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

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

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

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

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

What fast food does to girls


30 November, 2011

A probiotic drink that reduces irritable bowel symptoms

Note that this occurred among severe IBS sufferers so is no warrant for general use

For the first time in three years, Lynette McMeekin is looking forward to her staff Christmas party.

Previously, the nurse from Newcastle has declined the invitation — bloating and pain caused by her irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) made the idea of socialising unthinkable. ‘It left me feeling so bloated and exhausted that all I could manage was to go to work, do the odd bit of shopping and come home,’ says Lynette, 53, who has an adult son. ‘And I was so bloated that when I was at work I often felt embarrassed even walking across the ward.’

Around one in five people in Britain are affected by IBS, thought to be caused by a sensitive gut.

But Lynette’s symptoms were eased by a new drink containing ‘friendly’ bacteria, suggested to her by a colleague. ‘My attitude was “Not another probiotic!”, but I decided to give it a go,’ says Lynette. After a few months the bloating and discomfort have gone.

The drink she tried has just been the subject of a large British trial — one of the first to show convincingly that probiotics can make a difference to health.

In the study at King’s College London, 186 patients with IBS whose symptoms had not responded to conventional treatments were given the new probiotic in the form of a drink, at a dose of 1ml of drink per kilo of bodyweight. Two-thirds were given the drink every morning before breakfast for three months, while the remainder were given a placebo.

The severity of the symptoms of IBS is normally plotted on a scale up to 500. ‘Before taking part, the average scores for our patients was about 300,’ says gastro-enterologist Professor Ingvar Bjarnason, who led the study at King’s. ‘At the end of the study, those taking the placebo went down to 270. 'However, the average score for those taking the active drink dropped far more, to 220. ‘When you consider that with a score of 150 a patient would have no symptoms, it shows you how significant a reduction this was.

‘It did not work for everyone, but around 60 per cent of those on the active product showed an improvement.’

Professor Bjarnason says he believes the key to the success of his trial lies with the fact that the drink contains four strains of probiotic (many contain only one) and the bacteria used in the drink (called Symprove) were live. Many products consist of freeze-dried bacteria, which means that they are inactive until they mix with fluids in the digestive system, and a proportion will not survive the process.

‘I was really surprised by the results because I went into this trial thinking probiotics are a lot of nonsense,’ says Professor Bjarnason. ‘That is what a lot of doctors think, because there have never been robust trials conducted on them.

‘Probiotics are classed as a food, so trials of them don’t need to be as rigorous as they would be if they were classed as drugs — but we did carry out this one rigorously.’

He says that some patients experienced a relapse of symptoms once they stopped taking the drink. ‘My suspicion is that this treatment would need to be given for three months at a time twice a year, but we don’t know for sure yet,’ he says.

The average person’s gut is home to around 1,000 different types of bacteria. ‘There is a lot of evidence that people with IBS have insufficient quantities of beneficial bacteria in their gut,’ says Peter Whorwell, a professor of medicine and gastroenterology at the University of Manchester.

However, how probiotics might help with IBS is unclear. ‘Previous studies on probiotics have not involved so many people,’ says Professor Whorwell.

‘We generally say that if a treatment can produce a 50-point reduction in the severity of symptom score, then it is worth doing — so having a reduction of 80 points is significant. ‘However, it is impossible to be sure of the full significance of this study until all the study data is published next year.’


Four or more babies cuts risk of mother suffering cardiac disease

Good to see caution below about the exact cause of the correlation. My guess would be that fertility is increased by prior general good health

Having a big family is good for a mother's heart, say scientists. They found women who experience four or more pregnancies are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who never have a baby.

The study of nearly 1,300 post-menopausal women from south California found the key effect was prevention of stroke. Mothers of large families were half as likely to die from the condition.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, said higher levels of pregnancy hormones may have lasting benefits on the blood vessels. They added that women with more children may benefit from greater social support as a result when they get older.

Lead author Marni Jacobs, wrote in the journal Fertility and Sterility said: 'Women in this study had less CVD mortality risk if they had more than four pregnancies.

'The mechanism by which this decreased risk occurs is unknown, however, it may reflect higher fertility in healthier women, the effect of prolonged exposure to higher levels of circulating oestrogen... or the added social support from a larger family.'

The study followed the women between 1984 and 1987 and they were followed up again in 2007.

Professor Donald Peebles, spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said it could be that some of the childless women were infertile, which itself could raise the risk of heart disease. 'We know that women who want to get pregnant and cannot are at greater risk of cardiovascular disease because of conditions such as polycystic ovaries,' he told the Daily Telegraph.

It is known that heart disease kills as many men as it does women but the different ways they are affected are not fully understood.


29 November, 2011

Boost your baby's brain power: Scientists say wait two years before having your second child

This is carefully-done work but lacks psychometric sophistication. The authors are economists. The full paper is here. The measure of IQ (the Peabody Individual Achievement Test ) that they used is reasonable but note the following detail: "Nearly 80 percent of the children in our sample took the PIAT for the first time between ages 5 and 7". That is far too young for a stable estimate of ability. The small differences observed in the study could easily wash out as the child grows up.

In fact that is known to happen. The older people are when tested, the greater the influence of their genetic makeup will be. Identical twins reared apart are more similar in adulthood than they are in childhood. In other words, a kid born with a good genetic inheritance but a poor early environment will tend to "catch up" in adulthood

I would therefore hypothesize that if Prof. Buckles retested the "children" concerned now that they are grown up, she would find that any differences would be negligible

Forget expensive educational DVDs and private tutors, the secret to smart children could be as simple as giving birth to them two years apart. Researchers who studied thousands of children found a two-year gap to be optimum in boosting brain power.

Any shorter, and the reading and maths skills of the older child dipped. The effect was strongest between the first and second-born, but siblings in bigger families also benefited.

The theory comes from Kasey Buckles, an economist whose own children are, rather fortunately, just over two years apart in age.

She said it is likely that the difference in academic achievement is linked to the time and resources parents can invest in a child before a younger sibling arrives. However, waiting more than two years did not increase the advantage, the Journal of Human Resources will report.

Siblings with a two-year spacing include Albert Einstein and sister Maja, and Lord Attenborough and younger brother David.

Kasey Buckles, who lead the study told the Sunday Times: 'We believe this is the first time anyone has established a casual benefit to increase the spacing between siblings.'

The study also showed that gaps between children in larger families was also beneficial.

Buckles told the newspaper: 'The two year gap is significant because the early years are the most important in a child's development so dividing your time when the child is one is more harmful than dividing it when the child is already at school.'

The effect was more pronounced in families with lower incomes, as those with more money could spend to compromise for lack of time.


Push to recognise 'pathological internet misuse' as a mental health disorder

This problem seems to be most pronounced in China, where there are "boot camps" to which children are sent to cure their "addiction". But because of the one-child policy, Chinese children are greatly indulged. So what we are seeing is no deficit in the child but a deficit in childrearing. Children who are not given limits from the beginning will tend to behave in self-indulgent ways

DISTRESSED families are flooding psychiatrists with pleas for help for children hooked on the internet. The condition known as "pathological internet misuse" is growing so rapidly among adolescents and young adults that it could soon be formally recognised as a mental health disorder.

International mental health experts are considering including "video game addiction and internet addiction" in the next edition of globally recognised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders "to encourage further study".

One Sydney mother said her 13-year-old son was so addicted to computer games he had attended school only intermittently over the past two years and violently resisted attempts to remove him from the screen. "He starts punching holes through the walls, throwing things around and threatening you ... all this has to do with the most addictive game, World of Warcraft," she said. [And the fact that he has been atrociously brought up -- "spoilt", to use a common term]

Parents have told of children as young as 10 being found asleep at their home computer when they are due to leave for school because they have been up much of the night playing video games such as Minecraft.

Australian mental health specialists believe formal recognition of internet addiction will put pressure on governments to make more treatment options available.

Sydney psychiatrist Philip Tam believes internet addiction should be classified as a disorder. Dr Tam, a leader in the field, said a website would be launched this week to help carers, families and counsellors "address the growing and complex problem of internet addiction".

The Network for Internet Investigation and Research in Australia will be run by specialists with a "common passion in assessing, treating, researching and educating the public and professionals" about internet addictions. " ... such conditions are complex in nature and often overlap with common mental health disorders," he said.

Jocelyn Brewer, a member of Philip Tam's expert group, said girls also could "become obsessed with Facebook". "There's a massive divide (between teachers and parents) in expertise about kids' use of technology," she said.


28 November, 2011

Chinese medicine could double the chances of childless couples conceiving (?)

It is perfectly reasonable to believe that in the course of a very old civilization, herbal discoveries may have been made and passed on which have a genuine therapeutic benefit. After all, to this day a large part of the pharmacopeia is of herbal origin. And there are many places where Chinese herbalists enjoy considerable acceptance. Where I grew up, if you were sick, you went to the doctor. But if you were REALLY sick you went to the Chinese herbalist.

And I myself seem to have had some benefit from it. When I got glandular fever many years ago and the doctors told me that there was nothing they could do for it, my course of action was clear. I promptly went to a Chinese herbalist, took his preparations and was better within a week!

Anecdotes prove nothing of course but I mention that one to show that I was disposed to accept the findings below. I am afraid, however that I have to offer the old Scottish verdict of "Not Proven".

Meta-analyses are very hard to critique unless you either know the relevant literature very well or re-do the whole meta-analysis yourself. And if you do know well the literature that is analysed you can get a considerable shock at how badly such an analysis can be done -- even analyses reported in the most prestigious journals. I comment on one such analysis in my own research field here. The problem is particularly bad where there is a barrow to be pushed and "complementary" medicine is of course a very large barrow indeed.

My suspicions are aroused by the very large discrepancy reported between the effects of Chinese and Western medicine. It is a characteristic of quackery to claim exaggerated benefits and it seems to me that the endless search for new molecules carried out by drug companies would long ago have gone through anything as effective as that with a fine-toothed comb.

So in the end it gets back to what was meta-analysed. It seems to me that the people most likely to have done the sort of study described below would be enthusiasts for alternative therapies and we all know how large the effect of experimenter expectations can be. Just one good double-blind study from someone skeptical of Chinese medicine would be more persuasive.

I include the journal Abstract below

Couples with fertility problems are twice as likely to get pregnant using traditional Chinese medicine as western drugs, say researchers. They found a two-fold improvement in pregnancy rates over just four months of treatment from practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.

At least six million Britons have consulted a Western or traditional Chinese herbal practitioner in the last two years, according to Ipsos Mori research. Previous research suggests acupuncture may help some childless couples to conceive.

The latest study from researchers at Adelaide University, Australia, reviewed eight clinical trials, 13 other studies and case reports comparing the efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) with western drugs or IVF treatment.

The review funded by the Australian government included 1,851 women with infertility problems, says a report in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Review of the clinical trials alone found a 3.5 rise in pregnancies over a four-month period among women using TCM compared with western medicine.

Other data covering 616 women within the review showed 50 per cent of women having TCM got pregnant compared with 30 per cent of those receiving IVF treatment.

The overall analysis concluded there was a two-fold increase in the likelihood of getting pregnant in a four-month period for women using TCM compared with orthodox approaches.

The study’s authors said ‘Our meta-analysis suggests traditional Chinese herbal medicine to be more effective in the treatment of female infertility - achieving on average a 60 per cent pregnancy rate over four months compared with 30 per cent achieved with standard western drug treatment.’

The study said the difference appeared to be due to the careful analysis of the menstrual cycle – the period when it is possible for a woman to conceive – by TCM practitioners.

It said ‘Assessment of the quality of the menstrual cycle integral to TCM diagnosis appears to be fundamental to the successful treatment of female infertility.’

Dr Karin Ried (correct) of the university’s school of population health and clinical practice, who led the study, said infertility affects one in six couples and even after investigations 20 per cent of infertility remains ‘unexplained’.

She said TCM recognises many more ‘menstrual disturbances’ than conventional medicine, is far less expensive than IVF treatment and less stressful.

Efficacy of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine in the management of female infertility: A systematic review

By Karin Ried & Keren Stuart

To assess the effect of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) in the management of female infertility and on pregnancy rates compared with Western Medical (WM) treatment.

We searched the Medline and Cochrane databases and Google Scholar until February 2010 for abstracts in English of studies investigating infertility, menstrual health and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). We undertook meta-analyses of (non-)randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or cohort studies, and compared clinical pregnancy rates achieved with CHM versus WM drug treatment or in vitro fertilisation (IVF). In addition, we collated common TCM pattern diagnosis in infertility in relation to the quality of the menstrual cycle and associated symptoms.

Eight RCTs, 13 cohort studies, 3 case series and 6 case studies involving 1851 women with infertility were included in the systematic review. Meta-analysis of RCTs suggested a 3.5 greater likelihood of achieving a pregnancy with CHM therapy over a 4-month period compared with WM drug therapy alone (odds ratio = 3.5, 95% CI: 2.3, 5.2, p < 0.0001, n = 1005). Mean (SD) pregnancy rates were 60 ± 12.5% for CHM compared with 32 ± 10% using WM drug therapy. Meta-analysis of selected cohort studies (n = 616 women) suggested a mean clinical pregnancy rate of 50% using CHM compared with IVF (30%) (p < 0.0001).

Our review suggests that management of female infertility with Chinese Herbal Medicine can improve pregnancy rates 2-fold within a 4 month period compared with Western Medical fertility drug therapy or IVF. Assessment of the quality of the menstrual cycle, integral to TCM diagnosis, appears to be fundamental to successful treatment of female infertility.


Daily aspirin is 'not worth the risk' for healthy middle-aged women

Aspirin is a bad bargain for healthy women trying to stave off heart attacks or strokes, according to Dutch researchers.

They said 50 women would need to take the medication for 10 years for just one to be helped - assuming they are all at high risk to begin with.

'There are very few women who actually benefit,' said Dr Jannick Dorresteijn of University Medical Center Utrecht in The Netherlands. 'If you don’t want to treat 49 patients for nothing to benefit one, you shouldn’t treat anyone with aspirin.'

The new study adds to a long-standing controversy over aspirin, one of the world’s most widely used drugs. Common side-effects include irritation of the stomach or bowel, heart burn and nausea.

Doctors agree it’s worth taking for people who’ve already had a heart attack or a stroke, but they are less certain when it comes to so-called primary prevention.

'We all appreciate that the average treatment effect is very small, but that some patients may benefit more than others,' Dr Dorresteijn said.

Today, leading medical groups like the American Heart Association recommend aspirin for people at increased risk for heart problems.

But the Dutch findings, published in the European Heart Journal, suggest many women would still be taking the drug needlessly.

The team analysed data from nearly 28,000 healthy women aged 45 and above who had received either aspirin or dummy pills in an earlier U.S. trial. The women on aspirin generally took a low dose of 100mg every other day.

Overall, aspirin cut the rate of heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease from 2.4 per cent to 2.2 per cent.

'Nine out of 10 women experience less than a one-percent risk reduction for cardiovascular disease in the next ten years, so that is a really small treatment effect,' Dr Dorresteijn said.

He added that aspirin comes with side effects, too. For instance, it can cause bleeding ulcers and make people more likely to bruise due to its blood-thinning effects.

And although it’s cheap - at only a few pounds per month of treatment - putting lots of healthy people on the drug would be a big expenditure.

After subtracting the serious side effects from the health gains, the Dutch team found doctors would have to be willing to treat a lot of women to get a net advantage.

'Women older than 65 years of age benefit more than average, but still for those women the benefit was so small that you would need to treat 49 for nothing to prevent one event,' said Dr Dorresteijn. “of course it’s disappointing, because you would like a medication to be effective.'

Earlier this year, two large reviews of previous aspirin trials yielded similarly sobering results. One found a tiny reduction in heart attacks with aspirin and no effect on death rates or strokes. The other showed as many as 1,111 men and women would need to take aspirin daily for the duration of the trials to prevent just one death.

In the UK low-dose aspirin (75mg) is often prescribed after a heart attack, stroke, or coronary bypass operation. It may also be given to patients with high blood pressure and long-term diabetes sufferers.

Dr Michael LeFevre of the U.S Preventive Services Task Force said the latest findings muddied the potential benefit on stroke by including heart attacks in the analysis.

'The central message of this study is really that there are an awful lot of women who are taking aspirin for prevention who should not be taking aspirin,' he said.

Dr. Franz Messerli, who heads the high blood pressure program at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, said there are much better ways to curb stroke risk than taking aspirin. 'First and foremost make sure your blood pressure is perfectly well-controlled… because blood pressure is by far the most important risk factor for stroke.'

That can be achieved by changing diet and exercise habits, or by blood pressure medications like diuretics, beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers.


27 November, 2011

Men should eat plenty of fruit but cut down on red meat to boost fertility, finds sperm study

A possible class effect here too. Working class people are less obedient to diet pronouncements and are also in poorer health generally anyway. So people with "incorrect" diets have lower sperm motility not because of their diet but because they are working class.

Note also that this is a study of severely infertile men (requiring ICSI) so the generalizability to normals is unknown.

For what it is worth, I participated in 10 IVF treatment cycles in my 40s at a time when I was a heavy drinker. And my sperm fertilized all the eggs every time. And that was unassisted fertilization, not the ICSI described below

Cutting down on red meat, coffee and alcohol can boost a man's fertility scientists say. A study has discovered that a poor diet and obesity can lower sperm concentration and affect their ability to swim towards an egg. Specialists are now encouraging a diet high in fruit and grains to increase the chances of successful IVF treatment.

In the past female fertility problems have been linked to obesity as well as smoking and drinking, but it hasn't been clear before now if the same applies to men.

But the latest study of men with partners who were undergoing a type of fertility treatment, has revealed that those who regularly drank alcohol and ate poorly were slowed down on the fertility front.

Lead researcher Edson Borges, from the Fertility-Assisted Fertilization Center in Sao Paolo said: 'The sperm concentration was negatively influenced by body mass index (BMI) and alcohol consumption, and was positively influenced by cereal consumption and the number of meals per day.'

The Brazilian study involved 250 men with partners who were undergoing a type of fertility treatment called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

Each participant was asked how often they ate a range of foods, including fruits and vegetables, beans, grains, meat and fish, as well as how much they drank and smoked.

Semen samples were then analysed to assess sperm health and concentration and each couple were monitored during the IVF process.

Eggs were successfully fertilised in about three-quarters of the treatments, and just under forty per cent of women got pregnant during the study.

From the speed of their sperm to their partner's chance of pregnancy, men who drank and had a poor diet were less fertile.

Lynn Westphal, a women's health and fertility specialist at Stanford University hopes that the results, published in the Fertility and Sterility journal, will encourage men to make healthier lifestyle choices.

'We talk about having a healthy lifestyle and trying to eliminate any of these things that are bad for health, but I think most of the emphasis tends to be on making sure the woman is as healthy as possible. 'I think this is really interesting data that lifestyle factors for men, even when you're doing ICSI, are significant.

'This is probably more of a difference than most people would have thought.'


Shoppers ignore health warnings on food and buy whatever they want, study finds

How frustrating to the health Fascists!

Most shoppers ignore nutritional labels labels on food packets and simply buy what they like, a new study claims. The findings are a blow to the UK government, which has pressurised food manufacturers to display calorie, fat and salt content prominently on packaging so that consumers can make healthier choices.

Schemes include the voluntary 'traffic light system,' which rates how healthy food is by using red, orange or green labels.

Researchers from the Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life (FLABEL) investigated 37,000 products in five potentially unhealthy types of food, including biscuits, chilled ready meals and fizzy drinks.

They found Britain had the highest proportion of nutritional information on packaging, with more than 95 per cent including it on the back of packs, and 82 per cent on the front.

However, the research also found that most shoppers understand perfectly well how healthy various foods are with only the bare minimum of nutritional information.

In a further blow to the costly schemes, the authors discovered that people who said they understood or liked the various labelling schemes were happy to ignore them and buy the food they liked best, regardless of how unhealthy it was.

FLABEL advisor Professor Klaus Grunert, from Aarhus University in Denmark called on food companies to put clear information on the front of packs for maximum impact. However, he conceded that even this wouldn't make shoppers to dump the junk, saying: 'Motivation was a major factor affecting the impact of nutrition labels on the choices made by consumers.

'When prompted, consumers were able to identify which products were healthier, but they did not use this information to choose which product they prefer. 'A lack of consumer motivation, therefore, is one factor standing in the way of healthy food choices resulting from nutrition labelling.'


26 November, 2011

Well-done steaks 'double prostate cancer risk': Even small amounts of over-cooked meat can be dangerous (?)

Amazing: An agent of the alarmist WCRF actually says something sensible below -- in the first sentence of the penultimate paragraph. She loses it after that, though.

Retrospective self-report is about the weakest data there is but if there is anything in the findings at all, I suspect a social class artifact. Certainly in Australia the people most likely to require their meat to be well-done are the elderly and the working class. The more pretentious you are the rarer you will want your meat.

I remember once going to a very fashionable restaurant in Sydney called Pegrum's and ordering fillet steak done medium. It came out rare and there was much sniffiness when I sent it back to be done medium. I never went there again and they were probably glad of it.

So we are are probably just seeing below the usual poorer health of working class people

An appetite for well-done steaks and burgers could raise the odds of prostate cancer, experts warn. Scrutiny of the eating habits of almost 1,000 men linked over-cooked red meat to the deadliest form of the disease.

Well and very-well done burgers were among the most dangerous meats – doubling the odds of aggressive prostate cancer, even when eaten in small amounts.

Prostate is the most common cancer among British men and the finding suggests that simple changes to diet and cooking routines could help keep it at bay.

The University of California research team recruited 470 men diagnosed with fast-growing and hard-to-treat prostate cancer and a similar number of healthy men and asked them about what they had eaten in the previous year.

They were also asked about their consumption of grilled and barbecued meats, and burgers, liver and some processed meats were linked to higher odds of aggressive prostate cancer.

Further analysis pointed to overcooking at high temperatures as being at the root of the problem. Men who ate grilled or barbecued burgers that were well or very-well done had around twice the odds of aggressive prostate cancer than those who never ate meat or ate it rare or medium-done. The figures for beef, such as steak, were similar.

Previous studies linking red meat to prostate cancer have produced mixed results – but this may be because they did not separate out the most deadly form of the disease and did not focus on overcooking and cooking at high temperatures.

The Department of Health’s scientific advisors said earlier this year that red and processed meat ‘probably’ increases the odds of bowel cancer. They advised eating no more than 70g a day. Over a week, this amounts to three sausages, one small steak, one quarter-pounder and three slices of lamb.

However, a British Nutrition Foundation study claimed that the majority of adults ate ‘healthy amounts’ of red meat and there was an ‘inconclusive’ link to cancer

Dr Rachel Thompson, of the World Cancer Research Fund, said the results could have been skewed by the men mis-remembering what they had eaten, particularly if those with prostate cancer were keen to find something to blame. She added: ‘But looking at cancer overall, there is already a good reason to watch the amount of red and processed meat in your diet.

‘There is very strong evidence that both red and processed meats increase risk of bowel cancer, which is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK, and this is why we recommend that people limit consumption of red meat to 500g per week, cooked weight, and that they avoid eating processed meat.’


Asthmatics given new hope with new air cleaning machine

The average improvement over placebo does not seem to be great but the machine may benefit some more than others

A purification device that cleans the air while asthma sufferers sleep dramatically reduces their symptons during the day, a study has concluded. Researchers reported the drug-free bedside air filter signficantly reduced patients' symptons such as wheezing and tight chests.

The temperature controlled laminar airflow treatment, called Protexo, filters out airborne triggers such as dust particles and mites, pet hairs and powders that cause irritiation and inflamation of the lungs.

Asthma specialists said the low-cost device led to such an improvement in patients' quality of life, that it should be made be available on the NHS. They say the machine achieved results equivalent to those made by expensive drugs and would lead to less time in hospital meaning its £4000 cost would pay for itself. It is also quiet and easy to use.

"This device makes a significant difference to people's lives, with an effect as big as very expensive treatments, and it helps prevent the triggers of the disease," said Prof John Warner, a consultant paediatrician at St Mary's Hospital and professor of paediatrics at Imperial College London, who led the study.

"Our findings support the importance of focusing exposure control interventions on the breathing zone, and highlight the role of nocturnal exposures in precipitating airway inflammation and symptoms in patients with atopic asthma."

The European study of patients, aged seven to 70, found those who used the device recorded 15 per cent better quality of life scores after a year than those given a dummy machine.

Protexo protects the breathing area of people with asthma from allergenic agents with the help of a flow of slightly cooled air around them at night.

Asthma, usually caused by an allergy to airborne dust, pollen or pollution, affects more than 5.1 million Britons and experts warn the number of sufferers is on the rise.

The main medication currently involves taking two types of inhaled drugs, which either help to reduce the frequency of attacks or instantly open up constricted airways, helping breathing.

The researchers, whose findings are published online in the journal Thorax, said Protexo worked by displacing warmer air containing irritants and allergens such as house dust mite and pet hairs with the slightly colder air.

The aim is to stave off the abnormal immune response that triggers an allergic reaction including the airway narrowing typical of an asthma attack by preventing the sleeper breathing in the irritants and allergens. All of the 281 participants in the study from six countries were non-smokers and had poorly controlled allergic (atopic) asthma. A total of 189 patients slept with the Protexo just above their bed for 12 months with 92 others having a placebo.

A validated score was used to assess quality of life before and after the study period along with assessments of symptom control, lung capacity, airway inflammation and biological indicators of a systemic allergic response.

A steeper fall in nitric oxide - an indicator of inflammation - was seen among those using Protexo and this was particularly noticeable among those with more severe asthma.

Those using the device also had significantly smaller increases in another indicator of persistent and more severe inflammation - a chemical known as IgE (immunoglobulin E).

Annabelle Abrahams, 14, from Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, who has had asthma since she was four, took part in the trial. "I slept badly because I couldn't breathe, doing PE or running around with my friends was difficult and I had asthma attacks if I laughed too much," she said. "My schoolwork suffered because I was tired and off sick a lot."

With the help of the machine, Annabelle now sleeps through the night without coughing. "I've seen a dramatic change and real improvement in my asthma," she said. "I sleep better, have fewer chest infections and enjoy PE and sport."

The impact was greatest among those whose asthma required the most medication yet whose symptoms were the most poorly controlled - a group who "represent a significant area of unmet need," said Prof Warner.

Prof Warner said there were fewer hospital admissions among the group using Protexo. "The reason nocturnal TLA is successful where so many other approaches have failed may be the profound reduction in inhaled aeroallergen exposure, which this treatment achieves," he said.

Despite advances in the treatment of asthma, the condition is still very distressing for a significant proportion of patients.

Previous attempts to filter or purify airflow have not met with a great deal of success.

Prof Warned pointed to other research suggesting night time allergen exposure has the greatest impact on symptom severity, possibly because of changes in circulating hormone levels and immune responsiveness prompted by the body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm.

The machine, which uses the same energy as a lightbulb but is not yet available for private purchase, costs around £2,000 for six months' use.


25 November, 2011

Are high-achieving parents who met at work behind rise in autistic children?

I think Prof Cohen is on the right track here. For me the key to autism is the mundane fact that autistic people tend to take large hat sizes! That supports the theory that an overdeveloped cortex is the problem. And the cortex is the seat of intelligence so when you get two highly intelligent people together an overdeveloped cortex is an obvious possibility. I married a smart working-class girl so my son is both very bright and very social

Engineers, scientists and computer programmers who meet their partners at work may be fuelling an increase in cases of autism.

Researchers at Cambridge University are working on the first ‘clear test’ of whether the occupation and university choices of high-achieving parents affect the chances of their child developing the condition.

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the university’s Autism Research Centre, said there are currently several clues that parents who work in the fields of maths, science and engineering might have a higher risk of having an autistic child.

His team is recruiting parents who are graduates to take part in a survey about their children’s development to test the theory.

Autism, which affects one in every 100 people, inhibits the ability to communicate, recognise emotions and socialise, and can take a mild or severe form.

Experts are becoming increasingly concerned that the trend in recent years for couples to meet at work – as women increasingly take highly-qualified jobs in technical fields once dominated by men – may be behind the tripling in the number of cases since the 1960s.

In California’s Silicon Valley, where there are high rates of partnership between engineers, physicists and mathematicians working in software companies, cases of autism have rocketed.

Previous studies have suggested that the condition is more prevalent among people who are ‘systemisers’ – those who do jobs relating to systems and how they work, such as computer programmes or machines.

One study in 2001 showed mathematicians have higher rates of autism than those in other jobs, and another in 1997 showed that children and grandchildren of engineers were more likely to be on the autistic spectrum.

Both mothers and fathers of children with autism have been shown to display excellent attention to detail in tests.

People who ‘systemise’ are often obsessed with making sense of complex topics, and can achieve great things, but have difficulty empathising with people.

They can also apply their minds to other careers including music and art. Professor Baron-Cohen has said that being a systemiser may be a symptom of an ‘extreme male brain’ due to high levels of testosterone.

His new study will examine whether two ‘strong systemisers’ have a higher chance of producing autistic children by asking parents to answer questions about their degrees and occupations.

Professor Baron-Cohen said: ‘A clear test of the hypothesis will enable us to test if couples who are both strong systemisers, for example those who studied and worked in STEM subjects [science, technology, engineering and maths] and other fields related to systemising, are more likely to have a child with an autism spectrum diagnosis than couples where only one is a strong systemiser, or where neither is.’

Anyone who is a graduate and a parent of a child older than 18 months can take part, even if their partner is not a graduate.

There is no specific known cause for autism. It has genetic factors, but also environmental ones including increased prevalence in premature babies.


A few extra tablets can cause cumulative paracetamol overdose

There is a strange fashion for treating paracetamol (acetaminophen; Tylenol) as "safe". It has long been evident that it is anything but. So it is good to see caution being advised. A popular syrup for sick children in England -- Calpol -- contains it so parents should be particularly careful with it

Taking just a few extra paracetamol tablets a day over time could lead to a dangerous overdose and even death, a new study suggests.

Paracetamol overdoses are the leading cause of acute liver failure in Britain, usually occurring when patients take a vast number of tablets all at once.

But doctors are concerned that patients who take just slightly too many pills on a regular basis could be at even greater risk because their problem is harder to spot.

People who arrive at hospital having taken a single overdose can often be saved because blood tests reveal instantly how much of the drug is in their system, enabling doctors to act fast to save their liver.

But those who innocently exceed the recommended daily dose of eight 500mg tablets on a regular basis to cope with chronic pain may simply report to hospital feeling unwell, and not mention how many pills they have been taking.

Despite having similar levels of liver damage, blood tests might only show small amounts of paracetamol in their system meaning doctors may not spot the life-threatening problem, experts said.

Research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology showed that although ingesting less of the drug overall, people taking "staggered overdoses" were about a third more likely to die.

They also had a greater chance of liver and brain problems, and were more likely to need kidney dialysis or assistance with breathing, especially if they had waited at least a day before going to hospital.

Dr Kenneth Simpson of Edinburgh University, who led the study, said: "They haven't taken the sort of single-moment, one-off massive overdoses taken by people who try to commit suicide, but over time the damage builds up, and the effect can be fatal.

"The problem is that some people were taking regular paracetamol and not appreciating that they should stick to 4g in a day. "They were sometimes taking two preparations, both of which contained paracetamol, such as regular paracetamol as well as headache tablets."

Researchers studied 663 patients admitted to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for severe, paracetamol-induced liver injury and found that a quarter had taken staggered overdoses – meaning two or more doses, more than eight hours apart adding up to an amount above the daily limit.

The average staggered overdose was 48 tablets – slightly lower than the average one-off overdose of 54 tablets – but the staggered doses could have been taken over a period of up to a week.

In some cases patients had taken two large doses within a 24-hour period but in others they had just two or three extra pills a day over the course of four or five days, Dr Simpson explained.

While one third of people taking staggered overdoses had been attempting suicide, about half had simply been self-medicating for conditions like joint and muscular pains or toothache, he added.

The study also showed that patients taking staggered overdoses were older, with an average age of 39, and more likely to have been abusing alcohol.

Dr Neil Kitteringham, from the University of Liverpool’s MRC Centre for Drug Safety Science, said: “Paracetamol overdose is a significant burden to the NHS. "This large study from Edinburgh shows that unintentional overdosing with paracetamol may have more serious consequences than a single overdose taken with suicidal intent."


24 November, 2011

Long-term study proves statins benefit to some

Those studied were "high risk" individuals. There is therefore no warrant from the findings that statins are of benefit to the general population. Note also the oddity that there was no mortality benefit in women in the original study and the fact that substantial funding (over one hundred million pounds) for the study came from statin drug companies. The academic journal abstract follows the popular summary below

I have looked at the whole article and can see no coverage of possible sex differences. In view of the findings in the original study, that seems extraordinary. It makes one wonder what else they have left out

STATINS safely reduce the risk of cardiovascular illness even years after treatment is stopped, according to a probe into the popular cholesterol-busters published today.

Statins work by blocking a liver enzyme that makes fatty molecules, which line arterial walls and increase the danger of heart disease and strokes.

With worldwide annual sales of more than 20 billion dollars, the drugs have been dubbed "the aspirin of the 21st century" because of their benefit and wide use.

But lingering questions persist about their long-term safety for the heart, liver and cancer risk.

Researchers at the Heart Protection Study Collaborative Group in Oxford looked at 20,536 patients at risk of cardiovascular disease who were randomly allocated 40mg daily of simvastatins or a dummy look-alike over more than five years.

During this period, those who took the statins saw a reduction in "bad" LDL cholesterol and a 23 per cent reduction in episodes of vascular ill-health, compared to the placebo group.

The monitoring of the volunteers continued for a further six years after the trial ended.

The benefits persisted throughout this monitoring period among those volunteers who stopped taking the statins, the investigators found.

In addition, there was no emergence of any health hazard among those who had taken, or were continuing to take, the drugs.

A large number of cancers (nearly 3500) developed during this follow-up period, but there was no difference in cancer incidence between the statin and placebo groups.

"The persistence of benefit we observed among participants originally allocated simvastatin during the subsequent six-year post-trial period is remarkable," said one of the investigators, Richard Bulbulia.

"In addition, the reliable evidence of safety, with no excess risk of cancer or other major illnesses during over 11 years follow-up, is very reassuring for doctors who prescribe statins and the increasingly large numbers of patients who take them long-term to reduce their risk of vascular disease."

A previous investigation in November 2010 found that long-term use of statins was less risky than thought for people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a common liver ailment.

The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 23 November 2011

Effects on 11-year mortality and morbidity of lowering LDL cholesterol with simvastatin for about 5 years in 20 536 high-risk individuals: a randomised controlled trial


Findings of large randomised trials have shown that lowering LDL cholesterol with statins reduces vascular morbidity and mortality rapidly, but limited evidence exists about the long-term efficacy and safety of statin treatment. The aim of the extended follow-up of the Heart Protection Study (HPS) is to assess long-term efficacy and safety of lowering LDL cholesterol with statins, and here we report cause-specific mortality and major morbidity in the in-trial and post-trial periods.


20 536 patients at high risk of vascular and non-vascular outcomes were allocated either 40 mg simvastatin daily or placebo, using minimised randomisation. Mean in-trial follow-up was 5·3 years (SD 1·2), and post-trial follow-up of surviving patients yielded a mean total duration of 11·0 years (SD 0·6). The primary outcome of the long-term follow-up of HPS was first post-randomisation major vascular event, and analysis was by intention to treat. This trial is registered with ISRCTN, number 48489393.


During the in-trial period, allocation to simvastatin yielded an average reduction in LDL cholesterol of 1·0 mmol/L and a proportional decrease in major vascular events of 23% (95% CI 19—28; p<0·0001), with significant divergence each year after the first. During the post-trial period (when statin use and lipid concentrations were similar in both groups), no further significant reductions were noted in either major vascular events (risk ratio [RR] 0·95 [0·89—1·02]) or vascular mortality (0·98 [0·90—1·07]). During the combined in-trial and post-trial periods, no significant differences were recorded in cancer incidence at all sites (0·98 [0·92—1·05]) or any particular site, or in mortality attributed to cancer (1·01 [0·92—1·11]) or to non-vascular causes (0·96 [0·89—1·03]).


More prolonged LDL-lowering statin treatment produces larger absolute reductions in vascular events. Moreover, even after study treatment stopped in HPS, benefits persisted for at least 5 years without any evidence of emerging hazards. These findings provide further support for the prompt initiation and long-term continuation of statin treatment.


UK Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, Merck & Co, Roche Vitamins.

Regular sex key to happiness in middle age, US study says

Does this just mean that happy couples have more sex?

OLDER married couples who have regular sex are more likely to be happier with their lives than those who do not, according to US research.

Only 40 percent of those who had no sex in the past 12 months said they were "very happy with life in general," compared to 60 percent of those who said they had sex more than once a month.

Almost 80 percent of those who had sex more than once a month also said they were very happy with their marriage, compared to 59 percent who did not, according to the research presented at the Gerontological Society of America's conference in Boston.

"This study will help open the lines of communication and spark interest in developing 'outside the box' approaches to dealing with resolvable issues that limit or prevent older adults from participating in sexual activity," according to Adrienne Jackson, from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

Jackson added, "Highlighting the relationship between sex and happiness will help us in developing and organizing specific sexual health interventions for this growing segment of our population."

Some 238 married individuals aged 65 and older took part in the study.


23 November, 2011

Underweight patients more likely to die than mildly obese patients

This is an old story now but it needs a lot of repetition before it becomes accepted: The healthiest weight is a middling weight

Underweight patients may have more possibilities of mortality within 30 days of general and vascular surgery compared with mildly obese patients, according to a research published online in Archives of Surgery Tuesday.

Researchers at the U.S. National Surgical Quality Improvement Program conducted the research for the years 2005 and 2006, and assessed the contribution of BMI (Body Mass Index) to 189,533 postsurgeries morbidity and mortality by obesity classes.

They found that compared with the middle BMI quintile group, patients with BMI value below 23.1, had greater chances for death. For the highest BMI quintile group, higher mortality rate was also observed.

However, the researchers also found that obesity may as well be associated with increased mortality for some individual types of surgeries.

"These individual types of procedures include procedures with which the general surgeon should have definite experience: colorectal resection, colostomy formation, cholecystectomy, hernia repair, mastectomy, and wound debridement," said George J. Stukenborg, PhD, of the University of Virginia inCharlottesvilleand his colleagues.

Based on a 30 –day morbidity and mortality risk calculation, the sample patients were categorized into BMI quintile ranges. BMI value of less than 23.1 was considered as lowest, values from 26.3 to 29.6 considered as the middle quintile, and above 35.2 considered as the highest.

Factors such as lack of enough data on nonfatal complications and hospital resources, or examining mortality over the 30-day baseline, may cause limitations and inaccuracy to the research and more studies on a wider range of patients in terms of BMI are needed to further confirm the current conclusion, researchers said.


Bowel cancer wonder drug searches out and kills tumours without the side effects

Mouse study only. Let's hope it works on people too

A two-in-one drug that seeks out and destroys tumours while being kind to the rest of the body has been developed by researchers. In tests, it took just minutes to home in on bowel tumours before dramatically shrinking them. In some cases, mice whose cancer was thought to be terminal were cured.

The drugs also act by ‘stealth’, sneaking into cancerous areas without causing damage to the surrounding healthy cells.

In standard cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, drugs attack anywhere in the body, meaning healthy cells as well as cancerous ones are damaged. This indiscriminate attack on the body’s cells leads to side effects including hair loss and nausea.

But using the new technique, normal cells should not be affected, meaning that patients are spared the usual side effects.

Excitingly, the U.S. researchers believe the same technique could be used to combat other cancers, such as those of the breast, prostate, lung and skin. Bowel cancer is Britain’s second biggest cancer killer, after lung cancer, and claims more than 16,000 lives a year.

The Californian researchers began by searching for a compound that targets tumours rather than healthy tissue. They settled on one called IF7, a small protein that seeks out the blood vessels that tumours need to grow and spread around the body. They attached IF7 to a fluorescent probe and injected it into mice with bowel tumours. Within minutes, the tumours lit up.

They then linked IF7 to a powerful cancer drug, gave the two-in-one compound to diseased mice, and watched the tumours shrink.

The results were dramatic, with many treated tumours disappearing completely within a fortnight, even at low doses.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers said that IF7 targets tumours with ‘unprecedented’ speed.


22 November, 2011

Are babies born in cities too big?

How big is too big? The research below showed that city-born babies are bigger than ones born in the country but the explanation proposed is entirely hypothetical. That city dwellers might be exposed to more pollutants and that this may be reflected in blood concentrations is unsurprising but to say that is what causes bigger babies is just a leap in the dark.

An alternative explanation derives from the repeated finding that city dwellers are smarter -- and high IQ does tend overall to go with tallness -- and babies destined to be tall will often be longer and hence heavier. Low IQ people also tend to have smaller heads, which would also reduce the weight of the country baby

The latest studies indicate that daily exposure to urban pollution can affect us before we are even born — leaving us prone to a lifetime of ill-health.

Scientists have discovered that babies born in cities are bigger and heavier — normally a good sign — than those born in the countryside. But when they compared the placentas of mothers from a busy city and a quiet rural district, they found that the city mums had far higher levels of chemical pollutants called xenoestrogens in their blood — and in that of their unborn babies.

Xenoestrogens are industrial chemicals that affect our bodies in similar ways to the female hormone, oestrogen. They are found in countless man-made pollutants such as petrol fumes, and are more abundant in industrial areas than the countryside.

As well as causing excess foetal growth, they have been linked to problems such as obesity, hyperactivity, early puberty, fertility problems and cancers of the lung, breast and prostate.

The researchers, from the University of Granada, Spain, found that although city mothers were older and weighed less than rural mothers, they still gave birth to larger babies.

Dr Maria Marcos, who led the study, says the toxic xenoestrogens seem to have a significant effect on the development of unborn children.

SOURCE (I have commented on only the first assertion in the source article. It is a great farrago of epidemiological speculation. I may comment on some of the other assertions later)

Genes again

Gene found linked to easily visible differences in kindness

A gene variant that affects empathy, parental sensitivity and sociability is so powerful that strangers watching 20 seconds of silent video can tell apart people who have it, a study has found.

Scientists videotaped 23 romantic couples while one of the partners described a time of suffering in their lives. The other partner's reaction through body language alone was the focus of the study. Groups of strangers viewed the videos and were asked to rate the person on traits such as how kind, trustworthy, and caring they thought the person was.

"Our findings suggest even slight genetic variation may have tangible impact on people's behavior, and that these behavioral differences are quickly noticed by others," said Aleksandr Kogan of the University of Toronto, the study's lead author.

The work built on previous research by Sarina Rodrigues Saturn of Oregon State University and colleagues, who linked a genetic variation to empathy and stress reactivity. Saturn is senior author of the new study, published in the latest issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers studied genetic variations that affect transmission within the brain and body of a hormone known as oxytocin, which is linked to trust and relationships.

"It was amazing to see how the data aligned so strongly" with the variants, Saturn said. "It makes sense that a gene crucial for social processing would yield these findings; other studies have shown that people are good at judging people at a distance and first impressions really make an impact."

Before recording the videos, the scientists identified the couples' gene types as GG, AG, or AA through tests. The first type marks people with two copies of a gene variant called G; the second, those with one copy of the G and one copy of the A variant; and so forth. According to previous research, GG people tend to act in a more caring way, whereas the other two types tend to have a higher risk of autism and selfreported lower levels of positive emotions, empathy and parental sensitivity. Oxytocin has already been linked with social affiliation and reduction in stress. It is associated with social recognition, pair bonding, dampening negative emotional responses, trust and love.

Out of the 10 people who were marked by the neutral observer as most empathic, six were GG carriers; while of the 10 people who were marked as "least trusted," nine were carriers of the A version of the gene, the researchers reported. These people were viewed as less kind, trustworthy and caring toward their partners.

What's unknown is precisely how the gene affects the behavior. The variant does lead to differences in receptors, or molecular structures, involved in oxytocin transmission.

However the mechanics of it may turn out to work, Saturn believes people can and do overcome their genes. "These are people who just may need to be coaxed out of their shells a little," she said of the "A" carriers. "It may not be that we need to fix people who exhibit less social traits, but that we recognize they are overcoming a genetically influenced trait and that they may need more understanding and encouragement."

Kogan said that many factors ultimately influence kindness and cooperation. "The oxytocin receptor gene is one of those factors but there many other forces in play, both genetic and nongenetic," he said. "How all these pieces fit together to create the coherent whole of an individual who is or is not kind is a great mystery that we are only beginning to scratch."


21 November, 2011

What’s in my makeup bag? — junk science

The Oregon Environmental Council and the regional government for the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area recently released a survey of young women regarding their personal care product use, entitled What’s in My Makeup Bag? This report suggests that the young women are uninformed about the chemical risks posed by their makeup. But rather than offer women and the public-at-large sound and balanced information about cosmetics and health, the survey authors push misinformation and junk science.

CEI has already debunked most of their points in various publications, with particular detail to the cosmetics industry in our recent paper on cosmetics: The True Story of Cosmetics: Exposing the Risks of the Smear Campaign. Our report includes information on chemicals that greens never mention. For example, greens never point out how the chemicals they want to eliminate are necessary to prevent the development of dangerous bacteria or other pathogens in consumer products. You can learn more about that in The True Story of Cosmetics.

Take a look at the key chemical “villains” in the What’s in My Makeup Bag? report, and you will see how misguided the activist claims really are:

Claim about Parabens: “They [parabens] can mimic the hormone estrogen, and in animal studies, they have been linked to cancer and shown to interfere with reproduction at high doses.”

Reality Check: So what? Rodents get cancer from lots of things when administered high doses — including carrots, broccoli, and lots of other healthy foods. Rodent studies are of limited value because human metabolic processes differ from that of rodents, and our exposures to parabens are thousands of times lower. Check the chapter, “The True Causes of Cancer,” in our The Environmental Source, and see why you need not fear trace chemicals. As for mimicking hormones, consider the fact that the potency of these chemicals is too low to have any impacts. The CEI study, Nature’s Hormone Factory, demonstrates that we have more to fear from eating peas, which contain far more potent “endocrine mimicking” chemicals — complements of Mother Nature. Of note parabens are chemicals used to ward off the development of dangerous bacteria. For more information on parabens see: The True Story of Cosmetics.

Claim about Fragrances: “We know that fragrances may contain allergens, sensitizers, neurotoxins and ingredients that interfere with hormones.”

Reality Check: Frankly Scarlett, some people are also allergic or sensitive to flowers or peanuts. That does not mean the rest of us should not experience the joy of a lovely aroma! The simple fact is, everything is life is made of chemicals — some smell good, some don’t. What is wrong with taking the nicer scents from Mother Nature’s inventory and incorporating them into our consumer products? Nothing. There isn’t any compelling evidence that such scents at the low doses found in consumer products have serious adverse human impacts. In addition, the fragrance industry employs a host of privately funded scientific review panels to ensure a high level of product safety, which is detailed in a CEI paper on green chemistry scheduled for release later this week. After all, the goal of business is to gain repeat customers — not to poison them! Watch our website for details about the green chemistry paper. And again, trace exposures to fragrances or other chemicals are unlikely to have any hormonal effects on humans because both the doses and potency are too low. See Nature’s Hormone Factory.

Claim about Phthalates: “In animal and human studies, phthalates have been linked with a whole host of health concerns, including birth defects, asthma, early puberty and low sperm counts.”

Reality Check: Greens have been after phthalates for decades despite scant evidence of any problems from use in consumer products, and amidst considerable evidence that these products include many important public health and other benefits. CEI debunked such claims a decade ago, but greens won’t let the issue go despite the paucity of evidence that these chemicals pose any health problems. More recently, a study on PVC safety conducted by the European Commission’s Health and Consumer Directorate-General concluded: “So far, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that DEHP [a category of phthalates] exposure via medical treatments has harmful effects in humans.” Again, see Nature’s Hormone Factory.

Claim about Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is “is known as a probable human carcinogen. It can also cause skin and lung irritation.”

Reality Check: A problem with many governmental cancer classifications is they don’t mean very much. They don’t bother to consider actual risk levels to humans based on exposure and dose. Formaldehyde is a concern for workers exposed to high levels of the substance over long periods of time — exposure that can be managed by proper worker protection practices to bring risks close to zero. But most humans are exposed only to trace levels every day in our food (mushrooms and many food naturally contain formaldehyde) and air (cooking and consumer products release trace amounts). There is no evidence that these trace exposures have any serious adverse public health impacts. Instead, formaldehyde has health benefits in cosmetics where it acts as a preservative, preventing adverse reactions related to spoilage. See the case study in the appendix of The True Story of Cosmetics.

Claim about BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole): “The U.S. National Toxicology Program, a part of the National Institutes of Health, has classified BHA as ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’ based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.”

Reality Check: Again, if that’s a problem, we also need to stop eating carrots, apples, and more foods because they have the same effect. There are some serious problems associated with the murky science at the National Toxicology program. CEI will be releasing a study in a couple weeks documenting these issues. In the meantime, there’s no need to panic. BHA is a preservative used to ensure products don’t pose health problems related to spoilage.

Claim about Oxybenzone: What’s in My Makeup Bag? says that this chemical “is a potential hormone-disrupting chemical linked with endocrine disruption, cell damage and low birth weight when used by pregnant women.”

Reality Check: Again, if you believe that, don’t ever eat soy or other legumes, which are thousands of times more potent “endocrine mimickers,” as detailed in Nature’s Hormone Factory. The sad reality is, if people follow the advice of the greens on this one, some could die from skin cancer. Oxybenzone is a key ingredient in sunscreens. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, claims about oxybenzone are not only wrong, they could be dangerous if fewer consumers use sunscreen as a result.


The land where pizza is one of your five-a-day vegetables … because it is covered in tomato paste

I have removed some judgmental wording below in favour of more factual language -- JR

A school lunches Bill going before Congress aims to reclassify pizza due to the tomato paste on the dough... this thin coating would be enough for pizza to go towards a daily count of fruit and vegetables.

The move has been derided as a cost-cutting drive so the U.S. government will not have to spend so much on fresh food for school lunches. Subsidised school meals must include a certain amount of vegetables.

A congressional committee is pushing for the move and to keep french fries on school lunch lines in a fightback against an Obama administration proposal to make school lunches healthier.
The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year which limits the use of potatoes and delays limits on sodium and a requirement to boost whole grains.

The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable.

Food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes, and some conservatives in Congress say the federal government shouldn't be telling children what to eat.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said the changes would 'prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and to provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals.'

School districts had said some of the USDA requirements went too far and cost too much when budgets are extremely tight.

Schools have long taken broad instructions from the government on what they can serve in federally subsidized meals that are served free or at reduced price to low-income children. But some schools have balked at government attempts to tell them exactly what foods they can't serve.

Reacting to that criticism, House Republicans had urged USDA to completely rewrite the standards in their version of the bill passed in June.

The Senate last month voted to block the potato limits in their version. Neither version included the language on tomato paste, sodium or whole grains, which was added by House-Senate negotiators on the bill.

The school lunch proposal was based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said they were needed to reduce childhood obesity and future health care costs.

Nutrition advocate Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said Congress's proposed changes will keep schools from serving a wider array of vegetables. Children already get enough pizza and potatoes, she says.

It would also slow efforts to make pizzas — a longtime standby on school lunch lines — healthier, with whole grain crusts and lower levels of sodium.

'They are making sure that two of the biggest problems in the school lunch program, pizza and french fries, are untouched,' she said.

A group of retired generals advocating for healthier school lunches also criticized the spending bill. The group, called Mission: Readiness has called poor nutrition in school lunches a national security issue because obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service.

'We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program,' Amy Dawson Taggart, the director of the group, said in a letter to members of Congress before the final plan was released. 'It doesn't take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace.'

Specifically, the provisions would:

• Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on french fries, which some schools serve daily.

• Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable — too much to put on a pizza. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.

• Require further study on long-term sodium reduction requirements set forth by the USDA guidelines.

• Require USDA to define 'whole grains' before they regulate them. The rules would require schools to use more whole grains.
Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer.

'This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,' said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.

The school lunch provisions are part of a final House-Senate compromise on a $182 billion measure would fund the day-to-day operations of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

Both the House and the Senate are expected to vote on the bill this week and send it to President Barack Obama.


20 November, 2011

High dose vitamin D pills 'can double heart condition risk'

This could just mean that people who feel poorly are more likely to take supplements but I also think it is a worthwhile warning against pill-popping. The likelihood of pill popping doing you any good is negligible and there are many people who have lived to a ripe old age without any pills at all

Taking high doses of vitamin D could more than double the chance of having a type of serious heart complaint, according to results of a large-scale survey.

Those with "excess" levels of the vitamin in their blood were 2.5 times more likely than those with normal levels to have atrial fibrillation (AF), a type of heart flutter common in old age which can lead to stroke. More than a million people in Britain are thought to have AF, the vast majority over 70.

The results, presented this week at a meeting of the American Heart Association, are perhaps most concerning for post-menopausal women, who commonly take supplements of the vitamin with calcium to help fend off osteoporosis.

Vitamin D is essential for bone growth and cellular health. The body naturally manufactures it when the skin is exposed to strong sunlight. However, in winter reserves can drop due to lack of sunlight, so many people take supplements. However, baseline levels vary considerably, both between people and over the seasons, meaning some could unnecessarily be topping up.

Researchers at the Intermountain Medical Centre in Utah looked at blood tests from 132,000 of their patients.

They found those with vitamin D levels above 100 nanograms per 100ml, were 2.5 times more likely to have AF as those with normal levels (41-80ng/100ml).

Dr T Jared Bunch, a heart rhythm specialist, said patients should always tell their doctors what vitamins they were taking. He said: "Patients don't think of vitamins and supplements as drugs. But any vitamin or supplement that is touted as 'healing' or 'natural' is a drug and will have effects that are both beneficial and harmful. "Just like any therapy, vitamins need to be taken for the right reasons and at the right doses."

Doctors have increasingly recognised vitamin D's crucial importance to overall health, helping to fend off not only osteoporosis but also multiple sclerosis, heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers.

They have also realised that many people in Britain now suffer from vitamin D deficiency, due in part to increasingly indoor lifestyles, with GPs seeing more children with rickets.

Doctors now advise that all people over 65 should take regular supplements, as should children up to five, pregnant and breastfeeding women, those who do not get enough sun and people with darker skin.


Cautious mothers give peanut butter parties for kids outside hospital in case of allergic reaction

They are probably doing more good than they know. Kids introduced to peanuts early are less likely to become allergic to them

WORRIED parents are holding "peanut butter parties" in parks near the Women's and Children's Hospital in Adelaide in which they give their children the spread for the first time.

The parties put parents in quick reach of emergency medical help should their child have an anaphylactic reaction.

Christine Dening, of St Peters, said her mothers' group leader had suggested exposing her son Henry, 2, to peanuts near the WCH "just in case".

"That way we could dash to the emergency room if he reacted," Ms Dening said. "(The group leader) also recommended doing it with a group so that we could support each other and help to reduce anxiety."

Although there is no history of allergy in Ms Dening's family, she was concerned about Henry's potential reaction to peanuts. She said she would do things differently with her daughter, Eliza, seven months, because Henry proved to be allergy-free.

"In hindsight, I was more worried about allergies than I needed to be given there are no allergies in the family and the likelihood of an anaphylactic reaction is low," she said. "I'll try Eliza with peanuts at home, although I'll probably still have 000 on my speed dial, just in case."

Gerry Tudorovic said she had considered attending a peanut butter party after hearing about the event through her mothers' group but in the end opted to introduce the food to her son Spencer, 2, at home.

"I wanted to make sure we were in Adelaide and not doing anything just in case," she said. "I was mildly worried, as I have a friend whose child is extremely allergic, but not too worried as my husband and I are not allergic to foods, and I was never too picky about Spencer eating foods which had traces of nuts."

Dietitian Julia Boase, who specialises in paediatrics and allergies, said she was aware of peanut butter parties near the WCH.

"I've even heard of mums driving to the emergency department car park and giving their kids their first peanut butter sandwich there," she said. "There's a bit of a heightened level of parental anxiety out there because allergies are on the rise but parents need to remember that the majority of kids don't have an allergy."

Ms Boase suggested concerned parents followed the advice of the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, which says there is no evidence parents should delay the introduction of potentially allergenic foods.

Anaphylaxis Australia vice-president Sandra Vale said the organisation had heard of parents around the country visiting hospitals to let their children try potentially allergenic foods nearby.

"This is especially true if they have an older child that has an allergy," she said. "The waiting list in hospitals for testing is long so this is a safety precaution for these parents. "I think there is an increased need for education, as well as better access to services. "Parents just want peace of mind."

Dr Mike Gold, an allergist at the WCH, said parents should discuss their concerns with their GP, especially if a sibling already had a nut allergy.

"In some infants or children further investigations such as a simple blood test can be performed by a general practitioner to exclude a possible nut allergy," he said.

A WCH spokeswoman said the hospital was not aware of parents holding the "peanut butter parties" near the hospital.


19 November, 2011

FDA pulls use of breast cancer drug Avastin because of side effects

Once again, attention seems to be focused entirely on the mean (average) when the variance is just as important. Some women taking it report years of extra life over what was prognosed. Surely all should be allowed to see if they are in that lucky minority

The blockbuster drug Avastin should no longer be used in advanced breast cancer patients because of dangerous side effects. The Food and Drug Administration declared Friday there is no proof that the drug extends the lives of advanced patients.

The ruling by the FDA was long expected, but it was certain to disappoint women who say they've run out of other options as their breast cancer spread through their bodies. Impassioned patients had lobbied furiously to preserve Avastin as a last shot.

'This was a difficult decision,' said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. She added that 'it is clear that women who take Avastin for metastatic breast cancer risk potentially life-threatening side effects without proof that the use of Avastin will provide a benefit, in terms of delay in tumor growth, that would justify those risks.'

Those risks include severe high blood pressure, massive bleeding, heart attack or heart failure, and perforations in parts of the body such as the stomach and intestines, Ms Hamburg said.

Avastin is the world's best-selling cancer drug, and also is used to treat certain forms of colon, lung, kidney and brain cancers. So even though FDA formally revoked its approval of the drug to treat breast cancer, doctors still could prescribe it — but insurers may not pay for it. Including infusion fees, a year's treatment with Avastin can cost $100,000.

Some insurers already had quit covering the drug's use in breast cancer after FDA's advisers twice- once last year and once last summer- urged revoking the approval. But Medicare said Friday that it will keep paying for now.

Medicare 'will monitor the issue and evaluate coverage options as a result of action by the FDA but has no immediate plans to change coverage policies,' said spokesman Don McLeod.

In 2008, the FDA allowed Avastin to be marketed as a treatment for breast cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to other parts of the body and is generally considered incurable.

The approval came under a special program that allows patients access to promising treatments while their makers finish the studies needed for final proof that they really work as promised.

When Avastin manufacturer Genentech did those studies, the data showed only a small effect on patients' tumor growth, not that they were living longer or had a better quality of life and not enough benefit to outweigh such severe side effects, FDA concluded.

Genentech, part of Swiss drug maker Roche Group, had argued that Avastin should remain available while it conducts more research to see if certain groups of patients might benefit from the drug. Ms Hamburg encouraged Genentech do those studies


Credulous woman makes scurrilous accusations against parents who feed kids fast food

She believes official pronouncements -- despite their changeability. The first thing my son learned to say was his McDonald's order and he had negligible health problems and is now a perfectly fit and healthy young man

SOME popular kids' fast food has almost triple the recommended levels of saturated fat and twice the salt. The findings prompted The Biggest Loser trainer Michelle Bridges to liken parents who fed their children excessive fast food to child abusers.

The Herald Sun can reveal that the worse fast-food companies are McDonald's and Hungry Jack's. Some of their children's meals are more than 1000 kilojoules above levels recommended for children to eat in one sitting. Some of their meals have more saturated fat and salt in one serve than children aged four and eight are supposed to eat in an entire day.

The NSW Cancer Council assessed the nutritional composition of 199 children's meals from six fast-food chains: Chicken Treat, Hungry Jack's, KFC, McDonald's, Oporto and Red Rooster. It found the younger the child, the greater the difference between recommended and actual levels. For example, for four-year-olds, the average meal from McDonald's and Hungry Jack's had three times the recommended saturated fat.

All chains except McDonald's had meals with too much sugar, and all chains had meals with almost double the recommended salt levels. Healthier options were meals with water, milk or juice, small amounts of chicken nuggets or wraps.

One in four Australian children and 43 per cent of teenagers eat fast food at least once a week.

Ms Bridges said she was "not anti-fast food" but condemned parents who regularly fed children junk. "When you look at the low nutritional value of what some parents feed kids regularly, it's like child abuse," Ms Bridges said. "It's highly addictive and changes a kid's tastebuds, so that's what they crave instead of healthy food. "Some parents and their kids get takeaway every night - they don't even need to read the drive-through menu, they know it by heart."

Cancer Council nutritionist Kathy Chapman said the solution was not to criticise parents, but promote fruit, vegetables and salad in such meals. "There also needs to be easy nutrition information at the point of sale and traffic-light labels to make decision-making easier," Ms Chapman said.

A spokeswoman for McDonald's said parents, "often swap in healthier options to suit their children - over a third of every Happy Meal sold includes a healthier choice".


18 November, 2011

Drinking water does not stop dehydration??????

"Dehydration" MEANS lack of water

Drinking water does not ease dehydration, the European Union has ruled – and anyone who disagrees faces two years in prison.

The decision – after three years of discussions – results from an attempt by two German academics to test EU advertising rules which set down when companies can claim their products reduce the risk of disease. The academics asked for a ruling on a convoluted statement which, in short, claimed that water could reduce dehydration.

Dehydration is defined as a shortage of water in the body – but the European Food Standards Authority decided the statement could not be allowed.

The ruling, announced after a conference of 21 EU-appointed scientists in Parma and which means that bottled water companies cannot claim their product stops people’s bodies drying out, was given final approval this week by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Yesterday, Tory MEP Roger Helmer said: ‘This is stupidity writ large. The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are worrying about the obvious qualities of water. If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project, then this is it.’

Under British law, advertisers who make health claims that breach EU law can be prosecuted and face two years in jail.

The decision was being hailed as the daftest Brussels edict since the EU sent down laws on how bendy bananas should be. UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall said: ‘I had to read this four or five times before I believed it. ‘It is a perfect example of what Brussels does best. Spend three years, with 20 separate pieces of correspondence before summoning 21 professors to Parma, where they decide with great solemnity that drinking water cannot be sold as a way to combat dehydration.’

He added: ‘Then they make this judgment law and make it clear that if anybody dares sell water claiming that it is effective against dehydration they could get into serious legal bother. ‘This makes the bendy banana law look positively sane.’

This is stupidity writ large. The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are worrying about the obvious qualities of water. If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project, then this is it. - TORY MEP ROGER HELMER

However the Parma gathering ruled: ‘The panel considers that the proposed claim does not comply with the requirements for a disease risk reduction claim.’ It declared that shortage of water in the body was just a symptom of dehydration. [Then what is it a symptom of??]

Dr Andreas Hahn and Dr Moritz Hagenmeyer of the Institute for Food Science and Human Nutrition at Hanover Leibniz University said they were unhappy but not surprised. ‘We fear there is something wrong in the state of Europe,’ Professor Hahn said.

He added that the academics had been trying to test the working of EU food and advertising rules. ‘It was free of charge, there was no apparent red tape attached and it gave food business operators, whom we regularly advise, a chance to advertise their products in a new way,’ he added. ‘We thought we should give it a try and see what would happen.

‘But over almost four years, it became clear that the procedure was anything but straightforward. Any company depending on the claim would long have gone out of business.

What is our reaction to the outcome? Let us put it this way: We are neither surprised nor delighted.’ He said: ‘The European Commission is wrong; it should have authorised the claim. That should be more than clear to anyone who has consumed water in the past, and who has not?’


Nanny state disapproval: Manipulating your diet through taxation

Twenty-six states intrude on our nutritional decisions by taxing soda at a higher rate than other groceries, and seventeen states do the same for candy. As if that were not bad enough in “the land of the free,” legislators continue to push for new and heftier taxes in this realm, with new soda taxes pending in fourteen states.

A new report from the Tax Foundation, “Overreaching on Obesity,” (PDF) has compiled data on the status and consequences of state-led taxes on sweets. In doing so, it lays waste to both the moral and economic arguments of these overbearing sin taxes.

Tax proponents claim to be addressing an epidemic of obesity, which increased from 13 percent to 34 percent of the population between 1962 and 2008. But that argument falls flat, because the purported epidemic is nothing of the sort.

As highlighted in the comedic documentary Fat Head (2009) over the last five decades, the U.S. population has aged markedly — with the median age going from 29.5 years in 1960 to 37.2 years in 2010 — and as people age, they tend to gain weight.

An older population, while it may tend to be heavier, does not translate into a less healthy one. In fact, overweight people, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Body Mass Index classifications, actually have longer lifespans than those classified as normal.

The BMI formula for obesity, which considers only height and weight rather than body-fat percentage, is also embarrassingly inaccurate. As Scott Drenkard of the Tax Foundation notes, the CDC’s BMI classification describes athletes such as Tom Brady as overweight, and actors such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as obese.

In Fat Politics, Eric Oliver of the University of Chicago notes that the CDC is eager for funding, and weight-loss industry leaders, seeking grants and customers, also have a perverse incentive to promote a fallacious trend of epidemic proportions.

Furthermore, impositions that seek to change people’s diets imply ignorance on the part of consumers and exploitation by retailers.

But even if we accept the obesity claims at face value for the sake of argument, an attack on obesity is not a legitimate role of government — at least if we are to retain any respect for individual liberty.

Sin-tax proponents seek to justify their demands with the allegation that obese people swell our hospitals and cause Medicaid and Medicare costs to skyrocket. Shouldn’t they be made to pay for the burden they generate? There are so many problems with this frequently repeated logic that one hardly knows where to start. First, obese or overweight people do not generate medical costs for others. Elected officials impose socialized medicine on a population, and that collectivizes costs and places a moral hazard on unhealthy behavior. One wrong, the imposition of socialized medicine, does not justify another wrong, further violations of our liberty.

Then, when elected officials do intervene with taxes to recoup the costs of socialized medicine, they do so haphazardly and with counterproductive results. (The latest health-care reform also impedes the ability of insurers to use price differentiation.)

Although such taxes may generate revenue, they are fraught with definitional problems. In Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas, for example, sweetened beverages with anything less than 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice are subject to the soda tax. On the other hand, Colorado and New Jersey do not classify chocolate bars as candy if they contain flour, so Kit Kat and Twix are exempt.

Regardless of definition, though, experience suggests that people either continue to buy as before or substitute with alternatives that may be even more calorie dense. All the while, the taxes disproportionately burden the poor, because they spend a greater proportion of their income on groceries. These taxes also punish healthy people who happen to consume candy or soda in small amounts.

Insofar as some people may suffer from poor health, it is a matter of personal responsibility. And if you don’t like your tax money going to people whom you believe have been irresponsible, oppose the spending itself; don’t try to control their lives.


17 November, 2011

Trendy Dukan diet slammed as 'utterly ineffective and with no scientific basis'

A diet said to be followed by the Duchess of Cambridge's mother Carole Middleton has been branded 'confusing, rigid and ineffective' by a leading health group.

Experts from the British Dietetic Association named the Dukan Diet the worst celebrity weight loss plan to follow and said it has 'absolutely no solid science behind it at all'.

The Dukan - also reported to be followed by actress Jennifer Lopez and supermodel Gisele Bundchen - is a complicated four-phase diet that starts with a protein-only approach which promotes weight loss of around 7lb per week.

It topped the BDA's annual list of the five worst celebrity diets to avoid in the New Year. It works on restricting foods, calories and portion control. However, the BDA says cutting out food groups is not advisable.

The BDA said: 'This diet is so confusing, very rigid, full of very French foods that most Brits would run a mile from like rabbit and offal, and even Dr Dukan himself warns of the associated problems like lack of energy, constipation and bad breath.'

The BDA receives hundreds of calls every year on the subject of diets and analysed results to form a list of the most unreliable, difficult to follow or unhealthy diet plans.

Based on the volume of telephone calls and other contributing factors, the Dukan Diet topped a list of 'dodgy' celebrity diets to avoid in the New Year.

The Dukan Diet was followed in the list by the Alcorexia or Drunkorexia Diet, an undeniably unhealthy tecnhnique believed to be used by many top models and other celebrities to keep their weight low without sacrificing their heavy partying lifestyle.

It involves eating very little during the day or week - a very low calorie (VLC) diet - and then 'saving' all the calories not eaten to binge drink alcohol. However, the BDA reckons people must be 'blind drunk' to follow such a diet.


While weight loss can be quick, followers of the Dukan report difficulties. Here are the main cons.

1 Much of the diet prescribes solely protein for days on end. Followers complain this can get boring and as a result is difficult to adhere to.

2 Eating so much protein - around three to four times the normal amount - can put a strain on the kidneys. This can be more problematic for those with underlying kidney problems they may not have known about.

3 A lack of fibre can be a problem. An unbalanced diet short of fruit and vegetables and heavy in fish and meat can lead to constipation.

4 Lack of cereal-based foods can lead to deficiency of vitamin B.

5 Weight loss is difficult to maintain once the rigid programme has ended. The maintenance phase alone - six days of eating normally and one Dukan day of protein - is unlikely to keep the weight off for the average dieter, whose indulgence throughout the week will outweigh the benefits of the protein day.


Garlic oil 'can protect the heart by preventing cell damage'

Just a mouse experiment with no long term follow-up

Garlic may provide protection against heart damage as well as vampires, research suggests. The pungent bulb contains an ingredient that has the power to prevent the destruction of heart tissue which can lead to heart attacks.

Scientists tested the compound, diallyl trisulfide, on mice at risk of heart damage from blocked coronary arteries.

Treatment just before blood flow was restored reduced the amount of heart tissue damaged by almost two-thirds.

Diallyl trisulfide releases hydrogen sulphide, which has previously been shown to protect heart tissue in low concentrations.

Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine in the United States have turned to diallyl trisulfide, a garlic oil component, as a way to deliver the benefits of hydrogen sulphide to the heart.

Normally the unstable and volatile gas is difficult to deliver as a therapy because it needs to be injected. Now, thanks to garlic oil, it can be administered orally.

In high concentrations, hydrogen sulfide is a strong poison: Just a few breaths can be fatal.

But in small amounts, like those the body makes naturally, hydrogen sulfide serves several key functions.

It reduces inflammation, lowers blood pressure and keeps cells alive.

After a heart attack or heart surgery has interrupted the flow of oxygen-rich blood to tissues, hydrogen sulfide allows oxygen to keep reaching the heart muscle.

Doctors could use diallyl trisulfide in many of the situations where researchers have proposed using hydrogen sulphide.

David Lefer, professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine, said: 'We are now performing studies with orally active drugs that release hydrogen sulphide.

'This could avoid the need to inject sulphide-delivery drugs outside of an emergency situation.'

Researchers blocked the coronary arteries of mice for 45 minutes, simulating a heart attack, and gave them diallyl sulphide just before blood flow was restored.

The compound reduced the proportion of damaged heart tissue in the area at risk by 61 per cent, compared with untreated animals.

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

Further research reported by the team suggests diallyl trisulfide could also reduce heart enlargement caused by heart failure.


16 November, 2011

Marriage breeds better children?

The AIFS is an Australian Federal government body but its website seems not to be up to date. At the time of writing, I could find no mention of the study described below

From the information below, however, the study conclusion seems outstandingly silly. The data seem more indicative of highly educated mothers having better adjusted children, rather than anything else. Just another case of the general high IQ advantage, it seems

CHILDREN of married couples are more mentally and socially developed than children brought up by a single parent or an unmarried couple, a study claims.

A report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, released today, suggests a gap between children from single-parent and married families that will continue to widen as they grow, the Herald Sun reported.

Family studies researcher Ruth Weston said love and affection was shown by all families in the study of 5000 children, but twice as many women in wedded couples had a university degree and were more likely to be employed.

"The study shows 31 per cent of the married mothers had a university degree or higher-level education compared with 15 per cent of single or cohabiting mothers," Ms Weston said. "A family's financial circumstances are clearly very important for the wellbeing of children."

But Victorian president of Parents without Partners, Rhonda McHugh, slammed the taxpayer-funded study, describing it as "detrimental". "It is unfair assuming children of single parents are not going to do well. A lot of our kids are doing well in sports and going to university," Ms McHugh said. "These studies create a stigma, and single parents go out of their way for their kids to achieve."

Married couple Rebecca, 39, and Troy Harris, 42, of Croydon, agreed that having two breadwinners made things easier, but a child's development depended on time spent as a family. "Because there is two of us, we get more time to sit with them and interact, but sometimes families are better off separated," she said. "Marriage is great for kids, but it has to be a positive environment for them."


Another win for systematic desensitization

It's been around for decades but seems to be strangely neglected as a therapy. It can even be used in at least some cases to overcome that most frightening allergy: peanut allergy

A woman blighted by a severe food intolerance which restricted her to a rice-only diet is preparing for her first Christmas dinner in over a decade. Former caterer Micaela Stafford, 53, lost 3st as her body started violently reacting to foods that included dairy, gluten, wheat, sugars, oils and fats.

She used to enjoy fried breakfasts, curries and roast dinners but was limited to bowls of boiled rice following physical reactions to nearly everything she ate.

Her unusual condition had left dieticians, gastroenterologists and even neurologists baffled. With no solution she was forced to give up her job and became housebound as her condition took control, leaving her husband Philip increasingly concerned.

For the past twelve Christmases she had to watch as her family tucked into their roast dinners while she sat with a portion of bland rice.

She told MailOnline: 'Every year my condition got worse. The first year it was Christmas pudding that I couldn't handle and last Christmas I could only manage one sprout.'

But in a dramatic turnaround the mother-of-two, from Normanton on Soar, Leicestershire has overcome her debilitating illness which began in 1999.

After her story gained publicity earlier this year clinical nutritionist Diana Earnshaw got in touch via Facebook and suggested she should try slowly introducing new foods into her diet, and now Mrs Stafford is able to tolerate 40 different foods.

Mrs Stafford said: ‘When Diana got in touch, I thought it was worth a try, I'd tried everything else.’

Following the new diet plan she started by consuming nothing but clear meat broth, made from boiled chicken carcasses which contained only 10 to 14 calories per dish. Eventually she was able to introduce stand-alone dishes, such as omelets and lamb chops, as her body built up resistance.

Now miraculously she is busy gearing up for her Christmas dinner which she will spend with her husband Philip and eldest son Michael, 34. She said: 'I didn't believe this would ever be able to happen, I'm really looking for to people coming around and enjoying food again.

'We are planning on having turkey, sprouts, carrots, green beans, parsnips and potatoes, which will be cooked in goose grease, as this is an oil I can tolerate.

'Unfortunately there will be no mince pies or Christmas pudding but I might be able to manage some banana and coconut milk.' She is also on the hunt for a stuffing recipe that will adhere to her dietary needs. 'There is a local organic farm nearby and I'm hoping they can make me up a special recipe. 'They have gluten free sausage meat and I'm hoping they can combine it with chestnuts.'

Prolonged migraines, sickness, diarrhoea and joint pains were all symptoms caused by the allergy that remains undiagnosed.

A number of surveys have found that 20 to 30 per cent of people in the UK now claim to have a food allergy.

Mrs Stafford added: 'I really didn't think I would be eating Christmas dinner, but now it's mid November it really seems like a reality. But I still have a long way to go.'


15 November, 2011

Rise in prostate cancer 'due to use of the Pill which increases men's exposure to oestrogen' (?)

This is a bit puzzling. Antiandrogens are commonly used as a treatment for prostate cancer -- so one would expect estrogens to suppress rather than amplify prostate cancer.

But the findings are a lot of epidemiological speculation anyway. A less specific but more defensible interpretation of the data would be to say that modernity -- or something unknown associated with it -- increases prostate cancer. Greater sexual activity? More hazardous sexual activity?

Increasing use of the contraceptive pill is being linked with the rise of prostate cancer in men. Researchers say the Pill has soared in popularity over the past 40 years, and at the same time prostate cancer has become the most common form of the disease in men.

There is a statistical relationship between the two trends, possibly driven by men’s greater exposure to the oestrogen hormone contained in the Pill.

Widespread use of the Pill has led to more of the hormone finding its way into the water supply and food chain, with implications for human health, says a study in BMJ Open.

Using data from 87 countries, researchers found that where the proportion of women using the contraceptive pill is higher, rates of prostate cancer are higher.

Other contraceptives such as intrauterine devices or condoms were not linked to a higher incidence of prostate cancer. A team of researchers from Canada used two sets of data to pinpoint rates of prostate cancer and associated deaths and the proportion of women using common methods of contraception for 2007.

Use of the contraceptive pill was significantly associated with the number of new cases of prostate cancer around the world, in findings which were not affected by a nation’s wealth and therefore probably not influenced by better detection through screening and health services.

The research is speculative and definitive conclusions cannot be drawn, said research leader Dr David Margel, of the Princess Margaret Hospital, Toronto University.

But excess exposure to oestrogen is known to cause cancer and the study suggests that widespread use of the Pill has resulted in by-products called endocrine disruptors being deposited in the environment.

These do not break down easily in the body so can be passed into urine and end up in the water supply or the food chain, thus exposing the general population.

Dr Kate Holmes, of The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: ‘This study does not present a strong evidence case for an association between the use of the contraceptive pill and prostate cancer, nor does it intend to.

‘It is intended to explore the possibility that release of endocrine disruptive chemicals (EDCs) into the environment, a process which is not unique to the Pill, might impact on the incidence of the disease.

‘However, for all of the 87 countries in the study, there is no information on the level of these chemicals in the environment, with the focus on the contraceptive pill as the sole source, which we know is not the case.’


Sitting for too long may raise cancer risk

The usual epidemiological overconfidence. I would interpret the findings as showing that people in poor health sit down more

More than 90,000 new cancer cases a year in the United States may be due to physical inactivity and prolonged periods of sitting, a new analysis shows.

The analysis, being presented today at the annual conference of the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C., cites about 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 of colon cancer.

"This gives us some idea of the cancers we could prevent by getting people to be more active," says epidemiologist Christine Friedenreich of Alberta Health Services in Calgary, Canada. Calculations are based on U.S. physical activity data and cancer-incidence statistics. "This is a conservative estimate," she says. "The more physical activity you do, the lower your risk of these cancers."

Alpa Patel, an American Cancer Society epidemiologist who looked at the data, says the numbers "seem like very reasonable estimates."

Experts have known for years that physical activity decreases the risk of chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, Friedenreich says, but the new data give estimates on the number of cases that might be prevented if people were more physically active.

"A brisk daily walk of at least 30 minutes could lower a person's risk over time for breast cancer and colon cancer," says Alice Bender, a registered dietitian with AICR.

Friedenreich reviewed more than 200 cancer studies worldwide and found convincing evidence that regular physical activity reduces the risk of breast cancer, colon cancer and endometrial cancer by 25 percent to 30 percent. There's some evidence that regular exercise also reduces the risk of lung, prostate and ovarian cancer, she says.

Patel and others also have investigated the health dangers of sitting too long without moving around, which is called "sitting disease."

In a study of 123,000 people, she found that the more time people spent sitting, the higher their risk of dying early. "Even among individuals who were regularly active, the risk of dying prematurely was higher among those who spent more time sitting," she says.

Even if you are doing half an hour of aerobic activity a day, you need to make sure you don't sit the rest of the day, Patel says. "You have to get up and take breaks from sitting."

Emerging research indicates that prolonged sitting also increases the risk of some types of cancer, such as colon, endometrial and ovarian cancers, Friedenreich says.

James Levine, a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., says many people sit an average of seven to 9 1/2 hours a day. "If you've sat for an hour, you've probably sat too long," he says.

Friedenreich is looking into why exercise reduces cancer risk. In a study of 320 postmenopausal women, she has found that physical activity appears to decrease the risk of cancer by increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing body fat, inflammation, metabolic hormones and sex-steroid hormones.


14 November, 2011

A measure of paternalism

Is measuring alcohol units a good thing? That was the question posed by a debate on Saturday at the Battle of Ideas. At first glance, it seems entirely reasonable that we should know the alcohol content of a given drink. But units are quite different: they allow us to compare the amount of alcohol to an ostensibly objective 'daily guideline'.

It very quickly emerged that this 'guideline' is flawed, if not harmful. From a medical perspective, it is almost impossible to predict the effect of alcohol on the average person. After all, we all have different levels of tolerance, are susceptible to different conditions, and are affected by a multitude of other factors too. The truth is all alcohol is unhealthy; and we know it! But by creating this artificial, arbitrary, and ultimately quite useless measure of alcohol consumption, we risk creating a problem. By definition.

Without an objective standard of what is healthy and unhealthy, we tend to conform to cultural norms. Alcohol consumption experiences its ups and downs, with one generation guzzling gin in Georgian proportions, and another religiously enthralled to temperance. Society itself defines this level of socially acceptable drinking. When we exceed it we are seen to have a problem. More importantly, we're brought up to see ourselves as having a problem, and in extreme cases friends and family intervene. It is a process that has been serving humanity well since at least 3000 BC, when Egypt's Pharaohs started mass-producing wine.

Despite agreeing that the measurement was flawed, a panellist at a government health body stood up and said that we nevertheless needed to look beyond the individual's right to drink, and look at society as a whole. He implied that measures needed to be taken to protect people from themselves, as individuals are too stupid or ignorant to know what is good for them. And thus that society is too ill informed to define an acceptable drinking norm. He brought up extreme problem cases, citing studies of alcohol addiction, and its effects on families and friends. Another doctor chipped in by saying the flaws of alcohol units paled in comparison to the need to inform the public of what they are consuming. They all called for greater regulation, restrictions and taxation, to the detriment of all drinkers.

Of course doctors know better than anyone else what the individual can suffer from excessive alcohol consumption, but these statements suggest a more sinister campaign for wider social control rather than individualised help for the particular patient. There is a fundamental difference between providing "information", and providing knowledge. The first is by their own admission deeply biased. Whereas knowledge is already provided not only by individual diagnoses and by society at large, but every Saturday morning by alcohol's very own resident teacher from experience: the hangover.


"Organic" milk fad fails the taste test

A NEW breed of boutique milk is flooding Melbourne's cafe scene - and customers are being charged four times more for it than regular milk. But the Herald Sun has found customers prefer the taste of the regular $1-a-litre full cream milk from Coles.

The new premium varieties are straight from family farms in Victoria. Brands such as Jonesy's and Schultz Organic Milk are becoming increasingly popular with baristas. But they come at a price, in some cases selling for more than four times as much as supermarket varieties. One organic milk is selling for $4.50 a litre, compared with $1-a-litre varieties in supermarkets.

Yet a blind taste test by Herald Sun readers has found most still prefer the Coles $1-a-litre full cream variety over organic brands. Several of our blind tasters said there was very little difference between the milk brands.

Owner of three Melbourne cafes, Marinus Jansen, exclusively uses Jonesy's milk. He said he had a strong personal relationship with the Somerville family of Kerang, who produced Jonesy's, and had received great feedback about the creaminess and taste of the milk from coffee lovers. "The reality is, we're giving our customers a better product, and the money is going back to the local community," he said.

Mr Jansen said independent milk suppliers were more expensive than the multinationals, but the milk's better quality far outweighed the extra cost.

Jonesy's Dairy Fresh owner Rhonda Somerville said her family went independent in December 2009 because of unsustainable milk prices from the big companies, but in the process they embraced a more natural approach. "What comes from the cow goes into the bottle ... we don't pull apart our milk and put it together again," she said.

Simon Schultz, of Schulz Organic Farms in Timboon, said his business had doubled in the past financial year. "The restaurants and cafes are always looking for something different. It's really driven by consumer demand," he said.

Many Australian farmers say the big supermarkets' price cuts on milk are slashing their profits, and in Victoria the export focused dairy industry is experiencing the volatility of shaky global markets. So some family farms have been hitting back by bypassing the big companies, that usually homogenise and pasteurise their milk, and producing it themselves.

United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Kerry Callow said while global milk prices were volatile, there were significant challenges to striking out alone. "In Victoria we are largely export focused, so the big companies are important players in our industry," she said.

Wayne Mulcahy, of Kyvalley Farms in Kyabram, said he and his brothers had also turned independent to avoid swings in milk prices and had enjoyed success with local markets.

"Customers like to support independent suppliers because we're just a small farming family in Victoria. they want to support Victorians," he said.


13 November, 2011

Study: Home life affects health of asthmatic kids

Just another instance of the poor being less healthy

Children with asthma who live in single-parent homes are 50 percent more likely to return to the hospital for treatment within a year than those who live in two-parent homes, a new study finds.

Kids from families whose annual income was less than $60,000 a year were also more likely to be readmitted, as were kids from homes with "time constraints."

The findings suggest that financial strain and competing priorities in single-parent homes are major issues, the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center researchers said.

The study was presented Saturday at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting in Boston.

"Parents play an important role in controlling their child's asthma and it takes time, energy and resources to follow their physician's treatment plan, including reducing triggers and consistently giving medicines," Dr. Terri Moncrief said in a college news release.

"That's why it's important to understand the constraints on single parents and identify innovative interventions to help these parents better manage their child's symptoms and ultimately keep asthma under control."

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Each year in the United States, uncontrolled asthma results in about 500,000 hospitalizations, 1.8 million emergency-room visits and 10.5 million physician-office visits, according to the ACAAI. In children, asthma accounts for nearly 13 million missed school days a year.


Fat taxes won’t prevent people getting fat, fatheads

Research released last week suggested that people in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland should follow an ‘English’ diet to reduce levels of obesity. Fair enough, but unfortunately they also recommended imposing this diet by taxing fatty foods.

Fatty food has an inelastic demand curve i.e. price has little impact on demand. What will happen is people will redistribute their income away from other areas of consumption – clothing, housing etc and towards the, now more costly, fatty foods that they enjoy or they may simply spend less on food which means they'll cut out any healthier elements of their diets. But they'll still eat fatty foods so they'll be poorer, but still fat. Just like those smokers who still smoke.

The state would also be sending out mutually contradictory signals. On the one hand it would be attempting to increase the private cost of consuming fatty foods by raising their price. On the other hand it is effectively encouraging consumption of fatty foods by socialising the health costs of doing so via the NHS. A healthcare system free at the point of delivery is a very poor mechanism for incentivising healthy diets. An insurance-based system would be far more effective in this regard as it could incentivise healthy eating and weight-loss via reduced insurance costs.

The other problem here is that the researchers have failed to ask themselves why the English diet (I can see plenty of English people shovelling fat into their mouths, but still, on average) is healthier than elsewhere in the UK? Clearly this is not because we have taxes on fatty foods but because we are wealthier.

Within England, diets tend to be better in the wealthy South East than the poorer North East. There is a ‘robust’ correlation between absolute levels of wealth and health outcomes. Making people poorer by taxing them more is not going to make them wealthy and thus is it likely to reduce their overall health outcomes as well as having little or no direct impact. I can’t even see ‘Spiritlevel’ types supporting this kind of action; such taxes would fall more heavily on the poorest thereby increasing inequality.

Of course the root of the problem is that these regions of the UK have Soviet (actually higher than Soviet) levels of state intervention which is impoverishing them. The way to deal with obesity here is not to make them poorer by increasing tax rates and further intervention, but to make them richer by decreasing rates of tax and decreasing intervention i.e. completely the opposite to what the very sinister-sounding 'Health Promotion Research Group' propose.

‘Sin’ taxes do not merely fail in their objectives, they have serious unintended downsides as the trade in smuggled alcohol and tobacco demonstrates. I look forward in trepidation to the day that there is a serious outbreak of food poisoning because someone has smuggled a lorry-load of dodgy frozen burgers into the country in order to avoid the ‘fat tax’.


12 November, 2011

Vaccine that could end the misery of acne for millions of teenagers

Rodent study only so far

It is a condition that blights the lives of millions of teenagers and young adults. Now scientists have made a breakthrough in the hunt for something of a medical holy grail – a treatment for acne. A vaccine which promises to halt a key cause of the unsightly and painful condition could be available within as little as five years, they say.

The breakthrough approach is a departure from current treatments, which mostly rely on antibiotics to ‘blitz’ the bacteria that cause spots.

The medicines can upset the skin’s natural balance and leave some sufferers at risk of scarring. Scientists at the University of California at San Diego are working in partnership with the world’s biggest vaccine company, Sanofi Pasteur, to create the jab.

Rather than focusing on eliminating the main acne-causing bacteria, P-Acnes, it aims to neutralise a ‘troublemaking protein’ produced by the germs and key to the formation of spots. Acne is caused when the skin’s sebaceous glands produce too much sebum – the skin’s natural moisturiser – clogging the pores.

The protein then starts killing skin cells, causing the body to try to fight back with inflammation, flooding the area with white blood cells. The result is sore pimples.

The experts, carrying out tests on the skin on the ears of mice, created antibodies which home in on the protein and ‘turn it off’. Mice given doses of bacteria treated with the antibodies developed much less inflammation than those given untreated bugs. The animals’ immune systems can also be stimulated to produce their own antibodies, the study found.

More than eight out of ten teenagers suffer from spots, and the global market for acne medications is estimated at about £1.87billion a year.

While vaccines are usually used to prevent illnesses, the jab would be instead be used as a treatment. It is too early to say how often it would need to be used.

Dr Harald Gollnick, of the Global Alliance to Improve Outcomes in Acne, says it may be available within five to ten years.

Despite the range of treatments currently available, acne leaves 20 per cent of sufferers with scarring.

The strongest, Roaccutane, can make skin sensitive and has been linked to birth defects and depression.

Consultant dermatologist Dr Susannah Baron, of the BMI Hospital in Canterbury, said: ‘Acne affects so many teenagers at a very difficult stage of life. A vaccine that potentially targets inflammation could prove very helpful.’


The revolutionary cell jab that could halt arthritis for millions

Another rodent study

A revolutionary jab made from stem cells found in tummy fat could soon stop osteoarthritis in its tracks.

The breakthrough provides hope for the eight million people in the UK who suffer from the incurable condition and could potentially save thousands from needing joint replacement surgery.

Dutch and French researchers found injecting stem cells harvested from a patient’s own waistline protects joints against crippling damage. It appears to be the closest experts have come to halting the disease using stem cells.
How the treatment works

The therapy works by stopping destruction of cartilage – the ‘shock absorber’ tissue inside which gets ground down by osteoarthritis – and by protecting ligaments.

A single dose of stem cells extracted from adipose tissue – fat which accumulates around the stomach – more than halved damage to knee joints in mice.

The findings, revealed at the American College of Rheumatology in Chicago, could mark a turning point in the search for a treatment. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK.

It can inflame and damage any joints, but occurs mostly in the knees and hips. Some joints become so severely worn down they require surgery.

As well as older age, risk factors include being overweight, a family history of the condition and sports-related injuries.

Many sufferers rely on anti-inflammatory painkillers to ease their suffering, but these can damage the stomach if used long-term. About 60,000 people a year end up needing a knee replacement.

Significantly, adipose tissue is relatively easy to access and is thought to be the most abundant source of adult stem cells in the body.

According to some estimates, it contains 40 times more stem cells than bone marrow. Scientists are already using these fat cells in the search for cures for cancer, heart disease and spinal injuries.

Researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands, and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in France, injected adipose stem cells into the joints of mice with arthritic knees.

The cells, known as mesenchymal cells, have the capacity to grow into a variety of body tissues.

Some mice received the jab seven days after osteoarthritis first set in, others 14 days after – which would translate into a few weeks or months in humans.

When it was given sooner, the jab cut destruction of cartilage by 54 per cent compared with those injected with a dummy jab. After six weeks, they had half the amount of ligament damage.

The jab also slowed a process called synovial activation, where the soft membrane around the joint becomes inflamed, in some cases by as much as 30 per cent.

British experts and charities including Arthritis Care last night welcomed the latest research.

Robert Moots, professor of rheumatology at the University of Liverpool, warned it was not yet certain how stem cells will behave in human joints. But he added: ‘It is the strongest clue yet that stem cell treatments could make a big difference.’


11 November, 2011

Pomegranate industry finds that pomegranates are a wonder drug

How surprising! The main finding seems to be that pomegranates have antioxidant properties. But antioxidants shorten your lifespan so that is faint praise. Note that the study was of blood chemistry only. All the other claimed wonderful effects are just theories

It can help to prevent heart disease, relieve stress and has even been shown to improve your sex life. And if that was not enough to convince you to try pomegranate, the fruit is now being hailed as the elixir of youth.

A £2million study has found a daily dose could slow the ageing process of DNA.

An extract of the whole fruit – including pith, peel and seeds – was given to 60 volunteers every day for a month in the form of a capsule. Researchers monitored the activity of chemicals in their bodies compared with those who took a placebo.

They found a significant decrease in a marker associated with cell damage, which can cause impaired brain, muscle, liver and kidney function as well as ageing effects on the skin.

This decrease – a hitherto unknown benefit of consuming pomegranate – is thought to slow down the oxidation, or ‘rusting’, of the DNA in cells which naturally occurs over time, according to researchers at the private ProbelteBio laboratory in Murcia, Spain.

They are found in small quantities in the juice but mainly in the inedible rind, husk and white pith which has been harnessed into a pill and a drink.

Dr Sergio Streitenberger, who led the study, funded by Pomegreat PurePlus, said: ‘We are very excited about this study which we believe demonstrates that regular consumption of this pomegranate extract can slow down the process of DNA oxidation

'One way to look at ageing is to think of it as rusting, or oxidising, a damaging process. Being able to guard against this process would be a significant breakthrough.’

Dr Streitenberger’s team – whose study will be published later this month – found a decrease in levels of a chemical marker called 8-Oxo-DG in the participants’ urine tests.

It is associated with damage to DNA caused by a host of chemicals we eat, drink and breathe in.

Pomegranate has been renowned as a superfood for centuries, and has been found to contain vitamins A, C and E as well as iron and antioxidants – chemicals which help neutralise harmful oxygen molecules called free radicals.

Last year, researchers at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, whose work was also funded by the Pomegreat juice company found their product could combat middle-aged spread and even reduce stress at work.


Could cutting back on salt do more harm than good? Experts find it raises cholesterol

Amusing how this study gets a level of criticism much stronger than most studies of its kind. Must not upset the "consensus"! It is true that the effects noted are weak but so are the effects in most studies of this type. The important datum is the effect on lifespan and salt reduction is at the least not clearly beneficial there

Cutting back on salt could do you more harm than good, boosting chemicals that are bad for the heart, scientists warn. The NHS states that a diet rich in sodium can cause raised blood pressure and the government have issued a long-term campaign to highlight the health risks.

But researchers from the University of Copenhagen now claim that cutting down on salt can increase the likelihood of death in some patients with existing heart problems.

An assessment of 67 previous studies involving over 40,000 people revealed that a reduced salt intake triggered a 2.5 per cent rise in cholesterol and a 7 per cent rise in a type of fat that can cause blood clots. The dietary change was also shown to cause the kidneys to release more of a protein called renin and its hormone aldosterone which is linked with high blood pressure.

Lead researcher Dr Niels Graudal, said: 'An increase in [cholesterol] would increase the risk of cardiovascular death.' He said that instead of people reducing their salt intake they should concentrating on quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and losing weight.

Their study follows findings from Exeter University published in July that concluded there was 'no strong evidence' lowering levels of salt in the diet reduced the risk of heart disease or premature death.

But many are skeptical of the recent findings, published in the American Journal of Hypertension, and say it is not enough to devalue the major benefits of cutting back on sodium. Prof Graham MacGregor, chairman of Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said detailed examination of the latest paper showed there was no significant increase in cholesterol that lasted more than a month.

And small increases in renin and aldosterone at four weeks are similar to that which occurs when diuretics are given to reduce blood pressure.

He said: 'This study, contrary to the authors' claims, supports the wealth of evidence that reducing our salt intake will be immensely beneficial in preventing strokes, heart attacks and heart failure, the commonest causes of death and disability in the world.'

Meanwhile Keith C. Ferdinand, M.D., chief scientific officer of the Association of Black Cardiologists, told CNN: 'This study does nothing to defer the recommendation that across the general population, sodium restriction would have a huge benefit in terms of decreasing cardiovascular disease, and perhaps lives saved.'

According to the NHS adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day - around one teaspoon full - and salt intake can be reduced by being wary of foods such as bacon, cheese, salami, salted and dry roasted nuts.


10 November, 2011

The truth about MSG

Few ingredients have been subject to as much debate and hysteria as monosodium glutamate. Let's dispel some myths.

More than 40 years ago, The New England Journal of Medicine published a letter from a Maryland doctor about a meal he had eaten. That relatively innocuous letter was to ignite a food controversy that has continued unabated ever since.

"I have experienced a strange syndrome whenever I have eaten out in a Chinese restaurant, especially one that served northern Chinese food," Robert Ho Man Kwok wrote. "The syndrome, which usually begins 15 to 20 minutes after I have eaten the first dish, lasts for about two hours, without hangover effect. The most prominent symptoms are numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitations …"

He went on to speculate on what had caused his curious symptoms. It could have been the alcohol in the dishes, he said, or perhaps it was the overall high sodium content or maybe it was the monosodium glutamate added to many Chinese dishes.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, subsequent attention zeroed in only on the possible role of MSG. Kwok's symptoms were subsequently dubbed "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" by the journal and, by 1969, the finger had been pointed unequivocally at MSG.

Since then, few food ingredients have been more extensively studied, vilified and defended as MSG.

But it is hardly a new phenomenon. In fact, MSG has effectively been part of Japanese cooking for centuries in the form of kombu, a type of seaweed that is a key ingredient of dashi soup stock.

Traditional Japanese chefs knew the stock had a unique property - it brought out the savoury flavour of other ingredients. And then, in 1908, University of Tokyo chemist Kikunae Ikeda isolated the unique flavour of kombu.

Ikeda reasoned kombu's flavour, and the flavour it revealed in other ingredients, was neither sweet, salty, sour or bitter - he coined the word "umami" to describe it.

Ikeda went further, identifying the key element of the seaweed, which turned out to be a common amino acid called glutamic acid. He stabilised the substance with ordinary salt and thus monosodium glutamate was born.

He patented his discovery and MSG began to be produced on a commercial scale (by fermentation) and used to enhance the flavour of practically every processed food you can name.

We can't get enough of it - it's like catnip for humans. In fact, there is now growing evidence we have taste receptors that are naturally programmed to relish glutamate.

And glutamate occurs naturally everywhere in our diets. Ripe tomatoes are full of it, as are dried mushrooms and broccoli. Parmesan cheese, in particular, is loaded with the stuff, which is why it is such a popular addition to meaty sauces like ragu bolognese. It even occurs in human breast milk.

Since Kwok put pen to paper about his symptoms, there have been hundreds of studies that have looked at possible links between MSG and the reaction he and others described.

In 1988, the World Health Organization and the United Nations reviewed all the evidence and concluded that MSG "did not represent a hazard to health". Then, in 1995, the US Food and Drug Administration did its own review and found that high levels of MSG had no effect on most people. There is a small group of people who show some response - but only after taking a massive MSG pill on an empty stomach.

In his book It Must've Been Something I Ate, American food writer and iconoclast Jeffrey Steingarten asks why, if MSG is eaten daily by billions of Chinese, they don't all have a headache.

But none of this has quelled persistent claims linking MSG with everything from diabetes and autism to Alzheimer's and heart attack. Sites such as banmsgnow .info and routinely allege there is a conspiracy from "Big Food" to poison us with MSG. Among the more hysterical claims are that MSG can cause brain damage in humans and a small amount is sufficient to kill a dog.

At least part of the reason behind this hysteria lies in the fact that many reported symptoms are totally subjective. If someone complains of "general weakness" it is all but impossible to test that objectively. Designing studies that isolate the effects of one compound in our diet is also difficult.

"With any epidemiological study there are a lot of complexities in measuring food intake," a biomedical research scientist at the University of Adelaide, Natalie Luscombe-Marsh, says. "If you don't take into account … other parameters like other nutrients and people's dietary patterns you get these different results.

"There is really no experimental evidence to substantiate Chinese Restaurant Syndrome or links with asthma but that doesn't preclude that there is definitely a small percentage … who would be truly sensitive to MSG. But the majority of the bad press is unsubstantiated."

Food Standards Australia New Zealand has reviewed all the evidence and come to the same conclusion. "The overwhelming evidence from a large number of scientific studies is that MSG is safe for the general population in the levels typically found in food," a spokeswoman for FSANZ, Lorraine Belanger, says. "A small number of people may experience a reaction … but there's no convincing evidence that MSG is responsible for more serious effects like those you might see in an allergic response to things like peanuts."

AUSTRALIAN food manufacturers must list added MSG on their labels, either by name or with the food additive code 621. Other glutamates have the numbers 622 to 625.

Restaurants are not required to disclose whether they use MSG. The advice from the NSW Food Authority is to ask, if you believe you are sensitive.

"Sensitive individuals should also be aware that high amounts of glutamates maybe be present naturally in certain food," the advice says. Foods that are naturally high in glutamates include soy sauce and Vegemite.

Dan Hong, the head chef at Ms.G's, the cheekily named modern Asian restaurant in Potts Point with a menu that ranges from Vietnam to Korea and China, says for Chinese food in particular MSG "is part of the repertoire". "It's a tradition that goes back hundreds of years," he says.

In spite of the restaurant's name, Hong doesn't use powdered MSG in his cooking. "We try and use natural forms of MSG like kombu and stuff like that," he says.

Kombu has been in the news not for the glutamate it contains but its iodine content. Iodine is an essential nutrient but for a small proportion of the population, excessive iodine can be a problem. Since last October, quarantine authorities have rejected kombu from Korea, China and Japan that has more than 1000 milligrams of iodine per kilogram.


Kids get dangerous drugs instead of discipline

Soaring numbers of children as young as five are being chemically coshed with antipsychotic drugs, an investigation by Channel 4 News has found. A staggering 15,000 children under the age of 18 were prescribed the medication last year by their GPs – double the number a decade ago.

The drugs, such as Risperdal and Seroquel, are meant for serious mental conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychosis. But experts believe they are increasingly used as a chemical cosh to control children's behaviour, for example to calm youngsters with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism.

Children can be left on the drugs for years and are not properly monitored, despite side effects such as dramatic weight gain, diabetes, heart disorders and a Parkinson's disease-like tremor that continues even after the medication is stopped.

Worryingly, nobody knows what the long-term side effects are and pharmaceutical companies have blocked all requests for data on trials involving children. Experts are concerned about the effect the drugs have on developing brains.

Guidance provided by professional bodies, such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says a child psychiatrist must be involved in the prescription of drugs. But mental health experts believe this is increasingly not happening. Instead, the drugs are needlessly given out by GPs.

Professor Tim Kendall, director of the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, said the figures were 'extremely concerning'. 'As far as I am aware, there is no evidence that there has been a doubling in the rate of psychosis, so if there is a doubling in the rate of children being given antipsychotics, that is a worry,' he added. 'My worry is that these drugs are being used for other purposes.'

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show 14,999 children, up to the age of 18, were prescribed antipsychotics in 2010, compared with 7,649 in 2001. Of these, 253 were aged six or under, 3,205 were seven to 12 and 11,541 were 13 to 18.

The figures are for prescriptions issued by GPs only. No data exists for the number of prescriptions issued in hospitals.

Professor Peter Tyrer of Imperial College London, an antipsychotics expert, said the use of this medication was a 'slow fuse to disaster'. The drugs affected almost every part of the body, he added.

The figures on antipsychotics follow the recent revelation that 661,500 prescriptions for Ritalin, or similar drugs for ADHD, were issued to children last year. This amounts to more than 12,000 prescriptions a week and an increase of 70 per cent in the past five years.


9 November, 2011

Cities not so bad for you

It's an age old belief that cities are bad for you and city-dwelling epidemiologists still regularly produce "proof" of it. So the findings below are rather iconoclastic

According to scientists, carbon monoxide (CO), a tasteless, colorless and odorless gas, is not only a danger to the environment but also highly toxic to human beings. Found in the exhaust of vehicles and generators, CO has been dubbed the "silent killer" because excessive inhalation is lethal, poisoning the nervous system and heart.

Now, in a surprising twist, Prof. Itzhak Schnell of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geography and the Human Environment has discovered that low levels of the poisonous gas can have a narcotic effect that helps citydwellers cope with other harmful environmental factors of an urban environment, such as off-the-chart noise levels. This finding indicates that CO, in small doses, is a boon to the well-being of urbanites, better equipping them to deal with environmental stress.

The research has been published in the journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.

Gas combats noise pollution

The discovery was made in the context of a wider project designed to study the impact of environmental stressors on the human body. Most environmental observation stations, explains Prof. Schnell, are located outside stressful city centers, where pollutants such as vehicular and human traffic are significantly decreased, resulting in distorted data.

Instead, Prof. Schnell and his fellow researchers wanted to measure how people living in an urban environment confronted stressors in their daily lives. They asked 36 healthy individuals between the ages of 20 to 40 to spend two days in Tel Aviv, Israel's busiest city. The test subjects travelled various routes to sites such as busy streets, restaurants, malls and markets, by public and private transportation or by foot. Researchers monitored the impact of four different environmental stressors: thermal load (heat and cold), noise pollution, carbon monoxide levels, and social load (the impact of crowds).

Participants reported to what extent their experiences were stressful, and their input was corroborated with data taken from sensors that measured heart rate and pollutant levels. Noise pollution emerged as the most significant cause of stress.

The most surprising find of the study, says Prof. Schnell, was in looking at levels of CO that the participants inhaled during their time in the city. Not only were the levels much lower than the researchers predicted — approximately 1-15 parts per million every half hour — but the presence of the gas appeared to have a narcotic effect on the participants, counteracting the stress caused by noise and crowd density.

Turn down the volume

The results showed that living in a major city might not have as negative a health impact as the researchers were expecting. Though participants exhibited rising stress levels throughout the day, CO had a mitigating influence, and extended exposure to the chemical had no lasting effects.

The study's next step is to investigate how environmental loads impact the more vulnerable segments of the population, such as infants, the elderly, and those with medical conditions such as asthma. "We would be able to tell more accurately under what conditions vulnerable people shouldn't go out, and more importantly, identify areas that are still safe, helping to increase freedom of movement," notes Prof. Schnell.

But for now, urban dwellers can all contribute to making their environment a less stressful one by turning down the noise, he suggests. The findings indicate that most of the noise in an urban landscape is generated by human activity, and if individuals made an effort to reduce the noise they were making, they could help to reduce the environmental load placed on their neighbors.


There's no pleasing the food fusspots

I'VE given up. Not given up on life, but given up on having dinner parties and inviting people to share a meal at home.

Long ago I used to enjoy spending all day in the kitchen cooking up a storm for friends, with my Women's Weekly Dinner Party cookbooks as a guide. I had a reputation among some as being a good cook. The pictures made it easy. However, competing in today's world with MasterChefs all over the place, I'm not sure I could be in their league.

I slowly started to be less enthusiastic when reciprocal invitations became scarce and I had less time, so I decided to resort to simple barbecues. That has worked for a while with some gourmet twists added, but sadly now that too is coming to an end.

Why? Not because I can't be bothered or don't want to do it. It's because there are too many people out there with high and mighty expectations when they go to someone else's place to eat, who would like me to cater for their self-proclaimed illness or the diet they started this afternoon.

There are of course the real vegetarians, the vegans and those who don't eat this or that for various ethnic or genuine medical reasons.

That's fair enough, you might say, but then there are the other ones with the self-diagnosed illnesses or allergies or sensitivities to a variety of foods.

There are health fanatics who were told 20 years ago not to eat red meat by some guru in order to improve their performance in a triathlon. Come on mate, I've known you for 15 years and never seen you do anything near to a triathlon yet. It's not working, trust me, and it's pointless in any case.

I have people requesting that they be served no preservatives, no coriander, no melted cheese, no vegetables, no rice, no garlic, no dairy and various other herbs and spices.

Then there are the genuine people who have been diagnosed with a genuine food problem who say nothing and eat what they can happily. These I thank for making my life easier. However eliminating all these foods doesn't leave me a lot to work with, and when I peruse my recipe books, I can't find much that will satisfy them all without creating several different meals, which I simply refuse to do.

So let it be said that if you come to visit, please bring your own picnic basket, full of your favourite goodies or impossible health foods and we'll all be happy.


8 November, 2011

Children with depressed fathers more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems

Personality has a strong hereditary component so this is not at all surprising. It is unlikely that any intervention will change it

The effect of mother's depression upon her children is a well-documented area. But up until now, there has been no formal study on the influence a father's depression may have on his children.

A study published today is the first step towards redressing the balance of information - and shows that children who live with a father who has mental health problems and depression have higher rates of behavioural and emotional problems themselves.

The study authors looked at a nationally representative sample of almost 22,000 children over four years. The team, led by Dr Michael Weitzman at NYU's Langone Medical Center, found that 11 per cent of children with depressed fathers had behavioural and emotional problems.

For children without depressed parents, the figure was just six per cent, while for a child of a depressed mother, the number was 19 per cent.

One in ten American adults has depression, which can be treated and is known to run in families. It is believed that a parents' depression affects the way he or she interacts with a child, in turn contributing to a child's behaviour. Indeed, at 25 per cent, the figures spiked for children or two depressed parents.

Speaking about the results, Dr Weitzman told Good Morning America that the study is 'remarkable' because it is the first of its kind. 'One can only postulate that treating the parents could have a positive effect on their children' [Hah!]

'I think fathers are underrecognized in terms of the impact they have in families and in children's lives,' he explained. 'It behooves us to try and devise clinical services that would identify fathers that are depressed and figure out ways to link them to services.

The authors hope the study will add to more successful treatment of depressed fathers and better education of health care workers.

'The same things that make parents excited about their kids when they feel good can exacerbate their depression when they're unhappy,' Dr Weitzman told the news programme.

After all, Alan Kazdin, professor of psychology and director of Yale's Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, told GMA: 'One of the best things you can do for your children is maintain your physical and mental health.

'It's nice to see we're getting away from just bashing moms,' he said, encouraging parents with depression to 'go get treatment. It will make a difference in how you interact with your child.'


Study claims cooked meat boosts energy more than raw meat

It's only a rodent study but adds up on the whole

Contrary to popular belief, scientists at Harvard University have discovered cooked meat actually gives you much more energy than raw. They say the research suggests the advent of cooking was key in helping early humans become bigger, stronger and more advanced.

In the first test to look at differences in the total energy value of cooked and raw food, two groups of mice were fed a series of diets consisting of diced beef or sweet potato that was either raw or cooked. Whether meat or vegetables, the cooked food was found to deliver more energy to the body, so the mice ate less of the cooked food but still gained weight regardless of physical activity.

It was long believed cooking-- which is done uniquely by humans -- just made food easier to chew, but the study suggests it drove more fundamental biological changes by allowing more energy to get to the body's cells.

Early humans included meat in their diet for 2.5 million years, but around 1.9m years ago, they suddenly began to change -- their bodies grew larger, their brains increased in size and complexity, and they became adapted for long-distance running.

This has been attributed to eating more meat in their diet, but the researchers say it also coincides with learning how to control fire and cooking.

Cooking meat, the researchers explain, 'denatures' meat or causes the structure of the protein to unwind so it is more available to acids and enzymes in the digestive tract. If it remains largely undigested, it progresses to the gut, where instead of being digested and going to the body's cells, it starts competing with the gut bacteria, the researchers say.

The scientists gave mice meat and sweet potatoes either cooked, raw or pounded over several days, with control periods in between. When they checked their weight how often they used an exercise wheel, those who had eaten the cooked meat and vegetables got significantly bigger although not necessarily more active.

Although pounding the food up - as early humans did before working out how to cook - lead to some weight gain in the mice, the benefits of cooking were much greater than those of pounding.

Lead author Rachel Carmody said: 'We assume the same effects in humans, that cooking food makes more energy available to the body even by eating less of it. 'Every day we put so much effort into cooking food and presenting it - mashing it up, or cutting it, or slicing it -- but it's astonishing that we don't understand what effect that has on the energy we extract from food, since energy gain is the reason we eat it in the first place.'

Professor Richard Wrangham, also of Harvard, said: 'Increasing evidence suggests that the bacteria take a pretty good portion of the food we eat. In fact, research has shown that one of the ways to increase the value humans get, relative to the bacteria, is by processing food - and cooking is one way to do that.'

The research also calls into question the way our food is labelled with calorie counts and dietary recommendations as these do not take into account the way food is processed which can have a big impact on its nutritional value, the authors said.

The findings appear today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


7 November, 2011

What next? EU orders a pollen warning on honey jars

It is, you might think, one of nature’s purest delicacies. But not for the labelling police of the EU.

Under new regulations, jars of honey will have to be marked ‘contains pollen’ – a move experts have branded ludicrous, and say could put some British beekeepers out of business.

It will also have to undergo expensive tests to prove it does not contain unauthorised genetically modified pollen.

Until now, honey had always been considered an entirely unadulterated product for the purposes of food labelling.

But the European Court of Justice has decreed that pollen is an ingredient of honey rather than an intrinsic component.

It means that products will, for the first time, have to carry a list of ingredients such as ‘honey (contains pollen)’.

Britain’s biggest supplier of retail honey, Rowse, said that the bill for re-labelling and testing its entire range will run into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

John Howat, secretary of the Bee Farmers’ Association, which represents Britain’s 300 commercial beekeepers, said: ‘This ruling is a real nuisance.

‘The idea that pollen is an ingredient of honey is nonsense. Pollen is integral to honey. Bees collect nectar and pollen. When they are storing it away pollen gets into the nectar and hence into the honey.’

The ruling came after a German amateur beekeeper found small amounts of GM pollen in his honey. He sued the state of Bavaria, which owned trial GM maize plots near his hives, for damaging his produce.

His case ended in the ECJ reclassifying pollen as a food ingredient, in a ruling that cannot be appealed.

Anyone who sells honey to the public, including Britain’s 40,000 amateur beekeepers, faces tests.

Suppliers whose pollen is found to be more than 0.9 per cent GM must undergo full safety authorisation and label their honey accordingly.

But experts say it is unlikely that any honey produced in Britain will contain that level of GM pollen – and claim scientists cannot quantify the content of pollen to that degree of accuracy.

Patrick Robinson, of Oxfordshire-based firm Rowse, said: ‘There is a tiny amount of GM pollen all round the world now. But beekeepers do not tend to put their hives next to cultivated crops.’

He added: ‘To say honey contains pollen is like saying peanuts contain nuts…This could be really damaging to smaller producers and beekeepers.

‘If they have to add on a £200 test for every batch of honey that they pack, it could be more than their profit and run them out of business.’

The European Commission is expected to finalise the regulations over the next year.


End of the annual flu jab? Single vaccine 'could protect against all strains of the virus for life'

We will have to wait and see how well it works

The prospect of a single flu vaccine that would protect against all strains of the virus for life has been revealed. Scientists working on the universal flu jab, known as Flu-v, are in the early stages of development but hope to offer a product to the NHS within three to five years.

The company behind the drug, SEEK, will present the results of a small-scale clinical trial at the Influenza Congress in Washington DC on Tuesday. Results so far have shown that it can significantly reduce infection rates and also cut the severity of symptoms.

Because flu is so changeable, pregnant women, the elderly and other 'at risk' groups are given a new injection every year. The flu virus regularly mutates its 'outer coat', which is what a vaccine usually targets.

But the team behind Flu-v has managed to isolate a thread common to all strains of flu and by targeting that element, rather than the changing 'outer coat', the vaccine can cater for all requirements. That means it would protect against strains of bird flu and swine flu, as well as seasonal variants.

'The trial suggest was only need one shot of vaccine,' Gregory Stoloff, the chief executive of SEEK told The Telegraph. 'Our aim is for the flu vaccine to become more like the mumps and measles - where you only need it once and you get protection for a long time.'

Last year 600 people died as a result of winter flu epidemics, with asthmatics and people with liver disease also highly-prone to serious infection.

A single jab would also help reduce contagion, with government figures revealing this week that just one in three people in at-risk groups have taken up their annual vaccination.

New data from the Department of Health reveals more than half (55 per cent) of people over 65 have had the jab, which protects against several strains of flu including swine flu.

But only 32 per cent of those under 65 in at-risk groups - such as with diabetes, liver disease, asthma or chest problems and neurological conditions - have come forward.

And just 14 per cent of pregnant women have had the vaccine this year.

Data suggests diabetics are six times more likely to die if they get flu than a healthy person, while those with chronic heart disease are 11 times more likely to die.

People with chronic liver disease are 48 times more likely to die and those with undergoing medical treatment who may have a compromised immune system are 47 times more likely.


6 November, 2011

New prostate cancer drug helps victims live five months longer

This is of course encouraging but the real question is not the mean survival time conferred by the drug -- which could be seen as trivial -- but the variance. Do some patients live a LOT longer? That would be impressive

An experimental drug extended the lives of men with advanced prostate cancer by almost five months in a new trial. Independent monitors halted the trial early because of the clear benefit to men taking the new pill.

An interim analysis of the trial of 1,199 men who were previously treated with chemotherapy found that the drug – MDV3100 – improved overall survival by 4.8 months compared with a placebo. Average survival for men treated with the drug was 18.4 months, while those who were treated with a placebo survived for 13.6 months.

The findings were assessed after 520 men taking part in the trial had died, and have boosted market ratings for the U.S. makers Medivation, which is developing the drug with Japanese partner Astellas Pharma.

An independent data monitoring committee recommended the trial be halted early so men who were not taking the drug could be offered it.

Professor Johann de Bono, Professor in Experimental Cancer Medicine, The Institute of Cancer Research, The Royal Marsden Hospital and the co-principal investigator of the study, said ‘MDV3100 has a novel mechanism of action and it is encouraging to see these positive survival data from the interim analysis. ‘There is a real need for new treatments in advanced prostate cancer that target the cancer in different ways.’

The new drug is designed to target prostate cancer cells that become resistant to standard hormone-deprivation therapies, which are supposed to cut off supplies of testosterone which allow tumours to grow.

The drug is supposed to hit three different molecular targets which the company hopes will give it an advantage over other new agents in the pipeline.

Around 10,500 British men have advanced prostate cancer that has become resistant to standard hormone treatments, meaning they have few options left.

David Hung, chief executive officer of Medivation, said ‘We’re very excited because of the survival benefit. 18 months ago, once a man with prostate cancer failed chemo, he went to a hospice. 'Now these men will have another treatment option.’

Full analysis of data from the trial, including side effects, will be released at a medical meeting in February in the US.

The drug’s manufacturers plan to meet the US Food and Drug Administration early next year, with the possibility the drug might be licensed as early as 2013.


We can breathe again: Cystic fibrosis sisters enjoy dramatic health boost thanks to pioneering drug

Only applicable to 5% of sufferers, though

Two sisters who have struggled with cystic fibrosis their whole young lives have had their lives transformed by a pioneering drug.

Laura Cheevers, 13 and her sister Cate, 10, have seen a dramatic improvement in their conditions after they started taking ivacaftor. They can both breathe far more easily, have gained weight and no longer need regular antibiotics.

Up till now the sisters from North Andover in Massachusetts had struggled with the genetic condition, which blocked up their lungs with sticky mucus and left them vulnerable to infections.

Both were in and out of hospital as simple colds could turn into life-threatening lung infections. They also had to consume thousands of calories to keep them from losing weight as they couldn't absorb nutrients effectively.

Then in April 2010 the girls were both accepted onto trials for a new twice-daily pill, which had been developed by the cystic fibrosis Foundation and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Unlike most previous drugs, ivacaftor was developed to target the cause of cystic fibrosis rather than relieve the symptoms.

After a few months it became clear that while Cate was on the drug, older sister Laura was probably receiving a dummy pill.

'She (Cate) began growing like a weed, and her first lung tests showed almost a 30 per cent bump, which blew us all away,' her mother Kim Cheevers said. Cate added to ABC News: 'She (Laura) would be coughing a lot more. I would feel bad because I wouldn't be coughing.'

Then in April this year, scientists from the University of Washington put all the trial participants on the drug and Laura took a turn for the better. The teenager, who usually found it difficult to gain a pound in a year, has gained eight pounds in seven months.

Her mother Kim, who is an intensive care nurse, said: 'She is not coughing at night anymore.' She added that her daughters were no longer plagued with thick mucus and they found it far easier to clear their lungs.

Cystic fibrosis is caused by a mutation in the gene for the protein that controls the balance of salt and water in the body's mucus membranes. The drug ivacaftor, also known as VX-770, restores the balance in five per cent of CF patients with a particular mutation.

Dr Ronald Crystal, at Weill Cornell Medical College, told ABC News: 'I would predict for those individuals who have this mutation, that it will prolong their lives.'

Scientists believe its success paves the way for tackling other mutations.

Scientists have published the study findings in the latest New England Journal of Medicine. It found the drug improved lung function, helped with normal growth and weight gain and had fewer side-effects than the placebo - suggesting it is safe.

Last month Vertex asked the Food and Drugs Administration and European Medicines Agency for a priority review of the drug.

As for Cate and Laura, they are both continuing on the drug in a trial extension and will continue on it for eight years. 'We're on it until it gets FDA approval,' Ms Cheevers said.


5 November, 2011

Handful of nuts a day can help beat belly fat (?)

Maybe they would but the study below did not examine that

A handful of nuts a day can keep hunger at bay and beat belly fat, according to scientists.

This is the first time a link between eating nuts and higher levels of serotonin - a substance that decreases appetite, boosts happiness and improves heart health - has been detected.

Researchers from the University of Barcelona say that it only took one ounce of raw and unpeeled walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts a day to produce the positive health effects.

It is hoped the findings, published in the Journal of Proteome Research, will benefit patients with metabolic syndrome (MetS) which is characterised by excess abdominal fat, high blood sugar and high blood pressure.

Dietary changes along with the regular consumption of nuts, which
contain healthy fats and antioxidants, may help patients shed excess weight, decreasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The team led by Cristina Andris-Lacueva in collaboration with the Human Nutrition Unit of the Rovira i Virgili University said: 'An increased excretion of serotonin metabolites was associated for the first time with nut consumption.' Adding that the discovery raises the 'prospects for new intervention targets'.

During the study, scientists put 22 MetS patients on a nut-enriched diet for 12 weeks and compared them to another group of 20 patients who were following a nut-free diet. Compounds excreted in the patients' urine were then examined. Those consuming 30 grams of mixed nuts a day displayed higher serotonin levels.

Approximately 90 per cent of the body's serotonin is located in the gut while he remainder is found in the central nervous system where it regulates mood and appetite.

Most prescribed drugs used to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety disorder and social phobia treat are designed to alter serotonin levels.


Nanny state taxation

Comment from Australia

The nanny state’s irresistible urge to meddle in peoples’ choices, combined with government’s voracious appetite for revenue, is producing a new class of highly targeted behavioural taxes. France recently announced a new tax on sugary soft drinks (which has the typically French twist of harming mostly non-French companies). Meanwhile, Denmark has introduced a new tax on the saturated fat content of food (the ‘fat tax’).

Australia has its own examples. The Labor government introduced the ‘alcopops’ tax in 2009 and imposed a 25% increase in the excise on cigarettes last year. Both of these actions built on the existing excise system in the traditional domain of ‘sin taxes,’ but their motive was the same as the more recent and less traditional French and Danish taxes. Our government is also toying with the idea of using the tax system to jack up the price of wine so that the minimum price would be considerably above existing prices at the low end.

The recent tax forum in Canberra was held just as Denmark’s fat tax hit the news. There were calls from predictable quarters at the forum for Australia to follow suit. In contrast Gary Banks, Chairman of the Productivity Commission, sounded a strong note of caution against behavioural taxes, saying that much of the detail on how to change behaviour through taxation is unresolved and that behavioural taxes may produce perverse results.

Quite apart from Banks’ technical arguments about the effectiveness of behavioural taxes, there are other reasons for Australia not to follow France and Denmark:

* Such taxes take the state too far into the territory of attempting to influence choices freely made by individuals.

* By penalising the great majority who eat and drink in moderation, such taxes use a sledge hammer to crack a nut.

* They make the tax system more complex and more expensive to comply with – the Henry tax review rightly emphasised the need for simplification and broader tax bases.

* The unstated motive is often revenue-raising, but if more revenue is needed it should be raised more efficiently.

When new or increased behavioural taxes are announced, governments invariably say that the increase in revenue is incidental to the main motive. The test of their sincerity is whether they pocket the revenue or hand it back through cuts in other taxes. I have never known the latter to happen. I do not want to see Australian governments go further down the road of nanny-state taxation, but if they do then they should commit themselves to equivalent cuts in other taxes.


4 November, 2011

Letting children get dirty reduces the risk of them getting sick?

Prof. Bisgaard has written a lot in this area so one can understand that he might be reluctant to let go of his theory but it is disturbing that he seems to have misled the journalist writing below.

As far as I can tell, the relevant journal article is "Reduced diversity of the intestinal microbiota during infancy is associated with increased risk of allergic disease at school age" but the findings in that article are NOT what is intimated below.

Bisgaard found in fact that bacterial count did NOT affect asthma. The only effect he found is that kids with a lot of bugs in them get less hay fever!

The theory that letting kids get dirty activates their immune system and protects them from auto-immune disease is a popular one and Prof. Bisgaard is hanging on to it, but there are strong indications against it. Australian Aborigines in Aboriginal settlements live in notoriously dirty conditions but have HIGH rates of autoimmune diseases such as diabetes. It's time Bisgaard faced the facts

Parents have long suspected letting their children get a bit dirty won’t do them any harm – even if the modern health and safety police say otherwise. And according to scientists, that parental instinct was right all along.

Their developing immune systems are exposed to a greater variety of bacteria than those of their cleaner counterparts, so they can cope better when germs are encountered later in life.

One in four of us now suffers from some kind of allergy, a figure that has risen in recent decades – as parents have become more worried about hygiene.

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen studied 411 children for 12 years from birth, and identified a direct link between the number of different bacteria found in their bodies and the risk of developing allergies later in life.

Professor Hans Bisgaard, who led the study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, said: ‘What matters is to encounter a large number of different bacteria early in life when the immune system is developing and 'learning'. ‘Our new findings match the discoveries we have made in the fields of asthma and hay fever.’


Low levels of zinc linked with autism in children as researchers hope to find treatment for the condition

Sounds more like a symptom than a cause

Children who are low in zinc may be at higher risk of autism.

A study found that large numbers of children with autism and related conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome were deficient in the mineral, which is found in meat, bread and dairy products.

The researchers said their finding provided hope for the treatment and prevention of autism.

But British experts say it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions from the study – and people should not rush out to stock up on zinc supplements.

Autism and related conditions affect more than one in 100 British children – ten times more than just 30 years ago – but the condition is still little understood.

In the latest study, researchers in Tokyo measured levels of zinc in the hair of almost 2,000 children with autism and related conditions.

This showed a ‘considerable association’ with zinc deficiency, especially in the youngest children, according to the journal Scientific Reports. Overall, almost a third of the youngsters were deficient in zinc.

The lowest levels were seen amongst the youngest children, with almost half of the boys and more than half of the girls aged up to the age of three judged to be deficient.

Some cases were severe, with one two-year-old boy having just one twelfth of the expected amount.

The researchers said it seems that infants need more zinc for growth and development than older children and that that lack of zinc early in life may be involved in the development of autism.

They concluded: ‘A nutritional approach may yield a novel hope for its treatment and prevention.’

But British experts in the development of the brain said that much more research is needed. And they stressed that linking something with a disease does not necessarily mean it caused it.

Professor Dorothy Bishop, of the University of Oxford, said: ‘If zinc deficiency is confirmed in future research, then it remains unclear whether this is a cause of autism, or rather reflective of dietary abnormalities. ‘Many children with autism will eat only a restricted range of foods and some have a habit of chewing on inedible objects.’

Uta Frith, of University College London, said there were weaknesses in the way the study was carried out. She said that on no account should people start medicating themselves – or their children – with zinc.

The professor told the Daily Mail: ‘It is just as bad to have too much zinc as too little. ‘If you take supplements, you could very well err on the side of poisoning.’


3 November, 2011

Thousands of Welsh, Scottish and Irish lives could be saved if residents followed the English diet, claims research

This assumes that the Celtic fringe is the same as England genetically -- a claim that would be heartily denounced in the Celtic nations concerned. It also assumes that the climate is the same, which it is not. Large numbers of English people live in the climatically mild South whereas the climates in the Celtic fringe are generally more severe. The dietary differences mentioned are NOT associated with increased overall mortality. Salt and fat are good for you or at least harmless. See the sidebar here

Many thousands of fatal illnesses could be avoided in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - if they would only adopt the diet of their English neighbours.

As many as 80 per cent of preventable deaths from the biggest killer diseases would be eliminated if the rest of the UK followed England's nutritional habits, according to new research.

But experts say that this does not give the English 'bragging rights', as even they are not eating a very balanced diet. They have proposed a 'fat tax' to improve the diet of the UK as a whole and reduce regional inequality in health.

The research showed that people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland consistently eat more calories, more fat and more salt than those living in England, and fewer fruit and vegetables.

Eight out of 10 unnecessary deaths from cancer, heart disease and stroke in Wales and Northern Ireland - and four in 10 of those in Scotland - could be prevented if people ate the 'average' diet in England.

Analysis of diets between 2007 and 2009 found that, on average, people in Scotland and Northern Ireland also ate 7.5g of salt daily compared to 7g in England, while those in Wales ate 7.4g.

Salt increases blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Those in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales also ate more fat and saturated fat and less fruit.

People in Scotland ate about 951g of vegetables a week, while those in Northern Ireland ate 902g, compared to the higher 1,190g in England.

Experts from the University of Oxford and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford also looked at 10 cancers associated with diet, including those of the gullet, bowel, and stomach.

They noted that death rates for heart disease, stroke and cancer are higher in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland than they are in England.

Calculations showed that between 2007 and 2009, just under 22,000 more people died in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland from stroke, heart disease and diet-related cancers than would be expected if death rates were as low as in England.

Over the period, 3,005 deaths in Wales, 6,353 in Scotland and 1,890 in Northern Ireland could have been 'delayed or averted' if the English diet was adopted, the study found.

The authors concluded: 'Diet has a substantial impact on geographical variations in mortality from coronary heart disease, stroke and various cancers within the UK.'

They said identifying 'fiscal initiatives aimed at increasing the cost of foods high in saturated fat (so called "fat taxes") may be best placed to reduce geographical inequalities in health if they are paired with subsidies for fruit and vegetables.'

Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: 'This research isn't about bragging rights to the English or tit-for-tat arguments about how healthy our traditional dishes might be.

'Saying the rest of the UK should follow England's lead to cut heart deaths isn't a foolproof solution - a quarter of English adults are obese and only 30 per cent eat their five-a-day.' [Five a day is a goal made up in an American advertising agency. It has no double-blind support]


Cherry juice can help get a good night's sleep

This is a small study over a short period of time: A pilot study only. A full study would need to address habituation and side-effects. The stuff could for instance contain a lot of anti-oxidants, which have been shown to shorten lifespans. See the sidebar here

Drinking cherry juice can help you sleep an extra 25 minutes a night, a study has found.

The research also found that people who have regularly consume cherry juice have improved quality of sleep.

Researchers from the School of Life Sciences at Northumbria University have found that Montmorency cherry juice significantly increases the levels of melatonin in the body, the hormone which regulates sleep.

Their findings could benefit those who have difficulty sleeping due to insomnia, shift work or jet lag.

In the study, led by Dr Glyn Howatson, 20 healthy volunteers drank a 30ml serving of either tart cherry juice or a placebo juice twice a day for seven days.

Urine samples were collected from all participants before and during the investigation to determine levels of melatonin, a naturally occurring compound that heavily influences the human sleep-wake cycle.

During the study the participants wore an actigraphy watch sensor which monitored their sleep and wake cycles and kept a daily diary on their sleeping patterns.

The researchers found that when participants drank cherry juice for a week there was a significant increase in their urinary melatonin (15-16%) than the control condition and placebo drink samples.

The actigraphy measurements of participants who consumed the cherry juice saw an increase of around 15 minutes to the time spent in bed, 25 minutes in their total sleep time and a 5-6% increase in their €˜sleep efficiency', a global measure of sleep quality.

Cherry juice drinkers reported less daytime napping time compared to their normal sleeping habits before the study and the napping times of the placebo group.

According to Dr Howatson, this is the first study to show direct evidence that supplementing your diet with a tart Montmorency cherry juice concentrate leads to an increase in circulating melatonin and provides improvements in sleep amongst healthy adults.

Dr Howatson, an exercise physiologist, said: "We were initially interested in the application of tart cherries in recovery from strenuous exercise. Sleep forms a critical component in that recovery process, which is often forgotten.

These results show that tart cherry juice can be used to facilitate sleep in healthy adults and, excitingly, has the potential to be applied as a natural intervention, not only to athletes, but to other populations with insomnia and general disturbed sleep from shift work or jet lag."

The study's co-authors are fellow Northumbria University academics Dr Jason Ellis, director of the Centre for Sleep Research, School of Life Sciences PhD students Jamie Tallent and Phillip Bell; Benita Middleton of the Centre for Chronobiology at University of Surrey; and Malachy McHugh of the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma in Lenox Hill Hospital, New York.

Dr Ellis said: "Although melatonin is available over the counter in other countries, it is not freely available in the UK. What makes these findings exciting is that the melatonin contained in tart cherry juice is sufficient to elicit a healthy sleep response.

"What's more, these results provide us with more evidence surrounding the relationship between how we sleep and what we consume."

The findings will be published this week in the online edition of the European Journal of Nutrition,


2 November, 2011

Two glasses of wine a day could increase breast cancer risk by 50 per cent

But it DECREASES your risk of a heart attack! How comical! But both findings are epidemiological garbage. Correlation is not causation

Women who drink just two glasses of wine a day are 50 per cent more likely to get breast cancer than those who don’t drink at all, a major study has found.

Even those who indulge in only three or four glasses of wine over an entire week – well within the Government’s recommended limits – are putting themselves at risk.

Researchers also warn that women who drink regularly in their 20s and 30s are far more likely to develop the illness in later life, regardless of whether they subsequently cut back.

The Government recommends that women should drink no more than 14 units a week, which is about seven medium glasses of wine or 14 measures of spirits.

But this study found that even half this amount – seven units a week – could raise the risk of breast cancer by 15 per cent.

And women who drank nearly four units daily – two glasses of wine – increased the likelihood by 50 per cent.

Researchers at Harvard University and Brigham And Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, looked at the records of 105,986 women aged 30 to 55 who completed surveys on their current drinking habits and how much they drank when they were younger. Over a period of nearly 30 years they monitored how many of the women developed breast cancer.

Their findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, show that women who drank nearly four units a day were 50 per cent more at risk than teetotallers.

Those who drank less than this amount but at least two and a half units daily were 28 per cent more at risk.

Women who drank between just over one unit and two and a half units daily were 15 per cent more at risk.

The study also found that women who drank two and a half units a day for a period of five years at any point between the ages of 18 and 40 were a third more likely to get the illness, even if they later cut down.

Breast cancer is by far the most common form of the illness in women and statistics show that one in eight will develop it at some point in their lives. Around 48,000 new cases are diagnosed in the UK every year and the majority of sufferers are over 50.

Scientists think that alcohol raises levels of the female sex hormone oestrogen, which is believed to trigger the growth of tumours.

Professor Karol Sikora, cancer specialist and medical director of the private cancer clinic company CancerPartnersUK, said: ‘The relationship between alcohol intake and breast cancer is very complex.

‘We’ve known for some years now that even small amounts of alcohol can change hormone patterns. But not all women are equally affected. This very large study from a much-respected source suggested that just a few glasses of wine a week increases breast cancer risk significantly throughout adult life.’

Sarah Williams, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘This study adds to already strong evidence that drinking even small amounts of alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer.

‘Cutting down on alcohol can reduce the chance of developing breast cancer – as can keeping a healthy weight and being physically active.’


Red wine ingredient protects against heart disease and diabetes?

A sample of 11 obese men??? How's that for generalizability?

An active ingredient in red wine could protect people at high risk from heart disease and diabetes, according to scientists. Researchers from Maastricht University have discovered that an antioxidant found in red grapes can lower blood sugar levels and reduce blood pressure.

Known as resveratrol, the wonder substance which found in the skin of red grapes, is also thought to increase life expectancy.

A team from the Netherlands analysed the biological effects of resveratrol supplements in a group of 11 obese men. Obesity increases the likelihood of developing metabolic syndromes, which in-turn raise the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

After 30 days all of the men experienced a lower metabolic rate, less liver fat, lower blood sugar levels and reduced blood pressure.

Lead researcher Dr Patrick Schrauwe said: 'We saw a lot of small effects but consistently pointing in a good direction of improved metabolic health.'

The men, who were obese but otherwise healthy, were given a dietary supplement containing 150 milligrams of purified resveratrol every day for a month.

During this time they underwent tests to measure a wide range of effects including energy expenditure, fat storage, blood sugar and pressure, and gene activity.

Two of the most striking findings were a marked drop in metabolic rate during sleep, and a five millimeters of mercury reduction in maximum blood pressure. No serious side effects were observed.
Resveratrol is found in the skin of red grapes as well as other fruits

Resveratrol is found in the skin of red grapes as well as other fruits

Dr Schrauwe's team concluded that the findings show 'resveratrol has promising beneficial metabolic effects' and that the antioxidant has the 'potential to improve metabolic health in subjects at risk for developing the metabolic syndrome.'

The changes mirrored those of severe calorie restriction, which has been shown in animals to make cells operate more efficiently.

Cutting calories by up to 50 per cent is known to reduce the risk of age-related diseases such as diabetes and cancer and promote longer life span.

The team now hope that the results will encourage more research to see if it resveratrol could be helpful in people with type 2 diabetes.

Dr Schrauwe' added: 'This is very positive news.m 'Now we have shown for the first time that resveratrol works in humans. 'We need further studies, but I would advise people to use resveratrol.'

He noted resveratrol is found is very small quantities in red wine - around one milligram per glass - and two gallons of wine a day would be the equivalent of a concentrated dosage as used in the study.

The research was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.


1 November, 2011

Happiness CAN help you live longer: The higher your levels of contentment, the lower your risk of premature death, say scientists

These results probably mean only that healthier people are happier. Surprising if they weren't

People who are happy and have a positive outlook live longer, according to scientists. A five year study of almost 4,000 52 to 79-year-olds revealed that the those who reported higher levels of contentment had a 35 per cent lower risk of premature death.

It is now hoped the findings from the University College of London will further promote 'positive well-being' as a remedy for stress and ill health.

Participants involved in the study were asked to rate their feelings of happiness or anxiety four times over the course of a day. The number of deaths were then recorded over a five-year period.

After taking into account age, gender, depression, certain diseases and health-related behaviours scientists found those who reported feeling happiest had a 35 per cent reduced risk of dying early compared with those who reported feeling least happy.

Lead researcher Professor Andrew Steptoe said: 'The present findings provide further reason to target the positive well-being of older people.'

The long-term study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, backs previous scientific claims that a 'glass half full' approach can have various health benefits.

In March scientists from the University of Illinois found positive moods reduced stress-related hormones and strengthened the immune system.

In a review of 160 animal and human studies Prof Ed Diener and his team concluded that happiness 'contributes to both longevity and better health among healthy populations.'

Meanwhile anxiety, depression, and pessimism were linked to higher rates of disease and a shorter lifespan.

In recent years positive psychology has received growing interest and in 2006 cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) - a form of psychotherapy that promotes happiness - was made available to NHS patients in a bid to tackle the £17 billion cost of depression and anxiety on the UK economy.

Despite the recent findings Professor Steptoe said that there is still no proof feeling happier extends life-span and instead stressed the importance of emotional well-being among older people.


Commuting 'bad for health'

Pretty muddled findings but if they mean anything we could be seeing again a confusion of cause and effect. Many poor people can only find accomodation far from their workplace because it is cheaper out in the sticks. So they have to spend more time commuting. And poor people have worse health anyway

Commuting by car or public transport can be bad for your health, a study indicates. It found those who used a car, bus or train as their principal way of getting to work suffered more stress, greater sickness absence, and poorer sleep than those who walked or cycled.

Researchers based their results on a public health survey of 21,000 full time workers, aged between 18 and 65, in southern Sweden.

Erik Hanssen from the division of occupational and environmental medicine at Lund University, said: "Generally car and public transport users suffered more everyday stress, poorer sleep quality, exhaustion and, on a seven point scale, felt that they struggled with their health compared to the active commuters.

"The negative health of public transport users increased with journey time."

The study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, could not prove that commuting caused ill health, emphasised the authors, because it was only a snapshot in time and there were so many other variables at play.

They tried to account for the fact that people who commuted in different ways were likely to be drawn from different backgrounds, but the academics conceded this could be a factor in health differences.

For example, those who commuted by car for over an hour reported better health than those whose drives lasted from 30 to 60 minutes, a finding that seemed to be at odds with the rest of the study.

Hanssen said of the longer distance commuters: "It could be that these drivers tended to be men, and high-income earners, who travelled in from rural areas, a group that generally consider themselves to be in good."


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like