Monitoring food and health news

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

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

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

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


31 May, 2009

Bigotry Begets Bloat? So claims a new study--but the evidence is thin


Taranto dissects the illogic and assumptions behind the nonsense below quite well. One thing he misses is however perhaps the most basic: Lack of a control group. Because of affirmative action, a lot of whites feel discriminated against too. Surely their feelings should have been surveyed and their weight gain measured. It would have been interesting at least and would have given (or not) at least some grounds for generalizations. So, if anything, I would interpret the results as showing that neurotic black women tend to eat more and therefore gain weight more

"Perceptions of racism--from being treated with suspicion in a store to unfairness in employment or housing--can heighten stress levels and affect health, research has shown," reports the Boston Globe:
A new study from Boston University links these smoldering signs of racism to weight gain in black women, suggesting a possible explanation for the their higher obesity rates compared to white women.

Yvette Cozier, an epidemiologist at the Slone Epidemiology Center at BU, led a survey of more than 43,000 women enrolled in the long-running Black Women's Health Study. Writing in the June issue of Annals of Epidemiology, she and her co-authors describe participants' reports on their weight, body mass index, and perceptions of racism.

At the beginning of the eight-year study, the women were asked if they sometimes felt they were treated poorly in a restaurant or store, whether they thought people considered them dishonest or less intelligent, and if they had felt unfairness on the job, in housing, or from police. The women, 21 to 69 years old at the study's outset, were placed in four groups based on how frequently they said they experienced these signs of racism. Their weight was recorded every two years from 1997 through 2005. Their waist circumference was measured at the beginning and end.

At the end of the trial, all the women had gained weight. But the women who said they felt higher levels of racism gained more weight and had bigger waist-size increases compared to the women who felt the least racism. That held true after accounting for factors such as education, geographic region, and beginning body mass index.

"Racism is real and it has real effects," Cozier said in an interview. "It can result in real changes in the body."
In fact, Cozier's study--available here at the low, low price of $31.50--offers no support whatever for this statement.

To begin with, nothing in the study addresses the hypothesis that "racism is real," unless one defines racism solely as a phenomenon within the mind of the putative victim. The study purports to measure the prevalence of perceived racism. It does not test the accuracy of its subjects' perceptions.

Further, it appears that for part of the study, even the perception of racism was imputed by the researchers rather than reported by the subjects themselves. Here is how the study describes the questions:
Five questions asked about the frequency in daily life (everyday racism) of the following experiences: "you receive poorer service than other people in restaurants or stores," "people act as if they think you are not intelligent," "people act as if they are afraid of you," "people act as if they think you are dishonest," and "people act as if they are better than you." Response options were "never," "a few times a year," "once a month," "once a week," "almost every day." Three questions asked about lifetime experience of being "treated unfairly due to your race" on the job, in housing, and by the police (lifetime racism). Response categories were "yes" and "no."
The "everyday racism" questions are not about race! The researchers merely assume that if a black woman encounters someone who acts as if he is better than she, it must be because she is black, not because, say, he's a stuck-up jerk--or because she is oversensitive. The "lifetime racism" questions do measure perceived (though not necessarily actual) racism, but the "everyday racism" questions measure only perceived slights.

Cozier's assertion that what she baselessly calls racism "has real effects" is equally unwarranted. The study shows a correlation between what it characterizes as "perceived racism" before 1997 and weight gain in the ensuing eight years; it does not establish that the former caused the latter. To our mind it seems much more plausible to posit that the tendency to see oneself as a victim of racism (or to be perturbed by perceived slights, whether racially motivated or not) and the tendency to gain weight arise from a common cause, which one might describe as an attitude of powerlessness or a lack of self-confidence.

Relatedly, Cozier's study found that "normal-weight women were more likely to use confrontive coping ('tried to change the situation'), while overweight and obese women were more likely to use evasive coping ('put off facing the problem')." But how one copes with a problem is a separate question from one's threshold for perceiving a problem in the first place.

The study concludes by asserting that its findings "underscore the public health importance of continuing antidiscrimination efforts in this country and worldwide." Now there's a brave position! Yet it doesn't follow from the study either. To be sure, antidiscrimination efforts are worthwhile inasmuch as they prevent discrimination. But is there a shred of evidence that they reduce the level of perceived discrimination?


Green tea extract reported to show promise against leukemia

No control group and tiny sample size! Spare us! But it's only a pilot study so nobody should get excited one way or the other. Journal abstract here

Scientists are reporting positive results in early leukemia clinical trials using the chemical epigallocatechin gallate, a substance in green tea. "The majority of individuals who entered the study with enlarged lymph nodes saw a 50 percent or greater decline in their lymph node size," said Tait Shanafelt, a hematologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and lead author of the study. Moreover, "patients tolerated the green tea extract at very high doses."

The findings appeared online May 26 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The findings tested the chemical's effect on patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the most common type of leukemia in the United States. Currently it has no cure. The illness starts with a mutation in a single blood cell called a lymphocyte. Over time, the altered cells multiply and replace normal lymphocytes in the bone marrow and lymph nodes, organs that are found all over the body and act as filters or traps for foreign particles. The lymph nodes become enlarged as a result.

About half of patients with early stage diseases have an aggressive form of the disease that leads to early death, researchers said. They hope the green tea extract can stabilize early-stage patients or perhaps work in combination with other therapies to improve their effectiveness.

Green tea is made with the leaves of Camellia sinesis, a shrub native to Asia. In the trial, 33 patients received variations of eight different oral doses of Polyphenon E, a proprietary compound whose primary active ingredient is epigallocatechin gallate. Doses ranged from 400 to 2,000 milligrams twice a day. Researchers determined that they had not reached a maximum tolerated dose, even at 2,000 mg twice per day.

The research has moved to the second phase of clinical testing in a followup trial, already fully enrolled, involving roughly the same number of patients. All will receive the highest dose administered from the previous trial. The studies are part of a multiyear project that began with tests of the green tea extract on cancer cells in the laboratory of Mayo hematologist Neil Kay, a coauthor of the study. After the research showed dramatic effectiveness in killing leukemia cells, scientists said, the findings were applied to studies on animal tissues and then on human cells in the lab.


30 May, 2009

Surgical stockings ‘don’t prevent blood clots in stroke patients', but have nasty side-effects

Another instance of theory-based medicine doing more harm than good

Surgical stockings commonly given to stroke patients to prevent blood clots do not work, a new study suggests. Doctors have found that the compression stockings have no effect in preventing deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) — a life-threatening form of blood clot that can travel up into the heart or lungs — in people who have suffered a stroke. Research carried out by a team from the University of Edinburgh suggests that cutting the use of stockings in stroke units could save the NHS about £7 million and 320,000 hours of nursing time each year. More than 150,000 Britons a year suffer a stroke.

The stockings have been proven to reduce clots in surgery patients, so experts had long thought that the cheap solution might also help stroke patients. About two thirds of stroke patients are unable to walk on admission to hospital and approximately 15 per cent develop blood clots because of this lack of movement.

The Edinburgh team studied more than 2,500 stroke patients in Britain, Italy and Australia. All were treated with routine care, including aspirin and assisted exercise, and half were offered surgical stockings as well. After 30 days, there was no significant difference between the groups in the occurrence of DVT and the patients using stockings suffered more skin breaks, ulcers and blisters than those without. Compression stockings are still recommended for patients who have undergone surgery and for people travelling on long-haul flights.

The results were simultaneously published in The Lancet and presented at the European Stroke Conference in Stockholm on Wednesday. Martin Dennis, Professor of Stroke Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Until now, the guidelines on the use of these stockings have been based on evidence collected in surgical patients and not in stroke patients. “We have shown conclusively that compression stockings do not work for stroke patients. The national guidelines need to be revised and we need further research to establish effective treatments for these patients. Abandoning this ineffective and sometimes uncomfortable treatment will free up valuable resources in our health services.”

Charles Swainson, Medical Director of NHS Lothian, said: “This research underlines the huge importance of close collaboration between the NHS and universities. “Professor Dennis and his colleagues in Lothian and beyond could prove highly important in making sure that nursing time and NHS money are used more effectively for the benefit of patients in Scotland and throughout the world.”

Ralph Sacco, president-elect of the American Heart Association, who was not linked to the study, said: “We have used these stockings because we assume they work. But sometimes you’re surprised when you find out the truth with a randomised trial.”

The CLOTS (Clots in Legs or Stockings after Stroke) trials are funded by the Medical Research Council, Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland, the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office and the UK Stroke Research Network. They are also supported by NHS Lothian.

David Clark, chief executive of Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland, which co-funded the study, said: “This important research shows conclusively that compression stockings do not prevent DVT for stroke patients and can often have unpleasant side effects. More research like this, which will make a practical and positive impact on the lives of stroke patients, is needed.”


Stem cells used to help cure sight loss

COATING a common contact lens with stem cells could help restore a person's sight, Australian scientists have found. University of New South Wales medical researchers used the technique to treat the damaged corneas of three patients, all of whose vision improved within weeks of the groundbreaking procedure. The results are published in the journal Transplant, indicating a further unique element of the world-first trial.

Stem cells were harvested from the eyes of each patient and then cultured inside a contact lens, which was then stuck onto a damaged cornea in a "transplant'' of regenerative cells. "The procedure is totally simple and cheap,'' said the university's Dr Nick Di Girolamo. "Unlike other techniques ... there's no suturing, there is no major operation, all that's involved is harvesting a minute amount - less than a millimetre - of tissue from the ocular surface.'' The lens stayed on for 10 days allowing stem cells to change their form, colonise and repair the cornea.

Two of the patients involved in the trial had suffered extensive corneal damage to one eye, caused by multiple surgeries to remove cancerous growths. Dr Girolamo said that in these cases the stem cells were taken from their healthy eye - but the third patient posed an additional challenge because of a congenital disorder which affected both eyes. "We took them from another part of the eye altogether - the conjunctiva which also harbours stem cells,'' Dr Di Girolamo said. "The stem cells were able to change from the conjunctival phenotype to a corneal phenotype after we put them onto the cornea ... that's the beauty of stem cells.''

The procedure could be replicated in third would countries by a surgeon with a laboratory for cell culture, Dr Di Girolamo said. It offered hope to people with a range of blinding eye conditions, he said, and there was also the possibility of adapting the technique to repair skin which behaved in a similar way to the eye.

The stem cell procedure was considered non-controversial, said former Deputy Chair of the Lockhart Committee on human cloning and embryo research Professor Loane Skene. "Provided that patients are told the new procedure is experimental ... and they then consent to have it, this use of a patient's own stem cells is no more ethically contentious than a skin transplant,'' Prof Skene said.


29 May, 2009

Men with big muscles cut cancer risk by 40 per cent

This is so tediously stupid. Has it occurred to any of these righteous Swedes that you probably have to be in pretty good health to start with in order to undertake long-term weight training? It is most likely the good health that they began with that accounts for their lower incidence of cancer, not the weight-training

Men with stronger muscles from regular weight training are up to 40 per cent less likely to die from cancer than men who do not pump iron, according to new research. The findings, by an international team of researchers, suggest muscular strength is as important as staying slim and eating healthily when it comes to protecting the body against deadly tumours. The scientists who came up with the findings are recommending men weight train at least twice a week, exercising muscle groups in both the upper and lower body.

In recent years, experts have recommended a healthy diet and lifestyle - including regular aerobic exercise such as jogging or cycling to reduce the risks of the disease. But the latest study, published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, suggests it may be just as important to build up muscle strength.

A team of experts, led by scientists from Sweden's Karolinska Institute, tracked the lifestyles of 8,677 men aged between 20 and 82 for more than two decades. Each volunteer had regular medical check ups that included tests of their muscular strength. Between 1980 and 2003, researchers monitored how many developed cancer and subsequently died from it. The results showed men who regularly worked out with weights and had the highest muscle strength were between 30 and 40 per cent less likely to lose their life to a deadly tumour.

Even among volunteers who had excess tummy fat or a high body mass index, regular weight training seemed to have a protective effect. In a report on their findings the researchers stressed keeping a healthy weight was still crucial for avoiding premature death. But they added: "In the light of these results, it is equally important to maintain healthy muscular strength levels. "It's possible to reduce cancer mortality rates in men by promoting resistance training involving the major muscle groups at least two days a week."

A spokesman for Cancer Research UK said resistance exercise might have some benefit but it was more important to regularly do some cardiac exercise. Health information officer Jessica Harris said: "There's no need to become a body builder. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week that leaves you warm and slightly out of breath can have a positive effect."


New drug delays prostate cancer slightly

One has to laugh at the original headline on this story: "Life-saving wonder drug to fight prostate cancer 'available in just two years'"

A new drug that has dramatic effects against prostate cancer could be available in just two years, scientists said last night. Successful trials have shown that it can shrink the most dangerous tumours in up to 70 per cent of cases. The drug, abiraterone, has been hailed as the biggest advance in the field for 60 years, capable of saving many thousands of lives. The British scientists behind it will start trials soon to see if it can also work against breast cancer.

Prostate is Britain's most common cancer among men and the second highest killer, after lung cancer. Some 35,000 people a year are diagnosed with it - and 12,000 die. [I am betting that all of them die. 23,000 immortals is hard to believe]

There are two types, aggressive and non-aggressive. Two-thirds of cases have the non-aggressive variety and can often lead a healthy life. But those with the aggressive version - 10,000 British men a year - usually die within 18 months of diagnosis.

Abiraterone was discovered by the Institute of Cancer Research with funding from Cancer Research UK. The latest trials on men with aggressive cancer found that just four pills a day can control the disease and reduce pain - all with few side effects. The effect does not last indefinitely - tumour growth can resume after an average of eight months. But the scientists have developed a method of prolonging the benefits for another 12 months by combining the drug with a steroid.

They also discovered that men with a particular gene abnormality - thought to drive the growth of the cancer - responded best to abiraterone. The team have developed a test for the abnormality to identify the men likely to derive the most benefit from the drug.

Lead researcher Dr Gert Attard said of the latest trial, involving 54 patients: 'These men have very aggressive prostate cancer which is exceptionally difficult to treat and almost always proves to be fatal. 'We hope that abiraterone will eventually offer them real hope of an effective way of managing their condition and prolonging their lives.'

Hormone therapy, the standard method of treating prostate cancer, involves blocking the body's production of male hormones like testosterone, which 'feed' the tumour. But it can be ineffective on aggressive forms, where the tumours produce their own hormones. Doctors can try chemotherapy, but it may have severe side effects such as nausea, pain, malnutrition, haemorrhages and hair loss. Many patients also have radiotherapy to reduce associated pain in the bones. This can also be dangerous, leaving patients with little quality of life.

Abiraterone uses a different approach, blocking chemicals in the body which help in the production of male hormones, including by tumours. Chief investigator Dr Johann de Bono said: 'This has changed the way the science community looks at prostate cancer.'

The drug is now undergoing a much larger final-stage trial in 150 hospitals worldwide. If it is successful, the scientists, who published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, hope the drug will be licensed as early as 2011. The rationing body Nice would then decide if it should be available on the NHS. Professor Peter Johnson, chief clinician at Cancer Research, said: 'These early results hold great promise and give real hope for the future. 'We are keen to see the results of larger trials now under way, to find out whether abiraterone should be made generally available.'


28 May, 2009

Life expectancy around the world

Note that life expectancy is an actuarial projection, not a report of actual age at death. If the conditions relevant to mortality change, the current projection could be quite wrong. In the case of Japan, error seems likely. There are now many old peoiple in Japan but that is probably true because of limits on total calorie intake that prevailed in Japan up to about 1960. Many Japanese had insufficient food to eat all they wanted up to then. And calorie restriction leads to life extension. In more recent decades, however, Japan has become a rich country and involuntary calorie restrictions should have almost completely vanished. The Japanese of the future may therefore live noticeably shorter lives that their forbears. Japanese diets have changed a lot too but the evidence for dietary effects on lifespan is scant

A GIRL born in Japan today will likely live to celebrate her 86th birthday, the longest life expectancy anywhere in the world. Men fare best in the tiny, wealthy European nation of San Marino, where the average boy will live to 81.

The West African country of Sierra Leone has the shortest life expectancy for men - just 39 - while Afghanistan fares badly for both sexes, with men and women living to 41 and 42 years respectively.

Those figures come from the World Health Organisation, which announced its annual health statistics on Thursday on the year 2007, the latest figures available.

The data showed that some countries have made remarkable progress in increasing life expectancy since 1990 - partly by ending wars, partly through successful health initiatives....

In the United States, the life expectancy was on the rise for both sexes, but not so dramatically: up to 76 from 72 years for men, and to 81 from 79 for women. Other countries, meanwhile, showed a sharp decline since 1990, especially in Africa....

In Russia, the average life expectancy for men dropped to 60 from 64 years since the time of the Soviet Union. For women the drop was less marked, to 73 from 74 years.

The figures are only one of over 100 health indicators that WHO tracks in its 193 member states. Others include mother and child mortality; prevalence of diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis; access to doctors and medical facilities; and health expenditure per person.


Natural childbirth techniques 'make no difference' to women

Antenatal programmes focusing on 'natural' techniques did not cut rates of Caesarean births. Classes on birth techniques involving breathing, relaxation and massage make no difference to women's experience of labour, claim researchers. Pain-relieving epidural injections were needed for pregnant women who had attended these advanced classes just as often as for those given standard antenatal classes.

The findings will come as a blow to thousands of expectant mothers who, keen to increase their chances of a natural birth, learn yoga breathing exercises and self-hypnosis while their partners are taught how to massage them during labour.

Professor Philip Steer, editor-in-chief of BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, which is publishing the Swedish research, said: 'The findings of this study are contrary to what many of us would expect. 'The lack of benefit is disappointing, and suggests that parents' experience of childbirth is affected more by their personality and previous psychological orientation than by the relatively limited training that is possible during pregnancy. 'An alternative view is that standard antenatal classes are "good enough" and therefore represent an effective use of limited resources.'

The study, which involved 1,087 first-time mothers and 1,064 of their partners, was run by the Department for Woman and Child Health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden between January 2006 and May 2007. Participants were randomised into two groups for antenatal classes. The standard care group were provided with information about childbirth and parenting, modelled on the standard Swedish antenatal education programme.

The researchers anticipated that those in the 'natural' group would have fewer Caesareans, epidurals, and instrumental deliveries (i.e., requiring forceps). But the epidural rate was 52 per cent and the spontaneous birth rate 66 per cent in both groups.

The Caesarean section rate was 20 per cent in the 'natural' group and 21.5 per cent in the standard group. The instrumental delivery rate was 14 per cent in the 'natural' group and 12 per cent in the standard group. There were also no statistically significant differences between the groups in the satisfaction of the childbirth experience or postnatal parental stress three months later.

British reaction to the study was muted, with the National Childbirth Trust saying it was impossible to tell how the Swedish experience compared with that in Britain. Belinda Phipps, the parenting charity's chief executive, said: 'This limited study in Sweden compares two slightly different types of antenatal education and does not look at the more common situation in the UK which is no or limited antenatal preparation.

'NCT antenatal classes are valued by parents and cover many topics including parenting, baby-feeding, physical skills for labour and information about the birth as well as relaxation and breathing.'


27 May, 2009

Grow old gracefully to keep dementia at bay

Amusing. Below is a recitation of popular assertions about Alzheimer's. See here for my comments on the "growing old" study that he refers to. As is usual among journalists, he has ignored all the ifs and buts in the study concerned. His recommendations are a house built on sand. Yet the article comes from "The Times", of London, which makes it likely to be widely trusted

Working until you are 70 instead of 65 is one of the ways that you can minimise the risk of brain disease in later life. The Government is rumoured to be considering raising the retirement age to 70 in an attempt to reduce the national debt — plans that will have been given a useful fillip by new research that reveals postponing retirement can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, at the Maudsley Hospital, southeast London, every extra year worked delays the onset of dementia by just over a month. So working until you are 70 instead of 65 is likely to give you an extra six Alzheimer-free months. I am not sure that is enough of a benefit to warrant the additional effort, but extending your working life is not the only thing you can do to protect yourself.

One person in 20 over the age of 65 in the UK has some form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease — characterised by a loss of brain cells, shrinkage and protein deposits forming tangles and plaques throughout the brain — may be the most common form, but it is not the only one. Gradual furring up of the arteries supplying the brain accounts for at least 20 per cent of cases and causes similar impairment to Alzheimer’s with resulting loss of memory and cognitive ability, disorientation and confusion. And, while there isn’t much we can do to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, there is a lot that can be done to keep our brain and its circulation healthy — and the healthier your brain the less noticeable any deficit is going to be.

Use it or lose it. The brain is often compared to a muscle in that “exercising” it can slow the damage time brings, and challenging yourself mentally every day will help to keep you sharp. The latter can include hobbies, keeping up an active social life, learning new skills, doing crosswords and puzzles and brain-training games and, as the recent research has shown, working for longer.

The brain is made up of around 100 billion nerve cells, each connected to thousands of others through synapses and it is a decrease in this interconnectivity, rather than the loss of brain cells alone, that is responsible for the slowing of mental agility that occurs with advancing years. Challenging the brain is thought to help by maintaining existing synapses and encouraging the formation of new ones...

Check for diabetes. Ask the nurse at your doctor’s surgery for a blood test if you suspect diabetes — clues include a great thirst, peeing more than normal, recurring infections such as boils or thrush, lack of energy and blurred vision. Those most at risk include the overweight, anyone with a family history of the condition and those of Asian and Afro-Caribbean origin.

Drink in moderation. While sensible drinking — the equivalent of two or three small glasses of wine on most days for a woman and three to four for a man — can protect against some forms of dementia, heavy drinking has the opposite effect. One recent review suggests that alcohol accounts for at least 10 per cent of all UK dementia cases. You don’t have to be middle-aged or elderly to be at risk: there is evidence that heavy drinkers in their thirties and forties already have significant memory impairment.

Eat oily fish. Fresh tuna and tinned salmon, or fish oil capsules, may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and improve brain function. The exact mode of this protection is now under investigation, but it is thought that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils may slow the formation of plaques — an effect that may be enhanced by fatty acids also seeming to protect the delicate lining of the arteries supplying the brain, thus helping to maintain good blood flow. One American study found that men and women eating at least one portion of fish a week were half as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those who didn’t eat any.

But the case is not so strong for another popular brain supplement. It is thought that as many as one person in ten with dementia is now taking ginkgo biloba despite the latest evidence, which suggests that, while the herb may boost blood supply to the brain, this doesn’t translate into any significant benefit.

Consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Women who take HRT have been shown in a number of studies to be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life. But HRT has no impact on the progression of the disease once a woman develops the condition. Bottom line? It is a useful side benefit, but concerns about Alzheimer’s disease on their own are not a strong enough indication to prescribe HRT in women who are not having menopausal symptoms.


A Low-Carb Diet Can Hurt Your Memory

As a before-and-after study, this would seem to be well-controlled research

Low-carbohydrate diets are notoriously difficult to adhere to for long periods of time. Many of my patients have tried a low-carb diet and lost weight, some over 100 pounds, but most often the weight came back... and then some. Repeatedly gaining and losing weight (yo-yo dieting) can slow metabolism and pose risks to your overall health. Now, scientific studies are questioning whether these diets are dangerous to your brain's memory function, too.

Researchers at Tufts University have found that dieters who strive to eliminate most carbohydrates from their diets scored significantly lower on memory-based tasks than did subjects who simply reduced the amount of calories they ate.

The study subjects included 19 women ages 22 to 55, 9 of whom were put on a low-carbohydrate diet and 10 on a low-calorie but balanced diet. All subjects attended 5 memory-testing sessions in which their spatial memory, attention, cognitive skills, and short and long-term memory were assessed. These sessions were conducted throughout the 3 weeks of the study.

After 1 week of severe carbohydrate restriction, memory performance among the low-carb group, especially when dealing with difficult tasks, gradually decreased compared with the low-calorie group. In addition, the low-carb dieters had slower reaction times and faltered during tests of their visual-spatial memory.

The brain uses glucose as its main fuel but has no way of storing it for future use. The nerve cells use glucose immediately for energy, and if they cannot get this fuel, they aren't able to operate at peak capacity -- potentially leaving you feeling forgetful or unable to concentrate.

I read a study recently that found students and others who continually challenge their minds actually require more carbohydrates, and thus, seem to crave carbohydrate foods in direct proportion to how much they have to exert their brains. Perhaps carbohydrate cravings in such cases are the body's way of getting the brain the fuel it needs.

This study only tracked the dieters for 3 weeks and the study's sample size was small, but the authors suggest that, although low-carb diets can affect weight, they result in a lack of glucose to the brain that may be detrimental to learning, memory, and thinking.

According to the Tufts study, the popular low-carb diets—and particularly the "no-carb" diets—have the biggest potential for decreasing the ability to think and concentrate, and may also negatively affect overall mood. This could be one of the reasons many people have a hard time sticking with a no-carb meal plan.

Although carb-free diets may seem appealing, aim for at least a moderate amount of carbohydrate in your diet. In my weight-loss/nutrition practice at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, I refer to clinical research findings that suggest that for optimal function the human brain needs a minimum of 125 grams of carbohydrate each day.


26 May, 2009

Three cups of tea a day 'can cut heart attack risk by 70%'

And pigs might fly. This is just tea industry puffery and one would have to look individually at the raft of findings referred to. As far as I am aware, however, all the human studies are epidemiological and hence incapable of enabling causative inferences. See e.g. here. And one of the studies apparently referred to below was downright dishonest

Drinking three cups of tea a day can ward off heart attacks, a dietician has claimed. The beverage could even have anti-cancer properties, a review of previous research suggests. The link between coronary heart disease and tea has been the subject of a large number of studies.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, a member of the Tea Advisory Panel, analysed some of these, which highlighted the effectiveness of naturally occurring compounds called flavonoids in combating heart attacks. One Finnish study found men who drank more than two cups of tea a day had a 21 per cent reduced chance of stroke. French research showed that women who drank more than three cups a day had a 32 per cent lower risk of blocked arteries.

Dr Ruxton said the research showed at least three cups of tea a day can lower the risk of a heart attack by up to 70 per cent. She said: 'We are not sure of the exact mechanism, but it is thought that tea flavonoids could be involved in controlling inflammation, reducing thrombosis, promoting blood vessel function and helping to limit furring up of the arteries.' The studies found tea may be 'a useful addition to an anti-cancer diet', she added, but further research was needed.

Dr Ruxton said: 'Tea may be a national favourite but it also has health benefits thanks to its high flavonoid content. 'My research shows there is a growing amount of evidence which indicates tea can play a role in helping to combat cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke. 'This area of research is very exciting for the future. We also found solid evidence of tea helping to boost cognitive function and reduce stress, probably related to tea's modest caffeine content. 'Some interesting research on the role of tea flavonoids in helping to combat certain neurological conditions is emerging.' She added: 'Research shows you do not need to drink gallons of tea to get real improvements just three or four cups of tea a day are enough.'

Dr Catherine Hood, another Tea Advisory Panel member, said: 'The scientific community is learning more and more about tea and its health properties. 'Studies show that there are some very powerful ingredients in tea that can play a hugely important role in protecting the body from some serious and potentially fatal conditions. 'A cuppa is a great way to relax or unwind but could also give your health a crucial boost. 'Just a few cups a day have been shown to help and drinking more isn't a problem either as up to eight cups a day have been shown to be fine.'

Tea is the most consumed drink after water with 131,150 tons of tea consumed in the UK in 2006/07. Nearly eight in ten adults drink an average of 2.3 mugs a day.


How to lie with statistics — sometimes without even trying

Some old and simple truths below but they are much forgotten truths too

Some time back, there were news stories reporting on studies of several communities that showed smoking bans to be followed by reductions in heart attacks. There are now reports of a much larger study done at the NBER which finds no such effect. How can one explain the discrepancy?

The simple answer is that in some communities heart attack deaths went up after smoking bans, in some they went down, in some they remained more or less unchanged. Hence a study of a single community could find a substantial reduction even if it was not true on average over all communities.

How did the particular communities reported in the early stories get selected? There are two obvious possibilities.

The first is that the studies were done by people trying to produce evidence of the dangers of second hand smoke. To do so, they studied one community after another until they found one where the evidence fit their theory, then reported only on that one. If that is what happened the people responsible were deliberately dishonest; no research results they publish in the future should be taken seriously.

There is, however, an alternative explanation that gives exactly the same result with no villainy required. Every year lots of studies of different things get done. Only some of them make it to publication, and only a tiny minority of those make it into the newspapers. A study finding no effect from smoking bans is much less likely to be publishable than one that finds an effect. A study finding the opposite of the expected result is more likely to be dismissed as an anomaly due to statistical variation or experimental error than one confirming the expected result. And, among published studies, one that provides evidence for something that lots of people want to believe is more likely to make it into the newspapers than one that doesn't.


25 May, 2009

Pesky! Swine flu did NOT come from industrial farming

It's the greatest of political sins, to fail to make use of a good crisis. One example of those trying to do so might be the recent EU report on financial market regulations. Hedge funds and private equity are to be brought under tighter control despite their having nothing whatsoever to do with the current problems.

Another attempt which is unfolding under our very eyes is the attempt to portray this swine flu as being an example of the evils of industrial farming.
The Mexican swine flu, a genetic chimera probably conceived in the faecal mire of an industrial pigsty, suddenly threatens to give the whole world a fever.
It's not a chimera, of course, as that would be mixed DNA rather than mutated. It's also an interesting thought for that's not really how we expect zoonoses to arise. For a disease to spread from one species to another, to become cross infectious, we actually think we need to have the two species living in close proximity. Like the Hong Kong bird flu of 68 came from the way in which small holding farmers in that at the time poor country lived cheek by jowl with their birds. Or SARS from Vietnam from the similarly close proximity of stock and human. (No, Spanish flu was not thought to come from humans associating too closely with Spaniards.) That is, we expect such diseases, and we've seen that they do historically, to come not from industrial farming, but from small scale peasant farming. Sleeping above the stock (rather than, erm, with it) is the cause, not having tens of thousands of stock that have little inter species contact.

But of course this should not get in the way of using a good crisis to get whatever it is that you've already decided you want, as Caroline Lucas shows us:
More research is urgently needed to explore the potential link between industrialised animal farming, and the spread of disease. Some elements of the Mexican media are already pointing to the potential role of intensive pig farming in Mexico, which has grown substantially in recent years, with some giant operations raising tens of thousands of pigs at a time.
Very well, let us have some more research. How about a bit of empiricism, some collection of relevant facts?
But agricultural in spection officials say there is no swine flu virus among the pigs at these farms.
So theory says we wouldn't expect large single species farms to produce zoonoses and the facts say that it didn't. Another glorious theory ruined by those pesky facts perhaps? But unfortunately I doubt that will be enough to drown out the siren voices desirous of making good use of this crisis.


Hooray! Australian health authorities are being ignored in their battle against the mythical obesity epidemic

Average weight increases among children stopped in 1998

HEALTH authorities are losing the obesity battle, with almost one in two children admitting they go to school with a packet of chips in their lunch boxes. A new survey reveals 46 per cent of children take chips to school, while 11 per cent say they eat breakfast no more than once a month. And hot dogs, chips, hamburgers and pies are the most popular with children who buy their lunches - either at school or on weekends. The number of students ordering the fatty favourites is double those buying fruit and salad, the Cartoon Network survey reveals.

In some good news, 59 per cent of children have fruit in their lunch box each day. But lollies and sweets feature in the lunches of one in five students.

Schools across Victoria are introducing eating programs to help parents pack healthier lunches for their children. Nutrition Australia has helped more than 50 schools with Reclaim the Lunchbox sessions to help parents cut high-fat, high-salt snacks. But project officer and nutritionist Linden Clarke admitted there was still work to do to change the eating habits of school children. "Packaged snacks are not healthy and they can be expensive," Ms Clarke said. She said packets of chips could not only cause constipation in children because of the products' low fibre content, but also create litter problems for schools.

In January 2007, the State Government banned soft drinks, hot chips, battered sausages, cakes and ice cream from school canteen menus. Lollies and sweets were banned from canteens from this year. But principals said some students left the school grounds to buy takeaway lunches nearby.

Oak Park Primary School has led the fight against fat by changing its lunch timetable to 11am to encourage children to eat a main meal earlier in the day. Acting Principal Trevor Daly said the scheme meant children ate slow-burning foods earlier so they concentrated for longer. They had their high-energy snacks in afternoon recess instead.


24 May, 2009

Can a junk food diet harm pupils' performance?

The usual "correlation is causation" junk science: No account taken of social class. Middle class people tend to be smarter and many would be mortified to be seen inside a McDonald's. And kids tend to inherit their parents' IQ. That's the probable reason why a "junk food" diet goes with lesser academic achievement. It is because of social class effects, not food effects

The link between junk food and poor performance at school has been proved, say researchers. There is a direct correlation between the amount of high fat and sugary foods pupils consumed and their academic results, according to a U.S. study. Researchers asked more than 5,500 ten and 11-year-olds to record how many times a week they ate at fast food restaurants. Just over half had eaten fast food between one and three times during the previous week. Ten per cent had eaten it between four and six times and two per cent said they ate junk food four or more times a day.

Dr Kerri Tobin, of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, said the children were given literacy and numeracy tests. The average literacy score was 141.52 points and in numeracy, 115.24 points. Pupils who ate junk food between four and six times a week scored 6.96 points below average in reading. Those who ate it daily dropped 16.07 points and pupils who indulged three times a day dropped 19.34 points.

In maths, those eating fast food between four and six times a week scored 6.55 points below average. Daily junk food led to a 14.82 point drop and a three-a-day habit led to a 18.48 point drop.

Tam Fry of Britain's National Obesity Forum said: 'If you start to feed your children better food, all their educational processes improve - their attention span, learning and behaviour.'


Meat pies and lamingtons hit NYC

Meat pies are Australia's national food. I suffer pie-deprivation feelings if I don't have at least one a week. A pie getting sauced first below followed by a tray of lamingtons

A MELBOURNE businessman is beating the US economic downturn - one pie at a time. University dropout Lincoln Davies, 37, is about to expand his booming pie-making business by opening a second store in downtown Manhattan. "Our business just keeps getting stronger," Mr Davies said. "We expanded as soon as we got the money to do it." April sales at his eastside hangout the Tuck Shop are up 30 per cent on last year and since 2007 weekly turnover has doubled.

Co-owner Niall Grant said there was never a better time to be flogging pies to Americans. "There is more demand than ever for inexpensive, good quality comfort food in New York," Mr Grant said. "We noticed a real spike in October when the downturn really hit."

Now, they sell about 200 meat pies a day, drumming up most of their business through word of mouth. The grungy cafe, which opened in 2005, is well known among Australians but even after four years it still has some locals mystified. "They think a pie is a pizza," Mr Davies said. So how does he educate them? "I just tell them to start eating."

Davies abandoned his business degree at the Melbourne University and fled to Noosa before moving to London where he faked his way through a career in finance by pretending he had an accounting degree. He eventually landed in New York, where he opened the business.


23 May, 2009

Is red meat bad for you?

Below is a research summary circulated on a mailing list for medical practitioners. It arrived under the heading: "Red meat is bad for you —and bad for everyone else". Further below is the journal abstract (summary) concerned -- from a very respectable medical journal. The whole thing is, however, one big confidence trick and will achieve nothing other than frightening people off perfectly harmless food that they would otherwise enjoy. The entire report is a scientific, statistical and ethical nothing. Let me tell you very quickly why.

For a start, the "hazard ratios" (relative risks) reported are negligible -- at 1.2, 1.3 etc. 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."

OK. So who cares about a silly old Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence? But it gets worse. The findings are reported in terms of upper and lower quintiles. In other words they threw away three fifths of the information that they had in order to arrive at their reported conclusions. That is quite simply dishonest and unethical. NO categorization of such data for analytical purposes is now ethically defensible. In pre-computer days, when all calculations had to be performed by hand, doing so could in some cases be justified but with the advent of computers there is NO reason why regression techniques that include ALL the data cannot be used. I note that before I had access to computers, I analysed the data from my first ever piece of research (in 1966) using a regressional technique. Even at that early stage I did not contemplate throwing away any of my data in the course of analysing it.

Had the whole of the data been analysed using a regressional technique, there is no doubt the the resultant correlation between meat consumption and disease would have been derisorily small and maybe even of negative sign, indicating that red meat eating is NOT a cause of cancer, heart disease etc. It is certainly not "bad for you —and bad for everyone else". The authors would of course be aware of that but have nonetheless chosen to present their data in a way that makes mountains out of pimples, which seems to me quite simply unethical.

So how did such a piece of utter crap get published in a medical journal? More particularly, why is such crap ROUTINELY published in medical journals? I am afraid that it is a sad outcome of the "publish or perish" regime that prevails in academe. Researchers need to get papers published in order to be promoted. So a well-meaning consensus has emerged among journal editors that they will accept extreme quintile reports out of solidarity with their colleagues. Otherwise they would have to reject more than half of what they currently publish. That the practice routinely results in the public being deceived is of no account. It is an utter disgrace but I doubt if I will live to see it stopped. An ethical vacuum prevails where the public would normally expect the highest ethical standards.

The emailed circular from DocAlert Messages below:
Further evidence of a link between red meat and poor health has emerged from a large cohort of older US adults. Men and women in the top fifth of red meat intake had a significantly higher risk of death over 10 years than men and women in the bottom fifth (hazard ratio for men 1.31, 95% CI 1.27 to 1.35; for women 1.36, 1.30 to 1.43). The authors also found a link between death and a high intake of processed meat such as bacon, ham, and sausage.

The 545 653 adults were between 50 and 71 when they filled in a detailed food frequency questionnaire in 1995. By 2005, more than 71 000 had died. These large numbers mean the authors were able to estimate with some precision the risks associated with eating red and processed meats for both men and women. The analyses were fully adjusted for other lifestyle factors likely to influence lifespan, especially smoking.

These data add to other observational studies that suggest we should all eat less red and processed meats. Not least because the increasing consumption of meat in many countries is putting a strain on global supplies of water, energy, and food in general, says a linked comment (p 543). It is costlier in all these precious resources to grow meat to eat than to grow vegetables and grains instead.
Journal abstract below:
Meat Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Over Half a Million People

By Rashmi Sinha et al.

Background: High intakes of red or processed meat may increase the risk of mortality. Our objective was to determine the relations of red, white, and processed meat intakes to risk for total and cause-specific mortality.

Methods: The study population included the National Institutes of Health–AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) Diet and Health Study cohort of half a million people aged 50 to 71 years at baseline. Meat intake was estimated from a food frequency questionnaire administered at baseline. Cox proportional hazards regression models estimated hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) within quintiles of meat intake. The covariates included in the models were age, education, marital status, family history of cancer (yes/no) (cancer mortality only), race, body mass index, 31-level smoking history, physical activity, energy intake, alcohol intake, vitamin supplement use, fruit consumption, vegetable consumption, and menopausal hormone therapy among women. Main outcome measures included total mortality and deaths due to cancer, cardiovascular disease, injuries and sudden deaths, and all other causes.

Results: There were 47 976 male deaths and 23 276 female deaths during 10 years of follow-up. Men and women in the highest vs lowest quintile of red (HR, 1.31 [95% CI, 1.27-1.35], and HR, 1.36 [95% CI, 1.30-1.43], respectively) and processed meat (HR, 1.16 [95% CI, 1.12-1.20], and HR, 1.25 [95% CI, 1.20-1.31], respectively) intakes had elevated risks for overall mortality. Regarding cause-specific mortality, men and women had elevated risks for cancer mortality for red (HR, 1.22 [95% CI, 1.16-1.29], and HR, 1.20 [95% CI, 1.12-1.30], respectively) and processed meat (HR, 1.12 [95% CI, 1.06-1.19], and HR, 1.11 [95% CI 1.04-1.19], respectively) intakes. Furthermore, cardiovascular disease risk was elevated for men and women in the highest quintile of red (HR, 1.27 [95% CI, 1.20-1.35], and HR, 1.50 [95% CI, 1.37-1.65], respectively) and processed meat (HR, 1.09 [95% CI, 1.03-1.15], and HR, 1.38 [95% CI, 1.26-1.51], respectively) intakes. When comparing the highest with the lowest quintile of white meat intake, there was an inverse association for total mortality and cancer mortality, as well as all other deaths for both men and women.

Conclusion: Red and processed meat intakes were associated with modest increases in total mortality, cancer mortality, and cardiovascular disease mortality.

Arch Intern Med (2009) Vol. 169 No. 6. 562-571
In addition to the statistical and ethical failures that I have detailed above, there are of course other large problems with the interpretation of the study. The first or second thing you learn in Statistics 101 is that "correlation is not causation". The authors above were cautious NOT to make causative inferences from their data but that message got lost downstream. Even well-informed people reading the report DID assume a causative relationship. They assumed that red meat eating CAUSED heart disease etc. But NO epidemiological study enables causative inferences. There could easily be third or fourth factors producing the observed association.

Just to give a top-of-the head example of how that could have played out: Given the weak associations reported, maybe a substantial proportion of those who ate little or no meat were Seventh Day Adventists. Adventists are an exceptionally healthy group who encourage vegetarianism. So WHY are they exceptionally healthy? Nobody really knows but it seems likely that the strong social and psychological support that they get from their heavy church involvement reduces stress and thus also reduces stress-related disease. And heart disease is partly a stress-related disease. So even if we accept as proper the statistical jiggery pokery reported above we may be basing our conclusions entirely on the doings of Seventh Day Adventists -- which is not of much relevance to the rest of society.

Research hints kids can defeat autism

I believe this. Austistic people are often highly intelligent and high intelligence can help people learn more adaptive behaviour. The famous John Nash even overcame schizophrenia by himself

Leo Lytel was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. But by age 9, he had overcome the disorder. His progress is part of a growing body of research that suggests at least 10 percent of children with autism can "recover" from it - most after undergoing years of intensive behavioral therapy.

Skeptics question the phenomenon, but University of Connecticut psychology Professor Deborah Fein is among those convinced it's real. She presented research last week at an autism conference in Chicago that included 20 children who, according to rigorous analysis, got a correct diagnosis but years later were no longer considered autistic.

Among them was Leo, a boy in Washington, D.C., who once made no eye contact, who echoed words said to him and often spun around in circles - all classic autism symptoms. Now he is an articulate, social third-grader. His mother, Jayne Lytel, says his teachers call Leo a leader.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, involves youths ages 9 to 18. Autism researcher Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, called Fein's research a breakthrough. "Even though a number of us out in the clinical field have seen kids who appear to recover," it has never been documented as thoroughly as Fein's work, Dawson said. "We're at a very early stage in terms of understanding" the phenomenon, Dawson said.

Previous studies have suggested between 3 percent and 25 percent of autistic kids recover. Fein says her studies have shown the range is 10 percent to 20 percent.

But even after lots of therapy - often carefully designed educational and social activities with rewards - most autistic children remain autistic. Recovery is "not a realistic expectation for the majority of kids," but parents should know it can happen, Fein said. Doubters say "either they really weren't autistic to begin with . . . or they're still socially odd and obsessive, but they don't exactly meet criteria" for autism, she said. Fein said the children in her study "really were" autistic and now they're "really not."

University of Michigan autism expert Catherine Lord said she also has seen autistic patients who recover. Most had parents who spent long hours working with them on behavior improvement. But, Lord added, "I don't think we can predict who this will happen for." She does not think it's possible to make it happen.

The children in Fein's study, which is still ongoing, were diagnosed by an autism specialist before age 5 but no longer meet diagnostic criteria for autism. The initial diagnoses were verified through early medical records. Because the phenomenon is so rare, Fein is still seeking children to help bolster evidence on what traits formerly autistic kids may have in common. Her team is also comparing these children with autistic and non-autistic kids. So far, the "recovered" kids "are turning out very normal" on neuropsychological exams and verbal and non-verbal tests, she said.

The researchers are doing imaging tests to see if the recovered kids' brains look more like those of autistic or non-autistic children. Autistic children's brains tend to be slightly larger than normal. Imaging scans also are being done to examine brain function in formerly autistic kids. Researchers want to know if their "normal" behavior is a result of "normal" brain activity, or if their brains process information in a non-typical way to compensate for any deficits. Results from those tests are still being analyzed.


22 May, 2009

Alzheimer’s research links postponed retirement with later onset

I am glad that there is at least SOME humility expressed below about the implications of the correlation. That early signs of Alzheimers might tend to force people into retirement seems not to have been considered. So which is it?" Early retirement causes Alzheimers or Alzheimers causes early retirement?" Nobody knows -- despite the confident pronunciamentos from some of the people quoted below. The usual epidemiological crap

Working until 65 or beyond could postpone the onset of dementia. A study of 382 men found a significant association between later retirement and later onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The research supports previous theories that keeping the mind active for as long as possible can help to postpone mental decline. In contrast to earlier studies, however, the researchers found that the quality or duration of the men’s education or the type of work they did had no impact on the age of onset of the disease.

The team from Cardiff University and the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, identified men with “probable” Alzheimer’s disease from clinical databases from the Medical Research Council and Alzheimer’s Research Trust. They compared their retirement dates and found that every extra year worked postponed the onset of dementia symptoms by nearly six weeks.

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research has suggested that the official retirement age be raised to 70 within a decade to mitigate the effects of government debt.

Publishing their findings today in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, the study authors say that the association between later retirement age and later Alzheimer’s onset was “significant”. But, they add, there could be several explanations for this, including previous ill health having influenced a decision to retire. Further studies were needed across a wider group of people to confirm the findings, they said.

The Alzheimer’s Society said: “There could be a number of reasons why later retirement in men is linked with later onset of dementia. Men who retire early often do so because of health conditions, such as hypertension or diabetes, which increase your risk of dementia. It could also be that working helps keep your mind and body active, which may reduce risk of dementia. “The best way to reduce your risk of dementia is to combine keeping physically active, with eating a balanced diet and getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly.”

There are 700,000 people in Britain with dementia, 417,000 of whom suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. It is expected that a further one million people will develop dementia in the next ten years. The average age of retirement for the men in the study was 63.3 years. The average age of onset of Alzheimer’s was 75.6 years.

Simon Lovestone, scientific adviser to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and the paper’s co-author, said: “The intellectual stimulation that older people gain from the workplace may prevent a decline in mental abilities, thus keeping people above the threshold for dementia for longer. Much more research is needed if we are to understand how to delay, or even prevent, dementia.”

Rebecca Wood, chief of the research trust, which funded the study, said: “More people than ever retire later in life to avert financial hardship, but there may be a silver lining: lower dementia risk. Much more research into lifestyle factors is needed if we are to whittle down the £17 billion a year that dementia costs our economy.”


MA: State set to mimic NYC calorie listing regs

It has been a year since the nation's biggest city became the first to order McDonald's, Starbucks, and other restaurant chains to post calories on menu boards as prominently as prices.

Now, as health regulators in Massachusetts appear poised to adopt similar rules this morning, residents might want to listen to hungry, harried New Yorkers to know what is coming. From the West Side to the East Side, fast-food aficionados insist they still peek at the calorie counts and, sometimes, make healthier choices when they see, for example, that an angus burger with bacon and cheese at McDonald's is laden with 820 calories.

But the lure of sweet, calorie-rich offerings remains powerful - even if customers know that a single, creamy coffee drink can pack 400 calories or more. Consider Niles Patel. He visited a Midtown Manhattan McDonald's yesterday afternoon, and after reflecting on the menu board summary, he ordered a chicken sandwich wrap, containing just 260 to 340 calories. But he topped off his meal with a sundae, loaded with roughly the same tally of calories. "I do pay attention to it," Patel, 33, of North Bergen, N.J., said of the calorie listing, "but there's no rhyme or reason to whether I follow it."

Surveys by the New York City Department of Health suggest that the calorie counts at least make people think a bit more about what they put in their stomachs. Since the calorie regulation went into effect in New York last May, 67 percent of patrons at national chains reported they saw the postings, and 25 percent of those who noticed the listings said the information factored into their orders.

"That works out to hundreds of thousands of people a day because so many people eat fast food every day," said Dr. Lynn Silver, assistant commissioner for chronic disease prevention in New York. "But the information needs to be front and center on the menu boards to be seen by most people," Silver said.

The calorie rules, which have been adopted in cities as far-flung as Philadelphia and Seattle in the past year, were born of frustration among doctors and health specialists who watched with growing alarm as the nation's collective waistline ballooned during the past two decades. Two of three American adults weigh too much.

And with studies showing that Americans consume one-third of their calories outside the home, fast-food chains, with standardized menus and a penchant for super-sizing, have become a top target for regulators. Even before New York made it the law, Subway sandwich shops, like the one on Ninth Avenue near 53d Street, started listing calories next to prices. The manager, Mustapha Laababer, said a few times every day, customers grill him about the calorie readings. "They care about calories," Laababer said, "especially women....

Fast-food chains have, for the most part, been measured in their response to the calorie posting laws, although several, including Canton-headquartered Dunkin' Donuts, have called for a single national standard rather than a patchwork of local regulations.

In Massachusetts, the rule is expected to win approval today from the Public Health Council, an appointed board of doctors, public health specialists, and consumer advocates. It would apply to chains with 20 or more restaurants in the state. Establishments would have until November of next year to comply, and the regulations would not apply to grocers or school cafeterias.

John Auerbach, the Massachusetts public health commissioner, said his agency was realistic about what the calorie-posting law can accomplish. "We need to work on many fronts in terms of changing people's behaviors and encouraging healthy nutrition and more exercise," Auerbach said. "And menu labeling is certainly one piece of it, but it's not the entire answer to the problem."


Alair heat treatment cuts asthma emergencies

Any good news about asthma is very welcome

AN experimental asthma treatment that uses heat to reduce airway constriction provided some relief from severe asthma that is poorly controlled with medications, US researchers said. They said the Alair device, made by privately held Asthmatx Inc of Sunnyvale, California, cut the rates of extreme asthma attacks by 32 per cent and reduced trips to the emergency room by 84 per cent in patients with severe asthma.

Patients missed fewer days of work or school because of asthma symptoms and had more symptom-free days compared with people who received a placebo, according to results of the late-stage clinical trial.

The Alair device uses a thin tube to gently heat the walls of the lung's air passages, killing off some of the muscle tissue to reduce narrowing of the airways. "In asthma, what happens is these patients develop enlarged smooth muscles surrounding their bronchial tubes," Dr Mario Castro of Washington University said. "That contributes to asthma attacks.

Dr Castro and colleagues tested the device in 297 patients with severe asthma in six countries. Researchers split the patients into two groups. Two-thirds got three treatments with the Alair device, and the rest received a placebo treatment, in which the heat was not applied. The patients were followed closely for a year. Overall, 79 per cent of patients who got the experimental treatment improved. Dr Castro said the other group also improved, [placebo] but the treatment group showed a statistically significant improvement.

He said all of the patients were taking inhaled drugs combining a corticosteroid and a long-acting beta-agonist, such as in GlaxoSmithKline Plc's best-selling drug Advair. But they were still not getting adequate relief.

Asthmatx Inc is seeking US Food and Drug Administration approval for the device, with a decision expected in spring. The treatment has been approved in Europe.


21 May, 2009

Happiness Is ... Being Old, Male and Republican

Americans grow happier as they age, surveys find. And a new Pew Research Center survey shows the tendency is holding up as the economy tanks.

Happiness is a complex thing. Past studies have found that happiness is partly inherited, that Republicans are happier than Democrats, and that old men tend to be happier than old women.

And even before the economy got nasty, seniors were found to be generally happier than Baby Boomers. Some of that owes to the American Dream being lived by past generations, while Boomers work two jobs and watch the dream wither. In times like this, it's clear how age can have its advantages. While not all seniors are weathering the recession well, for many the impact is much less severe than it is for younger people.

Why? Many people 65 and older retired and downsized their lifestyles before the economy imploded, according to Pew analysts. Most aren't raising kids and many are not so worried about being laid off. Loss of income can be, of course, a source of stress and displeasure. (While money doesn't buy happiness, a study in February showed cash can help, especially when people use it to do stuff instead of buy things.)

If you're thinking that Republicans are happy just because they perhaps make more money, that does not seem to be the case. The study that found Republicans to be happier than Democrats also showed that it held true even after adjusting for income.

It's those age 50-64 who've "seen their nest eggs shrink the most and their anxieties about retirement swell the most," the Pew survey found. It also finds that younger adults (ages 18-49) "have taken the worst lumps in the job market but remain relatively upbeat about their financial future."

Not everyone in any category is blissful, of course. Other research has shown that happiness in old age depends largely on attitude factors such as optimism and coping strategies. Add financial planning to the list.

In the new Pew telephone survey, taken in March and April of 2,969 adults, here's how many respondents in each age group said they had cut back on spending in the past year:

18-49: 68 percent
50-64: 59 percent
65+: 36 percent.

And is the recession causing stress in your family?

18-49: 52 percent
50-64: 58 percent
65+: 38 percent.

Now for the good news: A study in January found that key groups of people in the United States have grown happier over the past few decades, while other have become less so. The result: Happiness inequality has decreased since the 1970s. Americans are becoming more similar to each other on the happiness scale.


Old-time toys are the best

This may well be true but no research evidence is quoted

CREATIVE play with traditional toys and games is a healthy way to stimulate the imagination and support learning, childhood development experts say. University of Adelaide child psychiatrist Dr Jon Jureidini is concerned about the shift towards electronic toys and computer games. "The role of the child in play becomes more reactive," he said. "Much more of the content is going to be generated by the computer than would be the case if a child was playing with a doll's house . . . The danger is that children aren't having as much stimulation to their imagination and creativity."

Dr Jureidini uses play in therapy. "Playing through some distressing event helps children to come to terms with it and feel less bullied by their scary memories,"he said. "There's the working-through aspect and also the communication aspect."

Deakin University Associate Professor Karen Stagnitti said imaginative play also had been shown to expand children's vocabulary, comprehension and social skills.

Pembroke Junior School visited the Australian Museum of Childhood in Port Adelaide to see how toys had changed over time. Teacher Alison Woodcock said some children had to be taught how to play. "The children are very confident on the computers these days," she said. "We need to help them develop skills in creative play."

Student Julian, 6, said he liked playing with trucks. "I play with them and build things in the dirt, like building New York City," he said.


Why curry could STOP you putting on weight (if you are a mouse)

If you are trying to stop piling on the pounds, eating lots of curry might seem like a bad idea. But it is not as ridiculous as it sounds, according to the latest scientific findings. The flavouring turmeric, used in most Indian meals, has an active ingredient which could help fight obesity.

A meal which includes turmeric will lead to less weight gain than a meal with all the same ingredients apart from the yellow powder. Turmeric contains a plant-based chemical called curcumin which is easily absorbed by the body, according to a study from Tufts University in Boston. Reporting their findings in the Journal of Nutrition researchers found curcumin suppresses the growth of fat tissue in mice and human cell cultures.

In particular turmeric is effective when added to a high-fat meal, suggesting it could help fight obesity. It appears the curcumin prevents the formation of new blood vessels which in turn help expand fatty tissue which is the cause of weight gain. The laboratory tests saw one set of mice fed high-fat diets for 12 weeks and another set given the same food except with 500mg of curcumin added to each meal. After 12 weeks, the mice which were fed curcumin weighed less than those which did not eat it. The researchers found the curcumin-fed mice were not growing as many new blood vessels as the others and had lower blood cholesterol.

Senior researcher Mohsen Meydani said: 'Weight gain is the result of the growth and expansion of fat tissue which cannot happen unless new blood vessels form, a process known as angiogenesis.' 'Based on our data, curcumin appears to suppress angiogenic activity in the fat tissue of mice fed high-fat diets.' The next step will be to perform clinical trials on humans, said the researchers.


20 May, 2009

For heart survivors, a big waistline could be a lifeline

There have been previous reports to this effect, as it notes below, but the causal chain is essentially unknown

Overweight heart attack victims should stay fat as they are more likely to live longer, say researchers. Obese people are likely to outlive their leaner counterparts with the same severity of heart problems, data has shown.

The controversial claim goes against conventional advice to heart patients that they should lose weight as soon as possible. It may mean crash diets could be harmful as thinner people with heart disease tend to die sooner, possibly from having poorer energy reserves. Evidence from a review in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests being fat can be useful for heart patients.

The message is highly contentious as Britain grapples with an obesity epidemic, with more than half of Britons overweight and a further 20 per cent obese. More than 2.6million Britons have suffered a heart attack or are living with heart failure.

The review looked at a number of studies showing that for patients with established heart disease, obesity plays a protective role. They included a U.S. survey of almost 8,000 patients with heart failure which found a progressive increase in death rate when their weight dropped below a Body Mass Index of 30. BMI, which relates bodyweight to height, classifies those with a score of under 25 as being underweight or 'normal' while 25 to 29.9 is 'overweight' and 30 or above is clinically obese.

Author Dr Carl Lavie, medical director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention at the Ochsner Medical Centre, said the 'obesity paradox' had been known about for a decade. He said 'Obese patients with heart disease respond well to treatment and have paradoxically better outcomes and survival than thinner patients. 'Although these patients have a more favourable short and long-term prognosis, we don't yet know the mechanisms for why this might be the case.'

Dr Lavie said it was possible excess weight might help because patients had more reserves to fight disease than thinner patients. Another explanation might be that obese patients seek medical advice earlier in the disease process because they are out of shape and suffering other symptoms, which gives doctors the chance to diagnose problems earlier. In addition, fat people have higher blood lipid levels which fight inflammation.

However, Dr Lavie warned patients with heart disease should not gain weight in order to have a better chance of fighting heart problems. He said 'Obesity is often what's causing high blood pressure, blockage in arteries and increased risk of death in the first place. 'For example, patients who are overweight or obese are at heightened risk of diabetes which can further-complicate treatment and outcomes. 'We need more research: first to prevent obesity in the first place; second to intervene early enough so that patients who are overweight or obese won't develop heart disease and then to better understand why these patients have a better prognosis once they have heart disease.'

Evidence from other studies suggests obese patients also fare better after being diagnosed with other chronic illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer and kidney failure. Experts believe the consequences of obesity in mostly older patients with chronic illness - when the damage is already done - appears to be different from obesity in younger healthy people.


British food industry opposes tougher salt-reduction targets

Food companies are ready to challenge new salt reduction targets, claiming that consumers will not accept the taste of many products. Industry figures say that salt levels set by the Food Standards Agency may also compromise food safety, especially for cheese and ham, which will shorten the shelf life of items in stores and create more food waste.

The agency is demanding a lower salt content for bread, pizza, ready meals and savoury snacks and wants to cut the salt in burgers and grill steaks by 25 per cent. It accepts that many of its targets may be impossible to meet. Thin and frozen burgers are lower in salt than thicker burgers, which require more sodium to bind the ingredients. It is continuing, however, with calls for new recipes and product formulation to try to make 6g of salt a day the maximum average daily intake for an adult.

Health chiefs estimate that 20,200 deaths from high blood pressure and heart disease would be prevented annually if the nation achieved the 6g-a-day average, down from the present average of 8.5g. About 75 per cent of all salt eaten by consumers is in ready-made or processed food.

The agency is also involved in research to test the lowest levels of salt that are needed in some foods so that it can challenge any claims from manufacturers that targets are too difficult.

Rosemary Hignett, head of nutrition at the agency, said that the cooperation of food companies was vital to improve public health. She also said that Britain was leading the way in Europe and beyond in salt reduction. “The reductions which have already been achieved are already saving lives.”

The British Retail Consortium, which represents leading supermarkets, said that many of the new targets would be difficult to achieve. Stephen Robertson, its director-general, said: “In some cases we believe customers won’t accept the change in taste. It’s crucial we take customers with us as tastes don’t change overnight. Salt can also play an important part in preserving food. It would be perverse if we reduced salt to the extent that it reduced a product’s shelf life and increased food waste — compromising a key part of government food policy.”

Bread-makers are particularly concerned that they will not be able to meet the target. Gordon Polson, director of the Federation of Bakers, said: “It is technically impossible for the industry to go beyond the 2010 target of 430mg sodium per 100g to 400mg by 2012.”


Cheerios is a drug?

This claim has been greeted with much derision -- as an attack on a harmless old favorite -- but it should be noted that the cereal itself is not under attack: Just exaggerated health claims made on its behalf. The FDA was moronic and authoritarian in its approach to the matter, however. It should simply have sent a polite letter asking for the unproven health claims to be deleted from the packaging. It is now the FDA that has been discredited, not Cheerios

Popular US breakfast cereal Cheerios is a drug, at least if the claims made on the label by its manufacturer General Mills are anything to go by, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said. "Based on claims made on your product's label, we have determined that your Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug," the FDA said in a letter to General Mills which was posted on the federal agency's website Tuesday.

Cheerios labels claim that eating the cereal can help lower bad cholesterol, a risk factor for coronary heart disease, by four percent in six weeks. Citing a clinical study, the product labels also claim that eating two servings a day of Cheerios helps to reduce bad cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, the FDA letter says.

Those claims indicate that Cheerios -- said by General Mills to be the best-selling cereal in the United States -- is intended to be used to lower cholesterol and prevent, lessen or treat the disease hypercholesterolemia, and to treat and prevent coronary heart disease. "Because of these intended uses, the product is a drug," the FDA concluded in its letter. Not only that, but Cheerios is a new drug because it has not been "recognized as safe and effective for use in preventing or treating hypercholesterolemia or coronary heart disease," the FDA said.

That means General Mills may not legally market Cheerios unless it applies for approval as a new drug or changes the way it labels the small, doughnut-shaped cereal, the FDA said. General Mills defended the claims on Cheerios packaging, saying in a statement that Cheerios' soluble fiber heart health claim has been FDA-approved for 12 years, and that its "lower your cholesterol four percent in six weeks" message has been featured on the box for more than two years.

The FDA's quibble is not about whether Cheerios cereal is good for you but over "how the Cheerios cholesterol-lowering information is presented on the Cheerios package and website," said General Mills. "We look forward to discussing this with FDA and to reaching a resolution."

Meanwhile, the FDA warned in its letter that if General Mills fails to "correct the violations" on its labels, boxes of Cheerios could disappear from supermarket and wholesaler shelves around the United States and the company could face legal action.

According to General Mills, one in eight boxes of cereal sold in the United States is a box of Cheerios. The cereal debuted on the US market in 1941.


19 May, 2009

Tall men AND FAT MEN earn more

The famous joviality of fatties may make them desirable employees

Australian researchers have found that tall workers earn more than their shorter colleagues, especially among men. A man who is six foot can expect to take home a "wage premium" of almost $1000 a year.

The boffins paint a bleak picture for the vertically-challenged, but there's good news for chubby workers: overweight people actually earn more than their skinny workmates.

Researcher Andrew Leigh, an economist at the Australian National University, said a factor in the tall men's pay perk was that they were more capable at some physical tasks, such as reaching the top shelf. "Beyond that is basically discrimination," Professor Leigh told AAP. "We tend to think that tall people are more powerful and smarter, even when they're not necessarily."

Prof Leigh, who stands at 180.34 centimetres, said it was unfortunate that society was biased towards taller people. There was not much short people could do about it. "At the moment they can only try and stand on a box."

Prof Leigh crunched the numbers on the height, weight and pay of thousands of people around the country, in an Australian first research effort. He found than an extra 10cm in height meant 3 per cent higher wages for men, and 2 per cent higher wages for women.

It was a different story when it came to weight. Fat men earn 5 per cent more than their trimmer colleagues. And thin women don't earn higher wages. Prof Leigh said it was possible that being overweight had become so common that it was no longer a problem for workers.


Drink labelling backfires

Youths Use Drink Labels to Choose Strongest Drink at Lowest Cost

Contrary to the industry's position that visible drink labels will promote responsible drinking, young people are, instead, using these visible standard drink labels to increase or even maximize the amount of alcohol they consume at the lowest cost possible.

According to a study in the Drug and Alcohol Review Journal published by Wiley-Blackwell, young people in Australia have very high awareness of standard drink labeling. However, this was predominately to help them choose the drinks that would get them drunk in the shortest time possible. The labels also served as guides, ‘advising' them on which drink would reduce the time needed to get drunk and the least amount they would need to drink - hence getting the best ‘value' for their money.

The study entitled "The impact of more visible standard drink labeling on youth alcohol consumption: helping young people drink (ir)responsibly?" examines the young people's perceptions of standard drink labeling, the purposes for which they use the labels and the potential impact on their alcohol consumption.

"Participants generally agreed that they notice drink labels and take in account what to purchase and consume. While earlier research with adult beer and alcohol drinkers has shown that standard drink labeling enables them to drink safely and responsibly, this motivation is not evident in the consumption choices with young drinkers and might even be counter-productive", said co-author Professor Sandra Jones from the Centre for Health Initiatives, University of Wollongong.

Heavy episodic drinking is a major health issue for Australia, as it is for most developed countries. It has been estimated that, from 1993-2002, over 2500 young people aged 15-24 have died from alcohol-attributable injury and disease, with another 100,000 hospitalized.

Professor Jones adds, "There is a need to consider the deeper implications about alcohol packaging and marketing as they have real potential to impact and reduce alcohol-related harms. There is still an important role for standard drink labeling as long as it is combined with other policies addressing the price, availability and marketing of alcohol - which are of proven effectiveness in reducing alcohol related harm."

More information: This article is published in the May Issue of Drug and Alcohol Review. (Vol. 28, Issue 3, pp 230 - 234).


New kidney cancer pill extends the lives of patients by two years

A kidney cancer pill can extend the lives of patients with advanced forms of the disease by more than two years, research shows. The drug, sunitinib - which became widely available on the [British} Health Service only this year - was found to be far more effective than traditional treatment.

Kidney cancer is diagnosed in more than 7,000 people in Britain each year and causes about 3,600 deaths annually. Until recently NHS treatment options for spreading, or metastatic, kidney cancer were mostly confined to injections of interferon-alpha. But that drug has serious side effects including fatigue, nausea and increased infections.

Research published today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology compared the life expectancy of patients on sunitinib, which is marketed as Sutent, and interferon-alpha. Survival for sunitinib patients given no further treatment after they stopped taking the drug was 28.1 months compared with 14.1 months for those on interferon-alpha.

Professor John Wagstaff, of the South Wales Cancer Institute in Swansea, whose patients took part in the trial, said: 'These data herald a new era in the treatment of metastatic kidney cancer.'


18 May, 2009

Rise of the soda jerks

The case against sin taxes for soft drinks

"And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the Pepsi drinker!" There has to be a statement about soft drinks tucked somewhere in Leviticus. I have assurances, after all, that such beverages are wicked.

Sin taxes normally are levied on so-called vices, such as drinking, smoking, and gambling. Now Congress is "studying" a proposal to legislate morality by taxing sugary beverages—which is to say, it is "studying" whether such a tax would be politically feasible.

According to the executive director of the Center for "Science" in the Public Interest —a group that has been pushing this tax, along with a glut of other tragic nonsense —"Soda is clearly one of the most harmful products in the food supply, and it's something government should discourage the consumption of."

There is nothing "clear" about it. Soda can be harmful; it can be harmless; and it is always tasty with a cheese-infused burrito, which we should affix with a massive "discouragement" tax if we're going to be consistent about our gut-busting peccadilloes.

The selective tax also would pursue energy and fruit drinks but not politically correct high-everything beverages, such as Frappuccinos. No one wants a violent insurrection in the malls and trendy urban cores of America.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest also wants government to "pressure" food companies to produce healthier fare (because, god knows, there are barely any wholesome options available for the masses), dramatically raise taxes on alcohol (what fresh hell is this?) and dictate the level of sodium allowable in packaged and restaurant food.

The CSPI is the group that once laughably claimed that 150,000 people perish yearly from salt intake (the "Forgotten Killer") despite lack of any evidence and the ongoing debate regarding the real effects of sodium.

Beyond the health issues, you may want to ask yourself whether it's appropriate for government to use taxes as a tool for strategic social engineering. Isn't it counterproductive to pass one-size-fits-all punitive taxes that target the recreational ginger ale drinker, along with the depraved Coca-Cola abuser? Or is it government's job to provide transparency, allowing consumers to make smart decisions—or not—about what they ingest?

We already have set a precedent with cigarettes. And the argument most often employed by sin tax proponents revolves around economic externalities—or the idea that everyone shouldn't have to pay for the destructive habits of the few. (Though there is evidence that the societal cost of the obese is largely inflated, as it were.) I have a lot of sympathy for this argument. So perhaps all citizens can begin taking fiscal and moral responsibility for their own behavior....

...I'm just kidding. That's crazy talk.

But once we start rationing health care, externalities will only become more of an issue. If we collectively pay for health insurance, then what is to stop the majority of us from dictating to the minority what it can eat or drink? What would stop Republicans—after they roar back to power in 2048—from levying sin taxes on promiscuous behavior? After all, promiscuity burdens all taxpayers through sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and Lindsay Lohan. If government continues to manage social behavior through taxation, why not give it a shot? It's the moral thing to do.


Memories stolen by Alzheimer's may be retrievable

Researchers have pinpointed a gene said to be responsible for a 2007 breakthrough in which mice with an Alzheimer's diseaselike condition regained lost memories and learning abilities. In the new research, reported in the May 7 issue of the scientific journal Nature, Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist LiHuei Tsai and colleagues found that drugs that work on the gene HDAC2 reverse the effects of Alzheimer's and boost cognitive function in mice.

Researchers said the findings serve as evidence that memories lost to Alzheimer's and related conditions may not be gone for good. Rather, they could have gotten stuck deep in the brain waiting for the proper medicines to help dislodge them.

The HDAC2 gene, and a molecule it produces, "are promising targets for treating memory impairment," Tsai said. The gene controls the activity of many other genes "implicated in plasticity the brain's ability to change in response to experience and memory formation."

The gene causes lasting changes in how other genes behave, which is probably necessary to increase numbers of connections between brain cells, she added. The researchers treated mice with Alzheimer'slike symptoms using socalled histone deacetylase, or HDAC, inhibitors, a family of 11 enzymes that seem to act as master regulators of gene activity. The drugs are in experimental stages and are not available for patient use. "Harnessing the therapeutic potential of HDAC inhibitors requires knowledge of the specific HDAC family member or members linked to cognitive enhancement," Tsai said. "We have now identified HDAC2 as the most likely target of the HDAC inhibitors" that facilitate plasticity and memory formation.

A person's DNA is packaged as part of a material called chromatin, and certain genes control arrays of other genes simply by restructuring the chromatin. The new research helps clarify how this process works in regulating memory, Tsai said.

Several HDAC inhibitors are currently in clinical trials as anticancer agents. Researchers have also reported promising results with HDAC inhibitors in mouse versions of Huntington's disease.

In the chromatin, molecules called histones act as spools around which DNA winds. Histones are modified in various ways, including through a process called acetylation, which in turn modifies chromatin shape and structure. HDAC inhibitors promote this process. Certain HDAC inhibitors open up chromatin. This allows genes to become active which had been too tightly packaged to go into operation.

The researchers conducted learning and memory tasks using genetically engineered mice that were induced to lose many brain cells. Following Alzheimer'slike brain shrinkage, the mice acted as though they had forgotten tasks they had previously learned. But after taking HDAC inhibitors, the mice regained their longterm memories and ability to learn new tasks, according to Tsai. In addition, mice genetically engineered to produce no HDAC2 at all exhibited enhanced memory formation.

The fact that longterm memories can be recovered by elevated histone acetylation supports the idea that apparent memory "loss" is really a reflection of inaccessible memories, Tsai said. "These findings are in line with a phenomenon known as `fluctuating memories,' in which demented patients experience temporary periods of apparent clarity," she added.


17 May, 2009

Cereal trumps sports drink

A very good controlled experiment too

Eating a bowl of cereal beats guzzling an expensive sports drink after a workout, say scientists. A study of athletes found the breakfast snack was at least as good, if not better, at revitalising muscles.

As part of the research, eight men and four women fasted for 12 hours and cycled for two hours, then immediately refuelled with a sports drink. Five days later they repeated the fasting and exercise, then ate a wholewheat flake cereal with a splash of skimmed milk instead.

Exercise physiologist Lynne Kammer said: 'We found cereal and milk was good for protein synthesis, or muscle rebuilding, after exercise. 'Because of the protein in the milk you would expect to see this. 'But what was most surprising was the lactate in the blood, which causes muscles to stiffen, was greatly reduced after consuming the cereal and milk as compared to the sports drink.' The researchers said this was because the cereal raised levels of insulin, which converts sugar to energy, and blunted the production of lactate.

The scientists, from Texas University, found both the snack and energy drink replenished depleted glycogen - a fuel the body uses during exercise. But the cereal encouraged greater glycogen storage.

Miss Kammer, whose findings are published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, said: 'Cereal and milk is a less expensive option than sports drinks. The milk provides a source of easily digestible and high-quality protein, making this an attractive recovery option for those who refuel at home.'


Human noses too cold for bird flu

Bird flu may not have become the threat to humans that some predicted because our noses are too cold for the virus to thrive, UK researchers say. An Imperial College London recreation of the nose's environment found that at 32 degrees Celsius, avian flu viruses lose function and cannot spread. It is likely that the viruses have adapted to suit the warmer 40 degree environments in the guts of birds. A mutation would be needed before bird flu became a human problem, they said.

Published in the journal PLoS Pathogens, the study also found that human viruses are affected by the colder temperatures found in the nose but to nowhere near the same extent. In effect, human viruses are still able to replicate and spread under those conditions, the researchers said. Both viruses were able to grow well at 37 degrees - human core body temperature and equivalent to the environment in the lungs.

They also created a mutated human flu virus by adding a protein from the surface of an avian influenza virus. This virus - an example of how a new strain could develop and start a pandemic - was also unsuccessful at 32 degrees.

Study leader Professor Wendy Barclay said it suggested that if a new human influenza strain evolved by mixing with an avian influenza virus, it would still need to undergo further mutations before it could be successful in infecting humans. "Our study gives vital clues about what kinds of changes would be needed in order for them to mutate and infect humans, potentially helping us to identify which viruses could lead to a pandemic."

She added further research could point to warning signs in viruses that are beginning to make the kinds of genetic changes for them to jump into humans. "Animal viruses that spread well at low temperatures in these cultures could be more likely to cause the next pandemic than those which are restricted."

She said swine flu - which was spreading from person to person, seemingly through upper respiratory tract infection - was probably an example of a virus which had adapted to cope with the cooler temperatures in the nose.

Professor Ian Jones, an expert in virology at the University of Reading, said: "This work confirms the fact that temperature differences in the avian and human sites of influenza infection are key to virus establishment. "It is certainly part of the explanation of why avian viruses, such as H5N1, fail to transmit readily to humans." He added that the research also showed that the proteins on the outside of the virus were key to its function at different temperatures. "This helps the monitoring of avian flu as it indicates which changes to look out for."


Amazing: British medicines regulator grants first ever licence to homeopathic remedy

At least it's safe, I suppose. There is nothing but water in homeopathic remedies

The UK medicines regulator has granted its first licence to a homeopathic remedy under controversial new rules allowing complementary therapies to make medicinal claims. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has granted an arnica homeopathic product a licence for the relief of sprains or bruising. Experts say that it contains zero active ingredients and condemned the decision as a “cynical mockery of evidence-based medicine”.

Nelsons Arnicare Arnica 30c pillules are the first product to be given a therapeutic indication via the Homeopathic National Rules Scheme, introduced in September 2006.

As opposed to conventional or herbal medicine, homeopathy is based on the principle that a substance that can make people ill can be diluted thousands of times to treat the symptoms it would otherwise create. Manufacturers of homeopathic remedies were previously banned from listing the clinical conditions or “indications” that products might be used to treat, due to a lack of evidence that they work. But under the new license granted by the MHRA, the label on a £5.30 packet of 84 pillules will now read: “A homeopathic medicinal product used within the homeopathic tradition for symptomatic relief of sprains, muscular aches and bruising or swelling after contusions.” The homeopathic pillules are designed to be sucked or chewed and to be taken between meals.

Robert Wilson, chairman of Nelsons, said that the fact that therapeutic indications could be included on the packaging “not only opens the practice of homeopathy up to new users but also gives it added credibility as a safe and natural complement to conventional medicine”.

But Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, said there is no evidence that the product has any benefit over a placebo treatment. “This is a huge rip-off and the label now makes false and misleading claims,” he said. “There is no biological plausibility for this to work — it makes a cynical mockery of evidence-based medicine.”

Nelsons, the largest manufacturer of natural healthcare products in Britain, also produces herbal tinctures for the Prince of Wales’s Duchy Originals brand, which Professor Ernst has also criticised as “outright quackery”. Last week, the Advertising Standards Authority reprimanded the Duchy brand over its promotional materials, ruling that claims made about the effectiveness of the tinctures were misleading.

Professor Ernst said that arnica-based homeopathic remedies were the most studied of all homeopathic products, but added: “Arnica is actually poisonous if you swallow it, so these pills contain essentially zero active ingredient.” A randomised trial published by Professor Ernst and colleagues in 2003 showed no benefit from arnica in prevention of pain and bruising after surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, with more adverse events in the arnica group than with placebo. He added that systematic reviews of all studies, including those from advocates of homeopathy, came to the same conclusion.

Bruises and sprains would heal in time, so people would not be doing themselves harm if they took the pills, he said, “but you might as well be swallowing water”.

The MHRA said that the National Rules scheme was introduced to resolve an inconsistency in European legislation that meant that homeopathic products introduced before 1992 could state indications for their use, whereas remedies approved after that date could not make such claims. A spokeswoman for the Agency said that the National Rules Scheme “involves the assessment of quality, safety and consumer information”. “This means that if an applicant can demonstrate that their product has been used in the UK homeopathic tradition for the relief or treatment of specific minor conditions or symptoms then the applicant may be granted a homeopathic marketing authorisation.”

But, she added: “Indications are limited to the relief or treatment of minor symptoms or minor conditions, ie, symptoms or conditions which can ordinarily and with reasonable safety be relieved or treated without the supervision or intervention of a doctor. “Indications for serious conditions are prohibited.”


16 May, 2009

Diet Patrol With Side Orders of Tax and Scare

This week the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is embarking on a major effort to assert its position as the world champion of food policing. CSPI leader Michael Jacobson will present an ambitious wish list to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee tomorrow. (Its list of demands has just been made available online.) In less than 24 hours, CSPI will ask Congress to forcibly remove half the salt from all packaged and restaurant foods. It’s a request so heavy-handed that the group is laying the groundwork one day early with its own sodium study. But as we’re telling reporters today, it doesn’t take a diet expert to see why CSPI’s new salt report isn’t worth a grain of it.

Taking a page from New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, CSPI is wants a congressionally mandated overhaul of restaurant and packaged food recipes. If implemented, the plan would cut half the salt out of those meals and snacks over the next ten years. But as some of the nation’s leading health experts have been warning, such a drastic reduction of Americans’ salt intake could be a public health disaster in the making. CSPI’s salt report is a desperate attempt to scare Americans into believing otherwise.

The CSPI paper offers plenty of scary statistics by documenting sodium levels in the saltiest restaurant meals Jacobson’s staffers could find. What it doesn’t offer, however, is anything new. CSPI merely looked through the nutrition information already provided by restaurants and republished the data for five meals per establishment: four meals containing the highest levels of sodium and one meal with the lowest.

This lazy cherry-picking methodology represents the first step in CSPI’s one-two punch this week. Taxing Americans for eating their favorite foods? That’s the second. If CSPI’s Michael Jacobson gets his way, look out for his half-baked anti-salt scheme and a tidal wave of federal tax hikes on alcohol and non-diet sodas.


The health alerts that make you ill: Negative thoughts 'can induce sickness'

If you feel ill just looking at the side effects of the medicine that's supposed to cure you, it might be best not to bother. The warnings themselves might actually be making you sick, scientists say. A series of studies from around the world has shown that if you believe something could make you ill, it might well do just that. Simply reading the side-effects on a bottle of tablets raises your risk of experiencing them. And, taken to its extreme, patients who believe they will not survive surgery, are more likely to die on the operating table.

Just as positive thinking can be good for your health, negative thoughts can be bad for well-being. 'The idea that believing you are ill can make you ill sounds far-fetched, yet rigorous trials have established beyond a doubt that the converse is true - the power of suggestion can improve health,' reports New Scientist magazine. 'The placebo effect has an evil twin: the nocebo effect, in which dummy pills and negative expectations can produce harmful effects.' Examples included clinical trials for new drugs, in which up to a quarter of patients given dummy versions experienced the side-effects associated with the real thing.

In trials for blood pressure-lowering beta blockers, tiredness and loss of libido were just as common in those given dummy versions. And more than half of chemotherapy patients start experiencing the nausea -- 'A self-fulfilling prophecy' -- associated with the cancer treatment days before it started. The phenomenon raises the prospect that just telling a patient about the side effects associated with their pills, could make their health worse.

Hull University psychologist Professor Giuliana Mazzoni said: 'On the one hand, people have the right to be informed about what to expect but this makes it more likely they will experience side-effects.'

Research has shown that women who believe they are particularly prone to heart attack are nearly four times as likely to die from coronary conditions than other women.

The power of suggestion can also be responsible for mass outbreaks of ' disease'. In 1988, a high school teacher, in Tennessee in the U.S, noticed a gasoline-like smell and began to complain of headache, nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness. The school was evacuated and over the next week, more than 100 staff and students were admitted to casualty complaining of similar symptoms. Extensive tests could find no medical explanation for their problems.

Dr Clifton Meador, of Vanderbilt School of Medicine in Nashville in the U.S, said fear can turn into self-fulfilling prophecy. 'Bad news promotes bad physiology. I think that you can persuade people that they're going to die and have it happen. I don't think there is anything mystical about it. We're uncomfortable with the idea that words or symbolic actions can cause death because it changes our biomolecular model of the world.'


Scientists close to vaccine for a major childhood killer

AUSTRALIAN scientists are in the final stretch of developing a vaccine which could dramatically cut deaths from the world's seventh biggest disease killer.

Rheumatic Heart Disease and Acute Rheumatic Fever start out as a relatively minor bacterial throat infection but they claim 400,000 lives, often children in developing countries, every year.

Scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research have developed a trial vaccine which has proven effective at warding off multiple strains of the Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria, the cause of these throat infections.

Human trials could begin as early as next year, says Dr Michael Batzloff, who is working on the vaccine alongside colleagues at the institute's Bacterial Vaccines Laboratory. "There is potential for this vaccine to be used in Australia and in many indigenous communities, and in developing countries where there is a huge need for it," Dr Batzloff said. "There's information out of Tibet that at one hospital, 50 per cent of child admissions were for heart conditions due to rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease."

Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children suffer the world's highest rates of the diseases.

School-age children are most at risk of suffering a GAS infection, and while most recover without incident from their "strep throat" in a small percentage of cases, particularly those who have repeat GAS infections, it leads to an auto-immune reaction. The body attacks its own tissues - primarily the heart valves - causing damage that will be lifelong or even lead to death. The World Health Organisation lists this as the seventh leading cause of disease death behind respiratory diseases, HIV, diarrhoea, tuberculosis, malaria and measles.

Dr Batzloff says the trial vaccine had proven effective against "almost all" GAS bacteria strains found around the world, and the protection was thought to last years. "It's an exciting phase for us now because it is moving from the lab into the clinic," he says of the imminent human trials. "(And) when this vaccine ultimately becomes available, the idea is that it will prevent rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease."

The vaccine could be added to the roster of early childhood immunisations in Australia, with Dr Batzloff saying the step could end severe throat infections in children.

The research results are to be presented today at the Heart Foundation's annual conference, a three-day gathering of 500 cardiologists, GPs and other professionals now under way on the Gold Coast.


15 May, 2009

Gender-bending chemical timebomb fear for boys' fertility

Another outing for a very tired old scare. This is speculation, not research, and the large number of "don't knows" reveals the extent of the suppositions involved

Chemicals in food, cosmetics and cleaning products are 'feminising' unborn boys and raising their risk of cancer and infertility later in life, an expert warns today. Professor Richard Sharpe, one of Britain's leading reproductive biologists, says everyday substances are linked to soaring rates of birth defects and testicular cancer, and to falling sperm counts. The government adviser's report published today is the most detailed yet into the threat posed to baby boys by chemicals that block the action of the male sex hormone testosterone, or mimic the female sex hormone oestrogen.

Some chemicals are raising unborn boys' risk of cancer and infertility later in life, Professor Sharpe believes. Professor Sharpe says many could be harmless on their own - but warned that their cumulative effect could be devastating for developing foetuses and warned women trying for a child to avoid them. 'You can't do anything about chemicals in the environment but you can control what you expose a baby to through your lifestyle choices,' he said.

'Because we don't know the complete list of chemicals that may be hormone disrupters, and we don't know how they interact, we can't point a finger at an individual chemical. 'The message is to avoid them, just as you should avoid alcohol and drugs.'

Doctors are concerned about rising levels of birth defects, with 7 per cent of British boys born with partially descended testes and seven in 1000 with malformed genitals. The latest estimates indicate that one in six men in the UK has a low sperm count and will struggle to father a child. And the number of testicular cancer cases among men in their 20s and 30s has been doubling every 25 years. [But where are the causal links?]

Following an analysis of available evidence, Professor Sharpe concluded that gender-bending chemicals are 'likely to account for a proportion' [a proportion? What proportion? One percent?] of birth defects in baby boys - and the testicular cancer and fertility problems the boys may ["may". Indeed they may. And the moon may be made of green cheese too] suffer later in life.

His report looked at studies into birth defects of boy's genitals, low sperm counts and testicular cancer - a range of problems collectively called Testicular Dysgenesis Syndrome or TDS. In repeated experiments, testosterone-disrupting chemicals found in pesticides, drugs, plastics and household products created symptoms of TDS in laboratory animals. Some of the experiments showed that the chemicals work in combination - causing problems at doses where the individual chemicals should be harmless.

The evidence that the chemicals cause problems in humans was weaker, but still showed a link between environmental chemicals and male fertility problems, the report said. [An epidemiological link, which proves nothing] In one study, scientists looked at families moving from countries with a low rate of testicular cancer to Denmark - which has one of the highest rates of the disease in Europe.

First-generation immigrants had the same level of cancer as their country of origin. But their children - conceived and born in Denmark - had a similar risk to Danes. That indicated something [But what something?] in the environment was to blame. Other studies have shown that mothers exposed to chemicals used in plastics, flame retardants and pesticides [i.e. factory workers who have poorer health anyway] are more likely to have sons who go on to develop testicular cancer. Exposure to environmental chemicals slightly increases the risks of undescended testes and hypospadia - malformed genitalia - in boys, the report found.

Professor Sharpe said TDS has its origins in the period between the eighth and 12th week of pregnancy, when exposure to hormone-mimicking chemicals can interfere with testosterone production in a foetus, preventing the sex organs from developing normally.

Chemicals shown to cause problems include pesticides such as DDT, fungicides such as vinclozolin; a group of chemicals called PCBs used in electrical circuits, paints, flame retardants and glues; and phthalates, which are used to soften plastics. [Any mention of phthalates shows you are in hysteria territory]

Elizabeth Salter Green of the charity CHEM Trust, which commissioned Professor Sharpe's report, said: 'Chemicals that have been shown to act together to affect male reproductive health should have their risks assessed together. 'Currently that is not the case, and unfortunately chemicals are looked at on a individual basis. 'Therefore Government assurances that exposures are too low to have any effect just do not hold water because regulators do not take into account the additive actions of hormone-disrupting chemicals.' She advised pregnant women to keep cosmetic use to a minimum, choose unscented products, stop using perfume, avoid colouring hair and avoid DIY.


Heh! British children's advisor on healthy eating told son is overweight

Will this totally unscientific mania ever fade?

A children's advisor on healthy eating, Michala Forder, has been warned her son Zac is overweight and risking cancer because he is one pound over NHS guidelines.

Health officials sent a letter to Mrs Forder telling her that Zac [above], who weighs 3st 5lbs, is in danger of health problems in later life including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure because of his weight.

Mrs Forder, a pre-school practitioner who advises children about healthy eating, said she was furious at the letter and accused Oxfordshire NHS Primary Care Trust of labelling children and potentially pushing them into crash dieting.

The trust has been weighing and measuring around 11,000 reception year pupils, aged four and five, and year six pupils, aged 10 and 11, as part of the National Child Measurement Programme. It is designed to alert parents to potential health problems. Parents can opt out of the scheme, but if they do not, they get a letter telling them if their child is underweight, a healthy weight, overweight or very overweight.

Mrs Forder, 37, from Carterton, Oxon, said she and other mothers at Edith Moorhouse Primary School, in Carterton, were angry at their children being labelled overweight. The letter indicated that Zac's ideal weight for his age and height should be between 2st 7lb and 3st 4lb.

Mrs Forder said she had not told her son about the contents of the letter, adding: "I could have told him the doctors think he is overweight. He could then take it upon himself to start on an eating disorder because of it."

The PCT apologised for any distress caused to Mrs Forder, and said it was following Department of Health guidelines on the format and content of the letter.

A spokesman for Beat, an eating disorders charity, said: "There surely has to be a better way for this information to be put across that will make things better, not worse. "Such rigid interpretation of these guidelines only serves to stigmatise children for their weight and shape."


14 May, 2009

Intelligent women have better sex, study reveals

This is rubbish. So-called "EQ" has very little to do with IQ and is best characterized as a personality trait with some overlay of learned skills. So touchy-feely women enjoy sex more. Big surprise!

Salovey is probably the most scholarly proponent of EQ and he has made a fairly careful psychometric study of it -- including a look at the correlation between EQ and IQ. I nearly fell off my chair when I saw what he used as his measure of IQ, however. He used the vocabulary subscale of the old Army Alpha test of World War I vintage! And he even admits to an arbitrary shortening of that subscale. One has to suspect the motivation behind such strange behaviour. Did the words he used in the vocab test tend to be related to emotional concepts? One has to expect something of that sort. Be that as it may, the correlation between EQ and IQ that he obtained (p. 146) among college students (itself a very unrepresentative sample) was .36, implying a shared variance of only 13%. That would normally be regarded as low but not too disreputable but proves little in this case. The finding amounts to saying that people who are better with words are better at getting on with people -- which is both no surprise and no proof that EQ correlates with general problem-solving ability -- which is what spiral omnibus IQ tests measure

Women with brains have more fun in bed, a study has revealed. Beauty may bag you a man - but brains will bring you more fun in the bedroom. Women blessed with 'emotional intelligence' [EQ] - the ability to express their feelings and read those of others - have better sex lives, research shows. Those most in touch with their feelings have twice as many orgasms as inhibited sorts, the study found.

The finding could lead to new ways of counselling the 40 per cent of women who find it difficult or impossible to enjoy sex fully.

Researcher Tim Spector of King's College London said there were definite advantages to being a touchy-feely type. He said: 'These findings show that emotional intelligence is an advantage in many aspects of your life, including the bedroom.'

Professor Spector questioned more than 2,000 female twins, aged between 18 and 83, about their sex lives. They were asked to rate their ability to reach orgasm on a seven-point scale, ranging from 'never' to 'always'. They also filled in a questionnaire designed to gauge their emotional intelligence and covering traits such as self expression, empathy and contentment. Those most in touch with their feelings had the most orgasms, the Journal of Sexual Medicine reports.

Lead author, psychologist Andrea Burri, also of King's College, said: 'Emotional intelligence seems to have a direct impact on women's sexual functioning by influencing her ability to communicate her sexual expectations and desires to her partner.'


Accurate prostate test which could save hundreds from surgery every year a step nearer

Sounds promising

Scientists are closer to developing a more accurate test for prostate cancer which could save hundreds from surgery every year. Currently an operation is the only way to tell whether tumours are aggressive or non-aggressive, but many men are left suffering from incontinence and impotence as a result. Now, scientists say a simple urine test could be developed to identify those who need further treatment, and those whose cancer is dormant.

Writing in the British Journal of Cancer, they explained that tiny globules of fat in men's urine contain RNA molecules which could indicate whether the cancer is aggressive. These molecules are carried directly from the tumour out of the body in fatty capsules called exosomes.

For the first time, scientists have discovered that different genes are switched on and off in aggressive and dormant prostate cancers. They also found that genetic material carried in the exosomes comes from tumours, allowing them to look for indicators that show what kind of cancer is present. However, more work is needed to identify all these genes before a test could be launched on the market. The information could help doctors decide which prostate cancers require rapid treatment. Many cases do not progress and can be left untreated.

Dr Jonas Nilsson, of the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, said: 'We hope that this innovative approach to studying prostate cancer will reveal new biomarkers for aggressive tumours. 'Tumour-derived RNA is preserved in these capsules and gives us an insight into the genetics of an individual's tumour.'

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, with around 34,000 new cases diagnosed each year. Around 10,000 die from the disease each year.

Dr Lesley Walker, of Cancer Research UK, said: 'This technique is a fresh view on an old problem and could really help scientists find that elusive biomarker. 'It's still unclear what the best treatment approach is for early prostate cancer, so it's important we find answers to this as soon as possible. 'Distinguishing the aggressive tumours that must be treated from those that don't will go a long way towards resolving this issue.'


13 May, 2009

Jeeeez! Idiots refuse to recognize recognize a placebo effect when they see it

A study which was designed with a placebo control -- and got results no better than placebo -- is being hailed as if it told us something more than the power of a placebo. They have proved that acupuncture does not work but are pretending that they have shown the opposite. Would it be coincidence that the US National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine funded the trial? They are not going to let ANY evidence change their minds

Using acupuncture to treat chronic back pain is more effective than standard treatments alone, a leading scientific study has found. Trials involving 638 back pain sufferers have suggested that acupuncture is successful in relieving discomfort, although how it works remains unclear. A “fake” version also produced results, indicating that belief in the therapy may have played a key role in its success.

In the project, known as Spine (stimulating points to investigate needling efficacy), patients were divided into groups to receive standard care alone, with one of two variants of genuine acupuncture or with a placebo.

The simulated acupuncture involved mimicking needle pricks using tooth picks hidden inside guide tubes that did not penetrate the skin. Patients were treated twice a week for three weeks and then weekly for a month. At intervals of eights weeks, six months and a year, the researchers measured back pain symptoms and their impact on quality of life.

Both types of genuine acupuncture — either individually tailored or a standardised treatment — produced a substantial improvement in symptoms and the ability of patients to cope with their condition at eight weeks. By contrast, patients on standard care were only slightly better. The beneficial effects lasted for a year, although they waned over time. However, the placebo “toothpick” treatment turned out to be just as good at combating back pain as real acupuncture.

The findings were published yesterday in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. Daniel Cherkin, the trial leader from the Group Health Centre for Health Studies, in Seattle, said: “We found that simulated acupuncture produced as much benefit as needle acupuncture. That raises questions about how acupuncture works.” Dr Cherkin said the results had important implications for patients who found conventional treatments ineffective. “The reduction in long-term exposure to the potential adverse effects of medications is also an important benefit that may enhance the safety of conventional medical care,” he said.

Karen Sherman, also a member of the research team, said that, historically, some types of acupuncture have used non-penetrating needles, possibly explaining the success of the placebo treatment. “We don’t know why people got back pain relief from the simulated acupuncture,” Dr Sherman said. “Maybe the context in which people get treatment has effects that are more important than the mechanical effects.”

At the eight-week stage, 60 per cent of patients receiving any type of acupuncture had a clinically meaningful improvement in their level of functioning, compared with 39 per cent of those receiving regular care. At the one-year point, 59 to 65 per cent of those in the acupuncture groups experienced an improvement, compared with 50 per cent of the standard care group.

Back pain is the largest single cause of work-related absence in Britain. Lower back pain, also known as lumbago, affects seven out of ten people at some time in their lives.

Josephine Briggs, director of the US National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which funded the Spine trial, said: “The findings add to the growing body of evidence that something meaningful is taking place during acupuncture treatments [There sure is. A big placebo effect]. Future research is needed to delve deeper into what is evoking these responses.”


Allergy sufferers may benefit from folic acid

The antibody findings give this report some credibility but whether there is some third factor behind the correlation with folates is unknown. This is grounds for a proper double blind study but no more

Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, may suppress allergic reactions and alleviate the severity of allergy and asthma symptoms, according to a new study.

Scientists from the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center arrived at this conclusion after reviewing the medical records of more than 8,000 people aged two to 85 and tracking the effects of folate levels on respiratory and allergic symptoms. They also looked closely the levels of IgE antibodies which rise in response to an allergen.

The researchers found people with higher blood levels of folate had fewer IgE antibodies, fewer reported allergies, less wheezing and lower likelihood of asthma. Lead investigator Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, a pediatric allergist at Hopkins Children’s says the findings indicated that folic acid may help regulate immune response to allergens and reduce allergy and asthma symptoms.

They furthermore add to mounting evidence that folate can help regulate inflammation. Folic acid is also essential for red blood cell health and has long been known to reduce the risk of spinal birth defects.

According to the CDC, asthma affects more than 7 percent of adults and children in the U.S. is the most common chronic condition among children.


12 May, 2009

Statins: life-saving wonder-drugs or just life-damaging?

Many readers empathised with Christopher Hudson when he wrote about his experience of taking statins. Here, he renews his call for doctors to take the concerns of patients more seriously

The phone calls began around breakfast time on March 12. Emails also started pouring in, to me, to our friends, to our friends’ friends and to this newspaper, which, that morning, had published my story – “Wonder Drug That Stole My Memory” – about my experience of taking statins.

It seems to have struck a nerve. Over the next fortnight, scores of people up and down the country posted comments on about their own experiences with the same drugs. Their symptoms included forgetfulness, confusion, loss of names and words, numbness in the fingertips. Reading about my predicament seemed to have synthesised a lot of fears and emotions, ranging from bitterness towards the medical profession, to relief that their symptoms might not premise Alzheimer’s after all.

How many more people must there be who think they are alone in their suffering? Last week it was claimed that every third person in England over the age of 45 was taking statins – around seven million people. Worldwide, they are now the most commonly prescribed drug in the history of medicine. Yet, according to the Department of Health, up to 10 per cent of patients may have significant side-effects. That is to say, 700,000 Britons may now be suffering moderate to crippling pain or loss of memory or libido, after taking a drug that is hailed everywhere as the greatest pharmacological find of the 21st century.

Many of my respondents had suffered far worse experiences that anything that the doctors, the warnings on the packets or the promotional literature could have led them to expect. They claim their limbs felt like lead weights; they had lost the power of concentration, and in some cases their sex drive was affected. One man who had severe muscle pains was told by his doctor that tests in the US had revealed that statins could have the effect of “dissolving muscles”.

It sounded like science fiction – but then I spoke to my cousin, a London GP, who rang me while recovering from hip surgery. He believes that his two hip replacements were both largely down to the statins he took, which weakened the musculature of his hips and thighs.

As for forgetfulness, there were writers who could not remember their own phone number. One post read heart-rendingly, “I am 62 and have been taking high-dosage statins for 20 years following a heart attack. My high cholesterol is genetic. I have insomnia, muscle pains and serious memory loss, short and long term. I can’t even remember the events of my wedding day. My life is a closed book.”

Why has the widespread evidence of such side-effects from statin intolerance been ignored by the medical profession for so long? The nonchalance with which some GPs appear to shrug off the problem is extraordinary. As another correspondent states, “If the substance was a sweet, a drink or a foodstuff, the Health and Safety Executive would get it banned immediately”.

I believe there is a reluctance to investigate any statin-related problems properly. Too many people in the scientific and medical professions see them as drugs that can do no wrong. They are also cheap and effective, and according to the Department of Health, they save 10,000 lives a year, significantly reducing strokes and coronary heart disease. The latest evidence suggests that they may also cut the risk of deep-vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms.

It is no wonder, then, that having found this “wonder-drug” effective against some of the most common health problems in the industrialised world, scientists are not all that keen to criticise it. For one thing, it would be taking on the pharmaceutical giants that developed the drug; for another, as Telegraph columnist Dr James LeFanu pointed out recently, family doctors get a special payment from the Government for everyone they treat for a raised cholesterol level.

It is left up to each GP as to what constitutes a “raised” level, which may be why I came across so many “cholesterol victims” among my correspondents. I have had relatively high cholesterol for years, probably genetic, and I have always been told the same thing by GPs and Bupa doctors: 7.5 is too high, 6.5 is rather higher than it should be, and if you can bring it down to a level of 5.5 that would be just fine. Yet there are patients here being treated with statins for mildly high blood pressure when their cholesterol level was at 4.3 or lower. These pills are handed out like Smarties.

Despite the mounting evidence of problems, the medical profession seems alarmingly relaxed about the risks. The other day I happened upon a six-year-old transcript of a BBC radio phone-in show on statins. A cardiologist was present in the studio. Everything was going swimmingly until a lady from Powys said she was getting terrible muscle pain in her thighs after taking the drugs. “I couldn’t lift my foot off the ground,” she complained. “I couldn’t get on and off the loo; let’s face it, I couldn’t even put my knickers on.” The cardiologist tried to reassure her. “In less than one person in a thousand, quite literally, less than one person in a thousand, do statins cause a serious inflammation in the muscles,” he said.

Today, the figure has risen to as many as one in 10. But just the other day, on a BBC ask-the-doctor website, a consultant was, to my mind, downplaying the side-effects. “Tummy upsets, aches, muscle aches and liver problems are among the common side effects of statins,” she stated airily. “Most of these settle with time.”

This is not good enough. Statin 'victims’ deserve better. For one thing, they need more answers to crucial questions, such as what alternatives there might be to statin therapy – such as fibrates or diet, for example – and how successful they are. The British Heart Foundation says that tests can be done to identify those patients at greatest risk of side-effects; if so, why are they not widely utilised? The Department of Health refuses to commit itself on alternatives to statins, saying only that there is a range of cholesterol-lowering treatments that can be used in cases of statin intolerance, and patients should consult their doctors about which one is most appropriate.

Many of those who responded to my article recommended a range of alternatives. My favourite came from Father Ignatius Brown: “Red wine, dark chocolate, porridge, fresh air, long walks, small amounts of cheese made from unpasteurised milk, plenty of leafy greens, wild salmon, berries – and laughter”.

For my part, I believe that I haven’t fully shaken off the effects of my encounter with statins, and I don’t know whether I will. What I do know is that there is a dark and growing underside to the “wonder drug” that needs to be exposed and more fully researched.

• A doctor writes...

A year ago I wrote an article in the Telegraph advocating the greater use of statins. Therefore, I feel obliged to respond to Christopher Hudson's concerns. Statins were first developed in Japan in the late Seventies. Today they are taken by tens of millions of middle-aged and elderly people worldwide. In the last 20 years, the use of statins has increased exponentially. So what impact have they had at the frontline of the NHS, in the emergency rooms of our District General Hospitals?

In the last 10 years death rates from coronary heart disease (CHD) have fallen by 46 per cent in people under 65. The decrease in mortality is greatest in the over 55's, and is due to a reduction in the major risk factors such as smoking, improved treatment in the immediate aftermath of a heart attack (eg clot-busting drugs), and widespread secondary prevention, including statins.

The figures are conclusive: we are winning the battle for our arteries, and statins are one of our most powerful allies against heart attacks, strokes, and other vascular diseases. We have enormous amounts of data on statins now, confirming that they are safe to take [How can this guy utter such obvious lies??], and that their benefits far outweigh the well-documented risks.

All drugs have side-effects, and with every prescription he or she writes, a doctor is making a risk-benefit analysis. The most significant side-effect of statins is a reversible inflammation of muscle which is seen in less than 0.01 per cent of recipients. As with every drug, extreme side-effects are occasionally reported: in the case of statins there have been fatalities due to renal failure with an incidence of 0.15 cases per million prescriptions. Abnormalities in liver function are also recognised but rarely significant, and almost always reversible on cessation of medication.

Memory problems are a rare but serious side effect of statins. Patients who are concerned about this aspect of statin medication, should consult their GP and consider a "drug holiday". The vast majority of side-effects would be expected to resolve within the course of a month and if symptoms persisted then other causes should be considered. In those at risk from vascular disease, memory problems are common after middle-age and often a result of damage to small blood vessels in the brain by high blood pressure and atheroma. In this case, it would be an error to attribute a poor memory to a side-effect when, in the majority of cases, the drug is protecting against further damage to our brains.

Let us return to the statistics: CHD is the most common cause of death (and premature death) in Britain; 1 in 5 men and 1 in 6 women die from CHD, and it causes 101,000 deaths here annually. Each year, 130,000 people succumb to strokes, and it is the biggest single cause of serious disability in Britain. In my view, and that of most doctors, the risk-benefit analysis for statins is favourable.


What the ignoramus doctor above omits to mention is that there is much evidence to show that high cholesterol does NOT elevate the risk of heart disease. Statins cure an imaginary problem. Heart disease is a big problem but statins are not the answer. The cholesterol/heart disease connection is a tenacious theory, nothing more

Obesity 'causes 19,000 cancer cases every year'

Another wild "estimate" from the publicity hungry and thoroughly disreputable World Cancer Research Fund. No mention that moderately overweight people live longest, of course. Background on the WCRF here and here.

Almost 19,000 Britons a year develop cancer because they are overweight, researchers say. The toll is 50 per cent higher than any previous estimate, reflecting the current epidemic of obesity. Adults are being warned to stay as slim as possible, without being underweight, to minimise their cancer risk.

The new analysis, by the World Cancer Research Fund, found excess fat was linked to around 17 per cent of cases of seven main cancers - breast, bowel, oesophagus, kidney, pancreas, endometrium (womb lining) and gallbladder.

Professor Martin Wiseman, WCRF medical and scientific adviser, said: 'The stark fact is that every year in this country, many thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer that could have been prevented if they had maintained a healthy weight. 'This is a real cause for concern and the problem is only going to get worse if the number of people who are overweight continues to rise.'

The new estimate is nearly 50 per cent higher than the 13,000 cases a year linked to obesity by the charity Cancer Research UK. WCRF, a charity that promotes ways of preventing the disease, says the evidence is now much stronger than even ten years ago. Body fat promotes the production of hormones and growth factors such as oestrogen and insulin which can increase the risk of cancer. Obese people are also less likely to eat healthy amounts of fruit and vegetables that can protect against cancer.

Professor Wiseman said: 'After not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do. 'But a recent survey showed almost 40 per cent of people still do not know excess fat is a cause of cancer. We need to do more to spread the message.'

Overall, scientists estimate that about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented if people improved their lifestyles - eating more healthily, taking more physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight.

The WCRF says people should aim for a Body Mass Index - calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared - towards the lower end of the recommended healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9.


11 May, 2009

The one sure thing about "organic" food is that it will keep you poor

Organic food and groceries ring up a huge premium. Report below from Australia but the situation is unlikely to be much different elsewhere

PEOPLE buying organic food and groceries are being hit with huge premiums as shortages bite. Consumers going green are slugged thousands of dollars more a year, a report has found. Organic beef sausages and margarine were almost triple the price of ordinary options. Chicken, rice and sugar were more than double. A typical basket of fruit and vegetables, meat and dairy, cereals, cleaning products and other staples rang up at $246.54 - almost $100 more than conventional choices.

But natural is not always mean on the budget. A floor cleaner, corn chips, rolled oats and pumpkin were actually cheaper.

Business analyst IBISWorld's price review comes as authorities move to crack down on dubious organic labelling. A voluntary national standard for all products including food, cleaning agents and cosmetics will be released this year. Standards Australia deputy chief executive Colin Blair said the new system would ease confusion over what is truly organic, and give consumers extra confidence that they were buying the real deal.

Consumer group Choice advises shoppers to look for products with a certified organic logo. Food policy spokeswoman Clare Hughes said organically farmed products were generally more labour-intensive and costly.

Organic Federation of Australia chairman Andre Leu blamed limited supplies and higher production costs for some large price differences. Mr Leu said costs should fall in future as more producers entered the industry. "There will always be a premium for a better product, but when you look at more mature markets overseas the price difference is about 20 to 30 per cent," Mr Leu said.

IBISWorld compared costs at an organic and standard supermarket in inner Melbourne last month. IBISWorld Australian general manager Robert Bryant said organic prices had fallen in the past five years.


Fat frenzy

HAVE healthy, normal children such as Bianca been wrongly labelled by health authorities as overweight? Richard Guilliatt talks to researchers and angry parents who are warning of a backlash.

Bianca Stoneman is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fat kid. She’s a little shorter than most six-year-old girls, and she weighs a fraction above average, but that is something you could only surmise by careful measurement, because in all respects she’s a perfectly normal, cherubic first-grader.

She likes fairy books and dressing up in ballerina tutus. She’s learning to play the piano and taking swimming lessons, and she has just finished her first season playing T-ball at a footy oval in Canberra’s northern suburbs.

So her mother, Jodi, was perplexed, not to mention angry, when the ACT Health Department notified her recently that Bianca might be "overweight or at risk of becoming overweight", and suggested that the Stoneman family might want to consult a dietician or participate in a "Talk About Weight" group session at their local health centre, where their family’s eating habits and physical activities could be analysed.

That notification followed a health check - the kind that is now becoming ubiquitous across Australia - in which every child in Bianca’s kindergarten was assessed for Body Mass Index (BMI), the standardised test by which levels of obesity and excess weight are calculated.

Bianca’s test registered as 17.4, which put her in the "high" category on the specially formulated BMI charts for children. In fact, when Jodi Stoneman consulted the chart it appeared that her daughter was right up near the obese kids. On one level this was absurd, for anyone could look at Bianca Stoneman and realise she is not even chunky, to use an old-fashioned term.

But the more Jodi Stoneman read the letter ACT Health had sent her – with its warnings about the dangers of diabetes and high blood pressure, its links to the Westmead Children’s Hospital website and its suggestion that she consult her doctor for advice about nutrition – the more confused and offended she became. "Bianca’s weight was in the normal, healthy range and her height (114cm at the time) was in the normal, healthy range for her age," she says. "But when you put those figures together, her BMI looked like it was through the roof. How does that skew their statistics if they’re trying to measure levels of obesity?"

That’s just one of several questions now being asked about the obesity "epidemic" which has been touted as the greatest health crisis facing the western world. For nearly a decade researchers have been issuing increasingly dire warnings about the state of the national girth. Australians are fatter even than Americans, it was claimed last year, and a third of us could be obese by the year 2025.

Our children are said to be a generation of bloated couch-potatoes destined for a life of clogged arteries and diabetes. Obesity could rival smoking and the Black Death as a killer, according to high-profile overseas experts. Those claims are now coming under sustained attack from a range of newly published research and in books such as The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos, Diet Nation by Patrick Basham and John Luik, and The Obesity Epidemic by Australian academics Jan Wright and Michael Gard.

The thrust of their arguments is that obesity rates are not skyrocketing, that many people classified as overweight may be healthier than those who are slim, and that the campaign to eradicate obesity has become a moral crusade fuelled by commercial interests which are seeking to profit from the medicalisation of chubbiness.


10 May, 2009

Mushrooms 'give your body a boost to beat the flu' (if you are a mouse)

The researchers found that a particular breed of mice fed mushroom powder showed greater natural killer cell activity. As a large number of possible effects were examined, however, this could be an example of significance via data dredging so should be treated as a very preliminary result only. Popular article below followed by journal abstract

Mushrooms may help you beat the flu, scientists claim. Eating fungi can help fight off infections and viruses by boosting the body's immune system, research shows. Mushrooms also improved levels of hormone-like proteins called cytokines that play an important role in defending the body against viral infections and tumours.

The research, carried out at Tufts University in Massachusetts, studied the effects of eating white button mushrooms on human immune systems.

Dietitian Glenn Cardwell welcomed the research, which was published in The Journal of Nutrition, saying: 'Laboratory research found the intake of mushrooms may promote innate immunity - the body's first line of defence - against viruses. 'Further studies involving influenza infection are now under way to test these findings.' Mr Cardwell said concerns over the impact of influenza, particularly swine flu, highlighted the need to eat a balanced diet including foods that can naturally boost the immune system.

A separate study in China showed that eating a daily portion of mushrooms could cut the risk of breast cancer by up to two-thirds. [I mentioned that dubious finding on March 19 (Scroll down)]


Dietary Supplementation with White Button Mushroom Enhances Natural Killer Cell Activity in C57BL/6 Mice1,2

By Dayong Wu3 et al.


Mushrooms are reported to possess antitumor, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. These effects of mushrooms are suggested to be due to their ability to modulate immune cell functions. However, a majority of these studies evaluated the effect of administering extracts of exotic mushrooms through parental routes, whereas little is known about the immunological effect of a dietary intake of white button mushrooms, which represent 90% of mushrooms consumed in the U.S. In this study, we fed C57BL/6 mice a diet containing 0, 2, or 10% (wt/wt) white button mushroom powder for 10 wk and examined indices of innate and cell-mediated immunity. Mushroom supplementation enhanced natural killer (NK) cell activity, and IFN and tumor necrosis factor- (TNF) production, but only tended to increase IL-2 (P = 0.09) and did not affect IL-10 production by splenocytes. There were significant correlations between NK activity and production of IFN (r = 0.615, P < 0.001) and TNF (r = 0.423, P = 0.032) in splenocytes. Mushroom supplementation did not affect macrophage production of IL-6, TNF, prostaglandin E2, nitric oxide, and H2O2, nor did it alter the percentage of total T cells, helper T cells (CD4+), cytotoxic or suppressive T cells (CD8+), regulatory T cells (CD4+/CD25+), total B cells, macrophages, and NK cells in spleens. These results suggest that increased intake of white button mushrooms may promote innate immunity against tumors and viruses through the enhancement of a key component, NK activity. This effect might be mediated through increased IFNand TNF production.


Steroids hysteria

With the return of baseball and a new book on Alex Rodriguez released this week, a fresh round of congressional posturing about steroids is upon us.

Why is it Congress's business? I asked U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., about that for my next TV special, "Don't Even Think about Saying That!," which will air this Friday on ABC. "This is part of our duty," Cummings says, "to protect the American people." Steroids are "a serious public-health problem." Stearns added, "Teenagers commit suicide."

And Congress will fix it all. Of course, people like Dr. Gary Wadler testify in Congress that steroids do horrible things. "The threat is dying! The threat is suicide!" Wadler told me. I'd heard such scary claims for years. Death by steroids. "Roid rage" worthy of after-school specials.

Years ago, when a pro wrestler beat me up, I was told that steroids drove him to do it. Steroids were blamed for wrestler Chris Benoit killing himself and his family, and teenage baseball star Taylor Hooton's suicide.

But Dr. Norman Fost, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin, says it's all bunk. The anti-steroid movement, he says, is filled with hysteria and hype. "The horror stories about the medical claims . . . some of them are just frankly made up." Fost insists there's no correlation between injectable steroids and brain tumors.

To my surprise, Wadler admits that's true. And he's not so certain about other claims. When I asked him if steroids cause strokes, he said, "It's on a possible list." Heart attack? "The likelihood of anabolic steroid abuse being associated with heart disease is real."

Note the waffle words like "possible" and "associated." He uses them because — unlike smoking and cancer — there are no long-term epidemiological studies that show steroids cause those diseases. Every drug is "associated" with side effects. Advil is associated with ulcers and shock.

It's not that steroids are perfectly safe. But why single them out? "We don't stop Natasha Richardson from skiing," Fost notes. "We don't stop people from eating lemon meringue pie ... People everywhere take enormous risks way greater than even the hyped-up risks of steroids."

Yes, steroids use is associated with hair loss, acne, testicular atrophy and even growing male breasts. But Fost says those side effects would be minimized if steroids were legal. "If athletes are going to use these things, it would be better to have them on the table where informed doctors can help them get the right drug with the right dose and fewer side effects.

That's not good enough for Wadler. "I don't think you supervise ... the abuse of a drug." For Wadler, "abuse" is any use that's not medically necessary. But entire fields of medicine are devoted to "unnecessary" procedures — breast enhancement, hair replacement, etc. Consenting adults should be free to do pretty much whatever they like to their own bodies.

If steroids are such a terrible threat, there must be lots of high-profile deaths. But Wadler couldn't cite any. The Chris Benoit 'roid-rage murders and suicide? The medical examiner later said there was no evidence proving the testosterone he was taking caused the crimes. There's evidence that steroids can increase aggression in some people, but, Fost says, "The overwhelming examples of criminal behavior by professional athletes has nothing to do with steroids."

Taylor Hooton's suicide? "There's no evidence of steroids producing suicidal behavior." Hooton was taking other risky drugs like Lexapro, which has been shown to cause suicidal thinking.

That wrestler who hit me later said he did it because his boss told him to.

Health issues aside, what about sportsmanship? "I don't know why you would think this is cheating any more than the hundred of other things athletes do to enhance their performance," Fost said.

Tiger Woods improved his eyesight with surgery. "Janet Evans won a gold medal in swimming," Fost noted, "and bragged about a greasy swimsuit that she was sure had a lot to do with her victory."

Wadler defends the anti-steroid rule because "abuse represents a significant risk to health and, in fact, enhances a criminal element." But there's only a criminal element because zealots like Wadler insist on making steroid use illegal!


9 May, 2009


This is a classic piece of epidemiological crap -- though this time of Greenie origin. Dump sites tend NOT to be located in prestigious urban locations, where the healthiest people live. They tend to be located nearest to the sort of cheap real estate where the poor live -- and the poor are in general less healthy. And this set of findings is just another proof of that. Yawn! But the hysteria about George Bush would tell anybody that this is a political document, not a scientific one. Overall evaluation: Amazingly dumb

The Bush Administration dragged its feet for more than five years from 2002-2007 on what it now turns out was only the partial release of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data showing a disturbingly high cancer risk for up to one out of every 50 Americans living near wet ponds used to dispose of ash and scrubber sludge from coal-fired power plants across the United States, according to a new analysis from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Earthjustice. Each year, coal-fired power plants dispose of nearly 100 million tons of toxic fly ash, bottom ash, and scrubber sludge in more than 200 landfills and wet ponds, such as the one that burst in Kingston, TN in December 2008.

During the Bush Administration, the EPA made a concerted effort to delay the release of the information about cancer, non-cancer and general environmental risks. Partial disclosure of the coal ash dump site risks was delayed from 2002-2007, with the full picture not coming to light until an underlying 2002 EPA risk screening report was finally made public on March 4, 2009 — seven years after its internal EPA publication. (The 2002 risk screening report pointed to risks associated with the toxic metal selenium, which were omitted from the draft EPA risk assessment issued in 2007.) The 2007 EPA risk assessment came only after substantial delays and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) pressure, which had resulted in the blacking out of key sections of earlier EPA documents. (See ?Timeline? section of this news release.) What was the Bush Administration EPA hiding? The new analysis from EIP and Earthjustice zeroes in on 100 landfills and 110 surface impoundments examined by the EPA that lack effective synthetic liners to prevent leaks, since the EPA found unlined and clay-lined waste units present far greater risks to both human health and ecosystems.

According to the EIP/Earthjustice analysis of the EPA data, there are high-risk coal ash dump sites in at least three dozen states, with 21 states playing home to five or more such sites: North Carolina (17); Indiana (15); Illinois (14); Ohio (12); Georgia (11); Kentucky (11); Tennessee (11); Texas (10); Alabama (9); Iowa (7); Michigan (7); South Carolina (7); West Virginia (7); Wisconsin (7); Wyoming (6); Kansas (5); Louisiana (5); Maryland (5); North Dakota (5); Oklahoma (5); and Pennsylvania (5). A complete list of these unlined or clay-lined waste disposal units can be found at

Titled “Coming Clean: What EPA Knows About the Dangers of Coal Ash,” the Environmental Integrity Project/Earthjustice report notes: “Can living next to one of these dumpsites increase your risk of getting cancer or other diseases? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thinks so, especially if you live near one of those wet ash ponds, or surface impoundments, that dot the landscape near large coal plants, the pond has no protective liner, and you get your drinking water from a well … (N)earby residents have as much as a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from drinking water contaminated by arsenic, one of the most common, and most dangerous, pollutants from coal ash. And that’s not all. That same risk assessment says that living near ash ponds increases the risk of damage to the liver, kidney, lungs and other organs as a result of being exposed to toxic metals like cadmium, cobalt, lead, and other pollutants at concentrations far above levels that are considered safe. In addition, the danger to wildlife and ecosystems is simply off the charts, with one contaminant—boron—expected to leach into the environment at levels two thousand times thresholds generally considered to be safe.”

Eric Schaeffer, director, Environmental Integrity Project, said: “We now have the full picture about coal dump sites across America and it is not pretty. The EPA’s data shows that the disposal of coal ash, especially in unlined ponds, results in alarmingly high risks of cancer and diseases of the heart, lung, liver, stomach and other organs and can seriously harm aquatic ecosystems and wildlife near disposal sites. These risks are driven by exposure to toxic metals that leach from groundwater into drinking water, surface waters and sediment. Power industry lobbyists would rather keep the public in the dark about the risk from coal ash disposal; it’s up to EPA to turn the lights on and regulate these hazards. Even as recently as December 2008, after the 1 billion gallon spill from its Kingston Power Plant, the Tennessee Valley Authority claimed that the coal ash posed little risk to human health or the environment. The EPA data we are releasing today brings the real threats to light.”

Lisa Evans, attorney, Earthjustice, said: “Given what the Agency already knows, coal ash ponds must be phased out—and cleaned out—within five years, to keep their toxic cargo from building up and jeopardizing the health of nearby residents, poisoning wildlife, and contaminating rivers and streams. So called “dry landfills”—especially those that are unlined—also pose unacceptable risks, and ought to be regulated as hazardous waste disposal sites. The EPA’s risk assessment clearly establishes that unlined coal ash disposal sites—wet and dry—are hazardous to human health and the environment. We hope the new leadership at the EPA will act on that knowledge before further serious damage occurs to our health and environment.”


The problem may be twice as big as the data indicate. The number of unlined and clay-lined ash ponds and landfills currently in operation in the United States is likely to be more than double the number of units represented in the EPA survey data. In fact, industry has reported at least 427 waste ponds in response to EPA‘s March 2009 information request letter, exceeding by 40 percent EPA‘s estimate of the number of operating waste ponds, EPA does not know how many of these ponds are unlined, but, based on 1995 statistics, approximately three-quarters of these ponds lack any liners.

The coal ash threat could linger for 100 years. Because some of the EPA data go back to the mid-1990s, it is possible that some of the listed dump sites are no longer in use. The EPA warns, however, that peak pollution from ash ponds can occur long after the waste is placed and is likely to result in peak exposures approximately 78 to 105 years after the ponds first began operation—thus ?retired? sites still pose very significant threats.

Higher cancer risk for up to 1 in 50 nearby residents. The EPA estimates that up to 1 in 50 nearby residents could get cancer from exposure to arsenic leaking into drinking water wells from unlined waste ponds that mix ash with coal refuse. Arsenic has been found to cause multiple forms of cancer, including cancer of the liver, kidney, lung, and bladder, and an increased incidence of skin cancer in populations consuming drinking water high in inorganic arsenic. Threats are also posed by unacceptable high levels of other metals, including boron, selenium and lead.

More here

Bill Gates funds scientists in unorthodox health research

THERE is a magnet that can detect malaria at the flick of a switch, a flu-resistant chicken, an "antiviral" tomato and a vaccine enhanced with the use of a laser. The ideas are so bold that, as the scientists behind them admit, they can often struggle for funding. Today, though, more than 80 projects at the far edge of innovation in global health research will share millions of dollars of grants to support unorthodox thinking — and the outside chance of a world-changing discovery.

Among the recipients, announced today by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as part of their Grand Challenges initiative, are three British scientific teams pursuing novel approaches to prevent and treat infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and pneumonia, as well as viruses such as HIV.

A team of engineers from the University of Exeter is attempting to create a handheld, battery-powered device that uses a magnet to detect the presence of malaria parasites in blood — and dramatically speed the diagnosis of the disease.

Scientists from Royal Holloway University, London, are attempting to compile a library of all possible mutations of HIV — the way that it manages to evade the body’s immune system so effectively — with the ultimate goal of a vaccine that can protect against many variant forms of the virus.

A third team is looking at how to mimic the body’s natural ability to carry pneumococcal bacteria without contracting infections, which appears to improve immunity to the serious illnesses that they can cause. The scientists, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, hope that the work might lead to the development of an inhaled vaccine against pneumonia.

Each will receive initial grants of $US100,000 ($135,000) from the Gates Foundation, with the chance of follow-on grants of $US1 million if their projects show success. In a radical departure from conventional funding systems the foundation asked only for a two-page application and no preliminary data for the first stage award. It is hoped that this approach will encourage and accelerate bold and largely unproven research.

Other projects among the 81 recipients of Grand Challenges Explorations grants, which come from universities, research institutes, non-profit organisations and private companies in 17 different countries, include: giving mosquitoes a “head cold” to prevent them from detecting and biting humans; using immunised cows as a means of killing or reducing the reproductive abilities of the mosquitoes that bite them; creating therapeutic tomatoes, modified to deliver antiviral drugs targeting particular viruses; and using a laser on skin before an injection to enhance immune responses stimulated by a vaccine.

Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health program, said unconventional approaches were required to shake up the thinking on diseases where advances had been slow. He said the five-year program was designed to get projects off the ground and was likely to put $US200 million towards research. “Some things require a revolution, rather than an evolution, in thinking. The problem is we can be locked into an orthodoxy of thinking that shackles us and prevents us from thinking in novel ways,” he said.

Dr Yamada said he and Bill Gates, who was on the review board, which comprises scientists and entrepreneurs, accepted that 90 per cent of the projects might fail, and that there might even be the odd charlatan trying to apply for a grant. “The point is that where there are currently no solutions, we must work hard to find new solutions. We really believe that true innovation is needed. Some of the ideas might seem crazy, but there is a fine line between crazy and absolutely novel.”

Luke Savage and Dave Newman, part of the University of Exeter team, said the support was invaluable. “The grants are being provided with the minimum of procedure — it cuts through the red tape and is very focused,” Dr Savage said. “The Gates Foundation is taking on things with real importance, not just nice, esoteric research. It is very exciting to be part of that community.”

The two other British project leaders, George Dickson, of Royal Holloway, and Stephen Gordon, from Liverpool, said the possibility of accessing funding of $US1 million would transform their work. “These are projects that are examples of high-risk research, in the sense that the outcome is less certain,” Professor Dickson said. “It is difficult to get pilot funding for projects like this through conventional channels.”

Bikul Das, of Stanford University Medical School, was another grant recipient, for work to explore the potential role of stem cells in latent tuberculosis infection. Although a specialist in the study of cancer stem-cell biology for the past decade, Dr Das had maintained an interest in infectious diseases, with clinical training in India and Bhutan. “I am so excited to have this opportunity to join the war against infectious diseases,” he said. “I hope my expertise on cancer and stem-cell biology can help enhance the field and relieve suffering.”

The grant recipients are based in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and North America. Applicants were selected from more than 3,000 proposals, with all levels of scientists represented — from veteran researchers to postgraduates — and a range of disciplines, such as neurobiology, immunology and polymer science. The announcement marks the second wave of Grand Challenges Explorations grants, with applications for the next round accepted until the end of this month.

Successful applicants

— Develop a tomato that delivers antiviral drugs when eaten Eric Lam, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

— Immunise cows against mosquitoes, so that when the insect bites them it might die or have reduced ability to reproduce Jefferson Vaughan, at the University of North Dakota

— Develop “sticky nanoparticles” that attach to tuberculosis-infected cells and slowly release anti-TB drugs. The new therapy could shorten treatment time and reduce side-effects, using existing medications Boitumelo Semete, at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa

— Test whether protein crystals produced by insect viruses can be used as a new way to deliver vaccines. These “micro-cube” protein particles are stable, could be used against multiple diseases and may not require refrigeration Fasséli Coulibaly, at Monash University in Australia

— Examine the potential to infect malaria-carrying mosquitoes with a fungus that, like a head cold, suppresses their sense of smell and their ability to find human hosts Thomas Baker, at Pennsylvania State University

— Explore whether illuminating skin with a targeted laser before administering a vaccine can enhance the immune response Mei Wu, at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

— Test whether inducing antibodies against anti-malarial drugs can significantly prolong the half-life of those drugs in the body, extending their effects Erich and Thomas Cerny, of Wissenschaftlicher Fonds Inkologie in Switzerland

— Design a network of outdoor mosquito traps to help to reduce malaria transmission in rural areas Fredros Okumu, of Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania

— Seek ways to generate “self-targeting antibodies” that attack a receptor protein on human immune cells. This could potentially block HIV from entering cells, preventing HIV infection Lucia Lopalco, of the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Italy


8 May, 2009

Women who suffer from morning sickness are 'more likely to have babies with a high IQ'

I think this just shows that middle class women complain more

Good news for morning sickness sufferers: Researchers have found women who feel worse at the start of their pregnancies are more likely to have clever babies. For feeling nauseous in early pregnancy could be a sign that their baby is developing a high IQ, according to a study. Researchers found that women who reported feeling ill in the first few weeks after conceiving went on to have brighter, more vocal children.

About four in five expectant mothers experience morning sickness. While the condition is not clearly understood, some scientists believe it is triggered by the flood of hormones released to protect the placenta and foetus. Past studies have shown that nausea is a sign of a healthy pregnancy and is linked to a lower risk of heart problems in the baby and a lower level of miscarriage.

Researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto now believe it could also be linked to the developing baby's brain. They conducted the first study to look at the long-term effects of nausea on the brains of babies and contacted 121 women who called a hotline for newly pregnant mothers between 1998 and 2003.

Thirty of the women had no symptoms of morning sickness, while the rest reported symptoms such as tiredness, vomiting and nausea. The team carried out IQ and behaviour tests on the mothers' children when they were three and seven years old. The children whose mothers suffered from morning sickness were more likely to have high IQ scores than those whose mothers had no symptoms, the researchers report in the Journal of Pediatrics.

They also did better in tests for verbal fluency and simple maths, even when other factors - such as the mother's IQ, smoking and alcohol history and social background - were taken into account.

One flaw in the study was that in many cases the mothers were asked to recall how sick they had been feeling several years previously. It also needs to be repeated in a much larger group of women. Dr Gideon Koren, who led the study, admitted that the conclusions sounded 'a little bit unusual' but said the hormone swings that led to morning sickness could be a good thing. 'It's the hormones secreted by the placenta that cause you to feel yucky, but on the other hand, they probably confer better conditions for the baby,' he said. 'Women suffer for it, but at least it's for a good cause.'

However, the researchers believe it sheds light on one of the least understood parts of pregnancy. Morning sickness is a misnomer because it can happen at any time of the day. Some women feel ill without prompting - others when they are hungry or after eating. It is thought to be a reaction to two hormones - thyroxine and human chorionic gonadotropin - which are secreted during pregnancy to ensure a healthy placenta.

According to the Department of Health, around half of all pregnant women experience both nausea and vomiting, and a further 28 per cent will experience nausea without vomiting.

There is some evidence that ginger and acupuncture can ease symptoms. In 2006, a study found that morning sickness was often triggered by too much alcohol, meat, sugar and oil and might have evolved as a way of preventing expectant mothers eating unhealthy food.

According to one old wives' tale, it is a sign that the baby is a girl - and that it is the body's response to the female sex hormone oestrogen.


Wealthier people are healthier and more long-lived

Nice to see this admitted occasionally. Social class is very often ignored in epidemiological studies -- to the detriment of the conclusions

It may not guarantee happiness, but money, it seems, is the key to a long and healthy old age. Those who are poorer and less well educated die earlier and develop illness sooner than the better off and well-qualified, a Government-backed study said yesterday. And those who get the choice of early retirement [Who also are probably better-off people financially] are also likely to enjoy longer life and better health, the study said.

The findings will deepen concerns over the future welfare of older people at a time when their numbers are rising sharply, and the collapse of pension expectations means that many will have restricted incomes. Voluntary early retirement has also disappeared from the private sector in the face of eroded pensions and the growing demands of taxation. Only the one in five workers who are employed by the state still enjoy guaranteed salary-linked pensions and the prospect of early retirement.

The study, for the Economic and Social Research Council, found that those from the worst-off social groups are likely to die earliest. Those with less education and wealth are most likely to say they are depressed or to suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity. The study, based on a series of surveys of 12,000 older people, said the effect of such differences can be seen most sharply among those in their 50s and 60s but persists for people of the greatest age.

'Early retirement is generally good for people's health and well-being unless it has been forced on them,' the study said. 'Those forced into early retirement generally have poorer mental health than those who take routine retirement, who in turn have poorer mental health than those who have taken voluntary early retirement.'

The study said that redundancy or illhealth are the usual causes of compulsory early retirement. Professor James Nazroo, of Manchester University, who carried out the study, said: 'These findings have implications for us all. Increases in life expectancy raise major challenges for public policy. 'Among these is the need to respond to marked inequalities in economic position and life expectancy at older ages.'

The report added that older people who do charity or volunteer work are often healthier than others. Professor Nazroo said: 'Despite the fact that we are all living longer, many people now stop work before the statutory retirement age and a large proportion of these still have the potential to provide a positive input into society.'


7 May, 2009

Anger is in the genes

Not those pesky genes, again! Isolation of a gene called DARPP-32 helps explain why some people fly into a rage at the slightest provocation, while others can remain calm. The frequent upsurges of Muslim anger are all due to poverty, Leftists say. But could genetics be involved?

Being able to keep your cool or lose your temper is down to genes, according to a new study. More than 800 people were asked to fill in a questionnaire designed to study how they handle anger.

The German researchers also administered a DNA test to determine which of three versions of the DARPP-32 gene people were carrying. The gene affects levels of dopamine, a brain chemical linked to anger and aggression. Those who had the "TT" or "TC" versions of the gene portrayed significantly more anger than those with the "CC" version.

The study, from the University of Bonn, also found that those who display more anger have less grey matter in the amygdala, a part of the brain that helps keep our emotions balanced. Martin Reuter, one of the researchers, who is a TC, said: "In other words, they are not able to control their feelings as well as those without the mutation. "I am not an angry person but I can get angry if it is important."

TT and TC versions are much more common in Western populations, with the researchers suggesting that demonstrations of anger can help people get ahead in life. "High degrees of anger are of course of low social desirability but a certain amount of dominance-related behaviour helps to assert position in a social hierarchy," the researchers added.

Reporting in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, they added that genetics only account for around half of our disposition towards anger, while DARPP-32 is one of several genes involved.

Earlier this year it was reported that showing anger rather than repressing emotions is the key to a successful professional and personal life. The study by the Harvard Study of Adult Development found those who keep a check on their frustrations are at least three times more likely to admit they have disappointing personal lives and have hit a glass ceiling in their career.


Gene study explains why smokers are burning the fat as well as cigarettes

Quitting smoking may be good for your health - but it also tends to lead to people piling on weight. The endless snacking could be a way of keeping hands busy. Or maybe food finally tastes good again. But the real reason why people pile on the pounds after quitting smoking could lie in our DNA.

Scientists have identified a fat-burning gene that becomes more active when exposed to cigarette smoke. The finding could help explain why slim smokers find their weight starts to balloon after the final cigarette is stubbed out.

But anti-smoking groups warned against smokers using the research to justify a habit that kills more than 120,000 Britons a year.

The scientists, from Cornell University in New York, focused on a gene called AZGP1 (alphazincglycoprotein1) which makes a protein that speeds up the breakdown of fat. Comparison of millions of cells taken from smokers' and nonsmokers' lungs showed the gene to be making more of the fat-busting protein in smokers. Other studies have shown the protein plays a key role in weight loss. When mice are given it they lose weight, even if no other changes are made to their diet.

The researchers said that while their study didn't prove that smoking helps burn off fat, it could help explain why smokers tend to be more wiry. Writing in the journal Chest, they said: 'A primary reason smokers give for not trying to quit smoking and for relapsing after cessation is weight gain and the increase in the prevalence of overeating and obesity in the United States has been attributed in part to smoking cessation.'

Anti-smoking campaign group ASH said the findings could be 'another piece in the jigsaw'. But spokesman Amanda Sandford said: 'The overriding message must be that smoking is far more hazardous to your long-term health than putting on a bit of weight.'


Quack medicine kills baby

IN the last months of her life, baby Gloria Thomas suffered such terrible eczema her skin would weep and peel, sticking to her clothing when she was changed. Despite her bleeding, crying and malnutrition, her mother and homeopath father failed to get conventional medical help before she died a painful death, a Sydney jury has been told. Thomas Sam, 42, and his IT professional wife, Manju Sam, 36, have pleaded not guilty to their nine-month-old daughter's manslaughter by gross criminal negligence in Sydney in May 2002.

In the Crown's opening address to the New South Wales Supreme Court jury, Mark Tedeschi QC said Gloria's parents failed to get her proper medical attention in the last five months of her life. He said Thomas Sam's sister had pleaded with her brother on a number of occasions to get Gloria some conventional medicine. "He responded by saying: 'I am not able to do that,'" Mr Tedeschi said. "Instead, Thomas Sam and Manju Sam gave to Gloria various types of homeopathic drops." He said Gloria spent much of the final months "crying, irritable, scratching". "The only thing that gave her solace was to suck on her mother's breast."

Born in July 2001, Gloria thrived until November when a nurse noticed her eczema and told the mother to see a skin specialist. Instead of doing this, Mr Tedeschi said the mother took her to a GP who was extremely concerned at the eczema, saying it was the most severe case he had ever seen. Although the GP wrote a referral letter to a specialist, the parents never saw him.

Mr Tedeschi said Gloria's skin would break when her clothing and nappy were changed and she became thinner and weaker, which allowed infections to enter her body. The eczema and infections placed "an enormous toll on her body" which meant all the nutrition she took in was spent on fighting this off, instead of being used to grow. At four months, she weighed 6.5kg but at nine months she was down to 5.3kg and died of septicemia.

Mr Tedeschi said the parents were married in India. The father was educated in homeopathy in India and in Australia undertook a masters degree in health administration, while his wife had a science degree and a postgraduate diplomat in computers. "They both come from very supportive, giving families," he said.

Thomas Sam worked as a homeopath in Sydney and taught the subject at a Sydney college. Mr Tedeschi will continue his opening address tomorrow, at the trial before Justice Peter Johnson.


6 May, 2009

The heavy NYC pressure to breastfeed reaches a tragic conclusion

It's heavily promoted in NYC and has become an obsession among correctness-hungry middle-class NYC mothers: So much so that any woman who doesn't go along with it can be vilified. Questioning it is even worse than questioning global warming. So one can understand how all that would have had a powerful effect on an outsider seeking acceptance

A British mother plunged to her death from her New York apartment block after she became depressed about her baby not breastfeeding properly. Katy Isden fell from the top of the 300ft, 20-floor building just four months after becoming a mother for the first time, an inquest heard. The 29-year-old teacher had struggled to get baby Benjamin to feed from her and had been due to see a lactation nurse on the day of her death last November.

Husband James, an actuary, said in a statement at the inquest that he had called the 911 emergency number after discovering his wife's body at around 7.30am on a neighbour's patio outside the building where they lived in the smart Upper West Side of Manhattan. In the statement, read out by Worcestershire coroner Geraint Williams, Mr Isden, 30, said he had last seen his wife at 6.30 that morning. Mr Williams said: 'He said she was upset nursing the child and had an appointment to see the lactation nurse that morning. She had seemed depressed about the feeding difficulties but had sought no help about that.’

The couple, who married in August 2006 and lived in Bristol, moved to New York in January 2007 when Mr Isden secured a job in the city. His wife, a primary school teacher, found work teaching English to foreign students. CCTV footage taken in the building showed Mrs Isden, who lived on the 14th floor with her family, taking a lift alone to the roof on November 3. Mr Williams said that another camera captured her fall.

The building’s superintendent said a door to the roof had been unlocked and was open because of renovations. The apartment block, on West 94th Street, lies in a family-friendly neighbourhood. It is just three blocks from the mansion of Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger.

Mrs Isden’s father, Cavin O’Keeffe, 56, told the inquest at Worcestershire coroner’s court there had been ‘no indication’ of any problems in the months beforehand but recalled a conversation her daughter had had with her mother in which she seemed ‘in distress, upset and unhappy’.

More here

New rules label a quarter of British one-year-olds as 'too heavy'

The food Fascists have turned what once would have been regarded as a thriving infant into a problem. Note the very correct cloth diaper below

He's a great baby above, red hair and all. I would be delighted if he were mine -- JR

The new guidelines for feeding babies are an effort to curb Britain's obesity problem. Parents will be told to feed their babies less under new guidance to stem Britain's growing obesity crisis. Growth charts that have been used for 20 years are to be ripped up in an effort to stop children being overfed. But experts said last night the revised advice could see one in four one-year-olds re-classified as 'too heavy'.

The charts - devised by the World Health Organisation - are intended to reflect the slower weight-gain of breastfeeding babies, rather than the faster growth of those fed on formula milk. They replace measures used since 1990, which contributed to the obesity crisis because they were based on the growth of babies predominantly fed with formula milk. Infants given the high-protein bottled milk tend to be larger and gain weight more rapidly.

Health visitors using the out-of-date charts may have told some mothers to top up breast milk with the bottle - or even to stop breastfeeding altogether, it is claimed.

The new charts are backed by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and cover children up to the age of four. They state that in the first year of life, the 'ideal' weight will be around a pound (half a kilo) lighter, compared to the previous model, meaning that around a quarter of babies will be classified as too heavy.

Tam Fry, chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, which has been campaigning for the charts to be adopted, said it would make a big difference in the first year. Up to a quarter will 'shift up a level' on the adapted graph, he said. 'More children will be classified as overweight and obese in the early years of life based on weight gain in the first year, which is a real marker for future health.' He added: 'Our concern is, the training of health professionals is way behind schedule, with the first courses not due until next month, which will leave many mothers without the advice they need.'

Most experts agree breast milk is the best source of nutrition for babies, and the Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to the age of six months. At present, only 25 per cent of mothers in the UK breastfeed their babies at least some of the time for the first six months, and many of these also give their babies some formula.

The WHO charts are based on records of 8,000 babies from six cities around the world, who were exclusively breastfed for at least four months, with continued breastfeeding into their second year. None of the children in the study was from smoking households.

In the UK, more than a quarter of five to 12-year-olds are overweight or obese, due partly to overfeeding in their infancy, research shows. Belinda Phipps, of the National Childbirth Trust, said: 'Health visitors have given misleading advice because the charts are based on formula-fed babies. 'Breastfed babies tend to be lighter but we have a cultural belief that heavier is better.

'Mothers have been worried and health visitors have been worried about babies being too light, when that should be normal. As a result mothers were encouraged to overfeed their babies, by giving them formula milk unnecessarily. 'This either replaced breastfeeding or was given as a topup, which actually interrupted breastfeeding and often brought it to an end. 'We're now dealing with the long-term health implications for mother and baby, which include overweight children, simply because we've been using the wrong charts.'

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'The new UK-WHO growth charts will not only provide more accurate measurements for infant growth of breastfed babies, but will also help healthcare professionals and parents to identify early signs of overweight or obesity and provide support.'

Charts are used to assess a child's progress based on weight and length/height, in bands according to age in weeks or months. Existing measures say a healthy one-year-old weighs between 22.5lb and 28.5lb. But the new version says the ideal range is between 21lb and 26lb. The range of 'healthy' weights for all ages will be narrower, with slightly fewer deemed underweight.

Rapid weight-gain is regarded as most hazardous in the first year. It has been linked [speculatively] to obesity and increased risk of cancer and heart disease in later life.


5 May, 2009

Baby food attacked for fat, sugar and salt content

This fad is now becoming really dangerous. Babies need fat and salt and sugar. There are enough pediatric deaths from hyponatremia (insufficient salt) already. See e.g. here

Parents are unwittingly feeding their babies and young children on items that may be worse for their health than junk food, researchers say. Sustain, which campaigns for healthier children’s food, found that a cheeseburger and chocolate biscuits were more nutritious than some food specifically marketed for babies.

An audit of more than 100 products aimed at the infant and children’s market has even raised questions over Farley’s Original Rusk, a popular food that has been used to wean babies for 120 years. The biscuit, made by Heinz, contains more sugar than McVitie’s dark chocolate digestives, according to Sustain. Another alleged offender, also made by Heinz, is Toddler’s Own mini cheese biscuits, said to have more saturated fat per 100 grams than a McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese.

Only half of all products in the survey were low in saturated fat, salt and sugar, with the tally for Heinz products just one in four. In the case of Cow&Gate, one in nine products was high in sugars.

What may be particularly disturbing to parents is that one product, Cow&Gate Baby Balance biscuits, contained trans fats that are linked to coronary heart disease. Yet there was no mention of this on the label, which is a legal requirement. The company has decided to discontinue this range of biscuits but only after being confronted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

When Sustain campaigners first approached the company with the findings, they were told there were no trans fats in the product. It was two days later before the company came clean and admitted presence of trans fats. Even then Cow&Gate insisted that small amounts of trans fats did not cause a health risk. It conceded that if there were concrete evidence that trans fats were dangerous, they would be dropped from the biscuits.

The health lobby is alarmed because almost a decade ago a similar study exposed high levels of sugar, saturated fat and salt in food for babies and children, yet it would appear that little action has been taken.

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, is being urged to obtain a commitment from all children’s food manufacturers to devise new recipes for their products, remove trans fats and reduce sugar, saturated fat and salt. Sustain is also calling for the Government to develop specific labels for children’s foods so that parents can see at a glance whether a product is healthy.

Christine Haigh, joint co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign run by Sustain, said that the results were staggering. “Many foods marketed for babies and young children are often advertised as ‘healthy’. In reality, in terms of sugar and saturated fat content, some are worse than junk food. In particular, failing correctly to label products that contain dangerous trans fats is outrageous,” she said.

Heinz hit out at the findings and said that it was misleading to compare its range of Toddler’s Own mini cheese biscuits with a McDonald’s quarter pounder. A spokesman said that the biscuits came in a 25g portion size and contained only 1.8g saturated fat per serving, because of the inclusion of cheese in the product. The McDonald's burger, however, was a 194g portion size and contained 13g saturated fat per serving.

He also defended Farley’s Original Rusks and said that Heinz had introduced alternatives with 30 per cent reduced sugar content than the original recipe, Farley’s reduced sugar rusks and reduced sugar banana.

Cow&Gate confirmed that it had already discontinued the range of baby biscuits found with trans fats and defended its range of other products. In a statement the company said: “Three of these are biscuits, which require sugar in the recipe and contain 18 per cent total sugar, which is less than most comparable adult varieties and other baby biscuits. The other product is a 100 per cent fruit purée that contains no added sugar and only the sugar naturally present in the fruit.”

The FSA said: “Babies and young children have different nutritional needs to adults and do not generally need low-fat diets, as fats give them energy and provides some fat soluble vitamins. Babies and young children need foods that provide a high density of calories and nutrients in a small amount of foods as they only have small stomachs.” Its advice to parents was to check labels on children’s processed foods and choose items with low salt and sugar.

Sustain conducted the survey in March. The charity, an alliance for improved food and farming, is also funded by the British Heart Foundation.


Background on swine flu

by Powell Gammill

Swine Flu. Horrors! Why it seems like only yesterday the fear was Avian Flu. That was yesterday's horror. Just so you will know, for seven years I isolated and subtyped influenza virus as part of my duties as a clinical virologist for the State Public Health Laboratory of Arizona. We were the reference laboratory for the state from all of the other clinical laboratories, who sent us a representative sampling of their isolates. A lot of isolates.

Most people don't really realize it but influenza aka flu kills an estimated 36,000 people a year in the USA. The vast majority are either under 5 years of age or over 55 years old. Cause of death is almost always pneumonia. The current swine flu's mortality rate of 7% is not much higher that any other flu we have recently experienced. So why the media generated scare? Ahhhh, that is a good question.

Yes it is unusual to get flu this late in the year. Flu season in the USA typically cranks up in late Sept-early October and ends by the middle of March --- as it did this year. Then a bunch of so called H1N1 associated with "swine" flu were detected in April. Almost all had strong Southern Mexico association.

The southern part of Mexico, Central and South America have a flu season that extends a few more weeks. While it should now be over, it is less surprising that this flu outbreak is occurring now in Mexico City. The cases in the USA have almost all been easily connected with a recent visit to Mexico.

Mexico City has some of the worst air pollution in the world leading to increased pulmonary complications and increased infectivity from compromised lungs and increased death from the stress of oxygen deprivation. Undoubtedly this contributed to the late blossoming of this new strain of influenza virus, and to a somewhat higher than normal rate of death. But as you have seen, in the USA there has only been one death --- a 23 month old child from Mexico City transported to a Houston hospital in an unsuccessful attempt to save its life.

Typical flu cycle: Influenza viral strains appear in the Asia's and are associated with livestock, particularly pigs (swine). They migrate north into Europe. From here the virus hops a flight on migratory birds landing in the North Americas. Eventually migrating south for the winter in the Central and South Americas.

Avian and Swine transmission is common, and usually certain genes (the virus has eight genes in its RNA chromosomes) will mutate to adapt to its transmission through a common set of hosts. Influenza virus has a high mutation rate. Additionally it has 8 unique chromosomes (each with a single gene) that can reassort if two or more unique strains are present infecting the same cells in a host. This is where the terms avian and swine influenza are from.

Human to human transmission is the predominant way flu is spread in humans. Human to human transmission for this particular swine flu strain does not seem to be good. Only one case has good evidence for such transmission. Too warm and dry for flu to thrive in our country right now. Hence my lack of credence at the panic and steps being taken by various governments around the globe. This is no worse than any other flu. So why the attention and excessive government preparation?

Masks? DO they work? Yes, despite what our government says, masks help. But they are correct, masks only help if you walk into a room occupied or recently occupied by someone infected with the flu where droplets of infected material expelled from the mouth (lungs) may still be circulating in the air. That doesn't last too long. Most transmission of the virus occurs when we touch a contaminated surface and rub our face and eyes. Something we subconsciously do many times a day. Here is where the claims of hand cleaner to cut down on transmission come it. Such alcohol based solutions are quite effective in removing any influenza contaminated material from hands, and any soap is equally effective. The influenza virus is quite readily killed by either.

The government has advocated masks on infected people. I really do not like that suggestion. While it would be very effective in keeping the virus from being transmitted to others, IF a sick person is showing ANY respiratory distress at all they SHOULD NOT be wearing a mask that will add to their difficulty of breathing. This can contribute to respiratory and circulatory failure.

If you do buy masks look for ones labels N-95 or higher. This means it will block 95% of all particles 0.3 microns or larger. Be sure the mask securely seals against the face completely around the mask. Any break, including caused by facial hair, will be where the air is drawn in and not through the filter of the mask --- defeating the mask. Psychologically some people do not like wearing a mask or need some hours of on and off wear to acclimate.

My bottom line, this whole flu thing is blown way out of proportion. It is unlikely to be of threat to the USA, is unlikely to last long and current government preparations are not about the flu. I will not be wearing a mask or doing anything I would not normally do --- indeed I went grocery shopping this morning.

Addendum-- The swine flu isolate is interesting in that it has around a 6% difference in genetic sequence compared to this years H1 isolates. This is huge! There does not seem to be a link between this strain and any in circulation around the globe this year. Nor does it match any in circulation that have been preserved and sequenced. It bears some similarity in appearance, but not sequence to a 1998 H3 strain that circulated in pigs. The interpretation is this isolate was in circulation elsewhere in the world undetected and then was transported to Mexico City in late March where it exploded in an dwindling flu season.


4 May, 2009

Mothers who exercise have smarter babies

A typical epidemiological fallacy below and very much what is to be expected of Nisbett. He has simply rediscovered the much decried truth long ago set out by Herrnstein & Murray: That middle class people are smarter. It is of course middle class mothers who are most likely to exercise to keep fit etc. So the "keep fit" mothers have smarter babies not because they exercised but because they were middle class. I have critiqued some of Nisbett's other assertions here

MOTHERS who exercise during pregnancy are helping to boost their child’s IQ, according to research by American psychologists. In a challenge to the conventional wisdom that intelligence is 80% genetic, Richard E Nisbett, a psychologist and father of two, argues that recent findings point to a pivotal role for mothers. Fathers, whether absent or doting, have relatively little influence over their offspring’s intelligence.

In a new book, Intelligence and How To Get It, Nisbett highlights the important part the mother plays in shaping her children’s ability to learn and reason, starting shortly after conception. “Children whose mother exercised 30 minutes a day score around eight points higher on standard IQ tests than children whose mothers were more sedentary,” he said last week. “Breast-feeding for up to nine months may increase IQ by as much as six points.”

Previous generations of mothers were encouraged to avoid doing much exercise after the first three months of pregnancy. The latest research suggests that using light weights, stretching and even running can be beneficial to some, though not all. Official advice in Britain is that the more active and fit most women are during pregnancy, the more easily they will adapt to their changing shape and weight gain. It will also help them to cope with labour.

In Hollywood, both Halle Berry, the actress, and Chris-tina Aguilera, the singer, have talked about doing “baby-friendly” track exercise during their pregnancies. Isla Fisher, the Australian actress, said she would never undertake exercise for herself, as she hated it, but tried it for her infant, Olive.

“Exercising large muscle groups increases the growth of neurons and adds to the blood supply of the brain,” writes Nisbett. Exercise and breast-feeding combined, he says, will raise a typical child’s IQ to about 114, 14 points above average.

Nisbett also argues that the way mothers talk to their children can help to increase their IQ. He encourages parents to ask questions to which they already know the answers and, if necessary, explain how they know them. This is said to encourage children to seek answers to their own questions.

Nisbett praises middle-class families in particular for setting what he calls “anticipation exercises”, in which children are asked to make predictions, such as where a submerged duck will surface in a pond.

He also says that children who successfully complete a task should be praised for their hard work rather than be called clever, because hard work is something over which they have control. His ideas are catching on. In Texas, mothers are being taught how to create an “educationally rich” atmosphere at home for their children, especially during the summer holidays.

Nisbett says the choice of school also helps. He praises Kipp, or Knowledge Is Power, the fast-expanding p r i v a t e school chain in the US, which trains poor urban children and their mothers to study 12 hours a day and take only short holidays. Kipp IQ scores match those of expensive private schools.

He admitted there is a thin line between mothers who artfully guide their children towards success and “helicopter parents” who hover over their offspring and suck all the pleasure out of their childhood. “But the mother is the most important IQ agent here. In families dominated by a father, there are higher mathematical skills but that’s all we contribute, I’m afraid,” he said.

The responsibility is not welcomed by all mothers. Ayelet Waldman, a Californian author who caused a stir in 2005 when she admitted that she loved her husband more than her three children, said mothers were already under too much pressure. Waldman, 44, whose latest book, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace, is published this week, said mothers were under pressure to take part in their children’s education in a way their own parents never contemplated. “Just remember . . . little you do to your kids damages them for ever,” she said. “Lighten up.”


Drugs 'can help mild depression'

These results are well within the range of a placebo effect

Antidepressants can help mild to moderate depression and should not just be used in bad cases, researchers say. Current guidelines urge doctors to avoid antidepressants as an initial treatment in mild depression. But an NHS-funded study of 200 patients from across England found the drugs, called SSRIs, were more effective than GP advice and support alone.

The team hope national advisers will look at their findings, reported on the Health Technology Assessment website. Study leader Professor Tony Kendrick, a GP and researcher at the University of Southampton, said although the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence wants doctors to restrict SSRIs to the most severe cases, GPs frequently prescribe them for milder cases. "Just because someone has mild depression does not mean it is a mild illness, because it can cause them to be off work for months," he said. "And often you don't have psychological treatments to offer because they're not available so you end up prescribing quite frequently."

In the latest study, researchers looked at patients across 115 practices who had depression for at least eight weeks and had not had any counselling or drug treatment. Half of them had usual care of four follow-up consultations with their GP over 12 weeks to talk about how they were coping and half received the same GP support plus antidepressants. Those who had the drugs had better quality of life at the end of the trial and for every seven patients treated, one showed significant improvement by 12 weeks.

Professor Kendrick said although the benefits of the drugs were small, the results showed prescribing them for mild to moderate depression was helpful and "good value for money". He said the findings would help GPs decide when to prescribe the drugs by assessing how long they had had symptoms and by scoring them on a depression questionnaire. "GPs are criticised a lot for missing depression, putting too many people on antidepressants and not putting enough people on antidepressants so they can't win," he added.

Professor Andrew Tylee, an expert in primary care mental health at King's College London, who took part in the study, said the results showed that that it was often worth prescribing SSRIs for people with mild to moderate depression. "The team do hope that NICE will take this finding into account in their current revision of their depression guideline."

But Dr Tim Kendall, joint director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, threw doubt on whether the guidelines would alter. "I think using drugs for mild to moderate depression doesn't make much sense because you're risking a lot of side effects," he said. "Self-help approaches improve people's self-reliance."

He said the evidence base suggested psychological therapies were best in mild to moderate cases of depression and the latest research may have picked up a placebo effect. "Access to psychological therapies has improved hugely, in Sheffield where I work GPs say there has been a noticeable difference."


3 May, 2009

Cancer pill 'offers MS benefits'

The long-term mortality would be a concern with a drug that suppresses the immune system. Much caution needed

Courses of a common cancer drug can dramatically reduce the risk of a patient with multiple sclerosis having a relapse or deterioration, work shows. Taking cladribine a few times a year more than halved the chances of a relapse, with few side-effects, the UK study of 1,300 patients found.

UK expert Professor Gavin Giovannoni said the drug could revolutionise the treatment of MS. Its manufacturer Merck Serono hopes to seek licensing for its use this year. The drug is already licensed for treating leukaemia. Prof Giovannoni gave his assessment of its potential value to MS patients at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Seattle.

The UK's drugs watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, is considering including cladribine in its next round of assessments.

Cladribine works by suppressing the immune system, reducing the risk of further damage to a patient's nervous system. Patients who took the drug were 30% less likely to suffer worsening in their disability due to MS. The study involved over 1,300 MS patients who were followed up for nearly two years and monitored using MRI scans. Patients were given either two or four treatment courses of cladribine tablets per year, or a placebo.

Each course consists of a single tablet per day for four or five days, adding up to just eight to 20 days of treatment each year. If it becomes available to patients, cladribine will be the first licensed treatment for MS which does not involve regular injections.

Professor Giovannoni, of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, part of Queen Mary, University of London, said: "These results are really exciting. MS can be a very debilitating illness and at the moment treatment options remain limited. "Having an effective oral therapy will have a major impact for people with MS. "Our study shows that cladribine tablets prevent relapses and slow down the progression of the disease, making patients feel better. "Importantly, it does so without the need for constant injections that are associated with unpleasant side-effects. "We will continue to follow the patients in the trial to see how they fare in the long-term."

Dr Lee Dunster, head of research at the MS Society, said: "These are remarkable results and being able to take a tablet instead of having injections will be a huge step forward for people with MS. "The evidence is there, but we now need to see cladribine move smoothly through the regulatory process and the price the manufacturer sets will play a crucial part in that."

It is estimated that 85,000 people in the UK currently have MS, with 2,500 new cases diagnosed each year.


Lithium in water 'curbs suicide'

Drinking water which contains the element lithium may reduce the risk of suicide, a Japanese study suggests. Researchers examined levels of lithium in drinking water and suicide rates in the prefecture of Oita, which has a population of more than one million. The suicide rate was significantly lower in those areas with the highest levels of the element, they wrote in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

High doses of lithium are already used to treat serious mood disorders. But the team from the universities of Oita and Hiroshima found that even relatively low levels appeared to have a positive impact of suicide rates. Levels ranged from 0.7 to 59 micrograms per litre. The researchers speculated that while these levels were low, there may be a cumulative protective effect on the brain from years of drinking this tap water.

At least one previous study has suggested an association between lithium in tap water and suicide. That research on data collected from the 1980s also found a significantly lower rate of suicide in areas with relatively high lithium levels.

The Japanese researchers called for further research in other countries but they stopped short of any suggestion that lithium be added to drinking water. The discussion around adding fluoride to water to protect dental health has proved controversial - criticised by some as mass involuntary medication.

In an accompanying editorial, Professor Allan Young of Vancouver's Institute for Mental Health said "this intriguing data should provoke further research. "Large-scale trials involving the addition of lithium to drinking water supplies may then be feasible, although this would undoubtedly be subject to considerable debate. Following up on these findings will not be straightforward or inexpensive, but the eventual benefits for community mental health may be considerable."

Sophie Corlett, external relations director at mental health charity Mind said the research "certainly merits more investigation. "We already know that lithium can act as a powerful mood stabiliser for people with bipolar disorder, and treating people with lithium is also associated with lower suicide rates. "However, lithium also has significant and an unpleasant side effects in higher doses, and can be toxic. Any suggestion that it should be added, even in tiny amounts, to drinking water should be treated with caution and researched very thoroughly."


Swine flu hype fading: "Scientists are coming to the conclusion that the new strain of swine flu that has killed at least ten people around the world may actually be less dangerous than the average annual flu season. The World Health Organisation is expected to move quickly to designate a full pandemic - at level 6 of its 6-point scale - within days to reflect the continuing spread of swine flu among people who have not been to Mexico, including in Europe. But, though some people have died, the most common complaint from sufferers infected with the virus has been diarrhoea - and, despite the hype, the rate of infection appears to be more of a trickle than a deluge. This morning the World Health Organisation said on its website that as of 6am GMT, swine flu had infected 331 people in 11 countries, killing ten of them. Other estimates of the infections and deaths are higher - for instance Mexico says up to 176 people have died there and the authorities have confirmed 12 deaths. However, despite the variations, the numbers are still relatively small - and they don't seem to be multiplying"

2 May, 2009

Scientist finds slimming ingredient -- and other wonders -- in white tea

This study is NOT yet online at the alleged source but some details are given here. It was a purely in vitro study so its application to live people is unknown

Drinking tea could become a key weapon in the fight against obesity, research suggests. Scientists have found that white tea has special qualities that could help beat the bulge. The herbal tea - a more pure version of the black and green teas regularly consumed - has already been credited with a host of health benefits, from strengthening the bones to lowering blood pressure. Now tests have shown that compounds in the tea prevent the storage of fat and help break down existing stores.

Previously green and black teas have been found to block the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream. But it is thought that white tea, made from tender leaves and buds hand-picked from the top of the plant, may be more beneficial. The use of young, relatively unprocessed leaves helps retain high levels of the fatbusting compounds, the journal Nutrition and Metabolism reports.

Researcher Marc Winnefeld, of German skincare firm Beiresdorf, said: 'In industrialised countries, the rising incidence of obesity-related disorders including cardiovascular diseases and diabetes continues to be a growing problem. We've shown that white tea may be an ideal natural source of slimming substances.'

But the benefits come at a price. Up to 7,000 leaves picked by hand go into making just one kilogram of white tea, meaning it tends to cost around three times as much as everyday black tea. Bill Gorman, of the UK Tea Council, said: 'The production is very labour intensive, I don't think they will ever find a way of collecting it using machinery. 'It is an almost artisanal approach to making tea.' Mr Gorman added: 'The sales of speciality teas are growing at 25 per cent per annum. Tea is starting to do what wine did 30 years ago. 'People are interested in different varieties and countries of origin. 'I drink tea all day but near bedtime I generally have a cup of white or green tea. I find it refreshing at that time of night.'

To make a cup of white tea, it is recommended that a heaped teaspoonful of leaves are used for each cup. The leaves should be brewed for around three minutes, using hot, but not boiling water. If the the water is too hot it can bring out a bitter taste. However, the mild flavour of the tea means it is hard to over-brew it.

Britons drink their way through 48billion cups of tea a year. Fewer than a third take sugar but up to 98 per cent take milk. Ninety six per cent of all cups of tea made are brewed from teabags.

Previous research has suggested that drinking tea can cut the chance of ovarian cancer by a third.


Surprise, surprise! Genes 'have key role in autism'

Scientists have produced the most compelling evidence to date that genetics play a key role in autism. They highlighted tiny genetic changes that appear to have a strong impact on the likelihood of developing autism and related conditions. The changes influence genes which help form and maintain connections between brain cells.

The Nature study highlighted one common genetic variant in particular which, if fixed would cut cases of autism by 15%. Previously, other genetic variants have been linked to autism, but they are all relatively rare.

Dr Raynard Kington, of the US National Institutes of Health, which funded the research, said: "These findings establish that genetic factors play a strong role in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). "Detailed analysis of the genes and how they affect brain development is likely to yield better strategies for diagnosing and treating children with autism."

People with ASD, which include autism and Asperger's syndrome, have problems with social interaction, poor communication skills and tend to engage in repetitive behaviours.

In the latest studies researchers scanned the human genome for small differences between people who have an ASD, and those who do not. The largest study, led by the University of Pennsylvania, focused on more than 10,000 people. It found several genetic variants commonly associated with ASD, all of them pointing to two specific genes found on chromosome 5 which control production of proteins which help cells stick to each other, and make nervous connections.

One variant, linked to a gene called CDH10, was so common - present in over 65% of cases of autism - that the researchers calculated that fixing it would cut the number of autism cases by 15%. They also linked ASD rather less strongly to a group of about 30 genes which produce proteins that play a key role in enabling brain cells to migrate to correct places, and to connect to neighbouring cells. Other genetic changes pinpointed by the Pennsylvania team occurred in genes involved in a cellular waste system which probably ensures these "adhesion" proteins are kept in working order.

Lead researcher Dr Hakon Hakonarson said the genetics of ASD was likely to be complex. He said: "Because other autism researchers have made intriguing suggestions that autism arises from abnormal connections among brain cells during early development, it is very compelling to find evidence that mutations in genes involved in brain interconnections increase a child's risk of autism." But he added: "There are going to be many genes involved in causing autism. "In most cases, it's likely that each gene contributes a small amount of risk, and interacts with other genes and environmental factors to trigger the onset of disease."

Similar findings were reported in separate studies published in Annals of Human Genetics and Molecular Psychiatry. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, an autism expert at the University of Cambridge, said 133 genes had now been linked to the condition, and much work was needed to piece together how they interacted with each other and the environment. He said: "The puzzle is slowly being pieced together, and the science of autism is accelerating in promising ways."

The National Autistic Society said the exact causes of autism were unknown. In a statement, the society said: "There is evidence to suggest that genetic factors are responsible for some forms of autism. "However, the difficulty of establishing gene involvement is compounded by the interaction of genes and by their interaction with environmental factors. "Various studies over many years have sought to identify candidate genes but so far inconclusively."


1 May, 2009

Half a glass of wine a day 'can help you live five years longer'

We're on the merrygoround again. But HALF a glass?? It's the usual nonsense anyway. Holland is a beer-drinking country. Wine drinking is more middle class and middle class people live longer anyway

Half a glass of wine a day can add almost five years to your life, say scientists. A study of almost 1,400 middle-aged men over a 40-year period found regularly drinking a little of any type of alcohol boosted longevity. The biggest increase was seen in those who drank half a glass of wine a day [Who were those weirdos?], who tended to live about four-and-a-half years longer than those who abstained from alcohol. But those who drank up to two glasses of wine, two pints of beer or two shots of spirits a day also tended to live about two years longer than non-drinkers.

The researchers from Wageningen University in the Netherlands analysed 1,373 Dutch men born between 1900 and 1920. Drinking, smoking and dietary habits were noted along with body mass index and prevalence of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer. The study found wine was strongly associated with a lower risk of death from all causes, including stroke and heart disease, over the period of the study, which ended in 2000.

The university’s human nutritionist Dr Martinette Streppel said: 'Those people who already consume alcoholic beverages should do so lightly - one to two glasses per day - and preferably drink wine. 'The cardio-protective effects of alcohol and wine only held up for light alcohol consumption in middle-aged men. 'Heavy alcohol consumption may cause accidents and diseases such as cancer and cirrhosis of the liver, even though this was not observed in our study. 'Since alcohol consumption can be addictive, starting to drink alcohol because of its positive health benefits is not advised.'

The researchers found alcohol intake of less than or equal to 20 grams per day - one glass of alcoholic beverage contains 10 grams of alcohol - compared to no alcohol intake was associated with a 36 percent lower risk of death from all causes.

When the researchers looked independently at wine consumption, the associated risk reduction was greater. Participants who drank an average of half a glass of wine a day over a long period had a 40 percent overall lower mortality rate and a 48 percent lower incidence of cardiovascular death compared to the non-wine drinkers. Life expectancy was 3.8 years higher in those men who drank wine compared to those who did not drink alcoholic beverages.

Dr Streppel said: 'Consumption patterns usually change during life. This enabled us to study the effects of long-term alcohol intake on mortality.' The researchers found the number of alcohol users nearly doubled from 45 percent in 1960 to 85 percent in the 2000 survey. The percentage of wine users increased during follow-up from two percent in 1960 to more than 40 percent among the survivors in 2000.

Dr Streppel said a protective effect of light alcohol intake could be due to an increase in 'good' cholesterol, or to a reduction in blood clotting. Furthermore, red wine consumption may have an additional health benefit because the polyphenolic compounds contained in wine have been seen in animals to stop the build up of fatty tissue in the arteries that can result in stroke or heart attack.

Dr Streppel said: 'Our study showed long-term, light alcohol intake among middle-aged men was associated not only with lower cardiovascular and all-cause death risk, but also with longer life expectancy at age fifty. 'Furthermore, long-term light wine consumption is associated with a further protective effect when compared to that of light-to-moderate alcohol intake of other types.


Daily aspirin in your forties 'can cut risk of cancer later in life'

Looks like aspirin is back in the good books too. We were told recently that it must not be given to teenagers! Odd that it's good for one age-group but not another!

Taking an aspirin a day in your forties can cut the chances of developing cancer later in life, according to experts. Those who take the cheap painkiller for 10 years can reduce the risks of suffering from breast and bowel cancer, two of the most common forms of the disease. Prof Jack Cuzick, from Cancer Research UK, said that taking the drugs in middle age would "maximise" the benefits when patients were in their sixties, when many cancers develop.

Taking aspirin in your mid-forties could be the "best time" to stop the disease progressing into full-blown cancer, he said. The drug could already be protecting hundreds of thousands of people who currently regularly take it to prevent a heart attack or stroke. Scientists believe that it works by blocking the effects of proteins in the body linked to inflammation and found in abundance in some types of cancer.

Previous studies have shown that people who take aspirin are less likely to develop breast and bowel cancer, which together affect more than 81,000 people in Britain every year. Cancer Research UK is also investigating whether the drug could be used to prevent gullet cancer.

But Prof Cuzick warned that scientists needed to identify those at high risk of suffering side effects, which can include bleeding in the stomach and ulcers, before doctors could advise regular use of aspirin to prevent cancer. Recent studies have suggested that taking the medication in combination with other drugs, called proton pump inhibitors, could help to lower the risk of stomach bleeding.

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information, said: "We need scientists to focus their efforts on how to reduce the side effects of taking aspirin so that very soon it may be possible to use the drug as a way of preventing cancer. "It's too soon to recommend that people take aspirin to try and stop cancer developing because of the side effects. But survival is low for cancers like gullet cancer so understanding how to prevent the disease is crucial."

Prof Cuzick, from the Cancer Research UK Centre for Epidemiology at Queen Mary, University of London, analysed all the available scientific evidence on the benefits of aspirin in preventing cancer for the review, published in the journal Lancet Oncology. "Taking aspirin regularly in your mid 40s could maximise the effect this drug has on preventing cancer," he said. "Taking aspirin at this age, which is about the time pre-cancerous lesions usually begin to develop, may be the best time to stop the disease from progressing to actual cancer. "And, as the risk of serious side effects of aspirin greatly increase after 60 years old, taking long-term treatment before this age will help to minimise these side effects."

Further research is also needed to uncover whether the so-called "baby aspirin" dose of 80mg a day can offer the protection or if the full standard 300mg dose is needed, he added.

Previous studies have suggested that an aspirin a day can help to prevent liver damage and could be used as a treatment for osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease. A daily aspirin is recommended to prevent heart attacks in people at high risk of suffering one.

However, doctors have warned that healthy people should not routinely take the drug. Dr Sarah Rawlings, from Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "The potential of anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin to prevent some forms of cancer, including breast cancer, is very interesting. However, further research is needed before we can say whether the benefits of using such drugs to prevent cancer outweigh the risks."