Monitoring food and health news

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

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

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

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

What fast food does to girls


31 May, 2011

Acupuncture has significant impact on mystery illnesses

The good old placebo affect working on what are probably in the main depressive illnesses. The drama of acupuncture should generate strong suggestion effects

Acupuncture has a 'significant' effect on patients with mystery symptoms - and could be added to the list of available treatments for undiagnosed health problems, research shows. One in five patients has symptoms which are undiagnosed by medicine, and the cost of treating them is twice that as of a diagnosed patient.

A team from the University of Exeter examined 80 patients, and investigated the benefit of acupuncture being added to their usual care.

After the first trial of its type, researchers say those who underwent acupuncture showed 'a significant and sustained benefit' and add that the treatment could be safely added to the list of possible therapies.

Of the 80 patients, nearly 60 per cent reported musculoskeletal problems, and in the three months prior to the experiment had accounted for treatment including 44 hospital visits, 52 hospital clinic visits, 106 outpatient clinic visits and 75 visits to non NHS workers.

Half were treated with acupuncture for 26 weeks with the other acting as a control group, reports the British Journal of General Practice.

Those treated with acupuncture had a 'significantly improved' overall wellbeing, reporting further benefits such as new self-awareness about what caused stress in their lives and better diet and exercise. At 26 weeks the control group also underwent acupuncture - and reported the same benefits.

Comments from patients included "the energy is the main thing I have noticed. You know, yeah, it's marvellous!" and "Where I was going out and cutting my grass, now I'm going out and cutting my neighbour's after because he's elderly";

Dr Charlotte Paterson, who managed the trial, said: "Our research indicates that the addition of up to 12 five-element acupuncture consultations to the usual care experienced by the patients in the trial was feasible and acceptable and resulted in improved overall well-being that was sustained for up to a year.

"This is the first trial to investigate the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment to those with unexplained symptoms, and the next development will be to carry out a cost-effectiveness study with a longer follow-up period.

"While further studies are required, this particular study suggests that GPs may recommend a series of five-element acupuncture consultations to patients with unexplained symptoms as a safe and potentially effective intervention."

She added: "Such intervention could not only result in potential resource savings for the NHS, but would also improve the quality of life for a group of patients for whom traditional biomedicine has little in the way of effective diagnosis and treatment."


Happiness comes with a 75th birthday card

There seems in fact to be a mellowing from the 60s on, possibly due to decreasing output of drive hormones such as testosterone

People become less lonely and more happy with their local neighbourhood as they grow older, government research has suggested. The findings challenge the stereotype of old age as a time of isolation and unhappiness. The survey showed that feelings of social isolation were more common among the young.

Based on a survey of 1,867 adults, the report looked at expectations and experiences of later life in Britain. Seventy-two per cent of the over-75s questioned said they never felt lonely, compared with 51 per cent of the 16 to 34 year-olds.

Ten per cent of people aged between 65 and 74 said they were sometimes or often lonely.

Among those aged 50 to 59, the figure was 21 per cent. Researchers suggested that “the peak age for feeling isolated is between 50 and 59, which may relate to children leaving home and, for some people, early retirement”.

Seventy-two per cent of people aged 75 and over also believed their neighbourhood was “definitely” a good place to grow old. Only 58 per cent of those in their 50s gave such a positive answer, and among the youngest, the figure was 36 per cent.

Older people were also more optimistic about their own life expectancy then the young. On average, men over 65 estimated that they would live to be 87, and women in the same group forecast 88. For those aged 16 to 34, average estimates were 79 for men and 80 for women.

As life expectancy rises, ministers are trying to change rules and attitudes around ageing to encourage people to stay economically active for longer.

The survey for the Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that the average Briton believed “old age” started at around 59, earlier than in most European countries.


30 May, 2011

Trusting your baby to decide when how much to eat is best

Nice to have some research on an old controversy but, as an epidemiological design, it it not conclusive. Who were the mothers who fed on demand and who fed according to a routine?

Mothers who indulge their babies' demands for food whenever they want it are not spoiling them and are in fact setting them on the right track to a healthy lifestyle, new research suggests.

Researchers have found that mothers should "trust" their baby to decide when and how much they want to eat - and even use feeding to soothe them when they are crying. They found in a study that so called "on demand" feeding led to healthier weights later in the baby's life than traditional "scheduled" feeding where meals are rigidly staggered throughout the day.

Mothers should especially avoid playing games and providing alternative foods to make them eat. However feeding your baby to soothe them was considered fine as long they were not using "coercive methods" to "override" the baby's innate appetite.

"Obesity prevention needs to start very early," said Professor Lynne Daniels, Queensland University Technology in Brisbane, Australia. "Babies have an innate capacity to regulate their intake. We are advising mothers to trust their baby. The parents provide and the baby decides. "The mothers provide the nutrition and the baby decides how much it wants to eat."

There are two camps of thought when it comes to feeding babies.

Traditionally babies were fed to strict timetables - originally every four hours - in the belief that it would get them into a routine early on. But recently many mothers have been advised that feeding on demand was better - meaning they provided food, such as breast and formula milk, if and when the baby wanted it.

In order test what was best, Professor Daniels and her team followed 293 new mothers for the first two years of their babies' lives. Each was interviewed on their parenting style and feeding practices and then their babies weight was measured at 14 months.

"We found that with responsive feeding which is feeding on demand that the babies were more likely to have lower weight status," she said. She said it was too early to come up with the exact benefit but that it was significant.

She said breast feeding appeared to be easier method to feed on demand as it was more convenient and making up a bottle was harder to do every time the baby wanted to feed. "Using coercive methods to make them eat teaches the child to eat for other reasons other than hunger or satiety (fill up), " she said.

The research was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Istanbul.


Skin patch could cure peanut allergy

Sounds good. Peanuts are their own vaccine if given early enough

A revolutionary skin patch that may cure thousands of deadly peanut allergy has been developed by paediatricans. Researchers believe it presents one of the best possible ways of finding an effective treatment for a life threatening reaction to peanuts.

Developed by two leading paediatricians the device releases minute doses of peanut oil under the skin. The aim is to educate the body so it doesnt over-react to peanut exposure.

Human safety trials have started in Europe and the United States and it is hoped that the patch could become become available within 3-4 years.

One of its two French inventors, Dr Pierre-Henri Benhamou, said: We envisage that the patch would be worn daily for several years and would slowly reduce the severity of accidental exposure to peanut.

Around 500,000 children and adults run the daily risk of death from contact with peanuts. It is caused by a faulty immune system which causes danger to the body by over-reacting to what it believes is a threat to the body. Even the minutest amount of peanut can trigger a dangerous reaction known as anaphylactic shock which can trigger inflammation of the airways, causing breathing to stop.

Thousands of people carry injection devices known as Epi-pens that are able to deliver life saving adrenalin should they accidentally ingest peanut. Even so around a dozen children and adults due each year from anaphylactic shock with many more surviving the experience.

Patients with allergy to peanuts are normally so allergic that routine methods used to treat other allergies, such as hay fever, are far too dangerous. These involve minute desensitising injections of the substance causing the allergy to prevent the immune system over-reacting. But doctors believe that even under close medical supervision such an approach would not be safe.

Dr Benhamou, a senior consultant at St Vincent de Paul Hospital in Paris, said: The beauty of the patch is that it is absorbed just under the skin and is taken up by the immune system. But because it doesnt go directly into the bloodstream there is no risk of a severe reaction.

We have carried out a number of small safety trials and now moving to trials that will establish the size of the dose needed and for how long the patch would need to be worn. We would think maybe for three to four years.

Dr Benhamou and his colleague Professor, Christophe Dupont, believe that after about a year of wearing the patch patients may be cured of a severe life threatening reaction to peanut. But it would need to be worn for several more years before a nut allergy sufferer could safely be exposed to peanut

Dr Benhamou said: "At best we are talking about a sufferer eventually being able to eat modest amounts of peanut without a reaction. "But what we want to do most is to eliminate the severe reaction that occurs when people are exposed to the tiniest speck of peanut."

The company has already established that the patch can tackle milk allergy which also affects hundreds of people.

Novelist Polly Williams' son, Jago, four, is among the one child in fifty who is severely allergic to peanuts. He is under the care of one of the top allergy units in the world at St Marys Hospital in Paddington. His mum, from London, carries an Epi-pen at all times. Jago is severely allergic to peanut that even peanut oil on his skin can provoke a bad reaction. A kiss from a relative who had eaten peanuts earlier the same day provoked itching skin, runny eyes and wheezing in the youngster.

Sufferers have been killed by the tiniest of exposure to nut oil that has got into food such as bread.

Professor Gideon Lack of St Mary, one of the UKs leading nut allergy experts, is advising DBV Technologies, the company developing the peanut allergy patch. "It is a clever approach to dealing with the problem and there is a reasonable prospect of success," he said.

"At present thousands of lives are blighted by the daily fear that accidental exposure could prove fatal. It puts an intolerable strain on families. I"t would be fantastic if we reached the stage that previously severely allergic patients could tolerate eating peanut. "But I reckon most parents with allergic children would just settle for knowing that exposure to small amounts of protein would no longer be life threatening."

Professor Lack has been involved in ground-breaking trials to see if early childhood exposure to peanut, could reduce the risk. Evidence from countries like Israel, suggest that toddlers exposed to peanuts in the first few years of life are less likely to become allergic.


29 May, 2011

"Organic" not so safe

A person in Britain has been diagnosed with a lethal strain of E.coli, believed to originate in organic cucumbers.

The bacteria have killed nine people in Germany, with almost 300 people being admitted to hospital. Cases have also been reported in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The outbreak is believed to have originated in organic cucumbers grown in Spain, although there are suggestions that the bacteria has been found in cucumbers grown in the Netherlands.

The advice now to people travelling to Germany is not to eat cucumbers, raw tomatoes or lettuce.

The British Health Protection Authority has confirmed that three German nationals currently in Britain have fallen ill. One of those cases has been confirmed as having the infection which is causing this outbreak.

A spokeswoman for the HPA said the outbreak in Germany was "very, very serious" and although the bug was infectious, there had been no reports of secondary infection yet in the UK.

Dr Dilys Morgan, head of the gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic infections department at the HPA, said: "The HPA is actively monitoring the situation very carefully and liaising with the authorities in Germany, the European Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation as to the cause of the outbreak. E.coli bacteria like these are responsible for the outbreak across Europe.

"We are keeping a close watch for potential cases reported in England and are working with colleagues in the devolved administrations to recommend they do the same. "In addition we are in the process of alerting health professionals to the situation and advising them to urgently investigate potential cases with a travel history to Germany."

In Germany concern is growing. The country's National Disease Control Centre has confirmed 60 new cases were reported in the last 24 hours. A spokesman for the German consumer affairs minister Ilse Aigner said: "The European Union internal market has very strong safety rules and we expect all EU states to observe them." He added that, for the moment, "one can only speculate about the causes" of the outbreak.

In Spain, a spokesman for the AESA food safety agency said investigations were also under way. "The Andalusian authorities are investigating to find out where the contamination comes from and when it took place," he said. "This type of bacteria can contaminate at the origin or during handling of the product."

There has been no report of contamination within Spain, AESA said.

Those worse hit by the infection contract HUS, a condition which can have severe effects. British microbiologist Ron Cutler told Sky News: "It contains some very nasty toxins which can go straight to your kidneys and cause kidney failure, and it's very difficult to treat.

"For those who are treated, around 90% of treatments can be successful, but one in 10 of those people could have damaged kidneys in later life."

The Food Standards Agency has confirmed that the offending cucumbers have not been on sale at any outlets in the UK.


Blind 'can develop bat-like sonar'

Blind people can develop 'sonar', learning to navigate like bats by 'seeing' objects from sounds reflected off them, research has found.

Some become so skillful at listening to the returning echoes of clicking noises that they make with their mouths, that they can use their ability to go mountain biking or play ball games.

It is well known that bats using a biological version of sonar, called echolocation, to find their way around at night. That blind humans could do it too was suspected but not known.

Now Canadian researchers have proved that they can. Intriguingly, they do so by using a part of the brain normally involved in processing visual images. They discovered this by carrying out brain scans on two male volunteers, aged 43 and 27, who had both been blind since childhood.

Each was asked to stand outside and try to perceive different objects such as a car, a flag pole and a tree by making clicking noises and then picking up their very faint echoes. Tiny microphones were placed in the volunteers' ears to record the outgoing and incoming sounds.

The men later had these sounds played back to them, while their brain activity was monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. During playback, they were able to identify which object was which from the echoes alone.

The fMRI scans showed that these echoes were being processed by brain regions normally used to process visual information. No echo-related activity was seen in the auditory brain areas, which would be expected to process sound.

The 43-year-old, whose lost his sight earlier, performed better. His eyes were removed at 13 months due to a rare cancer called retinoblastoma.

The same test on sighted people showed no ability to echolocate, and no echo-related activity in their visual brain regions.

Dr Mel Goodale, from the University of Western Ontario, led the study, published in the journal Public Library of Science One.

He said: "It is clear that echolocation enables blind people to do things that are otherwise thought to be impossible without vision, and in this way it can provide blind and vision-impaired people with a high degree of independence in their daily lives."


28 May, 2011

Asses' milk helps you lose weight, research finds

If you are a mouse

Cleopatra famously bathed in it as part of her beauty regime. But now a study claims that asses' milk could be a good way to lose weight and protect your heart.

Researchers have found that milk from donkeys, which was still being drunk in Victorian times, contains less fat and is more nutritious than cow's milk.

They also found that it be a natural protection to the heart as it contains omega three and six fatty acids, similar to fish oil, which reduce cholesterol.

As it is also much closer to human milk it could be used in young children who are allergic to normal dairy products.

High levels of calcium that make it good for your bones add to its health giving properties.

The study at the University of Naples, Italy, compared the effect of donkey milk compared to cow's milk in diet and health.

In experiments, they found that the cow's milk and donkey milk provided the same amount of energy but that the latter caused more weight gain as it raised metabolism.

Rodents that were given the donkey milk also showed lower levels of triglycerides, unhealthy fats that affect the heart, and less stress on the metabolic system.

The study, which was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Istanbul, concluded that its "consumption should be encouraged".

Earlier research has shown that it could even be better than semi-skimmed, soya or formula milk, especially in young children as it contains high levels of calcium for bones.

Its make up is very similar to human breast milk and because it is low in proteins it can be used in young children who are allergic to proteins in cows' milk.


Another trot for the "polypill"

All very hopeful but still no double blind studies of vascular disease incidence in humans. The similar "polymeal" concept seems to have petered out

A new 10p-a-day ‘polypill’ containing aspirin and statins halves the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the world’s first international trial of the drug.

A research team found "sizeable reductions" in blood pressure and levels of 'bad' LDL cholesterol among those who took the polypill over 12 weeks, compared to those who took a placebo. Separate pills are already prescribed to millions of people worldwide to lower their chances of heart attack and stroke.

But scientists have been looking at the prospect of a combined pill, which they believe will encourage more people to take the medications more reliably.

Eight years ago Prof Sir Nichlas Wald, who demonstrated that passive smoking causes cancer, proposed the polypill in an article in the British Medical Journal.

He wrote that such an easy-to-take pill could significantly reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease, which is Britain's biggest killer, accounting for almost 200,000 deaths a year.

Taking such a preventive pill should be as automatic as "brushing your teeth", he later suggested.

Now the first international polypill study, published last night and part funded by the Wellcome Trust, has suggested it could be extremely effective.

The researchers examined data from 378 people with a raised risk of cardiovascular disease. Half were given the polypill and half the placebo. About a third of the participants were British, a third Dutch and a third Indian.

Specifically, systolic blood pressure was reduced from a pre-trial average of 134 mmHg to 124; while 'bad' LDL cholesterol came down from 3.7 mmol/L to 2.9.

Doctors use mmHg as a standard unit for measuring blood pressure, while mmol/L - millimoles per litre - is used as a measurement unit for very low concentrations of substances in blood.

Cardiologists know that having high blood pressure and cholesterol raises the chances of cardiovascular events, and are able to estimate how much reducing these factors decreases that risk.

The researchers calculated that the polypill would roughly halve the incidence of major cardiovascular events in people with similar risk profiles to the participants.

Writing in the journal Public Library of Science One, they concluded that the benefits to those at a high risk would be even greater: "Overall about one in four high risk people would be predicted to avoid a major event over five years."

Prof Anthony Rodgers of the George Institute for Global Health in Australia, who led the study, said: "The results show a halving in heart disease and stroke can be expected for people taking this polypill long-term. "We are really excited about this - it is a step closer to providing the polypill to patients."

It has long been known that taking aspirin and statins separately reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, but this is one of the first studies examining taking them in a combined pill.

It contains 75mg aspirin, 20mg simvastatin, 10mg lisinopril and 12.5mg hydrochlorothiazide. Aspirin prevents blood getting too 'sticky', which can lead to clots that cause heart attacks; statins lower cholesterol; while the latter two drugs lower blood pressure.

There were fears that the drugs could react in a pill while being stored, and cancel each other out, but the trial proved these were unfounded.

All four drugs are off-patent, meaning any drugs company can manufacture them. Prof Simon Thom, of Imperial College London, said the Indian pharmaceutical firm Dr Reddys had committed to make the polypill "as dirt cheaply as possible".

The cost issue is particularly important in poorer and middle income countries, which are facing growing epidemics of 'lifestyle' diseases due to changing diets and people getting less exercise.

About 17 million people die of cardiovascular disease every year, 80 per cent of them in developing countries.

Prof Thom said in such countries the cost could be just £1.20 a month, with richer countries which were able to shoulder the economic burden paying more. Even so, the cost in Britain could be as low as £3 a month.

The case for the polypill has been given a powerful boost by British-led research, published in The Lancet last winter, showing that regularly taking low-dose aspirin reduces the risk of certain cancers, including bowel cancer, by up to 50 per cent.

Prof Rodgers commented: "These benefits would take several years to 'kick in', but of course one of the hopes with a polypill is it helps people take medicines long-term."

This polypill is likely to be available in India soon. However, the Department of Health is more cautious.

Two years ago Prof Roger Boyle, England's heart disease 'czar', told MPs that he liked the "concept" but there were questions marks over safety. He also said there was a "fine line" between preventive medicine and "medicalising" the population.

Side effects are a big issue. Aspirin is known to aggravate the intestine and can cause internal bleeding, although most cases are minor.

This trial found that about one in 20 people stopped taking the polypill because of side effects, mainly due to such bleeding but also due to light-headedness caused by too low blood pressure.

Prof Rodgers said it was highly unlikely that all middle aged and elderly people would be offered a polypill in the future, but that it could be allocated to those with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

That could feasibly be one in five people over 30, perhaps more.

Prof Thom, who led the UK arm of the trial, said: "We now need to conduct larger trials to test whether these medicines are best provided in the form of a polypill, or as separate medicines, and whether this combination strategy improves patient adherence to cardiovascular medication."

Dr Lorna Layward, from The Stroke Association, said: "Many people with high blood pressure and high cholesterol are required to take multiple pills every day in order to reduce their risk.

"Calculating when each pill needs to be taken can often be confusing and so combining the pills into one could make taking the medication much simpler.

"However, it's important to note that this pill might not be suitable for everyone and it may have side effects so every patient should be assessed and treated on an individual basis. It's also extremely early days and a lot more research needs to be carried into this pill to ensure its safety."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We welcome any evidence that contributes to providing the best treatment for people with cardiovascular disease."

He added: "It is also important to remember that changes made to a person's lifestyle such as stopping smoking, eating healthily and taking regular exercise have far reaching health benefits that will not be reaped from medication, including reduction in the risk of developing diabetes and cancer."


27 May, 2011

Lack of sleep can lead to overweight kids

The fact that -- for once -- parental education and income was controlled for makes this study unusually strong. So it is amusing that diet and exercise were found to have negligible effect

A lack of sleep is more likely to lead to overweight children than a poor diet or lethargic lifestyle, a new long-term study has found.

New Zealand researchers monitored a random sample of almost 250 children, regularly tracking weight, diet, body composition, physical activity and sleep patterns from the ages of three to seven.

They took into account birth weight, parent's education, income, ethnicity and if their mother was smoking while pregnant - all factors known to affect a child's weight.

Previous studies have found poor sleep is linked to heavier children, but this is the first time such a thorough and long assessment had been done, researcher Professor Barry Taylor said.

Almost a quarter of the Dunedin children surveyed were overweight by the time they were seven, Prof Taylor said. "(But) how active you are actually seems to have no effect on whether or not you're overweight at the age of seven," he told AAP. "The food that you ate had some effect, but actually the biggest effect was short sleep."

He said the children slept an average of 11 hours each night and those that got any less shut-eye were more likely to be overweight, even if other factors were controlled. "It's a complicated connection," said Prof Taylor, a pediatrician and academic from the Dunedin School of Medicine.

He said the amount of sleep a person got altered the hormones controlling metabolism and appetite, hence, how much one eats. "We were surprised by how big a factor (sleep was)," Prof Taylor said. "I was expecting the ... percentage of food eaten as vegetables and fruit would be more important and that activity levels ... would be more important."

Evidence suggests the amount of sleep both children and adults get has dropped significantly in the past 30 years, Prof Taylor said, blaming a "modern lifestyle". He said children should generally get about nine to 10 hours of sleep a night, but some will need more.

Trials are now under way to see if teaching families how to deliberately increase their child's sleep can alter growth. "All we can say at this stage is this looks like something that needs to be done," Prof Taylor said.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal.


Aspartame in the gun again

Based on specious epidemiological reasoning. There are some very strange aspartame crusaders. I have had run-ins with them before

An artificial sweetener used in Diet Coke is to undergo an urgent EU safety review. Aspartame is ingested every day by millions of people around the world in more than 6,000 well-known brands of food, drink and medicine. However, it has been the subject of a number of studies that appear to show harmful effects on human health.

One recent study linked diet drinks containing aspartame to premature births, while another suggested it could cause cancer.

To date, health watchdogs, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), have ruled out any link to ill-health.

But after several MEPs asked for a new investigation following pressure from European health campaigners, EU Commission officials have now asked the EFSA to bring forward a review that had been planned for 2020.

The concern about artificial sweeteners such as aspartame relates to the fact that they contain methanol, a nerve toxin which can be metabolised in the body to form two more nerve toxins: formic acid and formaldehyde, the chemical used to preserve dead bodies.

Earlier this year, experts on Britain’s Committee on Toxicity(CoT) ruled that ‘long-term exposure to methanol consumed through food, including from aspartame, is unlikely to be harmful to health’. The committee pointed out that methanol is also found in fruit and vegetables.

As a result of the experts’ conclusions, the FSA ruled the consumption of aspartame ‘is not of concern at the current levels of use’.

Despite this verdict, the FSA is currently recruiting volunteers for an investigation into anecdotal reports of ill health, including headaches and stomach upsets, associated with aspartame.

The watchdog announced the research project in 2009, however it has had difficulties recruiting volunteers who claim to suffer problems.

EFSA spokesman, Lucia De Luca, said: ‘Aspartame is one of hundreds of flavourings. It is on the market because it has been assessed in the past and considered safe. ‘We have received an official request for a complete re-evaluation of the safety of aspartame. ‘The re-evaluation is scheduled for 2020 but the Commission asked us to do this re-evaluation now in the light of recent events. ‘In the past year, there have been a couple of studies looking at aspartame and concerns expressed by consumer groups and others.’

In July last year, EU-funded research by Danish scientists, which looked at almost 60,000 mothers-to-be, found a correlation between the amount of diet drink consumed and an early birth.

Previously, the Independent Ramazzini Foundation in Italy has published research suggesting aspartame caused several types of cancer in rats at doses very close to the current acceptable daily intake for humans. Both of these have been evaluated by EFSA experts, who have rejected any risk to human health.

Aspartame is manufactured by Ajinomoto Sweeteners Europe. The firm said it welcomes the decision to bring forward the safety evaluation. A spokesman said: ‘EFSA reaffirmed the safety of aspartame in 2006, 2009 and 2010. In addition, recent allegations about the safety of aspartame made in France and by a handful of MEPs have already been dismissed by EFSA. ‘This review of the extensive body of science on aspartame will provide additional confirmation of the ingredient’s safety.

‘By providing an excellent sweet taste, aspartame makes a useful contribution to a healthy, calorie-controlled diet and can help people to avoid overweight and obesity, and their associated diseases.’


26 May, 2011

Nutty Danes BAN Marmite and Vegemite ... because they have too many vitamins

Australia's Vegemite and Britain's Marmite are very similar products and both are hugely popular in their respective markets. Vegemite or Marmite on toast is one of life's great pleasures for their respective populations. Both are normally regarded as inedible by Americans, however.

Vegemite has long been Australia's national sandwich spread. It is sometimes described as an Australian national icon. Most Australian homes have some in the fridge. I have a big bottle of it myself and enjoy it greatly. And Australians have unusually long lifespans. Which is entirely due to Vegemite, of course!

And Princess Mary of Denmark is an Australian. How will she cope? Will the future Queen of Denmark be deprived of her hereditary food?

They say you either love it or hate it. But it seems that people in Denmark definitely hate Marmite as the country has banned it from its shelves. The sticky brown yeast extract, commonly spread on toast and sandwiches, has built up millions of admirers around the world - and just as many who grimace at the merest thought of the dark paste.

The divisive vegetable spread has been banned in Denmark because it breaks food laws passed in 2004 governing the sale of products fortified with added vitamins. And until now, Marmite had escaped the attention of food chiefs.

It is unclear exactly why the Danish authorities have launched a crackdown on foods with too many vitamins. But Marmite now joins the ranks of Australian alternative Vegemite, Horlicks, Ovaltine and Farley’s Rusks - all products the Danes have an apparent aversion to.

The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration is responsible for the ban which has ex-pat Britons living in the country fearful for their culinary future.

'What am I supposed to put on my toast now?' said British advertising executive Colin Smith, who has lived there for six years. 'I still have a bit left in the cupboard, but it's not going to last long.' He and others fear they will have to subscribe to a black-market trade in the sticky brown stuff, smuggled in from nearby Sweden or Germany where it is still legal.

British foodstuff shops in Copenhagen are worried about the economic impact on their businesses as Marmite has been a staple of their turnover for years.

The ban highlights the absurdity of the EU which states that it is a legal product, but which has no authority over nation states about what can and cannot be sold.

'They don't like it because it's foreign,' Lyndsay Jensen, a Yorkshire-born graphic designer in Copenhagen, told the Guardian. 'But if they want to take my Marmite off me, they'll have to wrench it from my cold dead hands.'

Abigails, a shop in the centre of Copenhagen that specialises in English foodstuffs, has begun a 'Bring Back Marmite' campaign.

'Marmite was one of our best-selling products. Not a day goes by without someone coming in and asking for it,' said Marianne Ørum, who together with her Scottish partner owns the food store. 'It’s becoming impossible to run a business in this country,' continued Ørum, herself a Dane. 'The government keeps making things illegal!'

The Danish government had no immediate comment on its decision.


Sex Scares Used to Ban BPA

Alan Caruba

We have documented a massive, global campaign to ban bisphenol-A, BPA, a chemical that has been safely used for more than a half century to protect metal and plastic containers for food and liquid against spoilage and the resulting hazard to health.

Every day, somewhere in the nation and the world, there is a constant repetition of lies regarding BPA They frequently target the fears of mothers of newborn infants, but also alleging a wide variety of other health threats including a healthy sex life for men and women.

In the same fashion that the global warming hoax was spread and maintained by a campaign that asserted that everything from frizzy hair to blizzards was the result of a dramatic warning cycle that was either happening or predicted to happen, the effort to ban BPA uses the same technique.

The campaign is pursued by a coalition of environmental and consumer activist groups that depend on such scare campaigns to maintain funding and secure members who can be relied upon to ignore or reject the science that disputes such campaigns.

In May 2011, the Miami Herald published what read like a news release by the Natural Resources Defense Council that asserted “Bisphenol-A associated with obesity, lower sperm counts, and pre-cancerous changes in the body is found in the bodies of 90 percent of Americans. Now a study shows that you can halve your levels of BPA and other chemicals within three days through a change in diet.”

Three distinct “scares” are captured in this news release, all aimed a fears regarding health, but none of them reflect the fact that trace amounts of BPA is routinely excreted and thus poses no threat. It also fails to reveal that the “studies” always involve administering large amounts of BPA to laboratory mice in a fashion that does not reflect actual exposure.

The ultimate target of the anti-BPA campaign is the widespread use of plastic containers of food and liquids, along with its use to line the insides of metal cans for that purpose.

From its earliest origins, environmentalists have sought to ban chemicals in general even though plastic has transformed and enhanced life around the world. In the U.S., the average life expectancy in the last century rose from thirty-seven in 1900 to the current seventy-eight years!

Earlier this year, the German Society of Toxicology released a review of more than five thousand previous studies of BPA exposure that concluded that BPA “exposure represents no noteworthy risk to the health of the human population, including newborns and babies.” Researchers concluded that BPA is neither mutagenic nor likely to be a carcinogen.

This, however, has not deterred the constant repetition of lies asserting that BPA is a health threat, nor a variety of efforts, including proposed State bans on the use of BPA. In April 2011, the Competitive Enterprise Institute released a 14-page report that included three pages of intensely documented notes, that refuted efforts by the Maryland legislature to ban infant formula and baby food packaging that contains more than 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) of BPA.

“In public policy, bad ideas have an unfortunate tendency to spread,” said Dr. Angela Logomasini, PhD. Efforts in Maine, Maryland, and even in Congress to ban BPA portend a host of food-born diseases and even death if such bans continue to be enacted.

The source of these bans is the environmental movement that first came to public notice when they succeeded in getting DDT banned. The result has been a rise in malarial deaths in nations that followed suit and in the swift explosion of the bed bug plague in the U.S.

So vast have been the campaigns against the beneficial chemicals that protect human health that a word was coined to identify the phenomenon—chemophobia. It is an irrational fear of chemicals when, in fact, the human body is a chemical factory, producing chemicals for digestion, hormones, and others, all the while cleaning the body of chemicals it rejects.

Simple common sense suggests that parts-per-billion of any substance cannot possibly pose a risk or threat.

In his book, “The Precautionary Principle: A Critical Appraisal of Environmental Risk Assessment”, published by the Cato Institute, author Indur M. Goklany, wrote “In keeping with its origins of technological skepticism, the precautionary principle has also been increasingly invoked as justification, among other things, for international controls, if not outright bans, on various technologies, which—despite substantial benefits to humanity and, in some cases to certain aspects of the environmental—could worsen other aspects of the environment or public health.”

At the heart of environmentalism is the core belief that humans are endangering the Earth by the use of the remarkable technologies that have been developed in the past century.

At the core of the efforts to ban BPA is an agenda to endanger the food supply by banning a chemical that protects it. That is why, by spreading lies about sperm counts, endocrine disruption, and non-existent threats via liquid containers, the ultimate agenda to reduce the worldwide human population is central to the campaign against the use of BPA.

There are no feasible substitutes for BPA. Banning it will guarantee the people will die.


25 May, 2011

Pesticides and the Rosenthal effect

There seems to be a rather sad group of people -- mostly on the political Left, apparently -- who are convinced that anything popular is bad. And they go to some lengths to prove it. Hence we have the unrelenting attacks on things as diverse as McDonald's and cellphones. No compromise by McDonald's ever suffices to blunt the attacks and no amount of evidence showing low levels of electromagnetic radiation to be harmless will ever convince. So the attacks go on. And among academics, the attacks take the form of "research".

And pesticides are one of the unexonerable villains for some people. The fact that an upsurge of pesticide use has coincided with an unprecedented expansion of lifespans doesn't cause a moment's doubt.

But this runs us slap bang into the Rosenthal effect: The fact that with the best will in the world, a researcher's expectations will influence what he finds in his research. It is because of that fact that "double-blind" studies are often conducted -- thus leaving as little room as possible for the reseacher to bias his results, wittingly or unwittingly.

So we come to the research report below. It is a very well-designed piece of research. It is far more "watertight" than most other studies in the field. But at least three of the authors are anti-pesticide activists and there appears to have been no effort to make the study "double-blind". That also makes it worthless in my view.
Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides and IQ in 7-Year Old Children

By Maryse F. Bouchard et al.


Context: Organophosphate (OP) pesticides are neurotoxic at high doses. Few studies have examined whether chronic exposure at lower levels could adversely impact children’s cognitive development.

Objective: To examine associations between prenatal and postnatal exposure to OP pesticides and cognitive abilities in school-age children.

Methods: We conducted a birth-cohort study (CHAMACOS) among predominantly Latino farmworker families from an agricultural community in California. We assessed exposure to OP pesticides by measuring dialkyl phosphate (DAP) metabolites in urine collected during pregnancy and from children at age 6 months and 1, 2, 3½ and 5 years. We administered the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-IV to 329 seven-year old children. Analyses were adjusted for maternal education and intelligence, HOME score, and language of cognitive assessment.

Results: Urinary DAP concentrations measured during the 1st and 2nd half of pregnancy had similar relations to cognitive scores, thus we used the average of concentrations measured during pregnancy in further analyses. Averaged maternal DAP concentrations were associated with poorer scores for Working Memory, Processing Speed, Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning, and Full Scale IQ. Children in the highest quintile of maternal DAP concentrations had an average deficit of 7.0 IQ-points compared with those in the lowest quintile. However, children’s urinary DAP concentrations were not consistently associated with cognitive scores.

Conclusions: Prenatal but not postnatal urinary DAP concentrations were associated with poorer intellectual development in 7-year-old children. Maternal urinary DAP concentrations in the present study were higher, but nonetheless within the range of levels measured in the general U.S. population.


What a laugh! The old traffic pollution bandwagon rolls again!

An amazingly naive study below. Some researchers into this topic have absorbed the lesson that they must control for social class variables if they are to be taken seriously but the guys below have just reinvented the wheel.

The study is in a "pay to publish" journal so it's what one has to expect, I guess. The journal concerned is also a government one so that is a second reason for expecting poor quality.

The authors found that people who lived near busy roads were dumber. But only dumb people would live near busy roads!
Traffic-Related Air Pollution and Cognitive Function in a Cohort of Older Men

By Melinda C. Power et al.


Background: Traffic-related particles induce oxidative stress and may exert adverse effects on central nervous system function, which could manifest as cognitive impairment.

Objective: We assessed the association between black carbon (BC), a marker of traffic-related air pollution, and cognition in older men.

Methods: A total of 680 men (mean ± SD, 71 ± 7 years of age) from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study completed a battery of seven cognitive tests at least once between 1996 and 2007. We assessed long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution using a validated spatiotemporal land-use regression model for BC.

Results: The association between BC and cognition was nonlinear, and we log-transformed BC estimates for all analyses [ln(BC)]. In a multivariable-adjusted model, for each doubling in BC on the natural scale, the odds of having a Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) score ≤ 25 was 1.3 times higher [95% confidence interval (CI), 1.1 to 1.6]. In a multivariable-adjusted model for global cognitive function, which combined scores from the remaining six tests, a doubling of BC was associated with a 0.054 SD lower test score (95% CI, –0.103 to –0.006), an effect size similar to that observed with a difference in age of 1.9 years in our data. We found no evidence of heterogeneity by cognitive test. In sensitivity analyses adjusting for past lead exposure, the association with MMSE scores was similar (odds ratio = 1.3; 95% CI, 1.1 to 1.7), but the association with global cognition was somewhat attenuated (–0.038 per doubling in BC; 95% CI, –0.089 to 0.012).

Conclusions: Ambient traffic-related air pollution was associated with decreased cognitive function in older men.


There was actually something interesting in their data which they promptly "ironed out": The relationship was non-linear. That may suggest that a medium level of proximity to busy roads was beneficial to IQ! They actually did have something interesting to report but were too fixed onto their mental train-tracks to see it! They threw out the baby and kept the afterbirth. And the three leading researchers are from Harvard!

24 May, 2011

Does fat shrink your brain?

Being an epidemiologist sure seems to! Working class people are more likely to be fat and they are dumber anyway. That alone could account for the epidemiological findings.

The gastric bypass study is more interesting but we are not told why some had surgery and some did not. Almost certainly those who had surgery were more distressed and that may have included a greater incidence of sleep apnoea and other things -- such as depression -- that DO impede alertness

Just last month, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden declared the risk of dementia in later life is 71 per cent higher for overweight people, and around four times greater for those who were obese in middle age.

The problem, say scientists, is fat, as it causes the brain to shrink.

‘We know that a fatty diet clogs our arteries and is bad for our heart, and it does exactly the same thing to blood vessels in the brain,’ explains Paul Thompson, professor of neurology at the University of Los Angeles and an expert in this field.

His team found the brains of overweight and obese subjects were, on average, between 4 and 8 per cent smaller than the brains of those who were at a healthy weight. ‘This is because blood can’t get through so easily to the brain — it’s starved of oxygen and the brain cells eventually die, he says.’ This has the effect of prematurely ageing the brain.

The researchers, who examined brain scans of nearly 100 people aged over 70, concluded the brains of overweight people were on average eight years older than those of their healthy counterparts. ‘We based this on the fact that the average person loses 0.5 per cent of their brain a year,’ says Professor Thompson. ‘The overweight people had already lost 4 per cent more than someone of a normal weight, so they were effectively eight years older.’

The news was worse for obese people: ‘They had lost 8 per cent of their brain, so they were 16 years older. It won’t kill you, but there will come a point when it’s noticeable — when about 10 per cent of your brain tissues have died,’ he adds.

And for the obese, there is more bad news: the scans also revealed the areas where the shrinkage was most pronounced were those responsible for reasoning and judgment and the processing of long-term memories.

Whether you’re obese or just overweight, the researchers believe a shrunken brain is less resilient to damage from the abnormal protein clumps in the brain called plaques that kill brain cells and cause Alzheimer’s. ‘It may be that you are building up plaques in the brain and then being obese tips you over the limit into having Alzheimer’s,’ says Professor Thompson.

To support this, other research has shown obese individuals have less grey matter and more white matter than people with healthy BMIs.

‘Obese people, or those who have a binge-eating disorder, may also have differences in the structure of some parts of the brain compared with their thinner counterparts,’ says Dr Goldstone. ‘Some studies have shown subtle differences in how dense and well organised the grey or white matter in the brain of obese people and those who are not.’

But could losing weight or having obesity surgery improve memory and cognitive functioning once again? The evidence emerging suggests it may well do, according to researchers at Kent State University, Ohio.

The memories of 150 overweight people were tested before some of the participants underwent gastric bypass surgery. Around 12 weeks after surgery, those who’d had the operation showed improvements in memory, moving from a score of mildly impaired into the normal range. The improvements were not mirrored in the patients who didn’t have surgery.

Tests included the ability to recall words, problem solving and reaction times.

So what is causing the improvement in these people’s brains? ‘Research has shown that when people gain weight they tend to have more problems learning and recalling new information, problem solving and co-ordination,’ says John Gunstad, associate professor in the department of psychology, who led the research. ‘It’s a really big challenge to work out why, but it’s thought the changes in blood pressure and glucose levels that accompany weight gain might also be to blame.

‘In addition, obese people are more likely to suffer from sleep apnoea, which affects concentration during waking hours. ‘There are a whole host of possible factors. What we do know is that losing weight seems to enable the brain to function normally again.’


The Facts of Lunch: Federal School Regulations Aren’t The Answer

There is nothing wrong with fighting childhood obesity but fighting it at the federal level with ineffective methods that could cost each school district over $100,000 in budget increases isn’t going to cut it.

Every school district is different and it would be more appropriate to make these decisions at the state and local level so that the best options for each individual district can be provided for those particular students.

Regulators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture mistakenly assume their preliminary new federal rules to make school lunch healthier will naturally result in healthier kids. For many schools, the less tasty meals will be wasted, leaving oversized garbage cans full of costly fruits, veggies and hyper healthy portions the schools paid a pretty penny for.

And by schools, I mean the state taxpayers who have no say in what kind of regulations populate their local school districts. The total cost for the new rules is estimated to reach $6.8 billion, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Not only will the schools be adding more fruits and veggies, they will be adding more expensive products to ensure freshness – an unnecessary extravagance for most districts within this already expensive upgrade.

And the latest proposal? Removing white potatoes – meaning school lunches would absent tater tots and French fries – beloved staples of the school lunch tray for generations. Schools in Texas are even dishing out $2 million to install cameras that will monitor the calorie intake of students. The lunch trays will include bar codes for researching purposes. What a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The House subcommittee on Early Childhood Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing Friday on the USDA’s preliminary regulations, which are an extension of President Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed last year.

The truth is that limiting the amount of nutrient-empty food available to students is a no-cost way to help fight childhood obesity. In a testimony on federal food programs, Heritage’s Robert Rector said:

Changing the composition of foods offered by schools may have positive results on children’s weight and would not impose added costs on the taxpayer.

A great many schools are already adopting this sort of policy. What is needed here is flexibility and experimentation. There is, no need for mandatory national standards, nor for the U.S Congress to assume the role of national “cookie czar,” dictating food policies for local schools. Such a usurpation of power would be unwise and unwarranted.

Instead of the federal government attempting mandate standards for every faceless school district in the country, they should look to state and local education leaders for direction on what policies work in different areas. A school district in southern Texas is not going to need the same things as one in inner city New York. Why doesn’t the federal government make that connection?

America is fighting record debt right now – cutting costs at every available corner. Implementing this kind of unnecessary federal regulation while we are attempting to reconcile our economy is an irresponsible move at the wrong time.


23 May, 2011

Mama mia! What an absurd piece of reporting about those evil pesticides!

We find below an account of a reasonable piece of research but the authors obviously did not like what they found. I gather that they are from a group of people opposed to pesticide use and they clearly wanted to say that pesticides fry the brains of kids.

But their data does not show that. The Abstract below concentrated on IQ at 12 months. Why? That is an absurdity. There is no way you can get a useful estimate of IQ at 12 months. About 4 years would be the minimum.

And since they had data from children at later ages, the whole thing begins to smell. I therefore read the full research report and discovered that the findings at the oldest age were described as "imprecise". "Imprecise"? That is not a term usually found in statistical reporting. I can only assume that they mean "not statistically significant" In other words, the whole thing is a crock.

And here's the amusing bit: For the white kids in the sample, having lots of pesticides in you made you SMARTER at 12 months!

Why did they bother reporting such sh*t? They have made a mockery of themselves and their cause. Stephanie the Angel is an angel of darkness, it would seem ("Engel" is German/Yiddish for Angel).
Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphates, Paraoxonase 1, and Cognitive Development in Childhood

By Stephanie M. Engel et al.


Background: Prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides has been shown to negatively impact child neurobehavioral development. Paraoxonase 1 (PON1) is a key enzyme in the metabolism of organophosphates.

Objective: To examine the relationship between biomarkers of organophosphate exposure, PON1, and cognitive development at ages 12 and 24 months, and 6 to 9 years.

Methods: The Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Study enrolled a multiethnic prenatal population in New York City between 1998 and 2002 (n= 404). Third trimester maternal urines were collected and analyzed for organophosphate metabolites (n = 360). Prenatal maternal blood was analyzed for PON1 activity and genotype. Children returned for neurodevelopment assessments at ages 12 months (n = 200), 24 months (n = 276), 6 to 9 (n = 169) years.

Results: Prenatal total dialkylphosphate metabolite level was associated with a decrement in mental development at 12 months among blacks and Hispanics. These associations appeared to be enhanced among children of mothers who carried the PON1 Q192R QQ genotype, which imparts slow catalytic activity for chlorpyrifos oxon. In later childhood, increasing prenatal total dialkyl- and dimethylphosphate metabolites were associated with decrements in perceptual reasoning in the maternal PON1 Q192R QQ genotype, with a monotonic trend consistent with greater decrements with increasing prenatal exposure.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that prenatal exposure to organophosphates negatively impacts cognitive development, particularly perceptual reasoning, with evidence of effects beginning at 12 months and continuing through early childhood. PON1 may be an important susceptibility factor for these deleterious effects.


Rough, Virginia, very rough (Your pesticide conclusions, that is)

The study described below is of unusually high quality, so its negligible findings are all the more impressive for that. The researchers had a good measure of child IQ and even measured maternal IQ: Most unusual. And their measure of maternal pesticide exposure was direct rather than inferential. And they even used standard deviations in subsectioning their data -- a big advance on the rubbishy use of extreme quintiles that one so often encounters in the medical literature.

A simple Pearson product moment coefficient would have been more informative but such statistics tend to expose how little of the variance is explained by the variable of interest so one understands why all but the bold avoid supplying such information (Disclosure: I ALWAYS used Pearsonian correlations in reporting my own research findings).

At the end of the day, however, an IQ difference of 1.4 points is well within the margin of error at age 7 years. I would describe the findings in exactly the opposite way to how the authors describe them. I would say that the study is a strong indication that pesticides have negligible to nil effects on child IQ.

And a maybe amusing bit: The amount of pesticide in her had no effect on the mother's IQ. I quote: "There were no significant interactions between CPF and any covariates". Do you grow out of having pesticide in you?

("Rauh" is German/Yiddish for rough)
7-Year Neurodevelopmental Scores and Prenatal Exposure to Chlorpyrifos, a Common Agricultural Pesticide

By Virginia Rauh et al.


BACKGROUND: In a longitudinal birth cohort study of inner-city mothers and children (Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health), we have previously reported that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos (CPF) was associated with neurodevelopmental problems at child age 3 years.

OBJECTIVE: The goal of the study was to estimate the relationship between prenatal CPF exposure and neurodevelopment among cohort children at age 7 years.

METHODS: In a sample of 265 children, participants in a prospective study of air pollution, we measured prenatal CPF exposure using umbilical cord blood plasma (picograms/gram plasma), and 7-year neurodevelopment using the Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children (WISC-IV). Linear regression models were used to estimate associations, with covariate selection based on two alternate approaches.

RESULTS: On average, for each standard deviation increase in exposure (4.61 pg/g), Full-Scale IQ declined by 1.4%, and Working Memory declined by 2.8%. Final covariates included maternal educational level, maternal IQ, and quality of the home environment. There were no significant interactions between CPF and any covariates, including the other chemical exposures measured during the prenatal period (environmental tobacco smoke and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons).

CONCLUSIONS: We report evidence of deficits in Working Memory Index and Full-Scale IQ as a function of prenatal CPF exposure at 7 years of age. These findings are important in light of continued widespread use of CPF in agricultural settings and possible longer-term educational implications of early cognitive deficits.


22 May, 2011

LOWERING your salt intake may kill you

In layman's language, that is what the research reported below shows. So most Western governments are trying to kill you. Note that the academic journal below is a very prestigious one and that governments getting it exactly wrong has plenty of precedent -- with the reverse-course on peanut allergy being the most well-known recent example.

Also note that for years I have had in my sidebar a warning about this

Fatal and Nonfatal Outcomes, Incidence of Hypertension, and Blood Pressure Changes in Relation to Urinary Sodium Excretion

By Katarzyna Stolarz-Skrzypek et al.


Context: Extrapolations from observational studies and short-term intervention trials suggest that population-wide moderation of salt intake might reduce cardiovascular events.

Objective: To assess whether 24-hour urinary sodium excretion predicts blood pressure (BP) and health outcomes.

Design, Setting, and Participants: Prospective population study, involving 3681 participants without cardiovascular disease (CVD) who are members of families that were randomly enrolled in the Flemish Study on Genes, Environment, and Health Outcomes (1985-2004) or in the European Project on Genes in Hypertension (1999-2001). Of 3681 participants without CVD, 2096 were normotensive at baseline and 1499 had BP and sodium excretion measured at baseline and last follow-up (2005-2008).

Main Outcome Measures: Incidence of mortality and morbidity and association between changes in BP and sodium excretion. Multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) express the risk in tertiles of sodium excretion relative to average risk in the whole study population.

Results: Among 3681 participants followed up for a median 7.9 years, CVD deaths decreased across increasing tertiles of 24-hour sodium excretion, from 50 deaths in the low (mean, 107 mmol), 24 in the medium (mean, 168 mmol), and 10 in the high excretion group (mean, 260 mmol; P < .001), resulting in respective death rates of 4.1% (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.5%-4.7%), 1.9% (95% CI, 1.5%-2.3%), and 0.8% (95% CI, 0.5%-1.1%). In multivariable-adjusted analyses, this inverse association retained significance (P = .02): the HR in the low tertile was 1.56 (95% CI, 1.02-2.36; P = .04). Baseline sodium excretion predicted neither total mortality (P = .10) nor fatal combined with nonfatal CVD events (P = .55). Among 2096 participants followed up for 6.5 years, the risk of hypertension did not increase across increasing tertiles (P = .93). Incident hypertension was 187 (27.0%; HR, 1.00; 95% CI, 0.87-1.16) in the low, 190 (26.6%; HR, 1.02; 95% CI, 0.89-1.16) in the medium, and 175 (25.4%; HR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.86-1.12) in the high sodium excretion group. In 1499 participants followed up for 6.1 years, systolic blood pressure increased by 0.37 mm Hg per year (P < .001), whereas sodium excretion did not change (–0.45 mmol per year, P = .15). However, in multivariable-adjusted analyses, a 100-mmol increase in sodium excretion was associated with 1.71 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure (P.<001) but no change in diastolic BP.

Conclusions: In this population-based cohort, systolic blood pressure, but not diastolic pressure, changes over time aligned with change in sodium excretion, but this association did not translate into a higher risk of hypertension or CVD complications. Lower sodium excretion was associated with higher CVD mortality

JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.574

That 'healthy' bowl of granola has more sugar than coke... and more fat than fries: Busting the diet food myths

Combining rolled oats, brown sugar or honey, dried fruit, and nuts, granola is undoubtedly a delicious breakfast option. But is it a healthy one? Advice from experts is: Make sure you read the box carefully.

‘Most granolas are classified as high sugar, with more than 12.5g of sugar per 100g, much of which has been deliberately added to make it taste more palatable than the granola once found in health food shops,’ says Anna Raymond, dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. ‘Health guidelines recommend consuming no more than 90g of sugar in a day. Don’t be fooled by the addition of honey – it’s still a sugar, and no more healthy.’ With this in mind we asked Anna to examine six leading granolas available on the High Street, and give her verdict. The results may come as a surprise...


Ingredients: Oat flakes, sugar, sultanas, rapeseed oil, coconut, hazelnuts, honey, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds.

Nutrition (all figures given for 100g without milk unless indicated otherwise): 416 calories, 9.4g protein, 59.5g carbohydrate, (of which 23.8g is sugars), 15.6g fat (of which 4.8g is saturates), 7.6g fibre, 0.006g sodium.

ANNA SAYS: Although this initially looks healthy, it has the highest saturated fat content of them all, which comes from the addition of coconut. A large portion of McDonald’s fries has only 2g of saturated fat and a hamburger just 3g. A bowl of this could contain half your saturated fat for the day.

However, the granola has good fibre content and the addition of seeds makes it healthier and more likely to fill you up compared to a fast-food breakfast.

More here

21 May, 2011

Help the Avastin ladies

Background: Avastin is an anti-cancer drug that blocks blood flow to tumors. In 2007, the FDA granted accelerated approval for the use of Avastin for treatment of metastatic breast cancer. It was clear from the Avastin studies then that while many women would not benefit from the drug, a significant minority could live longer and with less pain.

The FDA asked Avastin researchers to evaluate the drug’s risks and benefits on a larger group of patients with the same standards used to approve the drug in the first place. The study confirmed the 2007 results showing benefit to specific groups of women. But the FDA revoked Avastin’s approval for breast cancer treatment because it didn’t extend life on average.


I hereby urge the President of the United States of America, the Congress of the United States of America and the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration to act immediately to protect women with metastatic breast cancer (MBC), an incurable disease that kills 40,000 women per year.

We the People petition you to grandfather access to the drug Avastin for the current 17,500 patients, as well as protect their private insurance and Medicare coverage for Avastin. Without Avastin, women will die and without keeping their coverage intact through private insurance or Medicare, the drug will be unaffordable for most.

We further insist that you find ways to keep Avastin on the market for all patients who can benefit from its safe usage. We beg you to allow further trials for Avastin following FDA guidelines and to encourage further research to determine genetic markers for women who might benefit from Avastin.

We also implore you to explore ways to improve the FDA's drug approval process without reducing the safety of drugs reaching market. The quicker patients have access to safe drugs, the more they can be helped.

We appeal to you to adopt common-sense approaches to allowing drug companies to donate drugs to people in need on a compassionate use basis. Drug companies are restrained in donating on a compassionate use basis because of uncertainty of corporate and personal liability. This uncertainty must to be removed to help the needy.

We are a civilized society that values life. We also cherish individual freedom and the right of a patient to choose her medical options with her physician. By acting on this, you will confirm our belief that Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is an inalienable right for all, including the seriously ill.

Petition here

Federal Food Police Against Business and Science

Late last month a host of government agencies including the Federal Trade Commission and the Agriculture Department proposed what the media described as "tough'' but "voluntary" new standards for food companies that advertise to children, designed to pressure the businesses into incorporating much lower amounts of fat, sodium and sugar in foods aimed at a young audience.

Barely a week later the Journal of the American Medical Association published new research which suggested that lowering sodium consumption not only doesn't benefit most people, it may actually increase risk of heart attacks for some. The research was apparently so disturbing to government regulators that some felt the need to step out and criticize the results in the media, something that they rarely do.

If you've been following the latest research on diet in the scientific journals, you would understand why the regulators appeared so defensive. Increasingly, some of the basic assumptions about nutrition that have formed the core of the government's recommendations on what Americans should eat are being questioned by studies which suggest the advice is not merely ineffective but may be counterproductive, contributing among other things to the rise in obesity which the White House decries.

Rather than be humbled and made cautious by such research, however, government regulators are simply plowing ahead with a conviction that their ideas about nutrition are correct. Businesses are expected to fall into line, regardless of the implications for their products.

The sodium controversy is a good example of how distorted the arguments have become. The regulators dismissed the new study by suggesting that the results were unusual because the research was flawed. But this was not the first time that a peer-reviewed study had cast doubt on the idea that most of us consume too much sodium. Indeed, more than a decade ago Science Magazine highlighted the controversy with a piece entitled "The (Political) Science of Salt" which noted that, "Three decades of controversy over the putative blood pressure benefits from salt reduction are demonstrating how the demands of good science clash with the pressures of public health policy."

More recently, in a February, 2010, article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Michael Alderman, a leading hypertension expert, reviewed the relevant recent research and found a disturbing lack of consistency in the results of a dozen studies on the relationship of salt to our health, which prompted him to observe in the New York Times that any potential population-wide government requirements or recommendations on sodium reduction would amount to a giant uncontrolled experiment with the U.S. population with potentially unintended consequences.

The legacy of the government's dietary guidelines may turn out to be a disturbing list of unintended consequences, including possibly the current obesity epidemic. Since the 1970s, the government's food recommendations have largely been aimed at cutting our consumption of cholesterol and fat, especially saturated fat, to reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke and the conditions that might lead to them, including obesity.

The guidelines, first produced by Sen. George McGovern's Select Subcommittee on Nutrition and Human Needs, were controversial from the start because there was no conclusive evidence at the time that diet was a major contributor to heart disease. But the committee and its scientific advisers proceeded because, they argued, there were no risks in "eating less meat, less fat, less saturated fat...more fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fats and cereal products." Over the years this has become a mantra of the public health establishment about diet, namely that even when the research is inconclusive, what could possibly be the harm in consuming less of things like meat and salt?

With the federal bureaucracy behind them, the guidelines became widely accepted even though subsequent research often questioned them. Two of the government's principal studies on diet and heart disease, published in the 1980s, were intended to offer reassurances, but instead produced results that were inconclusive, at best.

The science has only gotten more troubling since then, as researchers have begun to wonder if the obesity epidemic is in some way related to the change in diet prompted by the guidelines. A 2008 article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine argued that Americans have actually followed the government's advice, reducing intake of fat and increasing the proportion of our calories from carbohydrates. The result had been a rise in overall calorie intake, leading the authors to wonder if, "the U.S. dietary guidelines recommending fat restriction might have worsened rather than helped the obesity epidemic." They criticized the government for relying on "weak evidentiary support" in the guidelines.

In April of last year Scientific American reviewed the mounting number of studies contradicting the governments point of view in a piece entitled, "Carbs Against Cardio: More Evidence that Refined Carbohydrates, not Fats, Threaten the Heart." And in October of 2010 the journal Nutrition weighed in with a piece by five researchers entitled "In the Face of Contradictory Evidence: Report of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee," which cited dozens of peer-reviewed studies questioning the science at the foundation of the guidelines.

None of this has deterred the government. The new, 2010 guidelines, for instance, ignored the contrary evidence and recommended significantly lowering salt consumption for everyone over age 50. As in the past, the food regulators seem to have little concern for the unintended consequences of their untested theories. Food companies have argued, for instance, that the sodium goals set by the government are so low that they will make some foods like prepared soups unpalatable to kids. We have no idea what other foods kids will turn to instead.

More than three decades of government involvement in dietary recommendations have led to a situation our grandparents and great-grandparents would have found unthinkable: people turning to government for advice on what to eat. In the interim a whole industry of nutrition writers and diet books has emerged to interpret the Washington diet to us, or contend against it. Not surprisingly, some Americans are confused.

If the federal government unleashed a Pandora's Box of unintended consequences more than three decades ago, it's going to be awfully hard to undo much of what Washington has done. We haven't even begun trying yet.


20 May, 2011

Another backflip: Eating butter and cheese 'doesn't increase risk of heart attacks'

The last sentence below should be framed and placed above the desk of every epidemiologist

It's great news for cheese and butter fans - scientists have found that eating dairy food doesn't increase your risk of a heart attack. Nutritionists surveyed thousands of middle-aged people and found that even those who ate more than half a kilo of cheese did not seem to suffer from increased risk.

Contrary to earlier beliefs that saturated fat might lead to a heart attack, researchers found that nutrients in dairy products actually counteract the harmful effects.

Researcher Stella Aslibekyan, of Brown University, Rhode Island, where the research was carried out, said: 'Things like milk and cheese are very complex substances. 'We looked at heart attack risk and dairy products in their entirety and then looked at separate components of those dairy products, including fats, and it turns out that the results are null.

Her team doesn't believe the saturated fats in dairy products are harmless, but suggest other nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium may protect against heart disease for all but those who ate the most of them in their study.

Their findings, taken from 3,630 Costa Rican men, are published in the Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases journal.

They found the dairy intake of people who had heart attacks was no different to the intake of people who did not.

Looking at how much dairy food they ate, there was no link between consumption and heart attack risk, even among those who consumed as much as 593 grams a day. When the researchers accounted for other factors such as smoking, alcohol and exercise, there was still no difference, statistically.

Dr Ana Baylin said: 'The message is that it is important to look at the net effect of whole foods and dietary patterns and not only isolated nutrients.'


GM food toxins found in the blood of 93% of unborn babies

No evidence of any harm after millions of people have been eating the stuff for years but let's have a shriek, anyway! Food is full of toxins manufactured by plants to kill insects. We eat such naturally occurring insecticides all the time without harm. Bug-killers are generally harmless to us. Bt is also a naturally occurring insecticide, albeit derived from a soil-dwelling bacterium rather than a plant

Toxins implanted into GM food crops to kill pests are reaching the bloodstreams of women and unborn babies, alarming research has revealed. A landmark study found 93 per cent of blood samples taken from pregnant women and 80 per cent from umbilical cords tested positive for traces of the chemicals.

Millions of acres in North and South America are planted with GM corn containing the toxins, which is fed in vast quantities to farm livestock around the world – including Britain. However, it is now clear the toxins designed to kill crop pests are reaching humans and babies in the womb – apparently through food.

It is not known what, if any, harm this causes but there is speculation it could lead to allergies, miscarriage, abnormalities or even cancer.

To date the industry has always argued that if these toxins were eaten by animals or humans they would be destroyed in the gut and pass out of the body, thus causing no harm. Food safety authorities in Britain and Europe have accepted these assurances on the basis that GM crops are effectively no different to those produced using conventional methods.

But the latest study appears to blow a hole in these claims and has triggered calls for a ban on imports and a total overhaul of the safety regime for GM crops and food.

Most of the global research which has been used to demonstrate the safety of GM crops has been funded by the industry itself.

The new study was carried out by independent doctors at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, at the University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre in Quebec, Canada. They took blood samples from 30 pregnant women and 39 other women who were not having a baby. They were looking for residues of the pesticides associated with the cultivation of GM food. These include so-called Bt toxins, which are implanted using GM techniques into corn and some other crops.

Traces of Bt toxin were found in the blood of 93 per cent of the pregnant mothers – 28 out of 30. It was also found in 80 per cent of the umbilical cords – 24 out of 30.

In the non-pregnant group, traces were found in the blood of 69 per cent – 27 out of 39. It is thought the toxin is getting into the human body as a result of eating meat, milk and eggs from farm livestock fed GM corn.

The Canadian team told the scientific journal Reproductive Toxicology: ‘This is the first study to highlight the presence of pesticides associated with genetically modified foods in maternal, foetal and non-pregnant women’s blood.’ They said the Bt toxin was ‘clearly detectable and appears to cross the placenta to the foetus’.

Calling for action, the team said: ‘Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the foetus, more studies are needed.’

The director of GM Freeze, an umbrella group for community, consumer and environmental organisations opposed to GM farming, described the research as ‘very significant’. Pete Riley said: ‘This research is a major surprise as it shows that the Bt proteins have survived the human digestive system and passed into the blood supply – something that regulators said could not happen. ‘Regulators need to urgently reassess their opinions, and the EU should use the safeguard clauses in the regulations to prevent any further GM Bt crops being cultivated or imported for animal feed or food until the potential health implications have been fully evaluated.’

The Agriculture Biotechnology Council, which speaks for the GM industry, questioned the reliability and value of the research.

Its chairman, Dr Julian Little, said: ‘The study is based on analysis that has been used in previous feeding studies and has been found to be unreliable.’ He said the toxins found are also used in other farming systems and gardening ‘with no harm to human health’.

Dr Little said: ‘Biotech crops are rigorously tested for safety prior to their use and over two trillion meals made with GM ingredients have been safely consumed around the world over the past 15 years without a single substantiated health issue.’


19 May, 2011

Happy people die younger than their more reserved peers, study finds

My interpretation of these findings would be that happy people get out and about more -- which exposes them to more dangers than what someone sitting around and moping at home would experience

People who are too happy die younger than their more downbeat peers, claims new research. A study which followed children from the 1920s to old age showed that people who were rated 'highly cheerful' by teachers at school died younger than their more reserved classmates.

This was because people who were too happy were more likely to suffer from mental disorders such as bipolar, making them less fearful and more likely to take risks that increase the chance of having a fatal accident. Being too cheerful - especially at inappropriate times - can also rouse anger in others, increasing the risk of a person coming to harm.

Researchers from a variety of universities worldwide also discovered that trying too hard to be happy often ended up leaving people feeling more depressed than before, as putting an effort into improving their mood often left people feeling cheated. And magazine articles offering tips on how to be happy were also blamed for worsening depression.

One study saw participants asked to read an article offering ways to improve your mood, and follow one of the tips to see how effective it was. Participants then took the advice offered - such as watching an upbeat film - often concentrated too hard on trying to improve their mood rather than letting it lift naturally.

This meant that by the time the film had ended, they often felt angry and cheated by the advice given, putting them in a far worse mood than when they had started watching.

However, results of the study, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, revealed that the key to true happiness was much more simple: meaningful relationships with friends and family members.

Study co-author Professor June Gruber, from the department of psychology at Yale University in the United States, said of people who actively tried to be happy: 'When you're doing it with the motivation or expectation that these things ought to make you happy, that can lead to disappointment and decreased happiness.

'The strongest predictor of happiness is not money, or external recognition through success or fame. It's having meaningful social relationships.' She added: 'That means the best way to increase your happiness is to stop worrying about being happy and instead divert your energy to nurturing the social bonds you have with other people. 'If there's one thing you're going to focus on, focus on that. Let all the rest come as it will.'


The Google pharm case

The American pharmaceutical system is a highly controlled apparatus for restricting access to much-needed drugs and violating the rights of those who want to purchase them. This has long been true.

Vast amounts of drugs that people should be permitted to purchase of their own free will are withheld from the market (of course, many others are outlawed). Instead, people who know what they need are forced first to fork over their money to a physician – who then gets overpaid by insurance – then part of the buck is passed to the over-trained checkout clerks at the pharmacy. We are all treated like babies in order to sustain and fund an industry filled with bamboozlers in white coats.

The Internet in its early days (perhaps 1998 to 2008) represented a wonderful alternative to this apparatus. Suppliers all over the world popped up to give us what we wanted, bypassing the whole cage of government regulations and private monopolists who rule them like prison wardens. You know what you need, so just click and buy it!

So the pharmaceutical industry solicited the help of government. Together, they worked to crack down on "counterfeit" medicines – meaning the real thing that bypasses patent restrictions and supplier monopolies. In their view, people must not be allowed to get prescription medications without doctor approval – else an entire fake industry could collapse. So they banded together and instituted a medieval guild system for the digital age.

Over the years, Google has accepted some advertising from some of these so-called rogue elements. In a free market, they would be perfectly legitimate advertisers. Google makes no guarantee of the exact nature of the goods and services of all those who choose to advertise on its network. It has some degree of interest in quality control, of course, but if the customers are buying and happy, what could be the problem?

Well, the medical cartel, of course, and it asked for the Justice Department to intervene. As of this writing, Google is assuming that it is going to be in hot water very soon. Its recent report to stockholders says that it has put half a billion dollars in escrow to deal with the Justice Department investigation. The presumption here is that Google is going to be held liable for permitting ads to run from market-based drug sellers.

There are so many ways that this is wrong that one hardly knows where to begin. But let’s start with pharmaceutical prices, which continue to go through the roof and which are driving forward increased pressure for socialistic forms of cost spreading. Using the Internet, there are tens of thousands of companies that could immediately begin distributing name-brand drugs and also derivative products at a fraction of the price imposed today.

Why not let them? More to the point, why should government resources be devoted to making sure that the price of prescription drugs remains as high as possible? If you thought that the regulators were truly concerned about consumer welfare (ha ha), this action alone should put that idea to rest.

What about the allegation that these are counterfeit drugs being sold? Well, it is seriously doubtful that if any consumer who is buying a prescription medicine from an online source is being defrauded; there is an understanding that the drug in question is most likely generic. Consumers have no problem with this, as the aisles of generics at the drug store suggest. What the government really means by counterfeit is that the generic drug is being introduced prior to the expiration of the patent that inflates prices as much as one hundred times.

We all have stories to share about such things. A cream that is $100 one day is $5 after the drug enters the free market. A nasal spray that is $200 is suddenly $10 after it becomes part of the market. And so on. The term counterfeit should be reserved for fraud; it doesn’t apply to goods that are brought to market before a government-imposed embargo expires.

The same is true of the notion of real and fake pharmacies. Drug dispensaries should be businesses like any other, subject to free entry and exit and governed by the principles of profit and loss. But just as with the medical profession itself, drug stores want to avoid being treated like commercial ventures. Instead, they want to be part of a tight cartel that rules who gets in and who stays out.

The only way to maintain a cartel is through government regulations, and this is what the pharmacy industry has long relied upon, much to the detriment of consumer well being. The attempt to crack down on free-market advertising of prescription drugs is all about protecting an industry from competition, and has nothing at all to do with protecting the consumer.

It is not a coincidence that so much Internet spam comes from companies that purport to be selling drugs that people do not necessarily want to get from their doctor. There are privacy concerns. There’s also a perfectly normal desire to avoid embarrassment. But the government will have none of it: you must confess to a doctor, you must look the drug-store clerk in the eye.

People commonly blame the markets for all this spam, but they really should have been fingering the government for having created the black and grey markets for these drugs in the first place! This is what creates the incentives to dump trillions of unsolicited emails on the world. The spammers knew that their product was valued but without normal markets, they resorted to globalized promotions.

In fact, this is why Congress made spam illegal. The anti-spam law had absolutely nothing to do with keeping your inbox clean. It was all about protecting the medical monopoly against competition.

Finally, there is the very serious matter of the presumed liability held by Google. Maybe there is a precedent somewhere for a magazine or newspaper being held responsible for the claims of its advertisers. But I’m quite sure that there has never been a case where the fees are anywhere near this range. $500 million? This is crazy, and a clear example of government’s looting of deep pockets.

The claim is that Google had disobeyed its own policies of making sure that every drug advertiser had passed through its own internal checks. But those checks were clearly instituted under government pressure, direct or indirect, so how it is an allegation against Google that it didn’t obey them across the board? This is nothing but harassment in order to preserve the privileges of a very powerful cartel.

People imagine that the U.S. has a free market in prescription medicine. This case is a very clear example of how and to what extent this is absolutely untrue. A free market permits anyone to advertise anything through any mutually agreed upon means. Google is being investigated and hounded and fined solely for doing business in a way that benefits society at large. What matters to government is that doing such business harms a favorite client of the state.


18 May, 2011

Six cups of coffee a day 'can slash prostate cancer risk'

According to one study. Other studies find differently. They also think below that coffee feminizes you!

What they probably found was that hard-driving middle class men drink more coffee and that middle class men are also healthier generally

Drinking cup after cup of coffee could more than halve the odds of developing a deadly prostate tumour, research suggests. A 20-year study of almost 50,000 men found those who drank at least six cups a day were 20 per cent less likely to get prostate cancer than those who never touched the stuff.

Strikingly, they were 60 per cent less likely than the non-coffee drinkers to die of the disease. Those who like to restrict their caffeine intake will be glad to know the study found decaffeinated coffee to be just as effective.

The research is significant because prostate cancer, the most common cancer among British men, affects 37,000 a year and kills more than 10,000.

However, the Harvard University researchers say that non-coffee drinkers shouldn’t change their habits based on this study alone.

The American team compared the coffee intake of men quizzed about their diets every four years between 1986 and 2006 with their medical records. Two-thirds of those taking part drank at least one cup of coffee a day and 5 per cent got through at least six, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reports. Some 5,035 of the 47,911 men developed prostate cancer, with 642 of the tumours classed as lethal, meaning the men died from the disease or were expected to.

Even relatively small amounts of coffee – one to three cups per day – lowered the risk of lethal prostate cancer by 30 per cent. And bigger amounts had a bigger effect.

Importantly, the link cannot be explained away by the coffee drinkers having healthier lifestyles. In fact, they were more likely to smoke and did less exercise.

Caffeine is credited with a host of health benefits, including cutting the odds of asthma, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.

But in this case, the researchers believe that other plant chemicals in coffee are behind the benefits. They think compounds such as anti-oxidants may cut the odds of prostate cancer and reduce the likelihood of deadly tumours by altering levels of sex hormones, regulating blood sugar levels and cutting inflammation.

‘An association between coffee and lower risk of advanced prostate cancer is biologically plausible,’ they reported.

Kathryn Wilson, the study’s lead author, said: ‘If our findings are validated, coffee could represent one modifiable factor that may lower the risk of developing the most harmful form of prostate cancer.’ But British experts said other studies had failed to find that coffee protected against prostate cancer.

Dr Helen Rippon, head of research management at the Prostate Cancer Charity, said: ‘It is important to remember that studying diet is difficult because you are not studying a standardised product – coffee can be prepared in many different ways from many different varieties of bean.

‘That is why it is so important that studies like this are repeated by others, to see if the result stands up in other groups of men.

‘Although this study is a welcome addition to our knowledge, it is far from definitive and we would not recommend men who are not already habitual coffee drinkers to become so in the hope of preventing prostate cancer.’

She pointed out that heavy caffeine intake is associated with other health problems.


Scientists find “master switch” to controlling human fat

Not those pesky genes again!

Scientists have found that a gene linked to diabetes and cholesterol is a "master switch" that controls other genes found in fat in the body, and say it should help in the search for treatments for obesity-related diseases.

In a study published in the journal Nature Genetics, the British researchers said that since fat plays an important role in peoples' susceptibility to metabolic diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes, the regulating gene could be target for drugs to treat such illnesses.

"This is the first major study that shows how small changes in one master regulator gene can cause a cascade of other metabolic effects in other genes," said Tim Spector of King's College London, who led the study.

More than half a billion people, or one in 10 adults worldwide, are obese and the numbers have doubled since the 1980s as the obesity epidemic has spilled over from wealthy into poorer nations.

In the United States, obesity-related diseases already account for nearly 10 percent of medical spending -- an estimated $147 billion a year.

Type 2 diabetes, which is often linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, is also reaching epidemic levels worldwide as rates of obesity rise.

Scientists have already identified a gene called KLF14 as being linked to type 2 diabetes and cholesterol levels, but until now they did know what role it played.

Spector's team analyzed more than 20,000 genes in fat samples taken from under the skin of 800 British female twin volunteers. They found a link between the KLF14 gene and the levels of many other distant genes found in fat tissue, showing that KLF14 acts as a master switch to control these genes.

They then confirmed their findings in 600 fat samples from a separate group of people from Iceland.

In a report of their study, the researchers explained that other genes found to be controlled by KLF14 are linked to a range of metabolic traits, including body mass index, obesity, cholesterol, insulin and glucose levels.

"KLF14 seems to act as a master switch controlling processes that connect changes in the behavior of subcutaneous fat to disturbances in muscle and liver that contribute to diabetes and other conditions," said Mark McCarthy from Britain's Oxford University, who also worked on the study.

"We are working understand these processes and how we can use this information to improve treatment of these conditions."


17 May, 2011

Man set to consume his 25,000th Big Mac (and his cholesterol is GOOD

It's something that no one else in the entire world can truthfully say: I've eaten 25,000 Big Macs. Don Gorske can't say it yet either - but by tomorrow he will be able to.

Mr Gorske, 57, is set to eat his 25,000th McDonald's Big Mac on Tuesday, May 17 - the 39th anniversary of the first time he tasted the iconic burger. He's even timed it down to mark the exact moment he first bit into a McDonald's patty at 3pm on May 17, 1972.

Incredibly, his cholesterol is just fine. Perhaps less incredibly, his taste buds don't work. The Wisconsin man - who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and has kept every receipt for every Big Mac he's ever purchased - told reporters in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, that his taste buds have fluctuated in sensitivity since birth.

But the lack of taste has not dampened his unequivocal love of the Big Mac. 'A person like me, I just don't change too much,' he said. 'It's pretty much two Big Macs a day.' He's only missed that mark eight times since 1972 - and now he keeps burgers in his freezer just in case.

May 17 will also be his retirement party from the Waupun Correctional Institution, in Waupun, Wisconsin, where he spent 25 years as a scheduling officer.

In 2008 Guinness verified that Mr Gorske has consumed the most Big Macs ever - at the time, just 23,000.

The need to keep track of the total number of Big Macs he has consumed is part of the OCD that Mr Gorske has battled since childhood. It has made him a living legend, but he wondered what his children would do with his legacy - the receipts, cartons and calendars which are safely stored in bins in his home. 'Are these going to be worth anything because their dad was crazy?' he wondered.

If his cholesterol is anything to go by he won't have to wonder just yet. On April 26 this year Mr Gorske went to the doctor and found that he is in good health - with a cholesterol level of 156mg/dL. A number less than 200 is desirable.


My broken leg healed in half the time... all because I meditated

A very fit man discovers the power of self-hypnosis

Meditation is often touted as a panacea for all manner of ailments, from chronic pain to anxiety, stress and even depression. Like most sensible people, I’d always taken such sweeping claims with a large pinch of salt. However, five years ago I learned the power of meditation for myself after an accident left me critically injured and in constant pain.

A freak gust of wind caught me off-guard as I was paragliding over the Cotswolds. One moment my paraglider was flying normally, the next its wing had collapsed, sending me tumbling into the hillside 30ft below. I was struck with the most agonising pain imaginable. The bone in the lower half of my right leg had been driven up through my knee and into my thigh. I could see the outline of my fractured shin bone sticking through the cloth of my jeans. I went into shock and my body was racked with violent uncontrollable spasms.

As I lay on the hillside, I remembered a form of meditation I’d been taught in the sixth form of my comprehensive school in Neston, Cheshire, as a way of tackling exam nerves. Over the years I’d used it to deal with the usual stresses and strains of daily life, but never in times of physical pain. But I knew that meditation (and self-hypnosis) had been used for pain relief and, as I lay on the hillside, in sheer desperation I tried them both.

I forced myself to breathe slowly and deeply, to focus on the sensations the breath made as it flowed in and out. I pictured myself in a beautiful garden and imagined myself inhaling its peaceful and tranquil air. Gradually, breath by breath, the pain became more distant. It felt less ‘personal’, almost as if I was watching it on TV.

In hospital it became apparent how seriously injured I was — and just how effective a painkiller the meditation had been.

My leg was so badly broken that I would need three major operations. I also needed a newly invented device, a Taylor Spatial Frame, to be surgically attached to my leg for up to 18 months to repair the damage. Consisting of four equally spaced rings that encircled my lower leg, the frame looked like a cross between a Meccano set and a medieval torture device.

Fourteen metal spokes and two bolts connected these rings to the shards of bone inside my leg, and allowed the surgeon to move the fragments around inside.

Life with the frame was intolerable. Sleep was virtually impossible, and the pain was controlled with powerful drugs that left me washed-out and jaded. I felt thoroughly wretched — anxious, irritable and highly stressed. So I decided to find an alternative way of coping with the pain and of maximising my chances of recovery.

I discovered the work of Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University. He and his colleagues at the universities of Cambridge, Toronto, and Massachusetts had spent 20 years studying the phenomenal power of meditation for treating anxiety and even full-blown depression.

They had turned it into a therapy known as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) that was gaining the support of doctors and scientists. It had even been endorsed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and in Britain by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice).

One study, in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, has shown that it brings about long-term changes in levels of happiness and well-being, while a major study in Psychological Science revealed such changes help regular meditators live longer, healthier lives. It’s also been shown to be as effective as drugs for treating depression. In fact, it’s now one of the preferred treatments recommended by Nice.

A typical meditation session consists of focusing on breathing and the sensations it creates. This reduces the levels of stress hormones in the body which, in turn, enhances healing and boosts physical health. It helps partly by teaching you to live in the present moment rather than worrying too much about the past or the future.

Faced with the evidence, I decided to try mindfulness meditation. I began each day with a ten-minute breathing meditation to calm the mind. At bedtime, I would meditate for 30 minutes while visualising a warm, white, healing light sweeping up and down my leg.

This simple meditation programme worked to an astonishing degree. My pain gradually subsided and I slashed my intake of painkillers by two-thirds. I also developed a more contented outlook, seeing my injuries as temporary problems that would gradually subside rather than as limb-threatening ones that might confine me to a wheelchair.

The MBCT is, I’m convinced, why I recovered in double-quick time: the leg frame was removed after just 17 weeks rather than the normal six to 18 months. My progress astonished my doctors. Just after the final operation I joked with my surgeon that maybe my injuries hadn’t been as bad as I’d thought. He looked at me aghast and said: ‘Your leg was in the Top Five leg injuries I’ve treated with a Taylor Spatial Frame — and possibly higher.’

I still meditate for 30 minutes each day. So convinced am I by its benefits that I’ve written a book, with Professor Williams, that teaches mindfulness meditation.

And my recovery continues apace. Two years ago, at the age of 42, I took up running, and I’m currently hiking the 630-mile South West Coast Path in 50-mile sections. Given the severity of my injuries, that’s astonishing.


16 May, 2011

Regulation Cannot Control Malignant Melanoma

As we move into the summer season, not only do temperatures increase, so do exposure to the Sun, sunburns, and concern about the ozone layer and skin cancer. But there are also some important policy issues to think about.

Malignant melanoma is the most-feared type of skin cancer and has been discussed widely in the (non-medical) scientific literature dealing with the stratospheric ozone layer. It turns out, however, that melanoma may have nothing to do with the alleged depletion of the ozone layer or with the Antarctic Ozone Hole (AOH). Melanoma shows distinct differences from the more common and less dangerous forms of skin cancer, Basal-cell and Squamous-cell carcinomas. As a consequence, EPA regulations can do little to stem the growing incidence of this malignant skin cancer—even though EPA regularly (mis)uses "lives saved from melanoma" in the benefit-cost data it presents to Congress.

First, there is no doubt that CFCs ("Freons") can deplete the stratospheric ozone layer. However, they are most effective at altitudes above 40 km, where there is little ozone; so that they have little influence on the total column amount of ozone and therefore on the amounts of cancer-causing solar ultra-violet radiation. At the 20 to 25 km level, where most of the stratospheric ozone is located, there are also other chemical species that deplete ozone, derived from water vapor (WV) and from nitrogen oxides [see Ravishankara et al in Science 2005].

Such depletions had been under discussion since about 1970, in connection with planning for a Supersonic Transport (SST) aircraft. Long before there was any mention of Freons, the National Academy was publishing depletion estimates that ranged all the way up to 70 percent! It came as a great shock, therefore, when published calculations showed that cattle raising and rice growing agriculture already generate large amounts of atmospheric methane that eventually lead to as much stratospheric WV as a fleet of 500 SSTs.

In fact, to become important for ozone destruction, the chlorine atoms released from CFCs require the presence of particles (for so-called heterogeneous reactions) and therefore are most effective following volcanic eruptions—or as is the case in the Antarctic Ozone Hole (AOH), when stratospheric temperatures become cold enough to form ice particles, called polar stratospheric clouds.

Chlorine is a natural constituent of the stratosphere, injected by volcanoes and likely also by the dissociation of salt particles convected upward from the ocean. Up until 1988, a year after the Montreal Protocol was ratified, the published data still showed no increasing trend of stratospheric chlorine compounds. This would indicate that the human contribution from CFCs was negligible. However, the data changed after 1988 and so did even skeptical scientific opinion about the contribution from CFCs.

We know from many lines of evidence that Basal-cell and Squamous-cell cancers are produced by UV-B, the region of the sun's ultraviolet spectrum between 280 and 320 nanometers. This is also the region in which ozone absorbs strongly. As a result, the incidence of those cancers increases greatly in going from the pole to the equator—not only because of changes in the ozone layer but because of the change in the solar zenith angle. As it becomes steeper, it traverses less stratospheric ozone, and therefore the UV-B intensity at the surface should be greatest around local noon at low latitudes.

It is interesting to note that there have been no observations in the last 40 years that would demonstrate an actually increasing trend in UV-B at the surface. This may be due to various atmospheric interferences or even the presence of ozone pollution in most areas. It has been hypothesized that if all of the smog over Los Angeles were to disappear, skin cancer rates there would approach those seen in El Paso, TX.

At US latitudes, the average UV-B is calculated to increase by 5% to 10% for every 60 miles (100 km) move to the south—and so does the observed skin cancer rate. Note, however, that these skin cancers affect primarily Caucasians and other fair-skinned individuals and that the incidence may be increased by the fact that people dress more lightly in warmer climates.

Melanoma is a very different beast. First, laboratory studies by Dr. Richard Setlow at Brookhaven National Laboratory have shown that UV-A is much more important than UV-B in initiating melanoma. UV-A covers the region from 320 to 400 nanometers of the solar spectrum, where ozone does not absorb.

Medically, it has been observed, that melanoma can occur on many parts of the body that are not exposed to solar radiation at all. It does not show the strong preference for Caucasians of other forms of skin cancer. It seems that there is an association between melanoma and childhood exposure to solar UV causing sunburn; but this association is not certain.

The upshot: Melanoma has little to do with ozone or Freons. The Montreal Protocol will do nothing to stop the rise in melanoma cases. EPA's benefit-cost calculations, used to support the regulation of important chemicals, like methyl bromide (MeBr), are essentially fraudulent if they include avoidance of melanoma cases.

And some personal advice: Exposure to the sun without proper protection is unwise, particularly when the sun is near the zenith, around 2 to 4 PM. Sun creams can help but they should also screen against UV-A and not just UV-B. Remember Noel Coward's cabaret song "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun."


FDA bureaucracy caused the “American thalidomide” tragedy

Enforcement of the deadly 1962 Kefauver-Harris amendments, in particular

In the early 1980s, several reports in medical journals indicated that folic acid taken early in pregnancy could prevent a number of birth defects. Naturally, folic acid manufacturers wished to advertise the benefit of this vitamin. However, to be consistent, the FDA could not allow them to make an efficacy claim without going through the expensive development process.

In 1992, the Center for Disease Control, another government agency, began recommending that all women of childbearing age take folic acid supplements, as they worked best early in pregnancy, when a young woman might not be aware of her condition. The FDA warned folic acid manufacturers not to refer to the Center’s recommendation, as this would be considered a form of advertising a drug for effectiveness against disease. Such advertising was not permitted under the amendment-driven FDA regulations.

Consequently, over a decade past before most young American women were made aware of folic acid’s benefits. About 4,000 babies are conceived each year with these birth defects; folic acid would prevent about 85% of them. Thus, in the years during which manufacturers were forbidden to educate the public, thousands of children, perhaps tens of thousands, were born deformed or unnecessarily aborted. Ironically, the amendments, which were passed to protect the public from thalidomide-like tragedies, created an American equivalent of the thalidomide tragedy which probably harmed more children than the 10,000 affected by its European counterpart!

The cost of keeping life-saving information from the public falls primarily on the poor. Advertising is the primary way by which many people, especially the poor, get new medical information. Educated and affluent individuals visit and converse with doctors, read health-related magazines, and spend more time tracking down life-saving information. The poor, on the other hand, see their doctors sporadically, read less, and often depend upon television news and advertising to inform them of new medical findings. Had folic acid manufacturers been permitted to advertise the health benefits of this vitamin, many more young women, especially among the disadvantaged, would have known about this inexpensive way to protect their unborn children.


In conclusion, the 1962 Kefauver-Harris amendments are the deadly secret behind soaring pharmaceutical prices. Most industry insiders are well aware that the “regulatory creep” stemming from the amendments has greatly increased new drug R&D, manufacturing, and advertising costs.

As a result of these regulation-driven factors, the rate at which pharmaceutical prices rise increased by a factor of 13 after the passage of the 1962 amendments. Consumers pay 700% more for their new drugs than they would in the absence of the amendments.

Because companies must spend more on development, they spend less on research. Consequently, we have only half as many innovations as we otherwise would. Instead, we must turn to more expensive forms of health care (e.g., surgery), adding further to our monetary burden.

The costs of the amendments are measured in lives as well as money. The amendments have tripled the time needed to develop a new drug. Millions of terminally-ill patients have died while the drug which could have saved them languished in regulation-mandated testing.

An equal or greater number of people have died because the drug that would have saved their lives is never developed and marketed. The amendments have made development so expensive that only about 50% of new, innovative drugs can be developed.

As many as 1 out of 3 individuals who have died from disease since
1962 were victims of the Kefauver-Harris amendments. They died waiting for a cure that was held up by regulatory testing or never reached the pharmacy shelves.

Without the 1962 Kefauver-Harris Amendments, we would have likely enjoyed longer and healthier lives, with more emphasis on prevention and natural products. We would have used drugs with a known safety profile for multiple uses, rather than wastefully developing new drugs for secondary indications. We would have had twice as many drugs, some of which would treat diseases that we currently think of as incurable. We would have emphasized prevention instead of treatment. We would have all this for a fraction of what we pay today for pharmaceuticals. Health care costs would be greatly lower too.

In 1962, we lost a golden opportunity to take a quantum leap in our health and well-being. It’s not yet too late to regain that opportunity. We can repeal the 1962 amendments and the excess regulations that they spawned. The first step in changing the law is changing our minds. Share this Special Report with your friends, your family and congressional representatives. The life you save may be your own!


15 May, 2011

Big brother is a food freak

Texas School Camera Program to Monitor Schoolchildrens' Eating Habits

Smile, Texas schoolchildren. You're on calorie camera. That's the idea behind a $2 million project being unveiled Wednesday in the lunchroom of a San Antonio elementary school, where high-tech cameras installed in the cafeteria will begin photographing what foods children pile onto their trays — and later capture what they don't finish eating.

Digital imaging analysis of the snapshots will then calculate how many calories each student scarfed down. Local health officials said the program, funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, is the first of its kind in a U.S. school, and will be so precise that the technology can identify a half-eaten pear left on a lunch tray.

"This is very sophisticated," said Dr. Roberto Trevino, director of the San Antonio-based Social & Health Research Center, which will oversee the program.

Parents will be required to give consent for their children to participate, and receive regular reports showing what foods their kids are filling up on at lunch. Trevino said only the trays, and not students, will be photographed.

Here's how it works: students are assigned lunch trays with a unique bar code. After the children load up their plates down the line — mashed potatoes or green beans? french fries or fruit? — a camera above the cashier takes a picture of each tray.

When lunch is over and the kids return their plates to the kitchen, another camera takes a snapshot of what's left on the tray. Software then analyzes the before and after photos to calculate calories consumed and, according to Trevino, a report of nutrients in the foods.

Researchers hope parents will change eating habits at home once they see what their kids are choosing in schools. The data also will be used to study what foods children are likely to choose and how much of if they're eating.

Five San Antonio elementary schools will take part in the program. Researches selected poor, minority campuses where obesity rates and students at risk for diabetes are higher.

The grant from the USDA will fund the study for four years. Trevino said the coming school year will be very experimental, with programmers fine-tuning the cameras and imaging software to accurately identify what's a pear and what's an apple. He expects the "prototype" to be in place by the second year.


New arthritis drug given green light in Britain

Hundreds of thousands of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sufferers could benefit from a new treatment after the drugs spending watchdog changed its mind about prescribing it on the NHS.

Those with moderate to severe RA will now be able to get Simponi, the brand name of the drug golimumab, in some situations where similar treatments have not worked.

Ailsa Bosworth, chief executive of the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS), described it as "excellent news". "It is vital that we have options when it comes to biologic therapies as people react differently to drugs even within the same class," she said.

Simponi is what is known as a tumour necrosis factor inhibitor, or anti-TNF, drug. These work by blocking the action of TNF, a naturally occurring chemical, which plays an important role in triggering inflammation and tissue damage. Others in this class have already been given the green light by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), including Humira, Endrel, Remicade and Cimzia. However, sometimes they stop working in patients.

Last October, Nice turned down Simponi but, in final draft guidance published today (FRI), the body has changed its mind. A Nice spokesman said the decision was due to new clinical and cost evidence put forward by the manufacturer, Merck. He emphasised that final guidance was still to come.

Almost 700,000 people in Britain suffer from RA, making it the second most common form of rheumatic disease after osteoarthritis. Of those, some 400,000 suffer from moderate or severe symptoms.

Three quarters are diagnosed while still of working age. More than one in four of them have to give up employment within a year of diagnosis. The NRAS has calculated it costs the economy £8 billion a year due to lost productivity.

Exactly how RA is treated depends on its severity: those with mild arthritis are often advised to start by taking paracetamol, and move on to ibuprofen or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Exercise is also essential to keeping joints mobile.

However, the disease tends to be progressive. As it gets worse more powerful medicines including disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and anti-TNFs come into play.

Neil Betteridge, chief executive of the charity Arthritis Care, welcomed Nice's change of tune. He said: "Rheumatoid arthritis is an awful disease affecting people of all ages which clinicians often compare with having cancer of the joints.

"Unless treated and managed effectively it invariably leads to great pain and can render people immobile and unable to work. Having another treatment option available, therefore, is terrific."

One benefit of Simponi is that patients can self-inject the drug, and need only do so once a month. However, it "can lower your ability to fight infections", warns Merck, and there have been reports of "serious infections" including tuberculosis, some of which have been fatal.

Peter Taylor, professor of experimental rheumatology at Imperial College, London, said: "I am excited by the launch of ‘Simponi’ as it represents a valuable additional choice for the treatment of these debilitating rheumatoid conditions, and any new therapy that improves quality of life for patients is most welcome.

"Early and effective management is important in reducing disease progression and the extensive joint damage associated with it, but it's also important for patients to have a say in the choice of treatment they receive."


14 May, 2011

Caesarean risk: New research finds C-section babies are more likely to become obese in later life

Probably just the usual class effect: Poorer people are more likely to be obese and more likely to have poor health generally -- thus necessitating more Caesars. But the explanation highlighted below is reasonable too. Either way it's not the Caesar itself that causes obesity

Babies born by caesarean section are at greater risk of becoming obese in later life than those delivered naturally, researchers have found. The obesity epidemic could be partly driven by rising rates of surgical deliveries, although the reasons for this are unclear, their study suggests.

The report, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, says lack of exposure to beneficial bacteria in the birth canal could explain the link.

However, the children of fatter mothers are also more likely to have weight problems. Given that obesity in pregnancy is a risk factor that leads to more caesarean section births, it may be that this relationship between the weight of mother and child explains the findings.

In the study, Brazilian researchers looked at obesity rates in 2,000 people aged 23 to 25. They found 15 per cent of those delivered by caesarean were obese compared with 10 per cent of those born naturally.

The study analysed a number of factors that might explain the connection, including heavier birthweight, income and education levels, because women with more qualifications had a higher caesarean rate. But even after accounting for these factors, being born by caesarean was linked to a 58 per cent increase in the risk of obesity in adulthood.

Dr Helena Goldani, who carried out the study with colleagues at the Universidade Federal de Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, said the findings did not prove a causal link between surgical deliveries and weight problems.

But she explained that, because infants born surgically are not exposed to beneficial bacteria in the birth canal, they might take longer to accumulate good bugs which affect the metabolism. Obese adults tend to have fewer of these friendly bacteria in their digestive tract than normal-weight people.

The theory is that having fewer good intestinal bugs leads to the body burning fewer calories and storing more of them as fat. But other experts said there was a ‘huge gap in the data’. They said it was difficult to interpret the study because it did not include any information on the mother’s weight while pregnant.

Dr Ian Campbell, medical director of Weight Concern, said the study ‘raises more questions than it answers’. He said: ‘This is a very interesting finding, which is difficult to interpret without knowing the weight of the mothers while pregnant.

‘However, women who have a caesarean are less likely to breastfeed, which helps prevent obesity in children by establishing a healthier weight in childhood.’ ‘There are many different ways of influencing obesity in adulthood and this is another area for research,’ he added.

Around 23 per cent of all births in the UK are by caesarean section. The World Health Organisation recommends the figure should be around 15 per cent.

Brazil, where the study was done, has around 44 per cent of babies delivered by caesarean section. Many of those procedures are thought to be medically unnecessary.


Depressed and anxious? You could have had stomach problems as a baby

This is drawing a very long bow indeed. All that they found was that giving rats stomach irritation stressed them. They then found that giving them an antidepressant relieved the stress. What is new or surprising in that I fail to see

Stomach complaints such as irritable bowel syndrome could result in depression, a surprising study suggests. Scientists at Stanford University found short-term digestive irritation early in life could have massive implications for mental health later on.

'A lot of research has focused on understanding how the mind can influence the body,' said lead author Dr Pankaj Pasricha. 'But this study suggests that it can be the other way around. Gastric irritation during the first few days of life may reset the brain into a permanently depressed state.'

As not all stomach upsets lead to lifelong psychological problems the impact may depend on when it occurs during a person's development. It could also be related to their genetic makeup.

About one in five people experience persistent or recurring pain in the upper abdomen, suffering from conditions such as IBS. Researchers have long noted that these people are also more likely than their peers to be anxious or depressed.

Up until now it was assumed that stress hormones associated with a patient's altered mood were responsible for their digestive problems. However, Dr Pasricha believes the opposite could be true noting that many patients date their gastrointestinal problems back to early childhood, before their psychological symptoms started. Therefore he suggests these digestive disturbances could cause mood disorders.

His theory has been bolstered by recent research that has linked depression and anxiety in humans to changes in the composition of gut bacteria. 'The gut and the brain are hardwired together by the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the body's internal organs,' Dr Pasricha said. 'The communication between the gut and the adult brain is elaborate and bi-directional, and changes in the gut are signaled directly to the brain.'

To test their hypothesis they subjected 10-day-old laboratory rats to mild stomach irritation daily for six days. 'We hypothesized that this treatment might also be affecting the development of central nervous system, and driving the animals to anxiety and depression,' said Dr Pasricha.

Eight weeks later researchers found that the treated rats were far more likely than their peers to display depressed and anxious behaviors, including drinking less sugar water, less-active swimming and keeping to dark areas in a maze. They also had increased levels of the stress hormones corticosterone and corticotrophin.

Blocking the animals' ability to perceive sensation from their gut with a drug did not affect their behavior, indicating that the rats were not responding to ongoing pain. However, inhibiting the activity of a hormone known to be associated with depression in humans and animals, caused the treated rats to behave more normally in the tests.

'It seems that when the rats are exposed to gastric irritation at the appropriate point in time,' said Dr Pasricha. 'There is signaling across the gut to the brain that permanently alters its function.'

The researchers are now planning to investigate exactly how that signaling is initiated and acts in the brain, and whether it might be possible to develop new ways to treat depression and anxiety in humans. 'We'd like to know whether the vagus nerve is involved, and confirm what changes may occur in the brain in response to this signal,' said Dr Pasricha.

'The vast majority of humans don't experience any long-lasting consequences from transient infections. But there may be subset of patients who are genetically predisposed to this effect by mechanisms we don't yet understand yet. '

In particular, electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment-resistant depression; this research may help researchers better understand and optimize this new approach .

The study has been published in PLoS One.


13 May, 2011

Forever young? Why being a musician can slow effects of ageing

The heading above is the original but is greatly exaggerated. What the study showed was that musicians were better at separating one sound from another -- and the explanation given for that is entirely reasonable

Learning to play a musical instrument helps keep people young, according to a new study. Researchers found that musicians aged 45 to 65 excel in memory and hearing speech in noise compared to non-musicians.

While a growing body of research finds musical training gives students learning advantages in the classroom, a new study has found musical training can also offset some of the negative effects of growing old.

Study co-author Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in the United States, said: “Lifelong musical training appears to confer advantages in at least two important functions known to decline with age - memory and the ability to hear speech in noise.

“Difficulty hearing speech in noise is among the most common complaints of older adults, but age-related hearing loss only partially accounts for this impediment that can lead to social isolation and depression. “It’s well known that adults with virtually the same hearing profile can differ dramatically in their ability to hear speech in noise.”

To find out why, researchers at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory tested 18 musicians and 19 non-musicians, aged 45 to 65, for speech in noise, auditory working memory, visual working memory and auditory temporal processing.

The musicians who began playing an instrument at age nine or earlier and consistently played an instrument throughout their lives bested the non-musician group in all but visual working memory, where both groups showed nearly identical ability.

Doctor Kraus said the experience of extracting meaningful sounds from a complex soundscape - and of remembering sound sequences enhances the development of auditory skills. She said: “The neural enhancements we see in musically-trained individuals are not just an amplifying or ‘volume knob’ effect. “Playing music engages their ability to extract relevant patterns, including the sound of their own instrument, harmonies and rhythms.”

Dr Kraus said music training “fine-tunes” the nervous system. She added: “Sound is the stock in trade of the musician in much the same way that a painter of portraits is keenly attuned to the visual attributes of the paint that will convey his or her subject. “If the materials that you work with are sound, then it is reasonable to suppose that all of your faculties involved with taking it in, holding it in memory and relating physically to it should be sharpened. “Music experience bolsters the elements that combat age-related communication problems.”

The study was published in the latest issue of the online science journal PLoS One.


Always feeling cold? You are destined to live a long life

Again the inferences from the research below are quite florid. What they found was that people with a slowed metabolism had slightly lower body temperatures. The same is seen in older people. Older people have slower metabolisms and also tend to feel the cold more. None of that is remarkable and there was NO evidence of any linkage to lifespan

They take a hot water bottle to bed in summer and are ridiculed for wearing their coat indoors. But those who constantly feel cold may have the last laugh, with a study linking low body temperature to a long life. Scientists suspect that the hormonal changes that conserve energy and heat – by slowing down metabolism – also extend life.

The U.S. research could pave the way for a pill to increase lifespan. It builds on decades of studies linking extreme diets in animals with extra months and years of life. For example, cutting a mouse’s calories by 30 per cent can lead to it living 50 per cent longer than usual.

Scientists are trying to work out what it is about near starvation that extends life, in the hope of creating a pill that mimics the process without drastic changes to diet.

The latest study, from Washington University, St Louis, looked at how cutting calories affects core body temperature – an internal measure that is on average 37c (98.6f) and usually higher than skin temperature. Scientists gave thermometer ‘pills’, which record core body temperature when swallowed, to 24 people in their mid-50s who had cut their calorie intake by at least 25 per cent for up to 15 years. They also gave them to people of the same age who ate normally and a group of long-distance runners.

Those on calorie restriction diets were found to have the lowest core temperatures, the journal Aging reports.

Lead researcher Dr Luigi Fontana said: ‘The people doing calorie restriction had a lower average core body temperature by about 0.2c, which sounds like a modest reduction but is statistically significant and similar to the reduction we have observed in long-lived, calorie-restricted mice.

‘What is interesting about that is endurance athletes, who are the same age and are equally lean, don’t have similar reductions in body temperature. ‘We know that people on calorie restriction diets feel colder than normal people because there is a lower metabolism and lower body temperature.’

Dr Fontana says it is not clear whether severe calorie reduction, or something else, is lowering core temperatures. But he believes a reduced temperature holds one of the keys to living to a ripe old age.

He stressed that any pill to lower body temperature could not compensate for a poor lifestyle, but added: ‘What may be possible, however, is to do mild calorie restriction, to eat a very good diet, get mild exercise and then take a drug of some kind that could provide benefits similar to those seen in severe calorie restriction.’

Sadly for those hoping for a short cut, it is unlikely that opening your windows or taking cold showers will have the same effect.


12 May, 2011

Could five cups of coffee a day protect against breast cancer?

The pattern of conflicting findings in this field suggests that we are looking at random effects. This is to be expected in studies of coffee. Such studies are very frequent. And where studies are very frequent, we can expect that some positive findings will emerge by chance alone

Women who drink coffee could be protecting themselves against an aggressive form of breast cancer, research suggests. Those who regularly enjoy the hot drink are far less likely to develop oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer – particularly if they drink five cups or more a day.

These types of tumours do not react to a wide range of drugs, meaning chemotherapy is often the only option.

In the study, experts from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found coffee drinkers had a lower incidence of breast cancer than women who rarely drank the beverage.

They analysed data from almost 6,000 women who were past the menopause. Those women who drank five or more cups a day had a 57 per cent reduced risk of breast cancer compared with those who drank less than one cup a day.

Writing in the journal Breast Cancer Research, the scientists concluded: ‘A high daily intake of coffee was found to be associated with a statistically significant decrease in oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer among post-menopausal women.’

The authors also found a small reduced risk for all types of breast cancer, although this link was not significant when factors such as age and weight were taken into account. Previous studies have suggested coffee cuts the risk of other cancers, including those targeting the prostate and liver.

However, experts are divided on the benefits of coffee and some studies have shown it could even promote cancer. Research has suggested coffee may in fact cause cells to proliferate or prevent them from being repaired.

The Karolinska Institute experts said they suspected coffee could contain compounds that affect different types of breast cancer in different ways. It is possible that the drink fuels oestrogen-receptor positive breast cancers but reduces the risk of oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer, they said. This would match the finding that drinking coffee could reduce the risk of breast cancer overall, although the experts said further studies were needed.


Taking a nap

The afternoon nap, or siesta, is woven into human history. Almost every culture and climate has its own tradition of this healthful practice. Only recently has it gone out of favor for anyone except young children and the elderly, but once it was common all over the world at almost any age.

Sadly, in far too many cases, our hectic lifestyles even rob the children of their necessary and healthful naps. Between overstimulation - on so many fronts - to serious emotional trauma and family instability, children are increasingly faced with troubled lives; no time or place for peace, security and a quiet nap. Symptoms include ongoing irritability, increased conflict with peers and adults, poor eating and elimination, nightmares and refusal to go to bed at all. Eventually, they do fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion, but they are highly unlikely to get the deep and peaceful sleep they need in that case.

There seems to be some controversy about naps for the elderly, but centuries of common practice would seem to indicate that most people would not have any problems, let alone danger from taking a nap. As a nurse, visiting mostly elderly people in every sort of environment, I saw very little in the way of problems that could even remotely be connected to napping. Just as with children, a late nap might well result in a late bedtime and become a problem to the caregivers, but that is not the same thing at all.

The National Sleep Foundation has some interesting information on the subject:

"As a nation, the United States appears to be becoming more and more sleep deprived. And it may be our busy lifestyle that keeps us from napping. While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance."

I suffered from serious sleep deprivation for many years, partly due to pain issues, and partly due to irregular scheduling from shift and "on call" work. Medications of all kinds were tried and failed, and naps were simply not an option most of the time, but even a brief nap - when pain could be controlled - was a blessing and relief.

Serious sleep problems may need other solutions. It might be as simple as learning relaxation techniques, making some needed changes in your sleep environment,or dealing with family or financial problems in a meaningful way. Only you know what produces the stress in your life, but refusing to seek real solutions might just be leaving you sleep deprived. And choosing not to deal with it is still making a choice. Why not choose health?


11 May, 2011

How a good education can keep you younger for longer

As usual, we have below hasty assumptions about the direction of causation. A more reasonable explanation comes from the fact that IQ seems to be one aspect of general biological fitness. On average, high IQ people have it all healthwise and live longer too. And IQ is highly correlated with educational success. So high IQ people stay longer in the educational system but it is not education that leads to longer life. High IQ does

Your parents and teachers will no doubt have lectured you on the value of a good education. But it seems the advice may apply to more than just career prospects. Those who pass more exams before leaving formal education stay biologically younger than their years, according to researchers.

In contrast, those who leave education with fewer qualifications are prone to age more quickly, with their lack of achievement leaving a lifelong mark.

The pattern is not changed by social and economic status later in life, the findings suggest. The study, by researchers from University College London, examined the length of ‘telomeres’ from around 450 office workers. Telomeres are protective strips of DNA that form tiny ‘caps’ on the ends of chromosomes, protecting against ageing processes.

They have been called the ‘chromosomal clock’ because they appear to be central to biological ageing. Longer telomeres are a sign of being biologically younger and healthier.

Participants were separated into four groups according to whether they had no qualifications, or, when leaving formal education, had O-levels, A-levels or a degree. The results showed people with lower educational attainment had shorter telomeres, suggesting they may age faster.

The study found telomere length increased with each stage of educational attainment, suggesting ageing slows and health improves the more qualifications are attained.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation, is published online today in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

Professor Stephen Holgate, chairman of the MRC’s Population and Systems Medicine Board, which funded the research, said the study backed up the longstanding message that ‘your experiences early in life can have important influences on your health’.

Andrew Steptoe, BHF professor of psychology and the lead author of the study, added that ‘long-term exposure to the conditions of lower status’ was behind faster cellular ageing, not current income.

The researchers were based primarily at UCL, but also collaborated with Professor Jorge Erusalimsky from the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff and Professor Elizabeth Blackburn from the University of California, San Francisco.

The subjects of the study were drawn from participants in the Whitehall II study, set up in 1985 to investigate the importance of social class for health by following more than 10,000 men and women working in the civil service.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the BHF, said: ‘This research reinforces the need to tackle social inequalities to combat ill health.’


Paracetamol (acetaminophen) found to have link to blood cancers

aka Panadol, Tylenol etc.

Regular users of paracetamol have an increased risk of developing blood cancers, researchers have found. The tablets contain a chemical called acetaminophen which has been linked to cases of cancer in a number of individuals who were taking the drug.

The findings will terrify the millions in America and worldwide who pop the pills to cure minor ailments without so much as a second thought.

Earlier work has shown that aspirin use might lower the odds of dying from colon cancer but increase the risk of bleeding ulcers. The picture has been less clear for blood, or haematologic, cancers, however.

The finding adds another twist to the complicated evidence linking cancer and painkillers, and hints acetaminophen might be different from the rest. 'Prior to this study there was very little evidence that aspirin reduces your risk of haematological cancers,' said Emily White of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, who worked on the new research.

There were some suggestions that acetaminophen might increase the risk of the cancers, on the other hand, but those were based on individual cases of blood cancer.

Studies of individual patients aren't considered as strong as the new one, which tracked a large population of healthy people over time. 'We have the first prospective study,' White said.

Still, she warned, there is no proof that acetaminophen causes cancer, and the new results need to be confirmed before they are used in any treatment decision.

Earlier work has linked acetaminophen to asthma and eczema as well, but scientists still don't agree on whether the drug is the actual culprit or just an innocent bystander.

The new study suffers from the same limitations, in that people who use lots of painkillers could be dealing with medical problems that set them up for cancer down the road.

The scientists followed nearly 65,000 older men and women in Washington State. At the outset, they asked the participants about their use of painkillers over the past ten years and made sure that no one had cancer (except skin cancer).

Over some six years on average, 577 people -- or less than one percent -- developed a cancer involving the blood cells. Examples of such cancers include lymphoma and myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS.

More than nine per cent of people who developed one of these cancers used high amounts of acetaminophen, compared to only five percent of those who didn't get sick.

After accounting for things like age, arthritis and a family history of certain blood cancers, chronic acetaminophen users had nearly twice the risk of developing the disease.

'A person who is age 50 or older has about a one-percent risk in ten years of getting one of these cancers," White said. "Our study suggests that if you use acetaminophen at least four times a week for at least four years, that would increase the risk to about two percent.' No other painkillers -- including aspirin and ibuprofen -- were tied to the risk of blood cancers.

Dr. Raymond DuBois, a cancer prevention expert at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said acetaminophen works very differently than other painkillers and so might be expected to have different effects on cancer. 'It was quite surprising to see that acetaminophen use increased the risk of blood cancers,' said DuBois, who was not involved in the study.

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that sells Tylenol, did not respond to requests for comment.

White said it is too soon to make any recommendations based on the new study, and that none of the painkillers is free of side effects. 'Long-term use of any over-the-counter drug might have adverse effects," she said. 'You have to weigh the benefits against the risk of all the drugs.'


10 May, 2011

'Breastfed babies grow to be better behaved children'

This is real old chestnut. And the research is pathetic. What the authors have most likely shown is that higher IQ and middle class mothers are more likely to breastfeed and the children concerned inherit their mothers' characteristics genetically. Even that is uncertain as the data was a garbagy retrospective self-report questionnaire: The lowest of the low in methodology

Just four months of breastfeeding can cut the risk of children becoming badly behaved by almost a third, a study suggests.

It found 16 per cent of children brought up on formula milk had problems including anxiety, lying, stealing and hyperactivity – more than double the proportion breastfed for at least four months.

When other influences are taken into account, such as social and economic background, the reduction in the risk of behavioural problems at age five brought about by breastfeeding is 30 per cent, according to the Oxford University study.

New mothers are advised to breastfeed for the first six months to protect their babies against stomach bugs, chest infections, asthma, eczema and allergies. It also has health benefits for mothers.

But the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe, with almost one in three new mothers never attempting it, compared with 2 per cent of mothers in Sweden.

The study of 9,500 mothers and babies was led by Dr Maria Quigley of the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University.

Dr Quigley said possible reasons for the findings included greater interaction between mother and child because of close physical contact from an early age.

In the study of infants born in the UK over a 12-month period between 2000 and 2001, 29 per cent of children born after a full-term pregnancy and 21 per cent of those born prematurely were breastfed for at least four months.

Parents were asked to complete questionnaires designed to assess the behaviour of their children at the age of five.

The results showed that 16 per cent of formula-fed children and 6 per cent of breastfed children were given abnormal scores, indicating behavioural problems.

For full-term babies, the pattern persisted after taking account of social and economic factors, says a report in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Dr Quigley said: ‘We found that children who were breastfed for at least four months were less likely to have behavioural problems at age five. However, that observation might not have been the direct result of breastfeeding – it could have been down to a number of factors.

'Fewer behavioural problems are another potential benefit of breastfeeding' ‘As a group, mothers who breastfed for four months were very different socially to those who formula fed. They were more likely to be older, better educated and in a higher socio-economic position.’

Dr Quigley added: ‘We just don’t know whether it is because of the constituents in breast milk which are lacking in formula, or the close interaction with the mum during breastfeeding. ‘But it does begin to look like we can add fewer behavioural problems as another potential benefit of breastfeeding.’


Painkillers like ibuprofen 'increase second heart attack risk'

I would like to know WHY some patients were given NSAIDS and some were not. Were they more disressed to start with? That could explain the outcomes noted

Ibuprofen and other similar painkillers can significantly increase the risk of heart attack patients suffering a second incident soon after the first, a study has found.

Heart attack survivors on prescription doses of a group of painkiller called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include ibuprofen, were 45 per cent more likely to suffer a second attack within a week of the first as those taking none, found Danish researchers.

Those taking one in particular, called diclofenac, were three times more likely to suffer another heart attack within a week of the first.

The results were from a study almost 84,000 Danish heart attack survivors, whose average age was 68. Almost half (42 per cent) were taking a prescription NSAID.

According to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), "some standard NSAIDs have been shown to be associated with a small increased risk of heart attack and stroke, especially when used in high doses and for long periods".

But Anne-Marie Schjerning Olsen, from Copenhagen University, who led the study, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, said: "What we show is that even for the shortest time periods, these can be dangerous."

For those on prescription ibuprofen - with the average dose being 1,600mg per day - there was no increased risk of a recurrent heart attack within seven days, she said. However, between eight days and 14 weeks the risk was raised by 50 per cent, compared to taking nothing.

It is not known exactly why NSAIDs increase heart disease risk, although Olsen said they appeared to increase blood clot formation and systemic blood pressure.


9 May, 2011

Healthier lifestyle ‘could save 20,000 from breast cancer’ (?)

I knew as soon as I saw the headline that this would be another emission of bullsh*t from the WCRF. They are notorious for this stuff. It is just a fundraiser for them -- based on dubious epidemiological assumptions and selective attention to the evidence

Almost 20,000 breast cancer cases could be avoided every year in Britain if women drank less alcohol, improved their diets and exercised more, experts claim. The World Cancer Research Fund said about two in five cases would be prevented if people adopted healthier lifestyles.

Studies show being more physically active, reducing alcohol consumption and keeping to a healthy weight can minimise the risk of developing the disease.

More than one in five British women is classified as obese, and research has found those affected are almost 50 per cent more likely to die from breast cancer than women carrying less weight. [This is a straight-out deception. Some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here] It is unclear exactly why larger women are more prone to the disease. Changes in sex-hormone levels triggered by weight gain may be behind oestrogen-dependent tumours, which form the majority of cases.

Drinking just one large glass of wine a day also increases the chance of developing breast cancer by a fifth, say experts. Again, the exact reason is unclear but it is thought alcohol raises levels of oestrogen in the body.

Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science at the WCRF, said: ‘We still have a long way to go to raise awareness about what women can do. ‘It is very worrying that in the UK there are tens of thousands of cases of breast cancer which could be prevented every year. People can do a lot to reduce their chances of developing cancer. ‘Overall, we estimate about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented through a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.’

The proportion of breast cancer cases believed to be avoidable is considerably higher.

The charity has produced a revised estimate of the number of avoidable breast cancers which is 2,000 cases higher than its 2009 figure, to reflect the rising number of cases. The most recent figures available show there were 47,600 new instances of breast cancer in the UK in 2008. The WCRF estimates about 42 per cent of these – roughly 20,000 – could have been prevented through healthier lifestyle choices.

The charity recommends women should attempt to be as lean as possible without becoming underweight, be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, and limit alcoholic drinks, if consumed at all, to one a day.

Dr Lisa Wilde, director of research at the Breast Cancer Campaign, agreed that ‘diet and lifestyle are significant breast cancer risk factors’. She said: ‘We would recommend that people who want to lower their risk of developing the disease reduce their alcohol consumption, take exercise whenever possible and maintain a healthy weight.

‘However, it is important to remember that there are many other breast cancer risk factors and we cannot control two of the biggest – age and family history of the disease. ‘Therefore, finding breast cancer early when most treatable gives the best possible chance of survival – so it is vital to be breast aware and report any changes to your GP.’


Intolerance to lactose: Why your aversion to dairy foods may be all in the mind

The mere thought of a latte or cappuccino brings some people out in a cold sweat and they like nothing more than to bore others with the virtues of soy milk. But researchers say lactose intolerance may be all in the mind.

Many people who claim to be intolerant to the milk sugar lactose are simply stressed, anxious or depressed. While their symptoms are real, the cause is in their mind, rather than in their coffee cup.

The discovery by Italian researchers has important implications for health, because many people who believe they are lactose intolerant cut out dairy products from their diet. This could leave them severely short of calcium, raising the odds of brittle bones and falls and fracture in old age.

The study is the latest to question whether many of the millions of people who claim to have food intolerances are actually fussy eaters. Previous research concluded that nine in ten Britons who believe they have a food allergy or intolerance are actually perfectly healthy.

Twenty per cent of men and women – some 10million British adults – claim to be unable to eat foods from milk to mustard, but fewer than 2 per cent actually have a problem.

It is thought many people decide they have an intolerance after hearing a celebrity’s experience of a certain food. Those who have talked of their problems with lactose include Rod Stewart’s ex-wife Rachel Hunter.

In the latest study, Guido Basilico, of the University of Milan, tested more than 100 people who had stomach pain, bloating and diarrhoea and believed they were lactose intolerant, to see if they really did have problems breaking down the sugar and absorbing it into their blood.

He also asked them about their mental and physical health, including whether they were depressed or anxious or suffered from general aches and pains.

This revealed their stomach troubles to have little to do digestion of lactose. But mental state did seem to be to blame, the Digestive Disease Week conference in the U.S. heard yesterday.

Dr Basilico said there was no doubt that some people’s genes make it difficult for them to digest lactose and this causes stomach problems when they drink large amounts of milk. But many of the people who claimed to suffer problems from a cup of coffee or a hot chocolate were perfectly capable of digesting lactose.

He believes that rather than being intolerant, their symptoms have a psychological basis. Just as stress can cause headaches, it can also cause tummy trouble.

Dr Basilico said people should not to be too quick to cut dairy products out of their diets and doctors should think twice about subjecting patients who claim to be lactose intolerant to lots of physical tests. He added: ‘Excluding dairy products should be discouraged and doctors should pay more attention to the psychological problems of their patients.’

The problem of imaginary food allergies and intolerance is not confined to adults, with researchers previously warning that new mothers are too quick to decide their children have food allergies or intolerances.

More than half of the babies studied by British experts had at least one food cut out of their diet by the age of one. Yet, tests showed the true rate of allergies and intolerances was lower than 4 per cent. The Portsmouth University researchers said the issue was being ‘blown out of all proportion’ by anxious mothers.


8 May, 2011

Study: Fat Rats Live Longer‏

Since the 1930s scientists have proposed food restriction as a way to extend life in mice. Though feeding a reduced-calorie diet has indeed lengthened the life spans of mice, rats and many other species, new studies with dozens of different mouse strains indicate that food restriction does not work in all cases.

Diet and fat loss

Researchers at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio's Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, with colleagues at the University of Colorado, studied the effect of food restriction on fat and weight loss in 41 genetically different strains of mice. The scientists then correlated the amount of fat reduction to life span.

The answer: Mice that maintained their fat actually lived longer. Those that lost fat died earlier.

Contrary to view

"Indeed, the greater the fat loss, the greater the likelihood the mice would have a negative response to dietary restriction, i.e., shortened life," said James Nelson, Ph.D., professor of physiology at the Barshop Institute. "This is contrary to the widely held view that loss of fat is important for the life-extending effect of dietary restriction. It turns the tables a bit."

The results are expected to be published in the June issue of Aging Cell.

More study needed

Dr. Nelson's graduate student, Chen-Yu Liao, who will soon receive his Ph.D. and advance to a postdoctoral fellowship at California's Buck Institute for Research on Aging, cautioned that the new findings cannot be directly applied to people until similar studies are done in humans.

People are best advised to adopt a moderate approach, not losing all fat but definitely not keeping unhealthy amounts of fat, either. "None of the mice in this study were what we would consider to be obese," Liao said.

Genes impact effect

The findings bear out what geneticists long have said: there is nothing that works for every genotype, which is an organism's specific and unique set of genes.

"We know that humans respond to diet very differently as individuals based on their genetics," Dr. Nelson said. "Some have great difficulty losing weight while others have difficulty maintaining weight. If these results translate to humans, they would suggest that individuals who have difficulty losing weight may benefit from the positive effects of dietary restriction more than those who lose weight easily."

More information: "Fat Maintenance Is a Predictor of the Murine Lifespan Response to Dietary Restriction". Chen-Yu Liao, Brad A. Rikke, Thomas E. Johnson, Jonathan A.L. Gelfond, Vivian Diaz, James F. Nelson DOI:10.1111/j.1474-9726.2011.00702.x


Mired in the socialist muck

Dependance on the State leads to control by the State

A controversy over food stamps in New York City shows what happens when people plunge into the muck of socialism.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to prohibit food-stamp recipients from using their food stamps to purchase sugar-sweetened beverages.

The mayor’s rationale? You guessed it! Paternalism, the ism that goes perfectly with socialism. The mayor says that sugar is bad for people and, therefore, as mayor of New York he wants to serve as the daddy for every food-stamp recipient in New York. He wants the local government to prevent people from ingesting sugar because, he says, sugar is bad for people.

Not surprisingly, lobbyists have arrived onto the scene. They represent the soft-drink industry. They say that the government shouldn’t be in the business of telling people what they should and shouldn’t buy. (No, the lobbyists didn’t issue a peep about the drug war.) The lobbyists say that they’re fighting for “preservation of choice” in the food-stamp program.

Why are the lobbyists and their clients really so concerned? You guessed it! There is lots of money involved here. According to an article in the New York Times about the controversy, an estimated $75 million to $135 million is spent on sugared beverages in New York City each year.

Needless to say, no one is challenging the existence of the food-stamp program itself. Most everyone (libertarians excepted) has come to simply accept this socialistic program as a given (just as they do with Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education grants, farm subsidies, corporate bailouts, and other socialistic programs).

How extensive is the food-stamp program? According to the Times, “More than 44 million people — one in seven Americans — receive aid through the program.”

Public-health groups and academics are also weighing into the controversy, taking the side of the mayor. Their argument? They say that government has a legitimate role in controlling people’s diet because obesity and diabetes cost taxpayers billions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid expenses.

Are you getting a sense of how insidious socialism is? It’s like a cancer that continues to metastasize over the body politic.

Think about how many Americans have become dependent on Medicare and Medicaid (and Social Security), most of them unable to fathom life without these socialistic programs. It’s no different with those 44 million Americans on food stamps. Most of them (and their supporters) are convinced that they would die of starvation without the stamps.

The government then expands its paternalistic control over the food-stamp recipients, citing concern over their health, while statist supporters offer support for the paternalism by citing how obese or sick people place a burden on Medicare and Medicaid.

Meanwhile, the soft-drink industry sends its lobbyists into the fray, who purport to defend “freedom of choice” by fighting for the right of food-stamp recipients to spend their tax-collected loot on whatever they want. Of course, the last thing the lobbyists acknowledge is that their clients have become as dependent on the welfare-state largess as the food-stamp recipients themselves.


7 May, 2011

Fat is Good for Damaged Hearts

Contrary to what we’ve been told, eliminating or severely limiting fats from the diet may not be beneficial to cardiac function in patients suffering from heart failure, a study at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine reports.

Results from biological model studies conducted by assistant professor of physiology and biophysics Margaret Chandler, PhD, and other researchers, demonstrate that a high-fat diet improved overall mechanical function, in other words, the heart’s ability to pump, and was accompanied by cardiac insulin resistance.

“Does that mean I can go out and eat my Big Mac after I have a heart attack,” Dr. Chandler says “No, but treatments that act to provide sufficient energy to the heart and allow the heart to utilize or to maintain its normal metabolic profile may actually be advantageous.”

The research, published in American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, suggests that for a damaged heart, a balanced diet that includes mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and which replaces simple sugars (sucrose and fructose) with complex carbohydrates, may be beneficial.

In a healthy person, the heart uses both fats and carbohydrates to obtain the energy it needs to continue pumping blood 24/7. Ideally, fats are utilized because they yield more energy.

However, if a person develops heart failure (or suffers from ischemia – a lack of blood supply), the heart seems to prefer using glucose for fuel, because glucose requires less oxygen to produce energy.

While heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, more people are surviving heart attacks that ever before. Survivors though pay a price for this improved survival, living with a damaged heart that usually progresses to heart failure. And unfortunately, medications and procedures have yet to “cure” heart failure, or halt the deterioration of heart function.

Upon initiation of these dietary intervention studies, researchers previously thought a high-fat diet fed to animal models that have suffered a heart attack, would overload their tissues with fat, which in turn would have a toxic effect on their hearts.

Surprisingly, the heart’s pump function improved on the high-fat diet. Through further testing, the researchers found that animal models suffering from heart failure and receiving a low fat diet were able to produce insulin and take up glucose from the blood, just as healthy hearts do. However, the biological models with heart failure that were fed high-fat diets showed signs of insulin resistance, exhibited by a decreased amount of glucose taken up by the heart, as might be expected in a diabetic patient.

One of the main implications of these findings is that contrary to previously held beliefs, a state of insulin-resistance might actually be beneficial to a failing heart. The hypothesis, according to Dr. Chandler, is that because the heart is being provided with excess amounts of fats, it is forced to utilize its preferred energy source.

After suffering an injury that leads to failure, the heart cannot do this on its own, so the researchers have to manipulate its metabolism to use the energy source that maximizes or maintain its function as near to “normal” as possible.

“We want to provide an environment for the heart which allows it to be as effective and efficient a pump as possible, regardless of the damage it has undergone,” Dr. Chandler says.


Princely incomprehension of the market in food

Yesterday, Prince Charles gave a speech in Washington on ‘sustainable farming’. Specifically, he criticised America’s taste for beef, and promoted organic food. But Charles’ comments betray a – perhaps unsurprising – lack of free market understanding and, if put into practice, would amount to an assault on the consumer.

Firstly, the Prince claimed that, “For every pound of beef produced in the industrial system, it takes two thousand gallons of water. That is a lot of water and there is plenty of evidence that the Earth cannot keep up with the demand”.

However, it is a simple law of markets that the Earth can keep up with any level of demand, for any product. If demand exceeds supply at a given price, prices will rise, until supply and demand are re-equilibrated. Increasing water prices will mean that beef is more expensive, naturally regulating the American consumption that Charles is so worried about.

Water goes to beef production because steak, burgers and so forth are highly valued; if we were to ration the amount of water used in making beef, it would go to some other good which is less valued. Since water rationing would also necessarily mean beef rationing, prices would increase nonetheless. The consumer, and in particular the less well-off consumer looking for cheap food, would be hit the hardest.

Prince Charles’ next target was the building on rural land. He criticised the US for allowing such activities, saying that, "Here in the United States I am told one acre is lost to development every minute of every day, which means that since 1982 an area the size of Indiana has been built over".

But what does the transforming of rural land into built up areas show? It shows that the built up areas are valued more highly by the public; people are prepared to pay more for, say, hiring an office block for a year, than they are for the food which could be produced in that land in a year. By placing restrictions on building, the land will be used for something less valued by the public, and the supply of housing will be reduced; leading to an increase in prices. Again, we see consumers, and especially poor consumers in need of housing, taking the hit for such a change.

Lastly, Charles argued for subsidies to organic farming. But all subsidies do is force people to pay towards the production of a good they don’t want. Organic food is expensive because it inefficiently uses resources. If people are prepared to pay for its possible health benefits – fine. But by subsidising organic food, all we’re doing is encouraging resource inefficiency to make food people don’t want.

The land, labour and capital which would have been used to produce a large amount of non-organic food would then be used to make a small amount of organic food. Supply falls, prices goes up, and who loses out? The consumer.


6 May, 2011

The fruit-juice/antioxidant religion gets another outing

Juice tested on pig arteries in laboratory glassware. People are too pesky

A HEART-healthy fruit cocktail devised by scientists could be just what the doctor ordered. The mix of berry, grape and apple juices provides the "ideal blend" of ingredients for lowering the risk of heart disease, experts claim.

Numerous studies have suggested that "polyphenol" plant compounds can improve the functioning of arteries and protect the heart. Now French scientists have come up with what they say is the healthiest and best-tasting combination of 13 different fruit juices.

Among the ingredients are grape, apple, blueberry, strawberry and lingonberry as well as more exotic additions such as acerola - a cherry-like fruit from the West Indies - and aronia, also known as chokeberry, from America.

Various blends of fruit juices or purees were first studied in a laboratory for their effects on isolated pig arteries.

The final recipe was chosen after a "taste test" by 80 volunteer consumers.

The "healthy heart" fruit cocktail consists of about 60 per cent grape juice, about 10 per cent apple, strawberry and blueberry, and smaller amounts of lingonberry, acerola, and aronia.

Lead researcher Dr Cyril Auger - from the University of Strasbourg, France's largest uni - said: "Among the various fruits investigated, the most active ones were predominantly berries ... characterised by the presence of high levels of anthocyanins, which are pigments responsible for the blue-red colours of fruits."

Laboratory tests showed that exposure to the fruit juice blend caused heart artery walls to relax. In a living animal this would improve blood flow to the heart and help to prevent it being deprived of oxygen and nutrients.

Measurements also were taken of the antioxidant power of different cocktail recipes, highlighting their ability to neutralise harmful molecules that can damage cells and DNA. The tests showed that some polyphenols were more potent than others, and this was more important than the amount found in each fruit.

The research was published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Food and Function.


Starting solid foods BEFORE four months could cut risk of peanut allergy

Early introduction of peanut products is certainly the key preventive of peanut allergy

Parents who feed their infants solid foods or cow's milk before the age of four months could put them at lower risk for peanut allergy, according to a new study. Researchers said introducing solids early on could 'kick-start' the immune system, making children with a family history of allergies about five times less likely to develop sensitivity.

In contrast, experts generally recommend mothers breastfeed infants for the first six months because it is the best form of nutrition.

The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology last month, was conducted on 594 children, whose mothers were interviewed about feeding practices when they were one, six, and 12 months old.

Reuters Health reports blood samples were taken from children ages two and three years old and tested for antibodies against peanut, egg and milk. 'Eleven per cent of those tested were found to be at an increased risk of developing an allergy to peanut. 'The risk of sensitivity was lower among children whose parents had allergies or asthma, if they had been started on solid food or cow's milk before the age of four month,' according to reports.

Just under six per cent of those tested had peanut sensitivity, compared to 16 per cent of those whose mothers introduced solid foods or cow's milk later.

The findings were not consistent among children who did not have a family history of allergy.

Lead researcher Christine Joseph, an epidemiologist at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, said the study did not, however, prove early introduction of solid foods prevents peanut allergies.

Ms Joseph told Reuters Health: 'Intuitively, it does seem like the opposite of what you'd expect.' She explained early exposure to solids and cows milk could 'kick start' the immune system and make children more tolerant of peanuts.

Controversy over what infant feeding methods might cut risk of food allergies has long been subject to debate. Until recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended parents not feed children cow's milk until age one. That decision was reversed in 2008, after studies showed no evidence it lowered allergy risks. It's estimated that just over one percent of U.S. children are allergic to peanuts.


5 May, 2011

Salt is GOOD for you: Eating more could even lower the chances of heart disease

I guess I shouldn't say. "I told you do" -- but I did. See my sidebar. The study below is not of course conclusive but nor are the studies used to condemn salt.

For years, doctors have been telling us that too much salt is bad for us. Until now. A study claims that cutting down on salt can actually increase the risk of dying from a heart attack or a stroke. The research has left nutritionists scratching their heads.

Its findings indicate that those who eat the least sodium – about one teaspoon a day – don’t show any health advantage over those who eat the most. In fact, those with less salty diets actually had slightly higher death rates from heart disease.

The study, which followed 3,681 healthy European men and women aged 60 or younger, for about eight years, also found that above-average salt intake did not appear to increase the danger of developing high blood pressure.

The report, in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, was released just three months after the U.S. government launched a public health campaign urging restaurants and food manufacturers to cut down on their use of salt.

Sodium was measured in the urine of those taking part, at the beginning and end of the study.

A little more than six per cent of the participants suffered a heart attack, a stroke or some other cardiovascular emergency during the eight years. About a third of these were fatal.

Those who consumed the least salt had a 56 per cent higher risk of death from a heart attack or stroke compared with those who consumed the most. This was even after obesity, cholesterol levels, smoking, diabetes and other risk factors were taken into account.

There were 50 deaths in the third of participants with the lowest salt consumption, 24 in the third with medium intake and just ten deaths in those with the highest salt levels.

Lead researcher Jan Staessen, head of the hypertension laboratory at the University of Leuven, in Belgium, said: ‘Our findings do not support a generalised reduction of salt intake in the population.’

The scientists did not have a firm explanation for their results, but they reportedly speculated that low levels of salt in the body could cause more stress in the nervous system, decrease sensitivity to insulin and affect hormones that control blood pressure and sodium absorption. But they stressed that those with high blood pressure – who were not included in the study – should still stick to a low-salt diet.

Some experts claimed last night that the findings should be taken with, well, a pinch of salt. They argue that the volunteers used in the study all started out with normal blood pressure, were white, relatively young and reasonably healthy.

Past research has shown that those with hypertension, black people, the elderly and the obese tend to react more negatively to ingesting more salt.

Many other studies have shown salt can be bad for you. In March, Australian scientists reported that it takes only 30 minutes for a salty meal significantly to impair the arteries’ ability to pump blood around the body.

Health experts estimate that cutting average consumption by just a couple of grams a day would slash strokes by 22 per cent and heart attacks by 16 per cent, saving 17,000 lives in the UK. Research last year suggested heart disease could be cut by almost a fifth if food companies were banned from adding too much salt to their products.


Paracetemol (acetaminophen) taken out of US infant drops

A small chip out of the undeserved good reutation of this medication

JOHNSON & Johnson and other makers of cold and fever medications in the Unites States say they will discontinue infant drops of medicines containing paracetemol in an effort to avoid confusion that can lead to dangerous overdoses.

The industry association for over-the-counter medicine companies in the US says its members will only sell a single formula for all children under the age of 12.

Currently, J&J and other companies sell infant formulations that contain half the amount of paracetemol as that found in regular children's formula.

Paracetemol is a ubiquitous pain reliever found in Tylenol, Nyquil and thousands of other medicines used to treat headaches, fever and sore throats.

While safe when used as directed, paracetemol is the leading cause of liver failure in the US and sends thousands to the emergency room annually.


4 May, 2011

LOL! Omega 3 is bad for you and trans fats are good for you

What fun the report below is. It neatly reverses the current wisdom -- and yet it is as creditable a study as any in the field.

What it shows is the importance of looking at the big picture (all-cause mortality). Something that appears to be beneficial in one way may be harmful in another.

The largest study ever to examine the association of dietary fats and prostate cancer risk has found what's good for the heart may not be good for the prostate.

Analyzing data from a nationwide study involving more than 3,400 men, researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that men with the highest blood percentages of docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an inflammation-lowering omega-3 fatty acid commonly found in fatty fish, have two-and-a-half-times the risk of developing aggressive, high-grade prostate cancer compared to men with the lowest DHA levels.

Conversely, the study also found that men with the highest blood ratios of trans-fatty acids - which are linked to inflammation and heart disease and abundant in processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils - had a 50 percent reduction in the risk of high-grade prostate cancer. In addition, neither of these fats was associated with the risk of low-grade prostate cancer risk. The researchers also found that omega-6 fatty acids, which are found in most vegetable oils and are linked to inflammation and heart disease, were not associated with prostate cancer risk. They also found that none of the fats were associated with the risk of low-grade prostate cancer.

These findings by Theodore M. Brasky, Ph.D., and colleagues in the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division were published online April 25 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

"We were stunned to see these results and we spent a lot of time making sure the analyses were correct," said Brasky, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Hutchinson Center's Cancer Prevention Program. "Our findings turn what we know - or rather what we think we know - about diet, inflammation and the development of prostate cancer on its head and shine a light on the complexity of studying the association between nutrition and the risk of various chronic diseases."

The researchers undertook the study because chronic inflammation is known to increase the risk of several cancers, and the omega-3 fatty acids found primarily in fish and fish oil supplements have anti-inflammatory effects. In contrast, other fats, such as the omega-6 fats in vegetable oil and trans-fats found in fast foods, may promote inflammation. "We wanted to test the hypothesis that the concentrations of these fats in blood would be associated with prostate cancer risk," Brasky said. "Specifically, we thought that omega-3 fatty acids would reduce and omega-6 and trans-fatty acids would increase prostate cancer risk."

The mechanisms behind the impact of omega-3s on risk of high-grade prostate cancer are unknown. "Besides inflammation, omega-3 fats affect other biologic processes. It may be that these mechanisms play a greater role in the development of certain prostate cancers," Brasky said. "This is certainly an area that needs more research."

Currently there is no official recommended daily allowance for omega-3 fats for adults or children, although many nutrition experts and physicians recommend 450 milligrams of omega-3 DHA per day as part of a healthy diet.

The study was based on data from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial, a nationwide randomized clinical trial that tested the efficacy of the drug finasteride to prevent prostate cancer. While the trial involved nearly 19,000 men age 55 and older, the data in this analysis came from a subset of more than 3,000 of the study participants, half of whom developed prostate cancer during the course of the study and half of whom did not. The clinical trial was unique in that prostate biopsy was used to confirm the presence or absence of prostate cancer in all study participants.

Among the study participants, very few took fish oil supplements - the most common non-food source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to prevent heart disease and other inflammatory conditions. The majority got omega 3s from eating fish.

So based on these findings, should men concerned about heart disease eschew fish oil supplements or grilled salmon in the interest of reducing their risk of aggressive prostate cancer? Brasky and colleagues don't think so.

"Overall, the beneficial effects of eating fish to prevent heart disease outweigh any harm related to prostate cancer risk," Brasky said. "What this study shows is the complexity of nutrition and its impact on disease risk, and that we should study such associations rigorously rather than make assumptions," Brasky said.


HIV drug could prevent 'cervical cancer by killing off virus that causes disease'

A study in laboratory glassware only so far

A simple treatment using a widely prescribed HIV drug could prevent cervical cancer, research suggests. It raises new hope for victims as the number of cervical cancers caused by the sexual transmission of human papilloma virus (HPV) soar - while the number of new cases of HIV are falling across the globe.

HPV is now the most common sexually transmitted infection and the most common cause of cervical cancer. It also triggers significant numbers of mouth and throat cancers in both men and women after it is transmitted through oral sex.

Earlier research suggests that one in six British women have HPV. Around 3,000 women in the UK each year contract cervical cancer and it accounts for more than 900 deaths.

The drug lopinavir kills cells infected by the HPV while leaving healthy cells relatively unharmed, scientists have found. Researchers from the University of Manchester, working with colleagues in Canada, made the discovery after carrying out laboratory tests on cell cultures.

Dr Ian Hampson, from the university's school of cancer and enabling sciences, said: `This is a very significant finding as these cells are not cancer cells but are the closest thing to being like the cells found in a pre-cancerous HPV infection of the cervix. `In addition we were also able to show that lopinavir kills these HPV-infected cells by re-activating a well-known antiviral system that is suppressed by HPV.'

To be effective as a treatment, the drug would have to be administered in doses 10 to 15 times that taken by HIV patients. This would mean applying it as a cream or pessary, rather than swallowing a tablet, said Dr Hampson.

The research is published today in the journal Antiviral Therapy.

Co-author Dr Lynne Hampson said: `These results are very exciting since they show that the drug not only preferentially kills HPV-infected non-cancerous cells by re-activating known antiviral defence systems, it is also much less toxic to normal non-HPV infected cells. `Lopinavir is obviously safe for people to take as tablets or liquid but our latest findings provide very strong evidence to support a clinical trial using topical application of this drug to treat HPV infections of the cervix.'

Although HPV vaccines are already in use, they suffer from a number of drawbacks, the scientists pointed out. Vaccines are not effective in women already infected with the virus, and they do not protect against all HPV strains. In addition they are prohibitively expensive, limiting their use in poorer countries.

HPV-related cervical cancer is one of the most common women's cancers in developing countries, accounting for around 290,000 deaths per year. A cheap, self-administered treatment which could eliminate early-stage HPV infections would have distinct advantages, say the researchers.


3 May, 2011

Children who have family meals are 'less likely to be overweight and binge on junk food'

This is just another demonstration of better health in middle class families

Children who sit down to eat with their families are less likely to be overweight and eat unhealthy foods, according to researchers. They found youngsters who ate with their parents at least three times a week were 12 per cent less likely to be overweight.

The children were also 20 per cent less likely to eat junk food, 35 per cent less likely to have eating problems like skipping meals or bingeing, and 24 per cent more likely to eat vegetables and other healthy foods.

'Sitting down together as a family, there are nutritional benefits from that,' said Amber Hammons, from the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign, whose findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.

However, the latest paper reviewed 17 studies that were based on observations not actual experiments, and Professor Hammons acknowledged this didn't prove shared meals trim waistlines. 'It's just an association,' she said. 'Families who sit down together could be healthier to begin with.'

According to the NHS, one in six boys and one in seven girls were classed as obese in 2008. . The number of overweight children was also around one in seven. The extra pounds can affect a child's self-esteem and sets them up for health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

The new report is based on findings from nearly 183,000 children about 2 to 17 years of age. While those studies yielded mixed results and weren't easy to compare, overall they show regular family meals are tied to better nutrition.

Professor Hammons said it's possible that parents may influence and monitor their kids more during shared meals. 'We also know that families that sit down together are less likely to eat high-calorie food,' she added.

As a result, the researchers encourage families to spend more time together around the dinner table. 'It doesn't have to be every day,' Professor Hammons said. 'We know that families are very busy.'


Vitamin Poppers May Make Less Healthful Choices

Test subjects who thought they'd taken a supplement made less healthful food and exercise choices than people who did not think they'd had a supplement.

It can be tough to keep up with dietary trends. Like eating eggs: good for you or bad? But one thing is certain. Taking a multivitamin is a healthy choice. Isn’t it? Not necessarily. Because researchers have found that people who take dietary supplements may make less healthful choices. The work appears in the journal Psychological Science. [Wen-Bin Chiou and Chao-Chin Yang, Ironic Effects of Dietary Supplementation: Illusory Invulnerability Created by Taking Dietary Supplements Licenses Health-risk Behaviors, link to come]

Half the population uses some sort of dietary supplement, and that figure is on the rise. Yet we don’t seem to be getting any healthier. So researchers took a closer look at how people who pop health pills actually behave. One group of volunteers was asked to take a dietary supplement, the other group was told they were getting a placebo. In fact, both groups received dummy pills. But it turns out that subjects who thought they’d taken a supplement made less healthy choices, opting for the buffet instead of an organic meal and walking less than their supplement-deprived pals.

It could be that folks who supplement feel like they’ve already done their duty when it comes to their health. So they’re more likely to indulge. Which suggests that these pills might not make us healthy, and certainly don’t make us smart.


2 May, 2011

Chemicals in food packaging linked to breathing problems in babies

The correlation was found at only one out of three datapoints? Sounds like a random result. Note also that this is only a conference report so has not yet passed the scrutiny of peer review. Note also that the constant hammering of BPA in research means that some positives will be produced by chance alone. In the circumstances, only replicated results should be taken seriously

A gender-bending chemical found in food packaging is linked to breathing problems in young babies, researchers have found. A study showed pregnant mothers with the highest levels of bisphenol A in their bodies were twice as likely to have babies who suffer from wheezing in their first six months.

Wheezing in babies can be a symptom of lung damage, asthma, bronchitis, allergies or an infection.

Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is used to harden plastics, is one of the world’s most widely manufactured chemicals and can be found in dozens of everyday items including baby bottles, CD cases and food and drink packaging.

Because the chemical mimics oestrogen, many scientists believe it interferes with the way hormones are processed by the body. Although several animal studies have shown it to be safe, others have linked Bisphenol A to breast cancer, liver damage, obesity, diabetes and fertility problems.

The latest U.S. study looked at the BPA levels of 367 pregnant women, with researchers at Penn State College of Medicine measuring levels of the chemical in expectant mothers in the 16th and 26th week of pregnancy.

They found 99 per cent of women had measurable levels of the chemical in their bodies – and those with the highest levels in their 16th week were twice as likely to have babies who wheezed at six months old than women with the lowest levels.

However, the study also found that high concentrations of BPA at 26 weeks and at birth were not connected to the condition.

Some experts suggest exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals causes the most harm during a crucial window of development early on in pregnancy, and believe women of child-bearing age should avoid products containing BPA.

Elizabeth Salter-Green, director of the Chemicals, Health and Environment Monitoring Trust, said: ‘This new research adds further weight to the need to reduce our exposure to this chemical, particularly pregnant women. It is the foetus developing in utero that is most vulnerable to BPA exposures.’

Last year Denmark became the first country in the EU to ban BPA in packaging for food and drink aimed at under-threes, while the EU itself voted to ban it from baby bottles last year. Canada and three U.S. states have also introduced restrictions.

Adam J. Spanier, lead author of the study, which was presented at a conference in the U.S. yesterday, called for more research into BPA.


Feds sting Amish farmer selling raw milk locally

A yearlong sting operation, including aliases, a 5 a.m. surprise inspection and surreptitious purchases from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania, culminated in the federal government announcing this week that it has gone to court to stop Rainbow Acres Farm from selling its contraband to willing customers in the Washington area. The product in question: unpasteurized milk.

It’s a battle that’s been going on behind the scenes for years, with natural foods advocates arguing that raw milk, as it’s also known, is healthier than the pasteurized product, while the Food and Drug Administration says raw milk can carry harmful bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria.

“It is the FDA’s position that raw milk should never be consumed,” said Tamara N. Ward, spokeswoman for the FDA, whose investigators have been looking into Rainbow Acres for months, and who finally last week filed a 10-page complaint in federal court in Pennsylvania seeking an order to stop the farm from shipping across state lines any more raw milk or dairy products made from it.

The farm’s owner, Dan Allgyer, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment, but his customers in the District of Columbia and Maryland were furious at what they said was government overreach.

“I look at this as the FDA is in cahoots with the large milk producers,” said Karin Edgett, a D.C. resident who buys directly from Rainbow Acres. “I don’t want the FDA and my tax dollars to go to shut down a farm that hasn’t had any complaints against it. They’re producing good food, and the consumers are extremely happy with it.”

The FDA’s actions stand in contrast to other areas where the Obama administration has said it will take a hands-off approach to violations of the law, including the use of medical marijuana in states that have approved it, and illegal-immigrant students and youths, whom the administration said recently will not be targets of their enforcement efforts.

Raw-milk devotees say pasteurization, the process of heating food to kill harmful organisms, eliminates good bacteria as well, and changes the taste and health benefits of the milk. Many raw-milk drinkers say they feel much healthier after changing over to it, and insist they should have the freedom of choice regarding their food.

One defense group says there are as many as 10 million raw-milk consumers in the country. Sales are perfectly legal in 10 states but illegal in 11 states and the District, with the other states having varying restrictions on purchase or consumption.

Many food safety researchers say pasteurization, which became widespread in the 1920s and 1930s, dramatically reduced instances of milk-transmitted diseases such as typhoid fever and diphtheria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no health benefit from raw milk that cannot be obtained from pasteurized milk.

Acting on those conclusions, the FDA uses its regulatory powers over food safety to ban interstate sales of raw milk and has warned several farms to change their practices.

According to the complaint the FDA filed in court, the agency began to look into Mr. Allgyer’s farm in late 2009, when an investigator in their Baltimore office used aliases to sign up for a Yahoo user group for Rainbow Acres’ customers, and began to place orders under the assumed names for unpasteurized milk.

The orders were delivered to private residences in Maryland, where the investigator, whose name was not disclosed in the documents, would pick them up. By crossing state lines the milk became part of interstate commerce, thus subject to the FDA’s ban on interstate sales of raw milk. The court papers note that the jugs of milk were not labeled - another violation of FDA regulations.

Armed with that information, investigators visited the farm in February 2010, but Mr. Allgyer turned them away. They returned two months later with a warrant, U.S. marshals and a state police trooper, arriving at 5 a.m. for what Mr. Allgyer’s backers called a “raid,” but the FDA said was a lawful inspection.

The investigators said they saw coolers labeled with Maryland town names, and the coolers appeared to contain dairy products. The inspection led to an April 20, 2010, letter from FDA telling Mr. Allgyer to stop selling across state lines.

He instead formed a club and had customers sign an agreement stating they supported his operation, weren’t trying to entrap the owners, and that they would be shareholders in the farm’s produce, paying only for the farmer’s labor.

Customers hoped that would get around the FDA’s definition of “commerce,” putting the exchange outside of the federal government’s purview.

The FDA investigators continued to take shipments, though, and last week went to court to stop the operation.

Ms. Ward, the FDA spokeswoman, didn’t say exactly why they targeted Mr. Allgyer’s farm, but that violations generally are determined either by FDA investigations or by state-obtained evidence.

Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, said undercover stings are not unheard of.

“It happens quite a bit. It’s almost like they treat raw milk as crack. It’s happened in a number of states, and at the federal level,” he said.

His organization has sued to try to halt FDA enforcement, and the case is pending in federal court in Iowa.

Mr. Allgyer’s customers declined to talk about the operations, and when asked whether they knew what would happen to the farm’s distribution, they said they would have to wait and see.

One of those customers, Liz Reitzig, president of the Maryland Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, said she started looking for raw milk when her oldest daughter began to show signs of not being able to tolerate pasteurized milk.

She first did what’s called cow sharing, which is when a group of people buy shares in owning a cow, and pay a farmer to board and milk the cow. But Maryland outlawed that practice and she was forced to look elsewhere for raw milk, and turned to Mr. Allgyer’s farm.

“We like the way they farm, we love their product, it’s super-high-quality, they’re wonderful. It’s just a wonderful arrangement,” she said.

“FDA really has no idea what they’re talking about when they’re talking about fresh milk. They have no concept - they really don’t understand what it’s like for people like me who have friends and family who can’t drink conventional milk,” Ms. Reitzig said.


1 May, 2011

Teenage dinnertime tipple 'leads to alcohol problems'

Again we are dealing with correlations here. It could be that boozy parents are more likely to allow home drinking and it is an inherited tendency to alcohol abuse that gets kids into trouble rather than where the alcohol is consumed

Middle-class parents who let their children have the odd glass of wine or bottle of beer at home when they are in their early teens are doing them more harm than good, a study finds.

Many mothers and fathers think that allowing their children to have a supervised drink is a good way of exposing them to alcohol safely and taking away its illicit thrill.

But new research suggests it sends mixed signals that result in them being more likely to abuse alcohol as they enter their core teenage years.

A joint American-Australian study of more than 1,900 12 and 13-year-olds found that those whose parents took such a "harm minimisation" approach were more likely to have experienced "alcohol-related consequences" - such as not being able to stop drinking, getting into fights, or having blackouts - two years later than those whose parents had a "zero-tolerance" strategy.

A year into the study, almost twice as many Australian teenagers (67 per cent) had drunk alcohol in the presence of an adult than their American counterparts (35 per cent), reflecting general attitudes in Australia and the US when it comes to supervised underage drinking.

The following year, just over a third (36 per cent) of the Australians had experienced alcohol-related consequences compared to only a fifth (21 per cent) of the Americans.

While cultural differences alone could feasibly account for the disparity, the results also found that teens who had been allowed to drink while supervised were more likely to have had such experiences regardless of which country they were from.

The results of the study, conducted by the Centre for Adolescent Health in Melbourne, Australia, and the Social Development Research Group in Seattle, USA, are published today (THUR) in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

British attitudes to teenage drinking are more similar to those in Australia than America, a matter reflected in law. While in the UK and Australia one can buy an alcoholic drink in a pub or off-licence from the age of 18, in the US the minimum age is 21.

However, two years ago Sir Liam Donaldson, then England's chief medical officer, said children under 15 should never be given alcohol, even though it is legal for parents to give a child over five alcohol in the home.

A separate Dutch study of 500 12-to-15-year-olds, also published in the JSAD today, found that it was the amount of alcohol available at home, and not how much parents drank, that determined teenage drinking habits - suggesting parents should keep their drinks cabinets locked.

Dr Barbara McMorris, of Minnesota University, who led the first study, said: "Both studies show that parents matter. "Despite the fact that peers and friends become important influences as adolescents get older, parents still have a big impact."

She added: "Kids need parents to be parents and not drinking buddies. Adults need to be clear about what messages they are sending. Kids need black and white messages early on. "Such messages will help reinforce limits as teens get older and opportunities to drink increase."

But Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said British research suggested a zero-tolerance approach could be counter-productive.

In a questionnaire, school children aged 10 to 15 were asked if their parents had no interest in their drinking, had a zero-tolerance approach, or showed concern. Those who parents who let them drink but showed concern, and had a "responsible attitude" to drinking, were better protected against excess drinking than the other two groups, he said.


No more chocolate and strawberry milk for L.A. schools?‏

The superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District says he wants to stop offering chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk to students as part of an attempt to curb childhood obesity.

Superintendent John Deasy appeared with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on Tuesday's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and said he will recommend the ban to the board of education by July.

The nation's second-largest school district clashed with Oliver last fall when the British chef wanted to shoot his reality TV series "Food Revolution" at Los Angeles schools. The ABC program is focused on making kids' lunches healthier, but the district objected to having TV cameras in schools.

Deasy says he is concerned about serving flavored milk to students because of its additives. [Like chocolate?]


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

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

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like