher risk of raised blood sugars and diabetes. This is often coupled with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a tendency to blood clots - so-called metabolic syndrome.

Dr Ross Walker, of Sydney Adventist Hospital and in private practice in Sydney, said: 'I have found in all of my patients who were overweight, there has been abdominal fat loss with BergaMet.

'It is not as powerful as statins in lowering cholesterol and if you have had a heart attack, vascular disease or have a high family risk then statins are what you should have, but statins do not suit everybody and BergaMet has the added advantage of lowering blood sugars.

'Plus, we have seen a significant reduction in arterial stiffness with the bergamot extract which is helpful in protecting against arterial disease. In some patients I have halved the dose of statins they are on because of BergaMet.

'This is a safe, natural product for combating high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome which is showing very promising results, remarkably with no significant side effects.'

BergaMet blocks the same enzyme responsible for cholesterol production as statins, but works at a different site on the enzyme, meaning it does not appear to have side effects in the muscles and the liver.

It also has a direct effect on cell membranes so that sugar is able to enter the cells of the body and insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are reduced.

BergaMet is available on the internet and costs around £34 for a month’s supply but is awaiting approval as a food supplement by UK regulatory authorities before it can be sold here. NatHealth Solutions are in talks with major high street pharmacies who are hoping to have it on the shelves by the summer.


2 March, 2012

Taking a daily vitamin pill could prevent skin cancer, scientists claim

Utter rubbish. If vitamin A taken through a tablet works, it should also work when taken in food. It doesn't. Maybe all that has happened is that pill takers are more likely to guard their health and stay out of the sun more.

Some other good points at the end of the article

A daily vitamin pill could help prevent skin cancer - particularly among women, it has emerged. Scientists say taking food supplements containing vitamin A can make people less likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of the disease. A study found that retinol - a key component of Vitamin A - could protect against the illness.

The strongest protective effects were found in women and in sun exposed sites, suggesting retinol actually combats skin cancer.

However, there was no association between dietary intake of vitamin A, found in liver, eggs and milk, and a reduction in risk.

There was also no reduced risk seen by the intake of carotenoids, which are abundant in vegetables including carrots and tomatoes and soak up compounds that can damage the skin.

Previous research with mice has shown retinol and carotenoids can shrink melanoma tumours and improve survival. Retinol is also good for the immune system and eyesight

So dermatologist Dr Maryam Asgari and colleagues analysed the disease risk in 69,635 men and women aged between 50 and 76 who consumed vitamin A through either dietary or supplementary methods.

Their findings, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, found those who used retinol regularly were 60 per cent less likely to develop skin cancer, rising to 74 per cent among participants on the highest doses of more than 1,200 mg a day.

Dr Asgari, of the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research in Oakland, said: 'Our data suggest a possible interaction between supplemental retinol use and the anatomic site of melanoma, with sun-exposed sites showing a stronger protective effect than sun-protected sites. 'It may be that retinol's effects may be mediated by sunlight exposure. This intriguing possibility warrants further exploration in future studies.'

Retinol belongs to a class of compounds called retinoids that have been shown to stop cells dividing and spreading.

Dr Asgari said: 'In summary, our data, which are based on a large prospective cohort, suggest retinol intake from individual supplements is associated with a reduction in risk for melanoma, especially among women. 'Our findings suggest vitamin A supplementation may hold promise as a chemopreventive agent for melanoma.'

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer among white populations, in the UK and worldwide. Most are easy to treat and pose only a small threat to life, but melanoma is difficult to treat unless detected early.

Over the past 25 years, rates of melanoma in the UK have risen faster than any other common cancer. About 1,800 people die from melanoma annually in the UK. Even so, nearly 80 per cent of men and over 90 per cent of women are alive at five years following treatment.

However, Dr Claire Knight, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: 'We don't recommend people start taking retinol supplements based on this study, particularly as high doses can be toxic.

'The result was based on a very small number of people with melanoma, and the authors didn't account for other important factors that influence the risk of skin cancer, such as the number of moles a person has. "And crucially, when the authors looked at whether a particular dose was linked to risk, the link between retinol and melanoma disappeared.'


Can fasting for two days each week stop dementia?

This is still mostly theory but there may be something in it

One day in the not-so-distant future, you may find yourself receiving some unusual health advice from your GP: fast two days a week to prevent your brain shrinking with age. You might be given the same advice to lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes — and even tackle cancer.

Fasting was a common medical treatment in the past, but now new research suggests there may be good reason for it to make a comeback. This is because it seems to trigger all sorts of healthy hormonal and metabolic changes.

Researchers have long known that cutting back animals’ calories over an extended period can make them live up to 50 per cent longer — it’s been harder to prove benefits in humans because few people can stick to this restrictive regimen.

But there’s now emerging evidence to show occasional fasting — which is much more manageable — also carries benefits. Fasting days involve eating between 500 and 800 calories (the usual daily intake for a woman is 2,000 calories, for a man, 2,500).

This intake appears to cause a drop in levels of growth-factor, a hormone linked with cancer and diabetes, as well as a reduction in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (fats) in the blood.

Meanwhile, free radicals — the damaging molecules linked to disease — are dampened down. Studies also suggest that levels of inflammation can fall. And now there is the suggestion that fasting protects the brain, too.

‘Suddenly dropping your food intake dramatically — cutting it by at least half for a day or so — triggers protective processes in the brain,’ explains Professor Mark Mattson, head of neuroscience at the U.S. National Institute On Ageing.

‘It is similar to the beneficial effect you get from exercise.’ This could help protect the brain against degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Professor Mattson is one of the pioneers of research into fasting — a few years ago he made a breakthrough when he found rats could get nearly all the benefits of calorie restriction if the scientists only cut back their calories every other day. On the next day the rats could eat as much as they liked and yet they showed the same benefits as rats on a low-calorie regimen all the time.

Suddenly it looked as if humans could benefit from a form of calorie restriction regimen that, unlike daily restriction, is feasible to follow. Now results of other trials are revealing the benefits.

In one study, reported last year in the International Journal of Obesity, a group of obese and overweight women was put on a diet of 1,500 calories a day while another group was put on a very low 500-calorie diet for two days, then 2,000 calories a day for the rest of the week.

Both groups were eating a healthy Mediterranean-style diet. ‘We found that both lost about the same amount of weight and both saw a similar drop in biomarkers that increase your risk of cancer,’ says Dr Michelle Harvie, a dietitian at Manchester University who led the research.

‘The aim was to find which was the most effective and we found that the women in the fasting group actually had a bigger improvement in sensitivity to insulin.’ Improved insulin sensitivity means better control of blood sugar levels.

Last year researchers at Newcastle University reported that they had reversed diabetes in a small number of overweight people by putting them on an 800-calorie diet for eight weeks.

It’s possible that eating small amounts of calories every other day, as Dr Harvie’s study allowed, is not only more bearable, but may be particularly effective at getting diabetics’ blood sugar under control. Now Professor Mattson has been investigating the benefits of various fasting regimens on the health of our brain cells.

According to an article that will be appearing in the leading science journal Nature Neuroscience next month, calorie restriction can protect the cells from damage and make them more resistant to stress.

‘Part of this effect is due to what cutting calories does to appetite hormones such as ghrelin and leptin,’ he explains. ‘When you are not overweight, these hormones encourage growth of new brain cells, especially in the hippocampus.’

This is the area of the brain which is involved in laying down memories. If you start putting on weight, levels of ghrelin drop and brain cell replacement slows. ‘The effect is particularly damaging in your 40s and 50s, for reasons that aren’t clear yet,’ he says. ‘Obesity at that age is a marker for cognitive problems later.’

The good news is that this brain-cell damage can be reversed by the two-day fasting regime, although so far Professor Mattson has shown this only in rats. A human trial is starting soon. There is reason to think it should work. Fasting every other day had a striking effect on people with asthma in a small study he ran a few years ago.

‘After eight weeks they had lost eight per cent of their body weight, but they also benefited from the ability of calorie restriction to reduce inflammation. Tests showed that levels of inflammation markers had dropped by 90 per cent. As levels came down, their breathing became much easier,’ says Professor Mattson.

But he cautions that patients have to stick to the diet, as symptoms began to return two weeks after giving it up. Not everyone will find fasting intermittently is something they can manage. In Dr Harvie’s recent study of overweight women, more patients in the continuous dieting group (who had to stick to 1,500 calories a day) wanted to continue with it than those on the two-day fasting regimen.

‘It’s going to suit some people more than others,’ she says. ‘For some, being able to cut out 3,000-4,000 calories in two days and then eat normally for the rest of the time is much more attractive than cutting back a little every day; for others it’s too drastic. It gives us another option. My experience is men seem to adapt better to it than women.’

But Professor Mattson believes these new fasting regimes could help tackle our failure to live more healthily. ‘This research shows that successful brain ageing is possible for most individuals if they maintain healthy diets and lifestyles throughout their adult life,’ he says.

The trouble is, we don’t — our diets are too high in calories and we don’t do enough exercise, which is why, he says, brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s are on the rise. Dr Susan Jebb, head of diet and population health at the Medical Research Council agrees that losing weight is about the healthiest thing many of us can do. ‘If this approach can help people do that I’m all for it,’ she says.

But whether fasting could be used as a way of treating people at raised risk of heart disease or dementia, it is really too early to say, adds Dr Jebb. ‘There needs to be more trials with more people for longer to work out all the possible effects.’

So is there any harm in trying a little intermittent fasting ourselves? As a result of his research, Professor Mattson now keeps his own calorie intake down.

‘I aim for about 1,800 calories a day, nothing drastic,’ he says. ‘During the week I don’t have any breakfast or lunch but I have a good evening meal. I know it’s not what most dietitians would recommend but it works very well for me.’

However, Dr Jebb advises against fasting. ‘We don’t know what it does to the metabolism over time and it could also have a damaging effect on people’s eating patterns. If people have been heavily restricted for a couple of days they might feel that gave them a licence to over-eat.’

Meanwhile the British Dietetic Association has warned that frequent fasting could raise the risk of osteoporosis and infertility. There is still much scientists don’t understand about the effect of fasting. If the benefits are as big as the research suggests, there may be many willing to try it.
But experts advise always speaking to your doctor before embarking on such a regimen.


1 March, 2012

A daily dose of fish oil helps keep your brain young?

There are two large holes in this crap.

1). They just pick out one blood component, find it correlates with smaller brains and ASSUME that it is the causative factor. If they had done a full range of blood tests they would probably have found half a dozen components that correlated with smaller brains.

2). Once again they overlook social class. Middle class people are probably more zealous about following official diet advice and so do have more fish-oil in their diet. But they are smarter anyway and so also have slightly bigger brains. So all that the researchers have found is the usual: That middle class people are smarter. Fish-oil need have nothing to do with it

Eating fish helps keep your brain young, claim scientists. They found diets lacking an essential nutrient in oily fish may hasten brain shrinkage and mental decline. People eating the least amount of omega-3 fatty acids had less brain mass - equivalent to about two years of chronological ageing.

Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids were also associated with poor test scores for visual memory, problem solving, multi-tasking and abstract thinking.

It is thought that omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils may reduce inflammation of the brain and play a part in brain development and nerve cell regeneration. Britons are currently advised to eat fish at least twice a week, including one portion of oily fish.

In a new study, brain scans carried out on 1,575 people with an average age of 67 showed a greater rate of brain shrinkage in those who lacked docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is thought to help nerve cells communicate with each other. The richest source of the nutrient is oily fish, such as herring, mackerel and sardines.

Dr Zaldy Tan, an Alzheimer’s researcher from the University of California at Los Angeles, who led the US research reported in the journal Neurology, said: 'People with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about two years of structural brain ageing.'

The study involved magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans and tests for mental function and omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells. Participants whose DHA levels were among the bottom 25 per cent had smaller brains than those with higher DHA levels.

Low levels of all omega-3 fatty acids were also associated with poor test scores for visual memory, problem solving, multi-tasking and abstract thinking.

The best dietary source of omega 3 fatty acids is oily fish because the human body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids.

There has been an explosion in the number of foods fortified with omega-3 oils, such as chickens, margarine, eggs, milk and bread, but they contain only small amounts. Types of fish that contain high levels include tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies. White fish is also a healthy food including cod, haddock and plaice although it contains lower levels of essential fatty acids.

Fish oil supplements are recommended as protection against heart attacks and sudden death, with regular fish eaters a third more likely to survive a heart attack.

Omega 3 fats work in several ways to reduce heart attack risk by cutting blood fats, reducing the chances of a blood clot and blocking dangerous heart rhythms that might otherwise prove fatal.

Dr Marie Janson, Director of Development at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said: 'There has been a lot of research into the effects of omega 3, and this study will add to that debate.

'One strength of this study is that it used blood samples to measure people’s dietary intake of omega 3, rather than relying on answers to questionnaires to assess the link between omega 3 and cognition. 'However this research does not tell us whether the people studied got worse or better over time.

'We would need to see large-scale, long-term studies before we can know whether a diet high in omega 3 can protect against dementia, and people shouldn’t fill their freezers with oily fish just yet.

'The best evidence for reducing your risk of dementia is to eat a healthy, balanced diet, take regular exercise and keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check.

'With 820,000 people affected by dementia in the UK, and a rapidly ageing population, we urgently need to find ways to prevent and treat the condition - that means we must invest in research.'


The truth about statins is slowly getting out

U.S. health regulators will add warnings to the labels of widely used cholesterol lowering drugs, such as Lipitor, to indicate that they may raise levels of blood sugar and could cause memory loss.

The Food and Drug administration announced the changes to the safety information on the labels of statins such as Pfizer Inc's Lipitor, AstraZeneca's Crestor and Merck & Co's Zocor.

Statins have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart attack and heart disease, and the FDA said the new information should not scare people into stopping taking the drugs.

'The value of statins in preventing heart disease has been clearly established,' Amy Egan, deputy director for safety in FDA's Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology Products, said in a statement. 'Their benefit is indisputable, but they need to be taken with care and knowledge of their side effects.'

Lipitor, which became available late last year in generic form as atorvastatin, is the world's all-time biggest selling prescription medicine with cumulative sales of over $130 billion.

The generic version of Zocor, simvastatin, in 2010 was the second most widely prescribed drug in the United States, according to IMS Health.

The FDA said it was aware of studies in which some patients taking statins may have a small increased risk of higher blood sugar levels and of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

The statin labels will also now reflect reports of certain cognitive effects such as memory loss and confusion experienced by some patients taking the drugs, the agency said. It said those reports generally have not been serious and the symptoms were reversed by stopping use of the statin.

One safety warning long associated with the class of medicines will be reversed, the FDA said: Patients taking statins will no longer need routine periodic monitoring of liver enzymes.

'FDA has concluded that serious liver injury with statins is rare and unpredictable in individual patients, and that routine periodic monitoring of liver enzymes does not appear to be effective in detecting or preventing this rare side effect,' it said.

Other statins, most of which are available as generics, include Livalo, Mevacor, Pravachol, Altoprev and Lescol. There are also combination medicines that include statins, such as Merck's Vytorin and Abbott Laboratories' Simcor.

The agency also said Merck's Mevacor, the world's first approved statin, known generically as lovastatin, should never be taken with certain drugs used to treat HIV and certain bacterial and fungal infections due to increased risk of a serious muscle disease.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

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

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like