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


30 November, 2009

Tall people face ups, downs

There has long been evidence that tall people are favoured in many ways and the links to illness could be a byproduct of that. Just to name one possibility: Tall men tend to be much more successful with the ladies and that could influence a number of lifestyle factors with health consequences. That tallness of itself is in any way unhealthy is not proven

TALL people are more likely to earn the big bucks, but they're also at increased risk of some cancers, research shows. Brisbane geneticist Brian McEvoy said studies had found taller people were more likely to be diagnosed with thyroid, breast, pancreatic and bowel cancers than their vertically challenged colleagues. But he said short people had more chance of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and osteoarthritis.

Dr McEvoy and colleague Peter Visscher, of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, reviewed 70 scientific studies on human height to get the long and short on how stature affects health. Their findings will be published in the December edition of the journal, Economics and Human Biology.

Dr McEvoy said about 50 genes had been linked to height in the past two years, but geneticists believed hundreds, possibly thousands, of genes were involved. Although genes are believed to be responsible for about 80 per cent of the height differences between people, environmental factors – such as diet and disease exposure – are also important. For example, Dr McEvoy said Dutch men were on average 19cm taller today than they were 150 years ago, probably because of improved diets and better health care.

Studies of genes involved in height are already shedding some light on diseases such as cancer and osteoarthritis. One of the first genes to be associated with height, known as HMG2A, has been found to be over-abundant in many types of cancerous tumours while another height-linked gene, GDF5, is believed to be involved in osteoarthritis. "People with lower levels of GDF5 protein tend to have shorter bones and less cartilage, leading to increased wear and tear at their joints and the pain and movement problems that characterise osteoarthritis," Dr McEvoy said. "Plausible genetic routes are beginning to emerge to biologically explain the statistical correlation between height and many health outcomes."

Dr McEvoy said a clear link had also been found between being tall and improved socioeconomic outcomes. "One Australian study found that a 10cm increase in height was associated with a 3 per cent increase in hourly wages," he said. "Why that is, I'm not so sure. One suggestion is that taller people may grow up to be more confident and that comes through in later life. "If you're taller as a child, perhaps you grow up to have a better self-image and that leads to better interpersonal skills and that, perhaps, leads to earning more."

Dr McEvoy said the results were not "predictive of any particular individual".


Nutty Swedes hit on nail beds as cutting-edge cure-all

The famously pain-resistant Vikings might have approved of the latest fad sweeping Sweden. Nail beds are becoming popular with health-conscious consumers convinced that lying on rubber pads embedded with sharp, plastic pins is good for them. Hindu fakirs favour a wooden bed bristling with metal nails, but the spiky foam version does the job nicely, says Catarina Rolfsdotter-Jansson, a 46-year-old yoga instructor and writer who uses one every day and describes it as being “quite painful actually”. “The back looks picked at, as if with a fork”, when a person gets up off the mat. But then “you relax and feel nice again”, she told The New York Times.

Users often claim relief from insomnia, migraines and asthma, while a more zealous group believes that the mat can cure everything from schizophrenia to dandruff. At times these Nordic nail bed devotees seem like a cult: 3,000 of them gathered recently in a Stockholm park, placing their mats in the form of the rays of the sun. They sang mantras and fell asleep.

Not everyone is convinced of the benefits, however. The Svenska Dagbladet newspaper concluded recently that there was “nothing that even approaches a scientific proof for the effects” of the nail bed. In response, the largest manufacturer is organising medically supervised trials to monitor 30 regular users. “We’re doing a clinical test to see what happens in the body,” said Max Hoffmann, who recently gave up a job at Ikea, the furniture giant, to become marketing director for Shakti mats, named after the Hindu fertility goddess. “We’re not looking for what the mat can heal, but what happens to the body — you know, blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature.”

The mats measure 16in by 28in, contain from 4,000 to 8,000 spikes — the fewer the spikes, the more they hurt — and range in price from £30 to £70. Several brands are sold in Stockholm fitness shops and over the internet. Manufacturers are looking forward to a bonanza over Christmas.

One of the pioneers was Susanna Lindelow, of CuraComp, which has made about 100,000 mats in the past year. She discovered nail beds in her quest for relief from severe lower back pain. “I had tried a lot of things,” she said. Nothing worked. As a last resort, she bought a Russian-made nail bed by mail order. She was so impressed with the result that she had a demonstration model made in plastic, then went into production.

Swedes have been buying them since, many in the hope of soothing aches and pains associated with the cyber-generation. “Swedes sit too much in front of the computer, they don’t walk enough, they don’t stretch enough,” said Rolfsdotter-Jansson. “People find this [nail bed] helps.”

Some are waiting for the price to go down before buying their nail bed: it is expected that the market will soon be flooded by cheaper imports from China. One day, no doubt, they will be on offer at Ikea.


29 November, 2009

Toss Out the Myths With the Embalming Fluid

Activists like journalism professor Michael Pollan are quick to blame foods in our “Western diet” for a smorgasbord of problems -- heart disease being the most recent one. But a new investigation stuffs this foodie blame-game in a sarcophagus. Researchers examining Egyptian mummies discovered that our predecessors 3,500 years ago also suffered from hardened arteries, and they didn’t eat fast food. As The Wall Street Journal reports:
[Researchers] were able to identify the hearts, arteries or both in 16 of the mummies, nine of whom had deposits of calcification …

"Not only do we have atherosclerosis [artery hardening] now, it was prevalent as long as 3,500 years ago," said Gregory Thomas, a cardiologist and imaging specialist at University of California, Irvine, who was principal investigator of the study. "It is part of the human condition."
You wouldn’t think that it’s a “human condition” by listening to trial lawyers like John “Sue the Bastards” Banzhaf, though. Banzhaf and his fellow sharks make a living pushing the idea that foods — specifically, fast foods — are to blame for health problems like widening waistlines, and have filed a number of frivolous “obesity lawsuits” based on this premise. (Thankfully, these have been laughed out of court, both the legal and public-opinion kind.)

Hopefully, today’s news put a nail in the coffin of the idea that fast food — or any modern culinary convenience — is a unique cause of heart disease. As one of the researchers noted, heart disease “is as old as the pyramids.” So, likely, are super-sized food superstitions.


Food fanaticism: Go hungry rather than have "incorrect" food

Two different reactions by two NYC charities below. Only one has a heart

1). When a small church comes to the Bowery Mission bearing fried chicken with trans fat, unwittingly breaking the law, they’re told “thank you.” Then workers quietly chuck the food, mission director Tom Bastile said. “It’s always hard for us to do,” Basile said. “We know we have to do it.”

2). A Manhattan deli going out of business delivered a pickup truck’s worth of lettuce, sundried tomatoes, hamburgers, sausages and other food to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen last week. With 1,400 meals to serve daily, Operations Manager Michael Ottley was extremely grateful. He didn’t check the trans fat content of the food.

Lines at soup kitchens are up by 21 percent this year, according to a NYC Coalition Against Hunger report released yesterday. The city’s law banishing trans fat took effect in July 2008 and touched everyone with Health Department food licenses — including emergency food providers.

Less than 5 percent of donated food still has the artificial fat, Ottley estimated, but he said, “I can’t in good conscience throw away food.”


28 November, 2009

Chocolates work 'like anti-depressants'

If you believe rat research that did not actually use chocolates

AUSTRALIAN scientists have confirmed what chocoholics have been praying is true - their favourite comfort food can reduce stress. Food rich in fat and sugar can alter chemical composition in the brain to reduce anxiety, professor Margaret Morris said.

In a study of rats, Professor Morris, from the University of NSW's School of Medical Sciences, found effects of past trauma could be erased by "unlimited access to yummy food". "Implementing that diet reversed anxiety ... it took an animal back to the non-stressed state," Professor Morris said. "We really don't know why, but there seems to be a biochemical link."

Using two groups of baby rats, one with normal contact with mothers, the other with lengthy separations and higher stress hormones, scientists found they became less stressed with comfort foods. "The control group had no effect from the diet really, but the stressed animals had a deficit ... which was restored by the diet." "(The) food seems to affect neurogenesis similar to the way anti-depressants promote nerve growth in the brain."


Tiny hidden disc 'can wipe out skin cancer'

A disc the size of a fingernail that destroys the most dangerous form of skin cancer has been developed by scientists. Fitted under the skin, the tiny device wiped out melanoma in up to half of the cases it was tested on. It paves the way for a treatment with improved prognosis and fewer side-effects than traditional anti-cancer drugs. The disc, which measures 8.5mm across, uses proteins usually found on skin tumours as 'bait' to trigger a powerful immune response.

The process begins with the disc, which is porous and loaded with a cocktail of compounds, being implanted under the skin. It releases proteins that lure immune-system messengers inside the disc. There, they spot the tumour proteins planted as bait and kickstart a chain of reactions which culminate in specialised white blood cells hunting down and destroying the tumour itself. The cells are programmed to attack only the tumour, sparing healthy cells from damage, and the body from side effects such as hair loss and nausea.

The manipulation of the immune system means the disc is classed as a vaccine, even though it would be used to treat cancer, rather than prevent it.

When mice with large melanomas were treated, tumours were eliminated in up to half of cases. In contrast, untreated animals rapidly succumbed, the journal Science Translational Medicine reports.

The work, at Harvard University in the U.S., is at an early stage but suggests a similar device could be used to combat skin cancer in people. The scientists believe their technique is simpler than vaccine treatments under development. Researcher Professor David Mooney said: 'We've taken a major step toward the design of effective cancer vaccines.'


27 November, 2009

Looking on the bright side

Pointing out how one-sided food alarmism is. I don't think they get it wholly right but it is a big advance on most food advice

They say a bit of what you fancy does you good. But what good can a few rashers of bacon, a glass of wine and a scoop of ice cream be doing for you? More than you think. Here, we highlight the hidden benefits in a few of your favourite things.

Jam: Undeniably high in sugar, but preserves have an unexpected health benefit. A study by the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, UK, has found that pectin, a natural gelling agent, can block the progress of cancer through the body by "sticking" to the protein Gal3, which causes tumour growth.

Bacon: When eaten in moderation, bacon could be considered a superfood. Almost half the fat content is monounsaturated, which is known to lower cholesterol levels. And its monounsaturated content comes from oleic acid, the same "good" fat found in olive oil.

Cheddar cheese: It may not be great for your waistline or your heart - your recommended daily intake of saturates is contained in just three sandwich-size slices. However, it is good for your teeth, and not just because it's high in calcium. A cube of cheddar after a meal will neutralise the acids in your mouth, thus helping to prevent tooth decay.

Ice cream: A scoop of ice cream can give your mood a noticeable lift. A study by the Institute of Psychiatry in London has found out why - because eating ice cream can light up the brain's pleasure zones. Just once lick is enough to stimulate the orbitofrontal cortex, the main processing area and the part of the brain associated with the pleasures of sex and eating.

Potatoes: When kept away from the fryer, the humble spud packs a nutritional punch. American scientists have identified 60 different types of phytochemicals and vitamins in potato skins - many of which help lower cholesterol and protect against heart disease - while researchers at the Institute for Food Research have found they contain blood-pressure lowering molecules called kukoamines.

Coffee: Gym bunnies, take note: sinking an espresso boosts the fat-burning potential of cardiovascular exercise. Caffeine dilates blood vessels, thus increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to muscles. A post-workout americano can reduce aches, too. Coffee also stimulates the release of cholecystokinin, a hormone which inhibits cholesterol build-up in the gallbladder.

And, of course, chocolate: With its ability to boost "feel-good" endorphin levels, chocolate has long been used as a mood-lifter. But it can also improve the brain's ability to do mental arithmetic. A team of volunteers found that mathematical equations became easier after they ate dark chocolate, which is rich in flavonoids which improve the function of blood vessels and promote oxygen flow to the brain.

If you needed another excuse to eat it, chocolate might also help you lose weight. Last week, a new brand of chocolate was launched which claims to trick your brain into believing you aren't hungry. Called Lola, the sweets are cholesterol-free, and are said to help digestion by boosting a healthy level of intestinal bacteria.

Its Spanish inventors recommend that you eat one or two chocolates before a meal, to help you feel full. The only drawback - apart from the price (pounds 5 for a box of five) and the fact that it's only available in Spain - is the slight green tinge, which comes from its special ingredient spirulina, a nutrient-rich algae.

And red wine: Prepare to raise your glass to some cheering news. Last week, a study found that moderate alcohol consumption can protect against heart disease. The report showed that drinking up to 30 grams of alcohol a day, the equivalent of one large glass of red wine, reduced the risk of heart disease by half. The effect was not seen for all forms of alcohol. Increasing consumption does not improve the protective effect, and raises the risk of cancer, accidents, mental health problems and liver cirrhosis.

Drinking up to two glasses of red wine a day has also long been thought to improve your brain power. Dr Clinton Wright, professor of neurology at Columbia University, New York, found that moderate drinkers score higher in mental acuity tests than those who never touch alcohol. It is known that resveratrol, a compound found in grape skins, promotes healthy blood flow to the brain. Studies suggest that it also boosts your immune system.

While too much alcohol is linked to high blood pressure, liver problems and infertility, resveratrol has been variously linked to fighting cancer, obesity, diabetes, and even the signs of old age. Results from a new laboratory study, published earlier this month, suggest it may also slow the formation of the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Bad for you, actually

Tofu: Tofu (bean curd) is assumed to be the healthiest of foods, as it is low in calories, relatively high in protein and iron and has no saturated fat or cholesterol. However, like other soya products, research suggests it may be harmful to male fertility.

Orange juice: It is packed with vitamins and count towards your five-a-day. But the high sucrose content of orange juice attacks the enamel on your teeth and can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Wholemeal bread: Fibre-packed wholemeal bread could also be laden with sugar. Professor Peter Whorwell, an expert on irritable bowel syndrome, says that fibre-rich foods should also be reconsidered as key elements of healthy diets. "Adding a bulking agent in the form of fibre gives the bowel more work to do, so if you're constipated it is likely to worsen symptoms. "

Smoothies: The fruity goodness may be outweighed by the number of calories as smoothies are loaded with natural sugar.

Yoghurt: This healthy snack can be damaging to the teeth. Bacteria in the milk can react with sugars in the food, triggering acid production and enamel erosion.

Apples: An apple a day may well keep the doctor away, but it will also keep the dentist busy. Eating apples can contain the equivalent of four teaspoons of sugar.

Sushi: Oily fish such as salmon and tuna are rich in healthy omega 3, but they may also be high in mercury.


Obesity Is Caused by Low Minimum Wage"?

Before you embark on this fun weekend of overeating (I know I am), you might be happy to know that whatever weight you put on won't be your fault. It is the fault of our low real minimum wage. This recent study by David Meltzer at the University of Chicago and Zhuo Chen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that low inflation-adjusted minimum wages are partly to blame for increased obesity.

Here is why: People are fatter. That's because they eat too much. And that's because the food is getting cheaper everyday, especially "fast food." But that's because wages in real term have "declined by as much as half over 1968-2007 and because minimum wage labor is a major contributor to the cost of food away from home," the authors explain.

Getting it? So in order for America to slim down, we need to increase the minimum wage to make the cost of labor and the price of fast food higher. While we are at it we need to increase the tax on soda and sugary drinks. And we need to impose a surtax on turkey and all of these yummy Thanksgiving goodies that you will be overconsuming this weekend.

Thankfully, the jury is not convinced of the relationship between obesity and low wages. Also, the science and the economics have come out against many of the assertions that taxing sugary drinks would reduce obesity.

Happy Thanksgiving!


26 November, 2009

Hungry Jack's criticized over monster burger

"Hungry Jack's" is the Australian branch of America's "Burger King". When something is attacked by "the chairman of the Sydney World Action on Salt and Health", you know you are dealing with an attention-seeking fraud -- and you can be pretty sure that the truth is the reverse of what he says -- since a low salt diet REDUCES your lifespan. The full range of scientific evidence shows NO basis for the salt phobia. Salt deficiency ("hyponatremia") is however a major cause of death in some settings. Google it

HEALTH experts are demanding warning labels be put on a new burger that contains almost twice as much saturated fat and 40 per cent more salt than the recommended daily intakes. Hungry Jack's double Angry Angus, packed with deep fried onion rings, two slices of cheese, two beef patties and several rashers of bacon, contains 26 grams of saturated fat and 5.6 grams of salt - 10 grams more saturated fat and 1.6 grams more salt than the daily intake recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Eating the Angry Angus would cause a diner's blood pressure to rise immediately and eating it regularly would cause chronic high blood pressure, leading to heart attack, kidney failure and stroke, the chairman of the Sydney World Action on Salt and Health, Bruce Neal, said yesterday. Children who eat a high sodium diet risk developing obesity, asthma and high blood pressure. "Hungry Jack's appears to have little commitment to the health of their consumers. In the context of our national obesity crisis this type of product is reckless," Professor Neal said.

Australians should eat one to two grams of salt a day but most ate about nine grams, he said. If that was cut to six grams, the chances of heart attack or stroke would drop 15 to 20 per cent. "If manufacturers were forced to use front-of-pack warnings, they would reform their products pretty quickly to ensure they didn't have to carry that label," he said.

The chief executive of the Heart Foundation, Tony Thirlwell, said the company was behaving irresponsibly. "The burger has a great title because it makes me doubly angry. It is highly disappointing that a manufacturer in modern-day Australia would consider serving this to people. "To think that you could have only one of these burgers every two days and nothing else is a ridiculous idea." [It's the food "standards" that are ridiculous]

He called on food manufacturers to put pressure on Hungry Jack's to act responsibly before the Government was forced to step in, banning or taxing high-calorie meals. "This behaviour is not in the best interests of the food industry or the consumers because this burger can cause serious heart disease." [Proof?]

Hungry Jack's did not respond to the Herald's inquiries but late yesterday altered the nutritional figures on its website, lowering the saturated fat content for the double Angry Angus to 21.3 grams and salt to 4.5 grams.

An associate professor in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle, Clare Collins, said people needed protection against "monster foods". "It's shocking," she said. "We don't need a burger like this. It should carry a message saying 'increase your health premium now because you'll need it for your coronary care'."

A survey this year found three-quarters of sandwiches and burgers sold by McDonald's, Subway, Oporto, Red Rooster, KFC and Hungry Jack's contained over half the maximum daily allowance of salt in a single serve.


Pain drug morphine may cause cancer to spread

Another meltdown for conventional medical wisdom?

Morphine used to relieve the pain of cancer may actually cause the disease to spread, scientists claimed today. Laboratory tests suggest the opium-based drug promotes the growth of new blood vessels which deliver oxygen and nutrients to tumours. Dr Patrick Singleton told an American Association for Cancer Research summit that morphine also appeared to make it easier for cancers to invade other tissues.

But he said this could be overcome by a drug - methylnaltrexone or MNTX - developed in the 1980s to prevent morphine-related constipation. The drug, which was only recently approved in the U.S. appears to work without interfering with the pain-relieving properties of the opiate. In mice with lung cancer, MNTX inhibited the apparent tumour-promoting effects of opiates, and reduced the spread of cancer in the mice by 90 per cent.

‘If confirmed clinically, this could change how we do surgical anaesthesia for our cancer patients,’ said Dr Singleton, of the University of Chicago Medical Centre, told the meeting of fellow experts in Boston. ‘It also suggests potential new applications for this novel class of drugs which should be explored.’

The tests were started after his colleague, anaesthetist Jonathan Moss, noted that several patients receiving this kind of opiate blocker survived longer than might be expected after surgery.

Dr Laura Bell of Cancer Research UK said the drugs had a long history of providing effective pain relief. ‘Research in this area is in the early stages, so it’s too early to tell whether opiate-based painkillers have an effect on cancer growth. ‘Much more research would be needed to justify changing the way opiates are used to treat people with cancer.’

Speaking at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Boston, they also claim to have found a drug which counters this effect. Cancer Research UK said more tests were needed before any changes in treatment.


25 November, 2009

Mobile cancer scare 'all in your head'

MOBILE phones appear to be "very safe", says an expert who points out that people were initially suspicious about mains power and microwaves. Professor Rodney Croft, executive director of The Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research (ACRBR), says concerns over the location of mobile phone base stations should similarly dissipate over time.

"There really isn't a great deal of difference between your basic FM radio antenna and your base station's antennas," Prof Croft says. "Radio transmissions have been around for a long, long time and people don't seem to mind being exposed to that."

Prof Croft, who is Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Wollongong, says humans have "a tendency to be suspicious of all new things". "When microwave ovens first came out there was a great deal of suspicion about them, when mains power came out there was a great deal of suspicion about it," he says. "People do move on . . . providing, of course, no science comes out showing it is more dangerous. And certainly the centre's view is that's not likely to happen."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is soon to release its Interphone study, a decade-long investigation into the health implications of mobile phone use. The report could be released before the year's end, and there is speculation it will draw a definitive link between long-term mobile phone use and an increased risk of brain tumours.

But Prof Croft rejects this. He says the WHO is expected to discount some of the research which highlighted cancer links as methodologically flawed and "clearly not correct". "But it will still leave open the possibility that long-term effects have not been looked at adequately, and may turn out to be a problem," Prof Croft says. "It all seems to be pointing to the same thing... that there is not a problem (with mobile phone use). "Our perspective is that we don't see any science indicating a health effect. It really looks very safe."

Prominent Sydney brain surgeon Dr Charlie Teo last month warned people should "err on the side of safety" and take simple steps to reduce their exposure. Dr Teo says mobile phones should be used on loudspeaker while other electronic devices, such as a clock radio, should be placed at the base instead of the head of the bed. [The head of a Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research versus a surgeon with no expertise in the subject]


The Statinator Paradox

Pity the poor lipophobes and statinators. They’ve just taken another grievous wound to their favorite theory and haven’t even got sense enough to know it. In fact, not only do they not have sense enough to realize they’ve taken the hit, they’re actually crowing about it.

The current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has an article titled Trends in High Levels of Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol in the United States, 1999-2006 that puts another major dent in whatever validity remains of the lipid hypothesis of heart disease.

I’m going to start categorizing the types of findings published in this paper under the rubric of The Statinator Paradox. I find it interesting that whenever scientists discover data that shows the opposite of what their hypotheses predict, they don’t conclude that their hypotheses might be wrong; instead they deem the contradiction a ‘paradox’ and bumble on ahead with their hypotheses intact.

The lipophobes hold the hypothesis dear that saturated fat causes heart disease. When the data began to surface that the French eat tons more saturated fat than do Americans yet suffer only a fraction of the heart attacks, the French Paradox was born. Nothing wrong with our hypothesis, it’s just those pesky French people who are somehow different. It’s a By God paradox, that’s what it is.

Same thing happened with the Spanish. Researchers looked at the food consumption data in Spain and discovered that Spaniards had been eating more meat, more cheese and more dairy while decreasing their consumption of sugar and other carbohydrate-rich foods over a 15-year period. And, lo and behold, during this same period, stroke and heart disease rates fell. Can’t be. Saturated fat causes all these things. But the data show… Thus came the Spanish Paradox. Statinators and lipophobes believe with all their little fat-free hearts that LDL-cholesterol is bad and is the driving factor behind heart disease. So whenever I come upon data that gives the lie to this notion, I’m going to start calling it the Statinator Paradox.

This JAMA paper is a classic case of the Statinator Paradox. Researchers using the NHANES data looked at the change in the prevalence of elevated LDL cholesterol and found that it fell substantially from 1999-2000 to 2005-2006. In a period of about six years the prevalence of high LDL cholesterol dropped by a third, which is a lot of drop in a fairly short period of time.

And since everyone knows that high LDL cholesterol causes heart disease, it should go without saying that during this same time period there occurred a significant decrease in the prevalence of heart disease. Right? Uh, well, no, not really. If anything, the prevalence of heart disease actually increased. But not to a statistically significant degree. So statistically there was no difference in the prevalence of heart disease during a time in which high LDL cholesterol levels were falling. But if high LDL cholestrol causes heart disease…? It’s the ol’ Statinator Paradox writ large...

In setting up the study, the researchers went through a lot of rigmarole to allocate subjects to three different categories depending upon their degree of risk for developing heart disease. In determining this risk, researchers used the Framingham risk equation, which relies to a great extent on cholesterol levels to allocate that risk. Which is strange since the Framingham Study has never shown elevated cholesterol to be a risk factor for heart disease.

Once subjects were divvied into these three groups, the researchers measured LDL-cholesterol levels and calculated what percentage of subjects in each group had high LDL-cholesterol levels. The threshold as to what was high varied as a function of the risk level of the group as a whole. The bar for what was high was lowest in the high risk group and highest in the low-risk group. In other words, if subjects had multiple risk factors, then an LDL-cholesterol level of anything over 100 mg/dl was considered ‘high,’ whereas in subjects in the lowest risk category, an LDL-cholesterol level over 160 was considered ‘high.’

Researchers calculated as a percentage the number of subjects who had high LDL-cholesterol in each risk group and did the calculations again six years later. The weighted age-standardized prevalence of high LDL-C levels among all participants and among participants in each ATP III risk category decreased significantly during the study periods. Which is what they were crowing about. Our therapy dramatically decreased the number of people at risk for heart disease.

But as for heart disease itself: No significant changes were observed in the prevalence of CHD or CHD equivalents from 1999-2000 to 2005-2006. So what did our researchers conclude from the fact that there were one third fewer people with high LDL-cholesterol yet there was no decrease in heart disease?

They concluded the obvious. There were still two thirds of people with LDL-cholesterol levels that were too high. And, no doubt, these people were not on statins. Don’t believe me? Here it is in their own words: "However, our study found that almost two-thirds of participants who were at high risk for developing CHD within 10 years and who were eligible for lipid-lowering drugs were not receiving medication."

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight. This study shows no evidence that lowering LDL-cholesterol levels decreases the prevalence of heart disease. And what we conclude from this data is that we simply need to treat more people. Brilliant!

As I was reading this paper online, I got a bing alerting me that I had an email from Medscape bringing me the latest in mainstream medical thought. I opened the email and began scrolling through the various articles displayed when my eye fell on one titled “Lipids for Dummies.” I clicked on it, and what opened was a video of a statinator of the deepest dye interviewing an alpha statinator about how to best deal with the risk of heart disease. It was unbelievable.

Here in a short interview is everything that is wrong with mainstream medicine today. We have two influential doctors at the pinnacle of their academic and clinical prowess – no doubt on the payrolls of multiple pharmaceutical companies – who are absolutely full of themselves blathering on about expensive treatments that have no true scientific grounding. And their BS is being disseminated to practicing doctors everywhere. Instead of ‘Lipids for Dummies’ this interview should have been called Dummies for Statins. Watch and just shake your head.

These guys aren’t really talking about reducing the risk for heart disease or early death; they’re discussing how to use extremely expensive medications that are not particularly benign to treat lab values. As I’ve written countless times, statins can quickly and effectively treat lab values, but there is little evidence they treat much else. So if you want to have lab values that are the envy of all your friends, statins are the way to go. But if you want to really reduce your risk for all-cause mortality, you might want to think twice before you sign up for a drug that will cost you (or your insurance company) $150-$250 per month, make your muscles ache, diminish your memory and cognition, and potentially croak your liver.


24 November, 2009

Fad diets INCREASE weight

Celebrity 'fad' diets are fuelling the obesity epidemic, doctors warn. They claim such plans are actually keeping people fat, with just one in ten Britons predicted to be a healthy weight by 2050. And they say weight-watchers should curb the amount they eat, rather than follow diets which offer only a short-term solution.

Diets that recommend eating only grapefruit, for example, or fruit and seeds found in the Bible should be avoided, says Professor Chris Hawkey, president of the British Society of Gastroenterology. He also criticised the Tiger diet - which advocates uncooked food and is reportedly followed by Mel Gibson - and the apple diet, which claims to boost the body's acidity and fight disease.

A survey commissioned by the BSG shows most dieters will try anything to get thin - except follow a sensible eating and exercise plan that has been shown to work. One in 20 women said they would try the Atkins diet to lose weight - even though only 2 per cent think it is good for their health. At the same time, one in five of the 2,000 Britons questioned admitted they would use weight loss pills to help shed excess pounds.

Professor Hawkey, speaking today at the Gastro 2009 conference in London, will claim ruthless promotion of unhealthy foods and diets has fostered over-eating and the growth of pathological attitudes to eating. These include anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia - an obsession with eating 'good' foods - and malnutrition.

Professor Hawkey said: 'In food fadism the virtue of favoured foods is exaggerated and purported to cure specific diseases, while supposedly harmful foods are eliminated from the diet. 'Foods fads are often based on a well elaborated scientific or, more often, pseudo-scientific theory but such is the complexity of diet that the specific value of the nutritional content is seldom tested.' And he will tell the conference: 'The problem facing society is not the content of our diet but the quantity we are consuming.

'We need to do away with quirky diets and get people to realise what will keep them healthy. 'In the majority of cases, simply increasing physical activity levels and eating sensibly will help prevent long-term conditions.'

David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: 'Diets don't work. You may lose weight in the short term, and there are a few exceptions when people manage to keep it off. 'But most people put the weight back on. The most effective way is making sustainable changes to reduce dietary intake and increase physical activity.'


Modern 'superdiets' based on myths, says expert

Another report of the speech mentioned above. This guy is a real truth teller. He even has some time for the hated Atkins diet

Superdiets such as drinking large amounts of grapefruit juice or eating only raw fruit and vegetables have been exposed as just food myths, a leading professor claims. Professor Chris Hawkey, president of the British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), said some people developed a “quasi-religious” attitude towards what was the best thing to eat, based on little or no scientific evidence.

He highlighted more than a dozen famous diets including rawism, which argues that cooking food makes it less nutritious, the grapefruit diet, based on the idea that an enzyme in the juice breaks down fat, and the alkaline diet, which seeks to maintain the slightly alkaline nature of the blood by eating certain foods. “Food has been shrouded in myths and fairy tales since time immemorial," said Professor Hawkey at the Gastro 2009 conference, which is being held in London until Wednesday. “But what’s important is to recognise that, despite the popularity of fad diets, we are losing a grip on the fight with obesity.”

He said the grapefruit diet, which Kylie Minogue has reportedly used, was unlikely to have an effect because the enzyme would probably be broken down in the gut before being able to get at body fat.

Professor Hawkey also flagged up the lack of evidence for the ‘chewing movement’, which dates back to the 19th century and counsels chewing 32 times to aid digestion. “[Former Prime Minister] Gladstone was apparently very eccentrically in favour of this diet. The idea is that salivary enzymes start digestion,” he said, adding that it was based more on “theory than evidence”.

However he had mixed feelings about the controversial Atkins diet, which says people should avoid carbohydrate and eat protein. “It is not terribly healthy in the sense that you are going to have a lot of fat, but if you lose weight then it is a good thing,” Professor Hawkey said. “The theory is that it resets the metabolic rate and there is some science to back that up.”


An apparent surgical cure for MS?

Elena Ravalli was a seemingly healthy 37-year-old when she began to experience strange attacks of vertigo, numbness, temporary vision loss and crushing fatigue. They were classic signs of multiple sclerosis, a potentially debilitating neurological disease.

It was 1995 and her husband, Paolo Zamboni, a professor of medicine at the University of Ferrara in Italy, set out to help. He was determined to solve the mystery of MS – an illness that strikes people in the prime of their lives but whose causes are unknown and whose effective treatments are few.

What he learned in his medical detective work, scouring dusty old books and using ultra-modern imaging techniques, could well turn what we know about MS on its head: Dr. Zamboni's research suggests that MS is not, as widely believed, an autoimmune condition, but a vascular disease.

More radical still, the experimental surgery he performed on his wife offers hope that MS, which afflicts 2.5 million people worldwide, can be cured and even largely prevented. “I am confident that this could be a revolution for the research and diagnosis of multiple sclerosis,” Dr. Zamboni said in an interview.

Not everyone is so bullish: Skeptics warn the evidence is too scant and speculative to start rewriting medical textbooks. Even those intrigued by the theory caution that MS sufferers should not rush off to get the surgery – nicknamed the “liberation procedure” – until more research is done. U.S. and Canadian researchers are trying to test Dr. Zamboni's premise.

For the Italian professor, however, the quest was both personal and professional and the results were stunning. Fighting for his wife's health, Dr. Zamboni looked for answers in the medical literature. He found repeated references, dating back a century, to excess iron as a possible cause of MS. The heavy metal can cause inflammation and cell death, hallmarks of the disease. The vascular surgeon was intrigued – coincidentally, he had been researching how iron buildup damages blood vessels in the legs, and wondered if there could be a similar problem in the blood vessels of the brain.

Using ultrasound to examine the vessels leading in and out of the brain, Dr. Zamboni made a startling find: In more than 90 per cent of people with multiple sclerosis, including his spouse, the veins draining blood from the brain were malformed or blocked. In people without MS, they were not.

He hypothesized that iron was damaging the blood vessels and allowing the heavy metal, along with other unwelcome cells, to cross the crucial brain-blood barrier. (The barrier keeps blood and cerebrospinal fluid separate. In MS, immune cells cross the blood-brain barrier, where they destroy myelin, a crucial sheathing on nerves.)

More striking still was that, when Dr. Zamboni performed a simple operation to unclog veins and get blood flowing normally again, many of the symptoms of MS disappeared. The procedure is similar to angioplasty, in which a catheter is threaded into the groin and up into the arteries, where a balloon is inflated to clear the blockages. His wife, who had the surgery three years ago, has not had an attack since.

The researcher's theory is simple: that the underlying cause of MS is a condition he has dubbed “chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency.” If you tackle CCSVI by repairing the drainage problems from the brain, you can successfully treat, or better still prevent, the disease. “If this is proven correct, it will be a very, very big discovery because we'll completely change the way we think about MS, and how we'll treat it,” said Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, an associate professor of neurology at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

The initial studies done in Italy were small but the outcomes were dramatic. In a group of 65 patients with relapsing-remitting MS (the most common form) who underwent surgery, the number of active lesions in the brain fell sharply, to 12 per cent from 50 per cent; in the two years after surgery, 73 per cent of patients had no symptoms.

Augusto Zeppi, a 40-year-old resident of the northern Italian city of Ferrara, was one of those patients. Diagnosed with MS nine years ago, he suffered severe attacks every four months that lasted weeks at a time – leaving him unable to use his arms and legs and with debilitating fatigue. “Everything I was dreaming for my future adult life, it was game over,” he said. Scans showed that his two jugular veins were blocked, 60 and 80 per cent respectively. In 2007, he was one of the first to undergo the experimental surgery to unblock the veins. He had a second operation a year later, when one of his jugular veins was blocked anew. After the procedures, Mr. Zeppi said he was reborn. “I don't remember what it's like to have MS,” he said. “It gave me a second life.”

Buffalo researchers are now recruiting 1,700 adults and children from the United States and Canada. They plan to test MS sufferers and non-sufferers alike and, using ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging, do detailed analyses of blood flow in and out of the brain and examine iron deposits.

Another researcher, Mark Haacke, an adjunct professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, is urging patients to send him MRI scans of their heads and necks so he can probe the Zamboni theory further. Dr. Haacke is a world-renowned expert in imaging who has developed a method of measuring iron buildup in the brain. “Patients need to speak up and say they want something like this investigated … to see if there's credence to the theory,” he said.

MS societies in Canada and the United States, however, have reacted far more cautiously to Dr. Zamboni's conclusion. “Many questions remain about how and when this phenomenon might play a role in nervous system damage seen in MS, and at the present time there is insufficient evidence to suggest that this phenomenon is the cause of MS,” said the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. The U.S. society goes further, discouraging patients from getting tested or seeking surgical treatment. Rather, it continues to promote drug treatments used to alleviate symptoms, which include corticosteroids, chemotherapy agents and pain medication.

Many people with multiple sclerosis, though, are impatient for results. Chatter about CCSVI is frequent in online MS support groups, and patients are scrambling to be part of the research, particularly when they hear the testimonials.

Kevin Lipp, a 49-year-old resident of Buffalo, was diagnosed with MS a decade ago and has suffered increasingly severe attacks, especially in the heat. (Heat sensitivity is a common symptom of MS.) His symptoms were so bad that he was unable to work and closed his ice-cream shop. Mr. Lipp was tested and doctors discovered blockages in both his jugular and azygos veins. In January of this year, he travelled to Italy for surgery, which cleared five blockages, and he began to feel better almost immediately. “I felt good. I felt totally normal. I felt like I did years ago,” he said. He has not had an attack since.

As part of the research project, Mr. Lipp's siblings have also been tested. His two sisters, both of whom have MS, have significant blockages and iron deposits, while his brother, who does not have MS, has neither iron buildup nor blocked arteries.

While it has long been known that there is a genetic component to multiple sclerosis, the new theory is that it is CCSVI that is hereditary – that people are born with malformed valves and strictures in the large veins of the neck and brain. These problems lead to poor blood drainage and even reversal of blood flow direction that can cause inflammation, iron buildup and the brain lesions characteristic of multiple sclerosis.

It is well-established that the symptoms of MS are caused by a breakdown of myelin, a fatty substance that coats nerve cells and plays a crucial role in transmitting messages to the central nervous system. When those messages are blurred, nerves malfunction, causing all manner of woes, including blurred eyesight, loss of sensation in the limbs and even paralysis. However, it is unclear what triggers the breakdown of myelin. There are various theories, including exposure to a virus in childhood, vitamin D deficiency, hormones – and now, buildup of iron in the brain because of poor blood flow.


23 November, 2009

Water doesn't improve your skin, scientists say

Aside from having good genes, the one surefire way of having good skin late in life is to be born and bred in a foggy climate where you rarely see the sun -- as in England. English women look 20 years younger than they are to Australian eyes and women from sunny Australia look prematurely aged to the English

Drinking lots of water doesn't give you a clearer complexion, according to scientists who now claim fruit and vegetables are the key to good skin. The findings are contrary to the advice that has been followed by many women, including Hollywood actresses and catwalk models, for many years.

The British Nutrition Foundation has claimed that a balanced diet and sunscreen are much more effective at keeping skin looking plump and young. Its Food For Skin report highlights a lack of any robust studies backing up the popular advice that water makes the complexion glow.

Report author, Heather Yuregir, said: “Just drinking water for the sake of drinking water really has no effect on improving the appearance of skin. It is just a common misconception.”

Vitamins A, B, C and E contained in a range of fruit and vegetables are all crucial for keeping the skin cells healthy. Not eating enough of them can result in problems such as scurvy, dermatitis or dry, scaly skin.

However, the report highlights that drinking plenty of water is still essential to good health. Smoking and exposure to the sun are what ages skin the most. Mrs Yuregir said: “Fruit and veg can keep your skin functioning as it should and keep it looking healthy. “And sun cream is really recommended to prevent the signs of ageing because the majority of the signs of ageing that appear on the skin are caused by sun damage.”


Super rat gives hope for Alzheimer's?

Hobbie-J, named after a Chinese cartoon character, can remember objects for three times longer than other rats and is better at finding its way through mazes. The rat, when it was an embryo, was injected with genetic material to boost the NR2B gene which controls memory. The success brings hope for future dementia patients, as it is thought the gene enhancement could one day be used in a drug treatment for human brain disorders.

Dr Joe Z Tsien, who led the experiment at the Medical College of Georgia, said: “Hobbie-J can remember information for longer. It’s the equivalent of me giving you a telephone number and somehow you remembering it for an hour. “Our study provides a solid basis for the rationale that the NR2B gene is critical to enhancing memory. That gene could be used for memory-enhancing drugs.” Dr Tsien undertook a similar experiment on a mouse named Doogie 10 years ago, but the latest trial shows that memory enhancement can work on different types of mammals, potentially paving the way for human use.

Although it could take decades to develop a safe drug, dementia organisations in the UK welcomed the study. Andrew Scheuber from the Alzheimer’s Research Trust said: “This research involving rats may lead to new ways to reduce the risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s or to ameliorate dementia symptoms. "A treatment involving NR2B may have the potential to slow the deterioration that takes place in dementia patients, but it is too soon to tell.”

However, Dr John Hardy, professor of neuroscience at University College London, said the research would not help Alzheimer’s patients because they suffered from dying brain cells, not ineffective ones.


22 November, 2009

Study doubts benefits of cholesterol drug

Vytorin combines ezetimibe with a statin. I infer that the study referred to below is this one which showed that adding ezetimibe to a statin achieved little but adding niacin to the statin was beneficial. The study was of one symptom only, however, and covered a short timespan of only 14 months so it is "publish or perish" fodder rather than anything that needs to be taken seriously. Note also the following finding: "Paradoxically, greater reductions in the LDL cholesterol level in association with ezetimibe were significantly associated with an increase in the carotid intima–media thickness". In other words two of the "symptoms" of heart disease moved in opposite directions during treatment!

A widely prescribed and expensive cholesterol drug does not unclog arteries as effectively as a modified version of Vitamin B3, a cheap alternative used to treat heart disease for decades, according to a new study. The research, which appears Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine, is sending rumbles through the medical community because it is the third recent study to raise questions about the effectiveness of Zetia and its sister drug, Vytorin, highly profitable pharmaceuticals made by Merck & Co.

"This is the third strike," said Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. "The studies are telling us that it doesn't appear to produce benefits."

Vytorin and Zetia are among the most popular of prescription drugs. Last year, physicians in the United States wrote more than 29 million prescriptions for both drugs combined, and worldwide sales totaled $4.56 billion, according to Merck.

Although the drugs have been shown to reduce cholesterol, there is no evidence that they prevent heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular problems.

Top Merck executives are vigorously defending their drugs and have dismissed the new research as limited. "I don't think a clinician or a doctor or a patient should use this as the basis for any decision-making whatsoever," said Richard Pasternak, vice president of Merck research laboratories. He and other critics said the study appearing Monday involved just 200 patients, was ended early and examined what is known as a surrogate marker - the amount of plaque on artery walls - rather than the rate of heart attacks and stroke.

Because plaque can clog arteries and restrict blood flow to the heart and brain, cardiologists view plaque as a good indication for the risk of heart attack and stroke.


Prosecutor: Pfizer broke the law

This is just a "gotcha" from the Obama FDA. What is wrong with a drug already accepted as safe and effective being tried for related conditions? Who'd be a drug company exec with all the Leftist hate poured out at them?

"Prosecutor Michael Loucks remembers clearly when lawyers for Pfizer Inc., the world’s largest drug company, looked across the table and promised it wouldn’t break the law again," David Evans writes for Bloomberg.
It was January 2004, and the attorneys were negotiating in a conference room on the ninth floor of the federal courthouse in Boston, where Loucks was head of the health-care fraud unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. One of Pfizer’s units had been pushing doctors to prescribe an epilepsy drug called Neurontin for uses the Food and Drug Administration had never approved.

In the agreement the lawyers eventually hammered out, the Pfizer unit, Warner-Lambert, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of marketing a drug for unapproved uses.

New York-based Pfizer agreed to pay $430 million in criminal fines and civil penalties, and the company’s lawyers assured Loucks and three other prosecutors that Pfizer and its units would stop promoting drugs for unauthorized purposes.

What Loucks, who’s now acting U.S. attorney in Boston, didn’t know until years later was that Pfizer managers were breaking that pledge not to practice so-called off-label marketing even before the ink was dry on their plea.
Loucks tells Bloomberg news, "At the very same time Pfizer was in our office negotiating and resolving the allegations of criminal conduct in 2004, Pfizer was itself in its other operations violating those very same laws." "They’ve repeatedly marketed drugs for things they knew they couldn’t demonstrate efficacy for," Loucks added. "That’s clearly criminal.”

Pfizer agreed in September to pay out a record 2.3 billion dollars to settle a high-profile fraud case, pleading guilty to a criminal charge for marketing its painkiller Bextra illegally. The settlement by the world's biggest drugmaker was trumpeted as a major victory by President Barack Obama's administration in its efforts to cut down fraud as part of a major overhaul of America's health care system.

Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius held a press conference to announce the settlement, which will end criminal and civil proceedings against Pfizer over the allegations it illegally marketed drugs for off-label purposes. "This historic settlement will return nearly one billion dollars to Medicare, Medicaid, and other government insurance programs, securing their future for the Americans who depend on these programs," she said in a statement.

The agreement with Pfizer is divided into several parts, the largest of which is a 1.195 billion dollar fine -- the largest criminal fine ever imposed in the United States for any matter, according to the Justice Department.

The company will also forfeit 105 million dollars and pay an additional one billion dollars "to resolve allegations under the civil False Claims Act that the company illegally promoted four drugs."

The case arose from allegations that Pfizer illegally marketed Bextra, the anti-psychotic drug Geodon, the antibiotic Zyvox, and Lyrica, an anti-epileptic drug, for uses that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The Justice Department had alleged that Pfizer's inappropriate marketing "caused false claims to be submitted to government health care programs for uses that were not medically accepted indications and therefore not covered by those programs."

The settlement also ends civil proceedings over "allegations that Pfizer paid kickbacks to healthcare providers to induce them to prescribe these, as well as other, drugs," the Justice Department said.

Assistant Attorney General Tom Perrelli said the investigation into Pfizer's activities illustrated that combating healthcare fraud "is one of this administration's top law enforcement priorities." "This case is a great example of the department's commitment to fiscal accountability, combating fraud, and returning much-needed dollars back to the US Treasury and state treasures," he said.

Amy Schulman, senior vice president and general counsel for Pfizer, said the drug company welcomed the settlement, which it had agreed to pay in principle back in January. "These agreements bring final closure to significant legal matters and help to enhance our focus on what we do best -- discovering, developing and delivering innovative medicines," Schulman said, adding that the company did "regret certain actions taken in the past."

The agreement was announced amid continuing efforts by the Obama administration to advance a healthcare reform package that faces stiff opposition. The administration has countered that a key provision of the reform package is an effort to reduce waste and fraud. "Illegal conduct and fraud by pharmaceutical companies puts the public health at risk, corrupts medical decisions by health care providers, and costs the government billions of dollars," said Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division.

"This civil settlement and plea agreement by Pfizer represent yet another example of what penalties will be faced when a pharmaceutical company puts profits ahead of patient welfare."


21 November, 2009

Study suggests that heavy drinking in men is ‘good for the heart’

Here we go again: I suspect that what was actually found is that Spaniards who don't drink alcohol are sick

Drinking alcohol may cut the risk of heart disease by almost a third in men according to a new study — although health campaigners have warned that the findings should be treated with caution. Spanish research on individuals aged between 29 and 69 found alcohol consumption could protect men from heart disease — regardless of the amount or type of alcohol they consumed. But the study found no significant effect in women. The study, which monitored more than 41,000 people, was published in the journal Heart.

Evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol can be beneficial to the heart, is well documented. But the study suggests that drinking much larger volumes also offers protection. Health experts however warned that heavy drinking can damage other organs, and cause premature death.

The Spanish researchers questioned participants in the study on their lifetime drinking habits, and how much they had consumed in the 12 months leading up to the study. Respondents were classed as those who had never consumed alcohol, former drinkers, low drinkers (drinking the equivalent of less than 5g of alcohol a day), moderate drinkers (between 5g and 30g a day), high drinkers (between 30g and 90g) and very high drinkers (more than 90g a day).

In Britain, one unit of alcohol contains 8g — equivalent to about half a pint of ordinary strength beer (3-4 per cent alcohol by volume), or a small pub measure (25ml) of spirits (40 per cent).

The number of coronary problems suffered over a ten-year period was then recorded and categorised according to alcohol consumption. The results showed moderate male drinkers could cut their risk by 51 per cent, high drinkers by 54 per cent and very high drinks by 50 per cent.

Robert Sutton, professor of surgery at the University of Liverpool, said the study had “several flaws” and should not be taken to suggest that high alcohol consumption can improve health. He said the finding that there was no relationship between alcohol and heart disease in women was “highly unusual” and suggested the need for more research.

Cathy Ross, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “While moderate alcohol intake can lower the risk of having a heart attack, coronary heart disease is just one type of heart disease. “Cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, is associated with high alcohol intake and can lead to a poor quality of life and premature death. “The heart is just one of many organs in the body, and while alcohol could offer limited protection to one organ, abuse of it can damage the heart and other organs such as the liver, pancreas and brain. “This study does not change the message that drinking moderately can be beneficial to the heart, but drinking in excess is harmful and a danger to your health generally.”

Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “The relationship between alcohol and heart disease remains controversial. “While there is good evidence that moderate consumption is protective in people who are at substantial risk of heart disease — which excludes most people under the age of 40 — we also know that most people underestimate how much they drink. “This paper adds to the existing literature, but should not be considered as definitive. Certainly, people should not be encouraged to drink more as a result of this research.”


An unusually sane comment on weight loss

Australian scientists Garry Egger and Sam Egger separate truth from fiction in the quest for weight loss. Garry Egger is Adjunct Professor of Health and Applied Sciences, Southern Cross University. Sam Egger is a statistician at the Cancer Council NSW.

There is a great deal of misunderstanding about weight loss, which extends well beyond the public to health professionals. On one level, that is hardly surprising because the evidence can be very unclear. The science of health behaviour - including nutrition, exercise, sleep and weight management - is generally less developed than research relating to other medical questions. Unvetted ''expert'' claims abound.

Commercial sponsors of weight-loss diets make loud proclamations for the superiority of their product but lifetime adherence to a restrictive diet - which is necessary to keep off weight once it is lost - is unrealistic for most people.

We assessed the best available evidence on weight loss and maintenance and used this to compile a 20-statement survey - with true or false responses - which we then gave to two groups of people: 173 GPs and 129 truck drivers and tradesmen.

We found doctors were almost as confused as truckies and tradies. The doctors disagreed with most of the supporting evidence on 40 per cent of our questions, the others on 49 per cent.

The statements below attracted the most incorrect answers, with our summary of evidence for and against them. It seems doctors could benefit from more education and training in this area, and much more research into these questions is required, to confirm or challenge the accuracy of so-called ''facts'' on which weight-loss advice is based.

Fruit juice is about as fattening as beer - TRUE

In terms of kilojoule content, equivalent servings of fruit juice and beer are similar. But as alcohol cannot be stored in the body, and is never directly converted to fat, any fattening effect of alcohol is dependent on other factors, particularly accompanying energy intake. So the often-quoted ''beer belly'' is really more of a ''beer plus food and drink'' belly. Fruit juice is as potentially fattening as beer in equivalent amounts.

Humans need eight glasses of water a day - FALSE

The physiologist Heinz Valtin tried to track the basis of this belief, which he claims may be responsible for the excessive intake of high-calorie fluids in the modern diet.

Valtin showed a person's fluid needs depended on age, gender, activity level and state of health - as well as the weather - and varied from 500 millilitres (about three glasses) to four litres (24 glasses) a day. Despite the popularity of the eight glasses ''rule'', international guidelines on fluid intake, now under development, suggest it is arbitrary and meaningless.

Dairy products can help weight loss - TRUE

The accuracy of this statement remains controversial. Because of the fat content of most natural dairy products, a common belief exists that all dairy products cause weight gain. But recent research - both across communities and in dietary experiments with individuals - suggests eating low-fat dairy is linked to weight loss.

There are indications that certain dairy ingredients, such as whey protein, and combinations of ingredients, such as protein and calcium, can increase feelings of fullness, and increase the calories lost in the faeces - both of which may assist weight loss.

Chocolate is healthy provided it is dark - FALSE

There has been more than a decade of research on the health benefits of dark chocolate since the antioxidant effects of cocoa were discovered. Cocoa is high in bitter-tasting flavinoids, which are the prime source of such antioxidants but which many chocolate manufacturers extract to improve taste.

However, there are no labelling requirements to inform the consumer of this. Sugar, which can lessen the benefits of cocoa, is also often added to improve palatability. Hence, while genuine dark chocolate has health benefits, chocolate that is simply labelled ''dark'' does not necessarily have these benefits.

Exercise is better than dieting for weight loss - FALSE

It is easier to reduce energy intake by a given amount than to increase energy expenditure by the same amount. Reducing intake by 1000 calories a day, for example, is the equivalent of walking an extra 15 kilometres daily. For this reason, dieting is more likely to be successful in the early stages of a weight-loss program. But exercise is important in weight loss and it may be more important than dieting in the maintenance stage, after effective weight loss. And both psychological and physiological factors must be considered, in which case neither exercise nor dieting is better than the other.

A low-protein diet is best for weight loss - FALSE

The success of a weight-loss diet depends mainly on the total calories. Specific nutrients generally make little difference but some have advantages. Protein can increase the sensation of fullness, particularly in comparison to sugary, starchy carbohydrate foods. In the context of the modern high-calorie diet, a reasonable intake of protein is likely to be better for weight loss than a low-protein diet.

The present protein intake of about 13 to 15 per cent of total energy is well below the estimated 25 to 30 per cent often proposed for weight loss and a healthy diet.

Fat people don't get more hungry than lean people - TRUE

It is difficult to evaluate a subjective feeling such as hunger among individuals, but research indicates hunger is not a distinguishing factor in obesity. Much overeating has a psychological and environmental, rather than physiological, basis and hence there is little reason to believe in a difference in genuine hunger - as distinct from psychologically conditioned ''appetite'' - between slim and overweight people.

Swimming is better than walking for weight loss - FALSE

In general, the best exercises for weight loss are those that are weight-bearing, such as walking or jogging. Up to 30 per cent less energy is used in activities such as swimming or cycling, which support weight and can be carried out at a more leisurely pace.

Because fat floats, an obese individual is likely to use relatively less energy while swimming, particularly if that person is an experienced swimmer. This does not negate the benefits of swimming as an exercise but reduces its relative effectiveness for fat loss compared with walking.

Weight lifting is good for fat loss - TRUE

In general, any form of exercise involving energy expenditure has benefit for weight loss. Resistance training is often underrated and considered only for the development of strength or size. However, where large muscles or muscle groups are used - or in resistance training using light weights at high repetitions - weight lifting can be effective for weight loss as well as muscle strengthening.

The best measure of body fat is body mass index -FALSE

Body mass index - a ratio of weight to height - does not correlate well with fatness in individuals. Body mass index is less accurate in people with a more muscular body type, some ethnic groups such as Pacific Islanders, and the elderly, whose height shrinks with age. This can lead to unrealistic goal weights. Waist circumference and some other body measures, or bioimpedance analysis, provide better estimates of body fat.

You lose more weight doing exercise you are good at - FALSE

Individuals become more efficient and expend less energy as they become experienced with a particular form of exercise. A fit, experienced runner, for example, requires less energy to cover a set distance than an unfit individual of the same weight, age and gender. Weight loss requires excess energy expenditure, which comes more from activities with which an individual is not so familiar.

An obese person can be fit and healthy - TRUE

While fitness and fatness are usually inversely linked, studies have shown that many active individuals can maintain good health irrespective of body weight. There is also accumulating evidence that a significant proportion of obese individuals do not suffer the damaging metabolic effects from their extra weight that might be expected, while a significant proportion of lean individuals do suffer such health problems. This has led to new questions about the effects of obesity as a marker, rather than a cause, of disease.


20 November, 2009

Study claims that walking slowly increases heart disease risk

Cheeesh! More colossal stupidity. They've discovered that people in poor health walk more slowly so say that slow walking causes poor health! Unbelievable

Slow walking may not only mean getting to your destination later but it could also be taking its toll on your health, according to a French study. Researchers from the Paris-based medical research institute Inserm found that older people who walk slowly are almost three times more likely to die of heart disease and related causes than older people who walk faster. "The main message for the general population is that maintaining fitness at older age may have important consequences and help preserve life and (muscle) function," researcher Alexis Elbaz, director of research at Inserm, said.

He said the study, which appeared in the journal BMJ, also suggests that a test of walking speed might be used to test the health of elderly patients. Previous studies had linked slow walking speed with increased risk of death over a given period, as well as with falls and other bad health outcomes, but hadn't shown whether it was heart disease or another cause that accounted for that higher risk.

The five-year study, part of Inserm's ongoing Three City Study, involved more than 3200 relatively fit men and women, aged 65 to 85, living in three French cities. At the start of the study in 1999, the scientists assessed the health of each participant and clocked the participants' speeds as they walked down a corridor as fast as possible.

Over the next five years, 209 of the participants died - 99 from cancer, 59 from heart disease and 53 from infectious diseases and other causes - for an overall death rate of almost seven per cent. The death rate among the slowest-walking one-third of participants - those men who walked at the equivalent of about 5.4km/h or slower and women who walked at about 4.8km/h or slower - was 44 per cent higher than that among the two-thirds of participants who had walked faster. Death from heart attack, stroke, and related causes was 2.9 times more common among the slowest one-third of participants than among the participants who had walked faster.

The increase in death from heart disease was seen in both men and women and was unrelated to the ages of participants or how physically active they were. The researchers found no connection between walking speed and other causes of death, including cancer.

Mr Elbaz said one possibility for the result was that the same risk factors that raises heart disease risk - high blood pressure and diabetes - also causes "silent strokes" that make it hard to walk fast. This idea "deserves additional studies to be confirmed," he said.


A food cop failure

New York began requiring calorie counts on restaurant chains' menu boards in July 2008. The first study to examine the regulation's impact, reported in the American Economic Review last May, found that average calorie intake (measured by receipts showing what a sample of customers had bought) remained basically the same at a Manhattan coffee shop and at a Manhattan location of a hamburger chain, while falling by 77 calories at a Brooklyn location of the same chain.

Another study of New York's menu mandate, reported in Health Affairs last month, was even less encouraging. The researchers found that the average calorie count for meals at four fast food restaurants in poor neighborhoods (McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC) rose by 2.5 percent after the rule took effect.

Comparing interview responses to diners' receipts, the researchers found that what people said did not correspond very well to what they ate. The share of diners who said they noticed calorie counts rose dramatically after the menu mandate kicked in, from less than 20 percent to 54 percent. But less than a quarter of those who reported seeing calorie information said it led them to consume fewer calories, and "even those who indicated that the calorie information influenced their food choices," the researchers noted, "did not actually purchase fewer calories."

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene prefers to cite its own, unpublished data, but even these numbers do not live up to the hype that preceded the menu mandate. Surveying 275 locations, the department found statistically significant drops in calorie consumption at just four out of 13 chains (McDonald's, KFC, Au Bon Pain and Starbucks).

It appears that all of these decreases were modest. The one highlighted by the health department was a 23-calorie drop at Starbucks, 9 percent of the pre-regulation average.

"We were not expecting to see miracles," a health department official told The New York Times. But it's hard to see how such weak results -- which may not even represent net reductions, since people could easily make up for fewer calories at Starbucks by eating more elsewhere -- can possibly stop 150,000 people from becoming obese and prevent 30,000 cases of diabetes over five years, as the health department predicted last year. Nor are they likely to translate into an average weight loss of 3 pounds a year, as the California Center for Public Health Advocacy claimed in pushing that state's menu mandate.

Press coverage of the health department's study emphasized a seemingly more impressive finding: Diners who said they saw calorie information and used it in deciding what to eat -- 15 percent of all customers -- consumed 106 fewer calories than the other diners. But that difference cannot be attributed to the menu mandate, since diners who use nutritional information are apt to be the ones who were most calorie-conscious to begin with.

Such customers had this information even before New York decreed that it appear on menu boards, since fast food chains were already providing calorie counts on their Websites and on posters, tray mats and flyers in their restaurants. The impact of making the numbers more conspicuous was therefore limited to the customers who were least inclined to use them, and the same will be true if a similar menu mandate is imposed nationwide.


19 November, 2009

Old ladies with inflamed arteries can be helped a little by statins

Provided they can stand the side-effects. My summary heading above is accurate. Compare that with the newspaper headline: "Statins reduce risks of heart attack in women by nearly half, research suggests". Things to note: 1). A relative 46% reduction is tiny in absolute terms. 2). The article has not passed peer-review and been published so no info is publicly available on dropout rates. Almost certainly, the dropout rate among the non-placebo group was high because of the severe side-effects. So only women who were robust to start with would have completed the trial in that group. If so, the results are meaningless. The determination to show benefit from statins really is pathetic

Women who take a statin can reduce their risk of having a heart attack or stroke by nearly 50 per cent, even if they do not have unhealthy cholesterol levels, research suggests. A daily dose of Crestor (rosuvastatin) reduced the chances of subsequent cardiovascular events by 46 per cent compared with those who took a placebo.

The trial involved almost 18,000 people — one in seven of them from Britain. Initial findings that showed an overall benefit for men and women who took the drug were published last year. The latest analysis, focusing on the effects for women, were presented to the meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Florida.

More than six million people are prescribed statins to lower their cholesterol levels, but at present the drugs are given only to those at significant risk of a heart attack or stroke.

All the women involved in the trial were over 60 years of age and did not have high cholesterol. They each had high levels of a protein called hsCRP — high sensitivity C-reactive protein — which is linked to inflammation in the arteries.

Sarah Jarvis, a GP in London and the Royal College of General Practitioners’ spokeswoman for women’s health, said: “Cardiovascular disease can be mistaken as an ‘old man’s’ disease, while unfortunately the evidence suggests that people are suffering cardiovascular events younger and more women are at risk of developing the disease. “There has long been support for the wider use of statins in women but we didn’t have the outcomes data to support these recommendations. This data is extremely exciting.”


British government advisers rethink calorie counting

Once again what was wisdom yesterday is wrong today

Slimmers, rejoice — those forbidden sweet treats or extra bags of crisps may no longer be off-limits. Scientists advising the Government say that the calorie counts used as the basis of diet plans and healthy-eating advice for the past 18 years may be wrong.

According to a draft report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), the recommended daily intake of calories — currently 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men — could be increased by up to 16 per cent, suggesting that some adults could safely consume an extra 400 calories a day (equivalent to an average-sized cheeseburger, or two bags of ready-salted crisps).

The committee, made up of some of Britain’s leading nutritional experts, says that its report provides a much more accurate assessment of how energy can be burnt off through physical activity.

However, health campaigners and consumer experts warned that the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) could seek to “sweep this report under the carpet”, as it could send out mixed messages in the middle of a [non-existent] obesity epidemic.

Ministers are considering the introduction of new food-labelling schemes that would highlight the calorie content of foods relative to guideline daily amounts (GDAs). Industry sources expressed concern that revising figures and estimates on which the GDAs were based could cause confusion among consumers and mistrust of scientific advice. The FSA has been evaluating for two years new methods of labelling, including a “traffic light” scheme to colour-code unhealthy food. Existing guidelines on energy intake required for good health have formed the basis of food labelling and dietary advice from doctors and nutritionists since 1991. If the committee’s proposals are accepted some foods would be upgraded to a healthier rating.

The draft proposals, seen by The Times and The Grocer magazine, are due to go out for a 14-week consultation before final recommendations are made. The report comes two weeks after the Government’s chief drugs advisor was sacked by the Home Secretary for “crossing a line” by publicly criticising existing policy.

About 60 per cent of British adults are overweight or obese, with growth in the nation’s waistlines being blamed on sedentary lifestyles as well as excessive eating. The cost of overweight and obese individuals to the NHS is estimated to be £4.2 billion a year [Rubbish! People of middling weight are healthier than either skinnies or fatties] and the Department of Health has pledged to cut levels of childhood obesity partly through its £375 million “Change4Life” strategy.

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said it was a “dangerous assumption” to say that adults could safely consume an extra 400 calories a day. “This is not a green light to eat yourself silly,” he said.

The last significant study on energy use, carried out by the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy in 1991, was based on observational studies, with students being shut in a room for a week having their breathing measured, a method prone to underestimating “normal” levels of physical activity. SACN assessed studies using the Double Labelled Water technique, which measures how much carbon dioxide the body has produced converted into equivalent values of energy.

Adam Leyland, editor of The Grocer, said: “The ramifications for the industry are significant, to say the least. All the UK’s labelling schemes, including GDAs and traffic lights, are based around the 1991 energy report.”


18 November, 2009

No Cranberries in Texas? No Lobster in Colorado? Blame the ‘Locavores.’

Researchers at MIT and Columbia University believe the answer to the so-called obesity “epidemic” lies in getting Americans to eat more regional food. So they’re outlining different “foodsheds” that we should all be relying on for our needs —especially if we live in a U.S. city. Will it work? Can we afford it? Let’s take a look. The PhysOrg news service spells out the proposal:
Each metropolitan area, the researchers say, should obtain most of its nutrition from its own “foodshed,” a term akin to “watershed” meaning the area that naturally supplies its kitchens … [T]hese local efforts should form a larger “Integrated Regional Foodshed” system, intended to lower the price and caloric content of food by lowering distances food must travel, from the farm to the dinner table.
Lower the price? We don’t know about shopping in New England, but the farmers’ markets selling “local” foods in our nation’s capital are where people go for $11-per-pound pork chops and $5 pints of raspberries, not discounts. As for lowering the caloric content, it’s hard to see how a local carrot might have fewer calories from a carrot that’s traveled 500 miles. Unless it’s a scrawny organic veggie, of course—which makes the price differential even more appalling.

We suspect that these researchers’ real motive is to attack what they see as a food system that’s too efficient and provides too many calories. But with over 1 billion hungry people in the world, efficient food production is hardly a bad thing.

So-called “locavore” advocates usually make environmental arguments for reducing our “food miles,” the distance food travels from farm to fork. This, too, is just another trendy foodie myth. In 2006, researchers at New Zealand’s Lincoln University compared the emissions and energy performance of their country’s domestic agriculture industry. They found that shipping lamb from New Zealand to England was four times less emissions-intensive than serving the Brits lamb produced right in the UK.

Why is this so? Because of economies of scale. It’s the same reason fresh flowers grown in Kenya and shipped to England have a smaller environmental impact than blooms grown by Dutch producers closer to home. The production process in Kenya is much more efficient, and emits fewer greenhouse gases per flower. This efficiency more than makes up for the jet (or truck) fuel burned to bring it to market. Food miles, the New Zealand researchers aptly note, is “a very simplistic concept.”

But back to today’s “foodshed” research: If switching to a regional-food-only diet has any chance of reducing our waistlines, it’s likely to be the result of food boredom. Maybe people in Boise will eventually get sick of eating recipes dominated by sugar beets and potatoes. And as for Alaskans and North Dakotans, a long canned-food winter is enough to make anyone eat less. Especially when they see everything Californians would be allowed to eat in a locavore utopia.

Of course, instead of slimming down by ditching our whole food production system, people could simply balance their calorie intake with physical activity. Or would that be too simplistic?


Female 'Viagra' boosts woman's sex drive after failing as antidepressant

A 'female Viagra' that works on the pleasure centre of a woman's brain to restore flagging libido could be on sale within two years. Women who take flibanserin once a day make love more often and enjoy it more, large-scale trials have shown. The pill proved so popular that its German manufacturers are poised to apply for permission to sell it across Europe, meaning it could be on British bedside tables by 2011.

With up to a quarter of women suffering from low libido, it is predicted to be at least as successful as Viagra, with worldwide sales topping £2billion a year. Like Viagra, which was originally designed to treat heart problems, flibanserin was formulated with another purpose in mind. It was created as an anti-depressant. However, those taking part in trials said it did nothing to boost their mood but did wonders for their sex drive.

Trials involving almost 2,000 women with low libido have now confirmed its worth as an aphrodisiac. After taking the drug, the women made love 60 per cent more often and also found it more satisfying. They also felt less stressed about their sex lives, the European Society for Sexual Medicine's annual conference heard yesterday.

The drug works directly on the brain's pleasure zones, correcting levels of the chemicals involved in generating feelings of desire. Researcher Dr Elaine Jolly said: 'By modulating these systems, flibanserin may help to restore a balance between inhibitory and excitatory factors, leading to a healthy sexual response.' However, it takes several weeks for the effect to build up, meaning it cannot simply be 'popped' on demand. It also has side-effects, with up to one in eight of the women in the trials dropping out with dizziness, fatigue and sleep problems.

It is not known yet how much it will cost, but is unlikely to be widely prescribed by a Health Service struggling to find cash to fund treatment of life-threatening illnesses. Some doctors are also sceptical about the need for pills to boost female sex drive.

But Paula Hall, of Relate, said: 'Female loss of libido is a big problem and it is not going away. It can cause problems within a relationship and affect self-esteem. 'This research is really quite exciting for women with loving partners whose loss of libido is a physical thing. But it is not going to fix a broken relationship or help with looking after the kids or cleaning the house.'


17 November, 2009

Household chores found to be damaging to sperm count (?)

What they actually found was that people who had high exposures to strong magnentic fields had lower sperm counts. They did NOT trace the sources of those fields. It seems reasonable that they were factory workers who probably had poorer health anyway and hence the fields were not to blame

It's the get-out clause work-shy husbands have been praying for. A study has found doing household chores could reduce a man's chances of having children.

Researchers exposed male volunteers to electromagnetic fields – high doses of which are produced by all electrically charged objects, including refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and microwaves – and found such exposure could double the risk of having poor-quality sperm, the Daily Mail reports.

Fertility expert Dr De-Kun Li said his work provides the first evidence of a link between electrical goods and declining male fertility. Dr Li, of Stanford University, California, said he would advise men and couples trying for a baby to reduce their exposure to electromagnetic fields as much as possible. "I’m not saying you shouldn’t use a microwave but it makes sense to turn it on, then move away and go back when it is done," Dr Li said. "Keep devices, especially those with electric motors, away from the body."

The study recruited 148 donors at a sperm bank in Shanghai. Tests showed that 76 had poor sperm mobility, shape or count, while 72 had good-quality sperm. Those volunteers whose job involved working with high temperatures or being exposed to chemicals linked to sperm damage, such as solvents and pesticides, were excluded. Participants were asked to wear meters which took readings of magnetic fields every four seconds for 24 hours on days they considered ‘typical’.

They found that the half of the group who had peak readings above 0.16 microtesla – a measure of magnetic field strength – were twice as likely to have low sperm quality as those with readings below this level. Dr Li’s team also revealed the chances of having poor sperm quality increased as the time exposed to higher-strength magnetic fields rose. "This is the first study to show a link between measured electromagnetic fields and poor semen quality in humans, which may provide a logical explanation for why we have seen reductions in sperm quality in men over the past century."

Although the study, due to be published in January in the journal Reproductive Toxicology, did not look at what was producing the magnetic fields, electrical appliances – especially those containing motors such as hairdryers – produce high frequencies and therefore strong magnetic fields.

In previous studies, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, a poor diet, drug use and obesity have all been shown to reduce sperm count. Dr Allan Pacey, of the British Fertility Society and a fertility researcher at Sheffield University, said he believed there might be something in it. "If these results are repeated in a bigger study, we need to start thinking seriously about promoting advice about avoiding exposure," Dr Pacey said.


FDA backs off oyster ban after strong criticism

A rare retreat for the food dictators

Facing fierce resistance, the Obama administration on Friday backed off a plan to ban sales of raw oysters from the Gulf of Mexico during warm-weather months. The Food and Drug Administration said it would put the proposal on hold while it studies ways to make the popular shellfish safer.

The abrupt turnaround came as oyster-lovers and industry officials _ as well as Democrats and Republicans across the Gulf _ blasted the plan as unnecessary government meddling. Industry officials said it could have killed a $500 million economy and thousands of jobs. "They might have been tone-deaf in the beginning, but they got the tune pretty quickly and listened to what we had to say," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg notified her of the decision Friday afternoon. "I'm really thankful that they listened."

About 15 people die each year in the United States from raw oysters infected with Vibrio vulnificus, which typically is found in warm coastal waters between April and October. Most of the deaths occur in people with weak immune systems caused by health problems like liver or kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, or AIDS. While the total number of deaths is small compared with the annual estimates of 5,000 U.S. deaths from food-borne illnesses, FDA officials say it is a relatively high frequency that could be easily eliminated by processing oysters through treatments such as pasteurization.

Industry officials argue that anti-bacterial processing is too costly. They also say the treatments ruin the fresh taste and texture of raw oysters, which are considered a delicacy by many, particularly in the Gulf, which supplies about two-thirds of the U.S. oyster harvest.

Mike Voisin, an industry leader and oyster processor in Houma, La., said the FDA's proposal had became "a focal point for people to vent" during a time of pent-up anxiety. "Who can understand the bailout of Chrysler? Who could read a 1,000-plus page health care bill?" Voisin said. "This they could understand."

Kevin Begos, the director of the Franklin County Oyster & Seafood Task Force in Apalachicola, Fla., said FDA was snowed under by complaints. "We got 6,000 signatures on our petition in a week and on Facebook we had 7,000 members in one week," Begos said. "We got broad support: restaurants, food lovers and support from people who don't even like oysters who felt that consumers have a right to choose what food they want to eat."

In a statement, FDA said it heard "legitimate concerns" and decided that further studies are necessary to explore the feasibility and costs of new processing requirements. The White House declined to comment.

The oyster industry has been working with regulators for years to improve its safety performance by increasing refrigeration and trying to raise awareness of the hazards to people with weak immune systems. But the FDA says the results haven't changed much. The agency points to California as evidence that the ban is needed. In 2003, the state prohibited untreated Gulf oysters and has not seen any confirmed deaths since. By comparison, between 1991 and 2001, 40 people died in California from the infection.

The FDA proposal _ which was announced last month and had been slated to go into effect in 2011 _ would have prohibited sales of raw oysters from the Gulf for much of the year unless the shellfish were treated.


16 November, 2009

Long term relationships lead to healthier babies

Sheeesh! The nonsense never stops. Married women almost certainly have less risky lifestyles and THAT is why their babies are healthier -- not the nonsense below

Scientists found that women who had slept with a partner exclusively for at least six months had fewer undersized babies and a lower rate of pre-eclampsia - pregnancy induced high blood pressure. Experts believe that the reason for the healthier birth is long-term exposure to the biological father's sperm which boosts the immune system.

In the study by Auckland University in New Zealand researchers asked 2,507 first time pregnant women how long they had been with the baby's father. It was found that when the pregnancies came to term, pre-eclampsia was found to be less common in women who had long-term sexual relations exclusively with the biological father, than in those who had been with their partner only for a short time. The study also revealed that women who had undersized babies were also more likely to have been in shorter relationships.

Dr Larry Chamley, the lead author from the think tank Faculty of 1000 Medicine and also Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Auckland, said that female immune system was boosted by exposure to "paternal antigens" - beneficial antibodies in the male sperm. "Although the issue of whether prolonged semen exposure does protect against developing pre-eclampsia is not yet resolved this paper seems to tip the weight of evidence back in favour of suggesting that prolonged semen exposure is protective," he said.

The results of the study, published in the Journal of Reproductive Immunology, were adjusted for the lifestyle and background of the women including their weight, whether they smoked and their general health. Those who did not know the identity of the father were excluded from the research.


Obesity in America linked to 'liquid Satan' from Iowa corn fields

I like the first sentence below: "The link has not been proven". Obesity is a product of total food intake, not where you get the calories from

The link has not been proven, but the theory is compelling. It suggests that America is doomed to lead the world’s obesity rankings as long as the process by which it elects its presidents starts in Iowa — a state known for its cornfields and corn subsidies.

With a minimum price of $1.90 per bushel of corn guaranteed by the 2007 Farm Bill, activists say that the crop is a guaranteed winner for the farmers of the Midwest — and one of the results is something called super-abundant high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Known to its detractors as “liquid Satan”, HFCS is the sweetener of choice in the vast bulk of fizzy drinks and packaged cakes and biscuits consumed in the US. Its producers have long enjoyed the solid support of the US Senate and most presidential candidates, who gravitate every four years to Iowa to pledge their allegiance to its voters. “Farm subsidies are a third rail of Iowa politics,” a former staffer on Senator John Edwards’s presidential campaign said yesterday. “You don’t touch them.”

President Obama certainly didn’t. As an Illinois Senator and presidential candidate, he consistently backed corn subsidies, on the grounds that they promoted the production of corn-based ethanol and thereby enhanced US energy security.

The 2007 Farm Bill conferred more than $2 billion on Iowa in corn subsidies for 2007 to 2012 — nearly 80 per cent of the state’s subsidies for all crops for the period. Americans’ consumption of corn on the cob has not risen markedly as a result, but their intake of HFCS has been climbing for decades, from 0.6lb per person per year in 1970 to 73.5lb in 2007.

It is sugars that make people put on weight, the paediatrician James Bailes insists. “I used to tell people to eat less fat and exercise more — and none of them lost weight,” he said. “It’s the carbohydrates, the sugary drinks, that do the damage.”


15 November, 2009

The old Bisphenol scare rumbles on

Anti-business alarmists have been trying for years to demonize this stuff so every now and again they should get an apparent hit by chance alone. In this case the groups with different levels of exposure probably differed in other ways and even if we accept the findings it probably shows only that many things (even water) can be harmful if you ingest huge amounts of them. It does not follow that something ingested in huge amounts is harmful in small amounts. The opposite can be true. Check hormesis

Exposure to high levels of a controversial chemical found in thousands of everyday plastic products appears to cause erectile dysfunction and other sexual problems in men, according to a new study published Wednesday. The study, funded by the federal government and published in the journal Human Reproduction, is the first to examine the impact of bisphenol A, or BPA, on the reproductive systems of human males. Previous studies have involved mice or rats.

The research comes as government agencies debate the safety of BPA, a compound that is found in thousands of consumer products ranging from dental sealants to canned food linings and that is so ubiquitous it has been detected in the urine of 93 percent of the U.S. population.

Researchers focused on 634 male workers at four factories in China who were exposed to elevated levels of BPA. They followed the men over five years and compared their sexual health with that of male workers in other Chinese factories where BPA was not present. The men handling BPA were four times as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction and seven times as likely to have difficulty with ejaculation, said De-Kun Li, a scientist at the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute, which conducted the study with funds from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

BPA, which was developed in the 1930s as a synthetic version of estrogen, appears to throw off the hormonal balance in the human body, Li said. The workers studied did not have to spend years in the factory to develop problems -- sexual dysfunction began in new workers after just months on the job, Li said.

The workers had levels of exposure to BPA that were 50 times what an average U.S. man faces. But the findings raise questions about whether exposure at lesser levels can affect sexual function, Li said. "This was a highly exposed group, and we see the effect," he said. "Now, we have to worry about lower-level exposure."

Li said the study is significant because chemical manufacturers and other defenders of BPA have long complained that research raising questions about its health effects was conducted on laboratory animals. "Critics dismissed all the animal studies, saying, 'Show us the human studies,' " Li said. "Now we have a human study, and this can't just be dismissed."

Since BPA is most readily absorbed through food and drink containers, health advocates have been particularly focused on how the Food and Drug Administration is regulating the chemical. The agency has maintained that BPA is safe. But a growing body of research over the past decade has linked BPA to a range of health effects in laboratory animals, including infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early-onset puberty, cancer and diabetes.

Steven G. Hentges of the American Chemistry Council, which represents the chemical industry, said the new study has little meaning for consumers. "Although this study presents interesting information, it has little relevance to average consumers who are exposed to trace levels of BPA," he said.

Still, concern about the chemical among consumers has created pressure in the marketplace. Manufacturers have pledged to take BPA out of baby bottles and water bottles. A handful of jurisdictions around the country have banned BPA from baby products, and similar measures are pending in state legislatures.

Last year, the FDA's scientific advisory board criticized the agency for ignoring more than 100 academic and government studies that linked BPA with health effects. The Obama administration has pledged a "fresh look" at the issue, and the FDA is expected to complete that review by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, the federal government announced last month that it is giving $30 million to researchers across the country over the next two years in an aggressive push to advance knowledge about BPA and end the debate about its safety.


Yoghurt drinks could beat bugs that pile the weight on

Rather a long-shot, I think. The finding is that the bactertial load adjusts by itself quite strongly, so trying to alter it seems futile

Bugs that live in our stomachs could be causing us to get fat, research suggests. Scientists have shown that the type of bugs in our gut change depending on the food we eat. And bacteria that thrives on junk food may make it easier for us to pile on the pounds. The discovery, by U.S. scientists, suggests that bugs found in the digestive tract are helping fuel the obesity epidemic.

The research could also open the way to designing probiotic yoghurts similar to Yakult to combat weight gain.

The link between bugs and weight gain was discovered when the researchers gave mice 'transplants' of bugs among the trillions normally found in the human gut. A junk food binge rapidly altered the make-up of the bugs, with some types thriving and others struggling to survive.

To study the effect of the changes, the researchers from Washington University in Missouri, took stomach bugs from mice fed fatty food and injected them into lean mice. These mice rapidly put on weight, despite being fed low-fat foods, the journal Science Translational Medicine reports. It is thought that stomach bugs that thrive when we eat fatty foods affect metabolism, leading to more fat being stored.

In future, probiotic drinks or supplements designed to boost numbers of the bugs that prefer healthier foods could help keep us trim.

Harvard University obesity expert Jeffrey Flier said that many factors contribute to obesity and it is important to find new ways of combating them. He wrote: 'The gut microbiome (population of bacteria) seems poised to serve as such a promising new scientific platform. It is important, however, to keep this new knowledge in perspective.'


14 November, 2009

Now Brazil nuts are bad for you

Utter rubbish. The findings simply show that people taking supplements tend to be less healthy.

Brazil nuts have been hailed as a tasty way of building up the immune system and even protecting against cancer. But the health-boosting mineral they contain may also push up cholesterol levels and raise the risk of heart disease, researchers claim. The findings came in a study suggesting that a high level in the blood of selenium - a trace mineral found naturally in Brazil nuts, grain, fish and meat - increases cholesterol levels.

Those found in tests to have the highest level of the mineral in their blood were regularly taking dietary supplements containing selenium. However, eating large quantities of Brazil nuts and selenium-rich foods might have the same effect.

Researchers at Warwick University say they have discovered that high selenium levels are 'associated' with a 10 per cent rise in cholesterol. The warning emerges from data on 1,042 people aged 19 to 64 who took part in the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey between 2000 and 2001. In those with blood selenium concentrations higher than 1.20micromoles per litre, the levels of total cholesterol were raised by an average of 8 per cent. Levels of a 'bad' type of cholesterol associated with heart disease were increased by 10 per cent.

The study did not take account of the health of individuals or whether they were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.

High cholesterol levels are a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Brazil nuts are exceptionally rich in selenium, although average intake of the mineral in the UK is only around half the recommended level.

Dr Saverio Stranges, who led the study reported in the Journal of Nutrition, said: 'We believe that the widespread use of selenium supplements, or of any other strategy that artificially increases selenium status above the level required, is unwarranted at the present time.'

Dr Carrie Ruxton, independent nutrition adviser to the industry-backed Health Supplements Information Service, said the study authors admitted they couldn't be sure whether the association they found 'was due to increased dietary selenium or other factors'. She added: 'It is premature to suggest at this stage that taking selenium supplements is harmful for heart health.'


More government meddling in personal matters

Australian governments back plan to boost breastfeeding rates. Is anything private any more? Mothers are already pressured over this -- leading to distress among mothers who have difficulties breast feeding

MOTHERS will be urged to ditch the baby bottle under a controversial and potentially divisive five-year plan to boost breast milk feeding rates. The government-backed pro-breast milk message will argue that babies fed on breast milk for longer may reduce risks of obesity and chronic disease.

State and federal health ministers today will endorse the plan and consider establishing a national breast milk bank, The Courier-Mail reports. The move will be among a raft of measures designed to monitor and persuade Australians to consider how their lifestyles affect public spending. It will be the latest in a series of government attempts to influence mothers' choices on feeding.

In June, a $100,000-a-year Queensland Health breastfeeding campaign was attacked for using "guilt-inducing" language. The campaign was called "12+months on the breast: Normal, natural, healthy".

The new federal strategy would include increasing community acceptance of breastfeeding as a cultural and social norm, establishing breastfeeding support networks for pregnant women and improved breastfeeding training for health professionals. A national breast milk bank would collect, screen and dispense human milk donated by nursing mothers to be fed to premature and sick babies whose mothers were unable to feed them or who needed supplementary feeds.

At the centre of the Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-15 is the goal of increasing the percentage of babies who are fully breastfed from birth to six months, and beyond 12 months. "Breast milk is an environmentally-friendly product and there are health risks and financial costs associated with not breastfeeding," the draft strategy says. "Breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from a range of serious illnesses and conditions (and) ... protective effects ... in infancy may extend to later life, with reduced risks of obesity and chronic disease."

A study of Australian children in 2004 found 92 per cent of newborns were initially breastfed but within a week that dropped to 80 per cent. At three months, about 56 per cent were still being fed breast milk. A federal report in 2007 championed the benefits of breast milk and recommended the Health Department fund a feasibility study for a network of milk banks.

A Mothers Milk Bank established on the Gold Coast in 2006 closed two years later because of a lack of funding. It is scheduled to reopen in the next few months. Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon also is likely to announce today an initiative to screen for perinatal depression.


13 November, 2009

Atkins-style low carb, high protein dieters 'more likely to suffer depression'

The Atkins diet has often evoked a huge and and apparently irrational hostility -- so we must be cautious about results such as these. The anti-meat brigade, among others, certainly hate its success. Note that even the authors below note a social rather than a physiological cause for the effects they observed. It is also not totally obvious why being on a restricted diet improves mood. I would have thought that such a diet would make you grumpy

People who try to lose weight using an Atkins-style low carb, high protein diet are more likely to suffer depression, a study suggests. Slimmers on a low-calorie and low-fat diet saw their mood improve more than counterparts on a low-carbohydrate regime with the same amount of calories, found researchers.

Two groups of overweight or obese patients were studied over the course of a year in Australia and the findings are published in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. It was found that, although both groups lost an average of more than two stone, those patients on a low-fat diet experienced a lasting improvement in mood compared with the low-carb group.

The authors of the study said that the results serve as a warning against the growing trend for low-carb, high-protein plans like the Atkins Diet. "While recent clinical studies have shown that low-carbohydrate diets can be an effective alternative dietary approach for weight loss, their long-term effects on psychological function, including mood and cognition, have been poorly studied," wrote the authors.

Possible explanations for the results of the study include the social difficulties associated with sticking to a low-carb plan, which prescribes a different regime from the typical pasta and bread-filled Western diet. The structure of such diets could also affect mood, said the authors.

The effects of protein and fat on the levels of serotonin the 'happiness chemical' could also offer an explanation.

The authors added that further studies would be required to see how other cognitive functions are affected by different dietary regimes.


Many breast cancers do not need treatment

HUNDREDS of women every year are having treatments for breast cancer, including surgery and chemotherapy, that are unnecessary because nearly one-third of cancers detected by screening tests are not dangerous. Australian researchers have proven for the first time that breast cancer screening is responsible for substantial "overdiagnosis" of the disease -- the detection of cancers that are too slow-growing to cause a problem in the woman's lifetime but are still treated as if they pose an immediate threat.

The University of Sydney experts found the overdiagnosis rate was between 30 and 42 per cent -- meaning between 23 and 29 per cent of women aged 50-69 are having cancer treatments they do not need.

While previous studies have estimated overdiagnosis rates as high as 52 per cent from breast cancer screening, the new study is the first to rule out other known causes of breast cancer as being an alternative explanation for the higher detection rate, which has doubled since screening began. Obesity, use of hormone replacement therapy and childlessness all increase the risk of breast cancer, and have been rising over the same period.

But the researchers, who included world-renowned cancer expert Bruce Armstrong, have shown these other factors cannot explain the higher cancer rate among screened women, which they said could "only be explained by overdiagnosis".

Figures published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare last month show that 6398 women aged 50-69 were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. If the higher 29 per cent overdiagnosis figure were correct, it would suggest about 1855 women each year are receiving unnecessary treatments, including mastectomies and radiation.

Co-author Alex Barratt, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Sydney, said the study "conclusively shows that . . . it's a phenomenon caused by screening". "We need better screening tests that either don't pick up these very slow-growing cancers in the first place, or triage tests that are able to tell the difference once they are detected."

Australia's breast screening program has been under increased pressure from the numbers of younger women seeking scans following the cases of celebrities such as Kylie Minogue. In September, an evaluation report of the BreastScreen Australia program proposed restricting access to free screening for younger women.

Some cancer experts have reacted cautiously to the findings, warning that the relevance for individual women was limited because doctors could not tell which cancers detected by mammography could be safely ignored.

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Ian Olver said the study's results were "a guesstimate" and screening had slashed the death rate from breast cancer by about 35 per cent among women aged 50-69 since mammograms for healthy women were introduced in 1990.

Associate Professor Barratt said any woman who detected a symptom such as a lump, breast changes or discharge should seek medical advice straightaway, as the non-dangerous cancers did not produce these signs.


12 November, 2009

OJ with Breakfast? Repent!

America’s self-anointed food police have a new punching bag in their obesity crusade: fruit juice. We’re not making this up. The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that a growing number of dietary do-gooders are now pointing their fingers at juice as a culprit for fattening waistlines:
The inconvenient truth, many experts say, is that 100% fruit juice poses the same obesity-related health risks as Coke, Pepsi and other widely vilified beverages. … [I]t's time juice lost its wholesome image, these experts say.

"It's pretty much the same as sugar water," said Dr. Charles Billington, an appetite researcher at the University of Minnesota. In the modern diet, "there's no need for any juice at all."
Is this new target in the obesity blame game any more legitimate than activists’ perennial demonization of soda? Nope. As the Times notes, a 2008 review of 21 studies found that 15—over two-thirds—did not support the theoretical link between juice and weight gain. But dietary activists still single out soda despite a wealth of academic research finding that soda isn’t a unique cause of obesity, so don’t expect the grape juice naysayers to be quieted in the face of actual evidence.

It’s worth noting that “Twinkie tax” creator Kelly Brownell isn’t jumping on the opportunity to call for a government War on Fruit Juice. According to the Times, Brownell is “loath to provoke the tens of millions of Americans who consider their morning juice sacrosanct.” Read: Brownell won’t target fruit juice yet, but after fruit juice’s public image is dragged through the mud and turned into “the new tobacco,” all bets are off. For now, Brownell is sticking to his soda tax song-and-dance out of purely political considerations, not ideological ones.

We have to ask: What’s next? Raisin rations? Warning labels on avocados? Red-light / green-light stickers in the produce aisle? Paging Alex Padilla…


Violent video games won’t corrupt anyone

Just like comic books and video nasties before it, Modern Warfare 2 is besieged by ignorant screams for censorship

Whether you’ve picked up a joypad in your life or not, you must have noticed that this week is a big one for videogame aficionados. Modern Warfare 2 (MW2), the sequel to an ultra-realistic military game that sold 15 million copies worldwide, has been greeted with midnight launch events, massive queues and rapturous critical response.

But not everyone is happy. Voices have been raised in protest — the familiar voices that have, over the years, condemned as scandalous and repulsive everything from novels to comic books, from horror films to rock music. It is a baptism of fire that, it seems, every new medium must suffer as it rises from niche pastime to mass entertainment.

The inclusion in MW2 of a scene that re-creates a horrific terrorist attack on a crowded airport has led to outraged headlines. The Labour MP Keith Vaz attacked the game for its “brutality”: his was a textbook piece of grandstanding, complete with the claim that he merely wished that we would think of the children.

But plenty of thought has been given to the children. MW2 carries a BBFC 18 rating. Its box sports the 18 symbol in three places, the one on the front being twice the normal size. “Contains strong, bloody violence”, the text warns, and the rating is more than a guideline: retailers cannot sell it to children.

And they certainly should not. The airport scene is unquestionably unpleasant. It puts the player in the shoes of an unwilling participant in the slaughter of innocents. It’s stomach-churning and nasty, a bleak and incongruous sidestep in a game that otherwise progresses with the pace and bombast of a Hollywood action movie.

But it is no more graphic than countless other scenes in movies and TV shows such as 24. Adults are expected to understand that not everything labelled “entertainment” must necessarily be “fun”. Creative works can, with equal validity, be harrowing, upsetting and depressing.

Decades of research, often funded by groups with a vested interest in proving the “evil” of video games, have failed to prove a link between game violence and real-life violence. Is the issue, then, that we still consider video games to be for children, regardless of that huge, red 18 rating sticker?

The average age of a game player in the UK is about 28. MW2 will probably be played by more than two million adults here — and both government and game publishers have taken measures to protect children from its content. But responsibility must lie with parents, and little can be done if a parent decides to buy an 18-rated game for their ten-year-old.

Bad parenting should not be an excuse to throw the shroud of censorship over compelling, intelligent experiences created for adults.


11 November, 2009

Pervasive love of the Nanny State

Below is a circular from Greg Lindsay of the Centre for Independent Studies, dated November 9. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590. The idea that ANY Australian supermarket does not sell fresh produce is truly remarkable. A classical example of how simplistic theories trump facts among Leftists. The major supermarkets have a huge range of produce wherever they are and even mini-markets have some

Conversations at dinner parties often reflect the fashion and fads of the moment. House prices, schools, the GFC, climate change, and refugees—all have cropped up over the past few years. Lately, it’s the so-called 'obesity epidemic.'

No contemporary issue divides the people who believe in personal choice and responsibility from those who think government should be constantly at our elbows, as it were, nudging our hands away from the salt, butter, eggs, meat, etc.

A recent conversation I had with a dinner companion went something like this.

Dinner Companion: 'I accept that markets are the best way of supplying goods and services for people, but what about the less well-off people who are not eating properly?'

GL: 'What do you mean?'

DC: ‘Oh I don't mean people who live around here who have access to fruit and vegetables but those who live out in (suburb) X where the supermarkets don't stock fresh fruit and vegetables.'

GL: 'They don't?' DC: 'No, they don't.' GL: 'I don't believe you.' DC: 'It's true!'

And so on.

The serious but bizarre suggestion that followed was that the government should force retail outlets in less affluent areas to sell fresh fruit and vegetable and also compel the less well off to buy them ‘for their own good.’

So I checked with the supermarkets located in suburb X. And yes, they do stock plenty of fresh produce. So presumably enough people are buying fruit and vegetables, and no wonder. For as long as I can remember, taxpayer-funded health campaigns have been preaching the benefits of healthy diets.

If there is a legitimate role of government here, it may be to disseminate important public information so people can make informed decisions. But now this seems to be morphing into something altogether different. My dinner companion’s attitude to the Nanny State demonstrated the soft authoritarian streak that is pervading society.

It would appear that we can’t leave it up to individuals to make rational decisions about what is in their best interests. Indeed, it’s now the government’s job to treat us like infants in the high chair and make sure we eat our vegetables! Moreover, if there is a growing issue, such as obesity, overstating the case as my dinner companion did can trivialise it and the public loses interest. (Climate change alarmists for instance are increasingly guilty of this.)

The problem, of course, is that ultimately this attitude is self-defeating. Social theorists call the phenomena ‘learned helplessness.’ The more government does, the less responsible people need to be, and the less responsible they end up becoming. And ever-bigger becomes the role of governments in our lives.

Cervical cancer wiped out by pioneering use of 'amazing' osteoporosis drugs

Cervical cancer can be destroyed by drugs used to treat breast cancer and osteoporosis, a study suggests. In results described as 'amazing' by researchers, one of the treatments eliminated the cancer in 11 out of 13 cases.

The results are hugely important because, despite advances in medicine, cervical cancer still affects almost 3,000 British women a year and kills more than 1,000. Half a million women are diagnosed with it each year worldwide, but only 50 per cent will survive. Britain and other countries have recently started to vaccinate teenage girls against the cancer. But the programme is in its infancy and the jab will not prevent all cases.

The latest research centres on fulvestrant, which is normally used to treat breast cancer, and raloxifene, used for osteoporosis. Importantly, the drugs have already been deemed safe for use, meaning they could be marketed as cervical cancer treatments much more quickly than newly-discovered medicines.

The initial results come from experiments in mice. But if the success is repeated in women, the drugs could be in widespread use as cervical cancer treatments within just five years.

The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the U.S., started by showing that the growth of cervical tumours, like many breast cancers, is fuelled by the sex hormone oestrogen. Fulvestrant and raloxifene are known to cut off the supply, so the researchers gave them to mice that had been genetically-engineered to develop the cancer. After a month, 11 of the 13 mice given fulvestrant lost all signs of cancer. But the disease remained in untreated animals, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports. Raloxifene gave similar results, proving the importance of oestrogen to cervical cancer. Finally, the researchers showed that the drugs can also eradicate pre-cancerous growths - abnormal cells that if left untreated could turn cancerous.

Researcher Professor Paul Lambert said: 'It was amazing to see that not only was the cancer gone but all the pre-cancerous lesions that give rise to cancer were also gone. 'Simply put, oestrogen is effectively acting as a growth factor or "fuel". If you remove its function, the cancer regresses. 'Why the cancer literally appears to disappear or "die" is still a remarkable aspect of our findings that we cannot explain at a molecular level as of yet. 'Studies are under way to understand the mechanism.'

The professor is also testing the drugs on human cells in the lab and is optimistic they will one day be used to treat women with cervical cancer. He said: 'We have begun to test whether the drugs are as effective in treating cervical cancer in human cells as they are in our mice. 'We can't be sure how the science will translate from animals to humans but we have faith in our mouse model. 'There are many similarities in how cervical cancer develops and manifests itself in women and in mice.'

If shown to be effective in women with cervical cancer, the drugs are likely to be used to tackle tumours that have recurred despite conventional treatments such as surgery or radiotherapy. They might also be given to stop the disease returning in the first place. Long-term treatment might be necessary to keep the cancer at bay.


10 November, 2009

Lots more nasty side-effects of statins now acknowledged

New health warnings are to be issued over popular cholesterol-lowering drugs after evidence that thousands of users suffer side effects such as depression and sexual problems. More than six million adults who are prescribed statins by their GPs will be told about five new 'undesirable effects' in leaflets issued with packets of the drugs. These are sleep disturbances, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, depression and a rare lung disease that can kill if left untreated.

But some doctors have criticised delays by the Government's drug safety watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. The MHRA signalled the need for updated warnings in February last year but disagreements about the wording have held up the changes.

Dr Ike Iheanacho, editor of the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin which conducts independent reviews of evidence on drugs, said most patients and doctors were unaware of the newly identified problems. But he stressed that patients should not stop taking statins, which are credited with saving 10,000 lives a year by the British Heart Foundation. Dr Iheanacho said: 'Statins are of unquestioned value in the prevention of cardiovascular events and are used by increasing numbers of people. 'However, when new data emerges on their unwanted effects, it is crucial that they are incorporated into the product information.'

A review of studies by the MHRA in February 2008 concluded there was enough evidence from clinical trials and patient reports to identify the new problems as a 'class effect'. This means all statins may trigger the problems. It found up to 12 per cent of patients taking part in one clinical trial suffered sleep disturbances such as insomnia, while 11 per cent of users in the same trial had depression and three per cent some level of memory loss.

Another study suggested 12 per cent of statin patients had erectile dysfunction. Overall, there was a much lower rate of side effects but, given the huge number of users, this would add up to thousands of patients being affected. Very rarely statins may lead to interstital lung disease, which can cause respiratory failure if untreated.

Dr Iheanacho, in the latest issue of the Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, said his inquiries showed the delay in updating leaflets was caused by one of the drug companies disagreeing with the proposed wording. 'This situation is unacceptable,' he added.

A spokesman for the MHRA said the time frame for the new leaflets would depend on 'movement in the supply chain' for the drugs. She said: 'Once the MHRA approves a new leaflet the company has three months to print and use it.'


Are date rape spiked drinks an urban myth?

Last week, academics concluded that women who claim they've been drugged and raped were usually just drunk...

When she recalls the night she went off with a stranger, Daniella swears blind someone slipped something into her drink. How else could a man she never met before have managed to get the 29-year-old legal secretary from the nightclub in Bradford where they met, into his car? How to explain the memories that still haunt her - shameful images of herself, partially clothed, writhing around on the back seat? 'I'm pretty certain we didn't have sex. I think I'd have known,' she says, 'But it's all a bit blurred. I'm also not sure what did happen.'

But she is certain that she would not have consented to whatever happened. And she blames her inability to say no, or to struggle, on whatever it was the man put in her drink. 'I've been drunk before and it didn't feel anything like this,' she says. 'I felt really nauseous and confused. He bought me a couple of drinks from the bar while I was dancing, so he had plenty of opportunity to put something in them.' Heaven forbid that it could have been the drink itself.

The truth of what really happened will never be known. Daniella never reported the incident and was never tested for signs of the Rohypnol she believes she was given. And despite the sickening events she recounts, the cold scientific reality is that while fear of drink spiking is still rife among women, experts claim it hardly ever happens in practice.

A toxicology expert from the Forensic Science Service, which analyses evidence for the police, told the Mail he had come across only one sample of blood or urine containing Rohypnol - the most commonly talked about 'date-rape' drug - in the past decade. 'The reality is drink spiking is very, very rare', said senior forensic scientist Michael Scott-Ham. 'Alcohol itself is the problem.'

A controversial study, published last week, claimed drink spiking is an 'urban myth', a modern scapegoat for a generation of women who cannot face the fact that the vast amounts of alcohol many are imbibing could be in any way responsible for a loss of control, which can have devastating consequences.

'Something very curious is going on,' says Dr Adam Burgess, who spent a year researching the issue at the University of Kent's school of social policy for a project funded by the British Academy. 'How can you account for this great big gap between lack of any evidence for drink spiking and what so many women believe is going on? 'There's a displacement exercise going on here. Why, despite all the evidence, do women so readily blame the spiker rather than the amount of alcohol they are drinking? That is the real issue here.' ...

Could it be that women instinctively feel that if they admit to themselves how much they had drunk they would also be admitting they were somehow to blame for putting themselves at risk? Believing your drink was spiked transfers the blame to a malevolent, external force, something which women have no control over. It shifts responsibility.

Alcohol expert Robin Touquet, Professor of Emergency Medicine at Imperial College, London, points out: 'Women are demonising so- called drink spiking rather than facing up to the fact that drinking too much alcohol can put them in a highly dangerous situation. 'Most of the time, drink spiking does not happen. It always comes down to booze. 'Alcohol is a drug and in excess it adversely affects every system in the body. The message to women is: "Don't make yourself vulnerable."'

Forensic scientist Michael Scott-Ham agrees: 'The biggest problem is that a lot of people get very drunk very quickly and sometimes they are taken advantage of in this situation...

Another pivotal study offers further evidence that alcohol is the drug to be guarded against. The study, conducted by the Forensic Science Service in 2005, examined 1,014 cases of 'drug facilitated sexual assault' by analysing blood and urine samples from victims gathered by police forces in England and Wales. In only 21 - about 2 per cent - were traces of drugs found that the women had not taken voluntarily.

These included Ecstasy, gammahydroxybutyrate (GHB) and tranquillisers. Alcohol was picked up in 46 per cent of cases. Illegal drugs such as cannabis and cocaine were in 34 per cent of cases....

More here

9 November, 2009

Risks of daily aspirin may outweigh the benefits

Taking a low-dose aspirin every day can help prevent heart attacks in people who've already had one. But if you've never had a heart attack (or stroke), the risks of taking a daily low-dose aspirin outweigh the benefits, according to a U.K. report published in Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin.

About 50 million Americans take low-dose (325 milligrams per day or less) aspirin to prevent cardiovascular problems. Some do so even though they don't have heart disease or a history of heart attack or stroke, an approach known as primary prevention. Currently, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends low-dose aspirin for primary prevention in people with diabetes who are at risk for cardiovascular disease--but this will be changing. (Diabetes can dramatically increase the risk of developing heart disease.)

"Because of some recent studies suggesting that the benefit is not very large, and because aspirin can also have risks (intestinal bleeding or hemorrhagic stroke), the January 2010 recommendations will recommend it mostly for higher-risk people than was the case in the past, when it was recommended for people with more moderate levels of risk and above," says Dr. M. Sue Kirkman, the vice president of clinical affairs for the ADA.

The authors of the new analysis say there's not enough evidence to justify the routine use of low-dose aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease in apparently healthy people, including those with elevated blood pressure or diabetes.

Kirkman stresses that people with diabetes who are taking aspirin--and have no history of heart attack--should talk to their doctor and see if he or she recommends continuing the therapy. "There isn't a strong rationale to take people off it if they're doing fine," she explains.

Although aspirin thins the blood and helps prevent clots, it is not risk free, according to the U.K. review led by a panel of experts. For example, the researchers looked at two large studies of people with diabetes (one with 1,276 participants and the other with 2,539) and found that those who took 81 to 100 milligrams of aspirin daily were just as likely to have a heart attack or stroke in the next four to seven years as those who did not.

Aspirin can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and other problems--some of them serious. People who take aspirin daily are two to four times as likely to have upper gastrointestinal problems, such as an ulcer with complications, than those not taking aspirin (even if the aspirin is buffered or has a protective coating to limit stomach problems). Although aspirin can prevent clots, which cause about 80 percent of strokes, it may increase the risk of hemorrhagic strokes, which are caused by bleeding in the brain.

"This article synthesizes what many people in the field are beginning to feel: The risks of daily aspirin therapy exceeds the benefits in people who have not had a heart attack," says Dr. Steven E. Nissen, the chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio.

The American Heart Association recommends daily low-dose aspirin for people who have had a heart attack, for those with heart disease--related chest pain known as unstable angina, or those who have had a clot-related stroke (or those who have had ministrokes, episodes that suggest a stroke is imminent). In general, the risk of heart attack has to be 10 percent within the next decade to warrant daily aspirin use, the group says.

In 2004, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel rejected the idea of using aspirin for primary prevention. "If you have had a heart attack, bypass surgery, or a history of coronary artery disease, the benefits of daily aspirin therapy do outweigh the risks," Nissen says. "If you never had a heart attack or heart disease, you need to be at very high risk to benefit from daily low-dose aspirin therapy."

So who falls into this very high-risk category? According to Nissen, "the right person would likely have a cluster of risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure," he says. "Once you have a cluster of risk factors, you start to look like someone who has already had a heart attack."

The bottom line? "Do not take daily aspirin therapy on your own," Nissen advises. "This review article emphasizes the need for a dialogue between a patient and provider about the benefits and risks," he says. Risks include gastrointestinal bleeding and a small, but potentially devastating, risk of bleeding in the brain. "You can't ignore the risk side to the equation," Nissen says.


"Fat blacks" are a statistical reality

New Obesity Data Shows Blacks Have the Highest Rates of Obesity, says CDC

Blacks had 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity, and Hispanics had 21 percent higher obesity prevalence compared with whites.

Greater prevalences of obesity for blacks and whites were found in the South and Midwest than in the West and Northeast. Hispanics in the Northeast had lower obesity prevalence than Hispanics in the Midwest, South or West.

For this study analysis, CDC analyzed the 2006?2008 BRFSS data.

SOURCE (See the original for graphics)

The CDC does NOT of course say why blacks might be fatter but limited black impulse control (as seen, for instance, in their high rate of violent crime) is the most obvious candidate for an explanation

8 November, 2009

Pesky! Children who drink full fat milk weigh less than those who do not

Children as young as eight who drink milk every day have a lower body mass index than those who drink the low fat variety, according to the study from Gothenburg University in Sweden. The new study found that children who drink full fat milk weigh on average almost nine pounds less than other children.

Diet experts believe that children who do not drink full fat milk may be fatter themselves because they drink fizzy drinks instead. Dietician and author of the study Susanne Eriksson, said: "It may be the case that children who drink full-fat milk tend also to eat other things that affect their weight. "Another possible explanation is that children who do not drink full fat milk drink more soft drinks instead."

The researchers also discovered a difference between overweight children who drink full fat milk everyday and those who do not. Children who often drink milk with a fat content of three per cent are "less overweight" but eat more saturated fat than recommended. However, those children with a high intake of fat have a lower BMI than the children with a lower intake of fat.

Miss Eriksson examined the nutrition, body composition and bone mineralisation of 120 healthy eight-year-olds after the children told her team what they had eaten the day before, how often they ate certain foods and after taking blood samples. Many of these children had been examined when they were four-years-old, and we discovered that their eating habits were pretty much unchanged four years later. "It appears to be the case that eating habits are established early."

The study found that nearly two-thirds of the children had low levels of Vitamin D in their blood.


Technology doesn't cause social isolation: Pew study

I wonder is the slimy "Baroness" Greenfield listening?

CONTRARY to popular belief, technology is not leading to social isolation and people who use the internet and mobile phones have larger and more diverse social networks, a new study claims. "All the evidence points in one direction," said Keith Hampton, lead author of the report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project released this week.

"People's social worlds are enhanced by new communication technologies. "It is a mistake to believe that internet use and mobile phones plunge people into a spiral of isolation," said Mr Hampton, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

The authors said key findings of the study "challenge previous research and commonplace fears about the harmful social impact of new technology." "There is a tendency by critics to blame technology first when social change occurs," Mr Hampton said. "This is the first research that actually explores the connection between technology use and social isolation and we find the opposite. "It turns out that those who use the internet and mobile phones have notable social advantages," Mr Hampton said. "People use the technology to stay in touch and share information in ways that keep them socially active and connected to their communities."

The study found that six per cent of Americans can be described as socially isolated - lacking anyone to discuss important matters with or who they consider to be "especially significant" in their life. That figure has hardly changed since 1985, it said.

The study examined people's discussion networks - those with whom they discuss important matters - and their closest and most significant confidants, or core networks. On average, the size of people's discussion networks is 12 per cent larger among mobile phone users, nine percent larger for those who share photos online, and nine percent bigger for those who use instant messaging.

The diversity of people's core networks tends to be 25 per cent larger for mobile phone users, 15 per cent larger for basic internet users, and even larger for frequent internet users, those who use instant messaging, and those who share digital photos online. At the same time, the study found that Americans' discussion networks have shrunk by about one-third since 1985 and have become less diverse because they contain fewer non-family members.

The study found that on average in a typical year, people have in-person contact with their core network ties on about 210 days. They have mobile-phone contact on 195 days of the year, landline phone contact on 125 days and text-messaging contact on the mobile phone 125 days. They have email contact on 72 days, instant messaging contact on 55 days, contact via social networking websites on 39 days and contact via letters or cards on eight days.

The US study involved telephone interviews with 2512 adults between July 9, 2008 and August 10, 2008 and has a sampling error of 2.1 per cent.


7 November, 2009

Can a daily dose of chocolate keep the wrinkles away?

“Nibbling dark chocolate can seriously improve your health - and even help you look younger,” according to the Daily Mirror. The newspaper says a new study suggests that chemicals in dark chocolate (called flavonols) could help prevent wrinkles and skin cancer caused by the sunlight.

There are several major limitations to the way this study was conducted, as well as to the way it was reported by newspapers. As attractive as these claims are, they are unlikely to be true. The assumption that the results of this study can be applied to the ageing of skin or skin cancer is wrong. Some newspapers have correctly pointed out that the dark chocolate studied in this research is not the type found in shops.

While dark chocolate may be tasty, there must be more rigorous research into the substances it contains if today’s headlines are to be supported by science.

The research was carried out by Dr Stefanie Williams and colleagues from London University of the Arts and European Dermatology London, a private dermatology clinic which provides both medical and cosmetic services. The study was funded by the London University of the Arts and was published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, the official journal of the International Academy of Cosmetic Dermatology.

The Daily Telegraph interpreted this study as showing that dark chocolate protects against ageing, whereas the Daily Mail has questioned whether it might protect against wrinkles.

This study was designed to be a double-blind, randomised controlled trial which tested whether chocolate consumption had a protective affect against skin damage from light exposure. The researchers recruited 30 healthy subjects and split them into two groups of 15. Each group was given chocolate that was either high in flavanols (HF) or low in flavanols (LF). Flavanols are a class of flavonoids, which are plant-derived substances that are believed by some to have antioxidant properties. Flavanols are also found in foods such as green tea, pomegranates, goji berries and blueberries. The volunteers were asked to eat 20g of the chocolate every day for three months.

Randomised double-blind studies are the ideal study type for this sort of research, but they need to be conducted and reported correctly. The way that participants are randomly allocated to the two groups (randomisation) and the way that the allocation was kept secret from the study investigators (blinding) need to be described in detail. This was not done in this publication.

In this study, the researchers recruited 22 healthy women and eight men with an average age of 43. They selected people who were considered pale and fair skinned according to the Fitzpatrick skin classification scale, an accepted scale used to class people’s complexion and tolerance of sunlight. This means that all patients in this study either burn easily (phototype II) or tan after an initial burn (phototype III). It is important to know how many of each phototype were allocated to the HF and LF groups and also how many in each group were men. This information is not stated in the publication, so it is not possible to tell how successful the researchers’ randomisation process was.

The HF chocolate was manufactured in Belgium using a method that the researchers say preserves the naturally high level of flavonols found in cocoa beans. The LF chocolate was made by a more common method using higher temperatures. It is not clear if the chocolates tasted different. As this was not tested, the participants and researchers may have been aware of which type of chocolate was being eaten.

Researchers tested the skin of all participants at the start of the study and after the 12-week course of chocolate. They used a testing method called minimal UVB erythema dose (MED), in which an automated device delivers increasingly strong doses of ultra-violet light to the front of the forearms. MED is measured according to the power of the light, the area of the light beam and how long it is applied to the skin, and is expressed as units of J/cm2 (joules per square centimetre). The researchers adjusted the strength of the MED doses for the individual skin types and recorded the level of UV light at which the skin became burned.

Of the 30 subjects recruited, 28 completed the study. After the 12 weeks, the average MED in the LF chocolate group did not change, while in the HF group it increased by more than double. For the people eating LF chocolate, the MED at the start was 0.124 J/cm2 and increased to 0.132 at week 12 (not statistically significant). For the people eating HF chocolate, the MED at the start was 0.109 J/cm2 and increased to 0.223 at week 12 (statistically significant).

The researchers say that “our controlled, double-blind, randomized in vivo study demonstrated, for the first time to our knowledge, that regular consumption of a chocolate rich in flavonols confers substantial photoprotection and can thus be effective at protecting human skin from harmful UV effects.” They say that conventional chocolate had no such effect, and that the main underlying mechanism of action is likely to be the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity of cocoa flavonols.

This small study has several problems that mean care should be taken when interpreting its results. In particular, this study did not look at long-term damage to the skin, ageing of skin or people’s risk of skin cancer, which were all discussed in the press coverage. The actual measure assessed was skin burning in volunteers with an average age of 43.

In the researchers’ reporting of their results, there was a lack of detailed description of the blinding and randomisation procedures used to allocate people to groups. This means it is unclear whether the large difference in the way that skin burned or tanned between the groups was due to differences in the participants’ skin types rather than chocolate consumption. It is not possible to verify this from the report.

Although the administration of UV light to cause the “erythema dose” may have been done objectively, it is not clear how the researchers assessing skin reaction were blinded and whether a sound method was used to prevent them knowing which chocolate group a participant was in.

While the idea that eating chocolate every day can protect the skin is appealing, this research has a number of limitations. It is sensible to reduce the risks of skin ageing and skin cancer by following current sun safety guidelines.


No joke: new hope for painful "four-hour erection"

Erections lasting four hours or more may seem like a rich source of jests, but to men suffering this painful condition -- called priapism -- they're no laughing matter. However, new research offers hope that victims at least won't end up unable to have sex. Scientists from the United States and China have found in mouse studies that a compound called adenosine deaminase prevents priapism from leading to penile fibrosis, a condition associated with buildup of scar tissue and eventual impotence.

Priapism itself is, in turn, a complication of sickle cell disease. The new findings are published online in the FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) Journal. "Coping with priapism is hard enough, but knowing that it can ultimately lead to fibrosis within the penis adds insult to injury," said Gerald Weissmann, editorinchief of the Journal. "Hopefully this discovery can yield new drugs that relieve the excitatory signals sent by adenosine so that these men to get some relief."

Adenosine deaminasean enzyme which breaks down adenosine, a natural cellular-signaling molecule, is already used in humans as a treatment for a rare immune disorder. For the new study, researchers used two priapism animal models to determine the role of increased adenosine in penile fibrosis. One model was that of adenosine deaminase-deficient mice and the other was mice engineered to have sickle cell disease. Both sets of mutant mice were treated with adenosine deaminase.

After eight weeks, the investigators found the enzyme lowered adenosine levels in the penises of both groups of rodents, preventing or correcting penile fibrosis. "We have revealed that increased adenosine signaling contributes to. the progression of priapism to penile fibrosis," said Yang Xia, a scientist involved in the study from the University of TexasHouston Medical School. "This finding led to a novel therapeutic possibility to treat and prevent this dangerous complication."


6 November, 2009

Being overweight blamed on food, as usual

The fact that obsessive "safety" rules now ban many traditional childhood activities and thus reduce exercise is rarely mentioned. And politically correct bans on anybody "winning" are very bad for sport. So it is in fact government meddling that has created much of the problem and abolishing the meddling would be the surest path to solving it

It's the weighty issue that can no longer be ignored and one that is being blamed for an alarming rise in obesity among young girls. New research released yesterday shows that tweens are wearing their food choices on their waistlines, setting themselves up to be overweight as adults and suffer major health problems such as infertility.

The muffin top, made famous by the TV show Kath and Kim, is now the norm for teen girls who are between 5-20kg overweight, with one in three girls aged between nine and 13 overweight or obese.

Health experts yesterday warned that the sensitive issue could no longer be ignored, and had been avoided in the past out of fear it could lead to eating disorders. "It is a particular age group that has been overlooked and there needs to be more focus because they are much more in control of their food choices," Associate Dean of Clinical and Molecular Medicine at Flinders University Professor Lynne Cobiac said. "If they are overweight now, most, but not all, will often go on to be overweight when they are adults and they could [COULD being the operative word. Most fat people do NOT get diabetes] develop diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. It's really important that we understand what is influencing their choices so we can help them to be healthy, and set them on the right path."

Professor Cobiac's research found that by age 12, girls are doing almost no exercise, compounding weight problems. As they grow older, girls become more body conscious, restricting meals or overeating and developing disorders. Girls fall into two dietary patterns, eating meat, fruit and vegetables - or snacks, no meat and vegetables. Those on the snack, no meat and vegetable diet eat smaller lighter meals, characterised by more cereals, chocolate, fried chips and soft drinks.

Professor Cobiac's findings, based on the 2007 National Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, reveal that at least 30 per cent of girls are overweight before they enter high school. "Part of the explanation is that they are pre-pubescent and that can sometimes increase weight," she said. "What we found is that they are having a high fat diet on weekends and in school holidays." In some cases, girls were starving themselves during the school day but then "demolishing a pack of Tim Tams" when they got home.

What is concerning experts is the drastic change in girls' attitudes towards sport in high school. Paediatric nutritionist at The Children's Hospital at Westmead Susie Burrell said this was an age group that had been neglected in the past.


A truly heartening story

Doctor cures 'Baby Z' of molybdenum cofactor deficiency in medical world first. Pity about the bureaucratic hurdles, though. The baby would have done better if the drug could have been given immediately

A MELBOURNE baby given no chance of survival has amazed doctors after being saved with one of the biggest long shots in medical history. "Baby Z's" brain started virtually dissolving soon after she was born 18 months ago because she had too much toxic sulphite in her system.

But her parents and doctors refused to give in to the one-in-a-million genetic condition and stumbled on a highly experimental drug. The Herald Sun can reveal treatment began a month after she was born and within days Baby Z "woke up". "It was really like awakening - it was just bang, and she was switched on," pioneering neonatologist Dr Alex Veldman said.

Baby Z's overjoyed mother said she had grown into a happy and determined little girl. "She is absolutely delightful and as stubborn as anything - I don't know where she gets that from," she said. "She has just started saying a few words and is constantly moving around. "Every day just gets better and better. We look at her every day and just think, 'Wow'."

The first person to be cured of molybdenum cofactor deficiency - a condition that poisons the brain and kills within months of birth - Baby Z has made world medical and legal history for Monash Children's at Southern Health. The child and her parents cannot be named for legal reasons and to protect their privacy. But her relieved mother told the Herald Sun she refused to accept her daughter would die, even when told she had no chance. "(The procedure) was a tiny bit of hope but, when you have nothing, that is a lot of hope. She might have one bad gene but she has a lot of other good and strong genes."

Soon after she was born in 2008, Baby Z's toxic sulphite levels were almost 30 times higher than normal and were dissolving her brain. After three weeks looking for answers, biochemist Dr Rob Gianello found a research paper by German plant biologist Prof Gunther Schwarz describing how he had developed an experimental drug that was able to save mice with the disease in 2004. The drug had hardly been used in animals and nobody had more than an educated guess at what it would do in a human.

But Monash's Dr Alex Veldman contacted Prof Schwarz in Cologne and appealed to the hospital's ethics committee to use the drug on Baby Z. The long shot was backed because the only other option was a painful death.

The Office of the Public Advocate then called on special medical procedure powers - used just twice before - to convince the Family Court to allow the unique treatment to go ahead. Within an hour of the court's approval, Baby Z was given the drug.

Within hours of receiving her first daily dose of cPMP (cyclic pyranopterin monophosphate), tests showed Baby Z's sulphite levels immediately dropped from near 300 to below 100. Within three days they fell to the normal level of about 10.

Baby Z's neurological development is delayed due to some brain damage in the weeks it took to find the cure, but she is now improving. The full details of the treatment are now being analysed for a planned human trial of the medication at Southern Health. Victorian Public Advocate Colleen Pearce said she was thrilled everything had fallen into place for Baby Z and her family.


5 November, 2009

BINGO! Folic acid intake increases asthma chance by 30pc

I was very critical of dosing the whole popluation with folic acid and warned of dangerous side-effects and now we see some evidence of just that. The findings are epidemiological so are not conclusive but compulsorily dosing everyone with something requires very strong evidence of safety and that is now clearly in question

Mums who took folic acid supplements throughout their pregnancy, in a well-intentioned attempt to boost baby's health, were increasing their risk of having a child with asthma, a study has found. A groundbreaking Australian study, which could explain rising rates of the chronic lung condition, found pregnant women who overuse the supplement were 30 per cent more likely to have a child with asthma. Taking a folic acid supplement is recommended for women who intend to fall pregnant, as it is known to prevent neural tube defects during a foetus' critical first weeks in the womb.

Associate Professor Michael Davies, from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Institute, has uncovered an "additional and unexpected" consequence for women who also take the supplement throughout their pregnancy. "We see a substantial proportion of women taking these folate supplements throughout pregnancy and it may be because people think it is entirely benign," Dr Davies said. "Folate is incredibly important because of its role in preventing neural tube defects (like spina bifida) but because it is so important, and so bioactive, it needs to be treated with some respect as well."

Dr Davies reviewed the cases of more than 550 women who had given birth, assessing their diet and supplement intake before pregnancy and then rates of asthma among their children. For women who took the supplements according to advice - before conception and not more than several weeks into their pregnancy - there was no increased risk of asthma.

However, Dr Davies found women who took the supplement throughout their pregnancy, or from 16 to 30 weeks, increased their risk of having a child with asthma by about 30 per cent. "Our finding should be reassuring to women who take folate for the purpose of preventing neural tube defects, because we found no evidence of early supplementation (leading to asthma)," Dr Davies said. "It was really only use in later pregnancy, it was confined to that area alone ... and only for supplemental use."

Dr Davies said having a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, certain nuts and fruits known to be sources of folate (the natural form of folic acid) did not carry an asthma risk.

Childhood asthma rates have been increasing across developed countries and Dr Davies said his research showed how changing diet, and particularly the overuse of a supplement, could play a role. It also comes after mandatory fortification laws required Australia's bakers to add a small amount of folic acid to their bread products (organic flour excluded).

This move, from October, was designed to address a known folate deficiency across the community. "There is no evidence to suggest dietary sources of folate, or even folate fortification, increases the risk of asthma," Dr Davies said. "(But) that is a sensible question for further study".

The research is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.


The tiny tube that could help men beat impotence

A tiny metal tube implanted in the pelvis could transform the love lives of men who suffer erection problems. The device, not much bigger than a grain of rice, works by propping open the artery that supplies blood to the genitals. Restricted blood flow to the male sex organs is thought to be a major factor in impotence, or erectile dysfunction.

British doctors hope to carry out the first such implant within the next few months as part of a trial involving up to 30 men. A separate trial is also planned in the U.S. Surgeons will insert a tube-like device called a stent to try to solve the problem. Stents resemble miniature metal 'cages' and are already widely used in the treatment of heart disease, where blood vessels feeding the heart have narrowed because of a build-up of fatty deposits.

Their success in restoring-blood flow to and from the heart has prompted researchers to investigate whether they might also benefit men who struggle to get an erection even with drugs such as Viagra. Although Viagra and similar medications, such as Cialis and Levitra, have transformed the treatment of impotence in the past ten years, around 30 per cent of men who take them see no improvement.

For these men, the only other options are to inject drugs straight into the penis, or use a pump that manually increases blood supply to the organ. Neither is very popular. It's estimated that half of men over the age of 40 suffer impotence problems from time to time.

Potential causes range from diabetes and hormonal problems to stress and depression. But, in recent years, medical attention has focused on the link with heart disease. Just as the heart needs a constant and healthy supply of blood, a man's genitals also need to be able to call on a substantial rush of blood during arousal.

Recent evidence suggests blood vessels in the pelvic region can become diseased through poor diet, smoking and lack of exercise, in much the same way as coronary arteries. Indeed, some cardiologists believe erectile problems are a powerful early sign of hidden heart disease, giving up to three years' warning before any other symptoms emerge.

Now Medtronic Inc., one of the world's biggest medical device firms, has started a stent trial in the U.S. involving 50 men with erectile dysfunction who failed to respond to drugs. At the same time, a team at the University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff, is setting up a similar project. Each man will initially be scanned to check for signs of blockages in blood vessels in the pelvic region. One of the main targets is the iliac artery, which branches off in different directions to transport blood to the lower half of the body.

Once the problem area has been identified, doctors will insert a thin catheter into the artery until the tip has reached the blocked area. On the end of the catheter is the stent, which has been collapsed down to make it easier to manoeuvre. When it's in position, a tiny balloon is inflated which makes the stent expand until it is wedged into place. The balloon is then withdrawn.

But there can be problems with so-called 'bare metal' stents. These can cause the body's healing mechanism to over-react, triggering a build-up of scar tissue that simply blocks the blood supply again. To get round this, the trials will use newer generation drug-eluting stents. These release a medicine that dampens down the rapid healing process and keeps blood vessels open.

Julian Halcox, professor of cardiology at Cardiff University, and a member of the British research team, says the principles behind using stents for erection problems are exactly the same as in heart disease. 'The only difference is that the blood vessels might be a little smaller than coronary arteries,' he says.


4 November, 2009

Gentle exercise can cut heart disease deaths by 60 per cent (?)

Journal article here. It is a very mixed-up study with no clear control group that tries to look at stress, exercise, fitness and mortality all at once. What they ACTUALLY seem to have found was that fit people had fewer heart attacks, which is not exactly surprising. It is a hard study to disentangle but it appears that most people who exercised did NOT benefit from it

GENTLE exercise can dramatically cut the danger of an early death from heart disease, according to new research. Just 30 minutes of jogging or cycling three times a week has amazing results for people with heart problems – the UK’s biggest killer – a study has found. In just three months it slashed the risk of an early death by 60 per cent in those who followed the fitness regime.

The results will come as welcome news for thousands of Britons who suffer from heart-related illness. One-in-five men and one-in-seven women die of heart disease in the UK, equivalent to 250 deaths a day. Overall, 200,000 people die each year from conditions related to circulation, including strokes, heart attacks and heart disease. These figures are expected to go up as the population ages and thanks also to a rise in obesity, which leads to furring of arteries.

The study, released today, found the biggest gains were in patients who were also stressed. The authors believe it is because stress can quadruple the risk of death in people with heart problems. Exercise can offer the double benefit of reducing stress levels while also improving heart health.

The study concludes: “Exercise reduces mortality in patients with coronary artery disease…in part because of the effects on psycho social stress.” Patients with heart problems are usually put on drugs – statins to lower cholesterol and blood pressure pills – to reduce the risks....

This latest study by the Department of Cardiology in New Orleans and published in the American Journal of Medicine reveals in detail just how much these simple changes can boost lifespan. The team followed 522 cardiac patients, including 53 who had high stress levels and 27 control patients who had high stress levels but who refused cardiac rehabilitation.

Patients were offered 12 weeks of exercise classes, where they did 10 minutes of warm-up, 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking, rowing or jogging, and then a 10-minute stretch to wind down. The classes were three times a week and patients were also asked to try to do a further one-to-three exercise sessions a week. They were also given advice on how to improve diet and lifestyle, and their progress was followed for up to six years.

Those who got fitter were 60 per cent less likely to die in the following six years. Exercise also helped reduce stress levels from one-in-10 patients to fewer than one-in-20 which in turn lowered the death rate for stressed patients by 20 per cent. However, the weight of patients did not change much, suggesting the benefits are from exercise alone.

Health charities welcomed the report. The British Heart Foundation, said: “This study proves once again that exercise has both psychological and physical benefits for patients with heart disease. “Health authorities must ensure that all suitable heart patients are offered cardiac rehabilitation. “Structured, well-resourced programmes have been shown to improve physical and psychological wellbeing and reduce mortality.”


People will die after swine flu vaccine - but it's just coincidence

Six people in Britain can be expected to die suddenly after having the swine flu vaccine but it will just be coincidence, researchers have said. With millions of people being vaccinated against the virus there is a real risk that coincidental events will be seen as reactions to the jab, a paper in The Lancet said.

Experts at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in America calculated the background rate of conditions that may be mistaken for vaccine reactions and warned that there is a risk people will shun the jab needlessly. Only if these background rates are exceeded will it point to a potential problem with the vaccine.

Medical experts have been told to watch for any cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome during the flu pandemic as some research suggested there was a link between a flu vaccine used in America in 1976 and the condition, in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system and can be fatal in rare cases. However flu itself it also linked to the condition and about one in every 100,000 people a year.

Dr Steven Black and colleagues calculated that if 10 million people in Britain were vaccinated there would be around 22 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome and six cases of sudden death would be expected to occur within six weeks of vaccination as coincident background cases.

Just over nine million people in priority groups, such as pregnant women and those with long-term illnesses, and another two million front line health and social care workers will be offered the vaccine in Britain over the next two months. Decisions will be taken soon over whether to offer the vaccine more widely.

The research also suggested that 397 per one million vaccinated pregnant women would be predicted to have a spontaneous abortion within one day of vaccination. But this is the rate of spontaneous abortion that would occur on any given day out of a group of one million pregnant women during a vaccination campaign or not.

Dr Black wrote: “Misinterpretation of adverse health outcomes that are only temporally related to vaccination will not only threaten the success of the pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccine programme, but also potentially hinder the development of newer vaccines. "Therefore, careful interpretation of vaccine safety signals is crucial to detect real reactions to vaccine and to ensure that temporally related events not caused by vaccination do not unjustly affect public opinion of the vaccine. "Development and availability of data banks that can provide locally relevant background rates of disease incidence are important to aid assessment of vaccine safety concerns.”

The researchers said although scientists know that events connected only by time does not prove cause and effect, the cases 'nonetheless raise public concern'.

Prof David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge and Co-Director of Straight Statistics, said: "What a fine paper. If millions of people are vaccinated then just by chance we can expect bad things to happen to some of them, whether it's a diagnosis of autism or a miscarriage. "By being ready with the expected numbers of chance cases, perhaps we can avoid overreaction to sad, but coincidental, events. And why don't we ever see a headline 'Man wins lottery after flu jab'?"

Professor Robert Dingwall, University of Nottingham, said: "The difference between cause and coincidence is difficult enough for specialists to grasp, let alone the wider public. "However, this paper is very important in spelling out the fact that just because two events happen at the same time, they are not necessarily related. There is a background rate of death, disease and accidents that happen all the time regardless of what medical interventions are going on. "Confusing cause and coincidence may lead to serious policy mistakes that put people unnecessarily at risk. "I am sure that some coincidences will emerge from a high-profile vaccination campaign and we must be careful not to be misled by them."

Meanwhile the World Health Organisation said that pregnant women could be immunised with any of the vaccines licensed for use against swine flu. Dr Marie-Paule Keiny, from the WHO, said: “ Sage (the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts) has concluded that the safety profiles are good and recommend that pregnant women can be immunised with any of the licensed vaccines.” The WHO also recommended that one dose was sufficient to immunise children.


3 November, 2009

Junk "science" about "junk" food

Predictable nonsense: The weakest possible evidence (self-reports) added to the "correlation is causation" fallacy

Eating junk food can make you depressed, doctors have warned. Those who regularly eat high-fat foods, processed meals, desserts and sweets are almost 60 per cent more likely to suffer depression than those who choose fruit, vegetables and fish. Researchers claim their study is the first to investigate the link between overall diet and mental health, rather than the effects of individual foods.

Dr Eric Brunner, one of the researchers from University College London, said: 'There seem to be various aspects of lifestyle such as taking exercise which also matter, but it appears that diet is playing an independent role.'

The study, in the British Journal of Psychiatry, used data on 3,486 male and female civil servants aged around 55. Each participant completed a questionnaire about their eating habits and a self-report assessment for depression five years later.

The researchers found that those with the highest consumption of processed food were 58 per cent more likely to be depressed five years later than those eating the least amount.


Malaria vaccine for Africa likely to be distributed from 2015

Not a magic bullet but a big step forward

The first vaccine against malaria is likely to be distributed in Africa from 2015 after the “milestone moment” of the continent’s largest final-stage drug trial, scientists have told The Times.

A meeting of 1,500 specialists in infectious disease will be told tomorrow that more than 5,500 children have been given the RTS,S vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the British pharmaceutical company, as part of the trial. Vaccine developers will tell the conference that the phase three trial is under way in seven countries around Africa, marking a major step in bringing the drug to licence.

Malaria is a parasitic disease that infects about 250 million people every year, resulting in almost a million deaths. It is caused by the Plasmodium parasite, which is passed to humans by infected mosquitoes when they bite. The disease can damage the nervous system, kidneys and liver, and severe cases can quickly lead to death. About 40 per cent of the world’s population is at risk of malaria, mainly in the poorest countries. The problem is especially serious in Africa, where one in every five childhood deaths is due to the effects of the disease. An African child has on average between 1.6 and 5.4 episodes of malarial fever each year, with one child dying every 30 seconds from the disease.

Delegates at this week’s conference in Nairobi will be told that although the vaccine will not be a “magic bullet” against the disease, the latest trials of RTS,S brings it within reach of regulatory approval.

Dr Joe Cohen, vice-president of vaccine research and development at GSK, and one of the inventors of RTS,S, said that initial data would be filed within the next 12 months, with trial results expected by 2012 and implementation by 2015. “There is enormous excitement at reaching this milestone of this pivotal phase three trial. We are really forging ahead now,” he said. “We can see implementation starting broadly in 2015. Just a few years ago the idea of a malaria vaccine entering final phase three trials would have been unthinkable. It’s a tremendous breakthrough.”RTS,S, also known as Mosquirix, is the first potential malaria vaccine to make it to large-scale efficacy and safety trials, but also the first to target a more complex human parasite rather than a bacterium or virus.

The trials, which began in May, have now reached countries including Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Gabon. The vaccine has been given to between 5,000 and 6,000 children, and will eventually involve more than double the number. Data from earlier trials of RTS,S, published last year, showed that it reduced the risk of malaria by 53 per cent in children aged between 5 months and 17 months. It was shown to be safe and tolerable and could be given alongside other vaccines.

Even a partially effective vaccine would have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives a year. However, since it is likely to be five years before it is in use, experts said that eradicating the disease would mean fighting on many fronts. Essential elements include insecticides to spray bednets, building houses to deter mosquitoes and finding new drugs and funding existing ones. Global estimates suggested that $4.2 billion (£2.5 billion) would be needed each year to fight malaria.

Dr Ashley Birkett, director of preclinical development at the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, the non-profit organisation, said that a rethink of funding strategies was needed, including the target of an 80 per cent effective vaccine by 2025. “With vaccine development you have to take a long-term approach,” Dr Birkett said. “RTS,S is the first step not only to preventing illness and death but ultimately to eradicating the disease.”


2 November, 2009

Obesity study to measure hospital visits

This sounds perilously like obesity skepticism. Fancy looking for evidence of what "everyone knows"!

Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) have started a long-range study on people who are overweight or obese and the number of times they need to visit hospitals. The study is following 265,000 people aged over 45 years, their weight and the number of hospital admissions.

ANU Associate Professor Emily Banks says very little is known about whether being overweight can increase your risk of going to hospital. "To look at if there are any points where we can intervene, actually to make people who are overweight or obese less at risk of hospital [visits]," she said. "So we are not only going to describe the relationship between being overweight or obese and going to hospital, we're also going to be able to look and see if there are points where we can make a difference and we can actually prevent it."

Professor Banks says the team will collect data which could be used to help develop future health policy. "The group's going to be investigating the effect of obesity and overweight on the risk of going to hospital and I think a lot of people would be quite surprised to find we don't know very much about that," she said. "We don't know what the risks are. We also don't know what the ideal weight is in terms of whether or not people are at risk of going to hospital."


Women going through IVF told to lie back and put their feet up to boost conception by 50%

Some IVF clinics have been advising this for years

Women who lie on their backs for 15 minutes after fertility treatment are 50 per cent more likely to get pregnant, according to a study. Researchers suspect moving around after being artificially inseminated may prevent conception. They are now calling for all would-be mothers undergoing the procedure to be offered a quarter of an hour of rest.

The study of almost 400 couples found 27 per cent of the women who rested (54) became pregnant compared with only 18 per cent (34) of those who moved around after being given intrauterine insemination, in which sperm is injected into the uterus when the woman is ovulating.

The team described their findings, published online in the British Medical Journal, as 'significant' Dr Inge Custers, of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, said: 'We found a clinically relevant and statistically significant improvement in ongoing pregnancy rates after 15 minutes of immobilisation, confirming the results of a previous study. 'We suggest incorporating immobilisation as a standard procedure in intrauterine insemination treatment.'

While some small scale studies have investigated links between immobilisation and the success of artificial insemination, this is the first large scale trial to do so. In the study around half were asked to lie down for 15 minutes afterwards and the others were allowed to move around immediately following the procedure.

The mechanism of the effect of immobilisation after insemination is unclear but in intrauterine insemination, the most common fertility treatment in the world, sperm are inserted in a small volume of fluid directly into the womb. Dr Custers said: 'As a consequence, immediate mobilisation might cause leakage of this volume together with spermatozoa out of the uterus; alternatively, movement of processed sperm to and up the fallopian tubes may take longer than after intercourse.

In an accompanying editorial Professor William Ledger, of the University of Sheffield, said while the research showed promise, further studies were required. Prof Ledger said: 'In the United Kingdom, intrauterine insemination is the mainstay of fertility treatment carried out before couples embark on in vitro fertilisation. 'A busy assisted reproduction centre will carry out several intrauterine inseminations over the course of an hour. A 15 minute delay would affect clinic turnover, although with planning this would not be insurmountable. 'The results suggest that units should carry out their own evaluation of immobilisation versus immediate mobilisation after intrauterine insemination, to test the hypothesis in the "real world". 'If successful, more couples could be spared the rigorous and costly process of in vitro fertilisation. Future trials should assess the effect of different durations of immobilisation.'


1 November, 2009

Snack and soft drink sweetener putting millions at risk of high blood pressure (?)

More moronic epidemiology -- and based on self-reports at that! A LONG way from a double-blind study and of unknown implications. Probably it was poor people who drink more of the beverages concerned and poor people have poorer health anyway

A sugary ingredient in processed snacks and soft drinks is putting millions at risk of high blood pressure, new research has revealed. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is abundant in many types of foods and beverages and was originally viewed as a "healthy" method of sweetening. Its introduction 20 years ago has caused consumption of the fruit sugar fructose to rise sharply, alongside increasing levels of obesity.

Although healthy amounts of fructose exist naturally in fruit, excessive amounts of the sugar may be harmful. Large quantities of fructose cause the liver to pump fats into the bloodstream that may damage arteries.

Researchers who carried out the new study in the US looked at more than 4,500 adults with no prior history of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Fructose intake was calculated using a dietary questionnaire which asked participants to rate their consumption of foods such as fruit juices, soft drinks, bakery products and confectionery.

The study found that people who ate or drank more than 74 grams of fructose per day - equivalent to 2.5 sugary soft drinks - increased their risk of developing high blood pressure.

Consuming more than 74 grams of fructose a day increased the chances of a reading of 135/85mmHg by 28%, the study found. It also raised the risk of higher readings of 140/90mmHg and 160/100mmHg by 36% and 87% respectively.

The findings were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology in San Diego, California. Dr Diana Jalal, from the University of Colorado, and colleagues wrote in their paper: "These results indicate that high fructose intake in the form of added sugars is significantly and independently associated with higher blood pressure levels in the US adult population with no previous history of hypertension."

Further work was needed to see if lowering fructose consumption could normalise blood pressure, they said. Americans today consumed 30% more fructose than they did 20 years ago and up to four times more than they did 100 years ago, said the researchers.


Fat or mad? Take your choice

Children on widely used psychiatric drugs can quickly gain an alarming amount of weight – many pack on nearly 20 pounds and become obese within just 11 weeks, a study has found. "Sometimes this stuff just happens like an explosion," said Dr. Christopher Varley, a psychiatrist with Seattle Children's Hospital. "You can actually see them grow between appointments." He called the study "sobering."

Weight gain is a known possible side effect of antipsychotic drugs that are prescribed not only for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but also increasingly for autism, attention deficit disorders and other behaviour problems. The new study in mostly older children and teens suggests they may be more vulnerable to weight gain than adults.

The study also linked some of these drugs with worrisome increases in blood fats including cholesterol, also seen in adults. Researchers tie these changes to weight gain and worry that both may make children more prone to heart problems in adulthood.

The research is the largest in children who had just started taking these medicines. It provides strong evidence suggesting the drugs, not something else, caused the side effects, said lead author Dr. Christoph Correll, of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Glen Oaks, N.Y. But because these drugs can reduce severe psychiatric symptoms in troubled children, "we're a little bit between a rock and a hard place," he said.

The study authors said their results show children on the drugs should be closely monitored for weight gain and other side effects, and that when possible, other medicines should be tried first.

The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association. It involved 205 New York City-area children ages 4 to 19 who had recently been prescribed one of the drugs; the average age was 14. Depending on which of four study drugs children used, they gained between 10 and 20 pounds on average in almost 11 weeks; from 10 per cent to 36 per cent became obese. The drugs – none are approved by Health Canada for youths under age 18 – are Abilify, Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa.

Of the four, Seroquel and Zyprexa – with the worst effects on weight and cholesterol – are not yet approved for children in the U.S. However, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel has voted in favour of their use with adolescents.

The four drugs have been considered safer than older antipsychotic drugs, which can cause sometimes permanent involuntary muscle twitches and tics. That has contributed to widespread use of the newer drugs, including for less severe behaviour problems, a JAMA editorial said. Doctors "should not stretch the boundaries" by prescribing the drugs for conditions they haven't been proven to treat, said Varley, co-author of the editorial. The number of U.S. children using these drugs has soared to more than 2 million annually, according to one estimate.

Why these drugs cause weight gain is uncertain but there's some evidence that they increase appetite and they may affect how the body metabolizes sugar, said Jeff Bishop, a psychiatric pharmacist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The drugs also can have a sedation effect, making users less active.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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

"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin

"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions

Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

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

12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


More on salt (See point 5 above): Salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin

Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.

The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.

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

Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here

Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding for their usual recommendations in double-blind studies.

The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.

Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."

Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here

This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.

I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.