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, 2010

Acupuncture's effect 'isn't just psychological' (?)

This is very poor logic. It would be surprising if sticking needles into people DIDN'T produce brain responses. The question is whether it reduces pain

Acupuncture works directly on the brain to reduce the amount of pain we feel, MRI scans indicate. It limits activity in parts of the brain tasked with gauging pain, an experiment on 18 volunteers found.

Crucially, researchers believe the study shows that acupuncture does not only work on a psychological level - as a 'placebo' - but that is also has a direct 'dampening' effect on the brain's pain processing centres. Many critics believe acupuncture only works as a placebo.

The experiment, conducted by researchers at the Department of Complementary and Integrative Medicine at University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, looked at brain scans of volunteers who were given mild electric shocks.

Firstly they were given the shocks without acupuncture, and then they were given the same shocks while acupuncture needles were placed between the toes, below the knee and near the thumb.

Researchers then compared MRI scan images - which can measure the small metabolic changes that take place in active parts of the brain - to see whether the responses differed.

Dr Nina Theysohn, who will present the research in Chicago on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, said: "Activation of brain areas involved in pain perception was significantly reduced or modulated under acupuncture."

These areas included the contralateral supplementary motor area, somatosensory cortex, precuneus bilateral insula and ipsilateral somatomotor cortex. All are involved in pain perception.

The scans also showed that acupuncture worked as a placebo, said the researchers, affecting activity in areas that govern expectation and comprehension of pain such as the anterior insula.

Dr Theysohn said: "Acupuncture is supposed to act through at least two mechanisms—nonspecific expectancy-based effects and specific modulation of the incoming pain signal. "Our findings support that both these nonspecific and specific mechanisms exist, suggesting that acupuncture can help relieve pain."

But Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, urged caution. He said: "Studies like this might go some way to explaining how acupuncture works. "We should remember, however, that we are currently not sure whether acupuncture does,in fact,reduce clinical pain.

"In my view, this is the more important question. If acupuncture does not have meaningfull clinical effects, its mechanism is hardly a relevant issue."

Last year the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) appeared to endorse the traditional Chinese medicine, by announcing that doctors should "consider offering a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture over a period of up to 12 weeks" for cases of "non-specific" lower back pain.


A partial cure for hand eczema

When Denise Hyland, an English teacher in Greenwich, south east London, took to wearing a black silk glove in the classroom, the pupils were impressed: after all, Michael Jackson had worn something similar. But when she took the glove off, the reaction changed.

“When they saw my hand they called it 'the lurgy,’” she said.

Denise, who is 58, had chronic hand eczema, a condition which suddenly appeared nearly eight years ago and went on to blight her life. “I was washing up when I felt a searing pain in my right palm. At first I thought it was caused by the washing-up liquid,” she recalls.

Over the next few months, her right hand became painfully inflamed, with red-raw cracks appearing over her entire palm and the front of her thumb. It was the beginning of a pattern. “Over a month my hand would become dry and itchy,” she says. “Then it peeled and turned scaly. This was followed by yellow blisters, cracks, bleeding and weeping. The cells would try to repair my hand by producing thick, rhino-like skin. That would then peel off, leaving soft skin for a short time before the whole thing started again.”

Six million people in the UK are estimated to suffer from this debilitating skin condition. As with other types of eczema, the skin becomes inflamed and broken, causing symptoms such as flaking, itchiness and blisters. Until recently, one in five cases of hand eczema was untreatable. Now a drug called alitretinoin, the first to be developed for hand eczema, is available. Research shows it can help almost 50 per cent of patients who have not responded to other treatments.

Hand eczema can be triggered by a combination of factors, including genetic make-up and, in particular, contact with irritant or allergenic substances at work: high-risk jobs include hairdressing, catering and dentistry. According to Ian Coulson, a consultant dermatologist at Burnley General Hospital, it is the third most common cause of people taking time off work in the UK (just behind backache and stress): an “enormous economic problem” he says.

In Denise’s case the cause of the eczema and why it affected only her right hand was a mystery.

“I had slight eczema in my ears when I was 11. I also have type 2 diabetes and there may be a link to that. One consultant said it was caused by menopause.” She is naturally right-handed, so not being able to use the hand fully made life miserable. “When the rhino skin starts you lose all flexibility,” she continues. “I couldn’t open jars, lift things into the oven or stir pans. It felt as if my hand was on fire and I couldn’t sleep at night.”

Depression is common in sufferers. “My social life died,” says Denise. “I avoided shaking hands with anyone new and wore a glove in the classroom because I was so embarrassed. I also felt embarrassed for my children [Luke, 13 and Giny, 15] when they invited friends home for dinner. I had an open wound which I had to tend day and night.”

Denise began a frantic hunt for help from skin specialists. As well as moisturisers and steroid creams – standard treatments for eczema – her doctor tried her on PUVA. This ultraviolet light treatment reduces the exaggerated immune response that can trigger certain types of eczema. He also tried two powerful drugs. Nothing worked. In desperation she visited an alternative practitioner, living in Spain. “He gave me a list of at least 50 foods to avoid,” she says. “I couldn’t keep it up.”

Denise’s story has a happy ending. She was finally prescribed alitretinoin (brand name Toctino®,) which has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical excellence (Nice) as the first treatment for chronic severe hand eczema, where topical treatments have not worked. Denise took the once-a-day tablets for four months, by which time the eczema had disappeared. Whether it will return is uncertain.

Alitretinoin can have side effects, although Denise’s only problem was a slight sensitivity under her left breast, where her bra fits. The drug is not suitable for everyone. According to Nice, its use should be monitored by a dermatologist or a doctor experienced in treating severe hand eczema and in using this type of drug.

Margaret Cox, chief executive at the Eczema Society, says many people’s lives are made impossible by hand eczema. “They often can’t work, can’t dress themselves, can’t hand over money in shops, and this drug has transformed their lives,” she says.

Denise’s main feeling is relief. “I’ve finally got my life back,” she says.


29 November, 2010

Paracetamol (Tylenol) use in children under 15 months doubles their chance of getting asthma, study finds

Although it is for some inexplicable reason rather fashionable these days, paracetamol is a very dangerous drug. It causes three times as many cases of liver failure as all other drugs combined, and is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the United States, accounting for 39% of cases. While it occurs through overdosing, even recommended doses especially combined with even small amounts of alcohol, have caused irreversible liver failure. [Summary from Wikipedia]. So I am rather appalled that it is given to children at all. All drugs have side effects but aspirin use is much less likely to be catastrophic

The study below, however, proves nothing. It fails to ask WHY some kids were taking a lot of painkillers. Presumably they were in poor health anyway and thus more likely to develop other ailments

YOUNG children who take paracetamol are twice as likely to develop asthma, New Zealand researchers say. A study of more 1400 children found that those that took paracetamol before the age of 15 months were twice as likely to develop asthma and three times as likely to develop allergies by age six.

Researchers at University of Otago Wellington were not sure why and said they needed clinical trials to further look at any associations.

The study also found that by age six, 95 per cent of children were using paracetamol, significantly increasing the risk of asthma and wheeze. It found a dose-response affect, so the more regularly a child was using paracetamol the greater the risk appeared to be.

The study's author, Professor Julian Crane, said he was unable to determine how much paracetamol a child would have to take before becoming more suspectable to asthma or allergies.

"It's difficult to say, it's over a period rather than any absolute (amount). But we did find a sort of dose-response affect, so the more regularly a child was using it the greater the risk appeared to be," he said.

However, it was not a case of taking the medication once and immediately become more suspectable, he said. "It's clearly more subtle, you don't take it and suddenly get wheezy. "(But) the results at this stage are supportive of a role for paracetamol in asthma and allergic disease."


Aspirin: is it really a wonder drug?

Last week, researchers claimed everyone over 45 should take an aspirin a day to prevent cancer and heart disease. I pointed out how weak the evidence for that is on 25th. Now we see below a much more extensive coverage of the issue -- JR

Should aspirin be added to the water supply? This was the vision which sprang to mind last week when academics advised that the benefits of taking a small daily dose of aspirin far outweigh any side-effects for most healthy people aged 45 and over.

The pronouncement by a panel of experts speaking at the Royal Society of Medicine, comes a month after research from Oxford University, published in The Lancet, showed that taking 75mg of aspirin - a quarter of the standard over-the-counter pill - daily for five years reduces the risk of getting bowel cancer by a quarter, and deaths from the disease by a third. Research is expected to be published shortly showing similar effects for other cancers.

This simple painkiller has many well established benefits. It thins the blood, which is why it is routinely prescribed for people who already have heart disease or who have had a stroke. It is also often prescribed for people who may be at high risk of these illnesses – because of high blood pressure or diabetes, for example. And it’s used widely for blood-clotting disorders and to help prevent recurrent miscarriage, migraines, cataracts, gum disease and pre-eclampsia (a serious complication of pregnancy).

But should low-dose aspirin now be taken daily by healthy people who want to stay that way? Is this a watershed in the history of public health medicine – a 'put it in the water’ moment?

No is the simple answer, since it cannot be taken by certain people (including most children under 16). But Professor Gordon McVie, senior consultant at the European Institute of Oncology, Milan, is evangelical about the benefits of aspirin. 'For me this is clear cut,’ he says. 'Aspirin is cheap and effective, and there is huge potential to cut the cases of illness particularly colon cancer.’

In agreement is Peter Elwood, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Wales in Cardiff, who led the first randomised trial into the benefits of aspirin for heart disease patients in 1984 (and who has himself taken aspirin daily for the past ten years). 'Breakthrough is an overused word but in this case it is justified,’ he says.’ There is disagreement around the peripheral issues – how much to give, should there be an age range – but overall it seems clear to me that the latest work proves taking aspirin every day will increase your chance of survival against important diseases.’

The study which seems to have tipped the scales is principally the work of Oxford neurologist Professor Peter Rothwell (who has also started taking low-dose aspirin daily). He believes that aspirin’s effect on bowel cancer is unlikely to be an isolated phenomenon, given the similarities in how cancers of different types develop. Last week he also advised that with the risk of cancer rising between 40 and 55, 45 would be an optimal age to start taking it.

But despite the excitement, not every doctor is reaching for the prescribing pad just yet.

For one thing, aspirin’s usefulness in warding off heart attacks and strokes in healthy people is in doubt. The latest research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March and involving almost 30,000 men and women, found it had no significant effect on heart attacks and strokes in low-risk populations.

And last year, the influential Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin (DTB), warned aspirin should not be used to prevent future heart attacks and strokes in people with no obvious sign of cardiovascular disease, as the risks outweigh any potential benefits.

The biggest drawback of taking aspirin is that it can irritate the lining of the stomach. Although for most people this side effect is mild, it can occasionally cause ulcers and in a small number of cases, serious bleeding, particularly in elderly people.

But what of the recent study on bowel cancer, the third most common cancer in Britain and which kills 600,000 people worldwide annually? Some doctors point out that while the study shows thousands of lives might indeed be saved by aspirin, the reduction in absolute risk of bowel cancer is about 1.5% (from 4% to 2.5%) .

Dr Ike Iheanacho, the DTB’s editor, says that the reduction in risk is a 'sizeable benefit’ from society’s point of view. 'But one problem with this kind of data is that it’s often reported as if the benefit to the individual is huge,’ he says.

'In effect, around 60 people would have to take the aspirin continuously for around 5 years to prevent one death from bowel cancer during a 20-year period,’ he says. 'While that remains a considerable benefit, it could clearly put a very different perspective on things for an individual deciding whether to take aspirin for this purpose.

'And this particular research didn’t report adverse events related to aspirin. Let’s not forget that the drug can cause major internal bleeding and this can kill. If you’re going to advise people to take aspirin, you have to factor in potential harms to give them a balanced view of the potential effects of treatment.’

The blanket prescribing of any drug is also at odds with the 'stratified’ response that most oncologists predict will be the future of cancer treatment – in other words, medical interventions will be tailored to our genetic makeup and our individual risk.

One way forward might be to give aspirin only to those at high risk of bowel cancer, an idea Professor McVie has said he supports; he believes that in a few years a blood test to detect those at higher risk will become available.

Overall, with medical opinion divided, the feeling is that the public will need to make up their own minds about whether to take low dose aspirin. Professor Peter Whorwell, a gastro-enterologist at Manchester University, advises that anyone considering taking it on a daily basis should discuss with their GP whether they also need to take drugs to protect the stomach.

Back to Professor McVie who with a family history of heart disease, confirms that he too has been taking aspirin daily for more than 20 years. 'I saw some data long before it was verified and published, and I was convinced,’ he says. 'After this month’s data, I’m pretty chuffed with myself now.’

Who shouldn’t take aspirin?

• Aspirin should not be given to anyone under 16 unless under specialist advice. It can cause Reye’s syndrome, a potentially fatal disease, in this age group [This is a very rare and poorly understood ailment and there is some evidence that paracetamol also causes Reye's syndrome -- and the syndrome can occur in the absence of aspirin]

• Aspirin should be avoided if you have a stomach (peptic) ulcer, haemophilia or other bleeding disorder, or an allergy to aspirin or to other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). These include ibuprofen and diclofenac

• Low-dose aspirin should only be taken with caution by certain groups, including those with asthma, allergies, liver, kidney or digestive problems.

• Pregnant and breastfeeding women should only take aspirin on the advice of a GP.

• Aspirin can interact with certain other medicines. Ask your doctor or pharmacist or read the patient information leaflet


28 November, 2010

Australia: The "obesity" war gets more and more vicious

Overweight mothers now turned away from hospitals

PREGNANT women are being turned away from several NSW hospitals for being too fat, causing outrage among women's groups. An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has found a number of public hospitals across the state are not allowing women with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or above to give birth there, deeming them too "high risk".

BMI is a measurement of a person's health based on their height and weight, so a woman who stands 155cm and weighs 83kg would have a BMI of 35 and be considered too overweight to give birth safely in many hospitals.

In Sydney, Sutherland Hospital and Ryde Hospital refer women with a BMI of 35 or higher to hospitals with more specialised models of care. At Hornsby, Ku-ring-gai, Mona Vale and Manly hospitals, women with a BMI of more than 40 will be told to book in to another facility.

In regional areas, Shellharbour, Milton Ulladulla, Bowral and District, Wyong, Lithgow and the Blue Mountains hospitals all refer women with a BMI of 35 or more to another hospital.

NSW Australian College of Midwives president Hannah Dahlen said that rejecting women with a BMI of 35 was "extreme" and would push more people into dangerous birthing alternatives. "It is very insensitive - one woman with a BMI of 35 is not the same as another woman with a BMI of 35," she said. "They forget about the individual. Women are making decisions like free birth at home with no assistance and that is a much worse option. "We have to be more flexible in our health system about labelling women and look at things like lifestyle, diet and exercise."

Ms Dahlen said a BMI of 35 was now "very, very common", particularly among certain cultures. [Polynesians]

Publicly-funded birthing centres run by midwives also have a policy to turn away women with a BMI of more than 35, she said.

While there is no statewide policy, all area health services in NSW consider a BMI of 35 as the benchmark. Pregnant women who are overweight run a greater risk of diseases such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. There are also higher rates of neonatal intensive care admissions, birth defects, prematurity, still birth and perinatal death among obese women.

The president of the Maternity Coalition, a national organisation advocating best-practice maternity care for women, Lisa Metcalfe, said BMI restrictions further reduced women's options. "It is another nail in the coffin for women's choice. Next, they'll be telling you, 'She has blue eyes, she'll need a specialist'," she said.

A spokeswoman for Sydney West Area Health Service said BMI was not the only risk indicator and was used as a guide for clinicians, with other factors including the mother's age, medical history and previous birth experiences.


Some very encouraging news about pancreatic cancer

Last December, Kevin Jones, a 43-year-old businessman from Dorset was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was advanced and inoperable. Today, as he prepares to celebrate Christmas with his son, Mr Jones is free from any detectable trace of the disease; the human face of a medical breakthrough so exciting that the scientists involved struggle to contain their excitement.

Cancer of the pancreas is one of the most deadly cancers of all. Symptoms are hard to detect, meaning the disease is usually advanced, and tumours cannot be safely removed by the time it is diagnosed. Of almost 8,000 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year, just 4 per cent survive five years or more. Among the small number of cases caught early enough for patients to undergo surgery, just one quarter will survive more than five years.

By the time Mr Jones was diagnosed, he already knew those grim statistics. When he first started suffering from sharp pains in the summer of 2009 – usually when he was having a pint with friends after work, or after a round of golf – he assumed it was heartburn. Antacids made no difference. His GP thought it might be an ulcer; tablets did not help. Blood tests found diabetes, for which he was treated, yet still the pains continued. Mr Jones began to worry.

"I started to do some research on the internet, and I wondered if it might be pancreatitis, an inflammation that could explain the diabetes, because the pancreas produces insulin. I went back to my GP and asked to be referred to a specialist in pancreatic disease."

Scans detected some kind of mass in the organ. It could be scar tissue, or a benign lump, the businessman was told. Two weeks before Christmas he received the results of a biopsy. It was cancer, it was advanced, and it was inoperable. The expected prognosis was 12 to 14 months.

"I was only 43, my son was then not yet 15, and he has special needs," says Mr Jones. "The idea that I could be gone in a year, that I would leave him was just not something I could accept. Everyone in my family was crying, but I felt totally numb."

In fact, he says, he never accepted the prognosis. "I never thought this might be my last Christmas. I couldn't let myself think that. I thought, well that's the average, I might get more. I decided whatever they said, I would settle for three years. That would mean my boy had finished school; it was enough time to sort out my business and my will. Three years would do."

Searching online, he read about experimental trials for patients with pancreatic cancer. "When you've got nothing to get hold of, when you have nowhere to go, you grab at anything," says Mr Jones. He asked his specialist at Poole Hospital if there were any such trials in which he could take part. Within weeks, he had signed up for one of the most ground-breaking pieces of medical research of recent decades.

Five years ago, a group of scientists embarked on a radical trial. In recent years, most of the advances in treatment of pancreatic cancer had involved improved targeting of radiation, to deliver the burning rays most precisely to the cancer, and to limit damage to the tissue around it. But at the same time, scientists were increasingly aware of the role of genes in making some cancers more resistant to radiation than others.

The question was, could anything be done to switch off some of the molecular reactions that occur with cancer, and to make tumours more sensitive to radiation, so that they shrunk sufficiently that they could be removed. The group of scientists, now based at the Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology, in Oxford, decided to see whether a drug called Nelfinavir, used for the treatment of HIV, could change the way tumours responded to radiation.

Twelve patients with inoperable tumours were enrolled on a phase I trial, used to establish the safety and toxicity of a drug. They were given daily doses of the drug before radiation therapy. At the end of the trial, led by Dr Thomas Brunner, the patients were scanned again.

The research team was stunned by the results. Of 10 patients who completed the course, six were able to have previously inoperable tumours removed. Across the group, overall average survival time more than doubled. More remarkably still, in one case the combination of drug treatment and radiotherapy had eradicated every living cancer cell, with no trace of disease found by surgeons. "There was a complete pathological response. No sign of the cancer at all. It had completely disappeared."

The excitement from Professor Gillies McKenna, the head of the Gray Institute, is palpable. He quickly checks himself. Forty years pioneering advances in cancer treatment make him all too aware of the desperation of those diagnosed with advanced disease, and the rush to pin "miracle" labels on significant, but faltering, steps.

Yet four years since the trial started, the man remains free of cancer. A female patient, who had 90 per cent of cancer cells destroyed, also remains healthy, more than three years on.

"We are really excited about this," says Prof McKenna. "We are still several years away from proving that this is a major breakthrough, because this was a small trial. But to get these kinds of results for pancreatic cancer – well, we just couldn't help but prick up our ears."

Early this year, the team embarked on a larger phase II trial. Kevin Jones is among 80 patients being recruited to try the experimental technique. He began treatment in March.

"They never gave any false promises," says Mr Jones. "It had taken years of research to get to this point, and the results they had were on a small group. Why would there be a major breakthrough now? Well, the way I saw it, why not?"

For two weeks, he took a daily dose of the HIV drug. For six more weeks, he underwent daily radiation treatment at Oxford's Churchill Hospital. Regular measurements of tumour markers, which reflect the extent of disease, showed dramatic improvements. But by the end of the treatment, he felt terrible.

"I felt really sick, I couldn't eat and I didn't have much strength. I decided to take a holiday with my son in case it was the last one we had," says Mr Jones. He took his son Brett, who has Asperger's syndrome, to Canada, where they had been building a holiday home. "It was a special time, bonding, building this home together. Whatever else happened, I was grateful for that time."

He returned to England to undergo further scans. In June, the research team asked him to come for a consultation with one of the hospital's surgeons. "They showed me the scan. Where there had previously been a solid mass of two-and-a-half inches, there was now a faint outline, with a hole in the middle."

The research team and surgeons were cautious, warning him it was impossible to say from seeing the scans whether any of the tissues were cancerous. Nevertheless, says Mr Jones: "I walked out of that room feeling 10ft tall."

In July, he underwent surgery to remove the mass. It was then that surgeons told him that not a single cancer cell had been found; every deadly tissue had been destroyed. He was now the second such case to emerge from the Oxford trials. "They couldn't believe it. The surgeon who operated said he had never seen anything like it," says Mr Jones.

In such unchartered territory, no one can predict whether his cancer will return. He says: "The surgeons said to me, 'Don't think in terms of three years, or five years, you might have two decades – you might have more.' This time last year I'd have settled for three years. Now I might be cured."

The centre is still recruiting patients for the current trial, which will run for two years. Scientists like Prof McKenna, who returned to Britain to set up the institute, after 40 years leading radiation therapy programmes across the US, believe the evidence emerging may be "the tip of an iceberg" – giving scientists valuable lessons about ways to both block the progress of many aggressive cancers, and to enable different types of tumours to respond better to treatment.

But medical breakthroughs are expensive. The institute, set up just two years ago, receives most of its funding from Cancer Research UK, which is funded by donations from the public. Prof McKenna has had to fight hard to ensure funding for research into treatments, such as radiation therapy, which can be neglected.

"People dismiss radiotherapy as somehow being old-fashioned, as something that would die out when new treatments were being invented," he says. "Actually, that prediction was almost 100 per cent wrong; some of the most dramatic improvements in cancer over the past decade have come from this field.

"Our teams are here and we are ready to go to work, but we are totally dependent on the generosity of the public to make the breakthroughs we need."


27 November, 2010

Sulloway is still banging the birth order drum

Though rather more cautiously these days. See below. His claims are all just selective use of data. Facts that don't suit him he ignores or misrepresents. Sulloway exposed himself as the charlatan he is by doing something almost unknown in academe: bringing a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent publication of an article disproving his claims. Not even the Warmists have done that.

The whole extraordinary story is here. I myself have previously put up a brief summary comment on the matter here. My comment should explain why I am not surprised that it is NPR that is preaching the Sulloway story below

There are lots of expectations and assumptions about how birth order may shape our adult lives, and many of them go back ages. Centuries ago, the oldest son had huge incentives to stay on track and live up to family expectations — that's because, by tradition, he was set to inherit almost everything.

"Historically the practice of primogeniture was very common in Europe," says Frank Sulloway, a visiting scholar at the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California, Berkeley. "So firstborns had every reason to preserve the status quo and be on good terms with their parents."

Now you may think any "first born" effect would have completely disappeared in modern times. But not so, say experts who study birth order. Researchers first examined the status of firstborns among Washington power brokers in 1972.

"I expected that there would be a disproportionately high number of firstborns among members of Congress" says psychologist Richard Zweigenhaft of Guilford College. "And that's exactly what I found."

Out of 121 representatives and senators included in his sample, Zweigenhaft found that 51 were firstborns, 39 were middle children, and 31 were youngest children. It wasn't a huge overrepresentation of firstborns, but the difference, he says, is too significant to ignore.

Several surveys and studies conducted throughout the years have found that firstborns do edge out later-borns in lots of high-achieving professions, from corporate CEOs to college professors to U.S. presidents and Supreme Court justices. There's even evidence that firstborn children are about 3 IQ points smarter than their second-born siblings.

Unintended Overparenting

So what nudges oldest children to be conscientious, striving achievers? One factor is that firstborns tend to get undivided parental resources, explains Sulloway. "When the second [child] comes along, the oldest still gets half of all that [attention], so younger siblings never have a chance to catch up," he says.

It's not that mothers and fathers intend to parent differently — oftentimes it just works out that way. Partly it's the inexperience that makes some first-time parents go overboard: signing children up for every lesson and activity imaginable, for example.

Monica Hanson says this was the strategy she took with her oldest daughter. "Oh, gosh, she did everything," recalls Hanson. "I put her in tennis lessons, dance lessons, art classes, music, swimming." She says her son, who is seven years younger than her daughter, didn't do nearly as many activities.

Hanson says birth order played a role in her own childhood, as well. As the eldest of four siblings, she did get the ballet lessons and a lot of attention early on, but she also sensed that her parents had high expectations. She was expected to do well in school and to help out with her younger siblings. She also recalls that her parents held her to stricter rules, like an earlier curfew.

"I don't think they did it on purpose — but I was expected to do a lot of things, to be unselfish, to get it done," she says. Hanson says she never pushed back — she fell into the firstborn role naturally. To this day, Hanson is still seen by family and friends as the doer — the boss, the person who can hold everybody together. And she's never outgrown many of the firstborn influences.

"Let's say, for example, if I'm going to run a banquet for my daughter's school," says Hanson. "I'll do the best I can." She's known as a person who will bring 100 percent every time.

Experts say it's never entirely predictable how birth order may influence our personalities, behaviors or family dynamics — there are plenty of firstborns who don't fit the mold. "The one thing you can say about birth order is that it's not absolutely deterministic of how people's lives turn out," says Sulloway.

Experts say it's just one small piece of the puzzle. "I'm not sure I would say that birth order plays a strong role in who we become," Zweigenhaft says. "Birth order contributes to who we become." After all, we're all amalgams of many childhood influences, from teachers and peers to random life events, including turns of good luck and bad.

Hanson says one of the traits she sees in herself and all of her sisters — a love of life — can't possibly be the work of birth order. She chalks it up to the spirit and values they learned from their father. "He said you can do anything you want in this world, but whatever you do, make sure it's what you want," Hanson recalls. "Don't compare yourself to anyone."

Hanson says her father preached that same message to all of his children, from the firstborn to the baby.


Federal government subsidizes obesity and wealthy yuppies

In the Washington Examiner, David Freddoso explains how the federal Department of Health and Human Services spent $766,000 of your tax dollars to help open an International House of Pancakes in a prosperous section of Washington, D.C. That’s ironic, given that government food nannies depict IHOP’s sugary entrees as a cause of obesity (and even though IHOP serves two of Men’s Health Magazine’s 20 most unhealthy restaurant dishes). The IHOP is opening in a wealthy yuppie area where even a tiny one-bedroom apartment rents for at least $1800 per month.

While HHS is busy subsidizing IHOP, another branch of HHS, the FDA, is trying to restrict the salt content of food, which could lead to increased obesity rates, more heart attacks, and “higher death rates among some individuals,” and make it harder to market low-fat foods. Ironically, if salt levels are curbed, people will compensate by eating fattier food, since there seems to be a trade-off between salt and fat.

A recent study funded by NIH (another branch of HHS) encouraged parents to stock their fridges with apple sauce (even though apple sauce has basically no nutrition unless vitamins are artificially added to it, since the natural vitamin C in an apple is largely destroyed when it is processed into apple sauce), while disparaging potatoes, which are rich in vitamin C, potassium, and various minerals. (Disclosure: I participated in that study for $100). (Baked potatoes are healthy, although some of potatoes’ vitamin C is lost when you process them into french fries. Potatoes have much more vitamin C than bananas or apples. And they have more potassium than supposedly potassium-rich bananas).

The federal government is now banning the use of WIC money by low-income mothers to buy white potatoes, while allowing the money to be used for a host of less nutritious foods.


26 November, 2010

Passive smoking kills 600,000 a year?

This is utter rubbish: The usual epidemiological speculation combined with assuming what you have to prove.

As far as I can tell, all that these do-gooder Swedish epidemiologists did was look at areas where a lot of people smoked and then looked at illness in those places. And, Hey Presto! Places where a lot of people smoked had more illness! But saying that inhaling other peoples smoke CAUSED the illness is totally unproven. It is just assumed.

A much more likely explanation for the relationship they report comes from the fact that it is mostly the poor who smoke these days and poor people have worse health in general.

But be that as it may, what the study completely ignores is much more direct evidence on the question concerned -- such as the fact that non-smoking wives of smokers have no worse health outcomes than average

Passive smoking claims more than 600,000 lives each year around the world - an estimated one per cent of all deaths, a global study has found.

Children are the group most heavily exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke, and about 165,000 of them die as a result, said researchers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) study is the first to assess the global impact of inhaling other people's smoke.

Based on 2004 data from 192 countries, the figures show smoking in that year killed almost six million people, either actively or passively by claiming the lives of non-smokers.

Second-hand smoke was believed to have caused 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 from respiratory infections, 36,900 from asthma and 21,400 from lung cancer. In addition 10.9 million years of disability-free life were lost globally because of passive smoking.

The findings are published on Friday in an early online edition of The Lancet medical journal.

Dr Annette Pruss-Ustun, from the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, and her fellow authors wrote: "Exposure to second-hand smoke is still one of the most common indoor pollutants worldwide. "On the basis of the proportions of second-hand smoke exposure, as many as 40 per cent of children, 35 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke indoors. "We have estimated that second-hand smoke caused 603,000 deaths.. worldwide in 2004, corresponding to one per cent of all deaths..

The figures were obtained by analysing data from disease incidence studies and smoking surveys.

More bulldust here.

The academic journal article is here, under the title "Worldwide burden of disease from exposure to second-hand smoke: a retrospective analysis of data from 192 countries"

The Food Police Take Aim

Providing nutritional information is one thing. Trying to outlaw the occasional splurge is quite another.

As people all across this nation prepare to loosen their belts and load their dinner plates high with delicious holiday fare, public-interest groups are busy trying to send us all on a collective guilt trip for unhealthy eating habits.

True, the food-police killjoys at the Center for Science in the Public Interest haven’t yet taken aim at Mom’s stuffed turkey and candied yams. But they do target restaurant meals they think should be off limits. This year’s edition of the CSPI’s annual finger-wag, Xtreme Eating 2010, cites such familiar villains as The Cheesecake Factory, P. F. Chang’s, the D.C. burger mecca (and Obama favorite) Five Guys, and other chain restaurants for offering high-calorie menu items.

Thank God for the CSPI! I mean, without this helpful list, how would Americans know that making a habit of consuming a Five Guys burger with fries and a non-diet drink might be bad for them? How would simple-minded Americans begin to understand that something called the “Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake” might be a little heavy on calories and fat? I mean, without the CSPI, people might mistake The Cheesecake Factory’s cream-and-bacon-laden Pasta Carbonara for health food. As my eleven-year-old niece would put it: Duh!

Of course, some of the information on the list is indeed jarring. Who doesn’t cringe when seeing the 2,000-plus calorie totals for some of these meals? But what the food police at the CSPI don’t seem to understand is that people don’t eat this rich food every day. For most people, treating themselves to a high-calorie restaurant meal is an occasional indulgence.

And while the CSPI implies that these restaurant meals are responsible for America’s obesity problem (and in truth, obesity rates have stayed level for ten years), a recent study released by the Cato Institute found that eating in restaurants has a negligible effect on obesity. The authors found that the calorie difference among those who eat out regularly and those who do not is “too small to account for more than a trivial fraction of the increase in [Body Mass Index] observed over the past several decades.”

If the CSPI were releasing its lists simply to help inform consumers that some restaurant food is high in calories and saturated fat, it would be providing a helpful service to the dining consumer. But the CSPI’s goals go way beyond informing the public; the CSPI wants to browbeat these restaurants into serving only healthy foods.

The CSPI has a long history of beating up on the restaurant industry. It has promoted policies requiring restaurants to provide calorie counts and other nutrition information on menus and poster boards. More recently, the CSPI heralded provisions in the health-care bill requiring chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to display the calorie count and other nutritional information for each menu item. While many restaurants already provide this information voluntarily, the health-care bill will mandate it for all.

The White House cheers these mandates and suggests, wrongly, that such displays help reduce obesity. In a recently released report to the president, the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity included the results of one study that showed that calorie information can help people make more healthy food decisions. But that study was laughably unscientific: It was conducted in one Subway sandwich shop and had only 292 participants, the vast majority of whom were adult white males.

A much larger study conducted by researchers from New York University and Yale University, and published in the journal Health Affairs, considered 1,100 customers at four fast-food restaurants — McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken — located in poor neighborhoods of New York City where obesity rates are high. They found that only half the customers noticed the calorie counts, which were prominently posted on the menu boards. Of those, only 28 percent said the information influenced their ordering, but nearly all of this group (nine out of ten) said they had made healthier choices as a result.

When researchers inspected their receipts, however, they found that these same customers who said they had made healthier choices actually ordered more calories than the average customer had ordered before New York City’s labeling law went into effect.
Increasingly, government is trying to find ways to control the eating habits of Americans, using tactics that range from restrictions on the use of particular ingredients — such as salt, sugar, and certain types of oil — to dictates on how food manufacturers and retailers can market their products to consumers. These efforts are unlikely to succeed, but if they do, they will represent a disturbing increase in government’s interference in our lives.

It’s a fine thing for the CSPI to try to inform the public of the health consequences of a consistently unhealthy diet. But its efforts should stop there: It’s none of the CSPI’s — or the government’s — business if someone wants 2,000 calories’ worth of cake for his birthday.

This Thanksgiving, enjoy the quintessential American freedom to choose to put extra gravy on your potatoes. Go nuts; skip the white meat and have that extra slice of pumpkin pie. Just be sure not to invite anyone who works at the CSPI to your family’s Thanksgiving feast.


25 November, 2010

The wonders of dark chocolate again

A sample of only 10 people?? Are they kidding?

Chocolate may ease the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, British researchers have suggested. Dark chocolate is rich in chemicals known to increase signals carried around the brain but this is thought to be the first time the confection has been found to help symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Researchers from the University of Hull and the Hull York Medical School tested ten patients with a severe form of the disease. They ate dark chocolate for eight weeks, followed by a break and then another variety with little cocoa but which tasted the same. They were asked to eat 15g three times a day and not make any other changes to their diet.

The results were published in Nutrition Journal. They reported significant improvement in their wellbeing.

Professor Steve Atkin who led the study says: “The significance of the results is particularly surprising because of the small number of subjects in the study. A further study is needed to see what the effects would be on a larger group of people, but this is potentially very encouraging news for those who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.”

Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterised by extreme, persistent fatigue for six months or more with other problems with as muscle pain, headaches and poor memory.

There is debate in the medical community about whether it is a distinct condition from myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.


The wonders of aspirin again

An unsystematic meta-analysis recently published in Lancet claims that taking regular doses of aspirin slightly reduces the risk of getting bowel cancer. The effects reported are however too small to enable causative inferences and other problems with the study are mentioned below.

The findings are much more dubious than the media hysteria over them would suggest. Sadly, as usual, it is scientists getting over-excited about their own work that is driving the immoderate publicity

In The Lancet today, Peter Rothwell and colleagues1 present the 20-year follow-up of five pooled randomised trials,2-6 which assessed the effect of aspirin on colorectal cancer incidence and mortality, and focused on dose, scheduled duration of treatment, and site of tumour. The study of 14 033 patients used data from death certificates in the UK and Sweden, and from cancer registries in the UK.

During the 20-year follow-up, aspirin reduced long-term risk of colon cancer (incidence hazard ratio [HR] 0·76, 95% CI 0·60-0·96, p=0·02; mortality HR 0·65, 0·48-0·88, p=0·005) with a latent period of 7-8 years between aspirin intake and its preventive effect. Aspirin doses that were higher than 75 mg per day showed no additional benefit, but doses of 30 mg per day seemed to be less effective. The investigators previously showed a similar effect of aspirin in randomised trials and in case-control or cohort studies, but after only 10 years of use.7 In today's study, aspirin reduced cancer risk in the proximal colon by 55%, but not in the distal colon. 5-year therapy with aspirin reduced subsequent risk of proximal colon cancer by about 70%.

Rothwell and colleagues' study provides original information. First, it provides an extremely long follow-up (20 years) of patients treated with aspirin for about 5 years in randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, except for the British Doctors Aspirin Trial5 (open-control group) or the Dutch TIA Aspirin Trial6 (283 mg vs 30 mg of aspirin, both daily, with no untreated group). Aspirin reduced colorectal cancer incidence and mortality.

Data from randomised trials for this issue are scarce. The US Physicians' Health Study8 randomised 22 071 men to aspirin 325 mg or placebo every other day for 5 years; the risk of colorectal cancer was similar in both groups.

In a larger trial, aspirin 100 mg on alternate days did not prevent colorectal cancer in women.9 Second, the 27% overall decrease in long-term incidence of colorectal cancer by lower-dose aspirin was greater than the 17% reduction in adenomas noted in short-term trials, but consistent with the 28% decrease in advanced adenomas in these trials.10

Third, by contrast with several case-control and cohort studies, Rothwell and colleagues' study found a similar reduction in colorectal cancer incidence with lower (75 mg per day) and higher (300-1200 mg per day) doses of aspirin. Fourth, the preventive effect of aspirin predominated on proximal cancers, but this subgroup analysis relied on small numbers. Only one randomised preventive study, which was restricted to serrated polyps, showed similarly that the effect of aspirin predominated on proximal lesions (40-50% reduction) with no effect on distal lesions.11 If confirmed, this original finding might present a strong argument for the addition of aspirin chemoprevention to screening sigmoidoscopy.

Today's study has several limitations. First, colorectal cancer was not the primary outcome in any of the trials included. Additionally, the choice of studies seemingly relied more on practical than scientific reasons.

Second, the investigators reported specific mortality and not overall mortality, and did not assess mortality related to aspirin side-effects.

In a systematic review, aspirin reduced colorectal cancer incidence, especially when used for more than 10 years, but with a dose-related increase in gastrointestinal complications.12 Whether the digestive-tract complications of aspirin are dose-related, especially from 75 mg to 300-500 mg per day, is still controversial.

Third, these side-effects, especially digestive-tract bleeding, might have allowed earlier diagnosis of cancer in aspirin users via additional colonoscopies (the distribution of which was unknown between aspirin and control groups), although such an effect was not observed in Rothwell and colleagues' study.

Fourth, there were important proportions of withdrawals in the original studies. Such withdrawals seem unavoidable in long-term clinical trials. Fifth, patients in the trials were mostly men with cardiovascular risk (men only in two trials), thus, no conclusions can be made about women and patients with no cardiovascular risk.

The mechanisms of colon carcinogenesis might differ between cardiovascular and other patients-eg, because of increased tobacco consumption. Finally, after completion of the randomised periods of the trials, all patients were exposed to aspirin, which would have underestimated its benefits.

No randomised trial is currently exploring the effect of aspirin on colorectal cancer. In a prospective cohort study of 1279 men and women, regular aspirin use after colorectal cancer diagnosis was associated with a reduced risk of cancer-specific and overall mortality, specifically in patients whose initial tumour overexpressed COX-2.13

This interesting study could incite clinicians to turn to primary prevention of colorectal cancer by aspirin, at least in high risk-populations. Specific guidelines for aspirin chemoprevention would be the next logical step.

We declare that we have no conflicts of interest.


1 Rothwell PM, Wilson M, Elwin C-E, et al. Long-term effect of aspirin on colorectal cancer incidence and mortality: 20-year follow-up of five randomised trials. Lancet 201010.1016/S0140-6736(10)61543-7. published online Oct 22.

2 Meade TW, Wilkes HC, Stirling Y, Brennan PJ, Kelleher C, Browne W. Randomized controlled trial of low dose warfarin in the primary prevention of ischaemic heart disease in men at high risk: design and pilot study. Eur Heart J 1988; 9: 836-843.

3 The SALT Collaborative Group. Swedish Aspirin Low-Dose Trial (SALT) of 75 mg aspirin as secondary prophylaxis after cerebrovascular ischaemic events. Lancet 1991; 338: 1345-1349.

4 Farrell B, Godwin J, Richards S, Warlow C. The United Kingdom transient ischaemic attack (UK-TIA) aspirin trial: final results. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 1991; 54: 1044-1054.

5 Peto R, Gray R, Collins R, et al. Randomised trial of prophylactic daily aspirin in British male doctors. BMJ 1988; 296: 313-316.

6 The Dutch TIA Trial Study Group. A comparison of two doses of aspirin (30 mg vs 283 mg a day) in patients after a transient ischemic attack or minor ischemic stroke. N Engl J Med 1991; 325: 1261-1266.

7 Flossmann E, Rothwell PMfor the British Doctors Aspirin Trial and the UK-TIA Aspirin Trial. Effect of aspirin on long-term risk of colorectal cancer: consistent evidence from randomised and observational studies. Lancet 2007; 369: 1603-1613.

8 Gann PH, Manson JE, Glyn RJ, Buring JE, Hennekens CH. Low-dose aspirin and incidence of colorectal tumor in a randomized trial. J Natl Cancer Inst 1993; 85: 1220-1224.

9 Cook NR, Lee IM, Gaziano JM, et al. Low-dose aspirin in the primary prevention of cancer: the Women's Health Study: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2005; 294: 47-55.

10 Cole BF, Logan RF, Halabi S, et al. Aspirin for the chemoprevention of colorectal adenomas: meta-analysis of the randomized trials. J Natl Cancer Inst 2009; 101: 256-266.

11 Wallace K, Grau MV, Ahnen D, et al. The association of lifestyle and dietary factors with the risk for serrated polyps of the colorectum. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2009; 18: 2310-2317.

12 Dube C, Rostom A, Lewin G, et al. The use of aspirin for primary prevention of colorectal cancer: a systematic review prepared for the US Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med 2007; 146: 365-375.

13 Chan AT, Ogino S, Fuchs CS. Aspirin use and survival after diagnosis of colorectal cancer. JAMA 2009; 302: 649-658.


24 November, 2010


First read the article from the popular press below then read details of the research on which it is based. The research findings bear virtually no resemblance to the advice given. And the advice is dangerous. There are many ailments that can be acquired through contact with dirt -- the terrifying necrotizing fasciitis for a start

The popular article fails to mention: 1). That the research concerns mice -- and the large differences between the mouse and human brains render the generalizability of the findings to humans unknown;

2). The effect is temporary; the mice actually had to be FED the live bacterium to get the results;

3). The effect on mood, making the mice less cautious, could have its own dangers;

4). It may only be the effect on mood rather than any increase in ability that got the mice through the maze more quickly. Mice are naturally very hesitant and cautious

Sadly, the willingness of the researchers to speculate seems to be largely at fault for the dangerous advice. Two articles below:

Playing in the dirt makes kids smart

PARENTS, step away from the baby wipes and put that hand sanitiser away - eating dirt could actually make your child smarter.

Research published in the current issue of Kidsafe NSW's playgrounds newsletter shows the positive side of a soil-borne bacteria that is likely to be inhaled when children are playing outside.

Academics discovered that mice that were fed the dirt bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae navigated complex mazes twice as fast as those which were not.

The research, presented in the US earlier this year, was welcomed by Kidsafe NSW Playground Advisory Unit program manager Kate Fraser as another reason kids should be encouraged to get outside and get dirty.

"Over the past few years terms like 'cotton wool kids' and 'helicopter parents' are becoming really common," Ms Fraser said. "So we thought it was time to air the laundry on what's happening with our play spaces and make sure we are offering kids challenges. "We need to make playgrounds safe, but also offer a certain amount of risk and controlled risk. It's a real balancing act."

It is believed the bacteria increases levels of serotonin, reduces anxiety and may also stimulate growth in certain neurons in the brain.

Ms Fraser said that while playing in the dirt was great, parents should take care around potting mix, which can contain harmful bacteria. "But as long as safety directions are followed, that can be a great learning experience, too," she said.

The research will be a relief to the parents who know it's almost impossible to stop children getting dirty. Nicole Livisianos, of Zetland, said her one-year-old Sebastian loves to get messy. "We come to the park almost every afternoon and he is always into something dirty," she said. "There's no point trying to stop him."

Providing natural play environments is a topic at the Kidsafe NSW Playground Conference next week. "Many pre-schools and schools are planting sustainable garden beds and are teaching kids how plants grow," Ms Fraser said. "They learn about the environment and where their food comes from. The benefits are endless. The trend is definitely to make the most of the natural environment."


A soil bacterium fed to mice appears to make them temporarily smarter

Exposure to specific bacteria in the environment, already believed to have antidepressant qualities, could increase learning behavior, according to research presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego.

"Mycobacterium vaccae is a natural soil bacterium which people likely ingest or breath in when they spend time in nature," says Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in Troy, New York, who conducted the research with her colleague Susan Jenks.

Previous research studies on M. vaccae showed that heat-killed bacteria injected into mice stimulated growth of some neurons in the brain that resulted in increased levels of serotonin and decreased anxiety.

"Since serotonin plays a role in learning we wondered if live M. vaccae could improve learning in mice," says Matthews. Matthews and Jenks fed live bacteria to mice and assessed their ability to navigate a maze compared to control mice that were not fed the bacteria. "We found that mice that were fed live M. vaccae navigated the maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviors as control mice," says Matthews.

In a second experiment the bacteria were removed from the diet of the experimental mice and they were retested. While the mice ran the maze slower than they did when they were ingesting the bacteria, on average they were still faster than the controls.

A final test was given to the mice after three weeks' rest. While the experimental mice continued to navigate the maze faster than the controls, the results were no longer statistically significant, suggesting the effect is temporary.

"This research suggests that M. vaccae may play a role in anxiety and learning in mammals," says Matthews. "It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks."



There was for a time a view that early exposure to dirt protected children from developing autoimmune diseases such as asthma and diabetes. That theory has however by now been largely discredited. For instance: Tribal Australian Aborigines normally live in very squalid and dirty conditions by Western standards yet have HIGH rates of autoimmune diseases such as asthma and diabetes. Asthma in particular seems to be highly hereditary, though the "triggers" do vary from person to person

Australia's arrogant medical regulators take another big tumble

The arrogant bitches (e.g. Rita Maclachlan and Fiona Cumming) at the TGA thought they knew it all -- and to hell with evidence and to hell with people's jobs. No word so far about any of them being penalized for their grossly improper behaviour -- even though one of them even shredded notes in an attempt to hide their deliberations. The taxpayer is just left with a $100m bill for their high-handed actions -- $50m in 2008 and another $50m now

A SETTLEMENT, believed to be more than $50 million, has been reached in the Pan Pharmaceuticals class action against the federal government. The settlement, announced yesterday, brings to a close a string of legal suits since 2003, and is belated vindication for the company's founder, Jim Selim, who died earlier this year after a stroke and battle with leukaemia.

Mr Selim had been giving evidence in the Federal Court in the months before his death. Terms of settlement are confidential.

In 2003, Pan boasted "the largest product offering of its kind in the world", with 4500 formulations of tablets, gels, liquids, creams and powders on offer, when it became the subject of a huge product recall.

In April that year the Therapeutic Goods Administration suspended Pan's manufacturing licence and recalled everything it had manufactured in the past year. Its investigation into Pan was sparked by reports the company's Travacalm product was causing hallucinations in some people. The company collapsed within months.

In 2008 Mr Selim received a $50 million settlement from the federal government.

About 165 of Pan's customers, creditors and sponsors joined a class action, led by PharmaCare, seeking their own payments from the government and the TGA, saying they were left $120 million out of pocket by the action taken by authorities. Three other companies ran their own cases alongside it.

The litigation funder, IMF, said if the settlement was approved by the court they would receive $24 million which would generate a profit after overheads but before tax of $17 million.

Litigation funders generally receive about one-third of proceeds of settlement, making the settlement in favour of the class action more than $50 million. "Any settlement is a compromise from all parties concerned," said the executive director of IMF, John Walker. "[In] this particular dispute, I think everybody involved ought to be happy with the outcome."

Pan's associates had accused the authorities of negligence and misfeasance of public office and some are claiming for a loss of share value, which lawyers for the TGA said there was no legal authority for.

Mr Walker hoped an application for approval would be before the court before year's end.


23 November, 2010

Cocktail of cheap drugs 'can prevent Alzheimer's' and keep the brain healthy into old age -- if you are a mouse

Journal article here. The experiments were in vitro and in vivo only. People not involved

A cheap diabetes drug taken with a red wine ‘miracle pill’ could prevent millions from suffering the agony of Alzheimer’s. Costing only pennies a day, the two-in-one cocktail could keep the brain healthy into old age, stopping dementia developing in some cases and halting it in others, British doctors believe.

With the pills already credited with a host of health-boosting qualities, including potentially extending life, the Dundee University breakthrough brings hope of a brighter future for millions.

The latest breakthrough centres on drugs called metformin and resveratrol. Metformin has been safely used for more than 50 years to control blood sugar levels in age and obesity-related diabetes. Recent research suggests it has other benefits, including the ability to extend life.

Resveratrol, the ‘miracle ingredient’ behind many of red wine’s health-boosting qualities, has also been hailed as an elixir of life, with experiments crediting it with warding off a host of ills, from old age to cancer.

The Dundee researchers showed that metformin interferes with the formation of toxic ‘tangles’ of a protein called tau that clog the brain in Alzheimer’s, leading to the destruction of memory cells, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports. Resveratrol has a similar protective effect and taken together, the two could have the power to hold Alzheimer’s at bay, researchers believe. Professor Susann Schweiger said: ‘The best hope is that it would stop it.’


Gardening really is good for your health

Keeping an allotment [a small plot of land devoted to gardening] really is good for your health, the first study to examine the issue directly has found. Dutch researchers have found that allotment keepers in their 60s tend to be significantly healthier than their more sedentary neighbours.

While plenty of anecdotal evidence exists to suggest growing one's own fruit and vegetables protects against ill-health, no one had carried out such a direct comparison before.

Agnes van den Berg, from Wageningen University and Research Centre, the Netherlands, said: "Taken together, our findings provide the first direct empirical evidence for health benefits of allotment gardens. Having an allotment garden may promote an active life-style and contribute to healthy ageing."

She and her fellow researchers polled 121 gardeners in the Netherlands, plus 63 neighbours who did not keep allotments as the control group. They were asked a range of questions such as how many times they had contacted their GP in the last two months, how stressed they felt, and how they rated their health and well being.

Van der Berg concluded: "Around the world, allotment gardens are increasingly under pressure from building and infrastructure developments. "Considering that allotments may play a vital role in developing active and healthy lifestyles, governments and local authorities might do well to protect and enhance them."

However, she and her colleagues, writing in the journal Environmental Health, cautioned that those who keep allotments may simply be more active individuals.

Previous research has found that spending half an hour in an allotment leads to twice the drop in the stress hormone cortisol as does reading a book (22 per cent drop compared to 11 per cent).

Other studies have found that the health benefits of exercising in green spaces are greater than exercising in the gym.


22 November, 2010

Moles are good for you

THE secret of supermodel Cindy Crawford's ageless allure may be out as British scientists have discovered that people with lots of moles are genetically protected from many of the ravages of time. New research suggests they may not only develop fewer wrinkles in old age, but also have stronger bones and tauter muscles.

Moles or beauty spots - for which Crawford is famous - are formed by rapidly dividing cells that start producing dots of dark pigment on children as young as four, but which usually vanish from about the age of 40. In some people, however, they continue to spread as they grow older, producing a smooth and wrinkle-free complexion that can make a woman look at least seven years younger than her real age.

A study of 1200 identical and non-identical female twins, aged 18-79, showed that those with more than 100 moles on their bodies also have tougher bones and are therefore 50 percent less likely to develop osteoporosis than women with fewer than 25 moles.

The findings by a team at King’s College London, were presented at a meeting of the Royal Society of Medicine last week. Researchers are now examining whether people with many moles are also protected against other symptoms of aging, including failing eyesight, and even heart disease.

The new evidence contrasts with previous warnings about moles being linked to an increased risk of skin cancer.

People with lots of moles have been found to carry white blood cells with extra long "telomeres" - the spare ends of chromosomes in each cell that carry the genetic material allowing it to replicate. The more spare DNA, the greater the potential number of replications before the cell dies.

While the average person has 30-40 tiny moles dotted over their bodies, some have as many as 400. Those with at least 100 moles make up 10-15 per cent of the white population.


Glass of red wine a day 'treats diabetes by helping body regulate blood sugar levels'

This is a highly speculative conclusion based on observations in laboratory glassware only

A small glass of red wine every day could keep adult diabetes under control, scientists claimed last night. A new study found that the drink contains high concentrations of chemicals that help the body regulate levels of sugar in the blood. Just a small glass of red contained as many of these active ingredients as a daily dose of an anti-diabetic drug, the researchers found.

Although the study didn't look at the effects of wine on people, its authors believe moderate drinking as part of a calorie controlled diet could protect against type 2 diabetes. However, their conclusions angered Diabetes UK who accused the researchers of making 'astonishingly bold suggestions' based on 'limited research'. The charity warned that wine was so high in calories it could lead to weight gain - outweighing any benefit.

Around 2.6million people suffer from type 2 diabetes in Britain. The disease occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin - the hormone that regulates blood sugar - or when its insulin does not work properly. High levels of sugar in the blood can cause tiredness, heart disease, strokes, blindness, nerve damage and kidney disease.

Past studies have shown that natural chemicals found grape skin and wine called polyphenols can help the body control glucose levels, and prevent potentially dangerous spikes or dips in blood sugar. The new study compared the polyphenol content of 12 different wine varieties. The team, from the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, Vienna, found that levels were higher in red wines.

The scientists then studied how these polyphenols interact with cells in the human body, focussing on a particular 'receptor - or molecule that sits on the surface of cells - called PPAR-gamma - involved in the development of fat cells, energy storage and the regulation of blood sugar.

The authors showed that polyphenols in wine bind to the receptor and that a small glass of wine contains enough to rival the activity of the potent diabetes drug Avandia.

The researchers who report the findings in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Food and Function believe moderate red wine consumption could have benefits for diabetics. 'You could derive a natural extract from grape skins for the treatment of diabetes,' Professor Alois Jungbauer said. 'Also, this is further scientific evidence that a small amount of wine really is beneficial for health.'

Previous research involving thousands of people has shown that moderate drinking of alcohol can reduce the risk of diabetes type 2, he said. 'Moderate is the equivalent of a small glass each day for women, and two for men,' he added. 'Our big problem is to convey the message of a healthy lifestyle because too much wine will cause diabetes and obesity. 'If you have wine then you must reduce your intake of calories from food by the same amount.'

But Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Diabetes UK was critical of Prof Jungbauer's conclusions. 'It is very difficult to see how this limited research will have any benefit to people with Type 2 diabetes. It is a basic study into the chemistry of red wine and has no clinical relevance at this stage,' he said.

'The researchers have made an astonishingly bold suggestion based on the results of their research suggesting that a very small glass of red wine may be beneficial to people with Type 2 diabetes. This assumption is fundamentally wrong based on the evidence presented from this research.

'Previous studies have demonstrated potential health benefits from chemicals isolated from red wine. However the alcohol in wine is high in calories and can lead to weight gain, which can outweigh the benefits of these chemicals.'


21 November, 2010

Backlash against genetic explanation for longevity

The criticisms seem to be of the nitpicking variety -- and likely to be insubstantial in view of the fact that the authors in the original study took care to cross-validate their conclusions. They showed that the set of characteristics that they found in their first group had predictive power on a totally different second body of people.

I think that the criticisms are principally motivated by the usual Leftist hatred of genetic explanations generally. They would like you to think that avoiding so-called "junk" foods was the path to longevity -- despite there being no double-blind evidence of that

I can't resist pointing out again that we Australians have exceptionally long life spans -- with lots of nonagenarians tottering around the place who grew up on a traditional diet of fried steak and onions -- fried in dripping (animal fat) and with plenty of salt for flavouring. I think that falsifies food-freak assertions pretty convincingly. It certainly was not a low fat or low salt diet that got so many of our oldies into their 90s. Most families I know here in Australia have or have had a nonagenarian somewhere among their relatives -- my own family included, even a centenarian in my case

Researchers had claimed by studying genomes it was possible to predict a person’s lifespan with an accuracy of 77 per cent. They said people carrying certain longevity genes would be likely to live beyond 100, regardless of their lifestyle.

The study opened up the possibility of screening people for life threatening diseases who were deemed to be at risk of early death.

Scientists at Boston University found the “genetic signatures of exceptional longevity” by studying more than 1,000 people who had lived beyond 100.

But now other scientists have expressed technical doubts about the way the researchers arrived at their main conclusions. Researchers involved in similar studies where entire genomes are scanned by sophisticated “gene chips” said one of the chips could produce “skewed data” under certain conditions.

The Journal Science, which published the study earlier this year, has issued an unprecedented “editorial expression of concern”.

It is unlikely that the study will be retracted but some of the results may be revised following fresh analysis of the data.

When the initial study was published, one of the authors, Doctor Thomas Perls, said: "These genetic signatures are a new advance towards personalised genomics and predictive medicine, where this analytic method may prove to be generally useful in prevention and screening of numerous diseases, as well as the tailored uses of medications."

His co-author Professor Paola Sebastiani said the preliminary data suggest that exceptional longevity may be the result of a "defensive genes" that counter the effect of disease-associated damage to the body and contribute to the compression of morbidity and disability towards the end of these very long lives.

But Prof Sebastiani added: "This prediction is not perfect, however, and although it may improve with better knowledge of the variations in the human genome, its limitations confirm that environmental factors – for example, lifestyle – also contribute in important ways to the ability of humans to survive to very old ages."


Night lights 'could cause depression'

If you are a Siberian hamster. Primitive people must have been depressed a lot -- with that pesky moon shining down on them such a lot. Anybody want to guess that human beings are fully adapted to that?

Sleeping in anything other than a completely dark room could lead to depression, research suggests. Neuroscientists believe that even having a dim light on - such as a night light often used in a child's room - adversely affects the chemical balance and structure of the brain. Such a light appears to interfere with secretion of the hormone melatonin, which helps let the body know it is night time.

A team at Ohio State University in the US came to their conclusions after comparing two sets of Siberian hamsters, one group which was exposed to a dim light at night, the other which enjoyed complete darkness.

Tracy Bedrosian, a doctoral student who co-authored the study, said: "Even dim light at night is sufficient to provoke depressive-like behaviours in hamsters, which may be explained by the changes we saw in their brains after eight weeks of exposure." For example, she said they drank less sugar water.

When they examined the hamsters' brains they found those exposed to dim night light had less dense networks of dendritic spines in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. Dendritic spines are the hairlike growths on brain cells that transmit chemical messages from one cell to another.

Bedrosian, who presented the research on Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, added: "The hippocampus plays a key role in depressive disorders, so finding changes there is significant."

Earlier studies in mice have found that those exposed to bright light at night tend to become depressed and put on weight.


20 November, 2010

Natural Isn't Always Better

John Stossel

It's not what we don't know that causes us trouble. It's what we know that isn't so. Whichever famous writer said that (it's been attributed to many), what he said carries truth.

What are some of the things we know that aren't so? Here's one: Grass-fed "free-range" beef cattle are better for the environment -- and for you -- than factory-farmed corn-fed cattle. It does seem to make sense that the steer raised in the more "natural" environment would be better for the world.

Michael Pollan, the prolific food author and activist, wrote in The New York Times that "what was once a solar-powered ruminant (grass-fed steer) (has been turned) into the very last thing we need: another fossil-fuel machine" ( How so? Farmers burn fossil fuels to ship corn to feed cows instead of letting them eat what's naturally under their feet.

Restaurants serving burgers supposedly made from grass-fed beef self-servingly claim their foods are healthier for the planet. The American Grassfed Association -- surprise, surprise -- says its cattle are better for the environment because harmony is created between the land and the animals.

People believe. Nobody likes the idea of cattle jammed into feedlots. When we asked people, in preparing this week's Fox Business show, which kind of cattle were better, we got the expected answers:

"Free roaming."

"Cows should be outside."

"Free-roaming grass-fed cows, because you've got happy cows. They've lived a happy life out in sunshine."

It's logical to think that grass-fed steers might be better for the environment, but so often what sounds logical is just wrong.

Don't believe me? Dr. Jude Capper, an assistant professor of dairy sciences at Washington State University, has studied the data ( Capper said: "There's a perception out there that grass-fed animals are frolicking in the sunshine, kicking their heels up full of joy and pleasure. What we actually found was from the land-use basis, from the energy, from water and, particularly, based on the carbon footprints, grass-fed is far worse than corn-fed."

How can that be? "Simply because they have a far lower efficiency, far lower productivity. The animals take 23 months to grow. (Corn-fed cattle need only 15.) That's eight extra months of feed, of water, land use, obviously, and also an awful lot of waste. If we have a grass-fed animal, compared to a corn-fed animal, that's like adding almost one car to the road for every single animal. That's a huge increase in carbon footprints."

Once again, modern technology saves money and is better for the earth. By stuffing the feedlot animals with corn, farmers get them to grow faster. Therefore they can slaughter them sooner, which is better for the earth than letting them live longer and do all the environmentally damaging things natural cows do while they are alive. "Absolutely right," Capper said. "Every single day, they need feed, they need water, and they give off methane nitrous oxide -- very potent greenhouse gases that do damage."

But what about damage to people? Some advocates of grass-fed beef claim that the more naturally raised animals are healthier to eat. "There is absolutely no scientific evidence based on that. Absolutely none," she replied. "There is some very slight difference in fatty acids, for example, but they are so minor that they don't make any significant human health impact."

But what about those hormones the cows are given? Surely that cannot be good for us. "What we have to remember is every food we eat -- whether it's tofu, whether it's beef, whether it's apples -- they all contain hormones. There's nothing, apart from salts, that doesn't have some kind of hormone in them."

So the next time you reach for that package of beef in the grocery store tagged with all the latest grass-fed, free-range lingo, remember: Not only does it often cost twice as much, but there's no evidence it's better for the environment or better for you. It's just another food myth.


Food Fight Breaks Out in Senate

It’s worse than your kids at the dinner table: the battle over food safety has gotten worse after the Senate voted to move forward on the bill Wednesday.

With a 74-25 vote on the motion to begin debate, passage has all but cleared for the bill, which would impose significant regulations on big and small businesses in the food production industry. A complicated reconciliation process would have to take place in order for the bill to be sent to the President’s desk, but those will be addressed by the end of the week.

One of the major hurdles – even if the bill is passed – includes the Tester Amendment, which would exempt small farms from some of the regulations. This amendment has been touted as a way to save small, local producers from going out of business as soon as the bill is passed. spoke to several players in the debate over this Amendment and the bill at large, which is numbered S. 510. Answers are from Patty Lovera, the assistant director for Food & Water Watch, Mark Dopp, senior vice president at the American Meat Institute, and Ferd Hoefner, the policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Their answers provide a general picture of the debate going on in the Senate right now.

Q: There are clearly safety issues with food products that need to be addressed. However, if certain regulation adversely affects a large segment of an industry – especially a segment with an excellent track record of food safety, as with small / organic farms – how is that regulation defensible?

Lovera, Food & Water Watch: The process for developing this legislation has taken a long time and has included a lot of discussion about how to address the real problems we have in food safety and in how FDA does its job, without wiping out small farms and small businesses. We don't want to make life harder for small operations, but we've been trying for a long time to get FDA's food safety program to be directed towards preventing problems, rather than just responding to them. So we think the Tester amendment (and several other provisions of the bill that establish some flexibility and training assistance for small operations) is an appropriate way to handle this tension.

Dopp, American Meat Institute: Regarding your question, it’s not defensible. If a large segment of an industry is meeting existing standards and in doing so is producing a safe product, the solution is not to provide the government with another regulation. The solution is for the problem company (i.e.) to abide by the necessary good practices and rules so that they too comply and produce safe product. An important element of that solution also is for the government to be more focused, targeted, and effective in its enforcement of regulations that work -- as evidenced by the assertion that a large segment of the industry has an excellent track record of food safety. By analogy, if 95% of the population is paying its taxes on time and properly, does the government need a new rule that will hurt that 95% in order to allow the government to find and collect from the delinquent 5% of taxpayers?

Hoefner, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: Perhaps the biggest underlying issue in the S. 510 debate is how, with what will likely be fairly static resources for the foreseeable future, will FDA move to ensure improved food safety outcomes. S. 510 does not provide any additional resources to FDA, nor is it likely that the next several appropriations bills will help much either. Therefore, getting better outcomes will require focusing on the areas of biggest known risk, while staying attuned to possible future changes in relative risk. It is clear from recent outbreaks the big risk related to the farm level is from large scale national and global distribution of primarily co-mingled product, especially those with using processing and packaging techniques that increase risk. This is where the focus needs to be.

Q: Please address the concern that the big players in the food industry are simply manipulating legislation in order to gain an economic advantage (this doesn’t preclude the fact that these big players might also advance legislation for the public good).

Lovera, F&WW: My response is that the issues of how regulations impact different types of farmers and food businesses is important and we can't pass good legislation without dealing with that. That's why we have supported the Tester amendment – it recognizes that there are a lot of small players in the food system and that we need to focus FDA's efforts on the largest players who are producing more food and putting more people at risk. There are lessons to be learned from the meat industry, when new food safety programs implemented by the USDA in the 1990s proved to be very hard to implement for small plants.

Dopp, AMI: Without specifics regarding a particular provision and the alleged “manipulation” that question is a bit difficult to answer. That said, a couple points. First, do the critics…think shouldn’t have the right to participate in the legislative process? There is nothing wrong with, and in fact it is incumbent upon affected entities, companies and people, to participate in the legislative process and to let Congress know how proposed legislation will affect those entities and the public at large. Second, when it comes to food safety, there cannot and should not be different standards for companies or facilities of different sizes. Safe is safe. Listeria monocytogenes on a product processed in a facility or operation with 1 employee is just as deadly as a produced coming from a company with 1000 employees.

AMI has been consistent in that regard. For example, AMI petitioned for mandatory HACCP for all meat and poultry companies in the early 90’s and all such plants now operate under HACCP, regardless of size. The benefits of that program speak for themselves through the reduced incidence of pathogens in meat and poultry products. Allowing smaller entities, arguably with fewer resources, additional time to meet the standard may make sense but it doesn’t preclude the need to meet the standard. Similarly, the 2008 Farm Bill included language that allows state inspected meat and poultry establishments, most of which are small, to ship products in interstate commerce. But those plants may only do so if they satisfy the same food safety requirements that federally inspected establishments must meet. Thus, executive branch and the legislative branch have both concluded that there should not be different food safety standards based on size. Moreover, experience has taught us that food recalls and food borne illness outbreaks adversely affect the entire industry -- large and small companies alike.

Hoefner, NSAC: There is clearly an anti-competitive thrust to calls by mega farms and agribusiness for one-size-fits-all regulation. Layering on high financial and human resource cost regulations designed for large firms and applying them to small family farms can be an effective way to drive people from business and further consolidate production into fewer hands. If we want improved food safety outcomes, not only do we need to focus limited federal resources on where the biggest problems are, but we also need appropriate mechanisms for different sectors of farming. The numerous provisions included in the Manager's amendment to S. 510 as well as the Tester-Hagan amendment move the bill away from one-size-fits-all. These are very positive steps forward, helped to ensure improved food safety without increasing anti-competitive pressure.

Q: If this legislation is passed, what will be your next legislative priority?

Lovera: If the legislation passes, there will be a lot of work to do to get the FDA to define and implement the provisions spelled out in the legislation and that will be a critically important process. As for Congress, FDA's funding is a major issue that will determine whether the agency is able to do the activities it needs to do to implement the law. Beyond the FDA, we are always focused on making sure that USDA has adequate funding and resources for meat and poultry inspection.

Dopp, AMI: There are a number of important legislative issues out there, involving immigration, ethanol, etc. If the question is specific to food safety that will depend on what is introduced and its impact on the industry.

Hoefner: The most important legislative next step, should this bill pass both houses and become law, is to fund the farmer and small processor training program championed by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and incorporated into the pending Manager's amendment to the bill. This will be an important issue in the next agricultural appropriations bill and perhaps in the 2012 Farm Bill as well.


19 November, 2010

Video gaming BOOSTS your ability to concentrate in a crisis

Action packed video games are often criticised for being distracting and encouraging violent behaviour. However, a review published today has found that people who play 'shoot 'em ups' such as Halo and Call of Duty have far better visual attention than their non-gaming peers.

This mental skill allows people to focus on relevant visual information while suppressing irrelevant data. It helps us to pick out a friend's face from a crowd or drive a car along a busy street without getting sensory overload.

The review, led by Dr Daphne Bavelier from the University of Rochester looked at how gaming can affect our ability to cope with the almost overwhelming amount of visual data that we must process every day. The study, published in WIREs Cognitive Science, found gamers consistently outstripped non-gamers in visual attention tests.

The authors referred to a number of training studies that found non-gamers could improve their visual attention by playing video games, establishing that the games themselves were causing the benefits. However, only fast-paced, action based games provided this benefit. These games emphasised rapid responses to visual information and required divided attention.

Study co-author Bjorn Hubert-Wallander, said: 'Just as drivers have to focus on the road, other cars, and potential obstacles while ignoring other information, modern action games place heavy attentional demands on players. 'These games require players to aim and shoot accurately in the center of the screen while continuously tracking other enemies and fast moving objects.'

The findings could have implications for military training as well as clinical rehabilitation programs for conditions such as amblyopia or 'lazy eye.'

Co-author Shawn Green said: 'At the core of these action video game-induced improvements appears to be a remarkable enhancement in the ability to flexibly and precisely control attention, a finding that could have a variety of real-world applications.

'For example, those in professions that demand "super-normal" visual attention, such as fighter pilots, would benefit enormously from enhanced visual attention, as their performance and lives depend on their ability to react quickly and accurately to primarily visual information.'


'Spare tyre' could save lives: Study finds belly fat helped heart attack patients

This is a tiny study reporting tiny improvements in heart function so the results will most likely wash out in a larger trial

Stem cells taken from waistline fat could be used as a treatment for heart attacks. Scientists injected stem cells derived from waistline fat tissue into the hearts of coronary patients and found the cells reduced levels of damage, increased blood flow and improved the organs' pumping ability.

Eleven men and three women who had suffered recent heart attacks took part in the pioneering pilot study, given the name Apollo. Ten patients were treated with stem cells while four received a dummy 'placebo' infusion.

Liposuction - a cosmetic procedure commonly used to reduce people's waistlines - was used to remove up to 250 cubic centimetres of fat from the patients' bellies. From each sample, the researchers isolated and extracted 20 million adult stem cells - regenerative cells with the potential to become more than one kind of tissue.

It took nine to ten minutes to infuse the stem cells into a patient's heart.

Six months later members of the treated group showed a 3.5 per cent improvement in heart perfusion, the heart's ability to receive oxygenated blood. Compared with the placebo patients, they also experienced a 5.7 per cent increase in the amount of blood pumped out by the heart's left ventricle chamber.

On average, the amount of damaged heart muscle in the treated patients was halved from 31.6 per cent to 15.4 per cent. In the non-treated group, levels of heart damage remained the same.

The stem cells did not interfere with blood flow and were not associated with any potentially dangerous changes in heart rhythm, the study found.

Lead researcher Dr Eric Duckers, from Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, said: 'The study suggests that these cells can be safely obtained and infused inside the hearts of patients following an acute heart attack.'

The findings were presented today at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions meeting in Chicago.

Dr Duckers has now started work on a bigger follow-up trial, called Advance, that will recruit up to 375 patients from 35 European centres. It will focus on heart attack patients with a left ventricle ejection fraction - a measure of the heart's pumping performance - of less than 45 per cent .

Forty per cent of patients will receive 20 million stem cells while another 40 per cent will get a larger dose of 30 million cells. The remaining 20 per cent will make up the placebo group.

The condition of the patients' hearts will be checked after six months.


18 November, 2010

Warning labels and the nanny-state

EVERY SENTIENT HUMAN BEING knows that smoking is unhealthy. Cigarettes have been nicknamed "coffin nails" since at least the 1880s, and more than two centuries earlier King James I was railing against smoking as "a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, [and] dangerous to the lungs."

In the United States, federal law has required warnings on cigarette packages since 1966. In the years since then, smoking rates have been sliced in half -- from more than 42 percent Americans who were occasional smokers in the mid-'60s to less than 21 percent now. As for the hardcore who smoke daily, their numbers have dropped to just 12.7 percent, an all-time low. If ever any message reached its intended audience, it is the message that smoking is bad for your health. In fact, smokers tend to overestimate the danger from cigarettes: Surveys show, for example, that smokers put the chances of dying from lung cancer caused by smoking at 40 out of 100. The actual likelihood: between 7 and 13 out of 100.

Smoking's toxic reputation isn't the only thing that has depleted the ranks of American smokers. Cigarettes have never been as highly taxed as they are now, as widely banned, or as deeply stigmatized. Plainly, the last thing the federal government needs to be doing now is rolling out new rules for alerting consumers to the hazards of smoking. That, of course, is just what the feds are doing.

Last week the Food and Drug Administration announced that it will soon require tobacco warning labels to be much bigger -- beginning next fall, they will have to cover half the front and back of each cigarette pack -- and more graphic. Armed with new powers granted by Congress last year, the FDA has designed 36 possible labels, from which nine final choices will be selected.

The proposed warnings, reports The Washington Post, include one "containing an image of a man smoking through a tracheotomy hole in his throat; another depicting a body with a large scar running down the chest; and another showing a man who appears to be suffering a heart attack. Others have images of a corpse in a coffin and one with a toe tag in a morgue, diseased lungs and mouths, and a mother blowing smoke into a baby's face."

Apparently the theory behind such fulsome antismoking imagery is that while everyone knows tobacco is unhealthy, some people need to have their noses rubbed in that fact as pungently and unpleasantly as possible. I don't smoke and never have, and if one of my kids were tempted by cigarettes, I wouldn't hesitate to deploy the diseased-lung or dying-cancer-patient pictures to make sure they realized the potential stakes.

But when did it become the job of the federal government to treat American adults the way mothers and fathers treat children? Is the stomping out of bad personal habits a role we really want to entrust to the Department of Health and Human Services? Washington can't manage to curb its own foul behavior; why would we put it in charge of curbing ours? Few things in modern American life are as ubiquitous as the pressure to stay away from tobacco. Everyone gets the message, which is why the great majority of Americans no longer smokes. The dwindling few who do don't need to be nagged about it by the government of the United States of America.

There will always be some people who smoke, just as there will always be some people who drive recklessly or overeat or drink to excess. Should the manufacturer's sticker on every new car be required to include images of horrible collisions and mangled motorists? Should packages of high-calorie junk food depict rolls of flabby cellulite or a patient undergoing bypass surgery? Should beer and wine bottles be covered with grisly pictures of ruined livers or passed-out drunks?

"The natural progress of things," Jefferson said, "is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." The nanny-state may make some decisions easier, but it is not compatible with a free society. It isn't Washington's function to wipe your nose just because your nose needs wiping. Of course the functionaries mean well. There always seem to be good reasons for giving them just a little more authority, for agreeing to surrender just a few more personal choices, for letting yourself be treated just a bit more condescendingly. But it comes at a price. Smoking is unhealthy, no question about it. The loss of freedom and self-respect are more hazardous by far.


New procedure to reduce blood pressure

One hopes not but this could be a case of treating the symptom rather than the disease

MELBOURNE scientists have made a major breakthrough in treating high blood pressure. A simple 45-minute procedure to control the condition should be available within a year.

Between 25-30 per cent of Australian adults suffer high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. Medication fails to control the condition in half of the 1.5 million Australian sufferers.

The new procedure, developed by Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, involves a catheter device that is inserted through the groin into the renal arteries. It emits radio waves to destroy nerves in the kidneys that play a crucial role in the elevation of blood pressure.

The device, called the Symplicity Catheter System, has already been approved for use by government medicines regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration and may be used routinely within a year.

Principal investigator Prof Markus Schlaich said the trial involved 106 patients in Australia and Europe, with half having the procedure, known as renal denervation. Of those who had the procedure, 84 per cent experienced a significant - more than 10mmHg - drop in blood pressure, and while it was hoped the results were permanent, they had so far lasted two years. Studies have shown reducing blood pressure by as little as 5mmHg can reduce the risk of stroke by 30 per cent.

"The study also found the therapy was safe, with no serious device or procedure-related complications," Prof Schlaich said. "High blood pressure is the biggest killer worldwide, and half of those patients treated are not controlled, so this could have a tremendous impact."

Melbourne woman Gael Lander, 67, was the first person in the world to have the procedure done, at St Vincent's Hospital two years ago. Ms Lander, of Brighton, had suffered from difficult to control high blood pressure since her mid-30s, and it transformed her life. "Everything used to race, my pulse, my heart, but since the procedure it's like someone's taken their finger off the fast-forward button," she said. "I'm a lot calmer."

Both her parents suffered high blood pressure, and her father died of heart failure and her mother after a massive stroke, and she had felt she would go the same way. "But it's taken a lot of worry off me. I know that I'm not going to have a stroke ... it's given me peace of mind," Ms Lander said.

Scientists expect the procedure to be adopted around the world. The results of the trial are being presented to the American Heart Association today , and published in medical journal The Lancet.


17 November, 2010

Enemies of food freedom committed to cause

You may have heard that San Francisco has become the first major city to ban Happy Meals. This should not surprise anyone -- it is just one obviously absurd consequence of making government responsible for managing everybody's health choices.

The policy isn't really surprising in a city known for fringe notions out of touch with basic concepts of liberty, which has produced politicians such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and with so few children clamoring for the boxed cheeseburger and toy (84 percent of San Francisco households are childless).

What is surprising is that it did not happen sooner, perhaps thanks to local liberal politicians such as Mayor Gavin Newsom, who announced a veto of the measure to express his disgust, but is overruled by a veto-proof margin in favor of the ban. But the Happy Meal ban isn't going to stop in San Francisco -- it's going national, just one more step down the progressive path toward solving all our health problems by government mandate.

In his forthcoming book, What Would the Founders Say?, University of Dayton Professor Larry Schweikart notes how unrecognizable the U.S. food management bureaucracy would appear to the nation's founding generation and even those born early in the 20th century.

"By the 1950s," Schweikart writes, "the FDA and public health officials had stretched their authority to a new level, moving from careful monitoring of poisons in the American food and drink supply to recommending to the public what foods to eat and what drinks to consume."

Unfortunately, as Schweikart details, the government-knows-best dietary program has included massive mistakes based on junk science -- faulty recommendations which, paired with equally ill-conceived food subsidies, ultimately sped the rise in obesity. This total failure didn't stop those committed bureaucrats, whose passion for government managing the lives of citizens has become a matter of sanity-killing devotion.

George W. Bush administration Surgeon General Richard Carmona, for example, once said that putting a 20-ounce bottle of sugary soda in the hands of a child is as dangerous as giving him or her car keys. I don't suggest you test that thesis.

Such scare tactics are easily ignored when they're nothing more than recommendations of overly excitable bureaucrats. But as the nation's taxpayers have been forced to shoulder more and more of the costs of health care, officials have used cost containment as a pretext for mandating individual behavior changes -- and forcing the entire population to adhere to standards designed for people susceptible to certain health conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure. Despite the science indicating that all most Americans need is to moderate consumption and get a little more exercise, the government has declared outright war on salt, fat, sugar, and more.

These mandates frequently backfire. As The Heartland Institute's Health Care News reported earlier this year, the bureaucrats' new, completely arbitrary sodium standards would cause the costs of curing meats such as ham and bacon to skyrocket while the risk of food poisoning (the reason the FDA was created in the first place) would actually rise.

Government money doesn't come without strings attached. In a system where others must pay the price for your wanton ignorance of the latest government recommendations, you cannot be allowed to decide what to feed your family. Big Brother is watching your menu choices.

The enemies of food freedom are committed to their cause. "This is not going to stop at San Francisco," a supporter of the Happy Meal ban told the Los Angeles Times, describing the intent to take the ban nationwide. They're nothing if not consistent.

Perhaps you really should just eat what they tell you. Or perhaps, like me, you feel like grilling tonight. The government is swell and all -- but they'll get my last piece of bacon when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.


Middle aged women who enjoy a couple of glasses of wine a day 'have a healthier old age'

A couple of glasses of wine a day in mid-life could make women healthier in old age, research suggests. Scientists say moderate drinking can lead to ‘successful ageing’, and cut the risk of stroke.

Results from U.S. studies suggest concerns about the disadvantages of drinking may have been exaggerated, with evidence that steady consumption of alcohol over a lifetime may have some health benefits.

Although a limited amount of wine a day has been long associated with better heart health, particularly in men, the overall impact on wellbeing has seldom been assessed.

Two studies by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University in Boston used data from the landmark Nurses’ Health Study, which started in 1976 and involves more than 200,000 women.

The alcohol consumption of almost 14,000 women who lived to the age of 70 was analysed in mid-life to find out what factors contributed to ‘successful survival’.

Dr Qi Sun, a Harvard medical instructor who led the study, found 1,499 women reached 70 free of major diseases such as cancer and heart disease, and had no physical impairments or memory problems.

He looked at levels of drinking around the age of 58, and found women who had one or two drinks most days of the week had a 28 per cent better chance of ‘successfully surviving’ to old age, compared with non-drinkers.

Dr Sun found women drinking most days were likely to be healthier than women who drank one or two days a week, which often results in ‘binge’ drinking.

A second study analysed the risk of stroke in 73,450 women in the Nurses’ Health Study who did not have either heart disease or cancer when enrolled.

Altogether 1,822 strokes were recorded, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s meeting in Chicago, and any level of drinking was linked to a lower risk of stroke.

Experts are unclear about exactly how alcohol might benefit health, with one theory being that it helps the body metabolise glucose more efficiently as well as reducing the risk of blood clots.


16 November, 2010

What would a disease that flooded your blood with cholesterol do?

Sufferers die of heart attacks in childhood? Far from it

About von Gierke's disease:

"Glycogen storage disease type Ia (GSD-Ia) is characterized by hypercholesterolemia, hypertriglyceridemia, decreased cholesterol in high density lipoprotein and increased cholesterol in low and very low density lipoprotein fractions."

Of course, with lipids like those, you should die of CVD at a very early age. But you don't.

As people may recall my current hypothesis for the cause of premature CVD is that it is triggered by Purple Spotted sdLDL, something which is NEVER measured by lipidologists. This is hardly surprising because I made it up. Taking a lesson from the lipid hypothesis founders there.

So folks with glycogen storage disease type Ia have the worst possible lipid profile you can imagine and no premature CVD.

To explain this paradox (gasp in awe at the explanations) you can look at antioxidants like uric acid or do very clever things with cholesterol efflux mediators or hypothesise about adiponectin. Take your pick.

Guess what. People with glycogen storage disease type Ia are virtually never hyperglycaemic or hyperinsulinaemic. In fact hypoglycaemia can be a serious problem for them. But they don't get heart disease. Funny that.


Andrew Orr's Chinese combination the secret to that extra-special delivery for infertile couples

Almost certainly a placebo effect. Relaxation is important to falling pregnant and this guy appears to be very confidence inspiring, as many quacks are. Note the last paragraph below

THE proof of traditional Chinese medicine's success in treating infertility can be seen in Andrew Orr's numbers. The Brisbane practitioner has helped bring 10,028 babies into the world in 15 years. Mr Orr said there was strong evidence to support the integration of traditional methods with western medicine.

He said he recorded a 95 per cent success rate among his clients, the vast majority of whom were undertaking IVF procedures, and higher pregnancy rates in women aged over 40.

Mr Orr said his program incorporated lifestyle, stress reduction, nutrition, Chinese herbs, acupuncture, massage and vitamins for both partners. Little Mackenzie and Morgan McCann hold a special place in Mr Orr's heart, being the 10,000th successful pregnancy and birth he assisted.

Mum and registered nurse Sharon McCann yesterday said she had been undergoing IVF for a year, before going to see Mr Orr. Ms McCann, 41, said she had two more unsuccessful IVF cycles before falling pregnant in December. She said it was the constant personal support and positive affirmation from the team she appreciated most through the journey. "They're there for you.''


15 November, 2010

The £2-a-day heart pill that could save thousands of lives a year (?)

A bit of understandable but quite excessive enthusiasm about some very limited findings. The journal article is "Eplerenone in Patients with Systolic Heart Failure and Mild Symptoms". The study was not of a normal population but of people who already had heart disease and who were taking the pill in conjunction with other heart medications. The pill reduced deaths or hospitalizations from 25.9% to 18.3% in the patients concerned. A worthy start but not a lot to write home about for the man in the street.

It's also a pity that the study was terminated early. That was ethically cautious but not very scientific. Trends observed over a short time period often do not persist over a longer period. See one rather spectacular example of that in the sidebar here.

Note also that the hazard ratio (.76) was well below what is acceptable as indicating causation (2.0). Even at this stage then, the finding is a weak basis for public or private policy.

A heart disease pill costing just £2 a day could save tens of thousands of lives a year, scientists claim. The drug promises to revolutionise the treatment of Britain’s biggest killer and prevent many people being admitted to hospital. Eplerenone apparently reduces the risk of death by almost 40 per cent. Patients are also far less likely to need long-term care or need surgery such as bypass operations.

Researchers say their findings have ‘huge public health implications’ and could potentially cut millions from the NHS bill for treatment. Currently, doctors give patients the pill, also known Inspra, only if the standard medications do not work.

Heart disease patients are normally prescribed treatments including aspirin and anticoagulants to prevent the blood clotting, statins to lower cholesterol and beta blockers for high blood pressure.

However, the researchers say that if all heart disease patients were also prescribed the drug it would save millions every year through cost of treatment and loss of earnings.

The daily pill costs between £1.50 and £2 a day. It works by reducing the effects of the potentially harmful hormones cortisol and aldosterone, which are produced excessively in those with heart disease.

The University of Glasgow researchers – in collaboration with doctors from France, the U.S., Sweden and the Netherlands – compared the effects of the drug on almost 3,000 patients over four years. Their study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that those who took the drug were 37 per cent less likely to die or need hospital treatment.

Researcher Professor John McMurray, from the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow, said: ‘This trial will change the way we manage our patients. ‘Everyone with heart failure should be considered for treatment with a drug of this type – it will make patients feel better, stay out of hospital and live longer. ‘Eplerenone is not expensive and there is a related, generic drug, spironolactone, with similar properties, which is likely to have similar effects. ‘This type of treatment should be available and affordable across the globe. ‘Our trial has huge public health implications.’


Cancer myths

It's no wonder young people believe this junk. Most of it has appeared in medical journals

Some young people believe toilet seats can give you cancer and only fat people get the disease, a UK poll has found.

Other myths include being able to catch cancer from kissing, a kick in the genitals causing the disease and eating coloured jelly sweets increasing the risk.

Living near electricity pylons and keeping a mobile phone in your bra are also exposed in the list of common beliefs.

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The poll of 13 to 24-year-olds for the Teenage Cancer Trust comes as data shows the rate at which children are dying from cancer has fallen almost 60 per cent over the last 40 years.

In the late 1960s, around 940 children died from the disease every year but this has dropped to around 290 a year, according to the Cancer Research UK report.

Today's survey of 520 young people revealed the top myth as being everyone is born with the cancer gene (believed by 53 per cent).

Some 37 per cent believe people are never really cured of cancer and 36 per cent think mobile phones cause brain tumours while 35 per cent are worried about electricity pylons.

More than one in 10 (15 per cent) young people believe keeping a mobile phone in your bra causes cancer and 12 per cent think a kick in the genitals causes testicular cancer.

More than one in five (22 per cent) think the colour of your skin determines your cancer risk, 19 per cent think cancer in pregnancy is passed on to the baby and 7 per cent think only fat people get cancer.

Some 8 per cent are worried about eating coloured jellies and 6 per cent believe cancer can be caught from kissing.

Simon Davies, chief executive of Teenage Cancer Trust, said: "Cancer is a complex and frightening disease so it is easy to understand why such strange myths exist.

"Sometimes people are even surprised to hear teenagers get cancer at all. In fact six teenagers and young adults every day hear they have cancer and at Teenage Cancer Trust we work hard to make sure they receive the best possible care and support."

The Cancer Research UK report revealed high survival rates for some particular types of cancer.

Forty years ago, less than 40 per cent of children diagnosed with a lymphoma would survive more than five years but that figure is now almost 90 per cent.

Around 80 per cent of children with leukaemia are now cured through treatment compared to less than 10 per cent in the late 1960s.

The overall death rate for childhood cancer dropped from 73.4 per million children between 1966 and 1970 to 31.9 per million children between 2001 and 2005.

However, five-year survival remains low for some types of cancer, at just 44 per cent for certain types of gliomas, a kind of brain tumour.

Dr Pam Kearns, director of the Cancer Research UK children's cancer trials team, said: "More children are beating cancer thanks to the transformation and improvements of treatments over the last 30 years, with ways of treating the disease offering greater hope to children diagnosed with cancer.

"We need to continue this work so that every child who is diagnosed with cancer has the best possible chance of beating the disease."

In the UK around 1500 children are diagnosed with cancer every year, and leukaemia is the most common childhood cancer.

There are an estimated 26,000 childhood cancer survivors in Britain.


14 November, 2010

Middle class children in Britain suffering rickets

I think that this is another case of the dog that didn't bark. Use of the term "middle class" tends to suggest "white", but from my reading elsewhere the affected children in the South are mainly black, brown and Middle Eastern. Many brown (subcontinental) families would be middle class. It is of course white skin that is best at converting sunlight into vitamin D.

Nonetheless, the official British obsession with suncream is amusing. Britons get so little sun that one wonders why they bother. It is certainly another case of wrongheaded official advice. In Britain, the benefit of getting vitamin D from the sun surely outweighs the risk of sun damage to the skin. Melanoma is so rare in Britain that British doctors often don't recognize it when they see it. A quite gross case in point here

However you look at it, however, a resurgence of rickets is a case of gross public health failure. It was cured in Britain around the time of WWII by adding Vitamin D to margarine. And in America, vitamin D is often added to milk. With the explosion of the health bureaucracy in recent years, one would have expected public health measures such as those I have just mentioned to be firmly in place. Subcontinental (e.g. Indian) families could be assisted by adding vitamin D to ghee, their usual (butter-derived) cooking oil. Just another example of bureaucratic failure, I guess

Middle class children in the south of England are suffering from the '17th century disease' rickets as parents cover them in sunscreen and limit time outside in the sunshine, a leading doctor has warned. The disease, caused by low levels of vitamin D generated in the body from sunshine and certain foods, had died out around 80 years ago but is now coming back.

Cases of rickets in children have occurred in northern England and Scotland where there are fewer months of the year with sufficient sunshine to obtain enough vitamin D but now doctors are seeing it on the South coast as well.

It is thought extensive use of sunscreen, children playing more time on computer games and TV rather than playing outside and a poor diet are to blame.

Professor Nicholas Clarke, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital and professor of paediatric orthopaedic surgery at the University of Southampton, said: "The return of rickets in northern parts of the UK came as a surprise despite the colder climate and lower levels of sunshine in the north, but what has developed in Southampton is quite astonishing."

Children from all backgrounds are being affected now and the disease is not limited to the poor as it was in Victorian times.

He added: “In my 22 years at Southampton General Hospital, this is a completely new occurrence in the south that has evolved over the last 12 to 24 months and we are seeing cases across the board, from areas of deprivation up to the middle classes, so there is a real need to get national attention focused on the dangers this presents.”

Professor Clarke says he and colleague Dr Justin Davies, a consultant paediatric endocrinologist, have checked over 200 children for bone problems and more than 20 per cent of them have significant deficiencies. “A lot of the children we’ve seen have got low vitamin D and require treatment,” he said.

“This is almost certainly a combination of the modern lifestyle, which involves a lack of exposure to sunlight, but also covering up in sunshine, and we’re seeing cases that are very reminiscent of 17th century England.”

He added: “We are facing the daunting prospect of an area like Southampton, where it is high income, middle class and leafy in its surroundings, seeing increasing numbers of children with rickets, which would have been inconceivable only a year or so ago.”

Professor Clarke says vitamin D supplements should be more widely adopted to halt the rise in cases. Vitamin D is found in oily fish and eggs and margarine, cereals and milk can be fortified with it. The vitamin is vital for the absorption of calcium needed for strong bones and teeth.


The lunchbox police: British school inspectors snooping on children's snacks and rating schools badly if they are unhealthy

Ofsted inspectors are snooping in children’s lunchboxes and marking schools down if they find crisps and chocolate, it emerged yesterday. Parents expressed amazement that if packed lunches are judged too unhealthy, schools could lose marks under the ‘healthy lifestyles’ section of the inspection, which feeds into their overall grade.

Critics said the checks were ‘interfering’ and ‘insulting’ and urged Ofsted to concentrate on judging teaching quality and discipline instead.

The practice emerged in inspectors’ notes on a random sample of five primary schools, which were disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. Notes on three of the five schools contained comments on the contents of lunchboxes, including ‘most have fruit but many have crisps, also fruit squash, and processed sausage’ and ‘very little “bad” food – no evidence of crisps and chocolate’.

In the two other schools, inspectors stopped short of rifling through lunchboxes and instead interviewed pupils about their eating habits.

Margaret Morrissey, founder of the lobby group Parents Outloud and a former lay Ofsted inspector, condemned the lunchbox checks as ‘insulting to parents’. ‘Inspectors spend little enough time in schools – they ought to have better things to do than going through five-year-olds’ lunchboxes,’ she said. ‘We can say to parents what we believe to be healthy for their children but ultimately it is entirely up to them what they give their children for lunch.’

Ofsted rated St Cyprian’s Greek Orthodox Primary School in Croydon, South London, as ‘good’ overall – the second highest grading on a four-point scale. But it criticised the children’s lunchboxes for containing crisps and processed sausage.

Kate Magliocco, the school’s head, said: ‘We don’t operate lunchbox policing, although I know some schools do, banning squash and chocolate biscuits.’

Education Secretary Michael Gove is expected shortly to outline plans to tear up more than 20 Ofsted inspection targets which he fears are distracting staff from their core task of raising standards.

Schools will instead be judged against four key benchmarks – quality of teaching, effectiveness of leadership, pupils’ behaviour and safety, and pupils’ achievement.

A spokesman for the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘Parents already have enough bossy interference from the Government telling them what to feed their children. ‘The last thing they need is school inspectors snooping through lunchboxes.’

An Ofsted spokesman said: ‘Ofsted does not routinely check the contents of school lunchboxes and there is no question that a school would be marked down simply because of their contents.

‘But inspectors are required to make judgments on each of the Every Child Matters outcomes, including the extent to which pupils adopt healthy lifestyles.’


13 November, 2010

The Vast Child-Fattening Conspiracy

When it comes to the increasing sex, violence and profanity in entertainment media, the social libertines are indifferent. They insist that children will hardly be warped or ruined by the media they consume. They chortle at the paranoia of Hollywood critics. Their mantra: If you don't like it, just turn the channel.

But if the issue isn't indecency, but instead, say, obesity, so many of those titans of "tolerance" suddenly become the censors. Behold San Francisco, the paradise of permissive sexual attitudes. The city council may welcome flowers in your hair, but they have just voted to ban "Happy Meal" toys unless the "happy" menu is low in fat and sodium, and includes fruits and vegetables.

Apparently, that villain Ronald McDonald has been leading a Vast Child-Fattening Conspiracy.

This is hardly the first step toward dietary dictates in San Francisco. In 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom banned city-government use of bottled water, and this past summer, Newsom instituted a ban on sugary sodas in city vending machines. And not just sugary sodas, but sports drinks and even artificially sweetened water. The rule insists juice must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice with no added sweeteners, and machines should allow the choice of soy milk or rice milk.

Then there's the Big Apple, San Francisco's East Coast cousin, another hub of libertine behavior. New York City schools now regulate the types of foods that students may sell for fundraising inside the school: Acceptable products include Fiber One bars, Soy Crisps and Ayala's Herbal Water. To qualify as an approved item, a snack must meet 11 criteria developed by the city. All products must be in marked, single-serving packages with a maximum calorie count of 200. Artificial sweeteners like Splenda are banned. Less than 35 percent of the item's total calories may come from either total sugars or fat. Grain-based products must contain at least 2 grams of fiber.

After resistance to the city's ban on bake sales of homemade goodies, the city relented partially: Parents may sell cupcakes and cookies -- but only once a month, and not in the school cafeteria.

Entire blue states have capitalized on the dietary-puritan wave. In the state of Illinois, the legislature raised taxes last year not only on alcohol, but on candy and soft drinks. The state tax on candy was multiplied by six, from 1 percent to 6.25 percent, unless it needs refrigeration or contains flour. That rate also applies to soda and non-carbonated sweetened drinks, like iced tea. They did it for the children (and, allegedly, for roads and bridges).

What weird people they are. Now their media friends are getting into the act. The same networks that think it's harmless to put orgies into dramas and profanities into sitcoms are utterly panicked about drinking a Pepsi. The Business and Media Institute found CNBC anchor Erin Burnett asking the president of the American Beverage Association why anyone lets Coke or Pepsi be sold. This is what's next? Soda Pop Prohibition?

Burnett demanded to know: "Let me ask you, is there anything good about drinking a full-calorie soda? Why do they even sell it? What's good for me in drinking it?" When she was told it's delicious, Burnett replied sourly: "I'm sure you could say we like cocaine, right?"

So when parents buy their children a Mountain Dew, they might as well be pushing cocaine? All that's missing here for CNBC is the dietary equivalent of documentaries like "Reefer Madness." You don't hear anyone using the mantra that "If you don't like a Pepsi, don't drink one."

In the journal Policy Review last year, Mary Eberstadt tackled the "curious reversal in moralizing" about food and sex: "Modern man (and woman) ... has taken longstanding morality about sex, and substituted it onto food. The all-you-can-eat buffet is now stigmatized; the sexual smorgasbord is not ... According to them, after all, consensual sex is simply what comes naturally, and ought therefore to be judged value-free. But as the contemporary history outlined in this essay goes to show, the same can be said of overeating -- and overeating is something that today's society is manifestly embarked on re-stigmatizing."

The libertines love to mock those anti-Hollywood puritans in Menckenesque tones, suggesting the critics are haunted by the fear that someone somewhere might be happy with their sleazy television. It's now just as easy to say that the big-city food police are haunted by the fear that some child somewhere may be enjoying a Happy Meal, with French fries and "cocaine" on ice.


Social Class May Affect Outcome of Depression Treatment

Nice to see the most consistent predictor of poor health getting a mention for once

Depression treatments appear to be less effective in helping poor and working class patients function at work, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago said this was especially important because depression takes a heavy toll on productivity, particularly among those in sales and service jobs, who often have less education and belong to the working class.

Researchers reviewed the cases of 239 patients with major depression who took part in the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program from 1982 to 1986.

The patients took antidepressants or received one of two different kinds of psychotherapy: interpersonal psychotherapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy. After treatment with drugs or psychotherapy, working-class and poor patients showed less improvement in their ability to function at work than did middle-class patients who had the same treatments, the University of Illinois researchers found.

The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Psychiatric Services.

Future research should examine how to change depression treatments so that working-class and poor patients get the same degree of benefit as middle-class patients, said principal investigator Lydia Falconnier, an assistant professor in UIC's College of Social Work.

"One route to improved outcomes might be to adapt current therapies to include a greater focus on the daily work and economic stressors that low-income individuals face," she said in a university news release.


12 November, 2010

Two glasses of orange juice a day 'doubles gout risk in women'

Less than 1% of people get gout so the absolute numbers here are small. The overwhelming number of people who drink lots of orange juice will NOT get gout.

Insofar as the numbers below mean anything at all, I doubt the explanation in terms of fructose. Fructose is just a simple sugar -- albeit one that is often demonized. Gout is caused by underexcretion of uric acid. As well as orange juice, many softdrinks -- e.g. Coke -- are also acidic. I see general acid overload as the most likely problem among people prone to gout

Women who drink just two glasses of orange juice a day are twice as likely to get gout, scientists claim. Women who drank two glasses a day were two and a half times more at risk of the painful condition – the same as if they drank two cans of sugary soft drink. Even one glass of juice raised their risk by 40 per cent.

Gout, a form of arthritis, affects 1.5 per cent of Britons, with men four times more likely to suffer from the condition. But the number of female cases has doubled in the last 20 years.

Experts believe the high fruit sugar, or fructose, content of juice causes uric acid – a waste product in the blood – to leach into joints, causing them to become swollen and very painful.

The University of Boston study followed the diet habits of 80,000 women over 22 years. Those who drank a daily glass of orange juice were 41 per cent more at risk of gout. Those who had two or more were 2.4 times at risk.

Women who had a daily can of a soft drink were 70 per cent more likely to get gout. Those who had two were 2.4 times more at risk – the same as juice. The results ‘support the importance of reducing fructose intake’, the experts said.

Gout is often linked to an overindulgent diet which includes too much alcohol or red meat. It was common among wealthy, portly gentlemen in the Tudor, Georgian and Victorian eras.

Last year the same team of scientists found that gout affected 3.5 per cent of women aged 60 to 69, 4.6 per cent of those aged 70 to 79 age group, and 5.6 per cent of those over 80.


An instant test at 40 to predict Alzheimer's?

There is a considerable element of speculation here

A 30-second test to spot the signs of Alzheimer’s in those in their 40s is being developed by scientists. The simple procedure, which warns of the debilitating disease decades before symptoms show, brings the hope of routine screening for dementia in as little as two years.

Carried out on a computer in a GP’s surgery, the test could become as widely used as blood pressure checks. Those found to have a tiny piece of tell-tale damage to their brains could take preventative measures such as changing their diet and taking more exercise. Quicker detection would allow earlier treatment and, with the help of new drugs, some who test positive might never develop the disease.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect more than 800,000 Britons, with the number expected to double in a generation.

Professor David Bunce, who led the research, said: ‘The study lays open the possibilities for screening, early detection and intervention. The earlier we can intervene with people vulnerable to eventual dementia, the greater the chances of preventing or delaying the disease onset.’

However, not everyone will want to be told their fate so far in advance. And there are fears that insurance companies could increase premiums for those who test positive.

Experts say that delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years could halve the number of people who die with the condition, currently a third of over-65s.

At the moment, diagnosis is based on memory tests or expensive brain scans. Proof of the disease often comes only from examination of the patient’s brain after death. By contrast, the computer procedure, based on a simple test of reaction times, would be quick and easy.

Professor Bunce, of Brunel University, London, used brain scans to find tiny lesions, each smaller than a grain of rice, in the white matter of apparently healthy men and women aged 44 to 48. Around 15 per cent of the 428 tested had the abnormalities, which occurred in the brain’s memory hub.

Although the research did not show that these people went on to develop dementia, the lesions were similar to those discovered in post-mortem examinations of Alzheimer’s patients – and were found in the same part of the brain.

The professor saw that those with the brain lesions performed more erratically in a test of reaction times, which involved watching for one of two lights on a screen and hitting a corresponding button.

Those with lesions had a mixture of slow and fast reaction times, whereas those with healthy brains had either consistently fast or slow responses, the journal PLoS ONE reports.

The study was funded by research foundation the Leverhulme Trust. Although more research – and funding – is needed, it is hoped the test could be in doctors’ surgeries in two to five years.

It is thought that drugs already on the market would be of little use to combat the disease at such an early stage. However, laboratories around the world are trying to develop pills and jabs that halt Alzheimer’s earlier in their tracks.

In the meantime, Alzheimer’s charities recommend eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly to stave off the disease. Ruth Sutherland, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘We know that changes in the brain begin many years before the first symptoms of dementia become evident. It is therefore vital to invest in research into the early signs of dementia in the brain.’


11 November, 2010

A Happy Meal ban is nothing to smile about

The proposal to ban meals with toys in San Francisco is based on disproven assumptions about obesity and health

A Happy Meal is not a healthy meal, at least according to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The board last week approved a preliminary ban that would strip toys from fast-food meals in San Francisco. The ban’s backers claim the legislation gives parents a chance to convince their children to go for the healthier choice, without being tempted by a Shrek toy. If the final vote is approved this week, the ban will begin in December 2011.

The San Francisco ban, and similar proposals on both sides of the Atlantic, are predicated upon four false assumptions: the fast food sold by McDonald’s and its competitors makes kids fat; fast-food marketing causes childhood obesity; fat children grow into unhealthy adults; fat kids incur significantly higher health care costs than skinny ones.

First, there is no evidence to support the assumption that fast-food outlets and the food they sell make people overweight and obese. And, in fact, this assumption is contradicted by a considerable amount of research. For example, in 2004 a team of researchers, after conducting a study with 14,000 American children, found that eating junk food did not lead to obesity among children. A similar conclusion was reported in Canada the year after, when researchers concluded that eating in fast-food restaurants was not associated with an increased risk of obesity, even in children who ate in such restaurants more than three times a week.

The claim about the association between the number of fast-food outlets and levels of obesity is equally unfounded. A 2005 study of elementary school children in the US found no significant associations between either fast-food prices or outlet density. Two years later, Russ Lopez, of the Boston University School of Public Health, reported similar non-significant findings for fast-food density.

Second, the Happy Meal ban assumes that fast-food marketing is a cause of childhood overweightedness and obesity. Therefore, it is argued, restrictions on food marketing and advertising are necessary.

In order to establish an evidence-based case for this claim, one would have to demonstrate that such advertising has an independent effect on children’s weight. This, in turn, would require a study design that controlled for the multiple other risk factors connected with childhood obesity (by some estimates, there are dozens such factors). However, none of the studies purporting to demonstrate that food advertising causes childhood obesity control for more than a handful of these other risk factors. These studies therefore cannot establish an evidence-based case for the connection between food advertising and children’s weight.

Further, the causal thesis is undermined by the fact that, in the UK for example, advertising for food and drink has been falling in real terms since 1999 and is now roughly at 1982 levels, even while rates of overweightedness and obesity allegedly have been rising. Again, there is a substantial body of econometric literature that disproves the alleged connection between advertising, diets and weight.

In his research into food advertising in the UK, Peter Kyle, of the University of Lancaster, found no evidence to support the causal claim that advertising increased market size. Another researcher, Martyn Duffy, has looked at the impact of advertising on 11 food categories and found that advertising had no effect on demand. More specifically, professor Harry Henry has examined the effect of advertising on breakfast cereals and biscuits, both frequently cited as culprits in the childhood obesity epidemic. He concluded that advertising had no affect on market size.

Finally, Bob Eagle and Tim Ambler looked at the impact of advertising on chocolate consumption in five European countries in order to test the claim that a reduction in advertising would reduce consumption. They reported no significant association between the amount of advertising and the size of the chocolate market. Eagle and Ambler’s work is corroborated by evidence from the Canadian province of Quebec and from Sweden, both of which have imposed advertising bans on foods to children, with Quebec’s in operation since 1980. In both jurisdictions, however, there have not been significant reductions in childhood obesity or any marked differences in obesity rates compared with other adjacent areas.

Third, it is unclear that being a fat child carries significant health risks or increases one’s risk of becoming a fat adult. For example, a long-running study in Aberdeen, Scotland, which looked at the health outcomes of children born in the 1950s, found that the body mass index (BMI) of children was not associated with increased risk for stroke and heart attack in later life.

In addition, the work of a group of British researchers into child health and epidemiology directly contradicts the assumption that overweight or obese children are at greater health risk and that reducing children’s weight benefits adult health. Their ‘Thousand Families Study’ followed 1,000 families in the city of Newcastle in north-east England from 1954 in an effort to track the effects of childhood obesity on adult health. The study found that, contrary to the claim that fat children become fat adults burdened with health problems, there was little tracking from childhood overweightedness to adulthood obesity. Indeed, over 80 per cent of the obese adult participants in the study became obese as adults.

The assumption of a link between childhood and adult obesity is also contradicted by a recent US Preventive Services Task Force analysis of the efficacy of dyslipidemia screening and weight-reduction programmes for children. It found that the evidence for effectiveness is ‘lacking, of poor quality, or conflicting’. The evidence also shows that the goal of encouraging children to eat low-fat diets is not only unsupported by the evidence but also risks significant harm in terms of adverse effects on growth and nutrient intake. The best evidence indicates that a ‘substantial proportion of children under age 12 or 13, even with BMIs above the ninety-fifth percentile, will not develop adult obesity’.

Revealingly, the American data has shown that fat children generally consume no more food nor are less physically active than those of ‘normal’ weight. And multiple studies have failed to find a link in children between physical activity levels, food intake and obesity. American, British, Australian, French, and Spanish studies have all found little evidence to support a relationship between energy intake in children and their weight.

Indeed, to blame either these children or their parents for being fat contradicts much of the accumulating evidence on just how small a contribution to obesity is made by the factors that anyone – parents, children or the state – can control. One recent American study found that for twins, for example, the shared environment effect for both BMI and waist circumference is only 10 per cent.

Fourth, what about the claims about how much all of these fat children are costing the health system? After all, we all know, don’t we, that fat children incur significantly higher health care costs than their slender peers?

In fact, this is not true, either. A 2008 US study examined the healthcare costs of 8,404 children in Kansas City and found that there was no relationship between a child’s BMI and his or her visits to a doctor or casualty rooms. The only extra costs associated with the obese children were down to the fact that they were 5.5 times more likely to have had extra lab screening tests ordered. It had nothing to do with the them being less healthy.

The evidence-less Happy Meal ban should remind us that the entire idea of fat children is largely a cultural construct, not a scientific one. A hundred years ago, today’s penchant for thin children would have been considered a shocking instance of child neglect.

The idea that children weighing over a certain amount are fat or obese has no scientific foundation, as the dividing line between fat and normal is purely arbitrary, representing nothing more than a public health bureaucrat’s notion of where normal ends and fat begins.


The first woman in Britain to cure her migraines by having a 'brow-lift'

Penny Radcliffe’s migraines were so debilitating that they left her bedridden for one day a week. They could be triggered by anything from a glass of wine to her noisy grandchildren. Now, however, the 57-year-old has just become the first woman in Britain to be cured of her crippling headaches by a ‘brow lift’.

Since she had the surgery, normally carried out as a cosmetic procedure to reduce wrinkles, she has not had a single headache or dizzy spell.

She had the operation six weeks ago after suffering chronic migraines over the past seven years. She was put under general anaesthetic while her surgeon removed part of the ‘frown’ muscle, the corrugator, just above each eyelid. Migraines are often caused by this muscle contracting and putting pressure on the surrounding trigeminal nerve.

Cosmetic surgeon John Pereira made five small incisions in her hairline above her forehead, then drilled down to the bone and cut away the parts of the muscle which were closest to the nerve and likely to be triggering her migraine. Mr Pereira said: ‘The muscle is similar to an elastic band. We cut a small section around the nerve to reduce the pressure.’

He later lifted her eyebrows by pulling up the skin and stitching it to the bone in her scalp.

So far the procedure has been performed on only a handful of sufferers in Britain, and Mrs Radcliffe is the first woman. None of the patients has since experienced a single attack. Mrs Radcliffe, who lives in Eastbourne, said: ‘I feel fantastic. I’ve got my life back and I have so much more energy.’

At first she had tried painkillers and acupuncture, but they had little effect and all she could do was try to sleep it off. Even when the pain had subsided, she often felt exhausted for the next two days.

The surgery, carried out at the Esperance private hospital in Eastbourne, will be featured on Avia TV, a new cosmetic surgery channel.

Surgeons warn that it would work only for those whose attacks are caused by the corrugator muscle pressing on the nerve.

Norman Waterhouse, former president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said: ‘This is not a miracle cure. It does not mean that everyone who has got a migraine will be better by having muscles taken out.’


10 November, 2010

Nutrition expert loses TWO STONE (28lb) by eating doughnuts, cakes and crisps for ten weeks

Some remarkable realism below

A professor who went on a ten-week diet based on cream cakes, snacks, sugary cereals and biscuits says he lost nearly two stone. Mark Haub said that on the ‘convenience store diet’ his ‘bad’ cholesterol also dropped by 20 per cent and his level of triglycerides, a form of fat, by 39 per cent.

Professor Haub – who lost 27lb, going from 14st 5lb to 12st 6lb – teaches human nutrition at Kansas State University in the U.S.

He began his experiment to try to prove to his students that in weight loss, pure calorie counting matters more than the nutritional value of the food. He cut his usual daily calorie intake from about 2,600 to less than 1,800 by eating one Twinkie deep-fried cake – a mini-sponge cake with cream filling – every three hours instead of meals.

To add variety to the cakes, which are often sold deep-fried, he ate Doritos, Kellogg’s Pops cereal and Oreo biscuits, and had a daily double shot of espresso. The final third of his daily intake came in the form of a multivitamin pill and a protein shake, along with some kind of vegetable such as a can of green beans.

He could not say whether he considered his diet healthy or unhealthy, but talking about the sweets and snacks that he ate, he said: ‘These foods are consumed by a lot of people. ‘It may be an issue of portion size and moderation rather than total removal. I just think it is unrealistic to expect people to totally drop these foods for vegetables and fruits.’

During the ten-week diet, Mr Haub’s body mass index went from 28.8, which is considered overweight, to a normal 24.9. His body fat fell from 33.4 per cent to 24.9 per cent.

Before his Twinkie diet, Mr Hub considered himself a healthy eater with a diet including whole grains, fibre, berries and bananas. ‘I wish I could say the outcomes are unhealthy. I wish I could say it's healthy. I'm not confident enough in doing that. That frustrates a lot of people. One side says it's irresponsible. It is unhealthy, but the data doesn't say that,’ he said.

‘It is a great reminder for weight loss that calories count,’ said Dawn Jackson Blatner, a dietitian from Atlanta, Georgia. ‘Is that the bottom line to being healthy? That’s another story.

‘There are things we can’t measure,’ she added, questioning how the body is affected by a lack of fruits and vegetables over the long term. ‘How much does that affect the risk for cancer? We can’t measure how diet changes our health,’ she told CNN.


Attack of the Food Police

The government tells us what medicines we may take and what recreational substances we may ingest, but when it comes to food, we decide what goes down our gullets. Gun-owning barbecuers coexist peacefully with Humane Society vegans. To paraphrase the old adage, your freedom ends where my stomach begins.

But not everyone is keen on emancipated eating. Public health puritans, appalled at the spread of excess weight, think the government should forcefully guide our dining choices. And when it comes to policy, they are getting a place at the table.

Last week, the San Francisco board of supervisors voted to hose the Happy Meal. No longer would McDonald's (or any other restaurant) be allowed to provide a free toy with a meal that exceeds specified amounts of fat, sugar and calories. If the folks at the Golden Arches want to offer a Batman action figure, it will have to be flanked by fruits and vegetables.

The impulse to overrule nutritional choices exists elsewhere too. In his last two budgets, New York's Democratic Gov. David Paterson proposed a tax on soda.

The governor says this would help cover "the $7.6 billion the state spends every year to treat diseases from obesity." Reuters reports, ominously, that he "did not dismiss the idea of eventually imposing a tax on other obesity-linked foods such as hamburgers and chocolate bars."

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar speaks in more grandiose terms. He said the Happy Meal ordinance addresses "a survival issue," and proclaimed, "We're part of a movement that is moving forward an agenda of food justice." Food justice?

Now, there are many places where the government ought to be: between a citizen and a mugger, between the polluter and the sky, between us all and al-Qaida. But the space between a diner's hand and a diner's mouth is not one of them.

The nice thing about eating is that the person who makes good or bad choices is the one who reaps the reward or penalty. If I scarf a cheesecake, you don't gain weight. And if I decide that consigning myself to the Big and Tall Store is not such a bad option, it's not your place to stop me from doing so.

You don't like what's in a Happy Meal? Don't let your kid have one.

High-calorie food is not one of those substances that presents a mortal threat to innocent bystanders. Guzzle a liter of Fanta, and you can still be trusted behind the wheel of a car. Walk by a KFC, and you don't have to worry about secondhand fat.

True, my gluttony may cause me to end up morbidly obese and a burden on the medical system. But if that's grounds for regulation, we will all soon be surrendering our TV remotes to the police and doing daily calisthenics under the watchful eye of commissars in spandex.

As it happens, soda taxes may affect only the people who don't need affecting. California Polytechnic State University economists Michael Marlow and Alden Shiers, writing in Regulation magazine, noted data showing that "taxes on alcohol consumption significantly lower drinking by light drinkers, but not heavy drinkers." One study found that a 58 percent tax on soda would "drop the average body mass by only 0.16 points" -- on a scale of 30.

Restrictions on fatty food are no more promising. Suppose a 5-year-old has a Happy Meal every week (which is how often new toys appear). Economist Michael Anderson of the University of California at Berkeley tells me that while a child who dines on fast food may get a couple of hundred extra calories, that's not much compared to the 11,000 calories she is likely to eat in a week.

Besides, people who are diverted from the Golden Arches have plenty of other cheap, tasty, artery-clogging options. "If they don't eat at McDonald's, are they going to go home and eat broccoli and brown rice?" asks Anderson.

Fat chance. His research shows that people who live in places with fast-food restaurants are more likely to eat out, but no more likely to be obese.

The stubborn fact is that people who are intent on doing things that expand their dimensions to an unhealthy degree can always find ways to do so. Ditto for governments.


Health faddists who paid a big price for their fad

You have to be a real nut to think that cow's milk is bad for you -- unless you really are allergic to it

A BRISBANE mother who became dangerously ill after drinking Bonsoy milk has told how the product destroyed her life. Shannon Cotterill, 31, of Coopers Plains, is one of 155 Australians to join a class action against Bonsoy’s distributor Spiral Foods Pty Ltd.

Marketed as “the original and the best” soy milk, Bonsoy was recalled world-wide shortly before last Christmas after it was discovered that one glass contained seven times the safe dose of iodine.

Before the recall, scores of people developed thyroid problems after drinking the milk. A number of women also reported miscarriages or babies with abnormalities. Other symptoms included anxiety and irritability, heart attacks and hair loss.

Ms Cotterill drank Bonsoy for four years before giving birth to her daughter, Lucy, in December last year. Shortly after the baby was born, Ms Cotterill became very unwell with three hospital admissions including one for congestive heart failure. She suffered weight loss, severe muscle weakness and a heart rate of over 150bpm.

“I could not walk up stairs or hold Lucy, I had to give up breastfeeding,” she said. “We had to move back home with my mum and dad because I was too sick to look after Lucy or do anything around the house. “I’ve had to extend my maternity leave because I’m not well enough to return to work.”

Ms Cotterill’s daughter Lucy, now 11 months, has some lumps in her breast tissue, which doctors are monitoring and believe could also be linked to Bonsoy. “I put Lucy to bed every night, kiss her and tell her I love her and that I’ll see her in the morning, then I silently wish for her to not ever suffer because of this,” Ms Cotterill said.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn is handling the legal action.

Company principal Rod Hodgson said the scale of the problem was much bigger than originally thought. “Our clients are health-conscious people – they drank this milk to improve their health and they got sick – some critically ill,” he said. “Some have quit their jobs and lost their businesses because of their illnesses. Others live with on-going health problems and their lives have been devastated.”


9 November, 2010

Painkillers in pregnancy may increase risk of children's reproductive problems (?)

The usual rubbishy attack on anything popular:

1). Women who take a lot of painkillers are obviously less healthy so they are more likely to have less healthy children in various ways. So if there is anything real in the results reported, the prior health of the mother rather than what they take for it could well be the causative factor

2). The journal article is "Intrauterine exposure to mild analgesics is a risk factor for development of male reproductive disorders in human and rat" by Kristensen et al. The ailment studied is a rare one (3%) so out of the 2297 births studied there would have been just over 60 cases, of which not all would have been painkiller users. So we are looking at very small numbers here on which to base any conclusions. And what about the vast majority of painkiller users who did NOT have abnormal babies? How do we explain them if painkillers are so bad?

3). And here's the funny bit: The study was of Danish and Finnish mothers but the effect was found only in the Danish mothers! Finns have better balls? What a lot of nonsense!

THE use of mild painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen during pregnancy could cause health problems in baby boys, scientists have warned.

Women who took more than one painkiller simultaneously or who took them during the second trimester had an increased risk of giving birth to sons with undescended testicles, or cryptorchidism - a condition known to be a risk factor for poor semen quality and testicular cancer in later life, a study found.

The researchers, from Denmark, Finland and France, said mild painkillers might be partly to blame for the increase in male reproductive disorders in recent decades.

In the study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, scientists looked at more than 2000 pregnant women and their newborns.

Of the individual painkillers, ibuprofen and aspirin quadrupled the risk of cryptorchidism, while simultaneous use of more than one painkiller during the second trimester increased the risk 16-fold.

Dr Henrik Leffers, senior scientist at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, who led the research, said: "If exposure to endocrine disruptors is the mechanism behind the increasing reproductive problems among young men in the Western world, this research suggests that particular attention should be paid to the use of mild analgesics during pregnancy, as this could be a major reason for the problems."

Women who took the drugs for more than a two-week period were found to have the highest risks during the study.

"Scientists have been concerned for some time about chemicals that the mother may be exposed to during pregnancy having the potential to cause reproductive problems in male babies," said Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield.

"However, there are relatively few concrete examples, and much of the work to date has been theoretical. That makes these studies somewhat alarming, as I doubt that anyone would have suspected that common painkillers would have these effects."


Aggressive statins use cuts risk of heart attack and stroke (?)

What a ludicrous report! Statins have such severe side effects that only people who were unusually robust in the first place would have been able tolerate high doses. The effects are tiny in absolute terms anyway and the most important outcome -- death -- was not affected!

HIGHER doses of statins cut the risk of heart attacks and stroke by one-seventh compared with regular statin treatment.
The study looked at five trials in which around 40,000 patients, advised to lower their levels of blood cholesterol, received either regular statin treatment or intensive treatment, according to a review published by The Lancet.

At the one-year point, intensive statins produced a "highly significant" additional reduction of 15 per cent in cases of heart attack, coronary bypass and stroke compared with regular doses.

The analysis found no increase in cancer or mortality from non-cardiovascular disease.

The research was carried out by the Cholesterol Treatment Trialists' Collaboration, led by Colin Baigent, an Oxford University professor.

Statins, the biggest-selling prescription drugs in the world, work by reducing blood levels of artery-clogging "bad" cholesterol.

In a second study, also carried by The Lancet, British scientists found that, among high-risk patients, higher doses of statins reduced the risk of cardiac arrest, blockage or stroke by six per cent compared to lower doses.

There was no difference in cardiovascular fatalities

The trial was conducted among 12,000 men and women who had previously had a heart attack. They received either 80 milligrams or 20mg of simvastatin daily.


8 November, 2010

Pesky! Fat children eat better diets than their thinner classmates, study finds

Nobody quoted below seems to have twigged that the definition of "healthy" food might be mistaken -- or that it may all be genetic

A study of 900 primary school pupils in Norway found that fat children ate healthy foods - such as fruit, vegetables, fish, and brown bread, as well as low-calorie cheese and yoghurt - more frequently than their normal-weight peers. The research suggested that a good diet without exercise would not be enough to prevent weight gain.

The findings, in a study by Telemark University College and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, represent the latest contribution to the debate over whether diet or exercise is more important in combating obesity.

It follows research published in September that suggested that diet had the greatest influence on weight.

Academics monitored the weight, exercise levels and eating habits of 924 children aged nine and 10 and questioned their parents about their own lifestyles. The children were asked how often they had eaten a variety of foods, both for main meals and snacks.

The study found that fat children drank juice more often than their classmates of normal weight, who regularly consumed fizzy drinks and ate processed foods such as burgers, sausages, biscuits, pizza and sweets.

The researchers suggested families with children who are overweight may be more aware of the food they choose to eat than those who are less concerned about putting on extra pounds.

Professor Anne Lise Brantsæter, from the NIPH, who led the project, said: “It is positive that parents and children emphasise healthy food choices. “However, it is important to note that the amount of healthy foods must be adapted to a child's activity level to limit further weight gain. “Obesity is a growing problem that can have unfortunate consequences for the children both physically and mentally.”

The researchers also found that overweight children were more likely to have overweight parents. Prof Brantsæter said: “There are many contributing factors to obesity and it is important that both parents and children are given good guidance and support early on.”

A previous study, from Professor John Speakman at the University of Aberdeen, came to a different conclusion, blaming excessive food intake for rising obesity levels. He found that overall physical activity levels have remained constant for the last quarter of a century while weight levels have soared.

His research, published in September, found that on average men burned 1,380 calories per day in the 1980s, the same as today, while women used 950 calories. The major change has been in calorie intake, which has increased by at least a third to 3,500 calories a day, he said.


Australia: Anti-fat laws in NSW

There is of course not the slightest proof that this will achieve anything

Fast-food Chains in NSW must display kilojoule counts on menus in an attempt to reverse obesity.

The new food labelling law, to be introduced into Parliament by the Keneally government this week, gives fast-food sellers in NSW 12 months from February 1 to comply before heavy fines kick in for outlets in breach of the new code.

Kilojoule information will be "at least the same size as the price of the product" under the proposed law. Every menu board will also have to feature the recommended average adult daily energy intake of no more than 8700 kilojoules so customers can calculate how much energy each item represents in their daily diet.

The NSW Heart Foundation has thrown its support behind the new system as a "logical first step" but will lobby the NSW government to ultimately include information on saturated fat and salt in the future.

Premier Kristina Keneally said yesterday the government will consider expanding the law to cover fat and salt within a year of its introduction.

After lengthy negotiations that involved the former premier and health food advocate Bob Carr, McDonald's and Yum! Restaurants Australia - the company behind KFC and Pizza Hut - will support the labelling law despite the significant cost of altering every menu in NSW.

The law will affect not only the big-brand fast-food chains but also bakery, coffee and doughnut outlets. "Even salad and juice chains that market themselves as healthy, but often pack a big kilojoule punch, must comply," Ms Keneally said.

Companies with fewer than 20 stores in NSW or 50 across Australia will be exempt.


7 November, 2010

The scientific journals are getting desperate -- reporting research as if it told us the opposite of what it does

The results below are NOT STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT -- meaning that they should be accepted as due to chance alone. It is fine to report non-significant results in the journals. I have done so on various occasions myself. But such results are normally of interest as DISPROOF of a theory. In the case below they are presented as PROVING a theory! Can medical research go any lower?

No mystery about why the article was published. It is part of a widespread obsession among the elitist Leftists who infest academe to show that anything popular must be rubbish or bad for you

The heading on the article below was "IVF 'could double risk of cerebral palsy'". A correct heading would have been "IVF procedures not found to produce cerebral palsy"

Several studies have shown that rates of the neurological condition, which can result in speech problems, muscular stiffness and curvature of the spine, are higher in couples who have undergone in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

But this is the first to suggest that the process of IVF itself could increase the risk, rather than it being a consequence of the parents' impaired fertility.

Researchers at the University of Aarhus in Denmark found that babies born by IVF were more than twice as likely to have cerebral palsy as those conceived naturally. The result held up even after adjusting for factors like the age of the mother, if she smoked, and whether the baby was premature or a twin.

Dr Jin Lieang Zhu, an epidemiologist, and his team concluded that IVF was probably the underlying cause by looking at how rates of cerebral palsy changed depending on how long it took the mother to conceive naturally. This is considered a good measure of underlying fertility.

They found no statistically significant difference in rates between those whose mothers took less than two months to conceive, and those who took more than a year. However, there was a much bigger difference between those who took over a year to conceive and those who only got pregnant thanks to IVF.

Even though this difference was not statistically significant, probably due to the small number of cases of cerebral palsy, the researchers concluded that IVF "confers a risk of cerebral palsy".

Dr Zhu stressed that the overall risk of having a child with cerebral palsy was still low. About one in 176 children born via IVF in the study had the condition, compared to the British average of about one in 400. He also said modern IVF techniques, such as only transferring one embryo to the womb, could eliminate the heightened risk altogether.

The study is published today in the journal Human Reproduction.


Possible early warning signs for prostate cancer discovered

Let's hope there's something in this. How many false positives you get from any resultant test would be the big issue

Scientists have discovered potential early warning signs for prostate cancer that could be used to spot the disease before symptoms emerge. Researchers at Bristol University identified two proteins that are present in higher levels in men with prostate cancer, which kills 10,000 a year in Britain.

The proteins are called 'growth factors' that regulate normal growth and development in organs and tissue, especially in the womb and during childhood.

Dr Mari-Anne Rowlands, a cancer epidemiologist and the lead author of the study, said: "It’s too early to be certain but these results suggest that we may have identified potential new biomarkers for very early prostate cancer in men with no symptoms.

"Now we need more research to determine whether levels of these potential biomarkers predict which prostate cancers detected by screening might progress to become life-threatening."

She and her colleagues compared a range of biomarkers, in 2,686 men with prostate cancer and 2,766 men without the condition. Currently doctors rely on measuring Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), which rises in response to the presence of cancerous tissue. However, the test does not flag up the cancer very early and is also not very accurate. It often falsely indicates a problem where none exists.

Professor Malcolm Mason, of Cancer Research UK, said of the Bristol University research: "This study could be a very important step forward in identifying men who should be screened."

The results are being presented at the National Cancer Research Institute conference in Liverpool on Monday.


6 November, 2010

Now vitamin E is in the poo

Another great icon of food faddism in trouble. Another black mark for "antioxidants" too. The effect described is quite small but great empires of faddism are built on such foundations

Doctors have warned against "indiscriminate" use of vitamin E supplements after a study found they increased the risk of a particularly serious type of stroke by more than a fifth. Analysis of almost 120,000 people, half given pure vitamin E supplements and half given placebos, found that they increased the risk of a haemorrhagic stroke by 22 per cent. The dose varied between 50mg and 500mg, compared to the EU RDA of 12mg.

Such strokes, where a blood vessel in the brain bursts, can have devastating effects and are sometimes fatal.

However, the study, published today (FRI) in the online version of the British Medical Journal, also found that taking vitamin E reduced the chances of an ischaemic stroke - where blood supply to a part of the brain is blocked - by 10 per cent. Ischaemic strokes tend not to have as severe consequences, although they can be fatal as well.

About one in five strokes are haemorrhagic and the remainder ischaemic.

However, the academics warned: "Given the relatively small risk reduction of ischaemic stroke and the generally more severe outcome of haemorrhagic stroke, indiscriminate widespread use of vitamin E should be cautioned against."

Millions of people take vitamin E supplements in Britain, either in pure form or contained in multivitamin pills. It is a powerful antioxidant that medics have suggested could help prevent cardiovascular disease by stopping fatty deposits building on artery walls.

The academics, led by Markus Schürks of Harvard Medical School, pointed out that the increased risk of haemorrhagic stroke was relatively small, with only one additional such incident likely for every 1,250 people taking vitamin E. They also said living a healthy lifestyle, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels had a far greater impact on reducing ischaemic stroke than taking vitamin E supplements.

Their analysis combined the results of nine individual trials, none of which had found vitamin E significantly altered the risk of stroke. However, they found that when put together the studies identified stark differences when looking at the effects on different types of stroke.

Around 8,500 people suffer bleed strokes every year in Britain, said Dr Peter Coleman, deputy director of research at The Stroke Association said. He said: "This is a very interesting study that shows that the risk of haemorrhagic stroke can be slightly increased by high levels of orally taken Vitamin E, although what is a ‘high level’ has not clearly been ascertained, and more research is required to discover the mechanism of action and the level at which Vitamin E can become harmful."

"The Stroke Association urges people to maintain a lifestyle of a balanced diet, regular exercise and monitoring their blood pressure to reduce their risk of a stroke but would be very interested in seeing further research into this study”.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, of the Health Supplements Information Service, saiid that overall study showed there were 0.6 fewer strokes per 1,000 people. "This suggests an overall benefit of vitamin E," she said. She also noted that the differences between the nine individual studies "hamper firm conclusions".


Zap of electricity makes you better at mathematics?

This is a very tiny study on a non-representative group so conclusions are premature. In my own research I have found high correlations among a small group of students fall away to nothing when a larger and more random sample is used

British-based researchers have found that passing a low current through a specific brain region can double your ability to do mathematics. They believe in future the technique may help people with dyscalculia, or "number blindness" – the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia.

But it is important to get the wiring right. If the electricity flows in the wrong direction it has the opposite effect, creating a person with a poor head for figures. The same team of Oxford University scientists previously showed that temporary dyscalculia could be induced with electrical brain stimulation.

In the new study, 15 student volunteers aged 20 and 21 were given a series of standard tests designed to assess numerical skills. The participants were timed to see how quickly and accurately they could solve mathematical puzzles involving symbols representing numerical values.

During the tests, a one milliamp current was passed across the parietal lobes of two groups of students, while a third group received a "fake" stimulus. The parietal lobe is a brain region that plays a crucial role in mathematical processing.

In one of the stimulated groups, the current flow was from the right to the left parietal lobe, while in the other the direction was reversed. Volunteers who received the right-left stimulus reached double the level of performance in the tests compared to the non-stimulated group after just a few sessions, the scientists reported in the journal Current Biology. In contrast, those stimulated with a left-right current saw their performance drop to about the same level as six-year-old children.

Students who received a fake "placebo" stimulus had results that fell half way between those of the other two groups.

Dr Cohen Kadosh, from Oxford University's Department of Experimental Psychology, who led the research, said: "We are not advising people to go around giving themselves electric shocks, but we are extremely excited by the potential of our findings and are now looking into the underlying brain changes.

"We've shown before that we can induce dyscalculia, and now it seems we might be able to make someone better at maths, so we really want to see if we can help people with dyscalculia, with a possible benefit to the general public. "Electrical stimulation is unlikely to turn you into the next Einstein, but if we're lucky it might be able to help some people cope better with maths."

The study is part of a large-scale project funded by the Wellcome Trust charity aimed at helping people with learning difficulties get better at maths.

One test, the Stroop test, creates counter-intuitive problems. Often it employs colours, where, for instance, the word red is written in green ink. Here, larger values were shown as smaller images and vice versa. Another task involved a mapping test where an image representing a value had to be correctly positioned between two others. In the same way, the number five is placed half way between a one and 9 on a line.

Commenting on the research, Dr Christopher Chambers, from the School of Psychology, University of Cardiff, said: "This is a really intriguing finding, showing that brain stimulation can boost numerosity skills, enhancing the ability to learn the link between arbitrary symbols and numbers, and then processing the symbols as though they actually are numbers. "The findings add to a growing body of research showing that certain types of brain stimulation, in certain contexts, can enhance brain function.

"One obvious implication for these findings lies in the development of methods for enhancing numerical skills in the general population, even for those who are not clinically impaired. Brain stimulation methods ... also have a lot of potential applications in promoting recovery following brain injury or developmental disorders."


5 November, 2010

Organic vegetables ‘no better for health’ than conventionally grown ones

Organic vegetables are no healthier than those grown conventionally, according to a university study. Agricultural scientists grew potatoes, carrots and onions under both organic and traditional conditions then tested the health-giving properties of each.

They found there was little difference in the amount of polyphenols, the chemical compound in vegetables that helps fight cancer, heart disease and dementia.

Organic crops are more expensive and are often perceived as being healthier, though consumers also cite environmental concerns, taste and texture and animal welfare as other reasons for spending more.

The researchers reported: ‘The demand for organic food products is steadily increasing, partly due to the expected health benefits of organic food consumption. ‘On the basis of the study carried out under well-controlled conditions, it cannot be concluded that organically grown onions, carrots, and potatoes generally have higher contents of health-promoting secondary metabolites (polyphenols) in comparison with the conventionally cultivated ones.’

In their two-year study, Danish researchers cultivated 72 plots of land. On half they used traditional farming methods including treatment with pesticides, non-organic fertilisers and nutrients. The other plots were farmed organically, which meant using only natural aids such as manure instead of fertiliser.

Crops were grown at different times of year and in different parts of the country to get a balanced result. This is because the kind of soil, the difference in climate and attacks by pests are major factors in the amount of polyphenols produced by plants.

The study, undertaken by environmental scientists at the University of Copenhagen, was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.


Study links Parkinson’s to brain’s tiny power factories

Results only from laboratory glassware so far but any progress against this distressing ailment is good news

Parkinson’s disease may stem from an energy crisis in the brain, years before symptoms appear. If the research proves true, it could suggest a new approach for Parkinson’s: Giving a boost to a key power switch inside brain cells in hopes of slowing the disease’s inevitable march, instead of just treating symptoms.

“It could be a root cause" of Parkinson’s, said Dr. Clemens Scherzer of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University.

No one knows what causes the disease. To find genetic clues, Scherzer gathered an international team of researchers to comb studies of more than 300 samples of brain tissue. Their results were reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“This is an extremely important and interesting observation that opens up new therapeutic targets," said Dr. Flint Beal of New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College, who was not involved with the new study. Beal said scientists already are planning first-stage tests to see if a drug used for diabetes might help Parkinson’s, too, by targeting one of the implicated energy genes.

The research involves power factories inside cells, called mitochondria. Increasingly, scientists suspect that malfunctioning mitochondria play some role in a list of degenerative brain diseases. Brain cells are energy hogs, making up about 2 percent of body weight yet consuming about 20 percent of the body’s energy. So a power drain could trigger some serious long-term consequences.

About 5 million people worldwide, and 1.5 million in the United States, have Parkinson’s, characterized by increasingly severe tremors and periodically stiff or frozen limbs.

Patients gradually lose brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical key to the circuitry that controls muscle movement. There is no known cure, although dopamine-boosting medication and an implanted device called deep brain stimulation can help some symptoms.

The studies examined by Scherzer’s group involved brain tissue from diagnosed Parkinson’s patients, from symptom-free people whose brains showed early Parkinson’s damage was brewing, and from people whose brains appeared normal. They even used a laser beam to cut out individual dopamine-producing neurons in the most ravaged brain region, the substantia nigra, and examine gene activity.

The team found 10 sets of genes that work at abnormally low levels in Parkinson’s patients, genes that turned out to play various roles in the mitochondria’s energy production, the study reported. Especially compelling, the genes also were sluggish in people with presymptomatic, simmering Parkinson’s.

All the gene sets are controlled by what Scherzer calls a master regulator gene named PGC-1alpha, responsible for activating many other genes that maintain and repair those mitochondrial power factories.

So, might revving up PGC-1alpha in turn boost underperforming mitochondrial genes and protect the brain? To see, the researchers tested dopamine-producing neurons from rats that were treated in ways known to cause Parkinson’s-like damage. Sure enough, boosting the power switch prevented that damage.

This genetic evidence supports years of tantalizing hints that mitochondria are culprits in Parkinson’s, said Dr. Timothy Greenamyre of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

He ticks off the clues: A rare, inherited form of Parkinson’s is caused by a mutated gene involved with mitochondrial function. A pesticide named rotenone that can kill dopamine cells and trigger Parkinson’s symptoms in animals also is toxic to mitochondria. So is another Parkinson’s-triggering chemical named MPTP.

Now with Scherzer’s study, “it’s going to be harder and harder for people to think that mitochondria are just a late player or an incidental player in Parkinson’s disease," Greenamyre said.


4 November, 2010

Fad-prone San Francisco curbs Happy Meal toys

There are NO controlled trials showing McDonald's food as affecting morbidity or mortality. This is just business-hating Leftists getting their jollies

San Francisco has become the first major U.S. city to pass a law that cracks down on the popular practice of giving away free toys with unhealthy restaurant meals for children. San Francisco's Board of Supervisors passed the law on Tuesday on a veto-proof 8-to-3 vote. It takes effect on December 1, 2011.

The law, like an ordinance passed earlier this year in nearby Santa Clara County, would require that restaurant kids' meals meet certain nutritional standards before they could be sold with toys.

Opponents of the law include the National Restaurant Association and McDonald's Corp, which used its now wildly popular Happy Meal to pioneer the use of free toys to market directly to children. "We are extremely disappointed with today's decision. It's not what our customers want, nor is it something they asked for," McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud said in a statement. "Getting a toy with a kid's meal is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald's," Proud said.

The San Francisco law would allow toys to be given away with kids' meals that have less than 600 calories, contain fruits and vegetables, and include beverages without excessive fat or sugar.

Backers of the ordinance say it aims to promote healthy eating habits while combating childhood obesity. "Our children are sick. Rates of obesity in San Francisco are disturbingly high, especially among children of color," said San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored the measure. "This is a challenge to the restaurant industry to think about children's health first and join the wide range of local restaurants that have already made this commitment," Mar said.

McDonald's debuted the Happy Meal in the United States in 1979 with toys like the "McDoodler" stencil and the "McWrist" wallet. Modern offerings have included themed items from popular films like "Shrek" or sought-after toys like Transformers, Legos or miniature Ty Beanie Babies.


New drug may halt and even reverse effects of Alzheimer's Disease, study suggests

A drug derived from blood could halt and even reverse the effects of Alzheimer's Disease, a study has found. Early trials of Kiovig have shown that the new treatment had a significant stabilising effect on people with the degenerative disease – halting the shrinkage of the brain and maintaining memory and speed of thought.

Now Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York and the drug company Baxter International have launched a much larger trial to confirm the early results.

Dr Norbert Riedel, chief scientific officer of the company, said that the early results had been "striking". Kiovig, or Gammagard as it is known in the US, is the brand name of an immunotherapy product already used for the treatment of a variety of immune disorders.

The product, which is really a mix of antibodies derived from human blood, is known generically as immune globulin and is applied intravenously once a fortnight. It contains antibodies against a protein called beta-amyloid, which many Alzheimer’s researchers believe plays a pivotal role in the progression of the disease. Plaques of beta-amyloids are thought to "silt up" the brain and cause nerve death and loss of function.

One of the early trials, published in the journal Neurology, found that the drug reduced the progression of Alzheimer's by as much as 42 per cent. The latest trial involves 360 people suffering from the early symptoms of Alzheimer's.

One of the downsides of the drug is finding enough supplies of blood to manufacture it in large quantities.


3 November, 2010

Fish oil pills 'do not stop the march of Alzheimer's', new study shows

Fish oil capsules do not slow ­mental or physical decline in Alzheimer’s patients, say researchers. The ‘memory-boosting’ supplements did not affect progression of the disease at any stage, a £7million study has found.

The increased belief in fish oil’s powers of protection against degenerative brain disease has spawned a multi-million-pound industry. But the U.S. study’s lead researcher Dr Joseph Quinn, of ­Oregon Health and ­Science University, said: ‘We had high hopes that we’d see some efficacy but we did not.’

Fish oil supplements, rich in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, are known to benefit brain function and some previous trials had suggested they could slow or prevent mental decline in Alzheimer’s.

In the latest study, almost 400 men and women with an average age of 76 and mild to moderate Alzheimer’s were randomly assigned to take either 200mg DHA pills or dummy pills daily for 18 months.

DHA occurs naturally in the brain but is found in reduced amounts in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The trial found similar rates of physical and mental decline in both groups using scoring systems and MRI brain scans. Supplements did not slow the development of Alzheimer’s even in a subgroup of patients with the mildest symptoms.

‘There is no basis for recommending DHA supplementation for patients with Alzheimer’s disease,’ says a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Supporters of fish oil’s benefits pointed out that the latest study did not investigate whether supplements could ward off the onset of Alzheimer’s in the first place.

Experts said attempting to reverse the disease after symptoms appear may be too late, as the underlying process that causes Alzheimer’s begins years, if not decades, before diagnosis.

Dr Kristine Yaffe, a dementia researcher at University of California at San Francisco, said that previous trials had shown omega-3 supplements were ‘associated with reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease’ but trials on their use in those who already had the disease failed to show any impact.

Laurie Ryan, programme director of Alzheimer’s studies at the U.S. National Institute on Aging, said the results were discouraging.

But independent dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health Supplements Information Service said a recent study found high-dose supplements of DHA improved memory and learning in 485 older adults with age-related cognitive decline. She said: ‘Looking at the broader range of clinical trial evidence it appears that DHA could have a beneficial effect on cognitive function in people with milder Alzheimer’s disease or earlier cognitive decline.

‘In the current study, DHA may have been given too late in the disease process to produce benefit. ‘It is also important to note that the authors themselves concluded that an intervention with DHA might be more effective if initiated earlier in the course of the disease in patients who do not have overt dementia.’

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish or supplements have been shown to help protect against heart disease and are being studied for possible effects on a range of other illnesses, including cancer and depression.


Everything you thought you knew about food is WRONG

There is much truth in the iconoclasm below but I would like to see more evidence on some of the claims

We think we know what to eat: less red meat and more fibre, less saturated fat and more fruit and veg, right? Wrong, according to a controversial new book by obesity researcher and nutritionist Zoe Harcombe.

In The Obesity Epidemic: What Caused It? How Can We Stop It? Harcombe charts her meticulous journey of research into studies that underpin dietary advice — and her myth-busting conclusions are startling.

Myth: The rapid rise in obesity is due to modern lifestyles

According to Zoe Harcombe, the ­obesity epidemic has less to do with our lifestyles than with what we are eating. ‘The key thing that people don’t realise is that throughout history, right until the Seventies, obesity levels never went above 2 per cent of the population in the UK,’ she says. ‘Yet by the turn of the millennium, obesity levels were 25 per cent.

‘What happened? In 1983, the government changed its diet advice. After that, if you look at the graphs, you can see obesity rates taking off like an aeroplane. You might feel it is coincidence, but to me it is blindingly obvious.

‘The older dietary advice was simple; foods based on flour and grains were ­fattening, and sweet foods were most ­fattening of all.

‘Mum and Granny told us to eat liver, eggs, sardines and to put butter on our vegetables. The new advice was “base your meals on starchy foods” — the things that we used to know made us fat (rice, pasta, potatoes and bread). That’s a U-turn.’

Myth: Starchy carbohydrates should be the main building blocks of our diet

We’ve been told that carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, bread and potatoes should form the bulk of what we eat. The trouble with this, says Zoe Harcombe, is that as carbs are digested, they are broken down into glucose.

This process makes your body produce insulin, in order to deal with the extra glucose. One of insulin’s main roles in the body is fat storage, so whenever you eat carbs, you are switching on your body’s fat-storing mechanism. Whatever carbs you don’t use up as energy will be quickly stored away in the body as fat.

We should get back to doing as nature intended and eat real, unprocessed food, starting with meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and salads.

Myth: Losing weight is about calories in versus calories out

‘If only it were that simple,’ says ­Harcombe. ‘People think that if they cut out 500 calories a day, they will lose 1lb a week. ‘They might at first, but then the body will recognise that it is in a state of ­starvation and turn down its systems to conserve energy. ‘So you may be putting fewer calories in, but at the same time you will be using up fewer calories to get through the day.

‘Losing weight is more a question of fat storage and fat utilisation. You need the body to move into a fat-burning mode and, to do that, you need to cut down your consumption not of calories, but of carbohydrates.’

Myth: More exercise is a cure for the obesity epidemic

This is standard wisdom; exercise, we think, will burn calories, lose fat and speed up our metabolism. Think again, says ­Harcombe.

‘If you push yourself into doing extra exercise, it will be counterproductive because you will get hungry — your body will be craving carbohydrate to replenish its lost stores. ‘If you are trying to control weight, it is so much easier to control what you put into your mouth. Not how much, but what. Then it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do by way of exercise.’

Myth: Fat is bad for us

‘Real fat is not bad for us,’ says ­Harcombe. ‘It’s man-made fats we should be demonising. Why do we have this idea that meat is full of saturated fat? In a 100g pork chop, there is 2.3g of unsaturated fat and 1.5g of saturated fat.

‘Fat is essential for every cell in the body. In Britain [according to the Family Food Survey of 2008], we are deficient in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E, which are responsible for healthy eyesight, bone strength, mental health, cancer and blood vessel protection and, therefore, heart health. We need to eat real fat in order for these vital vitamins to be absorbed into the body.’

Myth: Saturated fat causes heart disease

Over the past 50 years, we have accepted this as one of the basic nutritional truths. But Zoe Harcombe says: ‘No research has ever properly proved that eating ­saturated fat is associated with heart disease, let alone that it causes it.’

Myth: Cholesterol is a dietary enemy

Controversially, Harcombe does not consider ‘high’ cholesterol levels a bad thing! ‘To pick a number — 5 (mmol/l) — and to say everyone should have cholesterol levels no higher than this is like declaring the average height should be 5ft 4in and not 5ft 9in and medicating everyone who doesn’t reach this meaningless number to reduce their height. It really is that horrific.

‘Ancel Keys, who studied cholesterol extensively in the Fifties, said categorically that cholesterol in food does not have any impact on cholesterol in the blood.

‘What is abnormal is the amount of ­carbohydrate we eat, especially refined carbohydrate, and this has been shown to determine triglyceride levels — the part of the cholesterol reading your GP may be most concerned about.

‘It’s the ultimate irony. We only told ­people to eat carbs because we demonised fat and, having picked the wrong villain, we are making things worse.’

Myth: We should eat more fibre

For three decades, we have crammed fibre into our bodies to help us feel full and keep our digestive systems moving. This is not a good idea, says Harcombe.

‘The advice to eat more fibre is put forward along with the theory that we need to flush out our ­digestive systems. But essential minerals are absorbed from food while it is in the intestines, so why do we want to flush everything out? Concentrate on not putting bad foods in.’

Myth: You need to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day
Variety of fruit and vegetables.

‘Five-a-day is the most well-known piece of nutritional advice,’ says ­Harcombe. ‘You’d think it was based on firm evidence of health benefit. Think again!

‘Five-a-day started as a marketing campaign by 25 fruit and veg companies and the American National Cancer Institute in 1991. There was no evidence for any cancer benefit.’

Myth: Fruit and veg are the most nutritious things to eat

Apparently not. Harcombe allows that vegetables are a great addition to the diet — if served in butter to deliver the fat-soluble vitamins they contain — but ­fructose, the fruit sugar in fruit, goes straight to the liver and is stored as fat.

Fruit is best avoided by those trying to lose weight, says Harcombe, who adds: ‘Vitamins and minerals in animal foods — meat, fish, eggs and dairy products — beat those in fruit hands down.’

Myth: Food advisory bodies give us sound, impartial advice

The organisations we turn to for advice on food are sponsored by the food industry. The British Dietetic Association (BDA), whose members have a monopoly on delivering Department of Health and NHS dietary advice, is sponsored by Danone, the yoghurt people, and Abbott Nutrition, which manufactures infant ­formula and energy bars.

The British Nutrition Foundation, founded in 1967 to ‘deliver authoritative, evidence-based information on food and nutrition in the context of health and lifestyle’, has among its ‘sustaining members’ British Sugar plc, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, J Sainsbury PLC and Kraft Foods.

‘When the food and drink industry is so actively embracing public health advice, isn’t it time to wonder how healthy that advice can be?’ says Harcombe.


2 November, 2010

Cutting salt from your diet 'would prevent one fifth of heart disease deaths'

This utter crap was not based on any research with people at all. It was just a modelling study (called: "Cost-effectiveness of interventions to reduce dietary salt intake") -- and what you get out of a model depends on the assumptions you feed into it. Garbage in, garbage out

Heart disease could be cut by almost a fifth if food companies were banned from adding too much salt to their products, research has found. Banning manufacturers from adding salt to ready meals, cereals, crisps and sandwiches would save tens of thousands of lives a year by lowering the number of heart attacks and strokes.

A major study has found such laws would be 20 times more effective in improving health than offering dietary advice.

Heart attacks and strokes are by far the biggest killers in Britain, claiming 230,000 lives every year. But experts say up to a fifth of these deaths could be prevented by eating less salt, which increases blood pressure and the risk of heart disease. Guidelines recommend that people eat no more than 6 grams of salt a day, although average daily consumption in the UK is 9g.

Many foods, including ready meals, pizzas and sandwiches, contain well over half the recommended daily amount in a single portion. Researchers in Australia found that forcing companies to limit the amount of salt in their products would cut deaths from heart disease by 18 per cent. Such restrictions might include banning ready meals from having more than 3g of salt and crisps and sandwiches more than 0.6g.

The study, published in the journal Heart, concluded that it was not enough to advise people on healthy eating and hope they choose to cut down on salt. Lead researcher Linda Cobiac, from the University of Queensland, said: `Food manufacturers have a responsibility to make money for their shareholders, but they also have a responsibility to society. `If corporate responsibility fails, maybe there is an ethical justification for government to step in and legislate.'

The Coalition does not have any plans to force manufacturers to limit either salt or fat content and insists firms are working hard to make their products healthier.

Earlier this year, the health watchdog NICE demanded a change in the law and called for companies to be paid to reduce salt or fat.

Katharine Jenner, of the Consensus Action on Salt and Health pressure group, said: `CASH and the Food Standards Agency have pioneered an approach whereby all manufacturers across all food sectors gradually reduce the amount of salt they put in their food, so consumers do not have to consciously choose low-salt products.'

Victoria Taylor, of the British Heart Foundation, said: `Voluntary regulations placed on food companies have already achieved good results. `We're making progress without the need for compulsory limits.'


Alcohol is more harmful than crack or heroin

Libertarians have been saying this for ages but the "modelling" below is a bit of a joke. One just has to look at the frequency of alcohol-involved traffic accidents

Alcohol causes more harm than heroin or crack cocaine, according to a new study by Professor David Nutt, the government's former chief drug adviser. In an article published in the Lancet, the drug expert presents a new way of measuring drug damage that assesses both harm to the individual and harm to the rest of society.

His analysis shows that when both factors are combined, alcohol is the most damaging drug, followed by heroin and crack.

The paper is written by Professor Nutt, of Imperial College London, and the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, Dr Leslie King, UK Expert Adviser to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, and Dr Lawrence Phillips, London School of Economics and Political Science.

The new assessment used nine categories of harm to the self and seven to society as a whole. The "harm to self" categories cover mortality, poor health, impaired mental functioning, loss of friendships and injury. The "harm to others" categories include crime, environmental damage, family conflict and decline in community cohesion.

Heroin, crack, and crystal meth were the most harmful drugs to the individual, whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack were the most harmful to others. The modelling showed that as well as being the most harmful drug overall, alcohol is almost three times as harmful as cocaine or tobacco.

It also showed that alcohol is more than five-times more harmful than mephedrone, which was recently a so-called legal high in the UK before it was made a class B controlled drug in April 2010.

Ecstasy, which has had much harm-related media attention over the past two decades, is only one eighth as harmful as alcohol in this new analysis.

They conclude: “Our findings lend support to previous work in the UK and the Netherlands, confirming that the present drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm. They also accord with the conclusions of previous expert reports that aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy.”

Prof Nutt was chairman of the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs until he was dismissed last year after saying ecstasy was less harmful than alcohol.


1 November, 2010

Speculative study of almond skins

This appears to be an experiment in laboratory glassware, a long way from a double blind trial

A new study has revealed that naturally occurring chemicals found in the skin of the nut boost the immune system's response to such infections. Researchers found almond skins improved the ability of the white blood cells to detect viruses while also increasing the body's ability to prevent viruses from replicating and so spreading inside the body.

They discovered that even after the almonds had been digested in the gut, there was still an increase in the immune system's defence against viruses.

The scientists, who are based at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich and the Policlinico Universitario in Messina, Italy, said their findings suggest that the nuts can increase the immune system's ability to fight off a wide range of viruses, including those that cause flu and the common cold.

They said although they have still to carry out research on how many almonds must be eaten to obtain a beneficial effect, it was likely that eating almonds regularly could help protect people from becoming infected with viruses in the first place, while it could also help those already infected to fight off their illness.

Dr Giuseppina Mandalari, from the Institute of Food Research, said: "Almond skins are able to stimulate the immune response and thus contribute to an antiviral immune defence."

The researchers, whose work is published in the scientific journal Immunology Letters and was funded by the Almond Board of California, found that even after digestion in a laboratory simulation of a human gut, the almonds skins were still able to increase the immune response.

They tested the immune response to infection by the Herpes Simplex Virus 2, which can cause cold sores and is a notoriously difficult virus to treat due to its ability to evade the immune system by dampening down the body's inflammatory response.

They found that almond skin extracts were effective against even this virus. But they found that almond skins that had been removed through blanching in boiling water, which is common process to remove skins from almonds, had little effect on the immune system.

The researchers say they are still to identify exactly what it is in almond skins that cause the antiviral activity, but they believe it could be due to compounds known as polyphenols.

It is thought they increase the sensitivity of white blood cells known as helper T cells, which are involved in fighting off viruses. They said it was likely that other nuts may also have this sort of activity.

Dr Martin Wickham, who was also involved in the study at the Institute of Food Research, said: "It is an area of huge interest to find natural alternatives that will have an antiviral activity. "Nutritional guidelines recommend eating around three ounces a day to benefit from the fibre and other nutritional components in almonds, but we have still to do the work to see whether this would be enough to have an antiviral affect.

"This was just an initial study to find out if almond skins have this antiviral activity. "The herpes simplex virus is a very good model of viral infection because it is known to evade the immune system, so because the almonds had an impact on this virus, it is fair to assume that it will have an impact on other viruses."


Putting clocks back is 'bad for health'

Mayer Hillman is an elderly Greenie nut with an academic background in architecture and a contempt for democracy -- but what he says below seems broadly reasonable as far as I can see

The health and wellbeing of the nation would "vastly" improve if the clocks did not go back this weekend, a doctor has said. Remaining on British Summer Time would mean adults had on average 300 more useful hours of daylight and children had 200 more hours, a doctor has said in the British Medical Journal.

This would allow for more exercise and outdoor activities which boost both physical health and mental wellbeing.

Dr Mayer Hillman, senior fellow emeritus at the Policy Studies Institute, in London, said an extra hour of light in the evening would benefit children – a number of whom are not allowed to leave their homes after dark – because they will be able to engage in outdoor activities for longer.

In addition, elderly people who do not go out in the dark for fear of assault and poorer vision and hearing would have more time to take part in leisure and social activities.

Dr Hillman said research showed people felt happier, more energetic and had lower sickness rates in the longer and brighter days of summer compared to the shorter days of winter. He said: "Adopting this proposal for a clock change is an effective, practical, and remarkably easily managed way to better align our waking hours with the available daylight during the year.

"It must be rare to find a means of vastly improving the health and wellbeing of nearly everyone in the population – here we have it – and it only requires a majority of MPs walking through the 'ayes' lobby in the House of Commons."

According to Hillman, there is strong public support for the clock change – about 4 to 1 people in England and Wales would like to see the change while those in Scotland are evenly divided.

Campaign group Lighter Later argue that changing the clocks to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) +1 in winter and GMT +2 in summer would have a wide-reaching impact.

Up to 80,000 new jobs could be created in the tourist industry, as longer evenings would extend the tourist season and allow attractions to stay open for longer, said campaigners.

In Britain, up to 100 road deaths could be prevented annually while 447,000 tonnes of CO2 pollution could be cut because people would be switching their lights on later, said campaigners.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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