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, 2010

Acupuncture relieves discomfort in mice with a sore paw

And great generalizations are being drawn from that. The original heading on the article below was: "Acupuncture does work as it stimulates a natural pain killer, scientists find". Save us!

How do they measure discomfort in mice with a sore paw anyway? The researchers used a number of methods, suggesting no great confidence in any of them. See the journal article here. As a psychometrician, I would be very interested to see how well the various methods correlated with one-another but I could not find that information. Failure to correlate indicates invalid measures.

There is also no indication that the measurements were done under double-blind conditions -- thus leaving the way wide-open for experimenter expectation effects.

Note that in humans, acupuncture gets results no better than placebo

Acupuncture works by stimulating a natural painkiller in the body that swells arteries and allows more blood to flow through, scientists have discovered. The identification of the chemical adenosine as a central player could also make the ancient Chinese therapy even more effective at relieving pain.

Scientists were able to triple the beneficial effects of simply sticking needles in mice by adding a leukaemia medication that increased their amounts of the molecule.

Dr Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester, New York, said: "Acupuncture has been a mainstay of medical treatment in certain parts of the world for 4,000 years, but because it has not been understood completely, many people have remained sceptical. "In this work, we provide information about one physical mechanism through which acupuncture reduces pain in the body.

"What we found is that adenosine, a natural pain killer, is released during acupuncture and that adenosine may be the primary way acupuncture reduces pain. "The most important observation is that acupuncture worked almost three times as long if we gave a drug that slow down the removal of adenosine."

Adenosine, which also helps to regulate sleep and keep the heart healthy, becomes active in the skin after an injury to inhibit nerve signals and ease pain.

The researchers, whose findings are published in Nature Neuroscience, performed acupuncture treatments on mice that had discomfort in one paw, giving them each a thirty minute acupuncture treatment near the knee, with very fine needles rotated gently every five minutes, much as is done in standard acupuncture treatments with people.

In mice with normal functioning levels of adenosine, acupuncture reduced discomfort by two-thirds, while in those engineered not to produce the chemical it had no effect. And when adenosine was turned on in the tissues, discomfort was reduced even without acupuncture.

During and immediately after an acupuncture treatment, the level of adenosine in the tissues near the needles was 24 times greater than before.

Once the scientists recognised adenosine's role, the team explored the effects of a cancer drug called deoxycoformycin, which makes it harder for the tissue to remove it. The compound boosted the effects of acupuncture treatment dramatically, nearly tripling the accumulation of adenosine in the muscles and more than tripling the length of time the treatment was effective.

Dr Josephine Briggs, director of the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health in the US, said: "It is clear that acupuncture may activate a number of different mechanisms. "This carefully performed study identifies adenosine as a new player in the process. It is an interesting contribution to our growing understanding of the complex intervention which is acupuncture."


Women may get vaccine to protect against breast cancer

A vaccine designed to protect against breast cancer is expected to be tested on women within the next two years. It has been tested on mice and results suggest that it could prevent tumours appearing and attack those that are already present. If tests on women show similar results, it could be offered to women around the age of 40, when the risk of developing the disease rises.

Researchers hope that it will kill off up to 70 per cent of breast cancers and save more than 8,000 lives a year in Britain. Vincent Tuohy, an immunologist who developed the vaccine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, said: “We truly believe that a preventive breast cancer vaccine will do to breast cancer what the polio vaccine has done to polio. We think that it will provide substantial protection. Our view is that breast cancer is a completely preventable disease.”

Dr Tuohy said that his vaccine made the patient’s immune system attack a specific protein found in most breast cancer cells and the mammary tissues of breastfeeding women. For this reason, it would not be given to women who planned to breastfeed.

“The frequency of women who breastfeed in their early forties and above is very low, so we are looking at vaccinating women against the disease from this stage of life onwards,” Dr Tuohy said.

He said that he hoped to test the vaccine on women in two small clinical trials next year to evaluate its safety and dosage levels. Even if the tests are successful it is unlikely that a vaccine would be available for at least ten years.

The research is reported in the latest edition of the journal Nature Medicine. The vaccine was tested on mice bred to develop breast cancer. Researchers injected six mice with a vaccine made from the protein alpha-lactalbumin and another chemical to boost the immune system’s response to the vaccine. Six other mice were also given a dummy vaccine. After ten months, all mice that received the dummy had developed serious breast tumours. None of the mice given the real vaccine showed any signs of similar tumours.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Britain and kills about 12,000 women every year.

Caitlin Palframan of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “This research could have important implications for how we might prevent breast cancer in the future. However, this is an early stage study, and we look forward to seeing the results of large-scale clinical trials to find out if this vaccine would be safe and effective in humans.


30 May, 2010

Eating Processed Meats May Raise Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes (?)

This is rubbish. You can get anything you want out of a meta-analysis and the fact that the conclusions below were based on only 20 out of 1600 relevant studies certainly facilitates that. Biased selection of what to include is the bane of meta-analyses. I have seen it at work in my own field -- where "awkward" results were ignored.

Furthermore, a meta-anaysis of epidemiological conclusions is just tells you what the usual assumptions are, nothing more. They do have the grace below to admit that they have NOT established cause and effect but then go on to talk as if they have!

I wonder how many of the studies they used controlled for social class? That is the big blind spot in most epidemiology

Another huge blind spot that certainly applies here is the decision to look at just one or two diseases in isolation. Something that increases one sort of disease may decrease the risk of another disease. So overall mortality is what we need to know and that is seldom looked at.

And it would seem likely that the researchers DID have data on many diseases among meat-eaters. Did they just pick out the diseases that suited their demonization of processed meats? Were some other diseases REDUCED among eaters of processed meats?

What a crock!

In a new study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that eating processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. In contrast, the researchers did not find any higher risk of heart disease or diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed red meat, such as from beef, pork, or lamb.

This work is the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the worldwide evidence for how eating unprocessed red meat and processed meat relates to risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

“Although most dietary guidelines recommend reducing meat consumption, prior individual studies have shown mixed results for relationships between meat consumption and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes,” said Renata Micha, a research fellow in the department of epidemiology at HSPH and lead author of the study. “Most prior studies also did not separately consider the health effects of eating unprocessed red versus processed meats.”

The study appears online May 17, 2010, on the website of the journal Circulation.

The researchers, led by Micha and HSPH colleagues Dariush Mozaffarian, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology and Sarah Wallace, junior research fellow in the department of epidemiology, systematically reviewed nearly 1,600 studies. Twenty relevant studies were identified, which included a total of 1,218,380 individuals from 10 countries on four continents (North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia).

The researchers defined unprocessed red meat as any unprocessed meat from beef, lamb or pork, excluding poultry. Processed meat was defined as any meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives; examples include bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs or processed deli or luncheon meats. Vegetable or seafood protein sources were not evaluated in these studies.

The results showed that, on average, each 50 gram (1.8 oz) daily serving of processed meat (about 1-2 slices of deli meats or 1 hot dog) was associated with a 42% higher risk of developing heart disease and a 19% higher risk of developing diabetes. In contrast, eating unprocessed red meat was not associated with risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. Too few studies evaluated the relationship between eating meat and risk of stroke to enable the researchers to draw any conclusions.

“Although cause-and-effect cannot be proven by these types of long-term observational studies, all of these studies adjusted for other risk factors, which may have been different between people who were eating more versus less meats,” said Mozaffarian. “Also, the lifestyle factors associated with eating unprocessed red meats and processed meats were similar, but only processed meats were linked to higher risk.”

“When we looked at average nutrients in unprocessed red and processed meats eaten in the United States, we found that they contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. In contrast, processed meats contained, on average, 4 times more sodium and 50% more nitrate preservatives,” said Micha. “This suggests that differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats.”

Dietary sodium (salt) is known to increase blood pressure, a strong risk factor for heart disease. In animal experiments, nitrate preservatives can promote atherosclerosis and reduce glucose tolerance, effects which could increase risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Given the differences in health risks seen with eating processed meats versus unprocessed red meats, these findings suggest that these types of meats should be studied separately in future research for health effects, including cancer, the authors said. For example, higher intake of total meat and processed meat has been associated with higher risk of colorectal cancer, but unprocessed red meat has not been separately evaluated. They also suggest that more research is needed into which factors (especially salt and other preservatives) in meats are most important for health effects.

Current efforts to update the United States government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are often a reference for other countries around the world, make these findings particularly timely, the researchers say. They recommend that dietary and policy efforts should especially focus on reducing intake of processed meat.

“To lower risk of heart attacks and diabetes, people should consider which types of meats they are eating. Processed meats such as bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and processed deli meats may be the most important to avoid,” said Micha. “Based on our findings, eating one serving per week or less would be associated with relatively small risk.”

“Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Renata Micha, Sarah K. Wallace, Dariush Mozaffarian, Circulation, online May 17, 2010.


Breakthrough in fight against fatal Ebola as new drug saves 100% of monkeys tested

A gene silencing approach can save monkeys from high doses of the most lethal strain of Ebola virus in what researchers call the most viable route yet to treating the deadly and frightening infection.

They used small interfering RNAs or siRNAs, a new technology being developed by a number of companies, to hold the virus at bay for a week until the immune system could take over. Tests in four rhesus monkeys showed that seven daily injections cured 100 per cent of them.

U.S. government researchers and a small Canadian biotech company, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, worked together to develop the new approach, described in the Lancet medical journal on Thursday.

'The delivery system is the real key,' said Thomas Geisbert of Boston University School of Medicine, who did some of the work while at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Ebola viruses are a family of viruses that can often cause very serious hemorrhagic fevers. They have caused dozens of frightening and deadly outbreaks across Africa and threaten endangered gorilla populations as well as people. There is no treatment and no vaccine against Ebola, which passes via close personal contact.

The siRNAs are stretches of genetic material that can block the action of a specific gene. This particular one attaches to three different areas on the Ebola virus, preventing it from replicating.

Geisbert's team worked with a strain called Zaire that comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and kills up to 90 per cent of those infected.

'We have just had very difficult times developing treatments - antivirals or just any kind of a strategy,' Geisbert said. 'It's been a very tough nut to crack.' The team has announced a number of near-successes, most recently a vaccine that provided partial protection in monkeys in 2006. Geisbert then teamed-up with Ian MacLachlan at Tekmira.

Tests in guinea pigs suggested the siRNAs delivered in lipid particles would work. But to get Ebola to sicken rodents requires changing it substantially from the strain that attacks people and monkeys, Geisbert said.

The treatment holds the virus in check while the immune system gears up to fight it, Geisbert said. 'There is a critical threshold for virus load and if you go over that, you die,' he said. 'This drug is knocking down enough of the virus so it tips the balance.'

Now the company and researchers are seeking U.S. federal funding to continue their work, Geisbert said. For new drugs to treat lethal infections, the Food and Drug Administration requires proof that the treatment does not hurt people and is effective in at least two animal species.

Tekmira has deals with a number of pharmaceutical companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer.

Last week a team at the National Institutes of Health reported it had developed a vaccine that protects monkeys against several strains of Ebola.


29 May, 2010

Strepsils: The big gorilla of head-clearing medications

I have had my fair share of sniffles, colds and flu over the years so in the last 60 years I have consumed a LOT of head-clearing and throat soothing products. And there used to be a lot of different ones. But now there is not. In my local supermarket here in Australia, there are only umpteen variations of Strepsils. And in my local pharmacy, it's much the same, though there is a tiny corner where they stock a few of the "old" medications.

How come? Are Strepsils any better than the others? Not as far as I can see. It all seems to be a triumph of marketing. Strepsils are made by Reckitt Benckiser, a British company headed by Bart Becht, a livewire Dutchman. And, partly by providing so many variations of his product, he seems to have convinced retailers that they meet all consumer needs by stocking and displaying Strepsils exclusively.

I don't like that for a variety of reasons and it is a real wonder to me that the other manufacturers haven't used the anti-monopoly laws to slow down Meneer Becht. Some of the "squeezed out" products below:

The fascinating thing is that all four of the above products are made by Nestle, who are another big gorilla in various fields. One would think that they had deep enough pockets to take on Meneer Becht in the courts. I wonder if the two firms have come to an agreement not to encroach on one-another's territory? Such an agreement would be illegal under trade practices laws in most countries so I guess we may never find out about any such agreement.

I also note that on my Strepsils packet there are NO details of what the pharmaceutical ingredients are. I would have thought that that too would run foul of labelling laws, particularly in a pharmaceutical prouduct. Meneer Becht sure must be a sharp operator.


I note that the alternative prouducts ARE in fact available in my local supermarket -- but in the confectionery department rather than in the medications department. That is still pretty clever as a person with a cold would be much more likely to head for the medications department rather than the confectionery department.

I imagine that Meneer Becht has managed to get privileged placement for his product on the grounds that Strepsils contain an antibacterial agent. But even on the Strepsils packet it admits that the benefit of the agent "has not been clinically established".

So people are maneuvered into buying Strepsils when a cheaper product would be just as good.

Drug offers new hope on brittle bone disease

A cheap six-monthly jab offers hope to thousands of women with the crippling bone disorder osteoporosis. Successful trials of the drug Prolia show it dramatically cuts the number of spine and hip fractures in women, and helps bones to regrow.

The drug, which costs the equivalent of £1 a day, could provide a new option for the one in four women who cannot tolerate existing medication because it causes serious side effects, such as digestive problems. Some 170,000 women a year are unable to take bisphosphonates and instead risk their bones deteriorating without treatment.

The new drug, also known as denosumab, is licensed for use from yesterday, but is still being assessed for NHS use by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

It cuts the risk of suffering a spinal fracture by two-thirds, according to trial data on almost 8,000 post-menopausal women having an injection twice a year. There was a cut of 40 per cent in the risk of a hip fracture and a 20 per cent reduction in the chances of other broken bones.

A National Osteoporosis Society spokesman said: 'The main treatments used for osteoporosis are not suitable for all, so we welcome denosumab as a new option to help prevent unnecessary, disabling fractures.'

'Up to a quarter of patients can not use the most common treatments, bisphosphonates, due to side effects, like digestive problems. 'Denosumab works in a brand new way avoiding some of these side effects and requires only two injections under the skin each year. 'It has the potential to be administered by GPs which means that it could cut down on hospital visits for some.'

The drug, developed by Californian biotechnology company Amgen, can also help men with prostate cancer taking hormonal therapy, which raises the risk of bone loss.

In a separate trial of 1,400 patients, injections over three years resulted in a two-thirds cut in the risk of spinal fracture compared with 'dummy' treatment. There was a 'significant reduction' in the risk after just one year of treatment, and an increase in bone density.

At least 120,000 people a year suffer fractures in the vertebra of the spine and 60,000 others break their hips. At least 5,000 men each year are treated with hormonal therapy for prostate cancer.

Prolia works in a different way to existing medicines as it stimulates patients' immune systems to block a protein called rank ligand, which regulates the activity of cells that break down bone. The drug reduces the activity of these cells throughout the body, increasing bone density and strength.

Professor Juliet Compston, bone medicine and honorary consultant physician at Cambridge University, said as many as two out of three women stop using medication within a year because it is difficult and inconvenient to take. Those on bisphosphonates have to take them on an empty stomach and remain upright for 30 minutes before eating and drinking.

Prof Compston said 'Having an injection once every six months is convenient and should improve adherence to the long-term treatment that is required for osteoporosis.' At £366 a year, the cost is similar to other new treatments but more than bisphosphonates at £27 a year.

Prolia is currently being assessed for NHS use by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) which recently brought in severe restrictions for patients needing more expensive treatments.

Dr Bowring said Nice must take into account women who can't take bisphosphonates. She said 'All we want is for patients to have access to a range of treatment options, all of which are cost effective, all of which can help to prevent fractures. 'Fractures due to osteoporosis cause thousands of deaths every year. Many of these fractures can be prevented with appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

'Given the immense suffering and huge financial costs caused by hip fractures, which could be prevented by effective treatments, the imperative is to treat individuals with a drug that works.'


28 May, 2010

What fun! Mediterranean diet 'could raise risk of heart attacks'

Though this study is about blood lipids among people who have already had heart attacks rather than diet as such

It has long been thought that a diet rich in olive oil, nuts and oily fish is good for health because it can reduce bad cholesterol levels. However, a study suggests that some heart attack patients may have genetic mutations that mean the diet increases their risk of suffering further cardiac problems.

It found that those at most risk of suffering subsequent heart attacks had large amounts of the high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or 'good' cholesterol', in their blood that destroys unhealthy trans fats in foods such as biscuits and cakes.

They also had more of a protein known as CRP which causes inflammation – suggesting this influences whether good cholesterol protects or endangers individuals.

The findings, published in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, could also explain disappointing results from a trial of an experimental drug called torcetrapib designed to increase HDL cholesterol. Manufacturers Pfizer had to halt it in 2006 due to a surprisingly excessive number of unexplained heart attacks and deaths that were linked with higher levels of good cholesterol.

Pathologist Professor James Corsetti, of the University of Rochester, New York, said: "It seems counter-intuitive that increasing good cholesterol – which we've always thought of as protective – leads to negative consequences in some people. "We've confirmed high HDL cholesterol is in fact associated with risk in a certain group of patients."

Out of 767 patients followed for two years, about 20 per cent at high risk of another heart attack also had high levels of HDL and CRP – the first study to find supposedly good cholesterol can harm a subgroup of people.

Co-researcher Prof Charles Sparks said: "The ability to identify patients who will not benefit from efforts to increase HDL cholesterol is important because they can be excluded from trials testing medications that aim to raise HDL cholesterol. "With these patients excluded researchers may find raising HDL cholesterol in the remaining population is effective in reducing cardiovascular disease risk." [speculation]

The researchers believe genetics and environmental factors – particularly inflammation – decide what effect good cholesterol has on patients. Given an inflammatory environment a person's unique set of genes determines whether HDL transforms from good to bad in the heart disease process.

In the high-risk subgroup of patients they also identified two genes associated with recurrent heart attacks – CETP which moves cholesterol away from the vascular system and is associated with HDL and p22phox which influences inflammation-related processes and is associated with CRP.

Prof Corsetti said: "Our research is oriented around the ability to better identify patients at high risk. "Identifying these patients and determining what puts them at high risk may be useful in choosing treatments tailored to the specific needs of particular patient subgroups. This gets us another step closer to achieving the goal of personalised medicine."

Despite the outcome of the torcetrapib trial drug companies are continuing to develop drugs to increase HDL cholesterol. Merck recently announced plans to launch a major clinical trial in 2011 to test whether anacetrapib – a chemical cousin of torcetrapib designed to raise good cholesterol – reduces the risk of heart attack and death.


Clean your teeth twice a day to keep a heart attack at bay

The usual epidemiological simple-mindedness. Keen brushers are probably very careful of their health generally and that is just one probable reason why they have less heart disease. Brushing itself is not likely to affect the heart

Those who rarely brush their teeth are more likely to suffer heart disease than those who brush twice a day

Brushing your teeth twice a day could save you from a heart attack.

Scientists say those who fail to keep their teeth clean have a higher chance of suffering heart problems.

It is well established that having gum disease makes you more prone to heart disease, but this is the first time a link has been made with brushing habits.

A study found that those who never or rarely brush their teeth are 70 per cent more likely to suffer heart disease than those who brush twice a day.

Previously, researchers have found that poor dental hygiene and bleeding gums can allow up to 700 types of bacteria to get into the bloodstream, increasing the risk of a heart attack regardless of how healthy the person is.

Bacteria entering the bloodstream may activate the immune system, making artery walls inflamed and narrowed, or attach directly to fatty deposits already present in the arteries, causing further narrowing.

In the latest study, researchers from University College London analysed data for more than 11,000 people with an average age of 50 taking part in the Scottish Health Survey.

Participants were asked how often they visited their dentist and how often they brushed their teeth, and medical histories were taken.

Just over six out of ten (62 per cent) visited their dentist every six months while 71 per cent said they brushed their teeth twice a day.

Over the next eight years, there were 555 cases of serious heart problems, of which 170 were fatal, says a report published online in the British Medical Journal.

The experts found that those who never or rarely brushed their teeth were 70 per cent more likely to suffer heart disease than those who brushed twice a day.

This held true even when factors likely to influence the results, such as obesity and smoking, were taken into account. Poor oral-hygiene was also linked to low-grade inflammation in the blood.

Researcher Professor Richard Watt said: 'Our results confirmed and further strengthened the suggested association between oral hygiene and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore inflammatory markers were significantly associated with a very simple measure of poor oral health behaviour.

'Future experimental studies will be needed to confirm whether the observed association between oral health behaviour and cardiovascular-disease is in fact causal or merely a risk marker.'

Professor Damien Walmsley, scientific adviser to the British Dental Association, said: 'There are several studies linking a wide range of health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and even dementia, to poor oral health.

'However, further research is necessary to confirm whether these findings are just coincidental or have a definite cause and effect.

'Whatever the true position is, we can say with certainty that if people-brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, visit the dentist regularly and restrict sugary snacks to mealtimes, this will go a long way towards keeping their teeth and gums in a healthy state for life.'


27 May, 2010

Study: Moderate drinking may protect brain from Alzheimer’s

This is just an epidemiological correlation. Drinking may be causal or it may not. Maybe moderate drinking is more middle class in Spain

Moderate drinking may help protect against the onset of Alzheimer's disease among otherwise healthy people, a new Spanish study suggests.

Women who don't smoke appear to gain the most benefit from alcohol consumption, according to the research team, from the University of Valencia, the Valencia government and the Municipal Institute of Medical Investigation in Barcelona.

"Our results suggest a protective effect of alcohol consumption, mostly in non-smokers, and the need to consider interactions between tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as interactions with gender, when assessing the effects of smoking and/or drinking on the risk of Alzheimer's disease," the study's lead author, Ana M. Garcia, from the University of Valencia's department of preventive medicine and public health, said in a news release.

"Interactive effects of smoking and drinking are supported by the fact that both alcohol and tobacco affect brain neuronal receptors," Garcia explained.

The findings, published in the May issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, are gleaned from a comparative analysis of both the medical background and the smoking and drinking habits among people with Alzheimer's disease stacked up against a group of healthy individuals.

Both groups were similar in age and in gender breakdown.

Smoking appeared to have no impact on Alzheimer's risk, the authors found. However, moderate drinking did seem to reduce risk for the disease, particularly among non-smoking women.


Babies are 'helped by delay in clamping umbilical cord'

Clamping the umbilical cord in newborns should be delayed for a few minutes to allow more vital stem cells to flow from mother to baby, researchers said yesterday. This would allow more blood to be transferred to the child, meaning physiological 'gifts' are handed over in 'nature's first stem cell transplant', it was claimed.

During childbirth, the placenta and umbilical cord start contracting and pumping blood to the newborn. Once the blood has reached an equilibrium, the cord's pulses cease and the blood flow stops.

A research team from the University of South Florida said that in western culture the umbilical cord may be clamped too soon --typically between 30 seconds and a minute after birth.

Dr Paul Sanberg, of the university's Centre of Excellence for Ageing and Brain Repair, said: 'Several clinical studies have shown that delaying clamping the umbilical cord not only allows more blood to be transferred but helps prevent anaemia as well.

'Cord blood also contains many valuable stem cells, making this transfer of stem cells a process that might be considered the original stem cell transplant.'

His co-author, Dr Dong-Hyuk Park, said a review of previous research found that 'in pre-term infants, delaying clamping the cord for at least 30 seconds reduced incidences of haemorrhage, anaemia and decreased the need for blood transfusions.'

The study is published in Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.


26 May, 2010

Who banned my soda pop?

Milk and fruit juice are equally calorific, if nor more so, but the big brains of the food Fascism movement think that milk and fruit juice are just fine. Quite laughable!

They even think soy products are a good thing. Too bad if little boys start growing tits! Soy dangers summarized here

At least you can get fizzy drinks in low calorie versions. That is what they would be encouraging if they really were aiming at weight reduction. But that's not their motive. Their motive is contempt for ordinary people and the wish to deny them as many liberties as possible. There's certainly no science involved

Soda pop is the new tobacco. First banned in some school boards, soda pop and other sugar-laden drinks are now being legislated away by different levels of government in the next wave of social engineering programs. But if the state starts by substituting soya milk for Gatorade at your local arena, will it end with them telling you, you can't buy Pizza Pops?

The City of Toronto has decided that – on its own property, at least – choice is something its citizens are better off without. Hoping to prod its children into better eating habits, the city is planning to banish pop and energy drinks from vending machines in its community centres and arenas. Canada is not alone. The battle against sugar is being engaged on many levels throughout the United States. On the international level, the World Health Organization was pushing through a global strategy initiative this week.

While few will argue against targeting obesity, the public-health consensus is at odds with those who would rather make up their own minds. “To what extent do you start regulating the lives of people, so as not to hurt themselves?” asks Jack Mintz, the Palmer Chair in Public Policy at the School of Policy Studies at the University of Calgary.

Of course, as Dr. Mintz notes, public-health issues come back to hit the public purse when a country has socialized medicine. To his mind, the state should intervene in the health decisions of individuals only when they threaten the well-being of others. Beyond that, he says, attempting to change citizens' behaviour is a questionable endeavour.

“The question is, a) does the state really know that much better? and b) to what extent do we want to encourage individual responsibility, and people thinking for themselves?”

Nevertheless, the experiment is in play and public-health advocates across the country are watching Toronto's program with great interest.

If all goes according to plan, kids emerging from Toronto's locker rooms will be able to buy only 100-per-cent fruit juice, milk and soy-based products in 2014. (Even bottled water will be history, since the city is about to stop selling it on environmental grounds.) Most striking, though, is the plan's stringency. Toronto's bureaucrats argue that merely offering healthy choices in vending machines isn't enough – because people might make the wrong choice. And the cash-strapped city is prepared to lose tens of thousands of dollars in soft-drink revenues to make sure its good citizens don't.

“We know from our experience with vending machines that people are going to choose the soft drinks, even when you give [healthy] options,” says Brenda Patterson, the City Hall manager who is implementing the proposal. “People left to their own devices may continue to make a choice that is less healthy.”

Gatorade and Twinkies has been in politicians' crosshairs for decades.

Proposals for “fat taxes” on unhealthy products continue to be mooted at home and abroad, though an outcry forced Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to retreat from the idea in 2004. Earlier this month, an Ipsos Descarie poll suggested that 77 per cent of Quebeckers would want a special tax on soft drinks, energy drinks and other sugary beverages.

Commissioned by the Coalition québécoise sur la problématique du poids (Coalition Poids), a group promoting weight-problem awareness, the survey found that 70 per cent of people in the rest of Canada also favour such a tax.

Ontario is rolling out new rules that would all but ban the sale of junk food in the province's schools in 2011. British Columbia did away with junk food in school vending machines in 2008. And the Squamish Nation banned ice-cream trucks from three communities on Vancouver's north shore in 2007.

And while the giant PepsiCo brand has pledged to phase pop out of schools by 2012 – globally! – a battle is brewing in Washington, D.C., over a proposed soft-drinks tax in the country's capital.

According to, a coalition set up by the Washington Beverage Association has called on the industry to sign a petition opposing a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. If passed, the “1-cent-per-ounce” tax will increase prices on juice drinks, flavoured waters, sports drinks and teas.

“What's truly unfortunate is that this tax would be paid by the hard-working families of the district,” the coalition said.

“This is social engineering like you've never seen,” says Justin Sherwood, president of Refreshments Canada, the industry group that represents Coke and Pepsi. Mr. Sherwood says that, starting in 2006, Coke and Pepsi voluntarily withdrew pop from elementary schools and replaced its high-school soda selections with “low- and no-calorie” drinks.

In an earlier letter to the city, Mr. Sherwood mused, “If the City feels so compelled to dramatically limit choices of consumers, where do you go next? Ban butter, ice cream, salad dressings, chocolate bars, pizza, cookies, cream and sugar in coffee, as well as doughnuts consumed on City property?”

“If kids want a pop, they'll cross the street, go to a plaza and buy a pop,” says Rob Ford, a city councillor who is running a populist campaign for mayor....

“Taking a step in the right direction, like Toronto is proposing to do, is a great idea,” says David Lau, a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary and the president of the Canadian Obesity Network. “We have to bear in mind that, in the obesity epidemic, we shouldn't blame the individuals; we should blame the environment that's causing it.”

Indeed, on the same week that Toronto's city council sat down to consider the bureaucratic details of its drink-vending plan, delegates from the world's nations gathered in Geneva for a meeting of the World Health Organization's top decision-making body. On the agenda: a global plan to fight obesity by restricting the marketing of sugary drinks and fatty, salty foods to children.

If approved, the strategy would attempt to lay down global guidelines for marketing junk food to children, though the extent to which the regulations would be binding – as opposed to recommendations – has yet to be determined....

For Dr. Mintz, the line should be drawn where it comes to people doing harm to each other – not themselves. “I have no problem banning the use of cellphones in cars. The reason isn't the individual. It's the fact that the individual could put risks on other people.”

William Watson, a McGill University economics professor, was more puckish: “To be effective, you'd probably have to ban it totally, and enforce the ban, and police it so you don't get underground movements developing in terms of smuggling these things, or people making them in the basement by buying sugar and adding them to diet drinks.” Moonshine soda pop. You can bet there'd be regulations on that.

More here

New drug reverses even “untreatable” cancers

This seems very good news indeed

Cancer patients may be offered new hope in the form of a harmless virus which can reverse even apparently untreatable forms of the disease when injected into tumours.

Reovirus, which lives in human respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts without causing any symptoms, can help magnify the effects of radiotherapy in treating even the most advanced cancers, laboratory tests have shown.

Tumours shrank or stopped growing in every patient who underwent radiotherapy coupled with a new drug, Reolysin, which contains particles of reovirus.

One patient had a large tumour mass in a salivary gland which was reduced in size enough to be surgically removed after undergoing the treatment. Another who was close to death with a serious form of spreading skin cancer was still alive 17 months later.

A total of 23 patients with a range of solid tumours including lung, bowel, ovarian and skin cancers took part in the clinical trial. All had stopped responding to traditional therapies but were able to get some pain relief from radiation treatment.

The patients were given between two and six injections of Reolysin in escalating doses, combined with low or high dose radiotherapy.

The primary aim was to test whether the treatment was safe, but researchers also measured tumour responses for 14 patients. Tumours either shrank or stopped growing in every case, the scientists reported in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.

The side effects of the treatment were mild and typical of patients receiving radiotherapy alone.

Dr Kevin Harrington, the study leader from the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: "The absence of any significant side effects in this study is extremely reassuring for future trials in patients receiving radiotherapy with the aim of curing their cancer."

The next step will be to investigate the effects of the treatment in patients with newly-diagnosed cancers that would normally be treated with radiotherapy alone, he said.

Dr Brad Thompson, president and chief executive of Oncolytics Biotech Inc, the Canadian manufacturers of Reolysin, said: "We believe that this study clearly demonstrates that the combination of low dose radiation and Reolysin is well tolerated and that the very high response rate warrants further investigation."


25 May, 2010

Handful of pistachios could destroy cholesterol

This is all based on the walking corpse known as free radical theory so the health effects are likely to be the opposite of what is predicted

A handful of pistachio nuts a day can help destroy bad cholesterol, ward off heart disease and prevent cancer, say scientists. The nuts are full of antioxidants that protect cells from damage by harmful chemicals, called 'free radicals'.

The findings published in the Journal of Nutrition follows previous research by the same team that discovered pistachios help destroy bad cholesterol that can lead to heart attacks and stroke.

Professor Penny Kris-Etherton, of Pennsylvania State University, said: "Our previous study showed the benefits of pistachios in lowering lipids and lipoproteins, which are a risk factor for heart disease.

"This new study shows an additional effect of pistachios so now there are multiple health benefits of eating pistachios."

She and colleagues found pistachios are much richer in the main dietary antioxidants lutein, beta-carotene and gamma-tocopherol than other nuts.

Beta-carotene turns into vitamin A which prevents cancer and gamma-tocopherol is a common form of vitamin E that wards off heart disease. Lutein is found in dark green leafy vegetables and is important in vision and healthy skin.

It is believed antioxidants also prevent cholesterol from moving into the blood vessel walls and causing inflammation.

When the researchers tested the effects of pistachios on antioxidant levels they found participants had much more antioxidants in their blood and lower cholesterol concentrations when they ate the nuts.

In the experiment, they ate three different diets for a month - a normal cholesterol lowering diet with no nuts and two other similar food regimes with 1.5 ounces and 3 ounces of pistachios respectively.

Prof Kris-Etherton added: "Our results suggest that a heart-healthy diet including pistachios contributes to a decrease in serum oxidized-LDL levels, in part through cholesterol lowering, and also due to an added benefit of the antioxidants in the pistachios."


A stroll in the country could sharpen your mind -- if you are a mouse

Some heroic extrapolations below

Going for long walks in the country isn’t just good for your body – it could also sharpen up your mind. Scientists have discovered that a common ‘friendly’ bacteria found in soil boosts intelligence and speeds up learning time. The same microbe – which is blown around by the wind and inhaled – also appears to act as a natural antidepressant, researchers believe.

The discovery was made during experiments on animals. However, the researchers believe it could give the same boost to mental powers in humans who spend a lot of time outdoors.

The study looked at Mycobacterium vaccae, a natural bacterium found in soil. Scientists believe it may work as an antidepressant because it stimulates the brain’s ‘feel good’ chemical serotonin.

The research team at the Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, fed live bacteria to mice and then placed them in a maze. Their performance was compared with a control group of mice fed on an ordinary diet.

Dr Dorothy Matthews, who led the study, said: ‘We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviours as control mice.’

In a second experiment, the microbes were removed from the diet of mice. The mice ran the maze more slowly than when they were on the microbe-enhanced diet – but were still, on average, faster than the mice on a normal diet.

For the final stage of the study, the mice were tested three weeks after their last meal of microbes. They continued to navigate faster than the mice fed on the ordinary-diet.


24 May, 2010

FDA pours salt in the Constitution’s wounds

It's bad enough when Congress exercises unconstitutional powers. It's even worse when unelected bureaucrats do it. The FDA has decided, all on its own, that it has the power to reduce the amount of salt in your diet.

Depending on your genetic predisposition and health history, this move could be life threatening to YOU.

The FDA wants you to forget that . . .

* the Constitution gives the federal government no jurisdiction over your nutritional choices

* every person is unique -- many people might benefit from less sodium, while others could be harmed by it (see the sample letter below for examples)'s Write the Laws Act (WTLA) would prevent bureaucratic schemes like this. It would . . .

* Restore the Constitution's separation of powers by requiring Congress to approve all regulation

* Restrict executive branch agencies like the FDA to implementation and enforcement

* Prohibit unaccountable bureaucrats from imposing their social engineering projects on your life

Please send a letter telling your Representative and your Senators to introduce and pass the WTLA. You may borrow from, modify, or copy this letter . . . .
You should be as angry as I am that the FDA is bypassing Congress and imposing a costly salt-reduction program on its own supposed authority.

As a policy, the proposal is dubious at best. Morton Satin of the Salt Institute raised the following issues in USA Today:

* Salt is an essential nutrient.

* When salt is significantly reduced the results are mixed: 30% experience a minor drop in blood pressure, about 20% experience a slight increase, and the rest experience no change at all.

* Women consume much less sodium per day than men do. Mandatory reductions may put women at greater risk of hyponatremia.

* Pregnant women on low-salt diets give birth to low weight babies, who then have a lifelong increased salt appetite.

* Several peer-reviewed publications indicate that congestive heart failure patients placed on low-salt diets die, or are readmitted to hospitals, far more frequently than those not placed on low-salt diets.

* Italians eat much more salt than we do, yet their cardiovascular numbers are nearly the best in the world.

* There is no one-size-fits-all prescription for salt consumption, because all of us are unique.

But the fundamental issue is this:

The FDA has no Constitutional authority to create new laws. Only you people in Congress have this power. As this ridiculous salt-reduction plan proves, transferring lawmaking power to unelected bureaucrats is even more dangerous than giving politicians that power. Congress should . . .

* stop the FDA from implementing this program

* and prevent unelected bureaucracies from imposing rules on me and my neighbors

The best way to accomplish this is to pass the Write the Laws Act. Please introduce this bill.


Doctor behind MMR vaccine scare set to be struck off

This guy has killed or disabled maybe hundreds of kids. He should be burnt at the stake

Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who triggered the MMR vaccine scare, is likely to be struck off today as the longest medical misconduct hearing in British history draws to a close. After nearly three years of formal investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC), Dr Wakefield and two other doctors are expected to be found guilty of serious professional misconduct and removed from the medical register.

A fitness to practise panel has already found Dr Wakefield and two former colleagues, John Walker-Smith and Simon Murch, guilty of a series of charges over “unethical” research that sparked unfounded fears that the vaccine was linked to bowel disease and autism.

But parents were today advised that it was “never too late” to give their children the triple vaccine — to protect against measles, mumps and rubella — as the panel was due to give its final verdicts and possible sanctions.

The doctors, formerly employed at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, North London, first raised concerns over the combined MMR vaccine in 1998, when they published a study of 12 children in The Lancet medical journal.

The fallout from the study — including Tony Blair’s refusal to say whether his infant son had been vaccinated — caused hundreds of thousands of parents to boycott the jab. Immunisation rates fell, leading to a resurgence of potentially deadly measles cases in recent years.

The GMC looked only at how the doctors’ acted during the research, not whether the findings were right or wrong — although they have been rejected by medical experts since publication.

In a preliminary verdict in January, the GMC’s fitness to practise panel said that most of the 149 charges against Dr Wakefield, Dr Walker-Smith and Dr Murch had been found proved and were “sufficient to amount to serious professional misconduct”.

Dr Wakefield, 53, had acted irresponsibly and “showed a callous disregard” for the suffering of children in conducting unnecessary, invasive tests in some cases, the GMC ruled.

His former colleagues also failed in their duties as responsible consultants in carrying out the research that was against the childrens’ best interests and without official permission, the panel said.

After the hearing, Dr Wakefield, who moved to Texas in 2001, said that the findings were “unjust and unfounded”. But weeks later he resigned as executive director at the Thoughtful House Centre for Children in Austin, a clinic that he helped to found in 2005.

The Lancet — which had withdrawn contested parts of the paper in 2004, subsequently retracted the article in full. Dr Wakefield and his colleagues have denied any wrongdoing.

Uptake of the MMR vaccine was 91 per cent before 1998, but by 2003 this had fallen to 79 per cent. Although vaccination rates have improved with 85 per cent of British children now receiving both recommended doses of MMR, in 2008 there were nearly 1,400 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales, compared with 57 in 1997.

A spokesperson for the Health Protection Agency said: “We again are reminding parents to remain vigilant against measles and that it’s never too late to get your child immunised with the MMR vaccine. “Although MMR coverage is starting to improve, we cannot stress enough that measles is serious and in some cases it can be fatal. Delaying immunisation puts children at risk.”

The GMC’s fitness to practise panel sat for a total of 216 days since the hearing began in July 2007 — the longest hearing in the regulator’s 150-year history. It was initially expected to conclude within three months.

The costs of the proceedings — involving a panel of three doctors and two lay members, and legal representation for the GMC and the accused — have not been revealed disclosed but are likely to be considerable for the watchdog, which is funded by doctors who pay an annual retention fee of £410.

Later this month, Dr Wakefield is set to publish his book on the hearing, with a forword by Jenny McCarthy, the former Playboy model, who has an autistic son.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The GMC has given its conclusions on Dr Wakefield’s fitness to practice. The safety of MMR has been endorsed through numerous studies in many countries. Thankfully, more parents are having their children vaccinated with MMR and they see it as being as safe as other childhood vaccines.”


23 May, 2010

Autism diet 'does not work'

A popular diet thought to help autistic children does not work, a new study shows. Removing gluten and dairy from their diet did not improve the condition in the 22 youngsters tested, researchers found.

The findings by a team at the University of Rochester, New York, are due to be presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia.

Dr Susan Hyman, who led the study, said: "It would have been wonderful for children with autism and their families if we found that the diet could really help, but this small study didn't show significant benefits."


Squeezing the joy out of ketchup

Heinz’s decision to change its ketchup recipe after 40 years is a sign of our health-obsessed, killjoy times

I have a friend – hang on, I have two friends – for whom everything tastes of tomato ketchup. Not because they suffer from a weird medical condition, but because they drown every meal they eat in a tsunami of red sauce. For them, thanks to the red stuff, food can always be relied on to taste great – even if it always tastes exactly the same.

When we talk about tomato ketchup, we really mean Heinz Tomato Ketchup. It is far and away the biggest-selling brand, with 60 per cent of the US market. Created in 1876, ketchup is Heinz’s No.1 selling item. According to the Heinz website: ‘Over 650million bottles of Heinz Tomato Ketchup are sold around the world in more than 140 countries, with annual sales of more than $1.5billion.’

Yet now, Heinz has announced a change to its long-standing recipe, though this particular change will only affect the US version of the ketchup (Heinz tweaks the recipe for different markets). It plans to reduce the sodium content – that is, the amount of salt – in its US ketchup by 15 per cent. A spokesperson for Heinz in the US, Jessica Jackson, told the New York Post that the decision ‘came from the changing needs of our consumers and our commitment to health and wellness’ – which is garbled public-relations speak for ‘the government was leaning on us to do this and we finally gave in’.

As the New York Post article notes, the change to tomato ketchup’s ingredients was not demanded by consumers. The recipe has remain unchanged for 40 years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Heinz is hopeful that ketchup-krazy consumers might not notice the difference. Jackson told the Post: ‘We conducted extensive testing with a broad cross-section of consumers across the country to ensure there wasn’t a distinguishable difference between the current and new recipes.’

However, this is bad news for consumers. As one New York mum told me: ‘I’m apprehensive. My son only eats two vegetables. And Heinz ketchup is one of them. Actually, the other one was smothered in Heinz ketchup so I’m not sure it really counts. On those rare occasions when we have been in a restaurant that does not serve Heinz, he demands to know “what’s wrong with the ketchup?” I’m not exaggerating when I say this could mean the end of vegetables for him.’

Her son is not alone in his love of ketchup. Ketchup gives young fussy eaters the ability to control what their food tastes like at an age when they are practically allergic to trying new foodstuffs.

She added: ‘I’m also puzzled about why they’re doing this now. Why not just bring out lower-sodium ketchup for people who want it? It’s true my son goes through Heinz by the barrel, but who else over the age of five consumes that much? And how many kids have problems with their blood pressure?’

Ketchup is the result of decades of tinkering to produce the perfect sauce. As Malcolm Gladwell noted in 2004, ketchup brings together ‘the five known fundamental tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami’. Umami is the ‘proteiny, full-bodied taste of chicken soup, or cured meat, or fish stock, or aged cheese, or mother’s milk, or soy sauce, or mushrooms, or seaweed, or cooked tomato’.

A little by accident, a little by design, Henry J Heinz brought together all these tastes to create his ketchup. ‘When Heinz moved to ripe tomatoes and increased the percentage of tomato solids, he made ketchup, first and foremost, a potent source of umami. Then he dramatically increased the concentration of vinegar, so that his ketchup had twice the acidity of most other ketchups; now ketchup was sour, another of the fundamental tastes’, wrote Gladwell. Moreover, as a byproduct of trying to find a way to preserve the sauce better, Heinz ‘also doubled the concentration of sugar – so now ketchup was also sweet – and all along ketchup had been salty and bitter’.

Heinz’s decision was actually taken under pressure. It is the latest example of the authorities deciding that they know best, forcing food manufacturers to change their recipes – to ‘reformulate’ as they say in the trade – in order to fit in with health concerns.

As Mark Sparrow reported on spiked last year, McVitie’s changed the recipe for Digestive biscuits to reduce the amount of saturated fat. ‘What was once the nation’s favourite biscuit has morphed into a rather pathetic, pale imitation of itself. The Digestive that sustained, nourished and comforted a generation through two world wars and played its part in keeping the home fires burning is no more. The callous tick of a ballpoint pen of some joyless Whitehall functionary has managed to finish off the biscuit that even Hitler failed to crush.’ (See It’s a digestive, Jim, but not as we know it.)

This might not be so bad if the tinkering with ingredients really did have a beneficial effect on health. But actually, ketchup is already a surprisingly healthy product. According to the US Department of Agriculture food database, 100g of ketchup contains 97 calories, barely any fat and about one gram of sodium. But it also contains a fair proportion of an adult’s requirements of vitamin C (25 per cent) and vitamin A (about 18 per cent), while providing plenty of lycopene, a natural pigment that has been suggested as a possible protection against cancer (though such claims need to be treated with substantial scepticism).

There is a much-mythologised tale that the US government under President Reagan considered redefining tomato ketchup as a fruit/vegetable. But in terms of its nutritional content, tomato ketchup – which, after all, contains lots of concentrated tomato – stacks up pretty well. To dismiss ketchup as unhealthy is wide of the mark. Pound-for-pound, ketchup contains three times as much vitamin C as apples. So if an ‘apple a day’ is sound advice, why not a squirt of ketchup?

As for reducing sodium content, let’s remember this is a condiment. It’s designed to be used to add a little flavour to food and therefore should be packed with salt, pepper, herbs and spices. And all that salt? It’s almost certainly harmless. Unless you have pre-existing high blood pressure, there is little evidence that cutting salt intake improves health (see Turning salt into Public Enemy No.1).

Still, there’s something entirely appropriate about the way that our political leaders are trying to save us from ourselves. Because the food we’re being forced to eat is, like them, increasingly bland.


22 May, 2010

Taking Viagra could DOUBLE your risk of hearing loss (?)

The usual incautious causal link. Men who need Viagra are probably in worse health anyway and that could cause their deafness

Men who take Viagra have been warned they may DOUBLE their risk of hearing loss. High doses of the drug have been shown to damage hearing in mice, but until now only a few anecdotal cases had been described in humans.

Now a new U.S study has confirmed the link. The study, based on a national sample of American men over 40, found that slightly more than one in six of those who did not take Viagra-like drugs were deaf or hard of hearing. Among those who took pills for erectile dysfunction, however, almost one in three had hearing loss.

Study author Gerald McGwin from the University of Alabama, said the risk remained high even when accounting for other factors linked to hearing loss. He added that more research is still needed to confirm the findings.

Drug makers already include a 'black box' warning about potential hearing loss on these products. But the new results expand on that concern, said Dr James Saunders, an ear doctor with Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.

'Before the current paper the focus has always been on sudden hearing loss,' Dr Saunders said. 'This study suggests that maybe there are small incremental changes that occur over time.'

While he noted that the study relied on self-reporting of hearing loss, which has been criticised as inaccurate, he said at this point he would advise patients with hearing loss not to take the drugs.

The findings appear in the journal Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery.

But for men with normal hearing and erectile dysfunction, comparing a potential side effect to a real problem might tip the scale, he added. 'The few times that I've had that conversation with patients it's kind of a difficult decision,' he said.


Giving up bread can make you fat: Gluten IS good for you

Another puzzle for the food freaks

Glamour magazine in the u.S. has declared it this year’s most fashionable health fad. Gwyneth Paltrow, rachel Weisz and Victoria Beckham are among those reported to follow it. With claims that it boosts energy, reduces water retention and helps you lose weight more easily than any other regimen, you can see the appeal of a gluten-free diet.

But experts are warning that cutting out gluten — a protein found in wheat, rye and barley — for no medical reason may cause weight gain, fatigue, headaches and a lack of nutrients.

Gluten is present in a wide range of foods, from bread and pasta to gravy and beer. For the half a million Britons with coeliac disease, giving it up is a medical necessity. This is a serious auto-immune condition in which the immune system reacts to gluten, triggering it to attack the lining of the small intestine.

Symptoms include diarrhoea, constipation and bloating as well as mouth ulcers, bad skin, joint pain and depression. It can lead to infertility, miscarriages, osteoporosis and bowel cancer.

Coeliac disease is diagnosed by taking a biopsy of the intestine or via blood tests. Sufferers must be strict in avoiding gluten.

But this is different from so-called ‘gluten intolerance’, which is linked to IBS, headaches and mood swings. The problem, say experts, is that people are self-diagnosing it. Gluten intolerance was one of the ‘ makebelieve allergies’ highlighted by Portsmouth university researchers in January, in a study that showed a fifth of adults wrongly believe they have a problem with certain foods.

‘Gluten intolerance certainly exists,’ says Tanya Thomas, a dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic association. ‘But we know that the amount of people who truly have coeliac-like symptoms is a lot less than the number of people who are cutting it out of their diets. a real intolerance to gluten can be diagnosed easily with the tests for coeliac disease and means someone would need to avoid every crumb of gluten in their diet to avoid feeling ill.’


* Anything made from wheat, rye and barley contains gluten. as well as obvious foods such as bread and cakes, this includes certain stock cubes and even beer.

* Naturally gluten-free foods include fresh meat, cheese, eggs, milk, fruit and vegetables. n a ‘

* A 'gluten-free’ label is only allowed on foods that have less than 20 parts per million gluten and are suitable for most (but not all) coeliacs as there is always a residual gluten content. under EU law, manufacturers must state clearly on labels if a product contains cereals with gluten.

* Oats contain a protein similar to gluten called avenin and most people with coeliac disease can’t tolerate more than 50g a day. most oats on the market are contaminated with wheat, rye and barley and so are unsuitable for coeliacs.

* Starches, such as maize, potato and buckwheat, are often used to make ‘naturally glutenfree’ foods. However, they do not rise on baking, don’t make great bread and are also low in fibre.

There is a huge problem with under diagnosis of the disease, says the charity Coeliac UK. research shows only ten to 15 per cent of those affected realise the cause of their symptoms.

However, there is no evidence that gluten intolerance is on the increase, says Dr Emma Williams of the British Nutrition Foundation. and yet the market for gluten-free foods has grown by 29 per cent in the past five years. according to market research company mintel, gluten-free is one of the fastest growing food categories. last year, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose all extended their gluten-free ranges.

WilIiams believes people are cutting out gluten because of the internet, self-testing kits available from pharmacies and celebrity fads. For some cutting out gluten is a reason to cut calories, excused by faux-medical reasoning. many people have jumped on the bandwagon because they’ve misinterpreted the benefits experienced by those following a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, says dietitian Tanya

Thomas. Those with genuine problems may find bloating diminishes and digestion improves when they cut out gluten. any initial weight loss will occur because people are cutting out a significant part of their regular diet, in this case, starchy foods.

But in the long-term, switching to a gluten-free diet, which involves replacing gluten products with those using flours made from rice, cornmeal and buckwheat, can lead to weight gain. It is not unusual to put on two to three stone.

‘People assume that by cutting out gluten they are going to lose weight. It’s a myth,’ says Thomas.

Furthermore, many gluten-free products contain extra sugar and fat to make them more palatable and can be packed with more salt.

For instance Sainsbury’s glutenfree Jaffa Cakes contained nearly seven times as much salt as the normal version, a Consensus action on Salt and Health (CaSH) survey found last year. many of the other 70 supermarket ‘free from’ products it tested, including ready-meals and muffins, contained significantly more salt (the salt levels of Sainsbury’s Jaffa Cakes have since been modified). and going gluten-free can be expensive — as ‘free from’ foods can cost up to double the price of their standard versions.

Not only will you not lose weight, you will miss out on key nutrients.

Dr Williams says: ‘Wheat forms a staple part of the diet. Since wheat flour — found in a vast array of foods, from mustard to bread — is fortified in the uK, it is a vital source of calcium, iron, B vitamins

and fibre.’ Eliminating a food group can lead to plummeting energy levels and hypoglycaemic headaches caused by a lack of carbohydrate.

‘So many people are needlessly avoiding gluten and spending a small fortune on doing so,’ says Thomas.

‘Not only is it a waste of time and money when there’s no real problem, it can mean your attempts to lose weight and get healthier backfire.’


21 May, 2010

Statins: The side effects 'are worse than feared'

I have been saying this for years. That they send you blind I did not know, however. Appalling

The side effects of statins can be far worse than previously thought, a study suggests. For the first time, the level of harm posed by the cholesterol-lowering drugs has been quantified by researchers.

They found some users are much more likely to suffer liver dysfunction, acute kidney failure, cataracts and muscle damage known as myopathy.

For some patients, the risk is eight times higher than among those not taking statins. Overall, the risk of myopathy - which may be irreversible - is six times higher for men on statins and three times higher for women.

The scientists from Nottingham University stressed the benefits of statins in stopping heart disease outweigh the risks for most patients. However, the study will put the brakes on calls for statins to be given to the healthy for prevention, where there are no classic risk factors or symptoms.

Statins are prescribed for six million patients at risk of heart disease, including diabetics and angina sufferers.

Although drug information leaflets warn of side effects, there has been little analysis of the relative risks and benefits. The latest study, in the British Medical Journal, used records of more than two million patients in England and Wales aged 30 to 84. Of these patients, 225,922 were new users of various types of statins.

Their health was analysed from 2002 to 2008 to determine risk by gender, ethnicity and other medical conditions. For example, the risk of myopathy for black male patients was eight times higher than for non- statin users. It was also five times higher for women with type 1 diabetes and double for women with type 2 diabetes.

The results showed statin use was linked to lower risk of oesophageal cancer but increased risk of moderate or serious liver dysfunction, acute renal failure, moderate or serious myopathy and cataracts.

The study estimated the number of extra cases of a certain condition that could be expected for each 10,000 patients treated with statins.

For high-risk women, there would be 271 fewer cases of heart disease and eight fewer cases of oesophageal cancer but 74 more of liver dysfuncpatientstion, 23 more of kidney failure, 307 more of cataracts and 39 more of myopathy. The figures for high-risk men were similar, except for myopathy, with an extra 110 cases. In medium-risk women, there would be 228 fewer cases of heart disease and seven of oesophageal cancer. However, there were 17 extra cases of renal failure, 252 of cataracts, 65 of liver dysfunction and 32 of myopathy.

Figures for medium-risk men were again similar except for a higher risk of myopathy. The higher the dose of a statin, the more at risk a patient was from acute kidney failure and liver dysfunction.

Lead researcher Julia Hippisley-Cox, of Nottingham University, said one of the reasons for the study was the lack of hard evidence about the level of side effects.

She added that the results were being fed into a website - www. - where doctors and could assess an individual's risk of certain side effects. She called for doctors to closely monitor those at higher risk through more frequent checks on liver, kidney, muscle and eye health.

June Davison, of the British Heart Foundation, said: 'For people with, or at high risk of heart disease, the benefits of statins far outweigh this risk. 'The good news is that the researchers found no significant link between the use of statins and risk of Parkinson's disease or many cancers.'


Pupils should be locked in school at lunchtime

Real Fascism -- and based on premises as false as the original Fascism

Pupils should be banned from leaving their schools during their lunch hour to stop them buying unhealthy food from local fast food outlets, a leading watchdog has said.

Too many children are eating burgers, kebabs, pies and chips for their lunch, with many consuming more than their daily recommended levels of salt and fat in one sitting, the report has warned.

The study was undertaken by the London Environmental Health Food Teams on behalf of Consensus Action on Salt and Health, a lobby group which campaigns for lower salt levels in processed and restaurant food.

The researchers took a snapshot of popular menu items bought by secondary schoolchildren from takeaway shops near approximately 45 schools in 16 London Boroughs. Meals chosen by secondary schoolchildren such as burgers, kebabs, pies, fried chicken and other fast food were analysed for their salt, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and calorie content and compared with standard school lunches.

The very poor nutrition levels of the food have led to the Schools Food Trust – the body which advices the Government on improving the nutrition of food eaten by pupils – to call for a ban on children leaving schools during their lunch hour.

Rob Rees, the School Food Trust's chairman said: “I think parents will be shocked to realise that their teenagers could be getting more than a day's dose of salt before they even get home from school. Of course teenagers will want to experiment and hang out with their friends. But times have changed – schools are working really hard to give teenagers a lunchtime experience that can rival the high street whilst still being healthy.

"It’s vital that this isn't undermined by nearby junk food outlets – that's why we support stay on site policies and steps to limit access to takeaway food around schools.”

He hailed local initiatives, such as the one in place in Kendal, Cumbria, where the local supermarket, Morrison's has agreed not to sell to school pupils at lunch time, and in Folkestone, Kent where McDonald's had also agreed not to serve children from the local secondary school.

The study found the nutritional content of the food was significantly worse than the burgers, chicken and chips sold by well known fast food chains.

The kebabs, pies, chips and pizzas being sold by the local outlets had particularly high salt and saturated fat content, both of which are linked to heart problems.

Three in every four meals, 54 out of 73, surveyed contained more salt than is permitted under the nutrient-based standards for secondary school lunches, and well over half, 44 out of 73, contained more saturated fat.

One doner kebab and fries contained 1,525 calories nearly two-thirds of the recommended allowance for an adult man, as well as 7.23g of salt and 25.2g of saturated fat, more than the official government recommendation of no more than 20g.

One doner kebab had 48.7g of salt.

Mubeen Bhutta, policy manager at British Heart Foundation, said: “Takeaway meals like these contain disturbing amounts of saturated fat and youngsters need to have the full picture about what they are eating. The problem is takeaways and restaurants aren't telling us what’s in the food we're buying."


20 May, 2010

Beetroot boosts stamina, scientists find

This was not a double-blind study of a normal population so could be yet another false start. And note that with a sample size of only 7, nothing the researchers found would have been statistically significant. And what the devil are "knee extension exercises" and how do they relate to anything else? I didn't know knees were extendable.

Brits are quite strange about knees. The reason they wear long pants on even the hottest of days is that they think people might see that their knees are knobbly. Nobody seems to have told them that ALL knees are knobbly.

Beetroot is a staple of the Australian diet. We have it on our hamburgers and in our salads -- but I personally loathe it and never eat it. So Australians generally should be full of stamina? First I've ever heard of it. Full of beer I could believe.

Beetroot juice boosts stamina by making muscles more fuel-efficient, scientists have found. Last year the same researchers reported that the red vegetable juice can increase physical endurance.

The study focused on men aged 19 to 38 cycling on exercise bikes. Drinking half a litre of beetroot juice a day for a week enabled them to cycle 16 per cent longer before getting tired out.

Now the scientists believe they understand how the beetroot boost works.

The new research showed that drinking beetroot juice doubled the amount of nitrate in the blood of volunteers, and reduced the rate at which muscles used their main source of energy.

Beetroot juice helped muscles work more efficiently and lowered their oxygen uptake. The same effect was seen during both low-intensity and high-intensity exercise.

Study leader Professor Andy Jones, from the University of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences, said: "While our previous research demonstrated the benefits of nitrate-rich beetroot juice on stamina, our latest work indicates that this is consequent to a reduced energy cost of muscle force production.

"Since our first study came out we have seen growing interest in the benefits of drinking beetroot juice in the world of professional sport and I expect this study to attract even more attention from athletes."

The scientists believe nitrate from beetroot juice leads to increased levels of nitric oxide in the body, which affects a range of biological functions including blood flow, hormone levels and cell signalling.

The new findings are published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Prof Jones' team studied seven healthy men who were asked to complete a series of knee extension exercises while measuring their exertion levels. At the same time, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner monitored what was going on in the volunteers' muscles.

The test was repeated several times, both after participants had drunk beetroot juice and after they had drunk blackcurrant cordial.

Drinking beetroot, but not blackcurrant, was found to increase blood nitrate levels and reduce muscle usage of adenosine triphosphate, the body's chief energy source. Oxygen uptake by muscles was also lowered.


Moderate drinkers the healthiest

A commendable sophistication about the probable chain of causation below

Those who enjoy a glass or two of wine with their dinner or a brandy before bed are much healthier than others, a study has found. But, before you pour yourself a large one, read on.

Although the research shows moderate drinkers are slimmer, less stressed and have a more positive outlook, alcohol, alas, has nothing to do with it.

Their rude good health is more likely to be thanks to the fact that moderate drinkers also tend to have a healthier diet, exercise more and have a better work-life balance than both teetotallers and heavy drinkers.

The conclusion contradicts the results of numerous other studies which have credited small amounts of alcohol with large health benefits. It will also come as a blow to the millions who tell themselves they are looking after their health when they open a bottle of wine with dinner.

The French researchers subjected almost 150,000 men and women to a series of tests at a Paris hospital. They were also asked about their education, job, amount of exercise they did and how much they drank.

The volunteers were split into four groups - teetotallers, low-level drinkers (who had less than 10 grams of alcohol a day) moderate drinkers (10g-30g a day) and heavy drinkers (more than 30g).

In Britain, 8g of alcohol is classed as one unit. Half a pint of ordinary strength beer counts as one unit, while a standard pub measure of spirits or a small glass of wine equates to one and a half units.

As other studies have shown, those in the low and moderate groups had better general health than those who never drank or drank large amounts. Men who drank moderately tended to suffer less from stress and depression, were slimmer and had a lower risk of heart problems. Female moderate drinkers were also healthier, had smaller waists and lower blood pressure than others.

For both sexes, moderate drinkers were also found to have higher amounts of 'good' cholesterol, or high density lipoprotein (HDL), in their blood.

Writing in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr Boris Hansel, of the Hospital of Pitie-Salpetriere in Paris, said most previous studies had failed to take into account the fact that those who drank ensibly tended to also take care of their health in other ways.

He said this group often had a more educated approach to their health. They may exercise more, eat fruit and vegetables more frequently or take up yoga to cut stress levels. He added: 'These findings suggest that it is not appropriate to promote alcohol consumption as a basis for cardiovascular protection.' However, he did concede that 'pleasure' was the best justification for light drinking.

June Davison, of the British Heart Foundation, said that while small amounts of alcohol may be beneficial, large quantities can cause high blood pressure, strokes and some cancers.


19 May, 2010

Found: genes that let you live to 100

This study of Dutch nonagenarians supports the conclusions of the study of NYC Jewish centenarians that I referred to on 15th

SCIENTISTS have discovered the “Methuselah” genes whose lucky carriers have a much improved chance of living to 100 even if they indulge in an unhealthy lifestyle.

The genes appear to protect people against the effects of smoking and bad diet and can also delay the onset of age-related illnesses such as cancer and heart disease by up to three decades.

No single gene is a guaranteed fountain of youth. Instead, the secret of longevity probably lies in having the right “suite” of genes, according to new studies of centenarians and their families. Such combinations are extremely rare — only one person in 10,000 reaches the age of 100.

The genes found so far each appear to give a little extra protection against the diseases of old age. Centenarians appear to have a high chance of having several such genes embedded in their DNA.

“Long-lived people do not have fewer disease genes or ageing genes,” said Eline Slagboom of Leiden University, who is leading a study into 3,500 Dutch nonagenarians. “Instead they have other genes that stop those disease genes from being switched on. Longevity is strongly genetic and inherited.” [Food freaks eat your heart out]

Slagboom and her colleagues recently published studies showing how the physiology of people in long-lived families differs from normal people. Other studies, showing the genetic causes of those differences, are due for publication soon.

“People who live to a great age metabolise fats and glucose differently, their skin ages more slowly and they have lower prevalence of heart disease, diabetes and hypertension,” she said.

“These factors are all under strong genetic control, so we see the same features in the children of very old people.”

The so-called Methuselah genes — named after the biblical patriarch who lived to 969 — are thought to include ADIPOQ, which is found in about 10% of young people but in nearly 30% of people living past 100. The CETP gene and the ApoC3 gene are found in 10% of young people, but in about 20% of centenarians.

The studies show that tiny mutations in the make-up of particular genes can sharply increase a person’s lifespan. Nonetheless, environmental factors such as the decline in infectious diseases are an important factor in the steady rise in the number of centenarians. The human genome contains about 28,000 genes, but they are controlled by a tiny number of so-called regulator genes.

Dr David Gems, a longevity researcher at University College London, believes that treatments to slow ageing will become widespread.

“If we know which genes control longevity then we can find out what proteins they make and then target them with drugs. That makes it possible to slow down ageing. We need to reclassify it as a disease rather than as a benign, natural process,” he said.

“Much of the pain and suffering in the world are caused by ageing. If we can find a way to reduce that, then we are morally obliged to take it.”

An anti-ageing drug which might be taken by millions of people, perhaps from middle age onwards, could be the ultimate blockbuster for the pharmaceutical industry.

Michelle Mitchell of Age UK said: “Ageing is a natural part of life. The key is to ensure that we do not simply extend life but extend the years of healthy life so that people can enjoy, not endure, their later years.”


Less invasive approaches to IVF may be better for older women

Coming from a large, Irish family with five siblings Dr Marina Murphy, a research chemist, had never expected fertility problems, despite her age. "My husband Rory and I started trying for a family when I turned 36, but two years later, much to our disappointment, nothing had happened."

A visit to her GP in Streatham, south London, followed by blood tests and an examination, revealed that Marina's ovaries and eggs had aged prematurely.

"I was told I had fewer eggs than expected for a woman of my age and warned the quality could be poor," says Marina. "My fertility was more like that of a woman of 40, and my chances of conceiving naturally were around 10 per cent.

"We always assumed we would have our own family, so it came as shock," she says. "But we knew we wanted to try for a child, in whichever way we could."

The couple were told that IVF offered the best chances of a successful pregnancy, and Marina joined the ranks of more than 36,000 women who undertake IVF each year in Britain. Like many of these women, Marina had to undertake the treatment privately. For while the NHS offers infertile couples aged between 23 and 39 three cycles of IVF, standards of service vary across the country, with many primary care trusts offering fewer cycles.

Success rates are low – 19.2 per cent for women aged 38 to 39, dropping to 11.9 per cent for women aged 40 to 42. This, together with the physical and emotional side effects of the large doses of drugs used in the procedure, makes it an arduous and often devastating experience for couples. Many give up after two or three unsuccessful cycles.

Marina had concerns. "As a chemist, I didn't want to throw myself into IVF. I was concerned about the drugs involved." She decided to explore her options
and contacted dozens of fertility clinics before coming across one that offered alternatives to conventional IVF.

Create Health Clinics in London offered two procedures that sounded promising: "soft" IVF, which uses minimal doses of drugs and "natural-cycle" IVF, in which no drugs at all are used. Compared to the average £5,000 cost of a cycle of standard IVF, soft IVF (£2,500 per cycle) and natural-cycle IVF (£1,500) were also considerably cheaper.

"Soft IVF is far less disruptive to a woman's body than the standard approach,"says Dr Geeta Nargund, consultant gynaecologist and director of Create Health Clinics. "With soft IVF, ovary-stimulating hormones are given to a woman during her natural cycle, whereas the practice with conventional IVF is to induce an artificial menopause and then kick-start an artificial cycle,"

"The drug doses are also far lower – just 30-40 per cent of those used in standard IVF. The aim is to collect around six or seven mature eggs rather than 12 to 14. As a result, there is a greatly reduced risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a condition in which the ovaries and abdomen can swell and fill with fluid. It can lead to discomfort and nausea and, in severe cases, may prove fatal. It affects up to 2 per cent of women undergoing IVF." explains Dr Nargund.

Marina began her first soft IVF treatment in June 2006. "I was given a 10 per cent chance of success and the first two attempts failed," she says. "Each time, the fertilised egg grew into an embryo but when it was placed back in my uterus, it didn't implant in the womb lining."

Dr Nargund recommended that for her third attempt Marina try natural-cycle IVF. This procedure uses sophisticated scanning techniques to monitor blood flow and the growth of an egg within a woman's natural cycle. Just before ovulation, the egg is collected and fertilised in the laboratory. If it grows into a healthy embryo, it is placed in uterus three to five days later.

Marina's procedure was a success. "To our absolute delight, I became pregnant," she says. "My son Radha is now two-and-a-half."

Dr Nargund, who is president of the International Society for Mild Approaches in Assisted Reproduction (ISMAAR), which aims to promote safer and lower cost assisted reproduction techniques, believes that soft and natural-cycle IVF are particularly successful in older women and is campaigning for these options to be offered more widely.

There is growing evidence that soft IVF is an effective alternative to standard IVF. Research at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, Netherlands and the University of New Jersey, in the US, found soft IVF and standard IVF had comparable pregnancy rates. In the Utrecht study, published in the Lancet in 2007, both groups achieved a pregnancy rate of 45 per cent.

"The ovaries of women who are nearing the end of their fertility do not respond well to fertility drugs," explains Dr Nargund. "We also know that stimulating the ovaries with higher drug doses is linked to a negative effect on egg quality. That is not what you want when your egg quality and quantity may already be low."

Indeed, scientists at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht found that using lower drug doses and collecting fewer eggs was equally, if not more, effective in producing healthy embryos. Soft IVF produced 39 per cent of healthy embryos compared to just 28 per cent in women given conventional IVF.

"It is generally thought that the more eggs the better, but what you really want is better quality eggs and embryos," says Dr Esther Baart, embryologist at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, who carried out the study.

Bill Ledger, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Sheffield and head of the Assisted Conception Unit at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, says that the benefits of soft IVF are so clear, he hopes it will one day replace high-dose approaches.

"At Sheffield, we've been offering soft IVF for a long time," he says. "It's more attractive to patients who are wary of higher dose drugs and we get comparable results. With the standard protocol, the woman suffers at least a two-week menopause with hot flushes, night sweats and no libido. With mild IVF, that just doesn't happen."

So why, considering the obvious advantages, is natural-cycle IVF not more widely available?

Some clinics are reluctant to offer the treatment because it is high maintenance and less profitable. Working with a woman's natural cycle relies on staff being available six or seven days a week. Another factor is that clinics wishing to remain at the top of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority's league tables, do not want to offer natural-cycle IVF which requires more attempts to achieve a pregnancy, thereby achieving lower success rates.

"When you perform IVF, you need six or seven eggs to get a meaningful result,' says Paul Serhall, medical director at the Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health in London. "But in natural-cycle IVF you get just one egg. A woman has to try it over many more cycles to get pregnant. If you are desperate for a child, that is not what you want."

But even a low success rate can mean a lot to a woman if it is her only chance of having a baby. Jennifer Stringford, a writer from London, turned to natural-cycle IVF after being told by a leading teaching hospital that she would never be able to have her own child.

"I'd just turned 42 when one cycle of conventional IVF was abandoned because I wasn't responding to fertility drugs," she says. Jennifer's consultant ruled out natural-cycle IVF as an option. "I was told it is less successful than conventional IVF, so what chance would I have? My only hope for a child would be through egg donation."

But Jennifer happened to read about natural-cycle IVF. "The consultant told me I had just a 5 per cent chance of a successful pregnancy," she says. "But I got pregnant in August 2009 after four attempts. I thought that was pretty good, for someone who had been told to 'forget it.' "

"As long as a woman has a menstrual cycle and is ovulating, she has a chance of getting pregnant," argues Dr Nargund. "Egg quality declines with a woman's age, so you have to be realistic. But it is vital that she is given the option."

"These approaches are safer for the woman, cheaper, less disruptive and vastly reduce the risk of multiple pregnancy," she says. "It really makes sense to consider them instead of blindly using high doses of fertility drugs."


18 May, 2010

"Healthy" school meals give Scottish pupils a growing taste for junk food

A “draconian” healthy eating regime in Scottish secondary schools may be encouraging pupils to go in search of junk food, it has been claimed. The uptake of school lunches has plummeted since national policies were introduced to determine fat and vitamin content. In Glasgow, the biggest local authority area, uptake has dropped from 61 per cent of children in 2006 to 38 per cent this year — a fall replicated across Scotland.

Now the managing director of Cordia, the company that provides school meals to Glasgow City Council, has called for a re-examination of the “draconian” policy, which he says is propelling pupils towards deep-fried pizzas and burger vans.

Fergus Chambers said that caterers were “becoming chemists rather than cooks” as they tried to ensure that they met nutritional requirements. The aim of getting children to eat more healthily was laudable, he said, but the legislation was having the reverse effect.

The drive for healthier meals began in earnest in 2006, with an initiative by the Scottish Executive at the time. It offered more nutritious options, along with better information about food.

Last year regulations came into effect to determine minimum levels for nutrients such as fibre, iron, calcium and zinc and limits on saturated fat and total fat. At least two portions of fruit and vegetables must be offered to pupils every lunchtime. Deep-fried food can be offered only once a week.

“We are all singing from the same hymn sheet,” Mr Chambers said. “We do want the diet to improve. The question is, are we doing it the best way? “Should children be allowed to leave the confines of the school? It’s a contentious issue. We have got burger vans still sitting outside schools. We have got local shops taking advantage of the school market and putting on special menus, which include deep fried pizzas and chips.”

He said that the problem was acute in urban areas, where pupils had easy access to fast food. Flexible solutions that could be varied between areas were needed. “I would like to see a root-and-branch review across Scotland of where we can build in flexibility,” he said. “There is great danger that we are reducing health because so many kids are voting with their feet.”

John Dickie, head of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said that universal free meals were the best way to improve diets.

The Scottish government said that it was committed to encouraging young people to understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle. It was also introducing free school meals for pupils in primaries one to three.

A spokeswoman said: “Decisions on pupils leaving the school grounds during lunchtimes rest with the local authority. However, we know some councils have taken steps to prevent chip vans from trading near schools during lunchtime.”

There are about 36,500 pupils in Glasgow secondary schools. Mr Chambers said that their school meals represented 6.6 per cent of their diet over a year — yet it was the only area in which there was legislation.


Father knows best: Michael Bloomberg’s public health obsession

Two weeks ago, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg was consumed with anxiety: Had a right-wing loon attempted to blow up some of his New Yorkers as they waded through the sea of sweaty corpulence that is Times Square on a summery Sunday afternoon? Those Tea Partiers hate health care, after all, and for the last nine years, Bloomberg has done his best to make New York a health-conscious city.

Turns out, the answer was no. But even with New York safe from a jihadi-made car bomb, Bloomberg still has a lot to worry about. Are his people at risk of hypertension from eating in restaurants that serve salty dishes? Have any of his children developed a lump — in her breast, under his armpit, in a place where lumps cannot be detected by prodding alone — from consuming trans fats? Also, why are so many New Yorkers still not rail thin?

These concerns keep Mayor Bloomberg, America’s most successful nanny, up at night, while irritating the hell out of his critics, who believe the mayor has an unhealthy obsession with his own (thinness), and is oblivious to the failings of New York’s public health initiatives.

“Bloomberg seems to be a sort of a classic example of somebody who has the particular obsessions of the upper class when it comes to health issues,” said Paul Campos, a professor of law at the University of Colorado and author of The Diet Myth. “In particular, he seems obsessed with weight.”

While you can still eat quite well in New York, you can’t eat just anything, and you can’t eat anything any way you want. Trans fats are illegal and chain restaurants with 15 locations or more are required by law to include calorie information on their menus.

“You basically have people who have a kind of personal, neurotic relationship to their weight, who then turn this toward public health policy,” Campos said. “This business with calorie counts, and other initiatives, seems to speak to the idea that people are too fat; especially the idea that making people thinner is a reasonable goal for public health intervention. It would make no sense whatsoever if people weren’t projecting their own neuroses on the data.”

The credit for Bloomberg’s initial nannying goes to Thomas Frieden, whom Bloomberg hand-picked in 2002 to head up New York’s Orwellian-sounding Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 2001. Frieden, an expert on contagious diseases, was behind the city’s cigarette ban and the creation of a needle exchange. When Bloomberg gave Snapple the contract to stock public schools with juice — under the impression, of course, that juice is better than soda for the city’s future mayors — Frieden complained that water would have been even better.

Three years later, Frieden instituted new regulations that mandated calorie counts for chains with at least 15 restaurants, insisting that New Yorkers wanted — nay, needed — calorie counts. “Not everyone will use it, but many people will, and when they use it, it changes what they order, and that should reduce obesity and, with it, diabetes,” he told the Times in 2007. After crafting the new regulations, Frieden’s only obstacle was gaining the city health board’s approval. Luckily, he was the board’s chair, and all of its members were appointed by Bloomberg. The regulation passed in 2008, and now New Yorkers have to think about the caloric content of what they’re eating even if they don’t want to.

Frieden left for the CDC in May 2009, laying the groundwork for a soda tax before he turned out the lights in NY. “‘It is difficult to imagine producing behavior change of this magnitude through education alone, even if government devoted massive resources to the task,” Frieden wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine. ”Only heftier taxes will significantly reduce consumption.” Perhaps hoping that New Yorkers could actually be cajoled into agreeing, Frieden added that a soda tax in New York could possibly save all of mankind from its vices: ”Diet-related diseases also cost society in terms of decreased work productivity, increased absenteeism, poorer school performance and reduced fitness on the part of military recruits.”

Despite Frieden’s public proselytizing, it’s often the mayor himself who gets cited for making New York so health-conscious. “If he can take credit for nothing else,” gushed the New York Times’ Jane E. Brody in January, Bloomberg “can rightfully claim to have launched a national effort to help people live more healthfully.”

Actually, Bloomberg was merely adapting early-20th century reform techniques to the modern era. Early reformers were ”quite successful at eradicating disease,” says Jacob Sullum, author of “For Your Own Good: The Anti-Smoking Crusade and the Tyranny of Public Health.” The problem, he points out, is that public health threats like typhus, botulism and DDT have largely disappeared. What remain are diseases like cancer, heart disease and adult-onset diabetes, “things that involve a whole bunch of different lifestyle variables; things that people voluntarily do.” Changing these behaviors is a lot more complicated than posting meat inspectors in slaughterhouses. And it requires far more coercion.

Bloomberg initially disagreed with Freiden’s soda tax proposal, telling the Times in 2007 that a soda tax “‘is just not one that we’re going to be pursuing.” But the mayor’s conscience eventually got the best of him. Less than a year later, Bloomberg heartily endorsed the soda tax. “The soda tax is a fix that just makes sense,” he said in a March 2010 radio address. “It would save lives. It would cut rising health care costs. And it would keep thousands of teachers and nurses where they belong: in the classrooms and clinics.”

Few people complained about Bloomberg’s changing position, Campos said, because the mayor played the ultimate trump card: child welfare. ”Child obesity is a classic moral panic,” Campos said. “The fact that childhood obesity is a huge health crisis is one of these things that’s known to be a case, even though the evidence for that is essentially nonexistent. I really do think that what you are looking at here is a sociological phenomenon where people like Michelle Obama,” who recently spoke out against childhood obesity,” and Bloomberg are playing out their own dramas. Michelle Obama is obsessed with her weight, and obsessed with the weight of her daughters. It’s upsetting that that kind of upper class drama gets put into public policy with no filter at all.”

Bloomberg is also playing out an upper-class drama, argues Campos, one that has to do with his less wealthy antecedents. “Bloomberg probably believes he’s a gazillionaire because he can deny himself donuts, and that the reason poor people aren’t is because they can’t.

“Especially in NY, or in Manhattan, thinness is associated with status. People value it for that reason. And they forgot that it’s another form of conspicuous consumption, and it gets turned into an extremely important and desirable public health goal.”

The data don’t confirm Campos’s theory about the roots of Bloomberg’s policies, but they do confirm that those policies aren’t working. “Studies that look at consumption pre- and post-calorie counts are equivocal at best,” Sullum said. “And those kinds of studies can’t take into account how people behave outside the restaurant.”

Yet a fashionably skinny New York remains Bloomberg’s goal. After Frieden left for the CDC in Atlanta, Bloomberg brought in Thomas Farley, Frieden’s calorie-counting protege, to shore up the mayor’s argument for a soda tax.

“The sugar-sweetened beverage tax is absolutely the right policy to enact at the right time,” Farley said less than a year into his new job. And with a one-cent-per-ounce tax under consideration in Albany, Bloomberg and Farley are already moving on to their next target: salt.

“It’s an unknown how to do this at the population-wide level, which is the level of public health policy,” Campos said. “Trying to make fat people thin is based on the assumption that we can do something that we actually cannot do.”


17 May, 2010

Brain cancer link to mobile phones?

The usual epidemiological garbage. The findings must have been VERY weak, considering the reservations with which they were reported. Good to see that they for once refuse to make a causal link between the one adverse effect they observed and phone use. The newspapers seem happy to say that one causes the other, though. I suppose that makes better copy.

Amusing that the researchers had to go to the top decile to find anything. Using extreme quintiles is the usual fudge but even that was apparently not enough on this occasion. No wonder their report was so guarded! Any extreme groups are very likely to introduce confounding with other variables

A LONG-awaited international study of the health risks of mobile phones has linked extended use to an increased risk of developing brain tumours.

The 10-year Interphone study, the world's biggest study of the health effects of mobile phones, found while there was no increased risk of cancer overall, those in the top 10 per cent of phone use are up to 40 per cent more likely to develop glioma, a common type of brain cancer.

Just 30 minutes of mobile talk time daily was enough to put participants into the top 10 per cent category in the study, carried out in 13 countries, including Australia, and involving more than 5000 brain cancer patients worldwide.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, which conducted the study and has repeatedly delayed its publication, summarised the findings by saying there were "suggestions of an increased risk of glioma, and much less so meningioma, in the highest decile (10 per cent) of cumulative call time, in subjects who reported phone use on the same side of the head as their tumour".

It added "biases and errors limit the strength of the conclusions that can be drawn . . . and prevent a causal interpretation".

But the finding - reported by British newspapers yesterday ahead of its official scheduled release this week - has nevertheless ignited controversy among cancer experts, neurologists and other scientists.

Australian neurosurgeons Charlie Teo and Vini Khurana [The usual suspects] said last night the findings were a concern.

"Despite the study's methodological limitations that biased it towards finding nothing, the heaviest users were found to be at significantly higher risk of glioma, which is consistent with our message," Drs Teo and Khurana told The Australian.

"This (finding) does concern us, but it's also an impetus to do two things: the mobile phone industry has to supply the actual hours logged, and we need to track brain tumour incidence in Australia."

Other experts sought to reassure the public over the findings. IARC director Christopher Wild said an increased risk of brain cancer was "not established from the data from Interphone".

Although modern mobile phones have greatly reduced emissions the authors said phone use now was "much more prevalent and it is not unusual for young people to use mobile phones for an hour or more a day".

Industry group the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association also emphasised the study found no increased risk overall, and its conclusion was "in line with the weight of scientific opinion, which has found no substantiated scientific evidence of any adverse health effects".


'Holy Grail' cancer vaccine that blasts tumours in weeks hailed as huge leap in fighting disease

Good if it really works. Sounds over-optimistic but it will be years before we know. Proper clinical trials have a way of dashing bright-eyed hopes and theories

Scientists have developed a new jab which they hope will be a 'holy grail' cancer cure. The treatment, which will be tested on British patients over the next few months, can reverse and even cure malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

If it proves successful in large- scale trials, there are hopes that new forms could be developed to fight other forms of cancer, such as breast and prostate.

Experts say it may even stop people getting cancer in the first place. Lead researcher Professor Lindy Durrant, of Nottingham University, said: 'This is huge. We could now have a vaccine that can target a tumour and kill it without damage to surrounding healthy tissues or cells. 'In the short term, this could cure some patients with the disease, and in the long term it could be used to prevent people developing it in the first place.'

Professor Karol Sikora, a leading cancer expert, said: 'This is a very clever vaccine and I believe it will increase the cure rate for patients in the future.' More than 10,000 people are diagnosed with malignant melanoma every year in Britain. Numbers have quadrupled over the past 30 years as more people enjoy sunshine holidays abroad or use tanning booths.

The vaccine contains DNA and fragments of tumour. These activate only the specific immune cells which target melanoma.

The treatment, developed by the company Scancell, will initially be given both to patients with advanced skin cancer which has spread to other parts of the body, and to those in the earlier stage of the disease.

Trials will begin at hospitals in Manchester, Nottingham and Newcastle. If successful, the jab could be available within ten years.

Professor Durrant said previous cancer jabs did not work because they stimulated the body's whole immune system, not just the parts which attack cancer cells. 'This time we believe the immune cells are more potent and will kill cancer cells,' she said. She believes the vaccine could be adapted to fight other tumours.


16 May, 2010

Kids who fib get to the top of the pile

This is rubbish. Of course high IQ kids fib best. They do most mental tasks best. But it is the high IQ that gets them to the top, not the lies -- though I am not disputing that lies can help

LITTLE fibbers could grow up to be big players. Children who learn to lie at an early age have better developed brains, marking them out as potential executives and leaders, say researchers.

They say that learning to tell a fib marks a milestone in a cognitive development. One fifth of children manage it by the age of two.

Lying involves multiple brain processes, such as integrating sources of information and manipulating the data to their advantage. It is linked to the development of brain regions that allow “executive functioning” and use higher order thinking and reasoning.

“Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib,” said Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University.

“Almost all children lie. Those who have better cognitive development lie better because they can cover up their tracks. They may make bankers in later life!”

His team tested 1,200 children aged 2-16. The most deceitful age, they discovered, was 12, when almost every child tells lies.


It was brawn over beauty in human mating competition

This is pure theory but seems reasonable in the light of comparisons with other animals. Dominance hierarchies are very common and do have a general association with mating opportunities

Male physical competition, not attraction, was central in winning mates among human ancestors, according to a Penn State anthropologist.

"There is sexual competition in many species, including humans," said David A. Puts, assistant professor of biological anthropology.

Many researchers have considered mate choice the main operator in human sexual selection. They thought that people's mating success was mainly determined by attractiveness; but for men, it appears that physical competition among males was more important. Puts sees humans as similar to many of the apes in using male competition to determine access to mates, the winning male choosing the women of his dreams. He reports his findings in the current issue of Evolution and Human Behavior.

"On average men are not all that much bigger than women, only about 15 percent larger," said Puts. "But, the average guy is stronger than 99.9 percent of women."

The problem is that men and women do not appear sexually dimorphic - different sexes having radically different sizes and weights. But Puts notes that women tend to store more body fat, while men have 60 percent more muscle mass than women.

Other traits indicate physical prowess was the major force in human mate competition through history. Men are far more aggressive than women, and approximately 30 percent of men in small-scale foraging communities die violently. Puts suggests that while a deep voice has been considered an appealing trait to women, it actually signals dominance. "A deep voice makes men look dominant and older," said Puts. "A low voice's effect on dominance is many times greater than its effect on sexual attraction."

The main sticking point with human male competition compared to other species is that male humans do not possess inherent weapons. "Other animals have antlers or long canines and claws," said Puts. "Why don't we have them?" According to Puts, men do have weapons. They make them. Bows and arrows, spears, knives -- men have always manufactured weapons.

Other male traits also seem to imply competition. Males have thicker jawbones, which may have come from men hitting each other and the thickest-boned men surviving. Competition may explain why males have more robust skulls and brow ridges than women.

Another argument for male competition focuses on the environment. Puts suggests that species that live in three-dimensional space - birds and insects in the air or swimming creatures in the sea - tend not to compete for mates using physical competition because it would be very difficult for a male to defend females while fighting other males on all fronts. Species that live on the ground or the sea floor have it easier because there are only two dimensions to defend. Some insects that live in tunnels or burrows exhibit the most intense competition because it is impossible for the other male to get to the females except through the defender.

Male competition is rare among birds, occurring to a greater degree among large terrestrial species. Tree-living primates also show less physical competition. Humans living in a two-dimensional environment would experience substantial physical competition for mates.

According to Puts, humans and chimpanzees create male coalitions that are often strengthened by kinship. Coalitions can help males defend females from other males. However, when external forces are absent, these same males can compete with each other for mates.

These ideas may seem to paint a rather bleak picture of human nature with men duking it out among themselves for most of human evolution.

"Things are different for us now in many ways," said Puts. "It's heartening to think that human behavior is flexible enough that the right social institutions can increase equality and peace."


15 May, 2010

Piece of cheese each day 'helps protect the immune system of the elderly'

I am prepared to believe anything good about cheese but must perforce note that this is mostly theory. See the rubric below

A piece of cheese a day could keep the doctor away, research has found. Scientists say cheese can boost the immune system of the elderly by acting as a carrier for so-called 'good' bacteria.

Tests have found that eating probiotic varieties of cheese can tackle age-related deterioration in the immune system - leading to a healthier old age.

Probiotic cheese is available in health shops, and is marketed in the same way as probiotic yoghurt. Some forms of aged cheeses are also naturally teeming with probiotic bacteria.

A team from Finland's Turku University concluded that a daily portion of probiotic cheese can slow the degeneration of our bodies known as immunosenescene, which makes it much harder to fight infections and respond to vaccinations.

The researchers asked volunteers aged between 72 and 103 to eat one slice of either placebo or probiotic Gouda cheese with their breakfast for four weeks.

Tests found that those eating the probiotic cheese had a dramatically increased number of white blood cells - which help fight infection.

Lead researcher Dr Fandi Ibrahim said in the journal Immunology & Medical Microbiology that regular probiotic cheese was an innovative way to boost the immune system. 'The intake of probiotic bacteria has been reported to enhance the immune response through other products and now we have discovered that cheese can be a carrier of the same bacteria.'

This deterioration means the body finds it much harder to kill tumour cells and reduces the immune response to vaccinations and infections. Infectious diseases, chronic inflammation disorders and cancer are hallmarks of immunosenescene.

To tackle immunosenescene, the team targeted the gastrointestinal tract, which is the main entry for bacteria cells into the body through food and drink - and is also the site where two thirds of vital 'immunoglobin' antibodies are secreted.

Blood tests were carried out on volunteers to discover the effect of probiotic bacteria contained within the cheese on the immune system. The results revealed a dramatic increase in the number of white blood cells which are key in the body's fight against infection.

However, there was no follow-up to test whether the elderly people in the study had fewer illnesses. And there is no suggestion that the cheese could help against cancer.

Dr Ibrahim said: 'The aim of our study was to see if specific probiotic bacteria in cheese would have immune enhancing effects on healthy older individuals in a nursing home setting.

'We have demonstrated that the regular intake of probiotic cheese can help to boost the immune system and that including it in a regular diet may help to improve an elderly person's immune response to external challenges.'


Want to live to see 100? Then be nice to friends and family

This seems reasonable enough as far as it goes but it must be noted that there are many factors influencing longevity, with genes being hard to trump. Note this study, for instance

A study of centenarians has revealed that developing close friendships and family ties is key if you want to live to 100. The researchers quizzed 188 centenarians on the secrets of their staying power. They found that most classed themselves as sociable, open-minded and optimistic.

Only two of the men and women studied were smokers, although 28 per cent were former smokers. Almost all drank alcohol, although only in moderation. Many were still physically active, with 60 per cent going on regular walks or taking other forms of exercise.

Researcher Robyn Richmond said genetics accounts for just 20 to 30 per cent of a person's chances of living to 100, meaning personality and lifestyle have a major impact.

'Social contact with family and friends is very important,' she said. 'Centenarians have built up strong solid relationships, seeing family, friends and neighbours regularly. 'If they don't have children, if they have very strong connections with their friends or if they are living in a nursing home that gets them doing interesting things with others who live there, they are more likely to live to 100.'

Professor Richmond, of New South Wales University in Sydney, which led the survey, said: 'Low neuroticism is a personality trait. 'They are not prone to negative emotions, so they are not hostile to others, not angry or guilty, not anxious or depressed.

'Centenarians are open to change. They have lived through trials and tribulations. They also tend to be extraverts. 'They are conscientious, which means they follow doctors' advice about a healthy lifestyle.

'Half have a drink each day but none a risky level of alcohol consumption. 'It means even if you have got bad genes but you live a healthy life and stay positive, you could still have a very long life.' [Improbable. What does "living a healthy life" mean? Despite much bright-eyed optimism, there is no strong evidence that diet, for instance, has ANY effect on longevity. Abstaining from illegal drugs, however, would undoubtedly have a beneficial effect]

Advances in healthcare and healthier lifestyles means one in eight Britons turning 50 this year is predicted to reach 100.


14 May, 2010

Being a 'cougar' can send a woman to an early grave

I guess it is very wicked of me but I do find the results below a bit amusing: Having a younger partner is GOOD for men but BAD for women! How unjust! I once married a woman 11 years older than me and she is still at age 77 in good health and full of beans so we should note that the effects described below are not strong and allow for many exceptions.

That men who have younger wives live longer is easy to explain. They probably have to be pretty fit and vigorous in the first place to attract younger women.

The finding about "cougars" does seem much harder to understand. The stress of keeping up with a younger man's lifestyle would seem to be the most likely explanation but that does seem rather facile to me. But I have no better explanation. Perhaps the younger guys DO just wear them out

Cougars beware – having a much younger husband can send a woman to an early grave. Experts warn that settling down with a ‘toy boy’ can reduce a woman’s life expectancy. However, older men with younger wives appear to live for longer.

Researchers said that while cougars, older women in their 30s and 40s who date much younger men, may believe that having a younger partner will help to keep them youthful the opposite appears to be true.

The phenomenon is epitomised by celebrities like Demi Moore, whose husband Ashton Kutcher is 16 years younger than her. A new television series on the idea, Cougar Town, stars Courtney Cox, the former Friends actress.

But despite the celebrity endorsements, researchers warned that cougars still face social pressure for dating much younger men. Their findings show that having a partner seven years younger increases a woman’s chances of dying earlier by 20 per cent.

Sven Drefahl, from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, in Rostock, Germany, who carried out the research, warned: "The greater the age difference, the lower the wife's life expectancy. “The best choice for a woman is to marry a man of exactly the same age."

The study used statistics on two million Danish couples.

The findings also revealed that men who married younger women lived longer. "The mortality risk of a husband who is seven to nine years older than his wife is reduced by eleven per cent compared to couples where both partners are the same age," according to the report.

Dr Drefahl, a sociologist, believed that having a toy boy may mean more stress for women because they are "violating social norms and thus suffer from social sanctions." They could be regarded as outsiders and receive less social support, resulting in "a less joyful and more stressful life, reduced health, and finally, increased mortality," he said.

The findings are published in the journal Demography.


Good childcare for toddlers shows benefits in teenage years

Apparently, kids who were "farmed out" a lot in their earliest years ended up more socially pathological but kids who were farmed out only a little but to "high quality" care were less socially pathological in later life. I am inclined to think that this simply shows again that the best place for little kids is a loving home rather than any institutional environment

Those who receive a high level of care as young children are more intellectually able and less likely to misbehave ten years later, researchers found.

A team studied more than 1,300 children at the age of 15, looking at the type, quality and quantity of care they had received when younger.

Researchers looked at children born in ten cities across the US, ensuring a cross section included middle class, low income, two parent and single parent families.

It found that teens who attended programmes with higher-quality care during early childhood scored higher on tests of academic achievement than teens who attended programmes with lower-quality care.

Those who spent more hours in early child care during the first four-and-a-half years of their lives reported more risk-taking and greater impulsivity than teens who spent fewer hours in care.

And teens who participated in higher-quality child care programmes had fewer behaviour problems, such as rule-breaking, arguing, and hanging out with the wrong crowd, than teens who had attended poor-quality child care, according to the research published in the journal Child Development.

Lead author Prof Deborah Lowe Vandell, of the Univeristy of California, said: "This evidence of long-term effects of early child care quality is noteworthy because it occurred in a large economically and geographically diverse group of children who took part in routine nonrelative child care in their communities.

"These findings suggest that the quality of early child care experiences can have long-lasting, albeit small, effects on middle-class and affluent children, as well as those who are economically disadvantaged."


13 May, 2010

Staying late in the office could cause heart attacks and early death

It's more likely to be the associated stress than the hours themseves. Stress is undoubtedly disabling in various ways

Staying late in the office or working overtime is bad for the heart, researchers warned yesterday. A large study of British civil servants found that those who regularly worked 10 or 11-hour days were up to 60 per cent more likely to suffer heart disease or die younger than those who worked shorter hours.

The research, which is published online in the European Heart Journal, found that people who worked three or more hours longer than a normal, seven-hour day, put their health at risk, possibly as a result of being more stressed and having less time to unwind.

More than 6,000 men and women aged between 39 and 61 took part in the study. They were followed for an average of 11 years, with checks on whether they had suffered a heart attack or angina, or developed fatal heart disease.

All had healthy hearts at the start of the research in the early 1990s, but during the course of the study, 369 people either died from heart disease, had a non-fatal heart attack or developed angina — chest pain related to blocked blood vessels.

Researchers found that even when factors such as age and whether people were overweight or smoked were taken into account, overtime was linked to a 56 per cent to 60 per cent increased risk of heart disease or dying compared with people who did not work extra hours.

Marianna Virtanen, who led the study at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki and University College London, said that possible explanations for the link included “hidden” high blood pressure that is not always picked up, stress, anxiety or depression, and being a “Type A” personality who is highly driven, aggressive or irritable.

Those working overtime were more likely to be men, those in younger age groups, and higher occupational grades than those who did not.

Dr Virtanen added: “Our findings suggest a link between working long hours and increased coronary heart disease (CHD) risk,” she said. “But more research is needed before we can be confident that overtime work would cause CHD.”

People who had trouble sleeping or had “insufficient time” for winding down after work before bed may also see their risk increased. “Employees who work overtime may also be likely to work while ill — that is, be reluctant to be absent from work despite illness,” the researchers said.

Cathy Ross, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, which part-funded the research, said: “This study raises further questions about how our working lives can influence our risk of heart disease. “Although the researchers showed a link between working more than three hours overtime every day and heart problems, the reasons for the increased risk weren’t clear.

“The researchers suggest a number of reasons — ‘hidden’ high blood pressure, reduced sleeping hours and psychological stress. “These may affect the mechanisms that cause heart disease, but it could simply be that working long hours means we’ve less time to look after ourselves.


Government and obesity: Because it does everything else so well

Read the first sentence of the story carefully – the rest flows from there:
A White House report warns, “The childhood obesity epidemic in America is a national health crisis.”

An “epidemic”.  A “national health crisis“.  Got it?  We have a climate crisis.  Solution: Big government.   We have a financial crisis.  Solution: Big government.  We have a health care crisis.  Solution: Big government.  We have an childhood obesity crisis. Create a “crisis” and then create the solution. Any guess what the solution might be?  If you’ve been paying attention lately, you do:
The review by the Task Force on Childhood Obesity says one out of every three children is overweight or obese. The task force is a key part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to solve the problem of obesity within a generation. President Obama ordered the comprehensive review of the issue.
The report includes familiar themes, emphasizing the importance of improved nutrition and physical activity. It also calls for some new and dramatic controls on the marketing of unhealthy foods.

It doesn’t require an advanced college degree to understand the thrust of those two paragraphs. “Solve the problem” is short-hand for enact the necessary controls to achieve the desired government goal “within a generation”.

You’re certainly not going to accomplish that by “suggesting” things be done, are you? And of course, the task force makes that quite clear with its “new and dramatic controls” on the marketing of whatever it or government decides are “unhealthy” foods. Here’s what that means:
The task force wants junk food makers and marketers to go on what amounts to an advertising diet. It says media characters that are often popular with kids should only be used to promote healthy products. If voluntary efforts fail to limit marketing of less healthy products to young viewers, the task force suggests the FCC should consider new rules on commercials in children’s programming. It also challenges food retailers to stop using in-store displays to sell unhealthy food items to children.

More intrusion, more restrictions, less freedom. And, of course, if they get away with it with children, will the same sorts of restrictions be far behind with adults?
The advisory panel proposes better food content labeling on products and vending machines. Restaurants and vending machine companies are urged to display calorie counts. The experts say the FDA and USDA should cooperate with the food and beverage industries to develop a standard system of nutrition labeling on the front of packages. The study also suggests that restaurants should re-evaluate portion sizes, improve kids’ menus and list more healthy food choices.

Of course the task force is only “suggesting” these “improvements” now, but don’t forget that bold line above, “if voluntary efforts fail …”, well the implication is clear isn’t it? The same agency which has now undertaken to limit your salt intake by fiat is certainly up for dictating portion sizes, what should be on a kids menu and what is and isn’t “unhealthy” don’t you think?

And if you’re still not quite getting it yet, this should drive the point home:
The task force also sees a potential pocketbook approach to keep people from buying unhealthy foods. It calls for analyzing the effect of imposing state and local sales taxes on less healthy products.

Heh … well of course they do. And they’d not be averse to a federal tax either.
So where do they get the idea they have the right to pursue this? We’ll maybe “right” isn’t the proper word, but “power” works.  I think you might have already figured that out by now:
The report found one out of every three children is overweight or obese, conditions that increase their risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer in their lifetimes. The cost of treating obesity-related ailments is estimated to be $150 billion per year.

And the government has put itself in charge of containing health care cost, hasn’t it?
It was that “health care crisis” they just “solved”, remember?


12 May, 2010

Too many vitamin tablets could be bad for your health

When will this stupid old antioxidant theory die? There have been plenty of prior findings showing this

New research shows that far from protecting us, antioxidant supplements, such as vitamins C and E, may actually increase the chance of developing cancer.

If, 15 years ago, you were au fait with the word antioxidant, then you probably had a chemistry degree. These days, you're almost certainly an expert on the subject yourself. Every time we read a magazine, turn on the TV or pop to the supermarket, we're bombarded by claims about the ability of these apparently miraculous chemicals to ward off serious illness and help us live longer. As a result, swathes of the public, in particular the "worried well", now expound knowledgeably about the "antioxidant power" of their purchases from the fruit and veg counter at Waitrose to neutralise the dangerous "free radicals" in our bodies.

But although "antioxidant good, free radical bad" has become the nutritional rallying cry of a generation, scientists say that worrying questions remain about the complex role the two interlinked chemicals play in our lives. This has been underlined by new research suggesting that, far from protecting us from harm, high doses of antioxidants can do significant damage to our bodies.

Scientists at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles reported in the journal Stem Cells that high doses of antioxidant supplements, such as vitamins C and E, raised the risk of dangerous changes in human cells.

"In simple terms, by taking high amounts of antioxidant supplements, you may be increasing your chances of cancer," explained the team leader, Dr Eduardo Marbán.

Confused? Before we turn to Dr Marbán's explanation, it's worth recapping what we do – and don't – know about free radicals and antioxidants. The starting point is that our bodies generate a class of molecules called free radicals, both as a by-product of our normal metabolic processes and as a result of contact with pollutants. These reactive molecules contain oxygen atoms with unpaired electrons. Since electrons have a very strong tendency to exist in a paired rather than an unpaired state, the free radicals indiscriminately "seek" to grab electrons from nearby molecules. These are then converted into secondary free radicals, setting up a chain reaction that damages our tissue.

In 1956, the Californian scientist Denham Harman proposed a theory that has dominated the field of ageing research ever since. His idea was that ageing is caused by an accumulation of "oxidative stress" – the damage to our cells done by free-radical forms of oxygen. These free radicals are thought to be harmful to our DNA – raising the risk of cancer – and also damaging to cholesterol molecules, creating a reactive form of the fatty molecule that can inflame our arteries, thereby leading to heart attacks and strokes.

Then, over the past few decades, came a series of population studies which suggested that people who ate lots of fruit and vegetables – which contain plenty of antioxidants – tend to live longer. Separate studies in the laboratory showed that antioxidants stopped oxidative chemical processes of the type thought to lie behind several diseases. People added one and one and made three: they assumed that ingesting high doses of these antioxidants, as supplements, would protect them from the diseases of old age.

The first cracks in this argument appeared in the 1990s, when a large clinical trial by the US National Cancer Institute made a surprising – and alarming – discovery. It found that the popular antioxidant supplement beta-carotene actually appeared to increase the risk of lung cancer in those predisposed to the disease. By the middle of this decade, the initial excitement about vitamin E's ability to prevent heart disease, and similar hopes that vitamin-C supplements could extend our lives, had also withered away. "The simple message is: 'Don't buy antioxidant supplements, because they won't do you any good'," says Dr David Gems of University College London's Institute of Healthy Ageing. "The oxidative stress theory is looking very shaky. It is clearly not the only driver of the ageing process."

But it is not just the benefits of antioxidants that have come under attack. The other half of the equation, namely the idea that free radicals must be neutralised at all costs, has also been challenged. These reactive molecules actually play a vital role in our immune systems by killing tumour cells and invading pathogens. Researchers at Nijmegen University in the Netherlands have suggested that giving antioxidants to people with cancer might actually be counterproductive, given that patients will need free radicals to dispose of proliferating tumour cells.

On a subtler level, Professor Malcolm Jackson of University of Sheffield argues that a certain level of free radicals may be needed to stimulate the production of our own internal – and highly effective – antioxidants. These include the superoxide dismutase, a molecule honed by million of years of evolution to mop up free radicals in the body.

Still, there is a considerable leap from this concept to the idea that high doses of antioxidants can actually increase the risk of cancer. Which brings us back to the striking findings published in Stem Cells last week. Dr Marbán and his team accidentally discovered the danger of excessive antioxidant doses while trying to find a way to reduce the genetic abnormalities that occur when growing cardiac stem cells for experimental heart treatments in vitro.

These cultures typically contain very high levels of oxygen, which means that the cells are at high risk of oxidative damage. To limit this, he recently added antioxidant supplements recommended by a technical supplier. But to his surprise, he found this increased the level of genetic damage. The same thing happened when he added the antioxidant vitamins C and E, at the same levels commonly reached by people on high-dose supplements.

Dr Marbán thinks that at such high levels, the antioxidants impede the enzyme that corrects the errors that occur frequently when DNA is duplicated during cell division. Indeed, he has shown that a mix of vitamins C and E could also impede the enzyme that repairs our DNA from doing its job.

Tellingly, he repeated the experiment using unnaturally high levels of the antioxidants produced by the body itself, such as catalase. Again, the cancer-fighting DNA repair enzyme was hindered. "This suggests to us that it was the antioxidant properties, rather than peculiar chemical properties of these two vitamins, that prevented DNA repair," he says.

And back in the real world? "Taking one multivitamin a day is fine, but a lot of people take way too much because they think if a little is good, a lot must be better," Dr Marbán says. "That is just not the case. The simple message for consumers is: eat as much fruit and vegetables as you like. You can't overdose on antioxidants in your diet. But supplements can take you into the danger zone."

Yet if the value of antioxidant supplements is at best uncertain, the evidence for the life-prolonging benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables seems clear. [Rubbish! There are only uninterpretable epidemiological findings to that effect] The challenge now is to explain why they work in this form but appear to fail as isolated key chemicals.

Apart from the question of dosing, experts suggest that antioxidants might work best in combination with other nutrients and protective chemicals that are present in fruit and vegetables. Or perhaps it's that eating lots of fruit and veg means you have less room for junk food. It's certainly something to reflect on the next time you find yourself perusing the ever-growing ranks of antioxidant supplements in the pharmacy or health-food shop. Instead of time-release vitamin pills, buy yourself an apple.


Listening to Mozart 'does not increase intelligence'

Nothing does. Many things have been tried but none have had any lasting effect

Listening to Mozart does not increase intelligence, scientists have concluded after more than 15 years of studies into the claims. The finding is a blow to believers of the so-called “Mozart effect”.

The phenomenon was first suggested by a scientific study published in 1993 in the respected journal Science. That showed that teenagers who listened to Mozart's 1781 Sonata for Two Pianos in D major performed better in reasoning tests than adolescents who listened to something else or who had been in a silent room.

The finding, by a group at the University of California whose study involved only 36 students, led crèches in America to start playing classical music to children and the southern US state of Georgia even gave newborns a free classical CD.

However, since then many have suggested that the effect is a myth after further research failed to replicate the findings.

Now a team from Vienna University's Faculty of Psychology has analysed all studies since 1993 that have sought to reproduce the Mozart effect and found no proof of the phenomenon's existence. In all they looked at 3,000 individuals in 40 studies conducted around the world.

"Those who listened to music, Mozart or something else – Bach, Pearl Jam – had better results than the silent group. But we already knew people perform better if they have a stimulus," said Jakob Pietschnig, who led the study. "I recommend everyone listen to Mozart, but it's not going to improve cognitive abilities as some people hope," he added.


11 May, 2010

'Fat tax' could be levied on junk food in Britain

Any tax on food will hit the poor hardest -- and won't do any good because the assumptions on which it is built are provably wrong

A "fat tax" could be levied on junk food and sugary drinks in a bid to reduce obesity and reduce the deficit. The Food Standards Agency is planning to consult on whether taxing such foods would encourage people to make healthier choices. In much the same way as tax is applied to alcohol and tobacco the most processed food are likely to be targeted.

It is possible however that 17.5 per cent tax could be levied on high fat food such as butter and cheese. All food is currently exempt from VAT.

The FSA fears that the nations excessive consumption of saturated fat is leading to increased numbers of deaths through clogged arteries and heart disease.

The scheme has met with opposition from consumer groups. Julian Hunt, of the Food and Drink Federation told the Daily Mail: "It may be a perfectly sensible issue to debate but such a regressive policy would nothing more than create lighter wallets for consumers."

However some research has claimed a fat tax could save up to 3,000 lives per year.

Last year the British Medical Association only narrowly voted against putting a fat tax on chocolate.

However, research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that any fat tax would have a negative affect on poorer families and have a greater impact on their food budget than on richer families.


Four out of five children not getting enough fruit and veg 'putting future health at risk'

This rubbish is still being bruited about despite the recent demonstration that the amount of fruit and veg you eat has negligible effect on health. The "five a day" target was just made up by PR men. It has no basis in science

But it is no surprise that the money-grubbing WCRF "charity" is behind this latest pronouncement. They know the evidence but counter it by mere theory and assertions. I suppose it keeps the "research" dollars flowing in

Four out of five children are not getting their ‘five a day’ potentially storing up health problems for the future, a cancer charity has warned. Experts recommend that a balanced diet should include five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. As a slogan, the mantra has been enthusiastically taken up by health campaigns and food manufacturers in recent years.

But most of Britain’s youngsters do not get enough of the vital vitamins and nutrients included in fresh fruit and vegetables, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) warns. The charity insists that this could influence their risk of developing cancer in the future.

Official figures show that children aged between five and 15 have an average of three portions of fruits and vegetables a day. But around one in 14 boys and one in 25 girls do not eat any fruits and vegetables at all. Overall just one in five eat the recommended amounts.

A study released earlier this month showed that eating five portions of fruit a day did not significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer.

However, the WCRF believes that an assessment of all the available evidence shows that there is a protective effect conferred by having a healthy balanced diet.

Nathalie Winn, a nutritionist for WCRF, said: “The fact that only a fifth of children are getting enough fruits and vegetables is a concern because it is important that we encourage children to get into healthy habits as early in life as possible.

“This is because scientific research shows that eating a plant based diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains and pulses probably reduces the risk of a number of types of cancer later in life.” She added: “There are lots of reasons why fruits and vegetables may protect against cancer.

“As well as containing a variety of vitamins and minerals, which help to keep the body healthy and strengthen our immune system, they are also a good source of phytochemicals. “These are biologically active compounds that may help to protect cells in the body from damage that can lead to cancer.”

The WRCF also believe that eating a balanced diet can be important because it helps people to maintain a healthy weight. At least six forms of cancer have been linked to obesity.

Ms Winn added: “A lot has been done over the last few years to promote the health benefits of eating at least five portions a day. But these figures show that there is a lot of work still to do, both in terms of promoting fruits and vegetables and also making them accessible and affordable.”

Research has shown that fruits can reduce the risk of cancers of the mouth, larynx, lung and stomach. Dietary fibre, found in many fruits and vegetables, can also help to reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer, scientists believe.


10 May, 2010

Soft drinks can almost double the risk of pancreatic cancer

The usual epidemiological arrogance about causes. Most likely explanation for the findings: Poor people consume more sweet food and drink and have worse health to start with.

Here's another reason to avoid soft drinks: It can significantly increase your risk of pancreatic cancer. The damage to your teeth by consuming sugar and soft drinks may seem trivial now that research has shown they may also increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, writes Roger Dobson.

A new study at Georgetown University in the US looked at sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages or soft drinks and the risk of pancreatic cancer in 60,000 men and women in Singapore over a 14-year period.

It found that those who drink more than two soft drinks a week almost double the risk of developing the disease.

And a second study over 16 years by the University of East Anglia, monitoring 25,000 adults in the UK, shows that those who had the most sucrose (table or white sugar) in their diet were twice as likely to get the disease as those who had the least.

Some 7,500 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK. It is difficult to detect and treat, and there are few early symptoms. Little is known about the exact causes, and it can develop for no obvious reason.

But new research is shedding light on possible risk factors.

Another extensive study of 160,000 people at the University of Hawaii looked at diet and pancreatic-cancer risk, and showed that higher intakes of fructose (a sugar that occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables and honey) and sucrose led to a 35 per cent higher risk of disease.

During the research at the University of East Anglia, participants kept daily food diaries and sucrose intake was calculated for each person.

The researchers have been looking for any dietary differences between those who went on to develop pancreatic cancer and those who did not.

Results show that those who consumed the most sucrose were twice as likely to develop the cancer, although why is not clear.

A key role of the pancreas is to produce insulin, which helps keep sugar levels in the blood at a stable level. One theory is that excess sucrose intake could trigger pancreatic cancer through increased insulin production.

Excess insulin may result in an increase in growth factors and other compounds that may stimulate growth of cancer cells.


Conflicts of interest in Obama's Food and Drug Administration

Suddenly, The New York Times is exorcised and agitated about potential conflicts of interest within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) committee structure. Some of the scientists serving in policy advisory positions could be unduly motivated to make recommendations on the basis of their own financial interests, a recent editorial warns. Stipulations are already in place to guard against conflicts that may open the way to decisions that are not in the public interest.

Ideally, there should no waivers but agency has made some recent progress, editorial points out. Whereas the FDA had been granting waivers to more than 15 percent of the members, it is now granting waivers to less than 5 percent. Although The Times articulates a legitimate concern, it appears to be feigned and not real.

Even as it huffs and puffs about potential conflicts, the editorial neglects to mention that the FDA has set up a panel on menthol with the aim of outlawing it in cigarettes. The panel is stacked with people who have a clear bias. In many instances they would stand to profit from the prohibition that is being entertained. This raises some questions.

If The Times has such faith in its editorial stance, why the sleight of hand? If there’s a bias at work here against certain products in deference to others, shouldn’t this find its way in the editorial? It would appear the outrage is highly selective and agenda driven.

“An important panel set up by the FDA has a near majority of its voting members getting paid by special interests who have billions of dollars riding on the outcome of the committee’s ultimate decision,” Bill Wilson, President of Americans for Limited Government, observed. “This is ludicrous.”

“The Obama administration continues its rhetoric about a balanced, objective approach to science - an approach that sets aside agendas and emphasizes science - but we keep finding that special interests trump scientific findings,” he continued. “On this advisory pane, the heavy influence of big pharmaceutical companies is overwhelming. Pharmaceutical companies stand to make huge profits if the committee takes certain actions like banning menthol.”

• Jack Henningfeld a voting member of the committee is a consultant to GlaxoSmithKline the maker of Nicorette gum who would stand to benefit financially from further restrictions on tobacco products

• Neil L. Benowitz was Pfizer consultant which makes the drug Chantix that aids people who want to quit smoking. Benowitz has also worked for GlaxoSmithKline and Nabi Pharmaceuticals

• Dorothy Hatsukami received grant support (See here) from Nabi Pharmaceuticals to study their nicotine vaccine

• The head TPSAC, Jonathan Samet, also received grants from GlaxoSmithKline and the organization he headed was funded by two different pharmaceutical companies.

“Remarkably, The Times could have inserted a few lines from its own reporting to provide readers with some perspective on the tobacco panel,” noted Kevin Mooney, the TimesCheck editor. “They are entitled to take whatever editorial stance they want. But when they go out of their way to avoid mentioning and highlighting conflicts that bedevil their policy goals, it gives good cause to wonder about what is omitted in the other reports.”


9 May, 2010

Depression 'treatable by electromagnetic therapy'

This sounds very much like the old electroshock therapy -- and it is a bit of a joke anyway. The results they got were LESS than the usual placebo effect (of around 30%)

Patients suffering from depression may find relief from treatments using electromagnetic stimulation, offering a possible alternative to mood-altering medications, a new study found.

The research, which was released on Monday, tested 190 patients who had previously failed to respond to antidepressant drugs.

Patients were given at least three weeks of magnetic stimulation. Scientists found that the treatment led to remissions for 14 percent of them, and that most remained in remission for several months.

The treatment, known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) offers future hope of a non-drug treatment for depression sufferers, although researchers said additional studies are needed. "This study should help settle the debate about whether rTMS works for depression," [Correct. It DOESN'T work] said Mark George of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, who led the research team.

"We can now follow up clues suggesting ways to improve its effectiveness, and hopefully further develop a potential new class of stimulation treatments for other brain disorders."

The treatment aims to jump-start the brain's mood-regulating circuitry by jolting the top left front section with an electromagnetic coil emitting 3,000 pulses over a 37-minute session.

Researchers said the treatments can be safely administered in a doctor's office with few side effects, unlike more invasive brain stimulation treatments, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

The US National Institute of Mental Health-funded research showed that although the treatment "has not yet lived up to early hopes that it might replace more invasive therapies, this study suggests that the treatment may be effective in at least some treatment-resistant patients," center director Thomas Insel said.


Milk Fascism comes to Australia

If people prefer their milk unprocessed, why should they be penalized for taking the small risk involved?

And the risk really is small. TB is the big bugbear behind pasteurization as cows can carry TB if the herd is not tested. But the answer to that is to test the herd for it and remove the affected animals. That is now normal practice in most places.

Milk processing in the small Australian country town where I grew up must have been pretty casual because when all the kids at my school were tested for TB (with the Mantoux skin test), hardly any of us needed vaccination because we all had TB antibodies in us anyway. Being young and healthy country kids, we had been infected with TB but had simply thrown it off with no lasting effects and without even knowing about it

People in poor health would be unwise to take risks, however

IT'S a story of undercover agents and an illegal substance, set in the heart of Queensland's best-known hippie community.

The Maple Street Food Co-op in Maleny on the Sunshine Coast has become an alternative lifestylers' icon over the past three decades. But now the store has been busted – for allegedly promoting the sale of raw, or unpasteurised, milk for drinking which has been illegal in Australia since the 1980s.

The co-op stocks raw milk produced by Trevor Mahaffey at his dairy farm in Goomboorian near Gympie and sold around the country under the brand "Cleopatra's Bath Milk" as a cosmetic.

In February last year, a plain-clothes Queensland Health official bought a bottle from the Maleny store. Authorities allege a shop assistant promoted the milk for drinking. The co-op claims entrapment, saying the official acted as an agent provocateur, asking if the milk was fit for human consumption. The worker said although she drank it, the shop's policy was that it was for cosmetic purposes only.

The case is due to be heard at Caloundra Magistrates Court on July 9. If convicted, the co-op could face fines of up to tens of thousands of dollars. "We are terrified," said financial officer Dick Newman. "This could put us out of business, kill us. They have a couple of high-powered barristers working on the case and we have a folk singer representing us." Mr Newman said the co-op had always complied with regulations. "This does seem a bit insane."


8 May, 2010

Open Letter to Prof. Barry Popkin

Of the Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524

A segment on WJLA-TV’s 11:00pm newscast yesterday featured you endorsing a tax on pizza. You justified such a tax on grounds that Americans today eat too much “junk food.”

Believing Americans to be too dimwitted or lacking in self-control to choose for themselves what to eat, you obviously also believe that college professors possess the moral authority to propose that government dictate the contents of other people’s diets.

So the rules of civil society, as you see them, are apparently these: If Professor divines that Person isn’t acting in Person’s own best interests, government should obstruct Person’s efforts to live as he or she wishes and prod Person to live instead according to how Professor wants Person to live.

I, too, can play by these rules.

I propose that all articles and books advocating that government intrude into people’s private choices be taxed at very high rates. Socially irresponsible producers of such “junk” scholarship churn out far too much of it. As a result, unsuspecting Americans consume harmfully large quantities of this scholarship – scholarship made appealing only because its producers cram it with sweet and superficially gratifying expressions of noble goals. These empty intellectual ‘calories’ trick our brains – which evolved in an environment that lacked today’s superabundant access to junk scholarship – into craving larger and larger, even super-sized, portions of such junk.

The tax I propose would reduce Americans’ consumption of this mentally debilitating, university-processed junk that serves only to inflate its producers’ egos and consulting fees while it makes the rest of us intellectually flabby and clogs our neural pathways with notions that are toxic to each individual who reads it and to the entire body-politic.

As a nation, we have a duty to prevent our fellow citizens from mindlessly ruining their minds – for when any one mind is damaged by the consumption of junk scholarship, the rest of us are harmed by the resulting obesity of the state.

Donald J. Boudreaux, Professor of Economics, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030


Foolish government "health" obsessions in Britain are mainly a mask for a puritanical disapproval of certain people and their lifestyles

The myth of a public health crisis

The notion that deviant individual behaviour is a major cause of disease is central to contemporary public health and it is endorsed by all the big political parties. But is it true? The most striking change in the health of the nation in the years that I have been a general practitioner in London has been increasing longevity. Last year, the practice I am part of welcomed three more patients as centenarians. It is extraordinary that our ageing patients have not only survived numerous threats to decimate the nation (AIDS, BSE, SARS, bird flu, pandemic flu), but they have also lived through decades of steadily rising obesity and alcohol consumption. No doubt the decline in smoking from the 1960s onwards has saved many from a premature death, but even the persistence of a hard core of smokers has not deterred the general improvement in both the duration and quality of life of older people.

Closer inspection of the behaviours chosen by David Cameron as major contributors to the burden of ill-health reveals a highly arbitrary selection. In the mounting panic about obesity over the past decade, both the scale and consequences of individual weight gain have been grossly exaggerated. There are relatively small numbers of individuals whose weight is a serious threat to their health, but for the vast majority of people who are moderately overweight, this is unlikely to have significant consequences for their health. Though some young people may drink excessively and cause a public nuisance, this is more a matter for the licensing and public order authorities than for doctors. There has been an increase in alcohol-related liver disease and other problems associated with prolonged high consumption, but these are still on a much smaller scale than in other European countries. Drug addiction is another social problem – but a much smaller one – and in my 20 years in an inner-city practice, one that has not significantly increased in size.

Furthermore, the links between particular diseases and the deviant behaviours identified by Cameron are weak. For example, it is widely assumed that coronary heart disease is strongly linked to ‘unhealthy diets’ and obesity. Yet the number of deaths from heart attacks has been steadily declining over the past 50 years – during which diets high in supposedly lethal sugars, fats and salt combined in all sorts of so-called ‘junk foods’ have become increasingly popular. These are also the decades of the couch potato, in which people are supposed to have assumed sedentary lifestyles and shunned physical exertions. It is clear that factors other than diet and exercise, notably genetics, possibly infections, are more important than behavioural contributors to heart disease. It is true that, as people live longer and die less from circulatory diseases, more people seem to be getting cancer. But, apart from lung cancer, the mortality from which has been declining for decades, no other common cancer is strongly associated with a behavioural cause.

How then can we explain Cameron’s selection of ‘our most severe health problems’ on which public health policy should focus? Why not, for example, choose some of the neurological and rheumatological problems, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, connective tissue disorders and many more that constitute a substantial disease burden for our ageing population and a major challenge for the National Health Service (NHS), both in hospitals and in primary care? Why not, for another example, focus on chronic mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder, which affect large numbers of people and have major consequences for affected families and the wider society?

It is evident that Cameron’s choice has little to do with health, but is more a political selection arising out of prejudice against the sorts of people who engage in the sorts of activities that would be increasingly stigmatised under a new Tory government (as indeed they have been under New Labour). People who are overweight, appear drunk in public places, smoke cigarettes, use heroin, have become objects of public disgust and professional condescension and would remain so under a Cameron government.

The failed assault on behaviour

In their emphasis on links between behaviour and disease, politicians assume that public-health authorities have reliable techniques for achieving the behaviour changes they believe will improve the health of the nation. But this is a triumph of wishful thinking over experience. For at least half a century – longer in the US – doctors and other health professionals have been telling patients that their health would benefit from eating less and exercising more. This has clearly been a spectacularly unsuccessful intervention in terms of influencing diet and activity (though, as we have seen, this has not deterred dramatic improvements in health).

Take a more specific health-promotion intervention: the drive to persuade children to eat ‘five a day’ portions of fruit and vegetables. Despite nationwide propaganda and major school-based programmes promoting this policy, the proportion of children reaching this target has remained steady at around one in five over the past five years, after an earlier increase. But not to worry! Recent research shows that ‘five a day’ confers only marginal benefits in terms of cancer prevention – confirming earlier studies casting doubt on wider health benefits (see Bofetta et al).

The focus of government health policy on behaviour reflects a wider transformation of the relationship between the state and the individual. The concept of behaviour is traditionally associated with children and animals, often in the context of psychological experimentation. In place of the active subject of democratic citizenship, the behavioural approach assumes an individual who is the passive object of official policy. Instead of an independent agent playing an active role in society, the citizen is assumed to be ignorant and immature, requiring expert professional guidance. The self-determining individual is reduced to being the target of official propaganda and political manipulation.

In his book Dread, American public health researcher Philip Alcabes traces the origin of the contemporary culture of public health back to the response to the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s, which he characterises as the first ‘behavioural epidemic’: ‘The turn from risk group to risk behaviour was a sign of an important change in thinking, a behavioural turn, wherein behaviour as risk became behaviour as cause. Before the advent of AIDS, never had the entirety of disease prevention policy been to tell people what they should stop doing… In the AIDS era, behaviour control was disease control.’

Alcabes shows how this approach led to the ‘new moralism’ of safe sex – and the neglect of the various forms of blood-borne transmission of HIV, which offered no scope for moralising.

Alcabes also shows how the ‘behavioural turn’ in response to a real infectious disease in the 1980s was consolidated in response to ‘imaginary epidemics’, such as ‘bioterrorism’, from the 1990s onwards. He singles out the obesity scare as the archetypal postmodern ‘epidemic’ which ‘plays on fantasies of mayhem and misgivings about our habits’. Depicted as ‘the fault of individuals’ poor choices, the failure to opt for the healthy lifestyle’, obesity is ‘an easy canvas on which to paint our psychic unease, our difficulties in achieving personal goals, or our sense that we have become lazy – even though no study on the topic of body mass and psychic impairment shows any clear connection’. Nevertheless, the panic over childhood obesity has contributed to the notion of childhood as ‘a period of both intense vulnerability and grave toxicity to society – despite the lack of evidence of widespread harm’. The concept of childhood obesity as an epidemic or risk leads us to ‘create administrative solutions to manage our children’s behaviour’.

Nudges and networks

The distinctive feature of Conservative Party’s approach to public health is its acknowledgement of the failure of past attempts to change behaviour in the cause of health (of course, these are associated with the years of New Labour government). Thus, the Tories’ public-health Green Paper endorses recent judgements by medical authorities that propaganda on the dangers of drinking alcohol has been ineffective. The familiar response to (numerous) studies revealing that health promotion policies do not achieve their objectives is to demand more of the same and that everybody involved should try harder – while also proposing more coercive interventions, such as more punitive taxation, more bans and proscriptions. But while there are plenty of such proposals in the Conservative document, its claim to novelty is its reliance on the insights of recent popular psychology books such as Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives and Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness.

The sole insight of Connected, the joint work of a Harvard physician and a Californian political scientist, is that individuals are influenced by social factors: ‘People do not have complete control over their own choices.’ But the authors’ ‘social network’ perspective treats individuals as passive objects who receive and transmit behaviours as though they were an infectious virus (though even the spread of the most infectious virus is influenced by specific individual and social factors). The results of supposedly groundbreaking academic inquiries appear banal. For example, the authors tell us that ‘psychological research suggests that feelings of loneliness occur when there is a discrepancy between our desire for connection to others and the actual connections we have’. Or in other words, ‘people with more friends are less likely to experience loneliness’.

When it comes to practical measures, the authors boldly propose ‘a new foundation for public health’ that offers Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous as models. One of their few specific proposals is a ‘creative alternative’ to current vaccination policy based on immunising ‘the acquaintances of randomly selected individuals’. This strategy is based on a mathematical model that suggests that ‘acquaintances have more links and are more central to the network than are the randomly chosen people who named them’. The authors suggest that ‘a choice informed by network science could be 700 per cent more effective and efficient’. But this model takes no account of the fact that most immunisations are aimed at a highly selected population (mainly babies) who have a very limited circle of ‘acquaintances’.

The concept of Nudge, written by a behavioural economist and a law professor based in Chicago, is that governments and employers should make self-conscious efforts to steer the choices of their citizens and workers in ways that improve their lives. They describe themselves as ‘liberal paternalists’ who reject bans and mandates in favour of ‘weak, soft, non-intrusive’ measures to create a ‘choice architecture’ that can ‘influence people’s behaviour in order to make their lives longer, healthier, and better’.

The most familiar illustration of this approach is the fly incorporated into the ceramic of airport urinals, providing careless men with something to aim at – and thereby at a stroke reducing ‘spillage’ by 80 per cent. However, the relevance of this example to the subsequent discussion of the Medicare subsidy for prescription drugs and the controversy over explicit consent or mandated choice in relation to organ donation is not readily apparent. The ‘nudge’ that appears most appealing to Tory public health strategists is the ‘dollar a day’ scheme piloted in North Carolina, under which teenage girls receive $1 for every day that they avoid becoming pregnant. A programme along similar lines in the UK offers pregnant women supermarket vouchers (exchangeable for any commodity but alcohol and tobacco) in return for abstinence from cigarettes: early results suggest that this is both cheaper and more effective than established ‘smoking cessation’ programmes that rely on ‘nicotine replacement’ and group therapies. Such crass economic incentives are more likely to invite fraud than produce long-term changes in behaviour.

Not-so-magical thinking

In A Healthier Nation, Conservative public-health advisers claim that ‘there are some hugely successful strategies now emerging from cognitive science and behavioural psychology’. Perhaps they have in mind the theories of ‘positive psychology’ promoted by the psychologist and self-help guru Martin Seligman. These theories enjoyed a major influence in the era of speculative finance capital in the US, in what Barbara Ehrenreich refers to as ‘the decade of magical thinking’. These are the sort of notions used to justify charismatic leadership in corporate rulers and to help them in ‘managing the despair’ of the millions of workers who lost their jobs in restructuring (aptly satirised by the character played by George Clooney in Up in the Air).

It is ironic that at the very time that ‘positive psychology’ began to be imported into the UK – under the authority of New Labour happiness tsar Lord Richard Layard – its influence reached a ‘manic crescendo’ in the US subprime mortgage crisis that triggered the global financial collapse of 2007. A similar combination of self-delusion and wishful thinking of the sort that united creditors and debtors and dragged the world into recession is now offered in another package of cod psychology, as a model for public health.


7 May, 2010

The dark chocolate story again: Very good for grossly mistreated mice

Dark chocolate can reduce brain damage following a stroke, a study suggests. Scientists have discovered that a compound called epicatechin, commonly found in dark chocolate, protects the brain against strokes by shielding nerve cells.

They based their findings on tests in mice and hope the effects can be replicated in humans. The U.S. researchers gave the mice a dose of epicatechin - a flavanol - and then 90 minutes later induced a stroke in the animals by cutting off the blood supply to their brains.

They found that the mice that had taken the epicatechin had 'significantly less' brain damage than those that had not.

The researchers, from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, also discovered that epicatechin had a protective effect when given to mice after they had a stroke....

Researchers from America's Johns Hopkins University say the findings could be important in the possible treatment of strokes.

Associate Professor Sylvain Doré said: 'Animals that had preventively ingested the epicatechin suffered significantly less brain damage than the ones that had not been given the compound.

'While most treatments against stroke in humans have to be given within a two- to three-hour time window to be effective, epicatechin appeared to limit further neuronal damage when given to mice 3.5 hours after a stroke.

'Given six hours after a stroke, however, the compound offered no protection to brain cells.'

Professor Doré said the finding could a step forward in our understanding of strokes. 'I hope this research into these pathways could lead to insights into limiting acute stroke damage and possibly protecting against chronic neurological degenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease and other age-related cognitive disorders.

'The amount of dark chocolate people would need to consume to benefit from its protective effects remains unclear, because we have not studied it in clinical trials. 'People shouldn't take this research as a free pass to go out and consume large amounts of chocolate, which is high in calories and fat.

The study has been published in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism.

Professor Doré said scientists have been intrigued by the potential health benefits of epicatechin by studying the Kuna Indians, a remote population living on islands off the coast of Panama.

He added: 'The islands' residents had a low incidence of cardiovascular disease. Scientists who studied them found nothing striking in the genes and realized that when they moved away from Kuna, they were no longer protected from heart problems.

'Researchers soon discovered the residents of Kuna regularly drank a very bitter cocoa drink, with a consistency like molasses, instead of coffee or soda. The drink was high in the compound epicatechin.'

But Professor Doré said the amount of epicatechin needed could end up being quite small because the suspected beneficial mechanism was indirect.

He explained: 'Epicatechin itself may not be shielding brain cells from free radical damage directly, but instead, epicatechin, and its metabolites, may be prompting the cells to defend themselves.'


Powerful new drugs that could 'switch on' memory in the brain giving hope to Alzheimer's sufferers

A memory 'masterswitch' has been identified in the brain, raising hopes of powerful new drugs to treat Alzheimer's and other diseases.

When the switch is turned off by ageing and illness, memories fade. But when a drug is used to flick the switch back on, the brain's ability to store information dramatically improves.

Triggering the switch in mice led to elderly creatures regaining the memory power of their youth, the journal Science reports.

The researchers are confident that a similar switch exists in the human brain - and say that drugs that capitalise on their discovery could be in use in ten years. The drug used on the mice, Vorinostat, is already used to treat a rare blood cancer but is too destructive for use in the human brain.

There is an urgent need for new Alzheimer's treatments because the number of Britons affected by the disease is forecast to double from the current 400,000 within a generation.

Current drugs can halt the progression of the disease but do not work for everyone and their effects wear off over time.

Researcher André Fischer said: 'This is a very important development. It will not cure Alzheimer's alone - that will require many different approaches - but it could certainly help.'

Dr Fischer, of the European Neuroscience Institute in Goettingen, Germany, pinpointed a tiny protein called H4K12 that controls genes key to memory and learning in the mouse brain. He said: 'The drug companies need to know what they need to specifically target for Alzheimer's disease. 'I am pretty optimistic that in at least the next ten years we are going to have some good stuff we can actually use.'

In an accompanying article, Professor David Sweatt , a U.S. neurobiologist, said that turning on H4K12 was likely to help with both Alzheimer's and age-related memory loss. He said the German results 'provide important proof of principle that this might be a viable approach to therapeutic interventions in ageing'.

'These studies will hopefully lead to more effective prevention strategies to improve quality of life in the aged, as well as contribute to a better understanding of memory function,' he added.

The treatment of other brain conditions, such as schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease, could be improved by finding other switches that act in a similar way.

Dr Marie Janson, of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: 'Although in mice, this research gives us clues about how memories are formed and function in the brain. 'We now need to find out if the same processes happen in the human brain. 'This understanding is vital if we are to develop ways to protect the ageing brain from cognitive decline.

'Alzheimer's and other dementias are complex, with many things happening in the brain, so it's likely that we'll need several drugs to treat them effectively. 'We hope that these findings will stimulate further research towards developing new dementia treatments that are so urgently needed.'

Professor Clive Ballard, of the Alzheimer's Society, said: 'A lot more work is needed to see how this links to later life diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.' He added: 'One in three people will die with dementia yet dementia research is desperately under-funded.'


6 May, 2010

Where are the bodies?

Today’s NYTimes features yet another scare story about industrial chemicals.

The writers say that the widespread use of the weedkiller Roundup has created “superweeds” which are herbicide resistant! That “could lead to higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution.”

Well, it could. The MSM always obsess about terrible things that chemicals will do. They predicted the cancer epidemic that never happened. They predicted the male sterility crisis that never happened. Now they claim that the preservative BPA in plastic bottles is injures us. If these omnipresent chemicals are so evil, where are the bodies? We’ve been exposed for years now, and yet Americans live longer than ever.

The MSM almost never point out that BPA reduced botulism poisonings, or that Roundup saves lives by lowering the cost of food. That doesn’t fit the anti-industry narrative.

So it was nice to discover “Truth or Scare,” the blog of a woman who calls herself “Junk Science Mom.” This week she calls out scaremonger/hustler David Fenton:
“If you believe what you see and hear in the media, those fighting an unnecessary battle against bisphenol-A (BPA) are altruistic individuals concerned about health and safety. Concerned about their children and their environment. It's all rainbows and butterflies. After all, who wouldn't want to protect babies from being poisoned to death?

But there is an ugly truth behind the scenes that you will never hear about in the media. Greed, propaganda, political agendas, profits, lies and scams. And it all can be tied to one person and one powerful PR firm. David Fenton and Fenton Communications….

He is the puppet master and we moms are his puppets. He orchestrates the scare and we, being fearful for our children, unknowingly carry out his plan for him. He comes out a winner, and we are duped into wasting our time, money and energy fighting a battle that never needed to be fought”

Good for you, junk science mom, whoever you are. Truth or Scare is a wonderful addition to the debate.


More broccoli propaganda. Kids hate it so it must be good for you

And it is -- if you are a mouse

Broccoli could hold the key to preventing and even treating breast cancer, claim scientists. A chemical found in the vegetable superfood targets the cells that fuel the growth of tumours.

Broccoli contains high levels of sulforaphane which can kill these cancer stem cells and prevent the disease from developing, or spreading when it is established.

U.S. scientists at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Centre completed successful laboratory tests on mice and cell cultures.

Study author Professor Duxin Sun said: 'Sulforaphane has been studied previously for its effects on cancer, but this study shows that its benefit is in inhibiting the breast cancer stem cells. 'This new insight suggests the potential of sulforaphane or broccoli extract to prevent or treat cancer by targeting the critical cancer stem cells.'

A report on the findings is published in the Clinical Cancer Research journal.

Around 46,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year in Britain, with 12,000 dying from the disease. Current chemotherapy regimes do not work against cancer stem cells, which is why the disease recurs and spreads, say the researchers. They believe that eliminating the cancer stem cells is critical to controlling the growth of tumours.

In the study, researchers took mice with breast cancer and injected varying concentrations of sulforaphane from the broccoli extract. They then used several established methods to assess the number of cancer stem cells in the tumours.

These measures showed a marked drop in the cancer stem cell population after treatment with sulforaphane, with little effect on the normal cells. Furthermore, cancer cells from mice treated with the chemical were unable to generate new tumours.

The researchers then tested the compound on human breast cancer cell cultures in the lab, finding a similar fall in the number of cancer stem cells. However, they warned that the concentrations used in the study were higher than those found in broccoli.

Because their work has not been tested in patients, they advise people against adding sulforaphane supplements to their diet in anticipation that it might prevent or treat cancer.

They are currently developing their own method to extract and preserve the chemical and will then carry out a clinical trial to test the process.

The vegetable's characteristically bitter taste means it is disliked by many - including former U.S. president George H.W. Bush. But its health effects are widely recognised, with studies showing that a chemical in the vegetable boosts DNA repair in cells. Other evidence suggests it keeps arteries healthy and may reverse the damage caused by diabetes to heart blood vessels.

It is high in vitamin C and fibre, and one stalk can provide nearly twice the recommended daily intake of vitamin K for an adult.


5 May, 2010

Alzheimer's risk is SIX times higher if your partner has it

This is a very large effect (albeit based on a rather small sample) and clearly raises the possibility that an infectious agent (a prion?) is involved

Perhaps I am being irresponsible but I believe that truth is always best in medical matters. So let me decode what is said below. The implausible spin below is designed to distract people from the posibility that an infectious agent is involved. Why? Because if people believe Alzheimer's to be infective, it will be very difficult to find carers for them

Those who nurse a spouse with dementia are six times more likely to develop the devastating condition themselves, research shows.

It is thought the physical and mental stress of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's and other forms of the condition can do lasting damage to the brain's memory centre. [Rubbish! There are lots of stressful occupations]

Although all forms of caring are hard, watching the mental decline of dementia is particularly tough, say the researchers, with men feeling the effects particularly keenly.

With the number of people with dementia expected to explode as the population ages, they say a better understanding of the phenomenon is vital and call for more research. The study team from Utah State University in the U.S. spent 12 years tracking the health of more than 1,200 couples who had been married for an average of 49 years.

None had dementia at the start of the study, but by the end 225 couples were affected. In 125 of these, the husband was diagnosed and in 70 it was the wife. But in 30 couples, both spouses were affected.

When factors such as genetics and social class were taken into account, it became clear that having a husband or wife with the disease raised a person's risk of developing it themselves six-fold.

The study, reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found husbands to be three times were vulnerable than wives, although the small numbers involved mean this might just be down to chance.

The researchers believe the emotional stress of watching the mental decline of a loved one could be at least partly to blame. In addition, dementia usually strikes later in life, making the psychological burden heavier for ageing spouses.

But the team called for more research on shared lifestyle and environmental factors.

At least 600,000 people in England have some form of dementia while an estimated 1.4million Britons will be sufferers within 20 years.

Rebecca Wood, of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said last night: 'It should be made clear that the majority of participants whose spouse had dementia did not develop the condition. 'Scandinavian researchers have found that being married in old age generally reduces risk, maybe because of the greater social interaction couples experience'.


Organic farms bad for small birds and only half as productive

Birds such as the skylark and lapwing are less likely to be found in organic fields than on conventional farms, according to a study that contradicts claims that organic agriculture is much better for wildlife.

It concludes that organic farms produce less than half as much food per hectare as ordinary farms and that the small benefits for certain species from avoiding pesticides and artificial fertilisers are far outweighed by the need to make land more productive to feed a growing population.

The research, by the University of Leeds, is another blow to the organic industry, which is already struggling because of falling sales and a report from the Food Standards Agency that found that organic food was no healthier than ordinary produce.

Organic farmers who shun herbicides may also impose higher costs on nearby farms because the weeds that they have tolerated spread to neighbouring fields.

In the most comprehensive study to date of the impact of organic agriculture on biodiversity, the researchers studied 192 fields on 32 farms in central southwest England and the north Midlands. Half were organic and half conventional.

The research found that organic farms had, on average, 12 per cent more biodiversity in terms of the number and variety of plants, birds, earthworms and insects. But the yield from organic fields was 55 per cent lower than from conventional fields growing similar crops in the same areas. While there were more plants and butterflies on organic farms, there was no difference in the number of bees and there were 30 per cent more hoverflies on conventional farms.

Organic fields contained more magpies and jays but 10 per cent fewer small birds such as yellowhammers, corn buntings, linnets, skylarks and lapwings. The researchers found that the larger birds, which were attracted to organic farms by their denser patches of woodland, were scaring away the smaller birds and preying on their nests.

Tim Benton, who led the study published in the journal Ecology Letters, said: “Our results show that to produce the same amount of food using organic rather than conventional means, we’d need to use twice the amount of land for agriculture. As the biodiversity benefits of organic farming are small, the lower yield may be a luxury we can’t afford, particularly in the more productive areas of the UK.”

Professor Benton said that previous studies, which claimed that organic fields contained up to twice as much wildlife as ordinary fields, had failed to compare like with like. They had tended to study organic farms with small fields and lots of hedges and woodland and compare them with more open landscapes.

Professor Benton’s research, supported by the government-funded Rural Economy and Land Use Programme, also found that isolated organic farms made little difference to the level of biodiversity. Greater benefits were detected where there were clusters of organic farms.

The researchers concluded: “Organic methods may be a useful part of the land management mix for the less productive parts of the UK, particularly if policies can encourage farmers to co-ordinate activities to maximise the benefit to wildlife across a larger area. However, given the lower yield and the limited biodiversity benefit of organic farming, it isn’t sustainable to promote it as the best or only method of agriculture. To meet future demands of food production, we will need to keep farming our most productive areas in the most intensive way we can — and potentially offset that by managing some of our remaining land exclusively as wildlife reserves.”

Organic farms account for 4.3 per cent of all British agricultural land but their number is growing steadily. Sales of organic food, drink and other products fell by 12.9 per cent to £1.84 billion last year, according to the Soil Association’s Organic Market Report.

Lord Melchett, the association’s policy director and an organic farmer in Norfolk, said that the productivity of organic farming should be judged according to the total resources used per unit of output, including the oil consumed to produce artificial fertilisers, rather than simply the yield per hectare. He added that the decline in sales in 2009 was a temporary blip caused by the recession.


4 May, 2010

Children who watch television 'more likely to be bullied'

Toddlers who are allowed to watch more than two hours of television a day BECOME less clever and fatter than other children, a study has found. That BECOME is pure assumption. Perhaps children who are not so well and vigorous in the first place are allowed to watch more TV.

TV watching to the exclusion of much else is also more likely to be working class and the working class are less healthy and less bright to start with. The conclusions below are as narrow-minded as they are arrogant. Scientific they are not. They are pure presumption and bigotry. The authors assume that they JUST KNOW the direction of causation

Research conducted over eight years discovered a direct correlation between the amount of television a child watches at a young age and their academic development.

Results of the trial showed that two-year-olds who spend a couple of hours a day in front of the television were more likely to grow up to be obese and would already be suffering at school by the age of 10.

Children who watch the most television are the least likely to take part in physical activities and are more likely to eat junk food and consume fizzy drinks, the study found.

It discovered that the increased likelihood of obesity and disengagement from the classroom caused by watching television would lead to a greater chance of being bullied at school, and concluded that most parents were probably unaware of the potential damage they were causing to their children.

Researchers at the Universities of Montreal and Michigan examined the television viewing habits of more than 1,300 children between the ages of two and four. Their academic performance and body mass index were then measured once they reached the age of ten.

Toddlers who watched more than two hours of television a day showed, on average, a 7 per cent decrease in classroom performance and 10 per cent increase in the chances of them being bullied.

Dr Linda Pagani, of Montreal University, said: “Early childhood is a critical period for brain development and formation of behaviour.

“High levels of TV consumption during this period can lead to future unhealthy habits. Although we expected the impact of early TV viewing to disappear after seven and a half years of childhood, the fact that negative outcomes remained is quite daunting.

The study was published in the Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.


The Pill linked to low desire for sex, claims study

Since the pill functions by mimicing pregnancy, this is hardly surprising

Taking the pill could be putting women off sex, a new study has claimed. Researchers found a link between using hormonal contraception and female sexual dysfunction, a condition most often caused by a lack of desire.

The findings back up previous anecdotal evidence that the pill reduces libido and also calls into question the long term use of the contraception especially in ever younger women.

"Sexual problems can have a negative impact on both quality of life and emotional wellbeing, regardless of age," said researcher Dr Lisa-Maria Wallwiener of the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

"Female Sexual Dysfunction is a very common disorder, with an estimated prevalence of about two in five women having at least one sexual dysfunction, and the most common complaint appearing to be low desire."

For the study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the researchers recruited 1,086 women most of whom had been sexually active in the last month.

They were asked to complete questionnaires designed to identify problems with sexual function and this was compared to the type of contraception if any they had used in the last six months.

The researchers found that the women who took hormonal contraception suffered the most sexual dysfunction especially compared with those who used other types such as condoms.

Dr Irwin Goldstein, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, said this had huge implications for women at the beginning of their sexual lives.

"The irony is that these women are provided a medication that enables freedom from reproductive worries but these same women are not provided information that there are significant adverse sexual effects that may ensue," he said. "Agents that interfere with the hormonal milieu of women may adversely affect their sexual lives."


3 May, 2010

How a beautiful stranger will send a man’s stress hormones soaring...especially if he’s not in the same league

This sounds reasonable but the experiment lasted only 5 minutes. Generalizing from that is heroic

A racing pulse and sweaty palms are well known as the signs of instant attraction. Now research shows that for men just five minutes spent alone with a beautiful stranger causes so much stress it may be bad for the heart.

The effects are worst for men who might think they are not “in the same league” as the woman now sharing their space but still try to attract her interest, scientists claim. For those men, their anxiety rate is said to be similar to jumping from an aircraft. Their cortisol levels rise even higher, bringing on the possibility of heart attacks and strokes.

It is the sort of extreme stress portrayed by Dudley Moore when encountering statuesque Bo Derek in the movie 10. While he eventually got the girl, reality can be more painful, say experts at the University of Valencia in Spain.

‘Exposure to physical or psychological stresses for a long period of time may cause chronically elevated cortisol levels. 'That can have adverse effects on health as it worsens various disorders, such as myopathy, adult-onset diabetes, hypertension and impotency,’ said the research team.

They paid 84 male students £10 each to take part in an experiment – approved by the Faculty of Psychology’s ethical committee – which measured their cortisol levels before and after they had been left alone with a stranger.

The men, who had been told to avoid alcohol and other stimulants for 24 hours, were led to a room and given a Sudoko puzzle to solve.

Each one presumed the other two people in the room were a researcher and another student guinea pig. When the researcher left the room – on the pretence of getting another puzzle – the other two were left alone.

The researchers discovered that cortisol levels stayed the same when two men were together but rose when a man was left alone with what was perceived as an attractive woman. They measured cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands, by taking mouth swabs and saliva samples from the volunteers.

The team concluded: ‘In this study we considered that for most men the presence of an attractive woman may induce the perception that there is an opportunity for courtship.

'While some men might avoid attractive women since they might think they are “out of their league’’, the majority would respond with apprehension and a concurrent hormonal response.

‘This study showed that male cortisol levels increased after exposure to a five-minute short social contact with a young attractive woman. It provides evidence that interpersonal interaction can influence the secretion of cortisol.’

There are times when cortisol does have benefits. Small increases give quick bursts of energy for survival and pain endurance. But in high quantities it can lead to stress-related changes – and danger.


Brain surgery hope for Parkinson's cases: Implants have given us our life back say first patients

Various versions of this have often been reported as helpful. It should be an option when drug cease to work

A form of brain surgery could bring hope to thousands of Parkinson’s disease sufferers. ‘Deep brain stimulation’ using an electrical implant works better than drugs alone to improve patients’ quality of life, a ten-year trial shows.

Some sufferers say they have ‘got their lives back’ because the treatmentcuts symptoms of Parkinson’sincluding muscular rigidity and disabling tremors.

Those having surgery needed a third less medication afterwards, according to findings published in The Lancet Neurology journal.

But there are concerns that patients are being denied the £30,000 surgery on the NHS. Altogether 366 people with advanced Parkinson’s took part in the trial and received either surgery with medication, or drugs alone.

Patients having DBS were fitted with a neurostimulator, a device similar to a heart pacemaker, which was connected to electrodes in the brain.

Small electric currents were found to block abnormal nerve signals which trigger the disablingsymptoms. A year after surgery, DBS patients were more likely to have improved than those given medication only.

Dr Kieran Breen, a director at Parkinson’s UK charity, which helped to fund the research, said: ‘DBS is certainly more effective than medication alone. ‘However, access to DBS is patchy – there’s still a postcode lottery in the UK. We want to make sure that everyone with Parkinson’s has equal access to the care and support they need, wherever they live.’

The operation was cost-effective, he insisted, adding the ‘amount saved in medication actually pays for itself in two to three years’.

The trial, which involved some of the UK’s top neurosurgeons and consultant neurologists, was run by Birmingham University.

Around five per cent of 120,000 Parkinson’s sufferers are thought to be eligible for surgery, as they have stopped responding to medication or experience unwanted side effects.


2 May, 2010

Organic nutrition benefit 'a myth'

ORGANIC food does not have greater nutritional value than conventionally grown food, a major University of Sydney study has found. The study found food grown without pesticides or herbicides shouldn't be promoted as healthier as there was no evidence to show "it contained more nutrients than" normal food.

The author of the report went further, recommending consumers stick with conventionally grown fruit and vegetables because they are cheaper and, therefore, people could eat more of them.

The study, conducted by the School of Molecular Bioscience, surveyed the international literature on organic produce, conducted laboratory analyses of Australian foods and surveyed Australian health professionals about organics, critically evaluating the results.

But the study did not measure pesticide residues - one consumer concern driving organic food purchases.

The results, which will be published in the international science journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, showed that while some studies found organic foods had higher levels of vitamin C and phosphorus [Hey! Wait a minute. Aren't phosphates supposed to BAD for you?] than conventional foods, when these studies were correctly scrutinised there was little difference between the two.

But Organic Federation of Australia chairman Andre Leu rejected the study [He would], saying other long-term reports had found organic food was higher in nutrients than non-organic food. Mr Leu said most people who bought organics did so because they worried about the level of pesticide residue in conventional food, an issue not addressed by the study.

"Studies show there is no, or next-to-no, pesticide residue in organic produce," he said. "There is no real scientific data that shows the safety of pesticides in the human body, especially in children. [Most pesticides can simply be washed off and their use is heavily regulated anyway]


My mind is melting, man, but in a good way

Very dubious: Psychedelic drugs including LSD are back on the medical research agenda as treatments for depression and trauma. Where are the proper clinical trials? There has been plenty of time for them

IT could be any sales conference at any hotel in the US. The delegates wear name tags, buffet meals are served and each day's schedule is packed with "workshops" and panel discussions. But there are a few telltale signs that all is not quite as it seems.

For a start, many of the featured speakers have the letters MD after their names and wear unkempt beards and greying ponytails. And at the concessions stand near the registration table is a man selling didgeridoos.

In fact, this international gathering of 1200 medical professionals, researchers and students at the airport Holiday Inn in San Jose, California, couldn't be farther removed from the average photocopier salesmen's jamboree. After all, the delegates are here to promote use of a substance once considered the antithesis of the American way of life: lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD.

The idea isn't as insane as it sounds. After 40 years of being a medical research taboo and virtually impossible to use in government-approved studies, acid is finally making a comeback, with the US Food and Drug Administration relaxing the conditions for trials involving the mind-altering substance, and many doctors now convinced that the controlled use of LSD and other psychedelics (including psilocybin, found in "magic mushrooms") could hold the key to treating everything from severe depression to post-combat stress.

"It's unfortunate that people associate LSD with spaced-out hippies because these medicines go back 50,000 years," says Randy Hencken, a director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychiatric Studies (Maps), which is hosting the conference, entitled "Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century". "But there has always been an intellectual curiosity, and now more and more people want to do the research. We have as many psychedelic studies going on in the US as we did in the early 1970s."

When the mind-altering effects of LSD were discovered by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1943 -- he infamously attempted to ride home from the lab on his bicycle after mistakenly ingesting more than 100 times the threshold dose -- researchers were convinced that it could have medical applications.

By the 60s, mainstream celebrities including Cary Grant were experimenting with the drug, which was promoted enthusiastically by a Harvard University lecturer, Timothy Leary, whose slogan was "Turn on, tune in, drop out". All this came to an end in 1966, when LSD was declared illegal. Meanwhile, Leary was named "the most dangerous man in America" by president Richard Nixon and sentenced to 30 years in prison (with a $US30,000 fine) for possession of half a marijuana cigarette.

It has taken until today for research involving hallucinogens to overcome the stigma of the Leary era, when the FDA effectively closed down academic studies involving such drugs. Now even the renowned Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore has conducted a government-funded study into hallucinogens.

In the study, the results of which were published recently in the journal Psychopharmacology, 36 volunteers were treated with psilocybin. The participants had an average age of 46, had never used psychedelic drugs before and were given it in an eight-hour session during which they lay on a sofa wearing an eye mask and listening to classical music.

Many said that it was the single most meaningful or spiritually significant experience of their lives, comparable to the birth of a child or the death of a parent.

Nevertheless, one-third of the subjects also found the experience frightening, even in the highly controlled setting, suggesting that bad trips are still a problem.

LSD and psilocybin are not the only drugs back in vogue in medical research. Studies are also being carried out into how MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, can be used to treat soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"With MDMA, some treatment-resistant patients are able to revisit their trauma without being overwhelmed by fear," says Michael Mithoefer, a psychiatrist from South Carolina and a keynote speaker at the San Jose conference, who conducted a landmark study using the drug between 2004 and 2008. "It's very encouraging."

In spite of the growing respectability of psychedelic sciences, however, funding remains scarce -- partly because drugs such as LSD and MDMA are now "in the public domain" and are therefore un-patentable by large companies. "There's no profit motivation," Randy Hencken of Maps says. "Also, the idea is to take these drugs only a few times in a lifetime," which doesn't make for a good business model.

Yet, as in the 60s, many of LSD's most enthusiastic proponents don't need research budgets or government approval to conduct personal experiments.

Alex Kryzanekas is one such person. When the 26-year-old student at Daytona State College in Florida fell into a deep and seemingly incurable depression after his girlfriend cheated on him a few years ago, he decided to self-medicate by using a hallucinogen given to him by a friend.

"It was the greatest epiphany I've had in my life," he recalls. "I relived the moment of trauma in my head and understood events in my life, including childhood issues I had with my mother, as I never had before. I realised that I had always been focusing on the negative." Kryzanekas turned his experience into a research paper and now hopes eventually to qualify as psychiatrist.

"To me, this conference feels like the arrival of a new generation," he says as he sits by the hotel swimming pool, preparing for the next morning's seminars. "In future, I would much rather a doctor prescribed someone a guided LSD session to treat depression than a 10-month course of Prozac."

But not everyone is convinced. Simon Wessely, a psychiatrist at King's College London, who treats patients with post-traumatic stress disorder highlights the potential dangers. "Any British practitioner who gave LSD to a patient with PTSD without sound evidence from clinical trials supported by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence would be doing something very risky," Wessely says.

"With anxious people, you want to decrease their arousal and increase their contact with reality, not give them something that dissociates them from reality."


1 May, 2010

Fat Americans pose a threat to national security, generals say

This is rather nonsensical. Even if recruits are fat at enlistment time, a couple of months of hard training and army food will trim them down

INCREASING rates of obesity among young Americans could undermine the future of the US military, with potential recruits increasingly too fat to serve, two retired generals said today.

"Obesity rates threaten the overall health of America and the future strength of our military," generals John Shalikashvili and Hugh Shelton, both former chairs of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a commentary.

Obesity disqualified more potential recruits for military service than any other medical factor, the two former commanders wrote in the Washington Post.

The two generals urged Congress to adopt legislation that would ensure better nutrition in schools, offering children more vegetables, fruits and whole grains while cutting back on foods with high sugar, sodium and fat content.

"We consider this problem so serious from a national security perspective that we have joined more than 130 other retired generals, admirals and senior military leaders in calling on Congress to pass new child nutrition legislation," wrote the commanders, part of a non-profit group called Mission: Readiness.

The warning came amid growing concern that childhood obesity has turned into an "epidemic" affecting a staggering one in three American youngsters.

A study released in March warned more American children are becoming extremely obese at a younger age, putting them at risk of dying decades younger than normal-weight children and of suffering old-age illnesses in their 20s.

The US military also faces a problem with troops already serving who are overweight, with some soldiers losing out on promotions because of their failure to meet fitness standards.

Although the military enjoyed record-breaking recruitment levels last year, officials say the growing problem of obesity could present a serious problem for recruitment efforts over time.

The two retired generals endorsed a plan by President Barack Obama's administration to increase funding by $US1 billion ($1.08 billion) a year over 10 years for child nutrition programs.

Investing in nutrition made sense as the country was already spending $US75 billion ($80.87 billion) a year on medical costs associated with obesity, they said.

Citing figures from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the commentary said the proportion of potential recruits who flunked their physical tests because they were overweight has jumped nearly 70 per cent since 1995.

General Shalikashvili, who led the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 to 1997, and General Shelton, who held the same post from 1997 to 2001, cited school lunch legislation passed in 1946 as a model.

Military leaders at the time recognised that poor nutrition reduced the pool of qualified candidates for the armed forces, they said.

"We must act, as we did after World War II, to ensure that our children can one day defend our country, if need be."


The coming low-sodium dystopia

Midway through D.C.'s February Snowpocalypse, with dystopian visions dancing in my head, I rented the 1982 sci-fi classic "Blade Runner." The movie's noir-ish picture of Los Angeles in 2019-dimly-lit and rainy, with flying cars, sexy replicants, and gruff, chain-smoking detectives-seems less prescient (and less foreboding) the closer we get to the year it depicts.

As the DVD played, one thought kept distracting me: "It's so cute that they used to think you'd be allowed to smoke in the future."

From a 2010 vantage point, the 21st century seems to promise an entirely different flavor of nightmare-one in which every individual consumption choice is subject to veto by the collective.

Consider the fact that President Obama's choice to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thomas Frieden, doesn't seem to recognize any distinction between diseases you catch -- like swine flu -- and those that involve individual choice, like heart disease. When he served as Mayor Bloomberg's top health official, Frieden instituted mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menus, a trans-fat ban, and sent out swarms of officers to harass bar owners for the crime of having ashtrays.

"When anyone dies at an early age from a preventable cause in New York City, it's my fault," Frieden declared in 2006.

In September, Obama's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned clove cigarettes (because they taste good, so kids might like them). The agency's now considering banning menthols. Obamacare makes menu-labeling mandatory for chain restaurants.

And, last week the Washington Post reported that the FDA may "gradually over a period of years," lower the level of sodium allowed in American food, "to adjust the American palate to a less salty diet." Surely as a student of the U.S. Constitution, you're familiar with the clause where the Founding Fathers gave the federal government unlimited jurisdiction over "the American palate"?

Unfortunately, our newly passed health care plan lends weight to the argument that your health affects my pocketbook, and justifies me in telling you how to live. When "we're all in this together," woe betide the man who'd rather be left alone.

In the Eurosocialist paradise our betters have planned for us, we won't even get the good parts of continental life: quaint medieval towns with adorable restaurants serving rich cuisine. We'll get impersonal strip-mall feedbags full of low-sodium, vegan Soylent Green.

Oh, I know: I'm being ridiculous. When a columnist starts ranting about slippery slopes and sci-fi dystopias, it's well past time for last call.

But maybe you've noticed how quickly modern American reality outpaces satire-how often, in the increasingly popular blogpost title, "Life imitates 'The Onion.'"

A similar dynamic is at work when it comes to social engineers' plans to regulate bad behavior out of the human genome. In a 1997 Cato study criticizing trial lawyers' efforts to hold tobacco companies liable for the choices of individual smokers, my colleague Bob Levy closed by deploying the much-derided "slippery slope" argument.

"What's next?" he asked-raising the specter of an American nanny state devoted to protecting us from soft drinks, red meat, and fast foods. More than a decade later, Levy's nightmare looks pretty plausible.

In 1951's Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury pictured a future America run by book-burning censors, where a merry band of dissidents meets secretly to recite banned literature. Perhaps in America 2019, rebels will gather in the fields to smoke menthols and share black-market kosher dills.

If so, sign me up for the resistance, because the FDA can have my salty smoked almonds when they peel them from my cold, dead hands: "Wolverines!!"


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


More on salt (See point 5 above): Salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.