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

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

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

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

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

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


30 November, 2012

Just one fizzy drink a day raises men's risk of aggressive prostate cancer by 40%

Cripes!  I must have a huge prostate.  I drink gallons of the stuff.  Funny that scans show me as normal!  Some sensible comments at the end of the article

One sugary soft drink a day could raise a man’s odds of developing prostate cancer.  A 15-year study found those who drank 300ml of a fizzy drink a day – slightly less than a standard can – were 40 per cent more likely to develop the disease than those who never consumed the drinks.

Worryingly, the risk applied not to early-stage disease that was spotted via blood tests but to cancers that had progressed enough to cause symptoms.

This is significant as faster-growing forms of prostate cancer are more likely to be fatal.

It is thought that sugar triggers the release of the hormone insulin, which feeds tumours.

Prostate cancer is the most common type in British men, affecting almost 41,000 a year and killing more than 10,000.

The study, published in the respected American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is far from the first to link the sugary soft drinks enjoyed by millions of Britons every day to poor health. Previous research has flagged up heart attacks, diabetes, weight gain, brittle bones, pancreatic cancer, muscle weakness and paralysis as potential risks.

The Swedish scientists behind the latest work said that while more research is needed before the link with prostate cancer can be confirmed, there are already ‘plenty of reasons’ to cut back on soft drinks.

For the study, they tracked the health of more than 8,000 men aged 45 to 73 for an average of 15 years. The men, who were in good health at the start of the study, were also quizzed about what they liked to eat and drink.

At the end of the study, they compared the dietary habits of the men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer with those who remained healthy and found a clear link between sugary drinks and the disease.

Lund University researcher Isabel Drake said: ‘Among the men who drank a lot of soft drinks... we saw an increased risk of prostate cancer of around 40 per cent.’ The analysis also linked large amounts of rice and pasta, cakes and biscuits, and sugary breakfast cereals with a less serious form of the disease.

There was no link with fruit juice. Diet drinks, and tea and coffee with sugar, were not included in the study.

The researchers said that although genetics plays a bigger role in prostate cancer than in many other tumours, diet also appears to be important. However, Mrs Drake, a PhD student, added that more research is needed to prove the link.

British experts also urged caution over the findings. Dr  Iain Frame, director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said:  ‘We cannot be certain whether any particular dietary pattern has a significant impact on a man’s risk of getting prostate cancer but it is highly unlikely that any single food source will lead to an increased chance of developing the disease.


'My life was hell': Loving husband who said Parkinson's drug made him a 'gay sex addict' awarded £160,000 by French court

The drug company DOES warn of such side-effects in some people so should it be blamed if nobody reads its warnings?  I would have thought that the prescribing doctor and even the pharmacist could be seen as more responsible than the company.  Just what the company was warning at the time he started on the drug may be an issue, however

A Parkinson's sufferer has won a six figure pay-out against a drug giant after his medication turned him into a 'gay sex and gambling addict'.

Didier Jambart had been a well respected man, an upstanding member of the community in Nantes, western France, and a loving father and husband.

But within two years of taking the drug Requip he was so addicted to both his vices he sold his children's toys to raise money and advertised himself on the internet for sex. He has now been given £160,000 in damages after a court in Rennes, France, upheld his claims.

The ground-breaking ruling was made yesterday by the appeal court, which awarded the damages to Mr Jambart from GlaxoSmithKline, the British pharmaceuticals giant.

With his wife Christine beside him, Mr Jambart, 52, broke down in tears as judges upheld his claim that his life had become 'hell' after he started taking Requip, a drug made by GSK.

He told reporters 'this is a great day' after the court threw out the firm's appeal against an earlier ruling to award him 117,000 euros.

The court increased the level of damages to 197,468.83 euros after finding that there was 'serious, precise and corroborated' evidence to blame his transformation on Requip.

Mr Jambart said: 'It's been a seven-year battle with our limited means for recognition of the fact that GSK lied to us and shattered our lives.'

He added: 'I am happy that justice has been done. I am happy for my wife and my children. I am at last going to be able to sleep at night and profit from life. '

But he added that the money he was awarded was not like winning the lottery, and said: 'This will never replace the years of pain.'

The court heard that Mr Jambart began taking Requip for Parkinson's disease in 2003.

The formerly well respected bank manager, local councillor and a father of two from Nantes in western France, had tried to commit suicide eight times after he turned into a sex-crazed gambling addict.

He told the court that he had emptied his bank account, sold his children's toys and stolen money from work colleagues, friends and neighbours.

In total he gambled away a total of 82,000 euros, mostly placing internet bets on horse races, and engaged in a 'frantic search for gay sex'.  He began exhibiting himself on internet websites and arranging encounters, one of which resulted in him being raped.

He said his family had not understood what was going on at first.

But his behaviour returned to normal when he stumbled upon a website that made the link between Requip and addictions in 2005, and stopped taking the drug.

The court heard that warnings about Requip's side-effects had been made public in 2006. Mr Jambart said that GSK should have informed patients earlier.


29 November, 2012

Study finds possible air pollution link to autism

This study in fact had NO DATA on air pollution.  They just used addresses as a proxy, a very inexact and error-prone  procedure. 

There are some sensible comments at the foot of the article below

A new report has indicated that exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy and infancy may be linked to an increased risk of autism.

Researchers from the University of Southern California monitored the relationship between air quality and autism.

This study used the addresses of mothers in the US state to estimate their exposure to pollution while pregnant and with a young child.

The report found children living in homes with the highest levels of traffic-related air pollution were three times more likely to have autism, compared to those with lower exposure.

Exposure was most risky during the mother's pregnancy, and in the first year of a child's life.

Australian researchers say the results warrant more study and have urged parents not to panic.

Professor Andrew Whitehouse from the Telethon Institute of Child Health Research says the results back up earlier studies in the field.

"It's a very interesting finding there is no doubt about that," he said.  "We've known for many years that there is likely to be at least a handful of environmental causes that may contribute to autism."

However, Professor Whitehouse says the new findings raise a number of questions.  "My message to parents is don't panic," he said.   "This study did not find that air pollution causes autism. What they've found is an association with autism.

"We need to direct further research into finding out whether this is lifestyle factors or nutritional factors, or whether it is air pollution but without that further research, we just don't know."

The study was published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry journal.


Homeopathy regime is rejected as judge tells parents to immunise child

Homeopathic beliefs can be a dangerous mental illness -- as shown in this case.  The mother believes in her homeopathic "vaccinations"  DESPITE the fact that her daughter got whooping cough, a very nasty and sometimes fatal illness.  Homeopathic potions are just water so have placebo value only

A JUDGE has ordered a couple to immunise their eight-year-old daughter according to government health guidelines, in a rebuke to the homeopathic regime pursued by the mother.

But the father will shoulder the cost of doing so.

The mother had sought in a injunction in the Family Court to stop the father and his partner from immunising the child without her written permission.

She made the application after discovering that her daughter's stepmother had secretly taken the child to a medical centre to have her immunised against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, polio, HIB, measles, mumps, rubella and meningococcal C.

Previously, the mother had been arranging homeopathic vaccines.

She told the court that she adhered to a "simple and healthy way of life", that included eating organic food, using non-toxic cleaning products and sending the child to a Rudolph Steiner school where the toys were made from natural products such as wool, wax and silk.

Most parents at the school focused on "building up the immune system of the child through homeopathics", she told the court.

But when the girl was five, she contracted whooping cough, and the father and his new partner became concerned that she was not vaccinated, possibly placing their new baby at risk.

The stepmother then took her to the medical centre for a course of traditional immunisations, with the support of the child's father, but without the mother's consent or knowledge.

This upset the mother, in part because it engendered feelings of disempowerment, but also because she feared the health risks of traditional immunisation.

She told the court: "The homeoprophylaxis regime is more than adequate for her needs, provides her with immunity against childhood diseases and does so in a far safer and more risk averse way."

A doctor in homeopathic medicine told the court that homeopathic vaccination was safe and effective, whereas traditional vaccination had short- and long-term risks, including a link to ADHD and autism.

But Justice Bennett accepted the evidence of a doctor at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, who said there was insufficient evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathic immunisation to justify its replacement of traditional immunisation.

The links to ADHD and autism had been disproved by studies in Scandinavia, France and the United States, the doctor said.

Justice Bennett said the risks associated with traditional immunisation did not outweigh the risks of infection.

"It appears to me that the efficacy of homeopathic vaccines in preventing infectious diseases has not been adequately scientifically demonstrated," she said.

However, the mother has lodged an appeal.

The case is one of several before the courts that involve differing philosophies over childhood vaccination.

The Federal Magistrates Court was asked to intervene between two parents disputing whether their daughter should be immunised in 2010, resulting in an order for the child to undergo the immunisation program recommended by the federal Health Department.


28 November, 2012

New  weight loss compound

The beneficial effects seem very small and the risks considerable

There’s a new drink that could not only help you lose weight, but could also treat epilepsy, diabetes and possibly even Alzheimer’s. It might also be an incredible energy booster. When a group of international rowing champions took it, one of them beat a world record.

It sounds far too good to be true, but the drink’s scientific credentials are impeccable.

It’s been developed by Kieran Clarke, professor of physiological biochemistry at Oxford University and head of its Cardiac Metabolism Research Group, at the behest of the U.S. Army.

Equally amazing is that the drink doesn’t involve a new drug. It contains something our bodies produce all the time.

This key ingredient is ketones — the tiny, but powerful sources of energy our bodies make naturally when we start using up our fat stores for energy because there are no carbs around.

We all have slightly raised ketone levels before breakfast because we haven’t eaten for a while. And if you fast for a few days or go on an Atkins-type high-fat diet, your body will start pumping out ketones. They are nature’s way of keeping you supplied with energy — especially your brain and muscles.

The clever trick Professor Clarke has pulled off is to have found a way to make ketones in the lab. This means that instead of having to follow difficult diets (with unpleasant side-effects such as constipation and bad breath), you can just add ketones to a normal diet — in the form of the Drink, as it’s known.

It’s a radical new approach, which flies in the face of more than 30 years of advice that a  low-fat diet with lots of carbohydrates is the best way to lose weight, treat diabetes and  protect your heart. It also raises questions  about the demonising of diets such as Atkins, which are blamed for causing constipation and kidney failure.

So how do ketones help? They are the reason why high-fat diets such as Atkins seem to work so well. Without the energy from carbohydrates, your body starts releasing stored fat, which the liver turns into ketones for energy.

The pounds drop off faster than with a low-fat diet because you are actively burning up stored fat. But there are other benefits of these ketogenic diets, as they are called. Blood sugar levels come down because you are eating hardly any carbohydrates.

In a study published earlier this year, Professor Clarke found that rats given the new ketone compound ate less and put on less weight than those getting the same amount of calories from a high-fat or a high-carbohydrate diet.

In the first trial Professor Clarke has run on humans with diabetes, completed within the past few months, the effects were also impressive. In the week-long study, eight people with diabetes had three ketone drinks a day as well as their normal diet.

As with the rats, their weight dropped (an average of nearly 2 per cent of their body weight), but so did their glucose levels, cholesterol and the amount of fat in the blood. The amount of exercise they did went up as they had more energy. However, the study was small and as yet unpublished.

So how does a drink that adds ketones help you lose weight if you’re not burning fat to produce those ketones in the first place? It is because ketones make you less hungry — they damp down hunger centres in the brain. This means you eat less and so you have the same weight loss as on a high-fat diet.

Meanwhile, because you’re eating less, your blood sugar levels come down

Eighteen months ago, Professor Clarke tried her ketones on rowers.

DeltaG ketones come in a thick, clear liquid that is very bitter, so in the trials on rats and humans, it has a little water added along with orange-coloured flavouring plus some sweeteners to make it more palatable — in this form it’s known as the Drink.

A group of top international rowers were given it shortly before they rowed on fixed machines in a lab.

After half an hour of hard rowing, those getting the Drink had rowed on average 50m further in the same time than when they had a dummy drink. This was an improvement of 0.5 per cent. It can be the difference between silver and gold.

But what about the dangers of high levels of ketones? Ketogenic diets are linked with constipation (through lack of roughage) and sometimes bad breath (the result of the way ketones happen to smell). Increased ketone levels may also lead to kidney failure, osteoporosis, cancer and heart disease, according to NHS Direct.


Margarine myth

Dr Aseem Malhotra, lead cardiologist of the National Obesity Forum, says:

I don’t go near Benecol or any other margarine-type products that claim to lower cholesterol and I advise my patients to stay clear of them, too.

First, they are expensive; second, these products are artificial, packed with unnatural products that really can’t do you any good; and third, I don’t believe there is any demonstrable health benefit.

They may have a very marginal effect on cholesterol, but — and this is critical — this hasn’t been established as having any clinical benefit in reducing the risk of a heart attack. In short, the whole saturated fat argument has been ridiculously overhyped.

A review of studies in the American  Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010, which analysed almost 350,000 people for up to 23 years, revealed no consistent evidence  linking saturated fat and cardiovascular disease.

In fact, I’ve started advising my patients to have butter, though clearly in moderation.

Really strong data is increasingly showing that the saturated fat from natural dairy products may even be beneficial in reducing heart attacks. It’s thought this is because it contains essential vitamins, such as A and D, as well as essential nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus, which studies  suggest can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Other research, by Dr Dariush Mozaffarian from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, found that people with higher levels of the trans-palmitoleic fatty acid (found mainly in dairy products) in their blood were about 60 per cent less likely to develop  type 2 diabetes over the next 20 years than those with the lowest levels.

Again, this runs counter to long-standing recommendations to trade in whole milk and cheese for the skimmed varieties.


27 November, 2012

How pedal power could ease Parkinson's: Cycling could improve connections in brain regions linked to the disease

This is a very small study with a probable strong experimenter expectation effect so judgment should be reserved for a more definitive study

Cycling could help ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, scientists believe.  The exercise improved connections between brain regions linked to the disease and boosted patients’ co-ordination and balance, research has shown.

Exercising on a bike is ‘an effective, low-cost therapy for the disease’, one researcher said.

US neuroscientist Jay Alberts began the research after noticing improvements in his companion, a Parkinson’s patient, after a long-distance tandem ride across Iowa. 

Dr Alberts, of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, Ohio, said: ‘The finding was serendipitous. I was pedalling faster, which forced her to pedal faster.  'She had improvements in her upper extremity function, so we started to look at the possible mechanism behind this improved function.’

In the study, he carried out a series of scans on the brains of 26 Parkinson’s patients who used exercise bikes three times a week for two months.

Some pedalled at their own pace, while others undertook ‘forced-rate’ cycling, in which they were made to pedal faster by motors fitted to their bikes.

The scans revealed pedalling, particularly vigorous pedalling, boosted connections between brain regions linked to movement, the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago heard.

Researcher Chintan Shah, also from the Cleveland Clinic, said: ‘The results show that forced-rate bicycle exercise is an effective, low-cost therapy for Parkinson’s disease.’

The scientists are now studying how patients fare with exercise bikes in their homes. They also want to see whether other forms of exercise such as swimming and rowing have similar benefits.

The charity Parkinson’s UK welcomed the research, saying the balance and co-ordination can be badly damaged as the disease progresses.

However, it also cautioned that not all patients will be capable of exercising intensely.  Dr Kieran Breen, the charity’s director of research, said: ‘While it is too soon to encourage people with Parkinson’s to get on their bikes three times a week on the basis of this study, we do know that exercise can be beneficial.

‘A regular exercise routine can help those with the condition to not only improve their general fitness but can also help to improve movement and balance as well as other symptoms of the condition such as anxiety and depression.’


A wonderful story

One feels so sorry for the dear little boy -- only one year old -- but that he is now alive and well is cause for great thankfulness

FLETCHER Dunne would be unlikely to be alive today had it not been for an accidental medical breakthrough borne out of quick-thinking.

The one-year-old is among 37 critically ill Victorian children who have had their lives saved by a medical treatment described by specialists as "magical".

In a medical first this month, the battler was one of four children with life-threatening infections who the Royal Children's Hospital used the unorthodox technique on - all at the same time.

Under the treatment, cardiac surgeons and intensive care specialists cut open the chests of children with the infections and connect their organs via tubes to a heart lung machine. It allows their organs to rest while they are given vital medication.  All four operated on are now recovering.

But the revolutionary procedure - not routinely used by any other Australian hospital for this purpose - was, incredibly, discovered by accident.

Patients with life-threatening infections would traditionally be connected to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine via a tube placed in their neck or groin.

Intensive Care Unit medical director Associate Professor Warwick Butt said they first trialled the new method in 2000 when a 16-year-old girl came in with meningococcal toxaemia.

Medics realised they could not connect her to the ECMO machine as they had run out of medical tubes, or cannulas, for the groin and neck.  "She was in big trouble and we only had a cannula to do open heart surgery," Associate Prof Butt said.

After getting her parents' permission to try the radical new procedure, the team cut her chest open and put her on the ECMO using the heart cannula.

What happened next amazed them.  "It was magical treatment because the tubes were bigger so we could get more blood flow and that meant she could get better quickly," Dr Butt said.  Since then they have used it on almost 40 children.  "Until two years ago no-one else on the planet was doing it," Dr Butt said.  Now, several overseas hospitals use it.

Cardiac surgery deputy director Associate Professor Yves D'udekem said: "We do it when we believe that if we don't, the child will die."

It has been estimated that half of children who develop refractory septic shock die.  Bacteria in their blood causes pressure to plummet and they do not respond to fluid and antibiotic treatment.

But RCH research has found the new method has boosted survival rates from 50 per cent to 80 per cent.

Fletcher presented with meningococcal septicaemia, general medicine paediatrician Dr Daryl Efron said.

SIMONE and Hayden Dunne had put their son, a happy and healthy baby, to bed the previous night.  At 2am he woke, crying, with a temperature and struggling to breathe. After a bath, he vomited and his body began to jolt. Eventually he settled.

The next morning he was taken to his GP, but by that stage was floppy and breaking out in a purple rash and Simone was told to take him to Shepparton Hospital.  "We laid him on the hospital bed and he was so lifeless, he didn't have any energy to make a sound," she said.

He was given antibiotics and flown to the Royal Children's Hospital.

Mrs Dunne said she was frightened he would lose limbs or suffer brain damage. At 3am they received a phone call to say that drastic life-saving intervention was required.

"I've never been so scared in my life but we didn't think twice about signing the consent forms," she said.  "We had full faith in the doctors. We knew that our little boy will have a 15cm cut down his chest but that's nothing compared to the alternative."

After going on ECMO his blood pressure instantly dropped.

"It was so hard to see him like that but from that point every single day he improved," Mrs Dunne said.

Fletcher was on the machine for four days. Gradually he woke up and started moving his arms and legs.

Ten days later he left hospital. His parents feel blessed their baby boy was able to receive the pioneering medical treatment.


26 November, 2012

Drinking lowers your risk of dying in hospital

This just suggests that people who are injured as a result of drinking are basically healthier than people who are injured for other reasons.  Any direct effect of alcohol itself is unlikely.  The "biomechanism of the protective phenomenon" is probably non-existent.  So the naivety behind the following statement is breathtaking:

"If the mechanism behind the protective effect were understood, 'we could then treat patients post-injury, either in the field or when they arrive at the hospital, with drugs that mimic alcohol,' he said."

Why do so many medical researchers assume that correlation is causation?  It isn't

The journal article is:  "Dose–response relationship between in-hospital mortality and alcohol following acute injury"

Scientists have discovered a somewhat dubious benefit of drinking too much - it reduces your risk of dying if you end up in hospital.

Of course consuming too much alcohol substantially increases your chances of being injured in the first place. However, once there, scientists found even mild intoxication reduces your risk of mortality.

'This study is not encouraging people to drink,' said study leader Lee Friedman from the University of Illinois.  'However, after an injury, if you are intoxicated there seems to be a pretty substantial protective effect.  'The more alcohol you have in your system, the more the protective effect.'

Friedman analysed Illinois data for 190,612 patients treated at trauma centres between 1995 and 2009 who were tested for blood alcohol content, which ranged from zero to 0.5 per cent at the time they were admitted to the trauma unit. Of that group, 6,733 died in the hospital.

The study examined the relationship of alcohol dosage to in-hospital mortality following traumatic injuries such as fractures, internal injuries and open wounds. Alcohol benefited patients across the range of injuries, with burns as the only exception.

The benefit extended from the lowest blood alcohol concentration (below 0.1 per cent) through the highest levels (up to 0.5 per cent).  'At the higher levels of blood alcohol concentration, there was a reduction of almost 50 per cent in hospital mortality rates,' Friedman said.

'This protective benefit persists even after taking into account injury severity and other factors known to be strongly associated with mortality following an injury.'

Very few studies have looked at the physiological mechanisms related to alcohol and injury in humans.

Some animal studies have shown a neuro-protective effect from alcohol, but the findings of most animal and previous human studies often contradict one another because of different study criteria.

Friedman says it's important for doctors to recognize intoxicated patients but also to understand how alcohol might affect the course of treatment.  Further research into the biomechanism of the protective phenomenon is needed, he said.

If the mechanism behind the protective effect were understood, 'we could then treat patients post-injury, either in the field or when they arrive at the hospital, with drugs that mimic alcohol,' he said.


Asparagus is latest weapon in the fight against diabetes as study reveals it controls blood sugar

If you are a rat in Pakistan

Asparagus could be a powerful new culinary weapon in the fight against diabetes.  Scientists have found regular intake of the increasingly popular vegetable keeps blood sugar levels under control and boosts the body’s production of insulin, the hormone that helps it to absorb glucose.

Once known as ‘late onset’ diabetes, since it only tended to strike from middle-age onwards, doctors are now beginning to see patients in their teens and twenties with the condition.  Fatty foods and unhealthy lifestyles have long been thought raise the risks.

To see if asparagus could help, scientists at the University of Karachi in Pakistan injected rats with chemicals to induce a diabetic state, with low levels of insulin and high blood sugar content.

They then treated half with an extract from the asparagus plant and the other half with an established anti-diabetic drug, called glibenclamide.

The rats were fed the asparagus extract in small or large doses every day for 28 days.  Blood tests were then carried out to measure changes in their diabetes.

The results, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, showed low levels of the asparagus suppressed blood sugar levels but did not improve insulin output.

Only high doses of the extract had a significant effect on insulin production by the pancreas, the organ which releases the hormone into the bloodstream.

The findings support earlier studies highlighting the benefits of asparagus.  One published in the British Medical Journal in 2006 showed asparagus triggered an 81 per cent increase in glucose uptake by the body’s muscles and tissues.

In a report on their findings the University of Karachi researchers said: ‘This study suggests asparagus extract exerts anti-diabetic effects.’


25 November, 2012

Is flossing your teeth a waste of time?

Visits to the dentist are never pleasant. Not only do we have our pearly whites scraped, prodded and drilled, we then have to endure a telling-off for not having flossed.

Dentists insist it will keep our teeth sparkling and free from decay, as well as keeping our gums healthy. Regular flossing has even been said to protect us from heart disease.

Yet, for most of us who try wrestling with the tape, it only results in a cricked neck and bleeding gums.

And now, according to a provocative new book, Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye, it seems that dedicated followers of flossing could actually be wasting their time.

The book is causing waves because it’s written by U.S.-based Dr Ellie Phillips, who was among the first women dentists to train at Guy’s Hospital in London.

She says that flossing — and that goes for whichever gizmo, gadget or bit of tape you choose to use — will do nothing to reduce your risk of tooth decay.

The science, she says, is on her side. Only one study has shown a benefit, and that involved a group of schoolchildren who did not floss themselves, but instead had their teeth flossed by a hygienist five days a week for two years.

And a study published in the British Dental Journal in 2006 found no difference in the number of cavities suffered by adults who flossed and those who did not.

‘In all fairness, there is no evidence that flossing is effective in preventing tooth decay in the long run,’ says Dr Graham Barnby, a dentist from Marlow, Bucks, who is also a member of the Simply Health Advisory Research Panel, which analyses the latest research and medical thinking.


A diet high in phytoestrogens improves sex life

If you are a red colobus monkey in Uganda, eating the leaves of Millettia dura

They are often considered a more spindly counterpart to their meat-eating friends.  But it seems vegetarians might have the last laugh when it comes to matters in the bedroom.

For a new study has found that people who consume tofu and other plant-based foods might enjoy a better sex life than meat-eaters.

It’s thought that certain plant products can influence hormone levels and heighten sexual activity.

The research, published in the journal Hormones and Behavior, is the first to observe the connection between the so called sex hormones phytoestrogens, found in plants, and behavior in wild primates.

In this case, it was a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda, but as primates, experts say we humans would likely experience similar effects from the compounds.

The research was carried out by Michael Wasserman, while he was a graduate student at UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

Over 11 months, Wasserman and his team followed a group of red colobus monkeys in Uganda's Kibale National Park and recorded what the primates ate.

The researchers focused on aggression, which they measured by the number of chases and fights, the frequency of mating and time spent grooming, and the scientists also collected fecal samples to assess changes in hormone levels.

The researchers found that the more male red colobus monkeys dined on the leaves of Millettia dura, a tropical tree containing estrogen-like compounds, and closely linked to soy, the higher their levels of estradiol, the 'sex hormone' and cortisol the 'stress hormone'.

They found that with the altered hormone levels the monkeys spent more time having sex, and less time grooming.

Wasserman told Sciencelive: 'By altering hormone levels and social behaviors important to reproduction and health, plants may have played a large role in the evolution of primate, including human, biology in ways that have been underappreciated.'

The research comes after the animal rights charity PETA has also insisted that fruit and veg are the key to virility.

A bizarre video, featuring various men gyrating with an assortment of phallic-shaped fruit and vegetables as their manhood, became a viral sensation on YouTube to back up the point.


23 November, 2012

Muscly boys aren't just a hit with the girls - they live longer, too

This may just show that people who are in indifferent health don't get much exercise

After a summer witnessing crowds of screaming girls jostling to catch a glimpse of Olympic diver Tod Daley's toned torso, there can't have been many young men who didn't feel a twinge of jealousy.

But now it seems there could be more to having the teenager's athletic physique than unfailing female attention - it could help you live longer too.  A team of researchers from Sweden have found muscular boys will live longer than their weaker friends.

And even if they are overweight by the time they get to adulthood, those with stronger muscles tend to live longer.

The team tracked more than one million Swedish male adolescents, all conscripts to the army and aged 16 to 19, over a period of 24 years.

The teenagers were asked to grip and to do leg curls and arm push ups  as a test of muscle strength.

The scientists found those with low strength, weak legs and arms and with a limp grip, were more likely to die earlier.

The report also suggests that physically weaker people might be more mentally vulnerable.

But the study, published in the BMJ, stressed that it does not mean building muscle through excessive weight training would make you live longer.

They have concluded that a basis of muscle strength instead reflects general fitness.

The leading single cause of death was accidental injury, followed by suicide, cancer, heart disease and stroke.

A third of the deaths were due to other causes and the researchers grouped these together for their calculations.

The teenagers who scored above average on muscular strength at the start of the study had a 20 to 35 per cent lower risk of early death from any cause and also from cardiovascular diseases.

They also had a 20 to 30 per cent lower risk of early death from suicide and were up to 65 per cent less likely to have any psychiatric diagnosis, such as schizophrenia or depression.

But the 16 to 19 year olds with the lowest level of muscular strength had the highest risk of dying before they reached their middle ages.

While the effect of poor muscular fitness in those observed was similar to other risk factors for early death, such as obesity and high blood pressure, researchers still found the link between early death and muscle power remained after the other factors were taken into account.

The study also found thin and fat men alike fared worse in terms of life expectancy if they had weaker than average muscles, while more muscular men had better survival odds even if they were overweight.

But experts stress the findings do not mean muscle building through excessive weight training makes you live longer.


Does eating chocolate make you clever?

There is quite a long lag in Nobel prizes.  People tend to get prizes in their 70s for work they did in their 30s  -- or thereabouts.  So high chocolate consumption at the present seems unlikely to have a causative relationship

Does eating chocolate make you clever?  It seems that might well be the case after scientists in New York found the higher a country's chocolate consumption, the more Nobel laureates it spawns.

The new research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is tongue-in-cheek, admits the lead author to Dr. Franz Messerli.

But nonetheless, the results did show a surprisingly powerful scientific correlation between the amount of chocolate consumed in each country and the number of Nobel laureates it produced, he wrote in the journal.

The Swiss, naturally, take the lead, with the Swedes and Danes following closely behind. The UK was above average in the table

Dr Messerli, a Swiss doctor now working at Columbia University in New York, told Reuters Health: ‘I started plotting this in a hotel room, because I had nothing else to do, and I could not believe my eyes.

'All the countries lined up neatly on a graph, with higher chocolate intake tied to more laureates.'

It’s thought that eating chocolate might improve our ability to think as it is high in antioxidants known as flavonoids, which are also found in cocoa, green tea, red wine and some fruits.

Studies have suggested that flavonoids may improve thinking and reduce the risk of dementia by increasing the blood flow to the brain.

Dr Messerli wrote in the journal: ‘Since chocolate consumption has been documented to improve cognitive function, it seems most likely that in a dose-dependent way, chocolate intake provides the abundant fertile ground needed for the sprouting of Nobel laureates.’

When it comes to chocolate, several other researchers have suggested dark varieties might benefit the brain, the heart and even help cut excess pounds.

But to produce just one more laureate, the nation would have to up its cocoa intake by a whopping 275 million pounds a year, Dr Messerli added.

He estimates that every citizen would have to eat 400 grams of chocolate a year to increase the number of Nobel laureates in a given country by one per million inhabitants, if the correlation holds true.

And in the 'conflict of interest section' of his article, Dr Messerli does admit to daily chocolate consumption. Despite the tongue-in-cheek tone of the research, he added that he does believe chocolate has real health effects, although he warns people to stay away from the sweeter varieties and opt for dark.


22 November, 2012

Controversial New Diet Pill Hits Market -- Hailed as a Miracle Fat Burner

Since the FDA authorized it as a flavor additive in food back in 1965, alarm bells should ring about the "new" claims in the headline reproduced above.  No references are given for the "research" quoted below and the research that is available suggests that it has no effect.  It's a scam and its promotion by "Dr Oz" shows him for what he is: as big in credulity as his jaw

A new dietary supplement containing an extract from red raspberries is currently the hottest diet product in the U.S. — but not without controversy.

Critics say the compound — called raspberry ketone — causes such a significant amount of weight loss that it runs the risk of being abused by non-dieters. Proponents argue that research shows the nutrient to be both safe and effective and that banning the natural compound would be akin to banning vitamins.

One thing people on both sides can agree on is the controversial new supplement works.

Several recent studies from Japan show that raspberry ketones — which are chemically similar to capsaicin, the heat compound from chile peppers — significantly increases fat oxidation (burning), especially the fat that builds up in the liver.

In 2010, Korean researchers reported that raspberry ketone increased fat cells' secretion of a hormone called adiponectin that regulates the processing of sugars and fats in the blood. The reported benefits are impressive: Increased total weight loss, including a significant reduction of abdominal fat — with zero side effects.

In fact, not only were there not any side effects, but a 2012 study from China found that raspberry ketones had several health benefits — including improved cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity, and reduced fat in the liver.

And if all that weren't reason enough to have desperate slimmers stocking up, one of America's leading medical doctors is a fan, recently calling raspberry ketones a "miracle weight loss supplement" on his Emmy-winning daytime TV show. Click here to watch the episode.

According to Lisa Lynn, a leading weight-loss expert and television health contributor, many of her clients have been supplementing with raspberry ketones and experiencing stunning fat-loss results in as few as five days.

Lynn described the compounds as "very healthy" with "no side effects" and says the pills enable the body to "burn fat easier" by stimulating the production of adiponectin, a hormone found in fatty tissue that improves our ability to metabolize fat.

Studies show that thin people have higher levels of adiponectin than overweight individuals. What's more, researchers agree that the hormone improves insulin sensitivity and helps regulate weight.


Fat people really ARE more jolly - because their genes mean they're less likely to get depressed

The connection found was absurdly slight -- far to small to be the basis of any generalization

The word 'jolly' has long been a byword word for 'plump' - hijacked by experts in the back handed compliment.  But scientists believe there could be genetic evidence which explains why fat people are often happier than their skinny friends.

It comes after Strictly favourite Lisa Riley has been flying the flag for larger women insisting she is a 'big, happy girl', more than comfortable with her size.

The breakthrough could be an explanation for why obese characters, such as The Laughing Policeman and Father Christmas, are often portrayed as jovial and kindly

Scientists from McMaster University in Canada found the so called 'fat gene' FTO is also a 'happy gene' too.  FTO is the major genetic contributor to obesity  but it is also associated with an eight per cent reduction in the risk of depression.

Researchers at McMaster University in Canada had been investigating whether there was a link between obesity and depression.

But when they investigated the genetic and psychiatric status of patients enrolled in the EpiDREAM study, led by the Population Health Research Institute, they found the opposite was true.

The study analysed 17,200 DNA samples from participants in 21 countries.  Results showed those with the the previously identified FTO gene - the fat gene -showed significantly less signs of depression.

The study finding was confirmed by analysing the genetic status of patients in three additional international studies.

Professor David Meyre, of McMaster University in Canada, said: 'We set out to follow a different path, starting from the hypothesis that both depression and obesity deal with brain activity.  'We hypothesised that obesity genes may be linked to depression.

'The difference of eight per cent is modest and it won't make a big difference in the day-to-day care of patients.

'But, we have discovered a novel molecular basis for depression.  'It is the first evidence that an FTO obesity gene is associated with protection against major depression, independent of its effect on body mass index.'


21 November, 2012

Happy children grow up to be wealthy

This seems an unusually well-controlled study so the conclusions are  probably correct. 

There is an elephant in the room, however.  All the evidence suggests that happiness is a stable disposition.  You are born happy or miserable as the case may be and you stay at pretty much that level.  Neither you nor anybody else can do much to change it

Happy children are more likely to grow up to be wealthy adults, according to new research.

A data analysis of 15,000 young adults in the U.S. by economists at University College London, revealed that those who reported higher levels of life satisfaction, went on to receive larger paychecks than their gloomy counterparts.

This is due to the fact that people with sunny dispositions are more likely to be outgoing, finish a degree, secure work and get promoted quicker.

It marks the first time a link between happiness and income has been investigated in depth.

Results found that even a one-point increase in life satisfaction - on a scale of five - at the age of 22 led to almost $2,000 higher earnings per annum seven years on.

Co-author of the study, Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, said: 'These findings have important implications for academics, policy makers, and the general public.

'For academics they reveal the strong possibility for reverse causality between income and happiness - a relationship that most have assumed unidirectional and causal.

'For policy makers, they highlight the importance of promoting general well-being, not just because happiness is what the general population aspires to but also for its economic impact.'

Dr De Neve, who worked with Professor Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick, added that the findings show how the well-being of a child is key to future success.

He urged parents to create and maintain emotionally healthy home environments.

However findings highlighted that there are a range of factors outside of the home that cannot be controlled by guardians, as siblings often reported different emotions.

The study took into account the education, physical health, genetic variation, IQ, self-esteem and current happiness of subjects.

It appears in the November 19 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Children who go to nursery are 50% more likely to be overweight than those cared for by their parents

But why?  This time the researchers are honest enough to admit that nobody knows.  But I have a tentative suggestion.  Attending  daycare is known to elevate cortisol levels among little children, suggesting increased anxiety.  And eating is sometimes an anxiety response.

If working parents didn't feel guilty enough about leaving their children at nursery, now new research has found daycare could encourage obesity.

Researchers found school pupils are 50 per cent more likely to be overweight if they attended nursery regularly compared to those who stayed at home with their parents. Even leaving a child with a relative significantly increased the risk of obesity.

Study leader Dr Marie-Claude Geoffroy, from the University of Montreal, said: 'We found that children whose primary care arrangement between 1.5 and four years was in daycare-centre or with an extended family member were around 50 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese between the ages of four and 10 years compared to those cared for at home by their parents.'

'This difference cannot be explained by known risk factors such as socioeconomic status of the parents, breastfeeding, body mass index of the mother, or employment status of the mother.'

The researchers said the reasons for the difference in weight is not yet known but unhealthy meals and lack of exercise could play a part.

'Diet and physical activity are avenues to follow,' says Dr Sylvana Côté, who co-directed the study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

'Parents don't have to worry; however, I suggest to parents they ensure their children eat well and get enough physical activity, whether at home or at daycare.'

The team studied 1,649 families with children born in 1997-1998 in Québec. Mothers were interviewed about the care of their children at 1.5 years, 2.5 years, 3.5 years, and four years.

The children were classified according to the type of care in which they had spent the most total hours, be it a daycare centre, a family member, nanny or parents.

During the six years that followed, the researchers measured the children's weight and height. The results flagged up the notable weight difference between youngsters cared for by their parents compared to others.

The researchers said daycare had the potential to reduce weight problems in children through the promotion of physical activity and healthy eating.

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘There can be a big difference between the nutrients children are supposed to get in daycare and what they actually get.'


20 November, 2012

Lights at night 'could trigger depression'

Cripes!  I have the lights on until midnight usually.  I must be one sick puppy.  Generalizing from mice to people is stupid.  Mankind has a very long prehistory of sitting around staring into fires at night, for a start

Using your iPad or watching television late at night could make you depressed, according to a study that shows exposure to bright light during sleeping hours affects behaviour and stress levels.

American scientists found that mice regularly exposed to light at night became `depressed' - showing less interest in doing `fun' things, being less likely to explore new objects in their cages and not moving around as much. They also had higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Samer Hattar, professor of biology at Johns Hopkins University in the US, said: "Basically, what we found is that chronic exposure to bright light - even the kind of light you experience in your own living room at home or in the workplace at night if you are a shift worker - elevates levels of a certain stress hormone in the body, which results in depression and lowers cognitive function."

He and his colleagues also found that the bright light affected special cells in the mice's eyes, called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, which affect the part of the brain that manages mood, memory and learning.

Although the study was in mice, Prof Hattar said mice and men were similar in certain ways and so the study held lessons for people.

"I'm not saying we have to sit in complete darkness at night, but I do recommend that we should switch on fewer lamps, and stick to less-intense light bulbs: Basically, only use what you need to see," he said.

A spokesman for Johns Hopkins: "When people routinely burn the midnight oil, they risk suffering depression and learning issues, and not only because of lack of sleep. The culprit could also be exposure to bright light at night from lamps, computers and even iPads.

The study is published in the journal Nature.


Fever can be a child's friend': New research claims a high temperature could actually help children get better

Some old wisdom rediscovered.  Before antibiotics, a fever was the only known way of curing syphilis

When the flu season hits, many parents will be reaching for the cold compresses and paracetamol to cool their feverish child.

But it seems a high temperature could actually help children battle an illness.

An American paediatrician has revealed the high fevers typical of many childhood illnesses can help force a child to slow down, rest and sleep more - all vital in recovering.

Hannah Chow-Johnson, assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, said she was often asked what to do about children with a high temperature.

She said: 'My most frequent calls are from worried parents who want to know how high is too high of a fever.  'What many parents don’t realise is that often, fevers are their child’s friend.'  'Fevers can actually help your child recover more quickly, especially if he or she is battling a viral illness.

'I often wish thermometers had a gauge that read either ‘fever’ or ‘no fever.’  'That would definitely help parents who worry if their child has a fever that’s too high.'

Researchers at Great Ormond Street Hospital have in the past claimed tackling a fever with medicine before it is allowed to run its course, may slow recovery time, because the temperature can help to kill the bacteria causing the illness.

Fever is defined as a temperature over 37.5c, and can be a sign of something serious.  Parents are advised to seek medical help if a child's temperature reaches 40c or above.

If your child is also unusually sleepy, has a rash, cold extremities, a stiff neck or difficulty breathing, it is always best to contact your GP.

But most fevers are caused by a viral infection, and clear up on their own within a few days.

Despite the advice, the official NHS line on children running a high temperature is to keep them hydrated, undress them to their nappy or pants, and to treat discomfort with paracetamol or ibuprofen.


19 November, 2012

Stressful pregnancy 'could make children easier prey for bullies'

At risk of being unkind, this study could be interpreted as showing that feral parents have pathetic children.  The physiological effects postulated could be real but are speculation.  Genetic factors could also be involved.  The journal article is:  "Prenatal family adversity and maternal mental health and vulnerability to peer victimisation at school"

A mother's stress can pass to her baby in the womb.  Children whose mothers were stressed during pregnancy are more likely to be bullied at school, according to new research.

A study of nearly 9,000 children found anxiety during pregnancy could be passed on to the baby in the womb. Affected youngsters were more likely to cry, run away or feel anxious at school, making them easier prey for bullies.

Research leader Professor Dieter Wolke, of the University of Warwick, said: 'When we are exposed to stress, large quantities of neurohormones are released into the blood stream and in a pregnant woman this can change the developing foetus’ own stress response system.'

The study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry is based on 8,829 children from the Avon Longtitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

Prof Wolke said: 'This is the first study to investigate stress in pregnancy and a child’s vulnerability to being bullied.  'Changes in the stress response system can affect behaviour and how children react emotionally to stress such as being picked on by a bully.  'Children who more easily show a stress reaction such as crying, running away, anxiety are then selected by bullies to home in to.'

His researchers identified the main prenatal stress factors as severe family problems, such as financial difficulty or alcohol and drug abuse, and maternal mental health.

Added Prof Wolke: 'The whole thing becomes a vicious cycle, a child with an altered stress response system is more likely to be bullied, which affects their stress response even further and increases the likelihood of them developing mental health problems in later life.'

The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) - which is also known as Children of the 90s - is a long-term health research project.

More than 14,000 mothers enrolled during pregnancy in 1991 and 1992, and the health and development of their children has been followed in great detail ever since.


Air pollution in towns and cities ‘ages brains of over-50s by three years’

Tell me the old, old story: Pollution bad!   As this iteration  of the scare has not been peer reviewed and published it is hard to evaluate but it is probably just more evidence that it is mainly the poor who live beside busy roads and other polluted areas

The higher level of air pollution in towns and cities is ageing the brains of over-50s by up to three years, research suggests.

Scientists have found that exposure to higher levels of air pollution can lead to decreased brain power in over-50s. Earlier research has also linked bad air to an increased risk of heart and breathing problems.

In a study of almost 15,000 older adults, researchers at the US-based National Institute on Aging found fine air particulate matter may be an important environmental risk factor for reduced thought power.  If inhaled, it is small enough to deposit in the lungs and possibly the brain.

Air pollution is already estimated to reduce the life expectancy of everyone in the UK by an average of seven to eight months, probably by affecting the heart and lungs.

‘As a result of age-related declines in health and functioning, older adults are particularly vulnerable to the hazards of exposure to unhealthy air,’ said Dr Jennifer Ailshire, from the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California.

‘Air pollution has been linked to increased cardiovascular and respiratory problems, and even premature death, in older populations, and there is emerging evidence that exposure to particulate air pollution may have adverse effects on brain health and functioning as well.’

Scientists were studying the impact of a minute air pollutant known as PM2.5 on the health of the participants, which is produced by vehicle exhaust emissions, as well as gas boilers and heavy industry.

They found that for every additional 10 micrograms of the pollutant in a cubic metre of air - roughly the difference between inner London and rural Britain - the drop in participants brain power was equivalent to three years of ageing.

The association even remained after accounting for other factors, such as age, ethnicity, education, smoking behaviour, and respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

Professor Frank Kelly, a professor of environmental health at King’s College London, said: ‘The average amount of this pollutant in London is around 13 to 15 mcg per cubic metre, while in some rural areas away from traffic it can be as low as three or four mcg.

‘Here is another study showing that the quality of the air that we breathe can not only affect for our heart and lungs, but our brains as well.’

The new research was presented at The Gerontological Society of America’s (GSA) 65th Annual Scientific Meeting in San Diego.


18 November, 2012

Drinking even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant 'can affect child's IQ'

Boring.  Just the old class effect again -- with (smarter) middle class mothers more likely to abstain completely

Even small amounts of alcohol consumed during pregnancy can adversely impact the IQ of a child, new research shows.

Drinking by pregnant women has been a controversial topic, with no scientific unanimity. While some experts propagate total abstinence from alcohol, others have favoured moderate consumption

The new study, which used a genetic approach to study the impact of alcohol, has concluded that children whose mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy had lower IQ when they were eight, compared to kids who were not exposed to any alcohol in the womb.

Researchers from the universities of Bristol and Oxford used data from over 4,000 mothers and their children to arrive at the conclusion. The study will be published in scientific journal PLOS ONE on Thursday.

In order to separate the impact of alcohol from other lifestyle factors such as smoking and diet, the researchers used genetic data.

They found that four genetic variants in alcohol-metabolising genes among 4,167 children studied were strongly related to lower IQ at age eight.

There was no effect seen in children whose mothers abstained during pregnancy, Dr Ron Gray from University of Oxford who led the research said.

When a person drinks alcohol, ethanol is converted to acetaldehyde by enzymes.

Variations in the genes that 'encode' these enzymes lead to differences in the ability to metabolise ethanol. In 'slow metabolisers', peak alcohol levels may be higher and persist for longer than in fast metabolisers', scientists explained.

It is believed that the fast' metabolism protects against abnormal brain development in infants because less alcohol is delivered to the fetus


New vaccine against most deadly strain of meningitis could soon be offered to all babies

The first vaccine to offer broad protection against meningitis B is to be licensed for use in the UK, drastically reducing the number of children killed by the disease.

There are 1,870 cases of meningitis B in the UK on average each year, resulting in up to 200 deaths – half of which occur in the under-fives.

As many as 400 children a year are also left with serious lifelong complications such as limb amputations, blindness, deafness and brain damage.

Although vaccination programmes have been successfully introduced to combat other strains of meningitis, no vaccine against the B strain currently exists in this country.

Meningococcal B is the most common form of bacterial meningitis in Britain, one of the most deadly, and the one that poses the toughest challenge to develop a vaccine for because there are so many variations to target.

Bexsero is the first vaccine providing broad protection against 800 deadly meningococcal B strains which, in some cases, can kill within hours.

The European Medicines Agency, a drug regulatory body which covers the UK, issued a 'positive opinion' on Bexsero yesterday, which means it is safe and effective.

This is the first step in an approval process that should result in the jab, developed by Novartis, being licensed within three months.

But the critical decision on whether it will become part of the routine NHS immunisation programme for babies and children lies with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the Government.

It will consider factors such as price, cost-effectiveness and compatibility with other childhood vaccines. The last major vaccine against meningitis – the pneumococcal vaccine – took five years to be introduced into the immunisation schedule.

Steve Dayman, founder of the Meningitis UK charity who lost his baby Spencer to meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia in 1982, said: 'This is a landmark moment in the fight against meningitis. I have waited three decades to hear this along with many other families who have supported the cause.

'It is vital that the vaccine is introduced in the UK immunisation schedule as soon as possible.

'It will save countless lives and prevent many people enduring the suffering caused by this devastating disease. We will be campaigning hard to make the Government introduce it.'

Andrin Oswald, of Novartis, said the company was already in discussions with the Government and warned: 'Every year of delay in a country like Britain costs the lives of dozens more children who do not have to die – a sense of urgency is appropriate.'

In trials involving 7,500 children, adolescents and adults, the vaccine, which can be used for babies aged two months and older, produced antibodies against 77 per cent of strains.

Sue Davie, chief executive of the Meningitis Trust charity, said: 'We see the devastation that meningitis continues to cause to victims and their families, tearing lives apart in a matter of hours.

'This vaccine could save many lives every year, but it could also save the long-term suffering that many survivors face after the disease.'

But she warned that people must not become complacent as, even if Bexsero is introduced, people are still not protected from all types of meningitis.

She said: 'It's vital that everyone makes themselves aware of the signs and symptoms and remains vigilant.'

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said: 'The independent expert group on vaccines that advises the Government is currently looking at use of this vaccine and will provide advice in due course.'


16 November, 2012

Fat is a reasonable choice

An overweight Leftist lady, Julie Burchill,  is embittered about the well-preserved Joanna  Lumley (above).  Getting past the very British class-envy, Burchill has a point, however. 

While the latest comments from Lady Muck — sorry, Joanna Lumley — mark her out as something of a rent-a-gob (albeit one with a cut-glass accent), the hard facts of what she says are impossible to argue with.

‘Lots of people nowadays are too greedy,’ she said imperiously this week. ‘People think: "I must have a cupcake.”  What do you mean you must? You’ll get fat, you fool. They think: "I want a bit of choccie.”  And you think: "No, don’t have it, you fool.”’

On one level, she is quite right. People — and I include myself — get fat because they choose pleasure over self-denial.

But this doesn’t mean we are fools. It could simply be that we have realised that all roads lead eventually to infirmity and extinction — as the amusing slogan ‘eat well, exercise often, die anyway’ illustrates. And we have decided to have as much fun as possible on the way.

Frankly, the ill-tempered tone of Joanna’s diatribe suggests a woman who — in order to court public admiration well into her 60s, which could be seen as a sign of a narcissistic personality disorder — has starved herself to the point of rage.

This is known in fashion circles as being ‘hangry’, an affliction believed to contribute to the half-witted and hysterical tone of the fashion world generally and the psychotic behaviour of Naomi Campbell in particular.

To give Lumley credit, at least she is no Cameron Diaz, who wants us to believe her whipcord physique is the by-product of feasting on French fries and pork scratchings. Lumley admits: ‘On a typical day, I eat lettuce, followed by some lettuce, with lettuce.’

Fair enough, if that’s what turns you on — and it’s what you need to do in order to keep getting work.

But the choice seems to have stoked resentment on her part towards all those women who do not have to rely on their appearance in order to make a living.

I’d like to point out here that this is not just the envious carping of a fat broad, on my part. In the past, I have pilloried that other national treasure, Dawn French, for suggesting rather pathetically that fat women are morally and sexually superior to thin ones.

I just have a real problem with people who seek to portray fatness or thinness as moral concepts.

On the one hand, Lumley sees in mere blubber a world of ignorance and idleness. On the other, French sees said blubber as a mark of sensuality and generosity.

Gluttony and idleness are two of life’s great joys, but they are not honourable — no more than their opposite, dieting and exercise.

Big women do themselves a disservice when they attempt to become the Righteous Fat (the Righteous Thin are bad enough, all that running around and sweating, somehow believing it means anything).

The reality is simply very boring. There are exciting, intelligent, fat people — and exciting, intelligent, thin people.

There are dull, stupid, fat people — and dull, stupid, thin people. There are even — though, admittedly, the thin have the upper hand, even if it is an unattractively skeletal and wizened hand, a la Madonna — attractive thin people and attractive fat people, and unattractive thin people and unattractive fat people.

There are many happy, married, sexed-up fat women and many beautiful skinny girls sitting alone by the phone — and vice versa.

But the idea that thin and fat women might have plenty in common does not sit happily with some  sections of society.

An eternal bitch-fight must be in motion — featherweights versus heavyweights — every time the dinner bell rings.

Last year, talking to Melvyn Bragg, Lumley spoke of the panic attacks that brought her to ‘the brink of utter insanity’ when she was in her 20s and living on ‘Marmite on toast for breakfast, lunch, tea and supper. There was nothing else to eat, we were so poor.’

Referring to it as ‘a bit of a wobbler’, she told Bragg: ‘I was on stage and began to see people levelling guns at me out of the boxes.’

If she’d had a nice cupcake or a bit of choccie before going on stage, I bet she’d have felt a lot better.

The diseases of dieting — anorexia, bulimia and osteoporosis —cost the NHS a great deal of time and money, as do diabetes and gastric bands.

But the fat must simply stand there and brave all the abuse thrown at them; often, in my opinion, by people who envy their ability to live comfortably in their own skin and to value themselves more for their IQ than their BMI.

Last year, a funny email was doing the rounds: two photos, one of a full-fat Nigella Lawson at her most radiant, and one of that human husk Gillian McKeith, looking like Worzel Gummidge in drag.

The words beneath the photos ran: ‘Gillian McKeith is a 51-year-old TV health guru advocating a holistic approach to nutrition and health, promoting exercise, a vegetarian diet of organic fruits and vegetables.

‘She recommends detox diets, colonic irrigation and supplements, and also states that the colour of food is nutritionally significant. She also recommends faecal examination. Nigella Lawson is a 50-year-old TV cook in Great Britain, who eats nothing but meat, butter and desserts. I rest my case...’

Far from being fools, we fatties have cottoned on to the fact that binge-drinking, over-eating and all those causes and effects of weighing too much will mean we’ll die at a reasonable age — and thus can spend our savings with abandon as we grow old.

Eat frugally, live long, then find yourself being hustled down the Liverpool Care Pathway [death].

Or follow the primrose path of living fast, eating much, exercising little and dying from the side-effects of fun? We are all free to choose. And I made my choice long ago. Cheers!


Crackdown on fat bus drivers in Tasmania

Obesity does limit mobility but it depends on how "obese" is classified

METRO'S move to ban drivers who are obese may be discriminatory, says Tasmanian anti-discrimination commissioner Robin Banks.

Bus drivers have lashed out at Metro after being told employees who weigh more than 130kg will be banned from driving, put on other duties and placed on a weight-loss program.

Ms Banks said obesity had been classified as a disability in successful anti-discrimination cases in other states.

"As I understand it, there's certainly the potential for it to be unlawful under the Anti-Discrimination Act," she said.

"It will depend on whether or not Metro is able to show that a person of 130kg or more couldn't perform the inherent requirement of their job."

Overweight employees of the Government-owned bus company have six months to lose weight.

Ms Banks said employers were only allowed to discriminate on the basis of disability if the employee could not fulfil the requirements of the job, or the cost of modifying the equipment created an unjustifiable hardship for the employer.

Rail, Tram and Bus union branch secretary Samantha Simonetis said the cost of installing new sturdier seats into the Metro fleet was going to cost $750,000.

Ms Simonetis said while the union had campaigned for years for a health program, the office had been inundated with calls from upset Metro drivers.

"Drivers not even affected by the new obesity rule say that people are getting on the bus and looking at them wondering how much they weigh," she said.  "They feel like they are being publicly humiliated and they are."

Metro advertisements for casual bus drivers on the weekend said people over 130kg need not apply because of bus seat design limits.  Metro CEO Heather Haselgrove said the obesity law was designed to ensure employees' health and safety and the seats were rated only to 130kg.

Ms Haselgrove said weight should not get in the way of employees performing their duties and using equipment.

Australian Psychological Society chairman Darren Stops said it was positive if Metro was looking after employees' health and it was an unfortunate spin-off if it meant drivers were subjected to public scrutiny.



15 November, 2012

More False BPA ‘Science’ by News Release


News releases trumpeting not merely inaccurate, but false, science have become a way of life for Americans and others around the world. There is rarely, if ever, any fact checking done by the editors and reporters who pass along often dangerously false science on a wide range of topics, with many reports designed to alarm consumers.

Such is the case with bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that has been in use for some 60 years to protect the contents of metal food containers and create shatter resistant plastics. In 2011 I wrote a four-part series about the efforts to ban BPA which has been subjected to more than 5,000 studies, none of which has found harm or undue risk in normal use. Its safety was reaffirmed earlier this year by the refusal of the Food and Drug Administration to ban it.

But the anti-chemical drumbeat continues. A recent study at the University of California-San Diego that purported to show a risk of danger when BPA was metabolized and this finding was announced by a news release issued by the university. It was reviewed and approved by researcher Michael Baker and contained the traditional hype we see when organizations want to whip up public concern when none is warranted. Remarkably, the tactic was exposed in a lengthy article by Jon Entine in Forbes magazine.

News releases trumpeting information that is not merely inaccurate but false have become a way of life for Americans and others around the world. There is rarely, if ever, any fact checking done by the editors and reporters who pass along often dangerously false pseudo-science on a wide range of topics, from chemicals to the climate. But Entine's article revealed something many has suspected but few have ever admitted.

Baker confessed to Entine that "I have no evidence, none at all, that BPA causes any problems in humans. This was a theoretical exercise, and it would be trumped by what actually happens in the real world. Based on what I know now, neither BPA nor its metabolites are harmful. I am upset that my structural study is misused by some."

"Misused"? Hardly. More like part of the massive effort by the opponents of the real science regarding BPA and it is designed and intended to frighten people because fear is the most potent weapon that the many advocates of false causes that mask themselves as saving lives or even saving the Earth.

Writing in the National Review, Julie Gunlock noted that reports on Baker's study, read by those without knowledge of the real facts about BPA, "causes moms like me to gnaw off their fingernails at the thought that we might be poisoning our children with chemicals. But that's okay; regular moms and dads (already struggling with high food and fuel costs) can just run out and support the cottage industry that has sprouted up in the wake of these terrifying headlines-the BPA-free industry."

"Of course, what parents won't hear about is Baker's mea culpa because if there's one thing parents can count on from today's science writers is an absolute dearth of Entine-esque journalism when it comes to BPA." She could not be more correct.

Science writing today is one of the most debased forms of popular journalism found in newspapers and magazines and BPA is just one example. Consider our food supply. A recent commentary in The Wall Street Journal by Dr. Henry I. Miller, a physician, molecular biologist and fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, cited the way Greenpeace, one of the leading environmental organizations, "has always had a flair for publicity" to become "a $260 million-plus per year behemoth with offices in more than 40 countries."

Dr. Miller warns that the Greenpeace PR machine "is now spearheading an effort to deny the poorest nations the essential nutrients they need to stave off blindness and death. The targets are new plant varieties collectively called ‘golden rice.' Rice is a food staple for hundreds of millions, especially in Asia. Although it is an excellent source of calories, it lakes certain nutrients necessary for a complete diet. In the 1980s and 1990s, German scientists Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer developed the ‘golden rice' varieties that are biofortified, or enriched, by genes that produce beta-carotine, the precursor of vitamin A."

Hundreds of millions of children of pre-school age are at risk of vitamin A deficiency, leading to blindness and death within a year for about 70% of those children and Greenpeace is using its multi-million dollar flacking apparatus to ply its nonsense to a gullible and uncritical news media and reduce access to this valuable food source.

Now ask yourself how many children and adults would die from botulism in unprotected cans and bottles of food?

These and countless other examples represent the deep commitment of environmental organizations to limit and reduce billions of human lives which they regard as a nuisance that harms the Earth. Like golden rice, BPA saves lives. It is just one of countless chemicals that protect and extends life every day.

The real threat is the researchers and agenda-driven scientists intent on advancing the environmental movement's objective of killing as many people as possible to "save the Earth." They accomplish this through a media that either approves of this agenda or is just so starved for ratings and financial survival they'll report any sensational headline available. The real threat is the debased "science journalism" that aids and advances this agenda.


Cholesterol infusion prevents heart attack

Sounds hopeful

FOR heart attack victims fortunate enough to survive the initial emergency, there is a high risk they will succumb to a second fatal episode in the following weeks or months.

However, new Australian research shows an intravenous infusion of "good" cholesterol can reduce the chances of dying from a subsequent cardiac arrest.

An infusion of high density lipoprotein (HDL) can rapidly boost the body's ability to move cholesterol out of the plaque-clogged arteries that are responsible for heart attacks, a study by Australian biopharmaceutical company CSL Ltd has found.

CSL chief scientist, Dr Andrew Cuthbertson, says this new approach increases "reverse cholesterol transport", which sees the negative cholesterol expelled from the body via the liver.

"The way it does that is to suck the cholesterol out of those plaques in the walls in the arteries and calm them down and make them much less likely to burst and cause a second heart attack," Dr Cuthbertson told AAP.  "It shifts cholesterol out of plaques and back through the liver where you get rid of it."

He said the study's results were "very encouraging so far".  "The increase in reverse cholesterol transport is many, many fold higher following an infusion of this new drug."

Dr Cuthbertson said testing was continuing to determine a dosage that was effective and safe.  "Around the world many thousands of people have second heart attacks and die, so we're trying to provide a treatment that doesn't exist today."

However, he said if testing proved successful it would still be several years before the treatment was widely available.


14 November, 2012

Two daily doses of probiotics can lower bad cholesterol

This appears to be a commercial study that has not been peer reviewed and goes against the general finding of little or no  relationship between diet and serum cholesterrol

Yoghurt fans have yet another reason to tuck in to a pot - the dairy snack is good for the heart. Researchers found two daily doses of a probiotic lowered key cholesterol-bearing molecules in the blood as well as "bad" and total cholesterol.

Probiotics are live micro-organisms - naturally occurring bacteria in the gut - thought to have beneficial effects. Common sources are yoghurt or dietary supplements.

In previous studies, a formulation of the bacteria, known as Lactobacillus reuteri NCIMB 30242, has lowered blood levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol.

Study lead author Doctor Mitchell Jones, from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, said researchers are increasingly looking at the role probiotics can play a in treating chronic diseases such as heart disease.

The researchers investigated whether the same probiotic could lower LDL and reduce blood levels of cholesterol esters - molecules of cholesterol attached to fatty acids. This combination accounts for most total blood cholesterol and has been tied to cardiovascular disease risk.

They tracked cholesterol esters bound to saturated fat, which have been linked to dangerous arterial plaque build-up and occur at higher levels in coronary artery disease patients.

The study involved 127 adults with high cholesterol. About half the participants took L. reuteri NCIMB 30242 twice a day, while the rest were given placebo capsules.

Those taking the probiotic had LDL levels 11.6 per cent lower than those on placebo after nine weeks. Cholesterol esters were also reduced by 6.3 per cent and cholesterol ester saturated fatty acids by 8.8 per cent, compared with the placebo group.

Dr Jones said for the first time the research shows that the probiotic formulation can reduce cholesterol esters 'and in particular reduce the cholesterol esters associated with 'bad' saturated fatty acids in the blood.'

And people taking the probiotic had total cholesterol reduced by 9.1 per cent. HDL 'good' cholesterol and blood triglycerides, a dangerous form of fat in the blood, were unchanged.

Scientists have proposed that Lactobacillus bacteria alone may impact cholesterol levels in several ways, including breaking apart molecules known as bile salts. L. reuteri NCIMB 30242 was fermented and formulated to optimisze its effect on cholesterol and bile salts.

Based on correlations between LDL reduction and bile measurements in the gut, the study results suggest the probiotic broke up bile salts, leading to reduced cholesterol absorption in the gut and less LDL.

The probiotic worked at doses of just 200 milligrams a day, far lower than those for soluble fibre or other natural products used to reduce cholesterol.

Dr Jones, co-founder and chief science officer of Micropharma - the company that formulated the probiotic, added: 'Most dietary cholesterol management products require consumption between two to 25 grams a day.'

He said patients appear to tolerate the probiotic well and the probiotic strain L. reuteri has a long history of safe use.

Because of the small number of patients involved in the study, researchers aren't sure if the impact of the probiotic differs between men and women or among ethnic groups.

The findings were presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions.


Gout medicine may halve heart attack risk

This appears pretty amateurish so far -- so replication under a high level of control is needed before the effect is accepted

A MEDICATION commonly used to treat gout has been found by a Perth-based study to reduce the chance of a heart attack in some patients by up to 50 per cent.

Doctors from Perth's Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital will present their findings to the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions conference on Tuesday (Australian time), after a study of more than 500 coronary patients over several years.

The anti-inflammatory drug Colchicine has been used for years to reduce the swelling symptoms related to gout, the painful inflammatory arthritis often brought on by excessive food and alcohol.

But advancements in thinking around coronary disease, and the fact blocked arteries might become fatal because cholesterol cells become inflamed, prompted Dr Peter Thompson and his colleagues to take an "educated guess" about the potential of Colchicine.

"We have done a clinical trial with this drug and we have found that when you administer this on a steady, low-dose basis with people with coronary heart disease, you can actually halve heart attack risk," Dr Thompson told AAP from Los Angeles.  "So far it is only a smallish trial but it looks very exciting and interesting.

"We went to this one (Colchicine) knowing that it was a very likely candidate, and the results are very satisfying."

Delegates at the conference have already been raving about the study into the effectiveness of low-dose Colchicine - or LoDoCo as it has been dubbed - saying it could become one of the big breakthroughs in heart disease research this year.

Dr Thompson, from Sir Charles Gairdner's Heart Research Institute, ran the study along with colleagues Dr Mark Nidorf and Canada-based Dr John Eikelboom.  They will publish the full results of the study in the prestigious Journal of the American College of Cardiology later this month.

Dr Thompson says the study could be doubly significant because Colchicine is a low cost, readily available product already on the market, and would therefore not take years in development costs and trials.

"There are other drugs being developed to target particular pathways in the inflammatory process, but they are all going to be brand new drugs which take a long time to develop," Dr Thompson said.  "This is a widely available, relatively inexpensive, relatively innocuous drug that has been with us for generations - and this may end up being the one to go for."

Dr Nidorf, also based in Perth, ran much of the study via his own private practice without traditional funding, with the ethics of the study continually being checked by the hospital.  "That is quite a remarkable thing to be able to do," Dr Thompson said.


13 November, 2012

Could a glass of wine help a woman beat breast cancer? Drink could help survival chances increase by a fifth

The alcohol merrygoround again.  Moderate drinkers were probably mainly middle class  -- thus accounting for the effects observed

A glass of wine a day boosts the survival chances of women with breast cancer by up to a fifth, scientists have found.  Those who drink in moderation are more likely to recover from the illness than those who abstain.

But the findings are somewhat unexpected because drinking alcohol is considered to be one of the leading causes of breast cancer among healthy women.

One explanation is that the chemicals in alcohol which damage healthy cells also have the same effect on cancerous cells.

There are currently no specific guidelines for breast cancer patients on alcohol consumption, but healthy women are advised to drink no more than 14 units a week. Many women with cancer stop drinking in the hope it will boost the success of their treatment.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge looked at 13,525 women with breast cancer for an average of seven years, making it the largest study of its kind.

They recorded the average weekly alcohol intake for each patient as well as their body mass index.  Women who drank seven units a week – three and a half small glasses of wine – were 10 per cent more likely to survive than those who had nothing.

The odds increased to 20 per cent if women drank 14 units a week. Dr Paul Pharoah, of the university’s Department of Oncology, said: ‘What our study says is that it is reasonable, if you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, to enjoy the occasional drink of alcohol.’

Although drinking alcohol seems to make a big difference to women’s survival odds, the scientists pointed out that the overall change was small.

This was because there were many other factors affecting the success of treatment including how early the illness was diagnosed, the woman’s age and the particular type of breast cancer.

Experts commenting on the study also pointed out that alcohol was only beneficial once a woman had been diagnosed with breast cancer.


Australia: Food Fascists still bleating

No correlation between health and advertising restrictions has ever been shown but it seems to give these do-gooders a high to propose restrictions on what people do and see

A group of leading public health agencies says current measures to restrict junk food marketing to children have failed and tougher restrictions are needed.

The Obesity Policy Coalition has sent a report to state and federal health ministers, calling on them to forcibly restrict junk food ads targeting children.

The coalition's executive manager, Jane Martin, says there is a clear conflict of interest because the code is regulated by the food industry.  She says the Government's own research backs the coalition's findings that there has been no reduction in advertising exposure to children.

"The reason this is so important is because children's diets are incredibly bad," she said.  "They're eating more and more unhealthy food.

"This food is cheap, heavily promoted, easily available and so we need to look at all the levers we can push, and we know that as part of a comprehensive approach, controls on marketing are absolutely critical."

Ms Martin says something must be done to curb the record levels of childhood obesity.

She says regulating junk food advertising is not the only way to tackle bad eating habits but it is an important factor.  "It's part of a comprehensive approach," she said.  "It has reduced exposure of children to some extent and we know it's a key driver. So it's very important that we address all the drivers of overweight and obesity."

She said parents also need to be conscious of the food their children eat and resist pressure to buy junk food.  "I think parents want the Government to step in now and support them," Ms Martin said.

"Government has been pushing this issue around since the preventative health task force recommended they do something and look to moving beyond self-regulation, if it doesn't work.  "I think we've shown that it's not working.  [Show something that does work!]


12 November, 2012

Taking aspirin every other day ‘cuts cancer risk by more than 40%'

Evidence of benefit from long-term low-dose aspirin intake is now so widespread that it has to be given some credibility.  The irony is that patients are regularly now warned off it in favour of paracetamol.  The inflamed stomach effects of aspirin seem to  occur  only in the presence of helicobacter pylori so a course of antibiotics can eliminate that problem

TAKING aspirin every other day cuts the risk of certain cancers by more than 40 per cent, according a study.  Harvard researchers have found that even a very low dose of the painkiller drastically reduces the odds of bowel and stomach cancers.

Women who took one 100mg tablet every other day were 43 per cent less likely to get bowel cancer and 36 per cent less at risk of stomach cancer, after a period of 20 years.

Recently a number of studies have shown that a daily dose of aspirin drastically cuts the risk of developing cancer, and of tumours spreading once diagnosed.  But until now it was not known whether the pills had similar, preventative effects when taken less frequently.

Although aspirin has been dubbed the wonder drug as it protects against heart attacks, strokes and cancer, it also causes stomach bleeds and ulcers in some patients.  Taking a low dose of the drug every other day however would mean such patients would be less likely to succumb to these side effects.

Researchers from Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston, the US, looked at the records of 39,876 women over 45.

Half were told to take one 100mg aspirin tablet every other day for ten years while the remainder were given a placebo - a dummy drug.

At the end of the study the researchers compared how many women from each group had developed cancer and found no difference.

But when they looked at them again eight years later - 18 years after the study had started - they found the odds of developing bowel or stomach cancer amongst those on aspirin were significantly lower.  They think it may take several years for aspirin’s beneficial effects to ‘kick-in.’

Although experts are unsure exactly how it protects against cancer, they think it may stop certain harmful chemicals or enzymes in the body from working.  In particular they think it blocks the Cox-2 enzyme - which exists on all our cells and is known to trigger cancer.

But in spite of her findings, lead researcher Professor Nancy Cook said patients should not start taking aspirin every day or every other day.

Addressing the National Cancer Research Institute conference in Liverpool, she said: ‘There are side effects. They are rarely fatal but they do cause the need for hospitalisation.  ‘The side effects do depend on the dose which is one reason we were testing taking 100mg every other day.’

She said her future research would try and identify which patients were most at risk of bowel and stomach cancer who would be most likely to benefit.

Around 40,000 Britons develop bowel cancer every year and another 6,000 contract stomach cancer.

Although this research only involved women, Professor Cook said similar effects would be seen in men who took aspirin every other day.

The study only found that aspirin only protected against bowel and stomach cancer, it did not reduce the risk of breast and lung cancer.

But last year Oxford researchers found that taking the pill every day cut the risk of dying of any type of cancer by 37 per cent.

The experts found that not only did the drug prevent cancer, it also reduced the chance of it spreading to other organs once patients were diagnosed.

Jessica Harris, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Research has shown that taking regular low doses of aspirin can reduce the risk of developing and dying from cancer although the effect takes about 5-10 years to show.

‘But aspirin has a range of serious side-effects, including internal bleeding, so other than for those at very high risk, it’s not clear whether the benefits would outweigh the harms, or what the best dose might be.’


Denmark to scrap world's first fat tax

DENMARK'S government will scrap a fat tax it introduced a little over a year ago in a world first.  "The fat tax and the extension of the chocolate tax -- the so-called sugar tax -- has been criticised for increasing prices for consumers, increasing companies' administrative costs and putting Danish jobs at risk," the Danish tax ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

"At the same time it is believed that the fat tax has, to a lesser extent, contributed to Danes travelling across the border to make purchases.

"Against this background, the government and the (far-left) Red Green Party have agreed to abolish the fat tax and cancel the planned sugar tax."

Denmark's centre-left minority government is made up of the Social Democrats, Social Liberals and Socialist People's Party, and requires support from other parties to pass legislation in parliament.  The government and the Red Greens reached the agreement as part of their negotiations on the 2013 budget bill.

The previous right-wing government introduced the fat tax in October 2011 to limit the population's intake of fatty foods.

According to the Danish National Health and Medicines Authority, 47 per cent of Danes are overweight and 13 per cent are obese.

"Now we need to try to do something else to address public health," Food Minister Mette Gjerskov said, news agency Ritzau reported.

The fat tax has been levied on all products containing saturated fats -- from butter and milk to pizzas, oils, meats and pre-cooked foods -- in a costing system that Denmark's Confederation of Industries has described as a bureaucratic nightmare for producers and outlets.

The measure added 16 kroner ($2.65) per kilo of saturated fats in a product.


11 November, 2012

Children from middle class families more likely to suffer peanut allergy: research

The explanation in terms of the failed "dirt" theory is rubbish.  It is a class effect but nothing to do with dirt.  Only middle class people are likely to heed official wisdom and, until recently, official wisdom has been diametrically wrong about this.  Until very recently official advice was to keep kids away from anything peanutty until age 3.  In fact peanut products given from weaning on are a powerful prophylactic against peanut allergy

Children who have a peanut allergy tend to come from wealthier families, researchers have suggested.

Scientists say that this backs up the hygiene hypothesis that cleaner homes tend to increase the risk of childhood allergies.

They found that high income and hygiene habits could be increasing susceptibility as they discovered a link between peanut allergy in children and their families socio-economic status.

With the number of peanut allergies among children increasing the team from the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) believe that one reason might be due to the wealth of their families.

The theory suggests that a lack of early childhood exposure to germs increases the chance for allergic diseases, that over sanitisation might suppress the natural development of the immune system.

Peanut allergy can be life-threatening with sufferers going into anaphylactic shock, but more commonly it causes itching in the mouth, a rash and swelling of the face, lips, eyes and tongue.

Allergies occur when the body's immune system mistakes proteins in food as threatening and reacts as if there was an infection invading.

Common food allergies in children are milk, eggs, peanuts, fish and shellfish but almost any food, including fruits and vegetables can cause a reaction.

Study author Dr Sandy Yip said: "Overall household income is only associated with peanut sensitisation in children aged one to nine years.

"This may indicate that development of peanut sensitisation at a young age is related to affluence, but those developed later in life are not."

Her team looked at 8,306 patients, 776 of which had an elevated antibody level to peanuts.

Peanut allergy was generally higher in men and racial minorities across all age groups. The researchers also found that peanut specific antibody levels peaked between the ages of 10 and 19, but tapered off after middle age.

ACAAI president Doctor Stanley Fineman said: "While many children can develop a tolerance to food allergens as they age, only 20 per cent will outgrow a peanut allergy.

"It's important that children remain under the care of a board-certified allergist to receive treatment."

According to ACAAI, peanut allergy affects an estimated 400,000 school-aged children in the America while in the UK it is estimated to effect 1.8 per cent of children at school entry.

The team recommends peanut-allergic individuals be vigilant in restaurants, where peanuts may appear as a hidden ingredient.

The new study is presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting.

There is no cure for food allergies but some studies have shown success in exposing children to minute doses of the food can desensitise them.

In 2009 doctors at Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge gave four children tiny amounts of peanut flour, in carefully controlled circumstances, gradually increasing the dose over a number of days. Eventually they could eat ten peanuts safely.

The experiment should not attempted outside a research setting, they warned.

Pregnant women used to be warned not to eat peanuts or products containing peanuts for fear of increasing the risk of allergies in their child, however scientists now know this makes no difference and some studies have suggested it reduces the risk of the child suffering reactions.


Doctors wrong about patients' wants

A shocking comment on their tendency to listen.  I cannot find the original study online but this appears to concern British doctors, who function under a system of socialized medicine, where the incentives are perverse

THERE are gaps between the types of treatment patients want and what doctors think they want, according to new research.

One study, published on, reveals that doctors believe 71 per cent of patients with breast cancer rate keeping their breast as a "top priority". But just seven per cent of patients asked the same question said this was their primary concern.

In another study, doctors said 96 per cent of breast cancer patients considering chemotherapy rated living as long as possible a top priority, while the figure reported by patients was 59 per cent.

Experts say patients often change their preferred treatment once they are fully informed of the risks and benefits.

For example, 40 per cent fewer patients preferred surgery for benign prostate disease once they learned of the risks of sexual dysfunction.

The authors of the report, Albert Mulleym, Chris Trimble and Glyn Elwyn, said: "Ensuring patients' preferences are not misdiagnosed is not as simple as asking the patient what he or she wants.

"Instead, it requires three steps: adopting a mindset of scientific detachment; using data to formulate a provisional diagnosis; and engaging the patient in conversation and deliberation."

They argue that better diagnosis could reduce the cost of healthcare because "engaged" and "informed" patients often choose less intensive care and become more careful about having multiple procedures.

They said: "It is tantalising to consider that budget-challenged health systems around the world could simultaneously give patients what they want and cut costs."


9 November, 2012

The Pill 'helps prevent you getting dementia': Effects on memory last for years after giving up use

Just a class effect:  Lower class people are less cautious about contraception.  All the medical speculation is unnecessary

The contraceptive Pill could prevent women getting dementia years after they have stopped taking it, according to research.

Women in their 50s who had been on the drug when they were younger performed far better in memory tests than those who had never taken it.

Experts think that the key hormone in the Pill, oestrogen, prevents the arteries hardening, which increases the blood supply to the brain, helping stave off the illness.

For some years scientists have known that HRT, which also contains oestrogen, seems to protect against dementia. But little was known about the potential benefits of the Pill.

American scientists looked at 261 women aged 40 to 65 who were surveyed on their health.

They underwent a series of tests on their memory, including naming  certain objects and listing as many words as they could on a given subject. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin found that women who had taken the Pill performed significantly better in some of the tests. They also found that the longer the women had been on the Pill, the higher their scores.

Although the study did not directly look at the risks of  dementia, adults whose brains  are sharper in middle age are thought to be far less at risk of the illness. Experts think that oestrogen, the main hormone in the Pill, helps maintain the function of the brain in two ways.

Firstly, they believe it prevents the arteries from becoming blocked, which keeps a steady flow of blood to the brain. They also suspect it may encourage the growth of certain cells in the brain and spinal cord.

Lead researcher Kelly Egan, whose study is published in  the Journal of Women’s Health, said: ‘Our analysis indicated  that hormonal contraceptive use may have a protective cognitive  [memory] effect, even years after use is discontinued. This is especially true in subjects with a longer duration of use.’

While the contraceptive Pill has been shown to protect against some cancers such as ovarian and bowel, it is thought to raise the risk of breast tumours.


Doctors are 'prejudiced' against overweight patients (and men are worse than women)

Given the vicious government propaganda about "obesity" this is no surprise

'Fattist’ doctors may be prejudiced against overweight patients, a U.S. study has found. Interestingly, male doctors likely to display more anti-fat bias than their female counterparts.  And even doctors who were overweight themselves admitted having negative thoughts about larger patients.

The researchers say this is the first study to show the anti-fat view prevalent in the general public is shared by many doctors.

In an online survey of nearly 400,000 people - 2,00 of whom were doctors - results showed implicit attitudes about weight were strong in both sexes, particularly men.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, also revealed those who were underweight, normal or overweight had a strong anti-fat bias, whereas doctors who were obese themselves had only a moderate bias.

But it wasn't clear whether these attitudes reflected any differences in the quality of patient care.

Lead author Janice Sabin, of the University of Washington, said:  'We found that doctors' implicit and explicit attitudes about weight follow the same general pattern seen in the very large public samples that hold strong implicit and explicit anti-fat bias.

'We do not yet know how  doctors' anti-fat attitudes affect clinical behaviour, nor do we know whether implicit weight bias is related to how overweight patients experience health care interactions.

'It is important for physicians to be aware that this bias exists and to ensure that personal bias does not have a negative impact on the doctor-patient relationship.'


8 November, 2012

Australia: Codeine abuse leads to calls for painkiller rethink

Once again a foolish minority can apparently reduce otherwise good options for the responsible majority.  The regulatory attack on painkillers is very vigorous because some people overuse them.  And that often leaves available alternatives -- such as paracetamol -- that are quite unsafe if recommended doses are exceeded. 

APC's ("Bex" etc.) were banned to prevent a few cases of kidney disease but their preferred replacemnent -- paracetamol -- causes thousands of destroyed livers.  My own preferred remedy for post-operative pain -- Di-Gesic (Dextropropoxyphene plus a bit of paracetamol) --  has now been banned because some addicts were using it

Senior health officials are warning of a looming public health crisis from abuse of over-the-counter painkillers.

Doctors are frustrated by admissions of critically injured patients to emergency rooms after sustained use of painkillers that contain a mixture of codeine and ibuprofen, such as Nurofen Plus.

While many take the drugs responsibly, the consequences for those who do not can be so severe that some doctors and pharmacists believe it's time to review the sale of these drugs.

Frankie Bean began using Nurofen Plus 24 hours a day to stave off the chronic pain of Lupus disease, an auto immune condition that leaves her in pain every day.

"Initially it was just that I could work and I could have my life back and I was really excited about that, so I was just willing to do whatever it took to do that," she told ABC1's 7.30.

"But then I sort of started realising that I was a bit hooked on it. I didn't want to be, but I didn't want to give up my life again."

The constant use of pain killers lowered her blood pressure so badly she passed out at work.

The next thing I knew my sister was by my side balling her eyes out and I was passed out out the front of my work and I was on the ground and there were ambulance people around me taking me off to the hospital.

"I was just at work and I hadn't felt good in the morning, like I was getting a bit dizzy and stuff and I just put it down to Lupus," she said.

"The next thing I knew my sister was by my side bawling her eyes out and I was passed out out the front of my work and I was on the ground and there were ambulance people around me taking me off to the hospital."

Weeks later Ms Bean quit cold turkey and now says she will never take the tablets again.  "I had headaches, I vomited a lot, I was absolutely horrible to be around," she said.  "It is something that people don't realise, I had no idea that I could get addicted to codeine."

Now she has turned to yoga every morning to help with the joint pain.

Doctor Matthew Frei runs a drug treatment clinic in Melbourne and knows first hand how addictive codeine can be.  "It is a close relative of drugs like morphine and heroin, so yes, it is an addictive drug," he said.  "We're a bit unusual in Australia in that you can purchase codeine over the counter, that's not the case in all parts of the world."

It is quite a scary and foreign idea to someone who has not had much contact with the drug-using culture to be offered a treatment that's usually offered to heroin addicts.

"It is quite a scary and foreign idea to someone who has not had much contact with the drug-using culture to be offered a treatment that's usually offered to heroin addicts," he said.

"However, the principles of addiction to codeine or prescription opioids, to all the opioids are very similar."

Back in the 1950s and 1960s people were getting addicted to Bex headache powder [APCs], which contained caffeine.  The serious problems that resulted saw them banned in 1977.  [It was actually the Phenacetin in them which was seen as a problem.  If caffeine is a problem we should ban coffee!  But guess what phenacetic metabilizes into?  Paracetamol!]
Dr Frei says drug addiction is a marketing manoeuvre for these over-the-counter pain killers.

"It's using an anti-inflammatory agent, linking it to another drug which causes the patient to keep on taking it because of the withdrawal symptoms they get when the effect wears off, and thereby accumulating bigger and bigger doses," he said.

"This is headache powders [APCs] revisited."

Today's compound analgesics are known by their popular brand names like Nurofen Plus, Panafen Plus and Mersyndol.

The codeine in the drugs gets consumers hooked, but the real danger is the ibuprofen they contain which in large doses is toxic and can cause internal bleeding.

One of my worst moments in the last few years was when I was up all night with a young man who was otherwise well, who was bleeding torrentially from a giant ulcer in his stomach which was caused by compound analgesics.

"The peptic ulcers can also be lethal, in fact, one of my worst moments in the last few years was when I was up all night with a young man who was otherwise well, who was bleeding torrentially from a giant ulcer in his stomach which was caused by compound analgesics," he said.

There has been at least one death from over the counter codeine in Australia and Dr Foy says it was only through good fortune that this young patient survived.

"This man needed 14 units of blood and we were running out of blood, and by the time he was anesthetised, he was in really big trouble, but fortunately for him there was a very good surgeon handy who moved quickly and stopped the bleeding and he has now recovered," he said.

Since 2008 doctors around the country have been documenting scores of cases of codeine abuse some leading to peptic ulcers, kidney failure and even pancreatitis.

Dr Foy says it is extremely frustrating to see young people turn up with life threatening conditions created by codeine and ibuprofen abuse.

"It is an extremely unpleasant sensation to be up in the middle of the night with somebody who looks as though they're going to die to no purpose. It's pointless," he said.


Faddist British doctors

James LeFanu comments:

Dear Dr Le Fanu

My husband is 76, in good general health and until recently was on no medication whatsoever. He suffers a few aches and pains after many years of playing various sports, and some acid reflux, but is otherwise fit, active and healthy. He eats a varied diet with occasional treats and is not overweight: his waist measurement has increased by perhaps half an inch in the last thirty years.

We recently had occasion to change our GP, and my husband decided that he would like an ‘MoT’ just to check his general health. He was told that he had ‘borderline’ Type 2 Diabetes and was prescribed one Metformin tablet daily. He was advised that, being otherwise completely asymptomatic, his readings were purely a function of age. We read the diet advice and decided that no changes were necessary. Tests on his sight and his feet have not shown any cause for concern.

He saw the practice nurse for the results of a routine check-up yesterday and was told that everything was fine, and he has ‘the blood pressure of a twenty year old’. His blood sugar level is 5.1. However, the nurse said she thought he should be prescribed statins and asked him to see the doctor.

Neither of us are very happy about this – someone who is to all intents and purposes fit and healthy may shortly be on two types of permanent medication with the associated possible side effects. My concern is that the practice saw a gentleman in his mid-seventies on no medication and perhaps interpreted this as a challenge.

We would appreciate your comments.
Mrs J Charlesworth

Dear Mrs Charlesworth,

Thanks for being in touch. As you will have surmised your husband is a casualty of the current vogue for family doctors to boost their income by over diagnosing and over treating their patients for medical conditions they do not have.

The notion of borderline diabetes (like borderline hypertension) is a fictional construct promoted by the pharmaceutical industry to increase the number taking their pills. It is based on the false supposition that the benefits of treating those with symptomatic diabetes can be extrapolated to those who have no symptoms but in whom biochemical testing reveals their blood glucose is marginally raised above an arbitrarily defined ‘normal’ level.

Neither, and for similar reasons, does your husband require statins. This can I appreciate be a tricky situation, but I am sure it is best dealt with frankly: your husband should stop his Metformin and request his name be removed from the practice’s diabetes register.


7 November, 2012

Delusions of Danger

Why the food movement’s demonization of genetically modified crops isn’t just scientifically baseless—it’s politically stupid.

Michael Pollan is hoping that the food movement’s history-making moment will come tomorrow. Up to now, the food movement has been a broad, loosely knit coalition of foodies, environmentalists, and health advocates without a clear identity or much political clout.

As Pollan wrote in 2010, the grassroots movement is united "by little more than the recognition that industrial food production is in need of reform because its social/environmental/public health/animal welfare/gastronomic costs are too high." But tomorrow, Californians will vote on Proposition 37, a ballot measure which would require labeling on most grocery store items containing genetically modified ingredients. If the measure passes (and withstands legal challenge), many think it will result in a de facto national label.

Unfortunately, the real message environmentalists and foodies are sending by coalescing in support of Proposition 37 is a dangerous one—and not one that will help the food movement in the long run. That’s because Proposition 37 is predicated on junk science and blind, simplistic mistrust of multinational corporations. If the food movement continues down this road, it will soon be as politically irrelevant as the once-promising environmental movement is now.

The pro-labeling camp wants people to believe that eating "frankenfood” is dangerous to their health. This is simply false.

Years of rigorous studies of GM foods have not demonstrated any harmful effects associated with consuming GM crops.  Yet misinformation about genetic engineering is so rife in the media that the American Association for the Advancement of Science recently issued a two-page statement to clarify the safety issue: Claims that GM foods are dangerous have not "stood up to scientific scrutiny,” the organization said. Those familiar with the science know that eating genetically modified food is safer than taking a shower.

The food movement’s more mainstream commentators, like Bittman and Pollan, walk a fine line on this dimension of the debate. They are careful to keep their distance from the food movement’s paranoid wing, but they also leave open the question of whether GM foods are safe. Pollan has said that "it’s perfectly rational to avoid genetically modified food.” This is a disingenuous position, akin to not ruling out the possibility that childhood vaccines may cause autism.

Rather than engage with the science, Bittman and Pollan prefer to focus on the environmental downsides associated with genetically modified crops and the ruthless hand of agricultural behemoths like Monsanto.

Separating out Monsanto's actual misdeeds from cartoonish exaggerations of the company is no easy feat. As a 2008 Vanity Fair investigation revealed, the corporation has used intimidation and heavy-handed legal tactics against some farmers. But critics tend to exaggerate Monsanto’s transgressions: Consider their fondness for describing the company as "evil.”  Monsanto is to conspiracy-minded liberals what the U.N. is to black helicopter-fearing conservatives. 

Now, I am no cheerleader for Monsanto. I am also no fan of monocultures, pesticides, or any of the other unsavory aspects of industrial farming. I support urban farmer's markets and I buy mostly organic produce, milk, and meats. I recycle and celebrate Earth Day with my kids.

But I do all this with my eyes open to the world that we live in. And that is a world of 7-billion people that cannot feed itself with only locally grown grains and vegetables. It’s a world where conventional, industrialized agriculture takes up less land and produces more food than organic farming. As Jay Rayner, the Guardian's food writer says, it's time we recognized "that farming really is an industry, much like car manufacturing or steel forging, one which always works better on a mass scale, but which can still be managed sustainably."


The One-Sided Equation Trick

Drinks industry correspondent Phil Mellows has written a very good piece explaining how the debate about alcohol has departed from proper cost/benefit analysis, and instead become a political numbers game. It’s worth reading in full, but this particular observation jumped out of the page.
One of the odd things that always struck me about the Sheffield modelling study, on which claims for the potential efficacy of minimum unit pricing is almost exclusively based, is the compulsive costing of everything, and it attracts particular attention from Makela.

To take the most staggering example, Makela points out you can’t calculate the cost to society of people with alcohol problems becoming unemployed because someone else comes off the dole and takes the job. There’s a heavy loss to the individual but no loss to society.

Yet in the Sheffield modelling no less than 75% of society’s gain from a 40p minimum price comes from a fictitious reduction in unemployment.

Perhaps minimum pricing will work. Perhaps there is an ethical case for it. But spurious cost savings aren’t going to convince me.

He’s right, of course. Public health is in the habit of grabbing any kind of dubious statistic to suit whichever cause they are advocating for at any one time, so it isn’t surprising to know that Sheffield Uni are engaging in the time-honoured practice of the one-sided equation. There’s more about their flawed ‘science’ here, and a little bit about their incompetence here.

"Spurious cost savings” is a very good description, especially since we’ve seen the same in reverse from the tobacco control lobby.

You see, while Sheffield are declaring that loss of earnings is a total disaster for the country, Policy Exchange in 2010 were pulling all manner of contortions to discount the same in their appalling "Cough Up” report. As I mentioned at the time.
Page 16 concludes that all these smokers giving up, while deletorious to the tobacco industry, will have an impact on the economy of £nil as the money will be spent elsewhere (the economic ‘free lunch’, benefits without corresponding cost). Conversely, however, the cost of cleaning up cigarette litter is valued at £342m with no reasonable assumption that the streets will still need to be swept anyway (unless there are dedicated fag butt sweepers paid £342m pa that I didn’t know about).

You see, both cannot possibly be correct at the same time. What we are seeing is the one-sided equation when it suits them, and a two-sided one when that is the better option for their pre-conceived conclusion. Either Sheffield bods are negligent in not acknowledging that unemployment will lead to societal opportunities elsewhere, or Policy Exchange were negligent in stating that opportunities will occur elsewhere (while also stating that they, err, wouldn’t).

Furthermore, Policy Exchange discounted profits made outside the UK – despite the fact that they are taxed here – and also ignored indirect costs (presumably because they didn’t fit the agenda) in some places but included them in others.

It all points to the one conclusion, though. Public health will twist statistics to their own advantage, including or not including whatever they believe will gull politicians in favour of their case.

They’re not interested in impartial analysis – never have been – just what statistical lies they can get away with.

If it were truly about health, they’d be honest, scrupulous and consistent in their methodology. The fact they aren’t, proves that it isn’t.


6 November, 2012

Study: Redheads maybe risk melanoma even without sun

(If you are a mouse  -- apparently there ARE red-haired mice)

Doctors have long urged people with red hair, fair skin and freckles to avoid the sun and its damaging ultraviolet rays. To venture outdoors without a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen was simply courting skin cancer, they cautioned.

Now, however, a study in mice suggests that those among us with ginger hair and fair complexions face an elevated risk of the disease even when covered up.

The study, published online Wednesday in the journal Nature, suggests that the same reddish-yellow pigment that gives rise to rusty locks and an inability to tan is itself a potential trigger in the development of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

The findings appear to solve the riddle of why darker-skinned individuals have a significantly lower risk of melanoma than lighter-skinned people, even when the sun protection factor, or SPF, of dark skin is just two to four levels higher than that of light skin. It could also explain why red-haired individuals are more susceptible to melanoma than anyone else, even blonds.

"Even if you're good about avoiding UV rays — you know, putting on sunscreen, wearing protective clothes and being careful at the beach — it's still possible this red pigment is related to carcinogenic activity anyway," said Dr. David E. Fisher, director of the melanoma program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown and senior author of the study.

Melanoma is a from of cancer that begins in the skin's pigment-producing cells, or melanocytes, and is often associated with fair skin, excessive exposure to sunlight and tanning lamps, or a preponderance of moles. The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 76,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2012 and that more than 9,000 will die from it.

The color of human skin, hair and eyes is dictated by two types of melanin pigment: pheomelanin, which is reddish-yellow, and eumelanin, which is brownish-black. Both are produced in the upper layers of the skin, and people with a greater proportion of brown-black pigment will have a darker complexion than people who have a greater percentage of the red-yellow pigment.

Initially, Fisher and colleagues set out to examine how moles can develop into melanoma when exposed to ultraviolet light, a form of radiation that can damage DNA. The test subjects were mice bred to be susceptible to cancer. Because mouse hair is also determined by eumelanin and pheomelanin, researchers used black, albino and golden-yellow — or "red-headed" — mice to mimic a range of human pigmentation.

Yet even before researchers got a chance to expose the mice to UV rays, 50% of the redheads developed melanoma within a year. Their black and albino counterparts, however, developed melanoma at low rates and over a longer period.

"We were very surprised," Fisher said. "In fact, one of the first things we did was go back into the animal room with a UV meter just to be sure that for some inexplicable reason the lights were not actually emitting ultraviolet radiation."

Study authors surmised that since UV radiation could not have caused the cancer, the pheomelanin pigment itself was causing a damaging chemical reaction inside the animals' skin cells.


Vigorous daily exercise could help to repair damage from heart failure

If you are a rat

Strenuous daily exercise could help to repair the heart of someone who has just suffered a heart attack, according to a new study.

Researchers at Liverpool John Moores University found that vigorous regular exercise led to dormant stem cells in the heart becoming active. This stimulated the development of new heart muscle.

The findings, published in the European Heart Journal, suggest that scientists could soon be able to improve the quality of life for people suffering from heart disease or heart failure.
British Heart Foundation

This is the first study of its kind to suggest that a basic exercise regime could have the same effect on the heart as injecting growth chemicals to stimulate stem cells to produce new tissue.

The team of scientists, funded by the British Heart Foundation, studied healthy male rats for up to four weeks by exercising them on an intensity-controlled treadmill for half an hour, four times a week.

The rats on a high-intensity programme showed the greatest increase in the size of their hearts, as expected, but also their aerobic capacity - how well the heart, lungs and blood vessels work.

The exercise resulted in more than 60 per cent of heart stem cells becoming active. In adults these stem cells are usually dormant.

After only two weeks the rats had increased the number of cardiomyocites, the 'beating' cells in heart tissue, by seven per cent.

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate director of the British Heart Foundation, said: 'This study adds to the growing evidence that adult hearts may be able to make new muscle from dormant stem cells.

'However, much more research is now needed to find out whether what's been seen in this study can be translated into treatments for human patients.'


5 November, 2012

Two portions of oily fish a week is associated with a slight  reduction in risk of stroke

Just more "correlation is causation" speculation and the effect is vanishingly small anyway.  Wholly ignorable

Scientists have found that eating two helpings of oily fish - such as salmon, trout or mackerel - every week could moderately reduce risk of a stroke.

However, fish oil supplements do not have the same beneficial effect as oily fish such as kippers, sardines, fresh tuna or whitebait, the study found.

An international team of researchers, including Cambridge-based academic Dr Rajiv Chowdhury, examined the association between oily fish, which are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, and the risk of strokes or mini-strokes.

They looked at 38 studies involving almost 800,000 people across 15 countries, and examined participants’ fish and long chain omega 3 fatty acid consumption. During the studies, a total of 34,817 strokes and mini strokes were recorded.

After adjusting for several risk factors, participants eating two to four servings a week had a 6 per cent lower risk of stroke compared with those who consumed one portion or less every week, the study found.

Fish oil supplements were not significantly associated with a similar reduced risk, according to the paper published on

Eating oily fish has already been linked to other health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease.

'From past research we know that eating plenty of fish is good for our general health,' said Dr Peter Coleman, deputy director of research at the Stroke Association.

'This research shows that it could also help to protect us against stroke. However, it’s interesting to see that taking fish oil supplements doesn’t have the same beneficial effect.

'People who eat lots of fish may have healthier diets in general which could go some way to explain the results. However, a lot more research is needed in this area before we decide to eat fish every day of the week.

'You can reduce your risk of stroke by exercising regularly, consuming a healthy, balanced diet and getting your blood pressure checked.'


Everyday drugs 'can help fight dementia' as developing new medicines is too costly and slow

A remarkable bit of optimism.  Good if it turns out,  I guess,  It's a poor substitute for accelerating the approval process, though

Everyday medicines could be used in the battle against dementia as developing new drugs is too costly and slow.

Experts believe antibiotics, acne pills and other routine treatments already in bathroom cabinets could double as dementia drugs.  They said it is time to re-examine medicines already in circulation as cheaper, quicker alternatives to new treatments.

Many have multiple effects on the body, so some could be able to ease the effects of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia which affect 800,000 people in Britain.

There are only four Alzheimer’s drugs in use which can help relieve symptoms but do nothing to stop damage to the brain.

Professor Clive Ballard said: ‘Defeating dementia is one of the biggest challenges facing both  medicine and society as a whole.

‘Developing new drugs is incredibly important but it comes with a huge price tag and, for those affected by dementia, an unimaginable wait.’

Everyday drugs will have passed multiple tiers of expensive safety tests and so could be prescribed for dementia in five to ten years.

It can take up to 20 years and £600million to create a drug from scratch. Hopes of quickly adding to available treatments were recently dashed when several promising new ones failed the final stage of testing.

So Mr Ballard, professor of age-related diseases at King’s College London, and other experts turned to the possibility of using everyday drugs.

They drew up a short-list published in the journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. One of the most promising is liraglutide, a diabetes treatment that also acts on the brain.

Others include minocycline, an antibiotic for acne, and acitretin, which treats the skin condition  psoriasis. There is also a family of blood pressure drugs called calcium channel blockers.  Some of these medicines cost less than 50p a tablet.

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘The idea that drugs for other conditions could fight Alzheimer’s is appealing.  ‘But it’s not yet clear that such a drug exists. Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with many risk factors.’


4 November, 2012

Statins side effects warning when combined with other drugs: regulator

The statin craze seems to be slowly winding down at long last

Hundreds of thousands of people taking a common statin are to have their dose reduced due to fears over side effects, it has emerged.

Medicines regulators have warned that patients taking simvastatin at the same time as other drugs used to reduce high blood pressure are likely to suffer more aches and pains.

The MHRA has produced a patient leaflet for the first time to inform people of the changes being made.

Studies have shown that patients taking simvastatin, particularly the 40mg dose which is the most commonly prescribed in England, suffered more problems if they were also on amlodipine and diltiazem.

These are used to treat high blood pressure and chest pain associated with heart disease, and they are often prescribed with simvastatin.

The side effects are those usually associated with statins, including muscle problems such as pain, tenderness, weakness and cramps and more rarely muscle breakdown leading to kidney damage.   These occurred more frequently when patient were on both drugs at the same time.

Regulators have said patients taking the combination should not stop them and talk to their doctor at their next routine appointment.

Doctors may lower the simvastatin dose as the side effects were less common when patients were on a 20mg dose, or switch them to another statin.

An MHRA spokesman said: "The MHRA is committed to public health and continuously monitors the safety of all medicines.

"We have recently published information on dosing recommendations for simvastatin which were updated due to a small risk of an increase in side effects when it is used at higher doses in conjunction with amlodipine or diltiazem.

"This advice is intended to optimise the proven beneficial effects of statins while minimising any adverse effects and should not be a reason for stopping statin treatment. We have advised that patients continue their treatment and discuss this with their doctor at their next routine appointment.

"The updated information has been highlighted in our first Drug Safety Update article designed exclusively for patients, with the aim that people taking these medicines can understand why their statin treatment may have changed."


Canada’s Organic Certification System is an Emperor with No Clothes

Lacks field testing, unannounced inspections or meaningful definitions

The Frontier Centre for Public Policy released today a policy study examining the system for testing organic products – or the lack thereof – in Canada.

The authors show the circularity in a process that claims to establish standards for organic foods. Since the Canadian organic standard has no testing clause, the CFIA has essentially defined an organic product as any product that has been certified thus, emptying the concept of any real meaning. No mention is made of safety, purity, nutrition, or sustainability.

This has important implications for Canadian consumers and the country’s $2 billion organic food industry. It is also important because the organic industry often points fingers at conventional food for its supposed "impurity” and makes claims that conventional food products that are not being systematically tested.

The report is not an attack on organic farmers or the many dedicated men and women who work in the industry. Rather, the report hones in on the process of certifying foods as organic: "True rank-and-file organic farmers […] have no affinity whatsoever for the class of self-appointed, urban political activists who claim to represent them.”  "It comes as no surprise that with more than $2-billion per annum at stake, the Canadian organic lobby is dead set against organic field testing and will go to any lengths to discredit anyone who promotes the application of the scientific method to the organic industry,” said the authors.

The United States’ federal organic standards allow for routine, unannounced testing of organic crops, livestock, and stored product. Some states voluntarily carry out mandatory, scientific organic field testing at the local level. But, in Canada, the only requirement is an exhaustive review of paperwork through a CFIA-accredited organic certifier, some of which are even off shore.

Canada’s lax testing standards are making this country susceptible to foreign organic importers, and risk of undermining Canada’s food producers.

The authors also show how a science-based system would cost less than a tenth of the cost of running the current organic certification system, and propose a more decentralized means of making testing and certification meaningful and effective.


2 November, 2012

Obese teenagers risk kidney failure in later life, study warns

Omniscient epidemiologists again -- who "just know" that correlation is causation:  Childish.  And note that the ailment is extremely rare anyway ("2.87 cases per 100,000 person-years") so is of slight concern even if the conjectures of the mental infants below are correct.  The article is "Body Mass Index in 1.2 Million Adolescents and Risk for End-Stage Renal Disease" by Asaf Vivante et al.

Overweight and obese teenagers are putting themselves at risk of kidney failure later in life, researchers say.

They found the youngsters had between six and 19 times greater risk of developing end-stage renal disease within 25 years.

ESRD occurs when the kidneys fail to adequately filter toxins and waste products from the blood. Those with the disease often need dialysis until an organ transplant can be performed.

Children and adolescents with high body mass index often become obese adults, who have a higher risk of various chronic conditions such as diabetes.

A team from the Sheba Medical Centre at Tel Hashomer in Israel found overweight 17-year-olds had six times the risk for developing diabetic ESRD while obese 17-year-olds had 19 times the risk for developing the condition.

The researchers looked at the medical records of 1.2 million 17 years olds between January 1967 and December 1997.

Dr Asaf Vivante said: 'In this long-term nationwide population-based study, overweight and obesity at age 17 years were strongly and positively associated with the incidence of future treated ESRD, although the absolute risk for ESRD remains low.'

The study found 713 men and 161 women developed treated ESRD for an overall incidence rate of 2.87 cases per 100,000 person-years during more than 30 million follow-up person-years.

Compared to normal-weight adolescents, those adolescents who were overweight and obese had an increased future risk for treated ESRD, with incidence rates of 6.08 and 13.40 cases per 100,000 person-years respectively.

Dr Vivante said: 'Although the results for diabetic ESRD were remarkable, with risks increasing six-fold and 19-fold among overweight and obese adolescents, respectively, our results also indicate a substantial association between elevated BMI and nondiabetic ESRD.'

Commenting on the findings Dr Kirsten Johansen of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center said: 'The association of obesity with ESRD is good news and bad news.

'The good news is that obesity represents a potentially modifiable risk factor, and control of weight and the hypertension and inactivity that often accompany excess adiposity could prevent or slow the development of some cases of ESRD and may potentially reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with chronic kidney disease.

'The bad news is that it is not easy to address obesity.

'Although there is no evidence that it is ever too late to improve outcomes by increasing physical activity or shedding excess weight, the results reported by Dr Vivante highlight the potential advantages of starting early before chronic disease has developed and unhealthy lifestyles have become lifelong habits.'


Woman proves "5 a day" fruit & veg. requirement is just a political myth

A 54-year-old mother who claims she has never eaten a piece of fruit of tried a green vegetable, says she will only consume three types of food: white breads, including pancakes; milk and potato-based chips.

Marla Lopez, who also sometimes eats bacon, blames her basic daily diet on being an adult picky eater - something that scientists believe to be a 'real food related disorder'.

The New York City mother-of-one told Good Morning America: 'It's a texture issue... the snack aisle has become my dinner aisle.'  She says her picky eating started as an infant, when would gag on her baby food.

Her favorite food is potato chips, because they are 'so salty, and fresh, and potato-y. I love them,' she said.

Many foods that people usually look forward to, like an omelette for brunch, a sandwich for lunch, or spaghetti pasta, actually repulse her.  Instead, her daily diet is made up primarily of milk and ice cream; white breads, including crackers, tortillas and pancakes; and potatoes, including chips and French fries.

While some people think Ms Lopez uses the term 'picky eater' as an excuse to eat junk food, Psychology Today believes her diet is actually a medical condition.

The magazine wrote: 'Certain aspects of picky eating resemble known disorders - the concern with texture could be a sign of a sensory processing disorder.  'Picky eaters do score higher than others on tests of anxiety.'

Nancy Zucker, the director of the Center for Eating Disorders at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, who studies picky eaters, agrees.

She said: 'We don’t quite understand what adult picky eating is... but what we do know is that there is a real biological struggle going on that’s not all in their heads.'

When it comes to fresh produce, Ms Lopez said, 'When I look at this, I don’t see food. I would no sooner eat any of this, than I would your shoe.'

And despite her vegetable-free, and nutritionally-low diet, Ms Lopez argues that she is healthy.  'My cholesterol is 174, and I eat a bag of fries each day, and that’s my main staple,' she said.

According to the American Heart Association, a cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dL is desirable, while a cholesterol reading of more than 200 mg/dL raises the risk of coronary heart disease.

Ms Lopez said she finds her limited preferred foods 'embarrassing,' but added, 'I do love what I eat and enjoy it.'

She said she often hides her eating habits at parties, instead telling friends she has already eaten.


1 November, 2012

A bacon sandwich for breakfast is a 'health time bomb in a bun'

What a lot of rubbish!  This study showed temporary effects only.  No evidence of lasting damage at all.  There SHOULD be various temporary effects of what you eat. 

I have had a big lot of bacon as part of my breakfast most days for many years and my blood pressure in my 70th year is normal.  Am I a superman?  Hardly!

A bacon butty [sandwich] for breakfast is a health time bomb in a bun, according to a new study.  Researchers found that just one high-fat meal can affect your heart health and people who eat a sarnie [sandwich] loaded with fat for breakfast will be feeling the ill effects well before lunch.

Just one day of eating a fat-laden breakfast sandwich of processed cheese and meat on a bun - and 'your blood vessels become unhappy,' says Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher Doctor Todd Anderson who is head of cardiac science at the University of Calgary in Canada.

Delegates at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress heard about a study at Dr Anderson’s lab, led by student researcher Vincent Lee. The key ingredients: breakfast sandwiches and a group of healthy, non-smoking university students.

He wanted to see what would happen to the university students after starting their day with a fatty breakfast.  The objective of the study was to assess the acute effects of just one high-fat meal on microvascular function, an indicator of overall vascular, or blood vessel, health.

The students were studied twice, once on a day they had no breakfast, and once on a day when they ate two commercially available breakfast sandwiches, total of 900 calories and 50g of fat. Dr Anderson found that two hours after eating the sandwiches, their VTI had decreased by 15 to 20 per cent.

From just one isolated meal, the results are temporary. But the study shows that such a high-fat offering can do more harm, and do it more quickly, than people might think.

Dr Anderson said: 'I won’t say don’t ever have a breakfast sandwich. But enough of a diet like that, and you can see how you can build up fat in the walls of your arteries.'


Why the drugs don't work: Scientist discover why statins aren't effective in 40% of patients

A big admission!  How many people are told that?

Statins are taken by millions of Britons, yet nearly half of patients are resistant to their cholesterol-lowering effects.

Now scientists think they have pinpointed the cause - a protein called resistin.

A team from McMaster University in Canada said their research suggests high levels of resistin in the blood could stop statins from working effectively.

The protein is secreted by fat tissue and causes high levels of 'bad' cholesterol also known as low-density lipoprotein or LDL. This accumulates in the arteries and increases the risk of heart disease.

The researchers found that resistin also degrades LDL receptors in the liver. As a result, the liver is less able to clear 'bad' cholesterol from the body.

It not only causes high levels of LDL, but also counteracts the beneficial effects of statins - the main drug used to tackle the problem.

Dr Shirya Rashid, senior author of the study said: 'The bigger implication of our results is that high blood resistin levels may be the cause of the inability of statins to lower patients' LDL cholesterol,' said Dr Rashid.

She noted that a staggering 40 per cent of people taking statins are resistant to their impact on lowering blood LDL.

However, she believes their discovery could lead to revolutionary new therapeutic drugs, especially those that target and inhibit resistin and thereby increase the effectiveness of statins.

Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr Beth Abramson said: 'The possibilities for improved therapy for the causes of cardiovascular disease are very important.'

The findings were presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. More here on similar findings

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

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

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

The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it

The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

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

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like