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

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

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

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

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

These kids are all "obese" according to Britain's moronic National Health Service


31 May, 2013

Living in the countryside 'may increase the risk of Parkinson's disease' by up to 80%

This is just correlational rubbish.  Country people tend to have lower IQs and low IQ is associated with worse health.  Pesticides need have nothing to do with it

A country life may sound idyllic, but experts have found a possible link between rural living and Parkinson's disease.

Analysis of more than 100 studies from around the world shows that exposure to pesticides, bug and weed killers and solvents is associated with a higher risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

Study author, Dr Emanuele Cereda, said: 'Due to this association, there was also a link between farming or country living and developing Parkinson's in some of the studies.'

Researchers from the IRCCS University Hospital San Matteo Foundation in Pavia, Italy, reviewed studies that looked at weed, fungus, rodent or bug killers, and solvents in relation to the risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

Proximity to these chemicals, due to country living, occupation and drinking water were also evaluated.

The research found that being exposed to bug or weed killers and solvents increased the risk of developing Parkinson's disease by 33 to 80 per cent.

In controlled studies, exposure to the weed killer paraquat or the fungicides maneb and mancozeb was associated with twice the risk of developing the disease.

Dr Cereda added: 'We didn't study whether the type of exposure, such as whether the compound was inhaled or absorbed through the skin and the method of application, such as spraying or mixing, affected Parkinson's risk.

'However, our study suggests that the risk increases in a dose response manner as the length of exposure to these chemicals increases.'

The research appears in the journal Neurology.


Toddlers should drink two cups of cow's milk a day - no more, no less, say experts

Cow's milk is both good and bad for you?  Sounds unlikely.  Much in need of replication before it is taken seriously.  Journal article here

Two cups of cow’s milk a day is the ideal amount for toddlers, researchers say.  Too little can lead to deficiency in vitamin D - but too much can deplete levels of iron, a study found.

The authors looked at the levels of vitamin D and iron, two of the most important nutrients in milk, in more than 1,300 children aged between one and five from 2008 to 2010.

Lead author of the study, Dr Jonathon Maguire, a paediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, said: 'Vitamin D deficiency in children has been linked to bone health issues and iron deficiency has been linked to anaemia and delays in cognitive development.

'We started to research the question because professional recommendations around milk intake were unclear and doctors and parents were seeking answers.

'Being able to answer parents’ questions about healthy cow’s milk intake is important to avoiding these potentially serious complications of low vitamin D and iron stores.'

They found that children who drank the most cow’s milk had higher Vitamin D stores, but lower iron stores.

He added: 'We saw that two cups of cow’s milk per day was enough to maintain adequate vitamin D levels for most children, while also maintaining iron stores.

'With additional cow’s milk, there was a further reduction in iron stores without greater benefit from vitamin D.'

The researchers recruited healthy children during routine doctor’s appointments.  Parents were asked to fill out an extensive questionnaire about their children’s milk drinking habits and other factors that could affect iron and Vitamin D stores.

A blood sample was obtained from each child to determine body stores of iron and Vitamin D.

The study also suggested that children with darker skin pigmentation may not have enough vitamin D stores during the winter months.

However, Dr Maguire suggested that instead of consuming more milk to increase these levels, wintertime vitamin D supplementation may be a more appropriate way of increasing vitamin D stores while preserving iron stores.

The results of the study were published online by the journal Paediatrics.


30 May, 2013

Obesity risk for C-section babies: 84% more likely to be overweight than children born naturally

Less healthy women probably have more C-sections and it is the prior health of the mother that influences obesity, not the C-section

Babies born by caesarean section are almost twice as likely to be overweight as children and teens, according to a new study.

After examining the health records of more than 10,000 British children, researchers found that surgically delivered 11-year-olds were 83 per cent more likely to be overweight compared to those born naturally.

The results of the study confirm previous research that also found a link between caesareans and childhood obesity.

Researchers believe that babies by natural childbirth are exposed to bacteria in the birth canal which helps regulate metabolism in later life.

The findings suggests the obesity epidemic could in part be driven by increasing rates of caesareans. The rate in England stands at one in four births, which totals more than 160,000 a year.

Health concerns often dictate whether a women undergoes surgical delivery, which can be life-saving for both mother and child, but in many cases there is no medical reason for the operation.

‘There may be long-term consequences [of caesareans] to children that we don’t know about,’ said lead researcher Dr Jan Blustein, from the New York University School of Medicine.

She said the extent of the obesity risk for children is ‘not great’ and should not be a factor when considering whether a women should have the operation for medical reasons.

The team looked at data from a major investigation of childhood development called the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. This tracks the long-term health and well-being of around 14,000 children born in the early 1990s.

Just over nine per cent of the children in the study were born by caesarean, and on average were two ounces lighter than those delivered naturally.

But by the age of six weeks, those surgically delivered were consistently heavier than their naturally-born counterparts at almost all points - even when other factors such as their mother’s weight and whether they were breastfed were taken into account.

The risk of obesity was particularly marked among children born to overweight mothers, the researchers said.

In total, a third of all the three-year-olds in the study were overweight, while at the age of seven and 15 there was a 17 per cent chance of a child being obese.

The research, published in the International Journal of Obesity, also highlighted the risks to women of undertaking a caesarean including increased chance of bowel or bladder injuries as well as future pregnancy complications.

Dr Blustein said one reason for the link between caesarean’s and obesity could that these infants are not exposed to beneficial bacteria in the birth canal, and therefore their bodies take longer to accumulate good bugs that boost the body’s metabolism.

Obese adults tend to have fewer ‘friendly’ bacteria in their digestive tract and higher levels of ‘bad’ bacteria, which mean they burn fewer calories and store more of them as fat.

However, other studies show that obese women are more likely to need a caesarean, and are more likely to have children who grow up to be overweight or obese.

‘The other possibilities are (that) these are children that would have been heavier anyway,’ Dr Blustein said. ‘Being heavy as a woman is a risk factor for C-section, so that’s the problem with trying to figure out whether this is real or if it’s simply a matter of selection.’


An end to annual flu injections? Scientists develop new 'universal' jab against all strains of influenza which could last a lifetime

Let's hope it works

A new type of vaccine has been developed which could provide long-term protection and last a lifetime against all types of influenza.

The 'universal' vaccine targets part of the virus common to all strains, meaning it could provide a way around the problem of the bug frequently mutating and making preventative treatment ineffective.

It was created by a team working for U.S. healthcare company Sanofi using techniques that have also raised hopes of a new generation of vaccines against other diseases.

The study has been published in the journal Nature.

Team leader Gary Nabel said: 'This structure-based vaccine improves the potency and breadth of influenza virus immunity, and it provides a foundation for building broader vaccine protection against emerging influenza viruses and other pathogens.'

Influenza kills between 250,000 and 500,000 globally per year, according to the World Health Organisation.

Earlier this month experts warned a deadly bird flu virus sweeping through China had taken the first steps towards becoming a global threat to human populations.

In the space of one month, the avian strain known as H7N9 spread through all 31 Chinese provinces and claimed 125 victims, killing a fifth of those infected.

Scientists say it is mutating rapidly and already has two of five genetic changes believed to be necessary for human-to-human transmission.

Currently the virus has made its home in chickens, and only affected people who have had close contact with the birds, often at live markets.

The Sanofi team's vaccine is built using protein 'self-assembling nanoparticles', which when injected create antibodies that attach themselves to parts of the virus that are common to different strains.

In lab tests on ferrets, which can suffer the same strains of flu as humans, it was more potent and affected more strains than the current licensed vaccine, the team said.

It is also safer to make than standard vaccines, which are produced by growing the virus in a lab.

The DIY way it is made means similar methods could be used to create vaccines against other diseases.

Scientists gave a cautious welcome to the research, but said trials on humans were needed to see if it worked as well as hoped.

Professor Wendy Barclay, chair in influenza virology at Imperial College London, said the research targeted a 'soft underbelly of the virus'.

'In short this paper takes us a step closer to believing that a universal flu vaccine is possible, by thinking outside of the box in terms of how to synthesise and manufacture flu vaccines,' she said.

'What's more this route could be faster, cheaper and safer than the one we usually use.'

Professor Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, added:

'There's no indication as to whether any clinical trials are planned, and since this is a new type of vaccine it might be some time before they could start.

'So at the moment it's an interesting development in the lab, with some novel aspects, but definitely not a universal influenza vaccine and it needs to be tested in clinical trials before we get too excited.'


29 May, 2013

Boy, 2, who was fighting for his life with meningitis is cured using daily doses of ASPIRIN

A gorgeous boy.  How wonderful that he was saved

A baby boy who developed a deadly infection that made his brain swell has made a miraculous recovery - after doctors used aspirin to save his life.

Robert Airey was nine months old when he was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and respiratory failure.

He was rushed to Southampton Children's Hospital as the infection caused a series of minor strokes and affected the nerves to his vocal cords.

And as doctors fought to save Robert's life, his brain continued to swell. It was then consultant paediatric neurologists Professor Colin Kennedy and Dr Neil Thomas took the unusual step of giving Robert daily doses of aspirin.

The decision proved a defining moment as the drug treated the blood clots in Robert's brain and the brave boy made a miraculous recovery.

The infection, which causes inflammation in the brain and spinal cord, affects around 200 people, mainly babies, every year.  More than 20 per cent of those die from the illness and half experience long-term health complications such as deafness or brain damage.

But Robert, who turned two in March, has incredibly survived the infection - and escaped any of the life-changing repercussions.

His mother Sarah, 34, who is a GP, said: 'Miracle can be an overused term, but I think it's relevant here.

'From what we expected, to him making it and then recovering so well - it was an against the odds job.

'And to see him playing in the mud, rolling around and playing with the other children is an amazing sight.'

Robert first fell ill at his family home in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, in the days leading up to Christmas in 2011.  He'd had cough and cold symptoms for a few days, but by Boxing Day his temperature had become very high and he was suffering with sickness.

That evening worried parents Sarah and Paul noticed their baby suddenly felt limp and his breathing had become very fast. His skin was pale and his hands and feet were also very cold.

They rushed him to Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, Berks, where he was diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and respiratory failure.

Sarah said: 'From one minute being at home enjoying our first Christmas with Robert, we found ourselves in hospital being told he had severe meningitis and was suffering from respiratory failure. It was terrifying.'

Robert was in need of an urgent transfer to a specialist children's intensive care unit to receive the care his life depended on.  But with nearby hospitals at full capacity, doctors called on the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Southampton Children's Hospital in Hampshire.

Sarah said: 'We struggled to take it all in, but the gravity of the situation was clear. At one stage, we were discussing transfer to a children's hospice.'

After initially responding to antibiotic treatment, Robert's immune system went into overdrive and set off a second round of inflammation in his brain.

Consultant paediatric neurologists Professor Colin Kennedy and Dr Neil Thomas then decided to administer him with a daily dose of aspirin.

Professor Kennedy said: 'This is a rare, but particularly aggressive illness and, despite seemingly beginning to do well, there was a marked deterioration in Robert's condition in his second day in PICU.

'Aspirin is not a conventional treatment for children with meningitis, particularly babies, but the severity of this situation and the need for fast action changed the likely balance of risk and benefit.'

The decision proved life-saving and Robert was moved out of the unit four days later - his dad Paul's birthday.

IT project manager Paul, 35, said: 'After such a rollercoaster of emotion in such a short space of time, it was almost unbelievable that Robert was well enough to leave intensive care - it was the ultimate birthday gift.'

Robert, who has made an almost full recovery since being discharged from hospital in October, now spends two days a week at nursery.

Sarah added: 'We were told Robert had even escaped some of the life-changing consequences, such as hearing impairment and severe brain damage, and I put that down to the exceptional medical team and the outstanding nursing care he received.'


Alzheimer's 'wonder drug' could be completely ineffective, warn scientists

A 'wonder' drug hailed as a new treatment for Alzheimer's may be ineffective, experts have warned. The cancer drug bexarotene, marketed as Targretin, was said to reverse the build-up of the brain plaques which have been linked Alzheimer's.

A high profile 2012 report, published in journal Science, reported that the drug quickly removed most of the plaques in the brains of mice and rapidly reversed the pathological, cognitive and memory deficits related to the onset of Alzheimer's.

The results were 'stunning' to the scientific community but seemed 'too good to be true', it was claimed at the time.

Now, another team of experts writing in the same journal say they have been unable to replicate the results of the original study and have called the findings into doubt.

Researchers at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Massachusetts General Hospital, Washington University in St Louis and University of Tubingen in Germany, jointly stated: `The drug has no impact on plaque burden.

`We have failed to support earlier findings that Targretin is efficacious in reducing plaque burden in transgenic mouse models of cerebral plaque deposition.'

Professor Sangram Sisodia, of the University of Chicago, said he and his colleagues were curious about the initial report in 2012.

He said: `We were surprised and excited, even stunned, when we first saw these results presented at a small conference.  `The mechanism of action made some sense, but the assertion that they could reduce the areas of plaque by 50 per cent within three days, and by 75 per cent in two weeks, seemed too good to be true.

`We all went back to our labs and tried to confirm these promising findings.  `We repeated the initial experiments - a standard process in science. Combined results are really important in this field. None of us found anything like what they described in the 2012 paper.'  The researchers found no effects on plaque burden of mice that were treated with bexarotene.

They say that the discrepancy is not only disappointing but also raises concerns for patient safety.

The drug was approved for treating a type of skin cancer, meaning it is also available by prescription for 'off label' uses as well.

But it has never been tested as a treatment for Alzheimer's in humans and has side effects including headaches, vomiting and liver problems.

Despite the lack of testing on Alzheimer's patients, it is believed that many requested that their doctors prescribed them the medication and, in some cases, were given it.

Professor Robert Vassar, of Northwestern University, said: `Anecdotally, we have all heard that physicians are treating their Alzheimer's patients with bexarotene, a cancer drug with severe side effects.

`This practice should be ended immediately, given the failure of three independent research groups to replicate the plaque-lowering effects of bexarotene.'

But other experts, also writing in Science, said that the cognitive effects on the mice had been replicated, even if the effects on plaque had not.

University of Pittsburgh professor, Rada Koldamova said that the drug did improve cognitive effects on mice, although tests could not confirm the actual effects on the plaques.

Professor Koldamova said: `We believe these findings make a solid case for continued exploration of bexarotene as a therapeutic treatment for Alzheimer's disease.'

Co-author Iliya Lefterov said: `We were already set up to repeat the Case Western Reserve University study to see if we could independently arrive at the same findings.

`While we were able to verify that the mice quickly regained their lost cognitive skills and confirmed the decrease in amyloid beta peptides in the interstitial fluid that surrounds brain cells, we did not find any evidence that the drug cleared the plaques from their brains.'


28 May, 2013

CDC: 1 In 5 US Children May Have Mental Disorder

This is just definitional extravagance.  One in three adults were once said to be neurotic as well.  You can define your way to any conclusion you want

 Nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. suffers from a mental disorder, and this number has been rising for more than a decade.

According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 20 percent of American children are suffering from mental disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and autism.

The CDC's first study of mental disorders among children aged 3 to 17 also found that the cost of medical bills for treatment of such disorders is up to $247 billion each year.

"This is a deliberate effort by CDC to show mental health is a health issue. As with any health concern, the more attention we give to it, the better. It's parents becoming aware of the facts and talking to a health-care provider about how their child is learning, behaving and playing with other kids," said Dr. Ruth Perou, the study's lead author.

The CDC data was collected between 1994 and 2011, and it shows that the number of children being diagnosed with mental disorders has been steadily growing. The study did not conclude exactly why the numbers are increasing.

More research is needed to determine the specific causes of mental disorders, said Dr. Perou, and that greater awareness could lead to an uptick in diagnoses. A host of environmental factors, including chemical exposure and poverty, also can affect a child's mental health, she said.

The study also found that girls were more prone to depression and alcohol abuse than boys, and that 6.8 percent of U.S. children are affected by attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.


Live longer with a daily dose of calcium: Women who take a supplement have a 22% lower risk of death

All this probably shows is that people who take supplements are more careful with their health generally

Taking a calcium supplement of up to 1,000 mg per day can help women live longer, say researchers.

A new study shows a 22 per cent lower risk of dying over a 10-year period compared with women who are not taking supplements regularly.

The study is likely to reassure many who take supplements either prescribed by their doctor for osteoporosis - thinning bones - or bought over the counter as 'bone insurance'.

Previously there have been fears that high-dose supplements could raise the risk of dying from heart disease.

But Canadian researchers behind the latest study are unequivocal in recommending extra calcium for women with low intakes.

Lead author David Goltzman, of McGill University in Montreal, said 'Our study found daily use of calcium supplements was associated with a lower risk of death among women.

'The benefit was seen for women who took doses of up to 1,000 mg per day, regardless of whether the supplement contained vitamin D.' according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

The researchers analysed data from the large-scale Canadian Multicentre Osteoporosis Study which monitored the health of 9,033 Canadians between 1995 and 2007. During that period, 1,160 participants died.

The findings show a 22 per cent cut in risk of death for women using calcium supplements compared with non-users, but no statistical benefit for men.

The study found no conclusive evidence that taking vitamin D had an impact on death rates.

There appeared to be no benefit from taking calcium at doses bigger than 1,000mg a day.

Dr Golzman said 'Higher amounts of calcium were potentially linked to longer lifespans in women, regardless of the source of the calcium.  'That is, the same benefits were seen when the calcium came from dairy foods, non-dairy foods or supplements.

'Our recommendation would be to assess dietary intake to meet calcium and vitamin D requirements for bone health and to consider supplementation as necessary to meet the requirements.'

The study, which is to be published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, suggests several possible mechanisms for promoting longer life.

Calcium supplements are linked to a better balance of blood fats, lower risk of high blood pressure, better bone metabolism and bowel health.

Health benefits may also be driven by eating more calcium from food within a healthy diet, including dairy products and fish.

There have been conflicting results from studies in recent years about the benefits and possible harms of taking calcium supplements, especially more than 1,000mg a day.

Scientists believe mega doses of calcium circulating in the blood have a 'flooding effect' which may lead to hardening of the arteries and heart attacks.

In contrast, dietary calcium is taken in small amounts spread throughout the day, so is absorbed slowly.

The Food Standards Agency recommends adults have 700mg of calcium a day, which should come from dietary sources including all types of milk, cheese, yoghurts and green, leafy vegetables.

Official figures suggest women consume only 740mg of calcium per day from food sources on average - 43mg lower than in 2000-1.

Carrie Ruxton, spokesperson for the Health Supplements Information Service, said it was likely that women taking extra calcium were reaping the benefits of having an optimal supply of the mineral.

She said: 'Men tend to get a bigger intake from their diet but many women don't consume as much, especially those cutting back on dairy products.

'The benefits found in this study could be from women having extra supplies, bringing them up to normal and optimal levels.'

She said there were subtle effects on metabolism apart from calcium's bone-building qualities, including regulation of appetite and weight.

But the direct effects of helping to prevent the consequences of osteoporosis such as falls and hip fractures should not be under-estimated.


27 May, 2013

Why it's truly bonkers to believe in shrinks


Review by Roger Lewis

Psychiatrists - the shrinks, trick-cyclists, Viennese witch-doctors - have always been either figures of fun or feared.

If it wasn't Freud getting you to talk dirty about your mother, or the men-in-white-coats in the Soviet Union locking people away for thinking the wrong thoughts, then it was Peter Sellers in a Richard III wig, more mad than any of his patients, in What's New Pussycat? or Jack Nicholson being tortured in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

The traditional therapies on offer were barbaric - lobotomies, electro-convulsive seizures - and needless to say never did anyone any good. Nevertheless, psychiatry continues to be the great growth industry of our times - 450 million people worldwide `have a mental health problem' - despite the fact that it has `the poorest curative success'.

The conclusion (and the argument of this essential book) is obvious: psychiatry is basically bogus - and damaging. There is no solid scientific justification for any of its activities - as the only `identifiable biological diseases' involving an observable malfunction of the brain are epilepsy, Alzheimer's, Huntington's chorea, strokes and cerebral tumours.

The `chemical imbalance' theories have been debunked, and as James Davies remarks, `no biological markers have been identified' for the thousands of behavioural `disorders' that now prevail.

This hasn't stopped the psychiatric experts from cooking up ailments, however. Their bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, gets thicker with each new edition. Despite there being `no scientific evidence' for any of this, people are led to believe they have `a problem in their brain' if they drink too much coffee (`caffeine-related disorders'), stutter or swear (`language disorders'), are shy or reserved (`social phobias'), suffer period pains, are too fat or too thin, feel irritable, sexy, unsexy, sleepless, tired, or experience grief for more than two weeks after the death of a loved one. By these means, 26.2??per cent of all American adults suffer from a disorder of some sort, requiring that it be `pharmacologically treated'.

Though psychiatric research is by all accounts `a hodgepodge, scattered, inconsistent and ambiguous', one thing has definitely emerged - that anti-depressants don't work.

Extensive trials have shown that placebos induce as much of a degree of uplift as Prozac, Seroxet or any of the other wonder drugs, which simply make patients feel numb, glassy and emotionally disengaged.

As Davies says: `Numbing things isn't curing things or even, in the long run, helping things.' The drugs are essentially sedatives, and people are plunged into such a fog `they can no longer feel depressed or anything else'.

The biggest horror is the dosing of children with Ritalin, `which is as powerful as cocaine'. These days, any child who's a bit naughty, inattentive, cheeky, quick or slow,  (i.e. any child who is childish) is diagnosed as suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or is autistic or has Asperger's Syndrome. If paediatricians and psychiatrists are to be believed, autism has increased 20 times in 15 years, and as a consequence 5.29 per cent of the global child population is on tablets.

Few children actually warrant the diagnosis - as Davies says, there is now an `out-of-control medicalisation of normality'. So who are the ultimate villains of the piece? Answer: the pharmaceutical companies, which make over 12.5 billion each year from the sale of happy pills. Sane people are told they are insane because it is big business.

The drug companies pay eminent professors, university officials and teaching hospital chairmen millions `in personal income' to concoct more and more abnormalities so that more and more pills can be dished out by GPs and specialists.

They pocket consultancy fees to attend conferences, give marketing lectures and endorse useless tablets. They are bribed, in essence, not to openly criticise the pharmaceutical industry. Davies (courageously) names names.

What this adds up to is a scandal that is bigger and more widespread than thalidomide. If people are `not getting any clinically meaningful benefit' from the pills, then it is because depression, for instance, is simply to be sad or disappointed, unlucky in love, bored or bereaved, full of remorse, jealousy and low morale.

It is not a condition or a deviation - it is normal. Feeling rotten and anxious, being up and down, or even despairing, are all part of the ordinary problems of living - of being human and not a robot or a zombie.

When Davies confronted Professor Sue Bailey, head of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, she was frighteningly honest and virtually chucked in the towel: `When you go into a profession where you want to help people, and you don't have the tools to help them, the temptation is to medicalise them.'

Psychiatry is based upon and feeds the delusion that we have a fundamental in-built right to be continuously happy. Grasp this, stop fretting that you are not full of beans, start enjoying being grumpy, laugh at life, admit that everyone is ill-adjusted to something or other, and, well, you may very well soon end up being me. Twenty stone of sardonic Welsh idiot.

There - hasn't the mental image of that made you feel better already?


Australia:  Quack medicine taught to doctors

General practitioners are receiving government-mandated training by doctors who claim vaccines are linked to autism and temper tantrums can be treated by delaying immunisation.

The body that oversees doctors will investigate how the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), which represents more than 20,000 GPs, could have approved the course as part of its "continuing professional development" program.

Ongoing education is supposed to protect patients by ensuring practitioners are trained in the most up-to-date medical evidence. But experts fear the system is failing because of inadequate oversight.

The GP training course is run by the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, which says it "does not have a policy on immunisation", and doctors should "make informed decisions determined by evidence-based science".

Its four-day course perpetuates long-discredited misinformation about immunisation, including claims childhood vaccines contain mercury. It also references researcher Andrew Wakefield, whose work was found to be wrong and tainted by financial conflicts of interest.

Australian Medical Association head Steve Hambleton said the accreditation of training courses should be reviewed.

"Clearly, this is concerning and it's not something the college or the AMA can be comfortable with, and neither can the parents of children," he said. "Colleges have a great responsibility to ensure they are doing their job."

A hospital doctor who discovered the anti-vaccination course, Martin Tio, said patients could be put at risk by misinformation. "If you are going to delay vaccination or, to use the example from the vaccine-specific course lectures, to make a case vaccines are linked to autism … it could easily discourage them from getting vaccinated."

He feared the acceptance of unscientific claims was becoming more widespread in the medical community.

Ken McLeod, from Stop the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network, said he was aghast to see such dangerous misinformation given to doctors. "You have to wonder who let these discredited cranks in," he said.

Professor of public health at Bond University Chris Del Mar said doctor training was often influenced by vested interests and lacking an evidence base.

"There are very serious flaws in the way continuing medical education is conducted," he said. He was particularly concerned about courses run by drug companies.

Medical Board of Australia spokeswoman Nicole Newton said it would be concerned about training that was inconsistent with good medical practice. "The board will follow this up with the college," she said.

The Australian Medical Council accredited education requirements set by colleges, she said, but left the examination of individual courses to the colleges.

A spokeswoman for the RACGP would not comment on the course while it was under investigation. "The RACGP endorses and actively supports immunisation," she said. "Temper tantrums are not a recognised reason for delay of immunisations."

She emphasised there was no link between vaccines and autism and said using Mr Wakefield's research would "constitute serious academic misconduct".


26 May, 2013

Canola: Forgive me while I laugh

The health freaks love canola:  Here's why:

"Canola oil is low in saturated fat and contains both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of 2:1. If consumed, it also reduces Low-density lipoprotein and overall cholesterol levels, and as a significant source of the essential omega-3 fatty acid is associated with reduced all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. It is recognized by many health professional organizations including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American Heart Association. Canola oil has been given a qualified health claim from the United States Food and Drug Administration due to its high levels of cholesterol-lowering fats."  -- Wikipedia

But I wonder how many know that Canola is a genetically modified version of rapeseed invented in Canada  (hence the Can in Canola) only a few years back?  And what about how the crop is processed before it gets to your dinner table?

"Canola oil is made at a processing facility by slightly heating and then crushing the seed. Almost all commercial grade canola oil is then refined using hexane. Finally, the crude oil is refined using water precipitation and organic acid, "bleaching" with clay, and deodorizing using steam distillation.  Approximately 43% of a seed is oil." -- Wikipedia

And what is that dreaded hexane?

It's a CHEMICAL!   "Hexanes are significant constituents of gasoline. They are all colorless liquids at room temperature, with boiling points between 50 and 70 øC, with gasoline-like odor. They are widely used as cheap, relatively safe, largely unreactive, and easily evaporated non-polar solvents."

So canola  gets mixed with a type of gasoline before it gets to your table!  It must be very pesky being a food knowall  -- JR

EU drops olive oil jug ban after public outcry

A European Union ban on the use of unmarked olive oil jugs on restaurant tables has been dropped following a public outcry across Europe.

The climb down overrides an EU decision last week requiring that olive oil "presented at a restaurant table" must be in factory packaged bottles with a tamper-proof "hygienic" nozzle and printed labelling in line with Brussels standards.

In a humiliating U-turn, Dacian Ciolos, the European commissioner for agriculture, admitted that the proposed ban on traditional olive oil jugs, had provoked popular loathing, or "misunderstanding", from the people that he said wanted to protect for their own good.

"It was a measure intended to help consumers, to protect and inform them but it is clear that it cannot attract consumer support," he said.

"As a consequence, I am withdrawing the proposition. I wanted to come here today to demonstrate that I've been very alive to the current debate in the press."

Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, welcomed the U-turn but still faces questions over why the Government did not oppose the ban in Brussels negotiations over the ban last week.

"I'm glad the commission has seen sense and backed down on these arbitrary rules. They would have interfered with businesses, imposed unnecessary costs and taken choice away from consumers. Common sense has prevailed," he said.

The ban on the use of jugs, cruets or bowls to serve olive oil was justified as necessary because of alleged "frequent" fraud in restaurants but commission officials have admitted to The Daily Telegraph that they have no evidence of the practice.

"We don't have any evidence. It is anecdotal and that was enough for the committee," said an official.

The decision has highlighted the bizarre system of Brussels regulation, known as "comitology", where binding legislation is automatically passed into law despite not having majority support among EU countries.

The outlawing of the classic, refillable glass Aceitera jugs or glazed terracotta dipping bowls led to a public outcry and many restaurateurs protested that it would end their freedom to buy olive oil from a small artisan producer or family business in favour of industrial products.

"The criticism was universal and came from consumers and restaurant owner in all EU countries," said the official.

The ban was dropped after hostile press coverage, thousands of complaints from across the EU and criticism from Holland and Germany led Jose Manuel Barroso, the commission president, whose father was a small artisanal olive oil producer, to intervene.


24 May, 2013

Plastic food packaging 'could cause high blood pressure in children'

Anything with such a funny name as phthalates has got to be suspicious!  Be that as it may, publicity seekers have been targeting phthalates for a very long time -- long enough for there to have been many official reviews of the evidence against them -- reviews which find them harmless.  But if you keep doing studies of them over and over again, you are bound to get some "positive" results by chance alone.

And don't forget the study which shows that phthalates IMPROVE male reproductive performance!  LOL

Chemicals found in common plastics could cause high blood pressure in children, according to a new study.

Exposure to the phalates used in food packaging and other items is thought to cause significant metabolic and hormonal abnormalities, especially during early development.

The American scientists who carried out the study claim flooring, plastic cups, beach balls and plastic packaging contain the colourless and odourless toxic additives that are causing a rise in cases of juvenile high blood pressure.

Analysis of nearly 3,000 children by researchers at New York University's Langone Medical Centre, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Washington and Penn State University School of Medicine, points the finger of blame squarely at a common class of pthalates for the first time.

The report, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, said exposure to DEHP (di-2-ethyhexylphthalate), which is often used in industrial food production, is responsible for elevated systolic blood pressure - a measure of pressure in the arteries when the heart beats.

Dr Leonardo Trasande, associate professor of paediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at NYU Langone Medical Centre, said: 'Phthalates can inhibit the function of cardiac cells and cause oxidative stress that compromises the health of arteries but no one has explored the relationship between phthalate exposure and heart health in children.

'We wanted to examine the link between phthalates and childhood blood pressure, in particular given the increase in elevated blood pressure in children and the increasing evidence implicating exposure to environmental chemicals in early development of disease.'

The team only recorded a small rise per child in blood pressure with every three-fold increase in the level of phthalates detected in the children's urine samples, but Dr Tresande says the wider implications of a small rise are significant.

He said: '[The] increment may seem very modest at an individual level, but on a population level such shifts in blood pressure can increase the number of children with elevated blood pressure substantially.

'An explosion in the number of obese people around the world is being blamed on a widespread threat to cardiac health and doctors are seeing an increase in the number of young people suffering from the condition.'

According to Dr Tresande their research shows it is not just bad diets to blame.

He said: 'Obesity is driving the trend but our findings suggest that environmental factors may also be a part of the problem.

'This is important because phthalate exposure can be controlled through regulatory and behavioural interventions.

'Our study underscores the need for policy initiatives that limit exposure to disruptive environmental chemicals, in combination with dietary and behavioural interventions geared toward protecting cardiovascular health.'


'Miracle ingredient' in red wine could help you live a longer and more energetic life  -- if you are an earthworm

It is the perfect excuse to raise a glass to a long and active life. Scientists from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in France have shown that resveratrol, the ‘miracle ingredient’ in red wine, extends lifespan and provides an infusion of energy.

In this case, worms were the beneficiaries but it is thought that a similar technique could help people live longer.

Reservatrol is found in plants such as the Japanese knotweed. The findings, from scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, were published in the Nature journal. They think similar results could be seen in humans

The effects of resveratrol have been studied in various studies.

In mouse and rat experiments it was shown to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory, blood sugar-lowering and other beneficial cardiovascular effects.

In humans studies, resveratrol is shown to be less effective.  Although, in one positive human trial, extremely high doses (3–5 g) of resveratrol were found to significantly lower blood sugar levels.

And with treated worms more energetic, it might be that we can also look forward to sprightly old age.

Researcher Professor Johan Auwerx said: ‘You don’t want to live longer and just sit in front of the television.  We want to have active lives.’

The Swiss researchers began by searching for genes involved in the ageing process.

By studying mice that live for different lengths of time, they hit upon three genes whose activity was key to lifespan.

When the genes only worked at half-power, the animals lived eight months longer, the journal Nature reports.

Professor Auwerx then showed that the genes also regulate longevity in worms.  There the results were even more astonishing – tinkering with the worms’ genes increasing lifespan by up to 80 per cent.

The genes make a protein that, when pumped out in high quantities, cuts lifespan.

With this in mind, Professor Auwerx turned to two widely used antibiotics that block the production of such proteins.

It was found to increase the lives of the worms tested by 60%. The worms were also more active, had greater endurance and healthier muscles

This allowed them to continue to wriggle fiercely when untreated worms had become weary.  At 13-days-old, the onset of adulthood, they moved twice as much as others.

And a week later, when the untreated worms were beginning to show their age, the difference was even more pronounced.

A final set of experiments showed that resveratrol, the ‘miracle ingredient’ in red wine uses the same mechanism to extend life.  However, the effect wasn’t as dramatic.

Professor Auwerx, of the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, said: ‘This research gives us hope not only for increasing longevity, but also for lengthening the period of adult vitality, and doing this with simple drugs as antibiotics.’

While neither long-term antibiotic use or heavy drinking advisable, the key will be to find a safe drug that is just as effective.

The professor said that it may be that such a pill would only need to be taken during a key period of life, such as puberty.

Should it ever hit the market, he believes ‘everyone will be tempted to take it’.

Other potential ‘fountains of youth’ being researched around the world include a drug that made old mice young again.

And a modern, and it is believed, safer, version of thalidomide has shown promise in boosting the odds of a healthy old age.

Some experts say the science is moving so quickly that it will soon be possible to prevent many of ills of old age.

If lives were healthier as well as longer, people could work for longer – or simply make the most of their retirement.

Increasing the number of years of healthy life would also greatly ease health service costs and reduce the burden on families of caring for sick relatives.


23 May, 2013

Pregnant women should up iodine intake to increase child’s IQ

They probably should.  People used to get iodides with their table salt but the war on salt may leave some people deficient.  Low iodides can turn babies into cretins.  Sea salt naturally has iodides in it and other salt is usually "iodized"

Women who are pregnant or planning to have children should ensure they consume the right amount of iodine or risk their child having a low IQ, according to researchers.

A study of more than 1,000 pregnant women found those who consumed lower amounts of iodine, which is absorbed from food and found in milk, dairy products and fish, were more likely to have children with lower IQs and reading abilities.

Iodine is essential for producing hormones made by the thyroid gland, which has a direct effect on the development of the foetal brain.

The study by researchers at Bristol and Surrey universities found two thirds of the 1,040 pregnant women they tested were iodine deficient. These women were more likely to have children with lower IQs, and it was found the lower the iodine the lower the IQ and reading ability.

Professor Margaret Rayman of the University of Surrey, who led the study, said: "Our results clearly show the importance of adequate iodine status during early pregnancy, and emphasise the risk that iodine deficiency can pose to the developing infant, even in a country classified as only mildly iodine deficient."

Researchers have said pregnant women should ensure they get enough iodine by eating dairy products and fish, as well as drinking milk. But they warned against kelp supplements, as they can have ‘excessive levels’ of iodine.

The study, which has been published in The Lancet, used samples from the ‘Children of the 90s’ project, a long term health research project involving 14,000 mothers who enrolled while pregnant during 1991 and 1992. The health and development of their children has been followed ever since.

Dr Sarah Bath, a co-author and registered dietician, said: "Pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should ensure adequate iodine intake; good dietary sources are milk, dairy products and fish. Women who avoid these foods and are seeking alternative iodine sources can consult the iodine fact sheet that we have developed, which is available on the websites of the University of Surrey and the British Dietetic Association.

"Kelp supplements should be avoided as they may have excessive levels of iodine."

An earlier study based in Tasmania, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, showed nine year olds who received insufficient iodine in the womb due to a period of deficiency in the population got lower scores on literacy tests.


Is the EU now just a satire on itself?

The EU’s latest mad ban is revealing, suggesting it doesn’t even trust ordinary people to pour their own olive oil

Is the EU just a long-running satire? Has it been a joke all along? After all, what other explanation could there be for banning olive oil in jugs in restaurants?

From 1 January 2014, restaurants and cafes will be banned from serving oil to diners in small glass jugs or dipping bowls. Instead, the oil will need to be served in pre-sealed, non-refillable bottles that must be disposed of when empty. It’s all in the interests of ‘hygiene’ and ensuring that diners aren’t short-changed by olive oil that has been diluted. Because, of course, that was a major problem. Clearly, it wasn’t good enough that diners might think ‘this olive oil isn’t very good, I might eat somewhere else next time’. No, apparently this non-problem urgently needed an excessive solution.

This wheeze was inspired by Europe’s olive-oil producers. Similar rules have been in place since 2005 in Portugal. Big producers of olive oil - the kind of firms that can afford to produce millions of small, branded bottles - will be delighted by the EU’s ban. However, it will increase costs for restaurateurs, who won’t be able to buy their oil by the barrel anymore and then pour it into a dish or jug. Lots more oil will go to waste in half-used bottles (so much for the EU’s legendary environmental concerns). Artisan olive-oil producers, who won’t want to deal in tiny bottles, will miss out, too. And who will end up coughing up for this regulation? You and me.

If the Portuguese want to indulge in such boneheaded regulation - perhaps they have a real problem on the Algarve with dodgy oil-dealing - that is for them to decide. But there is no merit in foisting such rules upon the rest of Europe. The new rule is so daft that even the Liberal Democrats - long the British branch of the EU fanclub - think it is a bad idea. Leading Lib Dem Danny Alexander, the UK treasury secretary, had to admit the new regulation was ‘pretty silly’.

Alexander defended the EU, however, by arguing that ‘silly rules are not the sole preserve of the European Union’; both Whitehall and local government have got form for pointless red tape, too, he said. That’s true, but why add another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy to the mix; another opportunity for a bunch of clueless bureaucrats to impose their policy obsessions on the rest of us? In an organisation as large as the EU, regulations become like currency, to be exchanged by one interest group with another. You can picture it now: ‘You support us in saying that X food product can only come from our region of France and we’ll support you in saying Y food product can only come from Leicestershire.’ The result? Lots more unnecessary rules imposed by people who are not accountable upon those who must abide by the rules and must pay for the costs.

It’s not just on food. For example, perverse, health-harming regulations on tobacco products are on their way, too (see The new EU directive: quit smoking or die). Or take the rules on internet ‘cookies’ - small files that identify a website user as unique in some way, store password information, and so on. EU rules in force since last year demand that websites ask you to accept these small files before continuing to use the site. Since cookies normally have little or no impact on privacy, and may even be crucial to how a website works, this is an unnecessary cost on web-based businesses and a constant irritation to website users.

These are fairly trivial examples, as it goes, but they do bring to the fore two political principles that seem alien to the EU but which the rest of us should stand up for.Thefirst principle is that individuals who make rules and regulations that impact on a society should be accountable to the people who must follow those rules - for example, through the ballot box - and should have to justify the cost of such rules against all the other demands on society’s resources. The second principle is: when in doubt, don’t regulate. We need fewer laws, not more. A consumer, a business owner or a website user is far better placed to make these micro-judgements for himself, rather than having an ‘expert’ in a committee room deciding things on his behalf.

It would be nice to be able to contrast the pen-pushing petty authoritarianism of the EU with the vibrant democracy in Europe’s individual nation states. But sadly, we can’t. Alexander is quite right that Whitehall is just as full of civil servants with bees in their bonnets about one issue or another. No doubt, citizens in other EU countries tear their hair out over the latest stupid rule imposed by their elites, too. But at least the final say on any petty new national or local law will be in the hands of an elected politician, not a political appointee like an EU commissioner. That relationship with the country’s population is at least some check on the dumber and more draconian ideas that get floated these days.

What really underpins this endless meddling is a view of individuals as being too vulnerable to act in their own interests. To the rescue, we are told, comes the state, micromanaging our lives. In order to stem the tide of this relentless regulation, we need to stand up for ourselves as autonomous individuals capable of deciding how we want to live for ourselves. As it stands, the EU has such a rancid view of its citizens that we can’t even be trusted to pour our own olive oil.


22 May, 2013

Should you be taking vitamin B to protect against Alzheimer's?


For as long as he can remember, John Hough has suffered from a poor memory. ‘I hated learning poems at school — after a few lines it had all gone,’ says the 83-year-old retired electrical engineer from Banbury.

His memory only worsened with age. ‘He’s always been forgetful,’ says Kathleen, his 80-year-old wife, who just happens to have a photographic memory. But, increasingly, she was finding herself having to remind him about things.

‘We have had our differences over memory,’ she adds diplomatically. But both are firmly agreed on one thing: the letter five years ago inviting John to take part in a trial to test whether high doses of several B vitamins could protect his ageing memory was a godsend.

For although Kathleen, a retired university lecturer in physiology, still has to remind her husband to take his vitamins, she is happy to do so ‘because I really noticed the difference when he stopped taking them’.

This has been reinforced by research published yesterday in the top journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which showed that people in the trial who got the B vitamins were almost entirely protected from the brain shrinkage suffered by those who only got a placebo pill.

A rapidly shrinking brain is one of the signs of a raised risk for Alzheimer’s. Those taking the B vitamins had 90 per cent less shrinkage in their brains.

And the research showed the areas of the brain that were protected from damage are almost exactly the same Alzheimer’s typically destroys. This ‘Alzheimer’s footprint’ includes areas that control how we learn, remember and organise our thoughts, precisely those that gradually atrophy as the ghastly disease progresses.

‘I’ve never seen results from brain scans showing this level of protection,’ says Paul Thompson, professor of neurology and head of the Imaging Genetics Center at UCLA School of Medicine, California.

He’s a leading expert in brain imaging, and his centre has the largest database of brain scans in the world. ‘We study the brain effects of all sorts of lifestyle changes — alcohol reduction, exercising more, learning to handle stress, weight loss — and a good result would be a 25 per cent reduction in shrinkage,’ he says.

In other words, the 90 per cent reduction seems really impressive. So, could the simple answer to memory problems be to take B vitamins?

The new research — part funded by the Government’s Medical Research Council — was based on data from the trial in which John took part. This was run for two years by OPTIMA (Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing) at Oxford University, and involved 271 people with early signs of a fading memory, known as mild cognitive impairment. This can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s.

The study was designed to discover whether giving high doses of three B vitamins — B6, B12 and folic acid — could slow the rate at which the participants’ memory worsened.

As well as giving the participants standard memory and cognitive tests, the researchers scanned some of the volunteers’ brains at the beginning and end of the study to see what effect, if any, there was on the rate these were shrinking.

We all lose brain cells as we get older, normally about half a per cent a year. If you have mild cognitive impairment, that rises to  1 per cent, and when Alzheimer’s sets in, the atrophy speeds up to 2½ per cent.

Why do experts think B vitamins might be the answer? The link is that they effectively help keep in check our levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. Normally we don’t have much of this because it is quickly turned into two important brain chemicals, including acetylcholine, which is essential for laying down memories.

There have been lots of studies showing that Alzheimer’s patients have unusually high levels of homocysteine in their bloodstream. They also have low levels of acetylcholine (in fact, the most common Alzheimer’s drug works by boosting acetylcholine).

So it seems that the usual conversion of homocysteine into acetylcholine is going wrong. And that’s where the  B vitamins are thought to come in.

Older people are particularly likely to be deficient in these nutrients. That’s because, as we age, our bodies become less good at getting it from food, and certain widely-used drugs, such as proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux, make the extraction process even more difficult.

So the thinking is, boost B vitamins and you boost the conversion of homocysteine into acetylcholine. Another theory is that high levels of homocysteine may actually trigger brain shrinkage.

A further reason B vitamins could help is given by Professor Teodoro Bottiglieri Baylor, at the Institute of Metabolic Disease in Dallas, Texas. ‘The link between brain deterioration — memory loss, cognitive deficits — and B vitamin deficiency is standard neurology textbook stuff,’ he says.

‘You get it with various disorders that prevent B vitamins functioning properly, such as severe alcoholism and pernicious anaemia.’

However, the Oxford trial was the first time the vitamin B theory had been tested in a proper trial. When the initial results were published in the leading journal PLoS ONE in 2010, two findings attracted a lot of attention.

First, the vitamins appeared to halve shrinkage across the whole brain compared with the brains of the people taking the placebo pill. But second, and very  significantly, the vitamins only benefited people who had a high homocysteine level — over 13 (a healthy level is said to be between about seven and ten).

‘It was a useful finding,’ says David Smith, professor emeritus of pharmacology at Oxford, and lead researcher on the trial. ‘It showed you’ll only benefit from the vitamins if your homocysteine level is high, but it also told us that when it rises above a healthy level it can damage brain cells.’

But the trial didn’t answer an important question: Does brain shrinkage make you lose your memory? It sounds very plausible that it should, and tests showed that the memory of people getting the vitamins stopped getting worse. However, the researchers couldn’t say for certain this was because their brains weren’t shrinking as quickly.

That’s where the latest study comes in. It involved a much more sophisticated analysis of the brain scans from the first study, by a new team from the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Centre at Oxford.

This analysis showed that the protection against shrinkage was even more effective than reported  previously — not just halving it, but reducing it by 90 per cent.

The old study had looked at the whole brain; this one only looked at the effect in the Alzheimer’s footprint and found that in there, just where help was needed, the vitamins had an even greater impact.

The new study also made the connection between less shrinkage and greater cognitive improvement.

A new statistical analysis established that slowing the rate of brain  atrophy was directly responsible for slowing the rate at which the memory deteriorates.

The studies make a clear connection between too much homocysteine and poorer memory. The next step might be for homocysteine to be a new biomarker for Alzheimer’s risk, tested for and lowered if necessary.

‘The study needs to be repeated because there’s a lot to learn about why homocysteine is damaging and whether lowering it can stop people with memory problems progressing to Alzheimer’s,’ says Professor Thompson. ‘But if the results survive retesting, homocysteine level could be a useful biomarker for Alzheimer’s risk.’

So could B vitamins stop you developing Alzheimer’s? ‘We can’t tell from this research because it didn’t go on long enough,’ says Professor Smith. ‘It would cost about £6 million to do the study to prove it, but we haven’t been able to get the funding. Surely it would be well worth it.’

Dr Gwenaelle Douaud, an imaging and neuroscience expert and leader of the new study, says: ‘Slowing the progression is the Holy Grail of Alzheimer’s research.

‘We know some people with mild cognitive impairment will go on to develop Alzheimer’s and the best marker of raised risk at the moment is the amount of shrinkage in an area called the medial temporal lobe. This is right in the middle of the Alzheimer’s footprint — the area B vitamins protect.’

Professor David Smith believes it would be wrong not to offer high-dose vitamins to someone with memory problems and raised homocysteine. His published papers state that he is named as an inventor on two patents held by the University of Oxford on the use of folic acid to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

But Robin Jacoby, emeritus professor of old-age psychiatry at Oxford, who was also involved in the first study, cautions: ‘As a medical scientist I wouldn’t advise anyone to take high doses of B vitamins yet to protect their brain without first consulting their GP..

‘There is a link between high levels of folic acid and cancer, although the risk is low.’

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, also doesn’t think the evidence is good enough yet. ‘Until further trials have confirmed these findings, we would recommend people think about a healthy and balanced diet along with controlling weight and blood pressure, as well as taking exercise,’ he says.


Brain-boosting Mediterranean diet could slow down the onset of dementia more affectively than low-fat alternative

The three groups studied were virtually equal in mental performance so any effect is a slight one

Switching to a Mediterranean diet can boost and preserve brain power in old age more effectively than a low-fat diet, researchers claim.

Just six years of eating like the Spanish and Italians could also lower an individual’s risk of developing dementia, a study reveals.

The diet enjoyed by countries in southern Europe has long been thought to combat heart disease and cancer because it is rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains and olive oil.  But it is now thought to offer further benefits, such as improved brain function.

Those eating more olive oil or nuts gained higher scores when their memory, attention span and abstract thinking was tested, scientists found.

Their research involved 522 men and women aged between 55 and 80 regarded as being at a high risk of heart disease, either from type 2 diabetes or a combination of factors including blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, family history and smoking.

Two groups were allocated a diet with either added olive oil or mixed nuts, while a third was told to follow low-fat nutrition that is normally recommended to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

After an average of 6.5 years, they were assessed for signs of declining brain power using a range of mental tests. Of the 60 who developed signs of brain impairment – an early indicator of dementia – 23 had followed the low-fat regime, while 18 had taken olive oil and 19 were on the nut diet.

A further 35 people developed dementia – 17 of which were on the low fat diet, 12 on olive oil and six on nuts.

Those on Mediterranean  diets also achieved significantly higher average mental test scores compared with those on low fat meals.

The findings held true irrespective of factors such as age, family history of dementia, education, exercise levels, blood vessel health and depression.

Researchers from the University of Navarra, Spain, who published the findings online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, claim it is the first long-term trial to look at the impact of the Mediterranean diet on brain power.

Study leader Professor Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez said: ‘Our ?ndings support increasing evidence on the protective effects of the Mediterranean diet on cognitive function.’

Olive oil is known to contain omega-6 fats – ‘healthy’ polyunsaturates that can combat conditions such as heart disease and arthritis and help reduce blood pressure.

Other research has also linked olive oil to lower rates of the bone-weakening condition osteoporosis in the Mediterranean, where people also eat less red meat and dairy products, compared with northern Europe.


21 May, 2013

Depression increases stroke risk in women

Maybe the ones concerned were in poor health anyway and that made them depressed?

Middle-aged women who suffer from depression are almost twice as likely to suffer a stroke, according to a new study.

The 12-year Australian study involved more than 10,000 women, aged between 47 and 52.

Researchers said it was unclear why such a strong link between depression and stroke had been found, but that it was possible that inflammatory and immunological responses to depression could have an impact on blood vessels.

The study found that depressed women had a 2.4 times increased risk of stroke, compared to those who weren’t depressed, which reduced to 1.9 times the risk when other factors increasing stroke risk were excluded.

Study author Doctor Caroline Jackson, an epidemiologist in the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Australia, said: “When treating women, doctors need to recognise the serious nature of poor mental health and what effects it can have in the long term.

“Current guidelines for stroke prevention tend to overlook the potential role of depression.”

The research is the first large-scale study in which scientists examined the association between depression and stroke in younger middle-aged women.

The researchers said that although the increased stroke risk associated with depression was large, the absolute risk of stroke is still fairly low for women of that age.

About 1.5 per cent of all women in the study suffered a stroke.

Dr Jackson said similar results could be expected among European and American women.

She added: “We may need more targeted approaches to prevent and treat depression among younger women, because it could have a much stronger impact on stroke for them now rather than later in life.”

The findings were published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Dr Clare Walton, from charity the Stroke Association said: “Past research has suggested that depression may increase your risk of stroke and this study adds further evidence to this. People with depression may be less motivated to maintain good health or take medications correctly which could put them at greater risk. However, it’s very difficult to determine whether one directly causes the other.”


Study: Marijuana causes “complete remission” of Crohn’s Disease

Sounds great

Marijuana – scientific name “cannabis” – performed like a champ in the first-ever placebo-controlled trial of the drug to treat Crohn’s Disease, also known as inflammatory bowel disease.

The disease of the digestive tract afflicts 400,000 – 600,000 people in North America alone causing abdominal pain, diarrhea (which can be bloody), severe vomiting, weight loss, as well as secondary skin rashes, arthritis, inflammation of the eye, tiredness, and lack of concentration.

Smoking pot caused a “complete remission” of Crohn’s disease compared to placebo in half the patients who lit up for eight weeks, according to clinical trial data to be published the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Researchers at Israel’s Meir Medical Center took 21 people with intractable, severe Crohn’s disease and gave 11 of them two joints a day for eight weeks. “The standardized cannabis cigarettes” contained 23 percent THC and 0.5 percent CBD (cannabidiol). (Such marijuana is available on dispensary shelves in San Francisco, Oakland, and other cities that have regulated access to the drug.) The other ten subjects smoked placebo cigarettes containing no active cannabinoids.

Investigators reported that smoking weed caused a “complete remission” of Crohn’s Disease in five of the 11 subjects. Another five of the eleven test subjects saw their Crohn’s Disease symptoms cut in half. Furthermore, “subjects receiving cannabis reported improved appetite and sleep, with no significant side effects.”

The study is the first placebo-controlled clinical trial to assess the consumption of cannabis for the treatment of Crohn’s, notes NORML. All of the patients had intractable forms of the disease and did not respond to conventional treatments. Still, the United States government claims that marijuana is as dangerous as heroin and has no medical use. U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag is waging a war on safe access to medical cannabis in the Bay Area.


20 May, 2013

Fish oil 'can restore the brain after junk food': Diets rich in omega-3s play key role in reversing damage caused by high fats (?)

This is just the latest obeisance in the fish oil religion.  They have no new data, just a literature survey.  As computer people say, Garbage in, garbage out

Fish oil can counter the negative effect junk food has on the brain, say scientists.

More than a decade of research has shown that high-fat diets can impact the brain by disrupting 'neurogenesis', a process that generates new nerve cells.

Now University of Liverpool researchers have discovered that diets rich in omega-3s, such as fish oil, can prevent these negative effects by stimulating the area of the brain that controls feeding, learning and memory.

The team from the University's Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease originally set out to look at research from across to world to see whether the data suggested that omega-3s had a role to play in aiding weight loss.

However, although data from the 185 research papers indicated fish oils do not have a direct impact on this process, it found that they play a significant role in reversing the damage high fats can cause the brain.

Researcher Dr Lucy Pickavance explained: 'Body weight is influenced by many factors, and some of the most important of these are the nutrients we consume.

'Excessive intake of certain macronutrients, the refined sugars and saturated fats found in junk food, can lead to weight gain, disrupt metabolism and even affect mental processing.

'These changes can be seen in the brain's structure, including its ability to generate new nerve cells, potentially linking obesity to neurodegenerative diseases.

'Research, however, has suggested that omega-3 fish oils can reverse or even prevent these effects. We wanted to investigate the literature on this topic to determine whether there is evidence to suggest that omega-3s might aid weight loss by stimulating particular brain processes.'

The research papers showed that on high-fat diets hormones that are usually secreted from body tissues into the circulation after eating - which protect neurons and stimulate their growth - are prevented from passing into the brain by increased circulation of inflammatory molecules and a type of fat called triglycerides.

Molecules that stimulate nerve growth are also reduced.

But it appears - in studies with animal models - that omega-3s restore normal function by interfering with the production of these inflammatory molecules, suppressing triglycerides, and returning these nerve growth factors to normal.

Dr Pickavance added: 'Fish oils don't appear to have a direct impact on weight loss, but they may take the brakes off the detrimental effects of some of the processes triggered in the brain by high-fat diets.

'They seem to mimic the effects of calorie restrictive diets and including more oily fish or fish oil supplements in our diets could certainly be a positive step forward for those wanting to improve their general health.'


Medical use of Cannabis and MS

Like many of those facing a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, Barry Rudd was willing to try anything to be well again.

The property developer from Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, had been an avid three-times-a-week gym-goer when, in 2004, he was given the devastating news.

Just 53 at the time, he had started feeling tired, and his foot began dragging when he walked. After being referred to a neurologist in June 2005, the diagnosis was finally given: primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

One of the more uncommon forms of the disease, affecting only 15 per cent of sufferers, it causes a steady decline as symptoms worsen.

The condition, in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system, slowly robs sufferers of their balance, movement and speech, causing stiffness, numbness, insomnia, pain and exhaustion.

There was little doctors could do to help Barry and he was drawn by desperation into the murky world of alternative medicine – paying more than £20,000 for bogus treatments in Holland and Poland that had no effect on his condition.

Finally, in late 2010 he saw an article online about a new drug called Sativex. The oral spray is derived from the cannabis plant – but without any of the associated dangers or side effects – and works by dampening down the over-activity in the nervous system that damages the muscles, inhibiting movement.

‘I mentioned it to my neurologist, who said, “You can’t get it in this area. If you want it you have to buy it privately.” So he gave me a private prescription. I went to my local chemist who charged me £550.’

The supply lasted just six weeks, but the effects were almost immediate. ‘Within a few days I could feel the benefit and after a couple of weeks my symptoms were almost completely gone. I’d say I was 80 per cent better,’ says Barry.

But, unable to get an NHS prescription, after three months Barry could no longer afford the treatment. His symptoms flooded back. To add to his misery, he found that a few miles away at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, MS patients with symptoms similar to his are being prescribed the drug.

According to Dr Willy Notcutt, consultant in pain management at James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth, Sativex can not only alleviate existing problems but could hold back the progression of MS.

‘Sativex is licensed only for the relief of spasticity [tightness in the muscles that affect movement] and found effective in half of cases,’ he says. ‘Many patients have discovered what Barry did: it also relieves other symptoms, such as chronic insomnia.’

A major review of trials last December concluded there was insufficient evidence to warrant Sativex’s routine use with MS, yet Dr Notcutt is convinced of its effectiveness.

‘We found that patients have substantially improved sleep,’ he says. ‘Studies on animals have shown some reduction in disease progression. We know it has an effect on protecting the nervous system.’

The problems have arisen because of the way certain clinical commissioning groups (CCGs – the bodies that have replaced primary care trusts) do their sums. A single bottle costing £125 will contain 90 sprays.

The drug has not yet been assessed by the NHS guidance body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence – which means funding decisions are not uniform across CCGs.

The result is that it is not being prescribed widely. Earlier this year, British charity the MS Society found that just two in 100 patients were using a symptom-reducing treatment such as Sativex.

Laura Weir, Head of Policy and Campaigns at the MS Society, says: ‘We know that Sativex is not being prescribed in some areas and in other areas it is. We think this is down to CCGs making their own decisions at a local level.’

In 2011 the Midlands Therapeutic Review and Advisory Committee – an independent advisory group that provides guidance on pharmaceutical treatments in the West Midlands – recommended against prescribing Sativex, stating there was ‘inadequate evidence for efficacy and/or safety’.

Weir insists: ‘Their decision, which has triggered similar ones elsewhere, is based on inaccurate analysis of the data, and on the cost impact of the treatment rather than cost effectiveness. We wrote to them to highlight this but the committee has not reviewed the policy.

‘Prescription rates for Sativex in the UK are low. It is a licensed treatment for MS and has undergone extensive clinical testing that found it to be safe and effective. We strongly believe eligible people should be given the opportunity to try treatments that could benefit them.’

Barry turned to a nurse for advice. ‘She told me other patients buy cannabis and mix it into cakes.’

He refuses to consider this option. ‘If there’s a drug that’s legal – Sativex – and that works for me, why can’t I get it on the NHS? The future for me looks grim.’

Dr Notcutt is equally angry. He says: ‘When you find patients, as I have, whose lives are transformed by this drug you’re left wondering: are we prepared as a society to leave people in often agonising pain? Or do we provide them with a medicine that might help them?’


19 May, 2013

Men who take prescription painkillers are 50% more likely to develop erectile dysfunction

Men who regularly take prescription painkillers have an increased risk of developing erectile dysfunction, according to a new study.

Researchers found that regularly taking opioids, including codeine, increased a man’s risk of the condition.

The study, published in the journal Spine, revealed that 19 per cent of men who took high-dose opioids for at least four months developed ED.  In comparison, seven per cent of men who do not take opioids suffer from ED.

Therefore, people taking opioids are more than 50 per cent more likely to develop ED than those who are not taking the medication.

The most commonly used prescription opioids are hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine.

The study of 11,000 men with back pain also showed that men over the age of 60 are much more likely to develop ED than younger men are.

‘Men who take opioid pain medications for an extended period of time have the highest risk of ED,’ said lead author Richard Deyo, investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Centre for Health Research and Professor of Evidence-based Family Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University.

He added: ‘This doesn't mean that these medications cause ED, but the association is something patients and clinicians should be aware of when deciding if opioids should be used to treat back pain.

‘There is no question that for some patients opioid use is appropriate, but there is also increasing evidence that long-term use can lead to addiction, fatal overdoses, sleep apnea, falls in the elderly, reduced hormone production, and now erectile dysfunction.’

Researchers found that age was the factor most significantly associated with receiving ED prescriptions. Men aged between 60 and 69 were 14 times more likely to receive prescriptions for ED medication than men aged 18 to 29.

Depression and use of sedative hypnotics like benzodiazepines also increased the likelihood that a man would develop ED.


Coffee is more than just a hangover pick-me-up as it also fights the effects of alcohol

This relies on self-report so is rather shaky

It is the perfect pick-me-up for the morning after the night before.  Now new research shows that a mug of coffee can do more for a bleary-eyed reveller than simply lift a hangover.

Finnish scientists have found that a steady stream of the black stuff can offset some of the harmful effects of alcohol too.

Five or more cups of coffee a day can slash levels of an enzyme known to be a precursor to liver damage, heart disease and diabetes by up to 50 per cent, especially in men.

Last night, experts welcomed the findings. Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said: ‘Many people do tend to reach for a coffee after a night out drinking and here is evidence of its beneficial effects.

‘Of course, you should try to avoid the situation of having too much alcohol in the first place but the five-cups-a-day message is worth bearing in mind. 

‘The next step is for a large-scale study to be undertaken in the UK too so the healing effects of coffee can be proven even closer to home.’

Regular alcohol consumption is known to increase levels in the body of GGT, an enzyme which is a risk factor in a range of illnesses.

Academics at Tampere University and Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare studied nearly 19,000 people over a decade.  They quizzed them on their health, medical history and intake of alcohol and coffee and measured their levels of GGT.

Their report, published in the journal Alcohol And Alcoholism, concludes: ‘Consumption of over 280g of ethanol per week [13.5 pints of beer or 3.7 bottles of wine] was found to lead to an approximate threefold increase in GGT activities when compared with the corresponding group of abstainers.

‘Regular consumption of five or more cups of coffee per day in this subpopulation was in turn associated with an approximate 50 per cent reduction in GGT activities.

‘Taken together, our findings suggest that high intake of coffee leads to lower GGT levels in heavy alcohol consumers, particularly, among men.’

Professor Roger Williams of the Foundation for Liver Research in London said: ‘Past research has shown that certain of the organic chemicals in coffee have been found to have a favourable effect on the processes of liver injury and I imagine that is what is being shown in the heavy drinkers here.’

And, last night, the coffee industry claimed the beverage is now losing its reputation for giving drinkers nothing more than a caffeine rush.

Dr Euan Paul of the British Coffee Association added: ‘It is one of the most heavily researched products in the world today.

‘Other scientific studies have shown that four to five cups per day may be associated with other health benefits, such as reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

‘All of this contributes to the growing body of evidence that coffee, when drunk in moderation, is safe and part of a healthy diet.’


17 May, 2013

Being a boy is NOT a mental illness

It's normal for a boy to be always running and to try to climb every tree he sees

Drinking just one can of fizzy drink a day increases the risk of painful kidney stones by a QUARTER

The usual epidemiological rubbish.  Poor people drink more Coke and also have worse health. The Coke does nothing.  It's just a poverty marker

Drinking a can of fizzy drink a day could increase the risk of kidney stones by almost a quarter, new research shows. The study found that drinking sugar-sweetened drinks makes the painful stones more likely to develop.

Other drinks - such as coffee, tea and orange juice - reduced the risk, the research by Brigham and Women's Hospital, in Boston, U.S., found.

Dr Gary Curhan said in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology: ‘Our study found that the relation between fluid intake and kidney stones may be dependent on the type of beverage consumed.

‘We found that higher consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks was associated with a higher incidence of kidney stones.’

About three in 20 British men and one in 20 women develop a kidney stone at some stage in their life, and they are often advised to drink more fluids to prevent them reforming.

But Dr Curhan said the new study shows some drinks may be more beneficial than others.

His team studied data from 194,095 patients over an eight year period.

They found that those who consumed one or more sugar-sweetened cola servings per day had a 23 per cent higher chance of developing kidney stones compared with those participants consuming less than one serving per week.

This was true for consuming sugar-sweetened non-cola drinks as well, such as punch.

They also found that some beverages, such as coffee, tea and orange juice, were associated with a lower risk of stone formation.

Co-author, Dr Pietro Manuel Ferraro, of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome, said: ‘Our prospective study confirms that some beverages are associated with a lower risk of kidney stone formation, whereas others are associated with a higher risk.

‘Although higher total fluid intake reduces the risk of stone formation, this information about individual beverages may be useful for general practitioners seeking to implement strategies to reduce stone formation in their patients.’


16 May, 2013

How we start being 'fattist' at four: Study finds children would not think of overweight person as a potential friend

This very early emergence of a dislike for fat is consistent with it being genetically inherited.  Fat cavemen could not run fast so were poor hunters and were scorned for that.  The "war on obesity" can be seen then as following an inherited emotional reflex, not any rational judgment.  Only thus can we explain that the war continues even though we now know that  people of middling weight live the longest.  An alleged health crusade is nothing of the sort

They struggle to read or even tie their shoelaces.  But four-year-old children have already learnt to dislike fat people.

A study of 126 boys and girls who had just started school showed they were loath to think of an overweight story book character as a potential friend.

However, they had no qualms about ‘befriending’ the same character when he was of normal weight or disabled.

The Leeds University researchers said it seems that even very young children have picked up on the prejudice against fat people that pervades society.

Professor Andrew Hill read boys and girls who aged between four and six one of three versions of a specially-commissioned children’s book.

The story described a group of children and what happened when Toby, their ‘really naughty’ cat, got stuck in a tree.

In each case, the storyline was the same.  However, the pictures varied, with Alfie, the main character, depicted as being of normal weight, overweight or disabled.

The schoolchildren, who were in reception class and year one, were then asked to rate Alfie’s attributes.

Fat Alfie was less likely to win a race, do well at school, be happy with his looks and get invited to parties than normal-weight Alfie.

The Alfie who was in a wheelchair was also marked down but not to the same extent.

Most tellingly, hardly any of the children said they’d want fat Alfie as a friend.

Only one of the 43 children read the fat Alfie version of the book chose him as a potential pal.

A female version of the story produced a similar result, with just two of 30 children saying they’d want to play with fat Alfina.

The results of the study, the first to show that children of such a young age stigmatise those who are fat, were presented at European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool.

Professor Hill said: ‘This research confirms young children’s awareness of the huge societal interest in body size.

‘It shows that by school entry age, UK children have taken on board the negativity associated with fatness and report its penalties in terms of appearance, school activities and socially.

‘This negativity was shared by another visibly different characterisation, a child in a wheelchair, but to a far smaller extent.

‘But there was some evidence that older children expressed more negative views.’

He said that with parents of obese children saying their youngsters are already socially isolated at the age of five, such views could underpin weight-related bullying and victimisation.

The professor said that he believes the youngsters are picking up on a prejudice towards obesity that is all around them, from the opinions of their parents to TV shows which ‘ridicule’ the fat.

He added: ‘I think we have an underlying social commentary about weight and morals and that the morality of people is based on their shape.

‘I think that is very powerful and kids are sensitive to it.’

Professor John Wilding, of the UK Association for the study of Obesity, said: ‘I think it matters because we know that the social stigma associated with weight problems is quite significant.

‘It is reflected in reduced employment opportunities and all sorts of other aspects of life.

‘If these stereotypes are starting in childhood, it is going to be very hard to reverse them.

‘I guess we need to think about how to change that in society.’


No Benefit Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet

Nasty of me to say it but I'll say it anyway:  "I told you so"

In a report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by the government says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines.

Those levels, 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, or a little more than half a teaspoon of salt, were supposed to prevent heart attacks and strokes in people at risk, including anyone older than 50, blacks and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease — groups that make up more than half of the American population.

Some influential organizations, including the American Heart Association, have said that everyone, not just those at risk, should aim for that very low sodium level. The heart association reaffirmed that position in an interview with its spokesman on Monday, even in light of the new report.

But the new expert committee, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine at the behest of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there was no rationale for anyone to aim for sodium levels below 2,300 milligrams a day. The group examined new evidence that had emerged since the last such report was issued, in 2005.

“As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee and a professor of public health at the University of Pennsylvania. He explained that the possible harms included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death.

The committee was not asked to specify an optimal amount of sodium and did not make any recommendations about how much people should consume. Dr. Strom said people should not eat too much salt, but he also said that the data on the health effects of sodium were too inconsistent for the committee to say what the upper limit of sodium consumption should be.

Until about 2006, almost all studies on salt and health outcomes relied on the well-known fact that blood pressure can drop slightly when people eat less salt. From that, and from other studies linking blood pressure to risks of heart attacks and strokes, researchers created models showing how many lives could be saved if people ate less salt.

The United States dietary guidelines, based on the 2005 Institute of Medicine report, recommend that the general population aim for sodium levels of 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams a day because those levels will not raise blood pressure. The average sodium consumption in the United States, and around the world, is about 3,400 milligrams a day, according to the Institute of Medicine — an amount that has not changed in decades.

But more recently, researchers began looking at the actual consequences of various levels of salt consumption, as found in rates of heart attacks, strokes and death, not just blood pressure readings. Some of what they found was troubling.

One 2008 study the committee examined, for example, randomly assigned 232 Italian patients with aggressively treated moderate to severe congestive heart failure to consume either 2,760 or 1,840 milligrams of sodium a day, but otherwise to consume the same diet. Those consuming the lower level of sodium had more than three times the number of hospital readmissions — 30 as compared with 9 in the higher-salt group — and more than twice as many deaths — 15 as compared with 6 in the higher-salt group.

Another study, published in 2011, followed 28,800 subjects with high blood pressure ages 55 and older for 4.7 years and analyzed their sodium consumption by urinalysis. The researchers reported that the risks of heart attacks, strokes, congestive heart failure and death from heart disease increased significantly for those consuming more than 7,000 milligrams of sodium a day and for those consuming fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day.

There are physiological consequences of consuming little sodium, said Dr. Michael H. Alderman, a dietary sodium expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who was not a member of the committee. As sodium levels plunge, triglyceride levels increase, insulin resistance increases, and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system increases. Each of these factors can increase the risk of heart disease.

“Those are all bad things,” Dr. Alderman said. “A health effect can’t be predicted by looking at one physiological consequence. There has to be a net effect.”

Medical and public health experts responded to the new assessment of the evidence with elation or concern, depending on where they stand in the salt debates.

“What they have done is earth-shattering,” Dr. Alderman said. “They have changed the paradigm of this issue. Until now it was all about blood pressure. Now they say it is more complicated.” The report, he predicted, “will have a big impact.”

But Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that has taken a strong position against excessive salt consumption, worried that the public would get the wrong message.  “It would be a shame if this report convinced people that salt doesn’t matter,” Ms. Liebman said.

The American Heart Association agrees with her. Dr. Elliott Antman, a spokesman for the association and a professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital n Boston, said the association remained concerned about the large amount of sodium in processed foods, which makes it almost impossible for most Americans to cut back. People should aim for 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, he said.

“The American Heart Association is not changing its position,” Dr. Antman said. The association rejects the Institute of Medicine’s conclusions because the studies on which they were based had methodological flaws, he said. The heart association’s advice to consume 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, he added, is based on epidemiological data and studies that assessed the effects of sodium consumption on blood pressure.

The Institute of Medicine committee said it was well aware of flaws in many of the studies of sodium, especially ones that the previous Institute of Medicine committee relied on for its 2005 recommendations. Much of that earlier research, committee members said, looked for correlations between what people ate and their health. But people with different diets can differ in many ways that are hard to account for — for example, the amount of exercise they get. And relying on people’s recall of how much salt they consumed can be unreliable.

Even the ways previous studies defined high and low sodium consumption varied widely.

“In one study, it was high if it hit 2,700 milligrams a day. In another study, it was high if it hit 10,000 milligrams a day,” said Cheryl A. M. Anderson, a committee member who is an associate professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

The committee said it found more recent studies, published since 2005, that were more careful and rigorous. Much of the new research found adverse effects on the lower end of the sodium scale and none showed a benefit from consuming very little salt.

Although the advice to restrict sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day has been enshrined in dietary guidelines, it never came from research on health outcomes, Dr. Strom said. Instead, it is the lowest sodium consumption can go if a person eats enough food to get sufficient calories and nutrients to live on. As for the 2,300-milligram level, that was the highest sodium levels could go before blood pressure began inching up.

In its 2005 report, the Institute of Medicine’s committee said that sodium consumption between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams a day would not raise blood pressure.

That range, Dr. Strom said, “was taken by other groups and set in stone.” Those other groups included the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, which formulated dietary guidelines in 2005.

But those dietary guidelines will soon be revised, with new recommendations to be issued in 2015.


15 May, 2013

When breast ISN'T best: Feeding babies both formula and breast milk immediately after birth can help mothers breastfeed for longer

Feeding underweight newborns formula milk alongside breast milk can help mothers to breastfeed for significantly longer, a controversial new study has found.

NHS guidance states that women should exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a child’s life.

However, the new study has found that a combination of formula milk and breast milk can help both the mother and baby persevere with breastfeeding.

The research found that 79 per cent of babies who were fed formula alongside breast milk in the first few days of life were still breastfeeding three months later.

In contrast, only 42 per cent of babies who did not receive the milk formula were still being breastfed at three-months-old.

The study suggests that if women feel able to give their babies some formula milk alongside breast milk they are more likely to persevere with breastfeeding.

It is thought that many women give up breastfeeding completely in favour of formula milk because they are worried they are not producing enough milk.

Researchers at the University of California analysed 40 underweight babies aged between two-days-old and four-days-old.

The babies were randomly assigned either early limited formula (ELF), which consisted of one-third of a pound of infant formula, followed by breastfeeding, or breast milk alone.

The formula was stopped when the mothers began producing mature milk, after a few days.

After a week, all the babies in both groups were still breastfeeding, but only one in ten of the ELF babies had been given formula in the last 24 hours, compared with half of the control group.

Three months later, the ELF babies were almost twice as likely to still receive breast milk.

Dr Valerie Flaherman, at the University of California, San Francisco, said: ‘Formula use has the potential to be a slippery slope to breastfeeding discontinuation, but ELF is a different way to envision using it.

‘Rather than giving full bottles of formula that make it hard for the baby to return to the breast, ELF is a small amount of supplementation with a clear end point that alleviates some of the stress new mothers feel about producing enough milk.’

She said new mothers whose babies lose weight can be put off breastfeeding because they believe their child is not receiving enough food and is hungry, or simply fussy.

She said: ‘This study suggests that giving those babies a little early formula may ease those concerns and enable them to feel confident continuing to breastfeed.

‘Based on our findings, clinicians may wish to consider recommending the temporary use of small amounts of formula to new mums whose babies are experiencing significant early weight loss.’

The NHS, which pushes a ‘breast is best’ agenda, carries no advice on its website for combining formula milk with breastfeeding.

Instead, it suggests ways for women to tackle breastfeeding problems so they can continue with it, saying: ‘The solution is as simple as changing your baby’s position or feeding them more often.’

The website states: ‘Exclusive breastfeeding (giving your baby breast milk only) is recommended for around the first six months of your baby’s life.

‘After that, giving your baby breast milk alongside other food will help them continue to grow and develop.  ‘Every day you breastfeed makes a difference to you and your baby.’

Breastfeeding is associated with a range of health benefits, including reducing the risk of infections and allergies, and provides the right balance of nutrients to make babies stronger.

Yesterday, critics were cautious about the results of the survey.

Dr James Taylor, of the University of Washington Medical Center’s Newborn Nursery, said: ‘The results of this study are provocative and challenge conventional wisdom.

‘It is crucial that we have more randomised controlled trials on interventions to increase breastfeeding rather than relying on heavily confounded observational studies or biased expert opinion.’


The shockwaves that can cure erectile dysfunction

Now that there is a report in an acdemic journal, widespread adoption of the procedure could soon be underway

Shockwaves could be a novel way to treat impotence. Scientists say a new device that releases thousands of energy waves may help by increasing blood flow.

The painless treatment, which uses the same technology as that used to zap kidney stones, helps create new blood vessels. Early studies suggest a good success rate.

A healthy blood supply is crucial for creating and maintaining an erection. If the blood vessels narrow — usually because they become furred up with fatty deposits — it can significantly reduce blood flow in the penile tissue, as the blood vessels there are very small.

Lifestyle changes and medications such as Viagra can help (though there is thought to be an 80 per cent chance of a  drug working, they are not effective for everyone).

The new non-drug treatment uses a technology called extracorporeal shockwave therapy. With kidney stones, the energy waves cause the stones to shatter and they can then be passed naturally out of the body.

The erectile dysfunction device — which resembles a mobile phone — uses 10 per cent of the power of kidney stone machines.

The device was developed after studies suggested that shockwaves stimulate blood flow in damaged heart tissue.

In patients with angina, the treatment was found to promote the growth of new blood vessels.

How the treatment works is unclear, but one theory is that the energy waves cause tiny amounts of damage, which triggers the body’s repair systems to release compounds called growth factors.

These stimulate the development of new blood vessels.

The treatment sessions last about 20 minutes, with around  5,000 shockwaves delivered each time (this is comparable to other treatments, such as those for kidney stones, but in this case the shockwaves are weaker), causing a slight tingling sensation.

Most men are given four sessions of treatment. In one study at Rambam Hospital, Israel, published in the journal European Urology, the device was used on 20 men, aged 33 to 68, who had suffered impotence for an average of three years.

There was a significant increase in the duration of erection and  penile rigidity, and half of the men no longer required drug  therapy six months after the treatment.

In a second study by the same hospital, the treatment was compared to placebo in 84 men.

Those having the treatment saw a significant improvement in their ability to achieve and maintain an erection — three times greater than compared to those who had the sham therapy.

The treatment will not, however, help those who suffer from nerve damage, for instance as a result of prostate cancer.

Commenting on the technology, Professor Raj Persad, urological surgeon at Bristol Royal Infirmary, said: ‘Any means of improving penile blood flow to enhance or restore erectile function is good if it can be non-invasive, as this is a delicate area.

‘Initial results are encouraging and suggest that this approach is  safe and effective. We need to wait for long-term data. The health of blood vessels depends on many factors — diabetes, blood pressure and smoking are the chief influences.’

The device, which is available only for use in clinics and is supplied by British company Vertec, is expected to be used  in the first UK clinic in the next six months.


14 May, 2013

School lunchbox bans driving Australian parents nuts

PARENTS are in revolt over school lunchbox restrictions with four out of five complaining schools are overly concerned about food bought to school and one in three objecting to the banning of nuts.

Even the Allergy and Anaphylaxis Association says school-wide bans on nuts in lunchboxes aren't effective and the president of the Primary Principals Association Norm Hart says they are "wrong" and can't be enforced.

However Marita Ishac, the mother of seven-year-old Stephanie who suffers from a severe allergy to pistachio nuts, says nuts should be banned.

"The reaction comes on so quickly it's scary," she said. "They should be more sensitive. If they want their kids to have nuts serve them at home," she said.

The widespread angst about school food bans was uncovered in a Galaxy survey conducted on behalf of health fund Medibank Private's 24/7 advice line for Food Allergy Week.

It found 79 per cent of the 1000 people surveyed believed schools were overly concerned about the food bought in by pupils and 30 per cent disagreed with banning nuts from packed lunches.

At the same time nearly 40 per cent of respondents admitted they wouldn't know the signs of someone suffering a serious reaction to food and 47 per cent said they wouldn't know what to do if it happened.

"Lunchbox restrictions are an acutely hot topic but this must not be allowed to dilute the seriousness of food allergies," Georgia Karabatsos, Medibank 24/7 Health Advice Line Medical Director says.

The president of the Allergy and Anaphylaxis Association Marita Said said there was a "lot of hysteria" about food bans and her organisation did not promote them.

"I think schools have thought this is the answer, they are petrified because we have had children die at school or on school camps," she said.

Such bans often saw children with allergies stigmatised and bullied and they allowed a handful of parents to focus on the ban rather than the restrictions of the child who had the allergy, she said.

Instead of a school-wide ban schools should look at implementing voluntary restrictions in the allergic child's class and only if they were too young to be fully aware of their diet restrictions, she said.

One in 10 children now developed a food allergy in their first year of life and schools should try to educate all students about allergy problems, how to read the signs and what to do if an emergency happened, she said.

The president of the Primary Principals Association Norm Hart said schools were taking more interest in what was in student's lunchboxes because they wanted parents to work in partnership with teachers to educate children about how to eat a healthy diet.

However, he said school wide bans on nuts were "wrong" because they gave a false sense of security to the families of children with an allergy and other parents.

"You can't enforce it, and if you say a place is free of whatever and its not you have a problem," he said.

Marita Ishac says she discovered Stephanie's allergy to pistachios when she reacted badly after eating a Lebanese sweet at the age of two.  "I hadn't given her nuts before and she had an itchy throat, then started blotching and her ears started to swell," she said.

Mrs Ishac now carries an epipen at all times and has given one to the school in case her daughteR has an attack while at school.

Marita Said says the anaphylactic reactions that are most dangerous are those where there are breathing difficulties or any swelling of the tongue or throat and onlookers should immediately administer an epipen or call an ambulance if they encountered a person suffering these symptoms.


Australia: Many alternative medicines fail test

Three-quarters of the complementary medicines reviewed by the national drug regulator have failed government checks, exposing consumers to false health claims that lack scientific evidence.

Consumer law and health experts say the figures show the tip of the iceberg, with thousands of vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements going unchecked for safety or efficacy.

Chief executive of the Consumers Health Forum Carol Bennett said the figure was astounding. "That's way too high, it's outrageous that we continue to allow that level of non-compliance.

"It's extraordinarily concerning that people are putting their hands in their pockets to spend $2 billion a year on these products," she said.

A law lecturer at the University of Canberra, Bruce Arnold, said products that did not comply with federal regulations should be "named and shamed" through government media campaigns.

"I suspect what is happening is they are picking up on a range of claims being made about the products that simply aren't true," he said. "You might infer that particular businesses are actively marketing in a way they know does not comply with requirements."

Figures provided by the Therapeutic Goods Administration show only 25 per cent of the 79 low-risk complementary medicines assessed between September and December met federal rules.

Low-risk products cannot make claims about treating specific diseases, but can claim to improve health if the companies hold research proving this is the case.

More than 10,000 complementary and alternative medicines are listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. Low-risk medications can be "listed" through a self-assessment system in which companies attest to their containing only pre-approved, low-risk ingredients and there is evidence supporting the claims they make for health enhancement.

A spokeswoman for the register said that, of the products that failed the review, five had their listing cancelled and their names published on the register's website.

"While the TGA ensures that complementary medicines are manufactured safely and do not contain prohibited substances, it does not test these low-risk medicines and cannot guarantee they work." The registry was working to reform the system, she said.

An adjunct Associate Professor in the school of public health at La Trobe University, Ken Harvey, said the register should publish more details of companies that breached standards.

He said that since November 2010 at least 47 complaints had been referred to the register by its complaints resolution panel because of non-compliance, but only eight companies had been named on the website.

"Some of these TGA outcomes merely record continued non-compliance," he said. "The end result is a market flooded with shonky products, making it very difficult for consumers and health professionals to pick the small amount of evidence-based wheat from the voluminous, hype-driven chaff."

A government brief prepared by the Department of Health and released in late 2010 found that, based on 2009-10 data, as many as 90 per cent of complementary medicines failed to comply.

That review, of 31 products, found 20 had labels that could mislead consumers, 22 had manufacturing or quality problems, and 14 lacked evidence to substantiate claims made about the medicines.


13 May, 2013

Why living near a busy road could be dangerous for your child's health: Traffic pollution linked to diabetes risk in children

Not quite same old, same old.  It is encouraging that the authors below were aware of the potential confounding from social class.  They controlled only for family socioeconomic status, however, leaving out such important variables as income and IQ -- with the first of those having potentially large explanatory power.  The correlations between social class variables are only modest.  To take just one instance, in England you can be both poor and upper class  -- depending on your accent.

Exposure to traffic fumes can set children on the road to diabetes, a study has shown.

Living near a busy road and increased levels of pollution from cars and lorries significantly raised the risk of insulin resistance in ten-year-olds, scientists found.

The condition, which reduces the body’s ability to control blood sugar with the hormone insulin, is a recognised precursor of Type 2 diabetes.

Researchers in Germany looked at the effect of two kinds of traffic pollution on 397 children.

Blood tests were taken and measurements made of pollution emissions in areas where the children lived.

For every defined step-rise in levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sooty particulate matter (PM) from diesel exhausts, the risk of insulin resistance increased by 17 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.

The risk also rose by 7 per cent every 500 yards closer to a major road a child lived.

Study leader Dr Joachim Heinrich, from the German Research Centre for Environmental Health in Neuherberg, said: ‘To our knowledge, this is the first prospective study that investigated the relationship of long-term traffic-related air pollution and insulin resistance in children.

‘Insulin resistance levels tended to increase with increasing air pollution exposure, and this observation remained robust after adjustment for several factors, including socio-economic status, BMI (body mass index, a measurement relating height and weight), and passive smoking.’

The findings appear in the latest edition of the journal Diabetologia.

Previous research has linked air pollution, especially sooty particulates, with heart disease and premature death.

However, studies looking at associations between long-term exposure to traffic pollution and Type 2 diabetes in adults have been inconclusive.

'Oxidative stress caused by exposure to air pollutants may.. play a role in the development of insulin resistance,' Dr Heinrich said.

'In addition, some studies have reported that short-term and long-term increases in particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide exposure lead to elevated inflammatory biomarkers, another potential mechanism for insulin resistance.'

The researchers are continuing to study the children, whose progress will be monitored for 15 years.

They want to see how the children fare as they grow older and become adults. Individuals who stay in the area where they grew up and those who move will also be compared.

'Moving from a polluted neighbourhood to a clean area and vice versa would allow us to explore the persistence of the effect related to exposure and to evaluate the impact of exposure to increased air pollution concentration later in life,' Dr Heinrich added.

'Whether the air pollution-related increased risk for insulin resistance in school-age has any clinical significance is an open question so far.

'However, the results of this study support the notion that the development of diabetes in adults might have its origin in early life including environmental exposures.'

Environmental health expert Professor Frank Kelly, from King's College London, pointed out that children were especially vulnerable to air pollution.

'They have a larger lung-to-body volume ratio, their airway epithelium is more permeable to air pollutants, and the lung defence mechanisms against particulate matter pollution and gaseous pollution are not fully evolved,' he said.

'Breathing the same pollutant concentrations, children may have a two to four-fold higher dose reaching the lung compared with adults.'

He added that traffic pollution studies had largely focused on particulate matter and overlooked the effects of nitrogen dioxide.

'It is of interest that this new study demonstrates that both PM and NO2 are linked to increased risk of insulin resistance in children,' said Prof Kelly.

'This finding is especially relevant for cities in the UK such as London which regularly exceeds current EU (European Union) limit values for NO2.

'Only last week the Supreme Court ruled that the UK Government was not doing enough to minimising NO2 pollution and protecting the health of its citizens.'

The possible link with oxidative stress highlighted the importance of childhood diet, he added.

'This is a timely reminder for Government that as well as improving air quality in our cites they need to ensure children have access to quality school meals which include fresh fruit and vegetables to ensure our children have good supply of antioxidants which will help protect them from the worst effects of traffic pollution,' said Prof Kelly.


Suffering on statins? Stop taking them now: Cholesterol-busting medicines may be causing more harm that good

When one of my patients – let’s call him John – recently returned to me with disabling chest pains a year after heart surgery, we both feared the worst.

But after numerous investigations found nothing untoward, we recognised the real problem: his statins. So I told him to try going without them for two weeks.

These drugs, taken by eight million Britons, are routinely prescribed to anyone who suffers a heart attack as they lower the likelihood of a second attack. They have an anti-inflammatory effect, which reduces the risk of a clot forming in the heart arteries.

Statins are also regularly prescribed by GPs to many more patients to lower the levels of cholesterol in their blood, in the hope that it will prevent a heart attack from happening in the first place. They are the most commonly prescribed drug in Britain, with more than 55?million statin prescriptions dispensed last year.

John returned and he was elated. For the first time in months his chest pains had gone. But he now had a new concern: his GP had since told him: ‘You must never stop your statin!’

He was confused. But I was steadfast: he shouldn’t be on the drugs. In fact, I often stop patients taking statins when I believe they are causing distressing side effects, which happens in about one in five of those I see. It may seem cavalier. But in such cases – and there are many thousands – statins do more harm than good. And it is possible to control cholesterol through diet alone, as actress Michelle Pfeiffer says she has done.

Statins do what they claim to: they lower cholesterol. But increasingly the medical profession is discovering that the health benefits of lower cholesterol have been exaggerated.

Two recent studies have cast serious doubt on early clinical trials into statins in the 1980s. These trials overplayed how good for us they could be, which contributed to a culture of over-prescribing the drug. The studies also suggested significant side effects of statins may have been underplayed.

Last month one of the world’s most respected sources of medical information, the British Medical Journal, presented serious doubts. According to its report, GPs have put an extra three million people on statins in the UK over the past ten years – and have received extra funding for meeting these targets.

Yet we have seen no obvious benefit in either a reduction in diagnoses of heart disease. There has, though, been a 40 per cent reduction in the number of heart attack deaths. But while statin prescriptions may have played a role, there have been no studies that prove this link.

Studies have shown a connection between reduction in deaths and the now-routine practice of undergoing emergency angioplasty as soon as someone suffers a heart attack – unblocking the artery with a stent or balloon through keyhole surgery.

Another known cause for reduction in heart disease mortality is that far fewer people are smoking today than 30 years ago. The number of smokers has dropped from approximately 40 per cent of the population in the 1980s to 20 per cent now.

There was a dramatic 17 per cent reduction in heart-attack hospital admissions in 2007, a year after the ban on smoking in indoor public places was introduced. It has also been consistently shown in studies over the past few decades that aspirin taken at first indication of a heart attack reduces deaths – as does a daily low dose after an attack.


What of the early hopes that statins would cut cardiac disease by 30 per cent? A 1995 study suggested they would, but the number of sufferers has increased from about eight per cent of the adult population in 1995 to 12 per cent today.

Last month the Annals Of Internal Medicine reported that 20 per cent of those on statins suffered a significant side effect – muscle pains, stomach complaints and memory disturbance – far higher than the one per cent that was first suggested by drug companies.


So what next for millions reading this who are on statins? If you have no trouble with them, there is no reason to stop. But if you, like John, are suffering discomfort, you should consider stopping them for a trial period of two weeks.

Start by seeing your GP to tell them what you are experiencing, and ask: ‘Could this be a side effect of the statins?’

They should be able to tell from your history whether this is the case. Stopping a statin short term won’t harm you and you will know within ten days or so whether it was causing the problem as that is how long it usually takes for side effects to wear off.

If a GP refuses, sometimes your cardiologist can speak to them, as I have done. John’s doctor eventually agreed. Even if they refuse, and offer a lower dose, this might reduce or halt the side effects, so it’s worth trying.


12 May, 2013

Could eating WALNUTS be the key to good heart health?

This must be a record for the length of a study:  Six hours!  A very shaky basis for long-term generalizations.  Side effects were also not examined.  The cure can sometimes be worse than the disease with "antioxidants"

Eating a handful of walnuts could  provide near-instant protection from heart disease.

Scientists found ‘significant’ improvement in cholesterol levels and blood vessel flexibility, which helps blood flow smoothly, just four hours after people consumed either the shelled nuts or walnut oil.

The research suggests regular consumption would protect against cardiovascular disease in the long term.

‘Just a handful could help significantly reduce the risk of heart disease,’ said Dr Penny Kris-Etherton, professor of nutrition at Penn State University in Pennsylvania.

‘Eating shelled walnuts or some walnut oil four times a week will certainly provide very significant benefits.’

The study was the first to identify which parts of the walnut provide the health boost, she explained.

The team gave 15 participants with high blood cholesterol levels four treatments – two handfuls of shelled walnuts (85g), six grams of walnut skin, 34g of the nutmeat with the fat removed, or three tablespoons  of oil (51g).

They looked at their responses after 30 minutes, one hour, two hours, four hours and six hours.

The researchers found that a one-time  consumption of walnut oil – also found in the shelled nuts – improved blood vessel health after four hours.

‘Our study showed that the oil found in walnuts can maintain blood vessel function after a meal,’ said lead author Claire  Berryman, a graduate student in nutritional sciences at Penn State. ‘The walnut oil was particularly good at preserving the function of endothelial cells.’

Endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels throughout the body, play an important part in blood vessel flexibility.

According to the researchers, walnuts contain omega-3 fats, plant sterols known to lower cholesterol, and vitamin E, all of which may help explain their protective effect.

Miss Berryman added: ‘Implications of this finding could mean improved dietary  strategies to fight heart disease.’

Heart and circulatory diseases cause more than a quarter of all fatalities in Britain, or more than 159,000 deaths a year. The cost of premature deaths, lost productivity, and medical treatment is around £19billion.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Nuts can be a nutritious choice as they provide us with protein and minerals. However, nuts are also high in fat. Portion control is important to make sure you’re benefiting from the nutrients without adding extra calories.

‘Walnuts do contain omega-3 fats .....  However, the best source of omega-3 fat is oily fish and we don’t yet know for certain if walnuts bring the same benefits.’


Eating peppers twice a week could reduce the risk of Parkinson's Disease

The Original Article is "Nicotine from edible Solanaceae and risk of Parkinson disease". By virtue of the large sample size, the results were statistically significant but most of the differences found were in absolute terms quite small.  There is however little doubt that there is something going on with nicotine that is helpful with Parkinson's.  The details remain to be unravelled, however

Eating peppers twice a week could help reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's disease by up to a third.

Scientists found individuals who ate foods containing an edible form of nicotine, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines, gained a degree of protection against the condition.

The research adds to evidence linking a reduced risk of the disease with smoking and the use of nicotine patches.

But experts urged caution, saying other constituents in the produce may have played a role in the findings, while the disease itself may also influence whether people smoke or eat certain foods.

'Our study is the first to investigate dietary nicotine and risk of developing Parkinson's disease,' said Dr Susan Searles Nielsen from the University of Washington in Seattle.

'Similar to the many studies that indicate tobacco use might reduce risk of Parkinson's, our findings also suggest a protective effect from nicotine, or perhaps a similar but less toxic chemical in peppers and tobacco.'

For the new study, published in the journal Annals of Neurology, 490 patients newly diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, were questioned about their dietary habits and tobacco use.

A further 644 individuals not suffering from any neurological conditions also participated in the study.

Vegetable consumption in general was not found to affect Parkinson's risk.

But the likelihood of being diagnosed with Parkinson's reduced the more people ate vegetables from the Solanaceae family, which contain tiny amounts of nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes.

The trend was strongest for peppers, mainly in people with little or no previous exposure to tobacco, with participants who ate them at least twice a week found to be 30 per cent less likely to develop Parkinson's.

Although the evidence suggests nicotine to be the active ingredient, the team did not rule out another chemical shared by tobacco and its cousins being responsible for the effect. One possibility was anatabine, which had anti-inflammatory properties.

Previous experiments in animals, showed stimulation of nicotine-sensitive receptor molecules in the brain prevents the kind of nerve damage seen in Parkinson's.

Human population studies have also found those who smoke are less likely to develop the disease.

Even passive smoking, which involves much less exposure to nicotine, seems to be protective.

Dietician Catherine Collins, from St George's Hospital NHS Trust in London, said the study provided further evidence of the benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers.

But she said the findings had 'insufficient robustness' to justify promoting peppers as a protection against Parkinson's.

Nicotine content can vary in vegetables due to growing conditions, storage, and harvesting and cooking methods.


10 May, 2013

Nutritious apples, poisonous claims

Eat fewer apples, strawberries and grapes, and more corn, onions and pineapples, and you'll protect yourself and your children from "toxic" pesticides, according to the Environmental Working Group's 2013 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. This advice, however, is nothing more than dangerous hogwash.

Every year, the group issues its "study" and "shopping guide" using the U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual review of pesticide residues found on food. It always includes a "dirty dozen" list of fruits and veggies that contain the highest pesticide residues in the department's sample.

This year's list includes: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, imported nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, kale and collard greens, and summer squash.

The Environmental Working Group has lots of healthy alternatives on its "clean 15 list," and its report claims "[t]he health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure." Still, the group suggests that people eat fewer of some items stating, "You can lower your pesticide intake by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and choosing the least contaminated produce."

Eating fewer of these items will not lower health risks, as the Environmental Working Group's rhetoric suggests. Residues are too low — on even the organization's "worst" examples — to make any public health difference to children or adults. Accordingly, placing any of these healthy foods on a "dirty dozen list" isn't simply highly misleading, it's dirty politics designed to scare everyone from ma to grandma.

Contrary to the Environmental Working Group's scary depiction, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) press statement on Agriculture Department data reads: "The newest data from the [Pesticide Data Program] confirm that pesticide residues in food do not pose a safety concern for Americans. EPA remains committed to a rigorous, science-based and transparent regulatory program for pesticides that continues to protect people's health and the environment."

The Department of Agriculture's "Message to Consumers" related to its residue report explains further: "This report shows that overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and that overall pesticide residues found on baby food are lower than the levels found on other commodities."

The Agriculture Department notes further in its questions and answers that residues at levels above the Environmental Protection Agency tolerance standards occurred in just 0.27 percent of the samples. That means 99.73 percent of the samples met the agency's very stringent standards. This is consistent with past Department of Agriculture reports, which barely find any residues, year in and year out.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Working Group's Shopper's Guide may discourage consumption of listed healthy fruits and vegetables, which could undermine public health. Eating a large amount and a wide range of fruits and veggies is one of our best defenses against cancer and other health problems. The quarter of the U.S. population consuming the least amount of fruits and vegetables has a cancer rate twice as high as the quarter of the population consuming the most, according to one study. Accordingly, the World Health Organization recommended in its 2000 World Cancer Report increased intake of fruits and vegetables to reduce the cancer-incidence rate by 30 percent across the board.

As a partial solution, the Environmental Working Group suggests buying organic food, yet organic food is often more expensive and not a reasonable option for consumers on fixed budgets. There isn't any compelling body of evidence demonstrating that organic food is any safer, as recently reported in a Stanford University study and another study in the journal Pediatrics.

If we all ate organic food, the environment would suffer because organic farming is less productive. If we abandoned high-yield farming with pesticides, farmers would need to plant about 10 million additional square miles to produce the same amount of food, notes researcher Dennis Avery in "True State of the Planet." That is more land than all of North America (about 9.4 million square miles), leaving no space for wildlife conservation.

A consumer's best option is to ignore the Environmental Working Group and follow the Agriculture Department's advice of eating more fruits and vegetables. The department explains: "Health and nutrition experts encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables in every meal as part of a healthy diet. This is affirmed in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and My Plate, the federal nutrition graphic that shows that people should fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables."


Student with just weeks to live is saved by new Hodgkin's lymphoma drug after worldwide search failed to find bone marrow donor match

This looks like very good news

A young man’s life has been saved by a new drug after he was struck down by the blood cancer Hodgkin's lymphoma for the second time.

Student Martin Solomon, 20, desperately needed a life-saving bone marrow transplant and was told he had just weeks to live unless a donor was found.

His heartbroken family searched the world for a match without success because of his mixed Irish and Afro-Caribbean heritage.

Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand even asked his Twitter followers to join the bone marrow donor register to see if they could save his life.

Time was running out for the Manchester University student and a donor had not been found so he was approved for a new treatment which has only recently become available in the UK.

He has amazed doctors at Manchester’s Christie Hospital by beating the disease in just a few months thanks to the Brentuximab Vedotin.

It meant Mr Solomon’s own white blood cells - which were harvested then put back in his body - were able to beat the cancer.

Martin is now in remission, and doctors have told him that he could be well enough to return to university in September.

His family, from Sale Moor, Manchester, started the Match4Martin campaign last year, when it was believed a bone marrow transplant was his only chance of survival.

His parents have vowed to continue the campaign to find a donor just in case Martin’s cancer ever returns.

His mother, Paula, said: ‘Compared to how things were at the end of last year, we have gone from the depths of despair to complete euphoria that Martin is still with us. We just thank God for cancer research and drug trials.’

Mr Solomon said: ‘I can’t wait to get back to normal - I’m just so relieved.

‘We’ll continue searching for a bone marrow donor for me but I am hoping to go to Croatia for a holiday with all my friends this summer and I’d like to go back to university as well.’

His father, Martin Senior, added: ‘We’ll be taking each day as it comes but plan to throw him a massive barbecue party for his 21st in July.’

Stephen Cannon, honorary consultant at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital and specialist in orthopaedic oncology, said it is too early to call the new medication a 'wonder drug', but that results are promising.

He said: 'It's early days - the drug has only been about for a year and a half -  and I don't have any personal experience of it.

'But results have been positive. More research needs to be done to check that there aren't any serious side-effects, but so far it looks promising.'


9 May, 2013

Government health insurance does not make you healthier

The surprising results of the study below suggest immediately  some methodological flaw -- a confounding with social class, for instance.  But the study is in fact high quality.  The random assignment into the two groups from a large general population body wipes out such doubts pretty thoroughly.  The results are therefore highly generalizable, unlike most medical research
The Oregon Experiment — Effects of Medicaid on Clinical Outcomes

Katherine Baicker et al.


Despite the imminent expansion of Medicaid coverage for low-income adults, the effects of expanding coverage are unclear. The 2008 Medicaid expansion in Oregon based on lottery drawings from a waiting list provided an opportunity to evaluate these effects.


Approximately 2 years after the lottery, we obtained data from 6387 adults who were randomly selected to be able to apply for Medicaid coverage and 5842 adults who were not selected. Measures included blood-pressure, cholesterol, and glycated hemoglobin levels; screening for depression; medication inventories; and self-reported diagnoses, health status, health care utilization, and out-of-pocket spending for such services. We used the random assignment in the lottery to calculate the effect of Medicaid coverage.


We found no significant effect of Medicaid coverage on the prevalence or diagnosis of hypertension or high cholesterol levels or on the use of medication for these conditions. Medicaid coverage significantly increased the probability of a diagnosis of diabetes and the use of diabetes medication, but we observed no significant effect on average glycated hemoglobin levels or on the percentage of participants with levels of 6.5% or higher. Medicaid coverage decreased the probability of a positive screening for depression (?9.15 percentage points; 95% confidence interval, ?16.70 to ?1.60; P=0.02), increased the use of many preventive services, and nearly eliminated catastrophic out-of-pocket medical expenditures.


This randomized, controlled study showed that Medicaid coverage generated no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes in the first 2 years, but it did increase use of health care services, raise rates of diabetes detection and management, lower rates of depression, and reduce financial strain.

N Engl J Med 2013; 368:1713-1722.

Megan McArdle has a LONG commentary on the study here

How back pain can be beaten with antibiotics: Breakthrough could cure 40% of sufferers

This sounds comparable to the discovery of Helicobacter Pylori

Hundreds of thousands of people living with crippling back pain could be cured  - by a simple and inexpensive course of antibiotics.

In a breakthrough described as being worthy of a Nobel prize, scientists have shown that many cases of severe, long-term back ache are caused by bacteria  –  and the bugs can be zapped by a three-month course of pills costing just £114.

Patients who were in so much pain that they had to give up work have thanked the researchers for giving them their life back.

Hanne Albert, the Danish scientist who made the discovery, said almost half of those with chronic lower back pain could benefit.  This works out at more than half a million Britons, including many who are in the prime of life.

Dr Albert said: ‘These are mums and dads in the middle of an active working life. ‘These are pillars of society, they care for their parents and for their children.   ‘They will be able to play with their children, instead of just sitting and watching them play.’

An estimated four in five Britons suffer back problems and some point in their life and the condition is behind more GP visits each year than any condition, other than the common cold.

The NHS spends more than £1billion a year on treating it, including around £500million on surgery, while sick days and long-term disability cost the economy at least £3.5billion annually in lost productivity.

Many hard-to-treat cases are caused by slipped discs – where wear and tear, a car crash, heavy lifting or other problem causes a piece of the spongy tissue that cushions the bones of the spine to spill out, causing pain in the back and  legs.

Most people quickly recover but, in some, the pain persists and even major surgery is not completely effective.

Dr Albert, working with colleagues from Birmingham, believes that often this persistent pain is caused not by damaged disc by rogue bacteria that have infiltrated it.

The researcher began by examining tissue taken from discs of people whose back pain was so bad they had had spinal surgery.

Around half tested positive for bacteria, with a bug that normally causes acne predominant.

The researchers then allocated 162 men and women who were in ‘relentless’ back pain to a 100-day course of the antibiotic Bioclavid or a placebo.

In contrast to the placebo, the antibiotic greatly cut pain and disability.

For instance, a year on, those who had taken the drug said they’d experienced 64 hours of pain in the previous month. Those on placebo had racked up 200 hours of pain.

And those who had taken drug took just 19 sick days – compared with 45 by those on placebo, the European Spine Journal reports.

Dr Albert, of the University of Southern Denmark, described the improvement as ‘amazing’ and said the patients were effectively cured.  She added: ‘I can’t tell you how many people have given me hugs and told me I have given them their life back.’

It is thought that in these people, the slipped disc gradually had healed itself. However, they remained in pain due to the Propionibacterium acnes bug. It normally causes acne but is also found in the mouth and pushed into the circulation by tooth brushing.

In those who have slipped a disc, it worms its way into the damaged disc, where it produces acid which corrodes the spine, causing fresh and often excruciating pain.

Peter Hamlyn, the University College Hospital London surgeon who has successfully given the antibiotic to patients here, said doctors must now rethink their understanding of lower back pain.

He added: ‘More work needs to be done but make no mistake, this is a turning  point, a point where we will have to re-write the textbooks.  ‘It is the stuff of Nobel prizes.’

Dr Albert is now educating GPs, doctors and physiotherapists on how to spot those whose pain is caused by the bacteria.  She said: ‘I don’t want surgery for these people. I don’t want them to eat  morphine. I want them to be cured.’

However, the treatment is only for those in severe pain.

And with antibiotics only helping around 40 per cent of those whose with chronic lower back pain, she stresses that people mustn’t self-medicate.

Professor  Laura Piddock, a University of Birmingham microbiologist, agreed that accurate diagnosis is essential.  Otherwise, patients would be needlessly taking drugs that could increase rates of antibiotic resistance.


8 May, 2013

Forget milk for strong bones: NUTS could be just as important for child bone health (?)

The fact that calcium was found to have no effect but magnesium did is very odd and suggests some error

Parents have long been advised to feed their children enough milk and other calcium-rich foods for good bone health, but new research has shown that pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, salmon and almonds may be just as important.

The study, presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington DC, found that foods rich in magnesium play an important role in building bones.

'Lots of nutrients are key for children to have healthy bones and one of these appears to be magnesium,' said lead author Steven Abrams, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

'Calcium is important, but, except for those children and adolescents with very low intakes, may not be more important than magnesium.'

While it is known that magnesium is important for bone health in adults, few studies have looked at whether magnesium intake is related to bone mineral content in young children.

Researchers recruited 63 healthy children aged between four and eight years old who were not taking any multivitamins or minerals to participate in the study.  All children kept food diaries throughout the research.

Children were hospitalized overnight twice so their calcium and magnesium levels could be measured.

All foods and drinks served during their hospital stay contained the same amount of calcium and magnesium they consumed in a typical day based on the children's diaries.

The meals and drinks were weighed before and after each meal to determine how much calcium and magnesium the children actually consumed.

In addition to this, parents were given weighing scales to measure their child's food intake for three days at home after the first hospital stay, and for three days at home prior to the second inpatient stay.

This was to ensure that dietary intake of calcium and magnesium could be calculated accurately.

While hospitalised, children's levels of calcium and magnesium were measured using a technique that involved giving them non-radioactive forms of magnesium and calcium, called stable isotopes, intravenously and orally.  Their urine was collected for 72 hours.

By measuring the stable isotopes in the urine, the researchers could work out how much calcium and magnesium was absorbed into the body.

Bone mineral content and density were measured using a special technique called total body dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry.

Results showed that the amounts of magnesium consumed and absorbed were key predictors of how much bone children had.

Dietary calcium intake, however, was not significantly associated with total bone mineral content or density.

'We believe it is important for children to have a balanced, healthy diet with good sources of minerals, including both calcium and magnesium,' Dr. Abrams concluded.


Idiotic British ministers want to slash size of cookies and cakes to tackle UK's obesity epidemic

What's to stop people having one extra of the smaller ones?

Leaked plans to reduce the size of cakes and biscuits to tackle Britain's growing waistlines have been branded 'ludicrous' by common sense campaigners.

Ministers wants the portion sizes of fatty and sugar-laden foods to be cut in a bid to halt the growing obesity problem.

The changes, which could be implemented as early as July, are part of the Government's 'Responsibility Deal', where food manufacturers are encouraged to take a pledge to reduce unhealthy ingredients, educate consumers on healthy eating and reduce portion sizes, reports the Daily Express.

But UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall has blasted the plans as 'ludicrous'.

He said: 'A jammy dodger is a jammy dodger. We all know smoking, eating too much fatty food and drinking too much is bad for us.

'It should be up to us to decide what we should or shouldn’t cut back on, not the Government. This is underhand, it is the Government interfering. Packet sizes will shrink but prices won’t and consumers will pay more.'

Howard Thomas, leader of the Common Sense Party, said: 'This is another one from the ministry of silly ideas.

'If someone wants to eat a certain amount of something they will do so, and shrinking it will just mean they eat more of it. Making biscuits smaller isn’t going to make any difference. These plans are just daft.'

A Government source told the paper that the details would be agreed soon and manufacturers would have a choice in how they would implement the change - either by reducing the size of the biscuits or the packet.

Dr Susan Jebb, who chairs the Government steering group drawing up the Responsibility Deal pledge, said the aim is to encourage companies to reduce saturated fat in foods and promote lower fat options.

Ministers have suggested that if companies fail to sign up to the Responsibility Deal voluntarily the government could legislate to force them to act.

Department of Health statistics state biscuits make up six per cent of the daily saturated fat intake of children aged between four and 10 while baked sweet treats contribute a further six per cent.

No one from the Department of Health was available for comment at the time of writing.


7 May, 2013

Fancy some baobab for breakfast? Demand for African 'superfruit'  soars

The latest "miracle" fruit.  No proof of health benefits, of course, just theory

Have you ever heard of the baobab fruit? If you haven't you probably will soon.  Demand for a new African ‘superfruit’ which boosts energy levels and skin health has soared to record highs in the UK.

New figures show sales of the baobab fruit, which contains three times as much vitamin C as an orange, has increased by 1,600 per cent.  Brits have rushed to buy the nutrient-dense superfood, which has incredibly high levels of antioxidants and tastes like a blend of pineapple and melon.

Baobab is an excellent source of calcium, potassium, thiamin and vitamin B6 - all vital nutrients known to benefit general health.

Sourced from the African continent, baobab’s calcium source is a non-dairy one, making it an option for vegetarians too.

the baobab range is available at beauty emporium and pharmacy John Bell & Croyden and a number of organics stores.

Since launching in October last year, sales figures are 60 per cent better than its closest market rival.

Dr Lisa Ryan, of Oxford Brookes University, said: “Baobab is a rich source of potassium which plays a role in lowering blood pressure.  'It also contains calcium which is vital for bone health, has a high soluble fibre content which is important for digestive health.  'It is also rich in polyphenols which have potential health benefits against diseases like atherosclerosis, some types of cancer and type 2 diabetes.'

Dietician Sian Porter said: 'Baobab is an excellent example of a nutrient-dense, low energy food - a real super food.'

The superfruit has attracted interest from celebrities such as designer Vivienne Westwood and fashion reporter Suzy Menkes.

Baobab grows in thirty two countries across Africa and has been brought to the mainstream by new Africa-inspired health and beauty brand Aduna.

For centuries people in Africa have turned to the baobab tree as a source of natural wellbeing, benefiting skin, hair and general health.

As a fruit, baobab is unique in that it dries naturally on the branch before it is harvested, the seeds are removed and then sieved into a powder.

Available as a loose powder, it is ideal for adding to smoothies and juices, or using as an alternative to sugar for sweetening yogurt, muesli or cereal.

Josie Elles, of John Bell & Croyden, said: “Since launching with us late last year Aduna baobab has become our best-selling supplement this year.  'It has come from out of nowhere to become and both the brand and the product are ones to watch


Breakthrough hair loss product works on stem cells

They'll make a fortune if it really does work

For those facing the prospect of going bald or finding their hair is thining with age it has been described as the Holy Grail.

Scientists at cosmetic company L’Oreal claim to have invented the first product which can acually "reawaken" dormant hair cells and allow them to grow back.

It could offer hope to millions affected by male pattern baldness or just the thinning of hair through old age or for medical reasons.

Already demand for the new treatment has seen salons taking thousands of pre-orders even though the recomended three month treatement costs nearly £300.

After 90 days researchers claim that the liquid "Kérastase Densifique", when applied to the roots, can promote the growth of more than 1500 new hairs.

Patricia Pineau, the head of scientific affairs at L’Oréal, added: “We’ve known for 100 years that hair grows and falls out.

“We haven’t known what makes hair regenerate until now. It is all about hair stem cell environment. We have been able to develop a cosmetic product that respects the natural way hair regenerates.”

Scientists said the product, called Densifique, regenerated roots by targeting areas of the scalp prone to hair loss rather than actual fibres.

Experts say there are a variety of factors which can cause hair loss ranging from stress levels and a person’s diet, through to hormones and pregnancy.

Award winning hairdresser Luke Hersheson said: “Many women are really worried about the loss of their hair, the loss of volume, and the fact that they don’t have as luscious locks as they did when they were in their early twenties.

“Stress, diet, hormones and pregnancy are all factors that can affect the health of the hair and scalp.

“This new treatment is set to help alleviate this problem. It has an instant densifying action on the hair fiber, boosting the number of hairs on our head and the quality of these new hairs directly at scalp level. It’s set to be the holy grail for a lot of women – and men.”

The average human has on average between 100,000 and 150,000 individual hairs and the manufactures claim the new product “assists” natural growth rather than “disrupt” it.

Scientists, based in laboratories of L’Oréall in Paris, developed a molecule using a formula called Stemoxydine, which after testing was found to have increased hair density by up to four per cent.

Cass Coulston, Kérastase general manager, last night described it as an astonishing “technological breakthrough”, which led to improved hair density.

She added: “Hair thinning is not just associated with ageing, it can happen as a result of a poor diet, hormones, stress, post pregnancy and over processing hair.”

Kérastase Densifique will be available in salons within the next fortnight.


6 May, 2013

Want to Live a Long Time? Pay Attention (?)

Two reservations about this study:  1).  These were very high IQ people.  The results might not generalize to people in general;  2).  Conscientiousness seems a strange word for what was studied.  The questions used seem to me to be much more concerned with a preference for order.  Rather amusingly, Leftist psychologists have spent decades demonizing preference for order.  They call it "Intolerance of ambiguity", "rigidity", "dogmatism" etc.  I spent a lot of time looking at the Leftist claims about the maladaptive nature of preference for order and found only methodological incompetence.  See here

Long before the age of gene therapy and miracle medical treatments, the secrets of long life were being gathered and revealed in a unique study of 1,500 children born about 1910. By studying these people throughout their lives, successive generations of researchers collected nearly 10 million pieces of observable data and have been able to produce solid insights into human longevity.

"Most people who live to an old age do so not because they have beaten cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease; rather, the long-lived have mostly avoided serious ailments altogether," Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin said in their 2011 book, "The Longevity Project."

"The best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness—the qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person," according to the two professors (he at the University of California—Riverside, and she at La Sierra University). "Conscientiousness ... also turned out to be the best personality predictor of long life when measured in adulthood."

Since their book was published, Martin recently told U.S. News, the benefits of conscientiousness have been affirmed and even strengthened in other research studies. "This is still a pretty hot topic," she says. "Work that's come out since the book was published has mainly confirmed the importance of conscientiousness."

In particular, she explained, research being done in Hawaii on personality traits over time is producing similar results to Friedman's and Martin's own research, which chronicles efforts begun in 1921 by Lewis Terman, a Stanford University psychologist. He selected 1,500 bright and generally high-performing children and began amassing detailed information about their personal histories, health, activities, beliefs, attitudes, families and other variables.

Over the next eight decades, other academics maintained the Terman Project and assembled exhaustive details on all facets of the original subjects' later lives. It is this unique depth of detail that has permitted Friedman and Martin to reach what they feel are scientifically sound conclusions about what it takes to live a long life. Now, Martin says, more researchers are reaching similar conclusions.

"It was not cheerfulness and it was not having a sociable personality that predicted long life across the many ensuing decades," she and Friedman wrote in their book. "Certain other factors were also relevant, but the prudent, dependable children lived the longest. The strength of this finding was unexpected, but it proved to be a very important and enduring one."

The book presents three reasons why conscientious people live longer:

1. They are more likely to obey the rules, protecting their health and not engaging in risky behaviors such as smoking or driving without a seat belt. If a doctor tells them to take a medicine, they take every prescribed dose.

2. "Conscientious individuals are less prone to a whole host of diseases, not just those caused by dangerous habits," they found. "It appears likely that conscientious and unconscientious people have different levels of certain chemicals in their brains."

3. "The most intriguing reason conscientious people live longer is that having a conscientious personality leads you into healthier situations and relationships," the research concluded. "They find their way to happier marriages, better friendships, and healthier work situations."

Many of the subjects of the Terman Project faced difficult challenges in their adult lives, including bitter combat in World War II, divorces, stressful jobs and career reversals. Conscientious people had the ability to weather these problems. They displayed "self healing" personalities that helped them find their ways back to healthy lifestyle paths. People without such behavioral traits and healthy coping skills didn't fare as well and were often unable to bounce back.

Other strong longevity traits, Friedman and Martin say, include strong connections with other people and groups, either through marriage or outside activities. Also, "those with the most career success were the least likely to die young. In fact, on average the most successful men lived five years longer than the least successful," they say. While happiness was not a cause of longer life, "the sense of being satisfied with one's life and achievement was very relevant to resilience."

Here are 10 questions used to create a personality scale that will help determine how conscientious you are. The scale is based on work done by Terman, the book's authors and other research. The five possible answers to each question are the same:

1 — Very inaccurate

2 — Moderately inaccurate

3 — Neither accurate nor inaccurate

4 — Moderately accurate

5 — Very accurate

1. I am always prepared.

2. I leave my belongings around.

3. I enjoy planning my work in detail.

4. I make a mess of things.

5. I get chores done right away.

6. I often forget to put things back in their proper place.

7. I like order.

8. I shirk my duties.

9. I follow a schedule.

10. I am persistent in the accomplishment of my work and ends.

Scoring for questions 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 10: Each answer is worth one to five points, matching the numbers of the answers (one point for very inaccurate, two points for moderately inaccurate, and so forth, up to five points for very accurate). For questions 2, 4, 6, and 8, reverse the scoring order (one point for very accurate, two points for moderately accurate, and so on, up to five points for very inaccurate).

Total scores can range from a low of 10 to a high of 50. "This score is a good measure of conscientiousness," the book says. "Total scores between 10 and 24 indicate very low conscientiousness ... Scores between 37 and 50 suggest exceptionally high conscientiousness."

To test the accuracy of your own answers, ask your spouse or close friend to tell you what answers they think apply for you. They know you very well and might have a more objective view of your personality traits than you do.

Now, the good and bad news about how conscientious you are is that you can change your personality, but you can't invent a new one overnight. The highly conscientious people in the Terman study had little clue that such behavior would be associated with living a very long life. They behaved this way in their everyday lives because it came naturally.

"It doesn't matter how many New Year's resolutions you make," the book said. "In fact, rapid and pervasive changes are usually quickly abandoned by anyone undertaking them. Lasting adjustments happen with smaller, but progressive, steps."

Medical treatment is conspicuously absent from the book's longevity findings. "So-called modern medical cures have played a relatively minor role in increasing adult life span," the authors wrote. "Social relations should be the first place to look for improving health and longevity.


New computer game can 'make your brain three years younger' in ten hours (?)

There have been a lot of these brain training games over the years but none have stood up on independent examination. I'd be surprised if this one were different

Think computer games rot your brain? Think again.  Playing one for just ten hours could actually make your mind three years younger, scientists claim – and the effects last for at least a year.

But before you reach for the nearest console, there is a catch. You only get the benefits by playing the specific game the experts have designed, which trains the brain to remember information while filtering out distractions.

On average, their brains were three years younger overall – but in one test of speed and attention they were almost seven years younger.

The professor of health management who ran the tests attributed the ‘remarkable’ results to the range of skills needed in the relatively simple game.

Professor Fred Wolinsky, who has no financial stake in Road Tour, said: ‘We know that this can stop the decline and actually restore cognitive processing speed to some people. So, if we know that, shouldn’t we be helping people?  ‘It’s fairly easy and older folks can go get the game and play it.’

The game, which can be accessed online for a fee, involves remembering two things – a vehicle and a road sign.

At the start, the player is shown either a car or a truck and told to remember it. The vehicle is encircled by a series of symbols which includes one road sign and the player also has to memorise the sign’s position.

Later in the game, they have to identify the vehicle again and the position of the road sign. As the game progresses, the amount of time allowed is cut, the car and truck shapes become more similar and the amount of distracting and irrelevant information increases.

While the task may seem simple it has been designed to hone a range of skills, including processing speed, memory, peripheral vision and attention.

Professor Wolinsky said: ‘These functions are critically important in  everyday life.’ Peripheral vision, for instance, is crucial to safe driving,  but declines with age.

For the professor’s study, almost 700 men and women aged 50-plus were given either Road Tour or a computerised crossword game to play.

Some played under supervision in the lab, others took the games home. Results of a battery of mental exercise tests done at the beginning of the study and a year later showed their worth.

 'On average, their brains were three years younger overall – but in one test of speed and attention they were almost seven years younger.'

Not only was Road Tour ‘far more effective’ than the crosswords, playing it at home was just as good as playing it in the lab. And those aged 50 to 64 benefited just as much as those 65 and older, the journal PLoS ONE reports.

A mere ten hours of play left the mind three years’ quicker, while 14 hours improved it by four years.

Road Tour, which is also called Double Decision, is available as part of a brain training package. The minimum subscription is one month, priced at around £8, while access for a year costs £5 per month if paid upfront.

Previous studies have also credited the game with a host of benefits, from improving quality of life to easing depression and cutting medical bills.

But although brain training is popular, views about its value are mixed,  with some studies concluding that  while we may get better at the complex  computer exercises with practice,  there is no evidence this helps us in our everyday lives.

Dr Doug Brown, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said:  ‘Many of us enjoy puzzling over a game. However, there is currently little  evidence that brain training has any cognitive benefits.

‘Although there is no cure for  dementia, research has consistently shown that eating a balanced diet,  exercising regularly and not smoking can make an important contribution  to reducing your risk of developing dementia.’


5 May, 2013

Children who live near busy traffic areas more likely to be hyperactive, study finds

The Helmholtz Zentrum should be ashamed of themselves for putting out such tripe.  Poor people probably live in noisier areas and they have more problems anyway

E-numbers, television and chemicals have all been traditionally blamed for causing hyperactivity in children.  But a new study suggests living near a noisy road can lead to the condition.

Youngsters who were exposed to the highest noise levels at home showed 28 per cent more symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention than those exposed to the lowest traffic noise levels, researchers found.

Michelle Bosquet, a psychologist at Boston Children's Hospital, says that noise pollution can have a dramatic affect on children's behaviour and their mental wellbeing.

Ms Bosquet, who was not involved in the German study, says that traffic noise can disturb a child's sleep or concentration, which could be linked to hyperactivity.

Researchers led by Carla Tiesler at the Helmholtz Zentrum German Research Center for Environmental Health studied 900 children living in Munich, NBC reported.

Noise levels outside of each child's home at the wall of the house were measured, and parents answered a questionnaire about their 10-year-olds' behaviour.

Youngsters who lived in the homes with the highest level of noise were more than twice as likely to show unusual emotional behaviour - such as anxiety - than those in the quietest properties, according to NBC.

After researchers considered sleeping problems, they also concluded that difficulty in going to sleep was also responsible for emotional difficulties.

The study's authors considered other factors which can influence behaviour - such as the subjects' exercise levels - but said that other variables than sleep deprivation and noise could cause ADHD.  Chemical pollution and sound-proofing were not measured

The study was published online in March in the journal Environmental Research.


Bloomberg Refused Second Slice of Pizza at Local Restaurant

Let's hope this is true

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was denied a second slice of pizza today at an Italian eatery in Brooklyn.

The owners of Collegno's Pizzeria say they refused to serve him more than one piece to protest Bloomberg's proposed soda ban,which would limit the portions of soda sold in the city.

Bloomberg was having an informal working lunch with city comptroller John Liu at the time and was enraged by the embarrassing prohibition. The owners would not relent, however, and the pair were forced to decamp to another restaurant to finish their meal.

Witnesses say the situation unfolded when as the two were looking over budget documents, they realized they needed more food than originally ordered.

"Hey, could I get another pepperoni over here?" Bloomberg asked owner Antonio Benito.

"I'm sorry sir," he replied, "we can't do that. You've reached your personal slice limit."

Mayor Bloomberg, not accustomed to being challenged, assumed that the owner was joking.

"OK, that's funny," he remarked, "because of the soda thing ... No come on. I'm not kidding. I haven't eaten all morning, just send over another pepperoni."

"I'm sorry sir. We're serious," Benito insisted. "We've decided that eating more than one piece isn't healthy for you, and so we're forbidding you from doing it."

"Look jackass," Bloomberg retorted, his anger boiling, "I fucking skipped breakfast this morning just so I could eat four slices of your pizza. Don't be a schmuck, just get back to the kitchen and bring out some fucking pizza, okay."

"I'm sorry sir, there's nothing I can do," the owner repeated. "Maybe you could go to several restaurants and get one slice at each. At least that way you're walking. You know, burning calories."

Witnesses say a fuming Bloomberg and a bemused Liu did indeed walk down the street to a rival pizzeria , ordered another slice and finished their meeting.

New York's so-called "soda ban" would have limited the size of sweetened beverages served in restaurants to 16 oz (0.5 liters). The plan, backed by Mayor Bloomberg, is currently being held up by a U.S. district court.


OK.  It's satire

3 May, 2013

The top 1% in weight have lots of health problems

You have to read this article carefully to realize that its reference to "obese" is not as wide as in general use.  It refers only to the most extremely overweight people

Men who are obese in their early twenties are significantly less likely to live to reach middle age, according to a new study published in the BMJ.

They are also up to eight times more likely to suffer diabetes, potentially fatal blood clots or a heart attack.

It is well known that obesity in adulthood poses a risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but previously it had not been clear whether obesity in early adulthood strengthens that risk.

Danish researchers tracked the health of 6,500 Danish 22-year-old men for 33 years up to the age of 55.

All the men were born in 1955 and had registered with the Military Board for a fitness test to gauge their suitability for military service.

All potential conscripts in Denmark are subjected to a battery of psychological and physical tests, including weight.

Over 80 per cent were within the normal range and five per cent were underweight.

One in 10 were overweight and just over one per cent - equating to 97 men -  were obese.

Normal weight is classified as a body mass index (BMI) of between 18.5 and 25; obesity is classified as a BMI of 30 or more.

Almost half of those classified as obese at the age of 22 were diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, blood clots in the legs or lungs, or had died before reaching the age of 55.

They were eight times more likely to get diabetes as their normal weight peers and four times as likely to get a potentially fatal blood clot.

They were also more than twice as likely to develop high blood pressure, have had a heart attack, or to have died.

Every unit increase in BMI corresponded to an increased heart attack rate of five per cent, high blood pressure and blood clot rates of 10 per cent, and an increased diabetes rate of 20 per cent.

In total, obese young men were three times as likely to get any of these serious conditions as their normal weight peers by middle age, conferring an absolute risk of almost 50 per cent compared with only 20 per cent among their normal weight peers.

The findings, published in the BMJ, have prompted researchers to warn that the continuing rise in obesity may counteract the fall in deaths from heart disease.

They said: 'Obesity-related morbidity and mortality will, in decades to come, place an unprecedented burden on healthcare systems worldwide.'


U.S. Government Bans French Cheese Based On Food Prejudices

by Hans Bader

The U.S. government is banning a standard, normal-smelling French cheese based on its own squeamishness. The cheese in question is Mimolette, a commonplace, orange French cheese so mild in flavor that I once confused it with cheddar when I visited my French relatives and ate it for the first time. The ban has triggered protests in New York City, reports the Global Post:

Around 40 protesters took to the streets of New York on Saturday to demonstrate against a US ban on mimolette that has angered lovers of the distinctive French cheese.

Since March, several hundred pounds of the bright orange cheese have been held up by US customs because of a warning by the Food and Drug Administration that it contained microscopic cheese mites.

The mites are a critical part of the process to produce mimolette, giving it its distinctive grayish crust.

The US decision has angered importers and consumers, who have even set up a Facebook page titled “Save the Mimolette.”

Benoit de Vitton, an importer of the cheese. . . said he was baffled by the recent blockade, noting he has imported mimolette for two decades without a problem.”They are afraid of allergies,” he said. “But we’ve been doing this for 20 years without any problem.”

Who cares if it has tiny, invisible mites in it? Cheese is the product of bacteria. Good yogurt has live cultures of bacteria in it, and that is beneficial for your health. Food that is alive can be good for you. The human body is full of living, friendly microbes that keep us alive. The cheese mites in Mimolette are there to enhance its flavor: as Wikipedia notes, the “crust of aged Mimolette is the result of cheese mites intentionally introduced to add flavor by their action on the surface of the cheese.”

When it comes to food, the Obama administration is incredibly ignorant. It banned white potatoes from the federal WIC program (WIC money can be spent on far less nutritious things than potatoes, things that are starchy, fatty or sugary, like apple sauce, which has no nutrition unless vitamin C is artificially added to it. But an NIH employee told me to stock my fridge with apple sauce so that my my daughter would always have access to fruits and vegetables. The same NIH that later funded a ludicrous left-wing “study” falsely claiming that the tobacco industry invented the Tea Party).

The Obama administration ignores the fact that the potato is superior to most foods in nutrients per dollar (and per acre of farmland), so much so that “in 2008, the United Nations declared it to be the ‘Year of the Potato.’” “This was done to bring attention to the fact that the potato is one of the most efficient crops for developing nations to grow, as a way of delivering a high level of nutrition to growing populations, with fewer needed resources than other traditional crops. In the summer of 2010, China approved new government policies that positioned the potato as the key crop to feed its growing population.” Potatoes provided much of the agricultural surplus that made the Industrial Revolution possible. Potatoes are more nutritious than other starchy foods like rice and bread, and “are a good source of vitamins.” They have a lot of vitamin C (much more than a banana or an apple), and potassium levels slightly higher than potassium-rich bananas). Potatoes also have all 8 essential amino acids, unlike most other staple foods like corn and beans.

Baylen Linnekin wrote earlier about “the sickening nature of many food-safety regulations,” like the “poke and sniff” inspection method required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “that likely resulted in USDA inspectors transmitting filth from diseased meat to fresh meat on a daily basis.”

Thousands of deaths from foolish food-safety rules have occurred in the past in other nations. A classic example occurred more than two centuries ago, when regional parliaments banned consumption of the potato in much of  France, leading to a short-lived national ban beginning in 1748. “Among the host of diseases the government mistakenly attributed to consumption of the tuber was leprosy.” This ban was particularly problematic because at the time, France was plagued by recurrent famines, and banning potatoes reduced the amount of food per acre that could be grown. French officials banned the potato despite the fact that it had been cultivated for generations in neighboring Germany, where the potato saved villagers from starvation at the end of the Thirty Years War.

The Obama administration has pushed extremely costly food “safety” rules, like the Food Safety Modernization Act, which has proved far more costly than supporters claimed, imposing large costs on orchard growers and other farmers. That law’s red tape may end up thwarting “firms from developing innovative new processes and practices that could deliver real food safety improvements” and could “leave tens of thousands of small and mid-sized farms and food stands to be crushed under the weight of rules designed for some of the world’s largest food processors.” Earlier versions of the bill backed by the Obama administration were even worse, and would have driven “out of business local farmers and artisanal, small-scale producers of berries, herbs, cheese, and countless other wares, even when there is in fact nothing unsafe in their methods of production.”

The Obama administration also used federal funds to subsidize the opening of an International House of Pancakes in Washington, D.C. (despite its sugary entrees), and the development of high-calorie foods that benefit politically connected agribusinesses.


2 May, 2013

HRT comes in from the cold

HRT 'boosts muscles': Women taking the treatment after the menopause stay stronger, study claims

Hormone replacement therapy could do your muscles a power of good, according to researchers. They found it significantly improves muscle function, right down to the muscle fibre level.

A study which put muscle fibres under the microscope found cells were arranged differently in post-menopausal women taking HRT compared with those who did not.

The difference reduced age-related changes and improved muscle function, the researchers said.

An estimated one million women in the UK are prescribed HRT in their 50s to replace oestrogen lost in the menopause. It can combat symptoms such as hot flushes and mood changes.

HRT is known to slow bone loss and increase bone density, and reverse declining levels of skin collagen, which is responsible for the stretch in skin and muscle.

Previous studies have suggested HRT reduces the drop in muscle mass and strength in post-menopausal women, improving the ability to jump higher and walk faster than those not taking drugs.

The latest study, in Sweden, is the first to explore these effects at cellular and molecular levels to find how the changes are occurring.

Researchers at Uppsala University Hospital observed six pairs of post-menopausal identical twins – of whom only one of each pair was receiving HRT – to rule out genetic differences. They then examined muscle biopsies taken from them, says a report published in The Journal of Physiology.

They found HRT had a significant effect on slow-twitch muscle fibres, enabling cells to work more efficiently. Dr Lars Larsson, from Uppsala University Hospital, said negative publicity over the past decade has made many women reluctant to use HRT, but the study shows a positive outcome.

He said: ‘Even though individual muscle fibres did not change in size, the muscles of HRT users showed greater strength by generating a higher maximum force compared to non-HRT users. It is thought that using HRT, at least in part, reduces  modifications of muscle contractile proteins that are linked to ageing.

‘HRT is also associated with a more efficient organisation of myonuclei, which are essential components for muscle fibre function.’

Experts last year reappraised HRT risks after claims that users were at higher risk of breast cancer, heart disease and strokes – contrary to previous research suggesting oestrogen protected them from heart problems.

Re-analysis of data from the US Women’s Health Initiative found the extra health risks applied to older patients in their 60s and 70s, who do not normally use HRT but were given it for research purposes. It showed women taking HRT at the start of the menopause for ten years can reduce their risk of heart failure, heart attacks and premature death.


Effects of Iodine deficiency on children

Iodides are normally added to table salt if not naturally present (as in sea salt).  It is the unfounded horror of salt that leads to iodine deficiency

Children deprived of iodine in the womb are worse at literacy especially in spelling, a new study warned.

But lack of the chemical had no effect on a child's maths skills, suggesting the deficiency affects the development of auditory pathways and auditory working memory.

Scientists say expectant mums could prevent long-term neurological impairment by taking supplements as part of their daily diet.

Iodine is absorbed from food and plays a key role in brain development, but even a mild deficiency during pregnancy can harm the baby's brain development.

The nutrient can be found in a variety of foods and is especially rich in shellfish, but pregnant women should not eat this food.

The study examined standardised test scores of 228 children whose mothers attended The Royal Hobart Hospital's antenatal clinics in Tasmania between 1999 and 2001.

The children were born during a period of mild iodine deficiency in the population, but conditions were reversed when bread manufacturers began using iodised salt in October 2001 as part of a voluntary iodine fortification programme.

Results showed inadequate iodine exposure was associated with lasting effects with nine-year-olds - the children who received insufficient iodine in the womb - gaining lower scores on their literacy tests particularly in spelling.

However researchers from the University of Tasmania found that low iodine intake had absolutely no effect on maths scores.

They suggest iodine deficiency may take more of a toll on the development of auditory pathways and consequently, auditory working memory.

They say the results are preventable if pregnant women take daily dietary supplements containing iodine.

Dr Kristen Hynes said: 'Our research found children may continue to experience the effects of insufficient iodine for years after birth.

'Although the participants' diet was fortified with iodine during childhood, later supplementation was not enough to reverse the impact of the deficiency during the mother's pregnancy.

'Fortunately, iodine deficiency during pregnancy and the resulting neurological impact is preventable.

'Pregnant women should follow public health guidelines and take daily dietary supplements containing iodine.

'Public health supplementation programs also can play a key role in monitoring how much iodine the population is receiving and acting to ensure at-risk groups receive enough iodine in the diet.'

The results are published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.


1 May, 2013

Want your memory to stay sharp in old age? Eat less red meat and more oily fish (?)

The usual epidemiological rubbish and fishoil faith.  Findings probably a social class effect

A Mediterranean diet low in red meat and dairy food and high in omega-3 fatty acids can help preserve memory and thinking abilities, say researchers.

Scientists in the U.S. studied the diets of 17,478 people with an average age of 64.  Participants were given tests that measured mental ability over an average of four years.  During the course of the study, seven per cent developed memory and thinking deficits.

The study found people who more closely followed a Mediterranean diet had a 19 per cent reduced risk of mental impairment.

A key element of the Mediterranean diet is omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, flax seed, walnuts and pulses, which are known to benefit the brain and nervous system.

The diet typically also contains high levels of fresh fruit and vegetables and low levels of saturated fat.

The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Neurology.

Lead researcher Dr Georgios Tsivgoulis, from the universities of Alabama in the US and Athens in Greece, said: 'Since there are no definitive treatments for most dementing illnesses, modifiable activities, such as diet, that may delay the onset of symptoms of dementia are very important.

'Diet is an important modifiable activity that could help in preserving cognitive functioning in late life. However, it is only one of several important lifestyle activities that might play a role in late-life mental functioning.

Exercise, avoiding obesity, not smoking cigarettes and taking medications for conditions like diabetes and hypertension are also important.'

Other recent research found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can cut heart attacks, strokes and death rates in people at high risk of heart disease by as much as a third.

Changing the balance of foods in a diet can lessen the risk even before heart-related illness strikes, according to a major clinical trial.

Previous studies have compared the effects of the diet on people after they have suffered a heart attack or stroke – with many showing improved heart health.

But this research, published online by the New England Journal of Medicine, was the first to rigorously test the effects on a high-risk group.

In fact, the study of around 7,500 people was halted early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it would have been unethical not to recommend the diet to all those taking part.


Drinking alcohol regularly could LOWER your risk of arthritis

This is a meta-analysis, offering no new data.  Pretty hard to critique without re-doing the whole study.  But probably just epidemiological speculation

Drinking alcohol in moderation could slash the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, according to new research.  Some regular drinkers were nearly half as likely to develop the crippling condition as teetotallers or those who rarely drank.

Researchers discovered the connection after carrying out an extensive review of previous studies that looked into the role of alcohol and rheumatoid arthritis.

The results, published in the journal Rheumatology, suggest a few drinks a week could have a protective effect against a disease that affects around 600,000 people in the UK.

Although the latest investigation did not look at the reasons why a regular tipple might offer some protection, earlier research suggested it could be because alcohol appears to dampen down inflammation in the body and also has a mild pain-killing effect.

Rheumatoid arthritis is triggered when the immune system, the body's in-built defence mechanism, goes into action unnecessarily, attacking joints and sometimes other parts of the body.  The reasons why remain a mystery but some evidence suggests exposure to mild infection may be enough to launch this over-reaction.

As a result, joints become inflamed and swollen, causing pain or stiffness, and many sufferers also experience flu-like symptoms.  In very severe cases, they can end up crippled and unable to live a full or active life.

Several small studies in recent years have hinted that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol could reduce the risks of developing the incurable condition.

Animal studies, for example, indicate mice are less likely to suffer arthritis if they have small amounts of alcohol added to their drinking water.

Now researchers from King's College London have carried out a meta-analysis, where data from earlier investigations are pooled to provide a more definitive answer.

They gathered findings from nine different studies involving a total of nearly 12,000 patients.

When they combined all the results they found that regular drinkers were 48 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

However, the benefits were confined to patients who tested positive for anti-citrulllinated protein antibodies.

These are proteins that are released into the bloodstream when the disease in emerging and can often be detected before any symptoms appear.

They affect around two-thirds of arthritis sufferers and their presence indicates a more severe form of the disease.

Patients who tested negative for the protein, which suggests they have a milder form of the disease, saw little or no benefit from regular drinking.

In a report on their findings the researchers said: 'Alcohol intake is inversely associated with ACPA-positive rheumatoid arthritis, suggesting a protective effect.  'But further research is needed to confirm this relationship.'


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. More here on similar findings

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

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

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

The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.

"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 in general but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees -- the statin and antioxidant fads, for instance. 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 great and fraudulent scare about lead

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.

Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it

The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

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

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

The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.

Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here

This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.

I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like