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


31 October, 2009

Woman dies from drinking too much water

The more this becomes known the better. It is a danger most people are unaware of

THE family of a woman who died while taking part in a radio station water-drinking contest to win a Nintendo Wii has been awarded more than $US16.5 million by a jury in California. A 12-person jury in Sacramento reached the verdict today after deliberating for nearly two weeks. The trial began in early September.

Mother-of-three Jennifer Strange was 28 when she died in 2007 after participating in the "Hold Your Wee For a Wii" contest run by KDND-FM. The contest promised the popular Nintendo video game console to the person who could drink the most water without urinating or vomiting. An autopsy determined that Strange died of water intoxication. No criminal charges were filed in the case, but Strange's family sued the station and its owners for more than $US34 million. Attorneys for the station argued that Strange's death was unforeseeable and that the woman's "contributory negligence" led in part to her death.

Jurors awarded Strange's husband and three children $US16.57m. Under the contest's rules, participants were given eight 225mm bottles of water to drink at 15-minute intervals. The competitor drinking the most water without urinating was to be declared the winner. Strange had complained to work colleagues of a sore head hours after participating in the contest and went home early. She was later found dead.

Water intoxication can occur when the normal balance of electrolytes in the body is altered by a rapid intake of water. This can cause brain swelling, seizures, coma or death.


Snoring cure?

Hadi Al-Jassim's team of consultants are the only ones in the country to offer an injection which they say is a genuine alternative to painful surgery. The ear, nose and throat specialist - from Southport and Ormskirk NHS Trust near Liverpool - has treated 400 patients at one of his hospitals and with excellent results.

"As everyone knows, snoring can cause major problems for patients and in particular their partners," said Mr Al-Jassim. "In most cases it's the men who snore and their partners suffer sleep deprivation and at the end of the day you have to keep your partner happy - though women do snore as well. "It causes all sorts of problems between partners and leads to marital, social and health problems. "I am delighted with the treatment because, until this, there has been no effective treatment other than surgery."

The treatment - called the snoreplasty - is quick and cheap. It is a two-minute procedure done under local anaesthetic in which sodium tetradecyl is injected into the roof of the mouth. The chemical, a sclerosing agent, is usually used in the treatment of varicose veins. The injection combats snoring by stopping the soft tissue at the back of the mouth from vibrating.

Mr Al-Jassim, who is now giving lectures to other specialists across the country about the jab, added: "Surgical treatment is very painful and takes weeks of recovery time so many patients decide not to do it because they can't get the time off work or their health's not strong enough for surgery. "And in other cases surgery doesn't work. "After the jab, patients can go home straight away and eat about an hour later. "It will help around 70 per cent of sufferers and has made life easier for many patients and their partners. "Even with those people it hasn't cured, they reported sleeping better and waking up feeling fresher. "The jab can be given three times a year but some people find one injection lasts them a year."


30 October, 2009

Study: One in five children lacks vitamin D

This is pretty surprising. This problem was beaten decades ago by adding vitamin D to butter and margarine. Is that no longer done?

At least 1 in 5 US children ages 1 to 11 don’t get enough vitamin D and could be at risk for a variety of health problems including weak bones, the most recent national analysis suggests.

By a looser measure, almost 90 percent of black children that age and 80 percent of Hispanic children could be vitamin D deficient - “astounding numbers’’ that should serve as a call to action, said Dr. Jonathan Mansbach, lead author of the new analysis and a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital in Boston.

The analysis, released online today by the journal Pediatrics, is the first assessment of varying vitamin D levels in children in that age group. The findings add to mounting evidence about vitamin D deficiency in children, teens, and adults - a concern because of recent studies suggesting that the vitamin might help prevent serious diseases, including infections, diabetes, and even some cancers.

Although hard evidence showing that low levels of vitamin D lead to disease or that high levels prevent it is lacking, it is a burgeoning area of research.

Exactly how much vitamin D children and adults should get, and defining when they are deficient, is under debate. Doctors use different definitions, and many are waiting for guidance expected in an Institute of Medicine report on vitamin D due next year. The institute is a government advisory group that sets dietary standards.

The analysis uses data from a 2001-06 government health survey of nearly 3,000 children. They had blood tests measuring vitamin D levels. Using the American Academy of Pediatrics’ cutoff for healthy vitamin D levels, 6.4 million children - about 20 percent of youngsters that age - have blood levels that are too low. Applying a less strict, higher cutoff, two-thirds of children that age, including 90 percent of black kids children and 80 percent of Hispanics, are deficient in vitamin D.


Curry spice 'kills cancer cells'

It has also been claimed as a slimming agent

An extract found in the bright yellow curry spice turmeric can kill off cancer cells, scientists have shown. The chemical - curcumin - has long been thought to have healing powers and is already being tested as a treatment for arthritis and even dementia. Now tests by a team at the Cork Cancer Research Centre show it can destroy gullet cancer cells in the lab.

Cancer experts said the findings in the British Journal of Cancer could help doctors find new treatments. Dr Sharon McKenna and her team found that curcumin started to kill cancer cells within 24 hours. The cells also began to digest themselves, after the curcumin triggered lethal cell death signals. Dr McKenna said: "Scientists have known for a long time that natural compounds have the potential to treat faulty cells that have become cancerous and we suspected that curcumin might have therapeutic value."

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is interesting research which opens up the possibility that natural chemicals found in turmeric could be developed into new treatments for oesophageal cancer. "Rates of oesophageal cancer have gone up by more than a half since the 70s and this is thought to be linked to rising rates of obesity, alcohol intake and reflux disease so finding ways to prevent this disease is important too."

Each year around 7,800 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in the UK. It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death and accounts for around five percent of all UK cancer deaths.


29 October, 2009

The peril of palatability

A former FDA chief sounds the alarm about dangerously delicious food. Comment on "The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Diet", by David A. Kessler

According to The Washington Post, David Kessler’s research for The End of Overeating included late-night forays into the trash bins behind Chili’s restaurants across California. From the chain’s garbage he retrieved ingredient boxes with nutritional labels that revealed the secret of dishes such as Southwestern Eggrolls and Boneless Shanghai Wings. It turned out they “were bathed in salt, fat and sugars.”

Kessler could have saved considerable time and trouble by paying a Chili’s employee to write down this information for him. Or by visiting the Chili’s website, which provides numbers for the calories, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and sodium in the company’s food. Or simply by assuming that food promoted as a mouth-watering yet affordable indulgence probably has a lot of fat, salt, and sugar in it. But as The End of Overeating more than amply demonstrates, Kessler is the sort of crusader who spares no effort to uncover the obvious.

Kessler, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco’s medical school, grabbed headlines as head of the Food and Drug Administration under Bill Clinton by taking on Big Tobacco. In this book he mounts an assault on Big Food, but the results are even feebler than his unsuccessful effort to regulate cigarettes without statutory authority. He combines banal observations, dressed up as scientific insights and revelations of corporate misdeeds, with presumptuous advice that overgeneralizes from his own troubled relationship with food.

Kessler urges readers to eschew pasta, French fries, bacon cheeseburgers, candy, and other “hyperpalatable” foods that he and some people he interviewed for the book have trouble consuming in moderation. Kessler wants us to know he is powerless over chocolate-chip cookies and “those fried dumplings at the San Francisco airport.” Using himself and several similarly voracious acquaintances as models, he argues that “conditioned hypereating” is largely responsible for the “obesity epidemic.” He exhorts its victims to resist the machinations of the food industry, “the manipulator of the consumers’ minds and desires” (in the words of a “high-level food industry executive”).

Kessler fearlessly accuses major restaurant chains of a crime they brag about, relying on unnamed “insiders” to reveal that comestible pushers such as Cinnabon and The Cheesecake Factory deliberately make their food delicious—or, as he breathlessly puts it, “design food specifically to be highly hedonic.” Kessler certainly has the goods on the corporate conspiracy to serve people food they like. “We come up with craveable flavors, and the consumers come back, even days later,” a “research chef at Chili’s” confesses to him. Kessler also reveals that Nabisco lures Oreo eaters through a dastardly combination of sweet white filling and crunchy, bittersweet chocolate wafers, achieving “what’s called dynamic contrast.” Or maybe it’s “what the industry calls ‘dynamic novelty,’” as Kessler claims in another Oreo discussion elsewhere in the book. Either way, it’s so good it must be bad.

Not only do these sneaky bastards create irresistible food; they then turn around and tell people about it. “With its ability to create superstimuli, coupled with its marketing prowess, the industry has cracked the code of conditioned hypereating and learned exactly how to manipulate our eating behavior,” Kessler writes. “It has figured out the programming that gets us to pursue the food it wants to sell.”

If Kessler hadn’t been so distracted by that plateful of chocolate-chip cookies, perhaps he would have noticed the contradiction between his description of how the food industry goes to great lengths to give consumers exactly what they want and his claim that it arbitrarily decides what products it wants to sell, then uses marketing magic to create a demand for them. The only way to deal with such logic-defying nefariousness, he suggests, is to regulate advertising and require restaurants to nag their customers with conspicuous calorie counts. He also encourages readers to “feel angry at the marketing and advertising techniques designed to get you to eat more, at the huge portion sizes served at restaurants, and at the layered and loaded food you encounter everywhere.” It’s all about “reframing seemingly well-meaning acts as hostile ones.” Thinking back on all those times my mother offered me a second helping, I now realize how much she hates me.

Kessler’s discussion of the science behind his theory of conditioned hypereating is at least as enlightening as his economic analysis of the food industry. “Palatable foods arouse our appetite,” one expert tells him. “They act as an incentive to eat.” Once he’s made sure we know what palatable means, Kessler tries to explain why some foods have this quality. It turns out that palatable foods affect neurotransmitter levels, stimulate “the pleasure center,” and activate “the body’s reward system.” Since the same could be said of pretty much everything that people enjoy, this observation is not very illuminating. It falls into the same true-but-dull category as Kessler’s discovery that “people get fat because they eat more than people who are lean.”

Kessler’s neurological reductionism gives him an excuse to talk about rat studies and MRI scans, but it does not have much explanatory power. “The food we ate for comfort has left its mark on the brain, creating a void that will need to be filled the next time we are cued,” he writes. “The result is a spiral of wanting.” Since all experiences leave a “mark on the brain,” what does this really tell us about why some people eat a few potato chips and stop, while others finish the bag and look for more in the cupboard?

It’s not clear what percentage of the population reacts to food the way Kessler and his hypereating friends do. The government says two-thirds of Americans are “overweight,” but that does not mean they routinely engage in the out-of-control gorging that Kessler describes. Then again, Kessler says “overeating is not the sole province of the overweight,” since thin people can scarf down big bowls of ice cream or M&Ms but compensate by exercising more. It does not make much sense to claim that people who burn all the calories they consume are overeating—unless, like Kessler, you’re promoting a trademarked treatment for overeating called Food Rehab™.

According to The Washington Post, “Kessler estimates that about 15 percent of the population is not affected” by conditioned hypereating, meaning 85 percent is. That seems inconsistent not only with everyday experience but with Kessler’s own analysis of questionnaire data from the Reno Diet Heart Study. He says “one-third of the study population scored high” on one or more of three factors—“loss of control over eating,” “lack of feeling satisfied by food,” and “preoccupation with food”—that characterize the syndrome he typifies.

Yet the section of the book where Kessler describes his Food Rehab method seems to be aimed at a general audience, which is like expecting all drinkers to follow the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. “I don’t offer a one-size-fits-all technique,” Kessler claims, adding that “few foods will be totally out of bounds.” Yet he lays down some pretty categorical-sounding imperatives. “Neither sugar nor refined carbohydrates that behave much like sugar in the body, such as white flours and pasta, belong in the diet in significant amounts,” he writes, calling for “a diet based largely on lean protein and whole grains or legumes, supplemented with fruits and nonstarchy vegetables.” For everyone? Just for hypereaters? Maybe both, because by this point Kessler seems to have convinced himself that his impulsive, gluttonous reaction to tasty food is a universal trait.

But what about those of us who reject Kessler’s ethic of rigidly ordered abstemiousness, which replaces hypereating with hypervigilance? Consider celebrity chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain, who supplied a blurb for this book (“disturbing, thought-provoking, and important”) that suggests he hasn’t read it. As anyone who watches No Reservations, Bourdain’s show on the Travel Channel, can attest, his attitude toward food is about as far from Kessler’s as it’s possible to get. While Kessler says we should be wary of delicious dishes, Bourdain conspicuously consumes all manner of fatty, salty, calorie-packed food in large quantities without apology (and nevertheless keeps a trim figure). Bourdain’s fans see a man who relishes life and refuses to sacrifice pleasure on the altar of health. Kessler presumably would see a victim of conditioned hypereating who desperately needs a course of Food Rehab™.


How lacking in perspective can you get?

No wonder the guy below is "controversial". He ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of studies on the subject show no risk. Outside his own field he appears to know nothing more than the layman and it is popular but poorly substantiated beliefs that he echoes

BRAIN cancer surgeon Charlie Teo has urged people to put mobile phones on loudspeaker, move clock radios to the foot of the bed and wait until microwaves have finished beeping before opening them.

The controversial Sydney specialist told a Melbourne fundraiser that although the jury was still out on mobile phones and other forms of electromagnetic radiation, we should not take risks. "Even though the jury's not in, just to err on the side of safety I would try and limit the amount of electromagnetic radiation that you're exposed to," he said. "The American government, for example, recommend that all electrical appliances should be put at the foot of the bed and not the head of the bed.

"Electric blankets should be turned off before you get in bed and definitely wait for those five beeps before you open the microwave. "With the mobile phone I encourage you to put it on loudspeaker and step outside rather than sticking it up to your brain."

Dr Teo, who tackles tumours other surgeons deem inoperable, said some hair dyes, particularly red, could also cause brain cancer in people with a predisposition. "The body needs some genetic predisposition. The hair dye, the mobile phone, they're just catalysts but you probably need some sort of genetic aberration to get the cancer in the first place," he said.

Dr Teo said while breast cancer doubled its cell numbers in weeks or months, the quickest brain cancers took just 16 hours. No age group was immune and the incidence of brain tumours was growing. [Because the population is getting older, mainly] "It's increasing in frequency both in this country and developing countries and it used to be ranked out of the top 10 but it's just joined the top 10 most common cancers," he said.

Recent studies have raised alarm bells about mobile phones. An unreleased World Health Organisation study reportedly found "a significantly increased risk" of some brain tumours related to use of mobile phones for 10 years or more. A Suleyman Demirel University study in Turkey also found wearing a mobile phone on your belt may lead to decreased bone density in an area of the pelvis commonly used for bone grafts.

Dr Teo said there had been some advancements in treating tumours, like microwave therapy and putting chemotherapy directly into a tumour. A healthy diet, meditation and positive thought could also be beneficial. "We believe that they probably boost the immune system," he said.


28 October, 2009

Organic food tough? Try new organic metal

The breathtaking and insouciant ignorance we all have to live with

When I began to learn about chemistry as a boy at school, I was introduced to the world of the organic and the inorganic. The term "organic", I was told, referred to the presence of carbon and identified livings things such as plants and animals, while "inorganic" described non-living things such as minerals, metals and rocks.

Over the last decade I rode out the non-sequitur of "organic" vegetables with the begrudged understanding that the advertisers were claiming that pesticides had not been used in the production process. But I still winced when people earnestly tried to tell me the advantages of organic eggs and organic milk. It was, and is, impossible to argue against such frustrating nomenclature.

But now a line has to be drawn in the sand, before we enter the linguistic nightmare of the "post-organic". The ultimate misuse of the term came on Saturday morning when I needed to buy some magnesium tablets to keep the leg cramps away - these are one of the joys of cycling later in life. In my local health food shop I discovered a small bottle of Organic Magnesium. "How can magnesium be described as organic?" I asked the woman who so gushingly wanted to assist me. "It's healthy, it's organic!" she gushed. "But magnesium is a mineral and a mineral can't be described as organic … it's like talking about organic steel."

She stared and blinked, like a knowing owl. "The organic label," she explained, trying not to sound condescending, "tells us that no pesticides were used in producing it. This magnesium is completely organic." My mouth opened slowly, quietly and stupidly. "Ah, magnesium doesn't grow on plants, so you don't need pesticides. It's a mineral."

The woman shrugged. She seemed to size me up: pot belly, white beard, I could almost hear her say: "What would you know about health food?"

At this stage I knew I had lost, and began to wonder if there were such a thing as "orgasmic magnesium". Now, that would lead to some interesting discussions. Anyway, I bought that particular bottle of Organic Magnesium, probably out of a sense of personal perversity. Later I recounted the incident to my grey-haired girlfriend and showed her the bottle. She laughed, "You have made a good choice," she said, "look at the fine print: 'organic magnesium is good for preventing PMS'."

Just what I needed: an affront to science and a question over my sense of masculinity. I grimaced and we took off up the highway in our organic car. Organic? Well, no pesticides or chemical fertilisers were used in its production. Therefore, ipso facto, my car is the latest commodity to become truly organic.


Children 'should not be given common painkiller after a vaccine'

Parents should not give their children the common painkiller paracetamol in the hours after they are given a vaccine because it stops the immune system working so well, a new study suggests. Paracetamol, found in Calpol, can reduce the effectiveness of the injections, researchers have found.

As well as a painkiller, the drug is used to prevent fever, which can be a side effect of vaccines, as the body responds to the jab. The team behind the study believe that paracetamol could limit how the immune system responds to the vaccination. The drugs effects could leave children underprotected when they come into contact with dangerous diseases in the future.

The study tested the effectiveness of vaccines for flu, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and polio if children had been given the painkiller as well. The research found that the children had significantly lower numbers of antibodies, the immune systems response to infection, in those given paracetamol for 24 hours after the jab.

Prof Roman Prymula, from the University of Defence in the Czech Republic, who led the study, said: "To our knowledge, such an effect of paracetamol on post-immunisation immune responses has not been documented before.” Researchers gave the drug to 226 children every six to eight hours for 24 hours after the vaccination. They then compared the findings with those from 223 children who had the same injections but were not given the painkiller.

The research team also analysed 10 previous studies on the effects of paracetamol, which confirmed their findings, which have been published in the Lancet medical journal. Writing in the same journal, Dr Robert Chen, from the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, called for more research to be done on the effect of paracemtol on vaccinations. He said: "Further assessment at the individual level, such as whether or not paracetamol increases the proportion of vaccine non-responders, is warranted. “However, a larger question is the extent to which paracetamol might reduce population protection."

All children in Britain are offered vaccinations against a number of major diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough, bacteria which can cause meningitis, measles, mumps and rubella, also known as German measles. Last year the Government began vaccinating girls aged 12 to 18 against the virus which causes cervical cancer.

A spokesman for Calpol said: "Parents and health care professionals have relied on Calpol (paracetamol) for more than 40 years in the UK. Calpol is indicated for the treatment of mild to moderate pain and for the treatment of fever in children over 3 months. Calpol can also be used from 2 months to treat post-vaccination fever in infants. However, Calpol is not indicated for the prophylaxis (prevention) of fever in children at the time of vaccination.


27 October, 2009

Is salt really the Devil's ingredient?

More fad "science": The British Government wants people to reduce their sodium intake, but studies show that this advice should be taken with a pinch of salt

Salt: is your food full of it? That is the question posed by Jenny Eclair in the Food Standards Agency's recent TV ad for its latest salt awareness campaign. Salt, we are told, pervades every aspect of our diet, from the bowl of cereal we had at breakfast, to the sandwich we ate at lunchtime to the takeaway curry we’re planning tonight.

Too much of the white stuff will raise blood pressure and increase the likelihood of heart disease and strokes. Like its evil twin, saturated fat, it seems logical that our goal should be to cut down on it, but now a growing number of experts claim that salt is not the devil’s ingredient we have been lead to believe it.

This month researchers from the department of nutrition at the University of California found compelling evidence that it may even be difficult to consume too much salt. Professor David McCarron measured salt losses in the urine of almost 20,000 people in 33 countries worldwide and his findings indicated that the complex interplay between our brains and organs naturally regulates salt intake. Reporting in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, Professor McCarron said: “It is unrealistic to attempt to regulate sodium consumption through public policy when it appears that our bodies naturally dictate how much sodium we consume to maintain a physiologically set normal range.”

What we do know from other research is that eating less salt will lower blood pressure and cardiovascular risk in people with existing hypertension, but critics argue that for the rest of the population the advice on salt consumption should be taken with, well, a pinch of salt.

While some studies show that people who reduce their daily intake by 1g-2g find that their blood pressure falls, others reveal that huge swings in salt consumption have little effect, with a few showing that blood pressure actually rises.

Among those now questioning the demonisation of our favourite seasoning is Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London, who believes the current pressure to restrict salt in the diet as much as possible is unnecessary and potentially risky. “The issue has been blown out of proportion,” Collins says. “Salt reduction is very important for people who already have raised blood pressure, but for most people who don’t have hypertension, there is no real benefit to be had from making huge efforts to cut down. It is certainly is not the dietary outcast it is portrayed to be.”

This a view is shared by Michael Alderman, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and a past president of the International Society of Hypertension, who has spent years researching the effects of salt on health. “Only one rigorous, randomised clinical trial on salt intake has been reported so far,” Alderman says. “As it turned out, the group that adhered to a lower sodium diet actually suffered significantly more cardiovascular deaths and hospitalisations than did the one assigned to the higher sodium diet.”

Salt — sodium chloride — is an element essential for health. Every cell in the body needs sodium to function — it is required to regulate fluid balance and for nerves and muscles, such as those in the heart, to function well. Too little salt can cause mental confusion, an inability to concentrate and, in extreme cases, the potentially fatal condition hyponatraemia, which leads to body salts becoming dangerously diluted and the brain swelling beyond the skull’s capacity.

Not that salt depletion is a risk for the average Briton. Although intake has fallen as food manufacturers have begun to add less salt to food, the latest figures from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) show that the average person still consumes 8.6g of salt a day — that’s 0.9g less than in 2000-01, but, not low enough for the FSA. Its long-term goal is to have everybody cut salt to 6g a day.

In theory, this will prevent strokes and heart attacks by lowering blood pressure. What divides experts is whether mass salt avoidance will make much of a difference to statistics on cardiovascular health. Alderman says that, to date, most of the studies on salt-lowering have been observational, in which the diet habits of different groups are analysed to find any correlation between salt and heart health. Many of them have produced mixed results.

In research conducted at Loyola University in Chicago earlier this year, for instance, Dr Paul Whelton, the president of the university’s health department, followed nearly 3,000 patients for 10-15 years to find out whether the salt they ate had an impact on blood-pressure readings.

After measuring the amount of salt in the urine of his subjects to assess their consumption levels, Whelton found that whether they had used the salt shaker liberally or not did not appear to make any significant difference to their risk of heart disease. What mattered more, Whelton reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was the ratio of salt intake to that of potassium, another dietary mineral (found plentifully in foods such as bananas, avocado, sweet potato and tuna) that is known to balance out the artery-tightening effects of sodium.

An earlier report published in the British Medical Journal in 2002 reviewed the evidence on whether salt avoidance could lower blood pressure and found that, while it was helpful to those on medication for hypertension, there were no clear benefits for anyone else. Similarly, when researchers from Copenhagen University reviewed the available literature for the Cochrane Collaboration in 2003, they concluded “there is little evidence for long-term benefit from reducing salt intake”.

In fact, Alderman says that of nine observational studies looking at a total of more than 100,000 people, four papers found that reduced dietary salt was associated with an increased risk of death and disability from heart attacks. “In one that focused on obese people, more salt was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular death,” he says. “But in the remaining four no association was seen.”

However, for those advocating salt cuts — and they remain the majority — the evidence against high-sodium diets is clear. Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at St George’s Hospital and chair of the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) dismisses the negative take on salt reduction as “balderdash” claiming that such findings are “usually put out by the food industry” to bolster their own cause. [An ad hominem argument. The man is no scientist] “From the day you are born, your blood pressure starts to go up slowly,” MacGregor says. “Salt is a major factor in that and high-salt diets are the main reason why blood pressure rises with age. And more deaths are linked to raised blood pressure than anything else.”

Precisely how salt raises blood pressure is not entirely clear. It is thought that when salt intake is too high, the kidneys to pass it all into the urine and some ends up in the bloodstream. This then draws more water into the blood, increasing volume and pressure.

MacGregor says that reducing salt to the 6 gram daily levels recommended by the FSA could lead to a 16 per cent reduction in deaths from strokes and a 12 per cent reduction in deaths from coronary heart disease. “The evidence that links salt to blood pressure is as strong as that linking cigarette smoking to cancer and heart disease,” he says. “If successful, the reduction to 6 grams a day would have the biggest impact of any public health campaign ever.”

Everybody could do with cutting down. In 2008, MacGregor and his colleagues published a study in the Journal of Human Hypertension, which looked at the salt intakes of 1,658 people aged 7 to 18 in the UK. They found salt to be responsible for raising blood pressure in children.

Once more, though, the findings were disputed. In an accompanying editorial, Professor Alderman questioned the link, pointing out that those who ate more salt merely ate more food. Adjusting for calorie intake, Alderman suggested, wiped out the significance of the relationship.

So where does this leave a nation that is being urged to become more salt-savvy? If we scrutinise food labels for their salt content we may live longer. But we may not.

Collins advises against becoming preoccupied with totting up daily salt scores and says she increasingly encounters people whose serum sodium levels have dipped to a dangerous low. “Extreme dieters and vegetarians seem to be most at risk,” she says. “Salt occurs naturally in many of the foods they avoid such as cheese and meat. Since these people are often also drinking copious amounts of water because they think it’s healthy, they often display early signs of hyponatraemia, all linked to their low salt intake.”

In countries where populations are given free access to salt, people typically consume about 5g-8g a day. “A lot of people could relax about their salt intake. If you don’t have hypertension to begin with, then just trying to eat healthily will ensure you don’t get too much,” Collins says. “Advice to cut back on salt really is the poorest of all the dietary messages around.”


Is DDT bad after all? Boys with urogenital birth defects are 33 percent more common in African villages sprayed with DDT

A .33 difference is insignificant anyway. 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.".

The journal article is "DDT and urogenital malformations in newborn boys in a malarial area" by Riana Bornman et al.. Excerpt: "Of the newborn boys 10.8% (357) had UGBDs; a multivariate logistic model showed that mothers who lived in villages sprayed with DDT between 1995 and 2003 had a significantly greater chance (33%) of having a baby with a UGBD than mothers whose homes were not sprayed".

That is exceedingly weird. The implication is that even in the unsprayed villages, 8% of the kids had defective plumbing. The findings are clearly not generalizable to anything in the Western world. The MAIN cause of the defects has obviously not been identified. When it is, we might be able to see if and how how it interacts with DDT. Maybe the villages that got more DDT also got more of the problem agent, whatever that might be.

Much farting at the mouth by a self-satisfied and self-righteous Prof. Bornman below. A Professor he/she may be but a scientist he/she is not. Academics customarily eschew personal publicity. Prof. Bornman obviously laps it up

Let me see if I can do a better job of scientific interpretation than Prof. Bornman -- using no more than general knowledge. Male genital deformities could be caused by a heavy load of estrogens but Western sources of estrogens are not likely to be found to any extent in African villages. So it must be phytoestrogens at work. But to get a heavy load of phytoestrogens the villagers must be very successful farmers. And wouldn't successful farmers be more likely to be ready, willing and able to take up modern aids to health -- such as DDT? So the "third factor" (the single underlying cause of both the deformities and the high DDT usage) is prosperity, African style. Whether that explanation is right or not, however, it exposes Prof. Bornman's brain-dead attachment to the logical fallacy that correlation is causation
Women who lived in villages sprayed with DDT to reduce malaria gave birth to 33 per cent more baby boys with urogenital birth defects (UGBD) between 2004 and 2006 than women in unsprayed villages, according to research published online by the UK-based urology journal BJUI. And women who stayed at home in sprayed villages, rather than being a student or working, had 41 per cent more baby boys with UGBDs, such as missing testicles or problems with their urethra or penis.

The authors suggest that this is because they spent more time in homes where domestic DDT-based sprays are still commonly used to kill the mosquitos that cause malaria, even in areas where organised mass spraying no longer takes place.

Researchers led by the University of Pretoria in South Africa studied 3,310 boys born to women from the Limpopo Province, where DDT spraying was carried out in high-risk areas between 1995 and 2003 to control malaria. The study compared boys born to women in the 109 villages that were sprayed, with those born to women from the 97 villages that were not. This showed that 357 of the boys included in the study – just under 11 per cent – had UGBDs. The incidence of UGBDs was significantly higher if the mother came from a sprayed village.

"If women are exposed to DDT, either through their diet or through the environment they live in, this can cause the chemical to build up in their body" explains lead author Professor Riana Bornman from the University's Department of Urology. "DDT can cross the placenta and be present in breast milk and studies have shown that the residual concentration in the baby's umbilical cord are very similar to those in maternal blood.

"It has been estimated that if DDT exposure were to cease completely, it would still take ten to 20 years for an individual who had been exposed to the chemical to be clear of it. Our study was carried out on boys born between 2004 and 2006, five to nine years after official records showed that their mothers had been exposed to spraying. "Records were not kept before 1995 in the Limpopo Province, but it is reasonable to assume that DDT was being used before that date to combat malaria.

"Although most countries have now banned the use of DDT, certain endemic malarial areas still use indoor residual spraying with DDT to decrease the incidence and spread of the disease, which is caused by mosquitoes."

The two-year study included 2,396 boys whose mothers had been exposed to DDT and 914 whose mothers had not. A number of other factors were taken into account to rule out possible causes of the birth defects. These included smoking and drinking, the mother's age, how long she had lived in her village and her race. These all proved statistically insignificant.

The authors believe that their study highlights the importance of educating people in high-risk malaria areas about the dangers of DDT. "The use of DDT has contributed to the success in reducing malarial transmission and malarial deaths in South and Southern Africa" says Professor Bornman. "However, the present findings also strongly suggest that indoor residual spraying with DDT is associated with UGBDs in newborn boys. "With global concerns about the effect of chemicals on health, and the possibility of malaria resurgence and spread as a result of climate change, all authorities should ensure that the general public, including those living under indoor residual spraying conditions, are aware of the possible health risks.

"Educating people living in the DDT-sprayed communities about ways of protecting themselves from undue DDT exposure needs to be carried out as a matter of extreme urgency. "There must be long-term monitoring of possible environmental and human health impacts, particularly in those areas where DDT will be introduced as part of the fight against malaria. "We are now carrying out further research to find out how indoor spraying using DDT-based products affects humans and how this risk can be reduced."


26 October, 2009

The "Smart Choices" the U.S. Government Wants To Make For You

The short summary: Food makers have combined to work with nutrition experts to develop standards to brand food products in such a way as to communicate that the products comply with the government's dietary guidelines and widely accepted nutritional standards. A large number of manufacturers have joined one such program, "Smart Choices" and now the Food and Drug Administration is weighing an intervention. As far as I can tell, parents haven't risen up and demanded that the FDA act. Consumers aren't marching on behalf of new standardized food labeling. There is no Upton Sinclair on the best-seller lists with a "The Jungle" like tome denouncing the cereal manufacturers.

What there is is a new push for nanny-statism that boggles the mind. Read the Times and Post stories closely, and you will see there FDA representatives fairly straining to break out into full "big brother" mode and regulate every food package in America.

"The government is interested in improving nutrition labeling on packages in part," writes the Times, "because of the nation’s obsesity epidemic, which experts say is tied to a diet heavy in processed foods loaded with calories, fats and sugar."

"As a mother of two who frequently finds herself racing down the grocery aisle hoping to grab foods that are healthy for my family, I would welcome the day that I can look on the front of packages and see nutrition information I can trust and use," The Post quotes FDA big boss Margaret Hamburg as saying. "As the commissioner of FDA, I see it as my responsibility, and the responsibility of this administration, to help make that happen."

Think about this proposed new mission for the FDA for a moment, and just how vast it is. If the government is suddenly in charge of the labeling of all food products for children on the theory that the government must prevent obesity, why wouldn't it be involved in the labeling of all food products for all people? And beyond labeling, why not grab the authority to dictate what can and cannot be manufactured in the first place?

The problem isn't just the FDA of course, but also the legions of plaintiffs' lawyers who need a replacement for cigarette and asbestos plaintiffs. Imagine the vista that is opening before them as they consider suits for damages brought against makers of all sorts of food products which can be alleged to have contributed to Dick's and Jane's diabetes developing at age 10 due to chronic obesity. The jury will be presented with the FDA's statements and experts will testify on how the Fruit Loops fairly lept from the shelves into the mouths of children everywhere. Cha-ching.

"This is just one more segment of America being overrun by government regulation under the guise of 'assisting the unwary consumer,'" Liz wrote me in a follow-up e-mail. "If consumers don't start taking responsibility for themselves and the choices they make, and start resisting the intervention, the government and the plaintiffs' bar will be more than happy to make their choices."

The industry --all of it, not just the bigs, right down to every potato chip and ice cream maker and even the producers of soy-- had better step up to shut down the FDA's early efforts to grab control of the marketplace. Every rulemaking has got to be resisted and every bogus lawsuit contested or life without Fruit Loops, and every other food choice freely made, will be a memory within a decade.


Alzheimer's linked to lack of Zzzzs

Sleep deprivation leads to more plaques in genetically susceptible mice. Interesting but far from conclusive

Losing sleep could lead to losing brain cells, a new study suggests. Levels of a protein that forms the hallmark plaques of Alzheimer’s disease increase in the brains of mice and in the spinal fluid of people during wakefulness and fall during sleep, researchers report online September 24 in Science. Mice that didn’t get enough sleep for three weeks also had more plaques in their brains than well-rested mice, the team found.

Scientists already knew that having Alzheimer’s disease was associated with poor sleep, but they had thought that Alzheimer’s disease caused the sleep disruption.

“This is the first experimental study that clearly shows that disrupted sleep may contribute to the disease process,” says Peter Meerlo, a neuroscientist at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “What makes it exciting for me is that it shows that chronic sleep loss, in the long run, changes the brain in ways that may contribute to disease.” A vicious cycle could result if sleep loss leads to Alzheimer’s disease and the disease leads to more sleep loss, he says.

Researchers led by David Holtzman, a neurologist and neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis, used a method called microdialysis to measure the levels of a protein known as amyloid-beta in the fluid between brain cells of mice. Amyloid-beta sometimes twists into a sticky form and clumps together, forming such plaques. Scientists don’t yet understand how, but they think that clumping of amyloid-beta eventually leads to the death of neurons and the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (SN: 8/16/08, p. 20).

Although levels of amyloid-beta in the brain tissue of the mice didn’t seem to change, Holtzman’s group found that levels of the protein released into brain fluid did rise and fall throughout the day. “We didn’t know it would coordinate with sleep and wakefulness,” Holtzman says. “We just knew the levels fluctuated.”

Levels of the protein increased in mice during the night — when mice are mostly awake — and fell during the day when mice sleep. The longer the mice stayed awake, the more amyloid-beta levels increased, the team found. The team also measured amyloid-beta levels in the cerebral spinal fluid of some healthy young people and found the same pattern observed in the mice — amyloid-beta levels increase when people are awake and fall during sleep.

Giving mice a shot of a hormone called orexin, which promotes wakefulness, also caused amyloid-beta levels to increase. And blocking orexin’s activity led to a decrease in the amount of protein released into the brain fluid. The researchers don’t yet know whether orexin is directly responsible for helping release amyloid-beta into brain fluid or if orexin keeps animals awake, allowing more time for levels of the protein to build up.

For three weeks, Holtzman’s team studied mice that were genetically predisposed to build Alzheimer’s plaques, allowing some of the animals to sleep only four hours a day while others slept normally. Sleep-deprived mice made more plaques than well-rested mice, but a drug that blocks orexin’s action was also able to stop plaque buildup, the researchers discovered.

Studies in people haven’t shown a link between Alzheimer’s disease and chronic sleep loss, but Holtzman speculates that lack of sleep, particularly in mid-life when plaques begin to form, could hasten onset of the disease in genetically susceptible individuals. Drugs that block orexin might also be used as a potential therapy for halting plaque development, he says.

Other researchers aren’t so sure that’s a good idea. “Treating patients chronically with orexin inhibitors is really not an option,” says Masashi Yanagisawa, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. The drugs would likely make patients sleepy unless used at extremely low doses, he says. One such drug is in clinical testing as a treatment for insomnia.

It is also unclear whether orexin or some other aspect of the sleep and wake cycle regulates amyloid-beta levels, researchers say.

“Mechanistically we don’t understand why [sleep] is manipulating amyloid-beta rhythms,” says Sangram Sisodia, a molecular neurobiologist at the University of Chicago, “but we do know it’s doing something good for the brain.… There’s a clear message here about why it is so important to sleep.”


When Government Gets Science Wrong

Advocates of greater government involvement in the health care system are asking the public to put a lot of faith in bureaucrats' ability to decide what "science" tells us is the best way to treat our personal medical problem. Yet the public should be warned: the government doesn't always know best when it comes to making us healthy and sometimes society pays a price for their errors.

Consider what government has done with dietary recommendations related to tuna fish. Mothers who have been pregnant in recent years know that among the list of pregnancy no-no's is eating too much of certain fish. For example, the official guidance for our health department has been that pregnant women should eat no more than six ounces of albacore tuna fish per week. Many women (myself included) assumed that meant that, like with alcohol or nicotine, it's safest to eliminate tuna, and fish more generally, from our diets. After all, why take a chance?

Indeed, according to one national poll, nearly nine in ten pregnant women were concerned about mercury in canned tuna. Almost half of all audiences agreed with the statement that "With all the uncertainty about mercury in fish, it's best for pregnant women and nursing mothers to avoid it all together to ensure the safety of their child."

Yet it turns out those of us who were trying to play it safe were actually creating new risks for our developing babies. Fish is the most naturally-rich source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in the development of the fetal brain and eyes. That's why doctors now actively encourage pregnant women to eat seafood twice a week, but that doesn't make the same impact as the anti-fish alarmism. A peer-reviewed FDA report issued last year warned that 95 percent of American women eat less than the recommended amount of fish. Increasingly independent scientists and government officials are recognizing that the government's guidance to limit seafood to avoid trace amounts of mercury has backfired on this generation of children.

Government also can over-react as a result of fear of dangerous substances. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, for example, created onerous new restrictions on the types of toys that can be made available. As the Manhattan Institute's Walter Olson, detailed in City Journal , the law not only stipulated safety standards for current toymakers, but also applied to products already in existence. As a result, many harmless children's playthings-like books produced before 1985-were made worse than worthless: they were deemed dangerous, and thus were discarded from many stores, thrift shops and libraries. Sadly, the real casualties of this law were kids-particularly kids from families unwilling or incapable of paying the often high-price of new children's books-who lost access to a world of stories and ideas.

Should we really trust the government to apply their logic to determine what medical procedures are most efficient and should be made available to the public? A recent report from the United Kingdom provides a window of what we can expect from such a process. The UK's National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is seeking to limit the use of steroid injections to treat chronic lower back pain, and will instead encourage suffers to try alternative treatments, such as acupuncture.

It's not surprising, really-that's the way that government's "control" health care costs. But what's noteworthy is that some specialists feel politics was behind the decision As the British newspaper, the Telegraph, reports: "specialists are furious that while the group included practitioners of alternative therapies, there was no one with expertise in conventional pain relief medicine to argue against a decision to significantly restrict its use." In other words, because acupuncture reps were on the panel making the decision, they decided to slash the availability of traditional treatment and encourage more people to try "alternative" treatments.

It's not science at its best; it's politics as usual, and it's our future if we allow government to take-over health care.


25 October, 2009

Can a diet of cheese and dairy help you shed that unwanted fat?

This seems to be a reasonably strong study but I doubt that it will suit the food freaks. Cheese and dairy are popular and everything popular is wrong according to them. Cheese in particular has a lot of fat in it and fat is the original sin to food freaks. They are all still wedded to the counterfactual claim that fat gives you cancer, heart disease etc.

It has long been blamed for causing nightmares. But cheese may also give you a dream figure. A diet packed with cheese and other dairy products helps with weight loss, a study found. Australian slimmers were put on low-calorie diets which included varying amounts of cheese, yoghurt and low-fat milk.

Those who increased their daily servings of dairy products from three to five lost the most weight. They also had lower blood pressure, the least tummy fat and 'significantly improved' their chances of avoiding heart disease and diabetes.

The researchers, from Curtin University of Technology in Perth, said that although dairy products are widely perceived as being fatty, they have a place in the slimmer's shopping basket.

Dieters, however, should still keep an eye on their fat and calorie intake. Cheese and other dairy products are high in protein, which helps us feel full quickly and speeds up the metabolism. Laura Wyness, of the British Nutrition Foundation, said dairy products were a good source of calcium and vitamins, as well as protein. However, she warned that cheeses can be high in salt and advised dieters to check labelling before buying.



There have been lots of brainwaves about how to predict whether you are at risk but we now see that blood pressure, serum cholesterol and smoking/non-smoking are the only useful predictors. The latest findings below. See Sandy Szwarc for commentary

Emerging Risk Factors for Coronary Heart Disease: A Summary of Systematic Reviews Conducted for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

By Mark Helfand et al.

Background: Traditional risk factors do not explain all of the risk for incident coronary heart disease (CHD) events. Various new or emerging risk factors have the potential to improve global risk assessment for CHD.

Purpose: To summarize the results of 9 systematic reviews of novel risk factors to help the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) evaluate the factors' clinical usefulness.

Data Sources: Results from a MEDLINE search for English-language articles published from 1966 to September 2008, using the Medical Subject Heading terms cohort studies and cardiovascular diseases in combination with terms for each risk factor.

Study Selection: Studies were included if the participants had no baseline cardiovascular disease and the investigators adjusted for at least 6 Framingham risk factors.

Data Extraction: Study quality was evaluated by using USPSTF criteria and overall quality of evidence for each risk factor by using a modified version of the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation framework. Each factor's potential clinical value was evaluated by using a set of criteria that emphasized the importance of the effect of that factor on the reclassification of intermediate-risk persons.

Data Synthesis: 9 systematic reviews were conducted. C-reactive protein (CRP) was the best candidate for use in screening and the most rigorously studied, but evidence that changes in CRP level lead to primary prevention of CHD events is inconclusive. The other evaluated risk factors were coronary artery calcium score as measured by electron-beam computed tomography, lipoprotein(a) level, homocysteine level, leukocyte count, fasting blood glucose, periodontal disease, ankle–brachial index, and carotid intima–media thickness. The availability and validity of the evidence varied considerably across the risk factors in terms of aggregate quality, consistency of findings, and applicability to intermediate-risk persons in the general population. For most risk factors, no studies assessed their usefulness for reclassifying intermediate-risk persons.

Limitations: Because of lack of access to original data, no firm conclusions could be drawn about differences in risk prediction among racial and ethnic groups. The review did not emphasize within-cohort comparisons of multiple risk factors.

Conclusion: The current evidence does not support the routine use of any of the 9 risk factors for further risk stratification of intermediate-risk persons.

Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 151, Issue 7, Pages 496-507

Scientists flip flop on thong issue

I went entirely barefoot until I was 16 and for the last 50 years I have mostly worn thongs. And I am proud of my straight toes and zero foot problems

MOVES are afoot to change the unhealthy image of thongs. Scientists are flip flopping on the issue, now saying the cheap and cheerful footwear could even be better for children than closed-in shoes.

University of Sydney researcher Alex Chard says he's looking forward to challenging the "broad public misconceptions of the health effects of wearing thongs". Mr Chard and his research team are seeking volunteers aged between seven and 13 for a comparison of children's foot motion while they are barefoot and while they are wearing thongs or traditional school shoes.

He says professionals often discourage the wearing of thongs but there's no hard evidence that they are harmful. "Experts are starting to accept that the best shoe should mimic barefoot conditions," Mr Chard said in a statement. "The latest research has found that there is more motion within the arch of the foot than previously thought. "It might be the case that flexible things can actually assist in developing the 16 muscles within each foot, helping Australian children to improve their sporting prowess."

The team from the university's foot and ankle research unit will use computer animation techniques to analyse the way children's feet and legs move while they are running, walking or stepping sideways. The research will be conducted at the university's Lidcombe campus in western Sydney.


24 October, 2009

Ho hum! Here we go again: Traffic pollution may be to blame for miscarriages, say researchers

It's quite amazing how these guys pick out one factor and confidently say THAT is the cause. There is any number of reasons why winter babies might not survive. Illness is greater in winter, for instance. Only the last paragraph below shows some sense

Traffic pollution may be to blame for miscarriages, researchers believe. A study of 400 women having IVF treatment in Brazil found that those who became pregnant in winter, when pollution levels are particularly high, were twice as likely to miscarry in the first eight weeks as those who conceived at other times of the year. The researchers say that the findings may be relevant to other countries, including Britain, where air pollution regularly exceeds the levels considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

Paulo Marcelo Perin, from the University of São Paulo, told the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in Atlanta, Georgia, that miscarriage rates were 20 to 30 per cent in winter months, compared with 10 to 15 per cent in other seasons. Air quality is thought to be worse in winter because increased rain and fog bring down levels of sooty “particulate matter”, known as PM10s and emitted by industry and traffic, to where they can be breathed in by people.

Dr Perin said that women exposed to levels of PM10s only slightly above the recommended safe limit (50 micrograms per cubic metre) had a greater chance of losing a baby. “We saw a significant increase in the miscarriage rates in winter,” he said. “There was a 2.5 fold increase in pregnancy loss [in women] exposed to high levels of pollution. “Our previous studies have shown higher implantation failure rates when women are exposed to pollution. Our latest study found that air pollution significantly decreased the cell population.

“When you have a decrease in cell mass you compromise embryo viability. Because diesel is a major component of air pollution we can assume most of the effect is from diesel.”

A second study by American researchers on 7,500 women undergoing IVF also suggested a decline in fertility due to exposure to nitrogen dioxide, another common air pollutant.

Up to one in six couples in Britain have problems conceiving naturally and more than 37,000 women received fertility treatment in the UK in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available.

Stuart Lavery, the director of the IVF unit at Hammersmith Hospital, in London, said that it was possible that pollution could affect the chances of pregnancy but more studies were needed to confirm the effect. He added: “This is an area that is crying out for good research.”


Patients on anti-obesity drug liraglutide lose a stone in 20 weeks

Long term side-effects would need to be evaluated

Patients given a new anti-obesity drug lost more than a stone in weight in five months — almost twice as much as those taking other treatments — trial results have shown. A study of liraglutide, which is marketed as Victoza and given by injection, suggests that it can promote dramatic weight loss and help obese patients to avoid the onset of type 2 diabetes.

The Europe-wide trial of 564 people with a body mass index between 30 and 40 — normally defined as obese — found that high doses of the drug were much more successful than the anti-obesity pill orlistat or a placebo injection.

The average weight loss of participants given a daily 3mg dose of liraglutide, coupled with an exercise and diet regime, was 15.9lb (7.2kg), compared with 9lb (4.1kg) for those taking three orlistat pills a day. Even smaller doses of 1.2mg, 1.8mg and 2.4mg reduced weight by 10.5lb (4.8kg), 12.1lb (5.5kg) and 13.9lb (6.3kg) respectively. Those given the dummy treatment lost only 6.2lb (2.8kg).

The findings, published online in The Lancet, also showed that a higher proportion of individuals (76 per cent) lost more than 5 per cent of their body weight with 3mg of liraglutide than orlistat (44 per cent) and the placebo (30 per cent). The injection works by intensifying the feeling of being full, and by reducing the speed at which the stomach empties.

During the past 20 years the rate of obesity has risen three-fold, and in some European countries more than 30 per cent of the population is obese. About 50 per cent of all adults in Europe are classified as overweight. Obesity increases the risk of hypertension, diabetes and atherosclerosis — all risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Arne Astrup, of the Department of Human Nutrition at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and his team studied the effect of liraglutide on the weight of obese individuals without type 2 diabetes.

At the start of the study, about a third of patients in each group had pre-diabetes — with higher than normal blood glucose levels but not yet bad enough to qualify as diabetes. A report from Diabetes UK, published this week, suggested that 7 million Britons suffer from pre-diabetes, putting them at 15 times greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The authors concluded: “Treatment with liraglutide, in addition to an energy-deficit diet and exercise programme, led to a sustained, clinically relevant, dose- dependent weight loss significantly greater than that with placebo and orlistat. “Liraglutide offers a new mode of action for the treatment of obesity and improved efficacy compared with currently available therapies. Its effect on pre-diabetes suggests that it might be important for treating obese pre-diabetic individuals.”

They added that further studies, over longer than five months, were needed to establish the long-term risk-benefit profile for liraglutide. Nausea and vomiting had occurred more often in individuals on liraglutide than in those on the placebo, but adverse reactions were mainly transient and rarely led to the patient stopping treatment.

In an accompanying commentary, George Bray, of the division of clinical obesity and metabolism at Pennington Biomedical Research Centre, Louisiana State University, said: “[This] important report shows a dose-related reduction of food intake and bodyweight in overweight and obese individuals treated with liraglutide.” He added that one limitation to the use of drugs such as liraglutide was that they required an injection. “Whether long-term use of an injectable drug is palatable as a treatment for obesity is yet to be established,” he said.


Viral Link to Chronic Fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex and debilitating disorder that is often linked to immune system dysfunction but whose cause(s) remain mysterious. Lombardi et al. (p. 585, published online 8 October; see the Perspective by Coffin and Stoye) now present a tantalizing new lead. In blood samples from 101 patients with well-documented CFS, over two-thirds (68) contained DNA from a recently described human gammaretrovirus, xenotropic murine leukemia virus–related virus (XMRV), which possesses sequence similarity to a murine leukemia virus. Cell culture assays confirmed that XMRV derived from CFS patient plasma and from T and B lymphocytes was infectious. Although the correlation with CFS is striking, whether the virus plays a causal role in the disorder remains to be determined. Interestingly, nearly 4% of the 218 healthy donors tested were positive for XMRV, which suggests that this virus—whose pathogenic potential is unknown—may be present in a significant proportion of the general population.


Journal abstract:

Detection of an Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in Blood Cells of Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Vincent C. Lombardi et al.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disease of unknown etiology that is estimated to affect 17 million people worldwide. Studying peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from CFS patients, we identified DNA from a human gammaretrovirus, xenotropic murine leukemia virus–related virus (XMRV), in 68 of 101 patients (67%) as compared to 8 of 218 (3.7%) healthy controls. Cell culture experiments revealed that patient-derived XMRV is infectious and that both cell-associated and cell-free transmission of the virus are possible. Secondary viral infections were established in uninfected primary lymphocytes and indicator cell lines after their exposure to activated PBMCs, B cells, T cells, or plasma derived from CFS patients. These findings raise the possibility that XMRV may be a contributing factor in the pathogenesis of CFS.

Science 23 October 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5952, pp. 585 - 589

23 October, 2009

These busybody ignoramuses will be ignored, fortunately

"Evidence-based", my foot! There is certain to be plenty of epidemiological speculation but I know of NO double blind studies in support of any of the crap below. It is all just the popular "wisdom" of the day, wisdom that can be and often is dangerously wrong. Look at the official backflip over peanuts, where the official advice of the past produced an epidemic of peanut allergies. And I don't suppose I should mention the joint problems (hip and knee) now being suffered by devotees of the '80s jogging craze

CHILDREN should not be forced to clear their plates at meal times under new parenting guidelines released by the Federal Government. The Get Up And Grow guides, available free to every parent and childcare centre, recommends toddlers under two be banned from watching TV or using computers altogether, The Daily Telegraph reports. And children aged between two and five should spend less than an hour a day in front of the television and computer and get at least three hours exercise a day.

The booklet advises parents about correct daily portion sizes of healthy food that should be fed to children, a serve of milk for a child aged under five is just 100ml, a serve of cheese is just 15g and a meat portion should be just 45g. "If your child refuses to eat at any meal or snack do not force them to eat," parents are advised.

The guide provides healthy eating and exercise prescriptions for babies and children aged up to five developed by experts at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. "New parents are bombarded with information and knowing what advice to take can often be difficult and stressful," Health Minister Nicola Roxon said yesterday. "These guidelines are an evidence-based, easy to read resource parents can rely on when raising baby."

Children aged five and under need three meals and two snacks per day and should eat chocolate, fruit juice, soft drinks, flavoured milk and takeaway very rarely. Babies should be exercised and from the age of one should do at least three hours of active play a day. Restraining children for more than one hour at a time in car seats, prams or high chairs is also frowned on because it limits a child's development and learning time.

The Australian Communication and Media Authority said four-month-old babies watch an average of 44 minutes of TV daily, while under-fours spend at least three hours a day in front of the screen. But the new government guidelines state this is too much. "Screen time is not recommended for babies and children less than two years of age, because it may reduce the amount of time they have for active play, social contact with others and chances for language development."


Obese mother's baby taken off her by British do-gooders

More evil fallout from a false gospel. Since obesity is basically genetic, the kid will end up fat anyway

A newborn girl was taken into care because it was feared she would pile on excessive weight in the care of her obese parents. The child was removed from her mother within hours of being born earlier this week and has been placed with a foster family. Her parents, who are both clinically obese, have already had two children taken into care amid concerns about the youngsters' weight. They have been warned they risk losing their remaining four children if they too fail to shed pounds.

Before she became pregnant, the mother weighed 23st. [322 lb.] At that time one of her children, a toddler, weighed 4st and her 13-year-old son weighed 16st. [224lb.]

Social workers in Dundee confirmed they took the baby because of fears the infant's weight would balloon. Her devastated mother, who is 40, discharged herself from hospital on Tuesday, a day after the birth. She and her husband, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were warned last year to bring their children's weight down.

Last night a Dundee council spokesman said the decision to take the girl was given 'careful consideration'. She added: 'It is never taken lightly and always at the forefront is what is the best course of action for the welfare and safety of the child or children.'


Vitamin supplements could do more harm than good

At last the word is getting out

People taking high-dose vitamin and mineral supplements may be doing more harm than good, an expert has warned. Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific adviser for the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), said it was difficult to predict the impact vitamin supplements had on the chances of cutting cancer.

While low dose supplements can be a "valuable safety net", high doses could be harmful. Research over the last few years has suggested some vitamins can actually increase the risk of some cancers. Beta carotene for example can increase the risk of lung cancer in those who already smoke.

"Many people think they can reduce their cancer risk by taking supplements, but the evidence does not support this," Prof Wiseman said. "Just because a dietary pattern that provides a relatively high level of a particular nutrient might protect against cancer, it does not mean that taking it in tablet form will have the same effect. "In fact, at high doses the effect of these micronutrients is unpredictable and can be harmful to health.

"Although there are some studies that have shown a reduction in cancer risk from high-dose supplements, others have not, and these supplements have normally only been tested on a select group of people.

"This means we simply do not know enough about what the effect will be for the general population to confidently predict the balance of risks and benefits. Some people may be doing themselves more harm than good.

"There are also studies that show high doses of some supplements can increase risk of some cancers."

Prof Wiseman said multivitamins would not contain all the good nutrients found in food, such as fibre adding that the best advice was to have a "health, plant-based diet with lots of fruits and vegetables".

Prof Wiseman's comments echo similar sentiment from Professor Brian Ratcliffe, a leading nutritionist, who last month said Britain's "worried well" were wasting their money and possibly risking their health by taking supplements.

Prof Ratcliffe said multivitamin and mineral supplements were "completely pointless" for the majority of people with a healthy diet and that topping up on vitamins could potentially be dangerous.


22 October, 2009

The internet is GOOD for brains

Some actual research upsets all the "expert" prognostications about how bad computers are for you. One hopes that the sycophantic "Baroness" Greenfield learns some proper scientific caution from this. Crawling up the backsides of the powers that be got a smart Jewish girl a British title but at the expense of her scientific integrity

Adults with little Internet experience show changes in their brain activity after just one week online, a new study finds. The results suggest Internet training can stimulate neural activation patterns and could potentially enhance brain function and cognition in older adults.

As the brain ages, a number of structural and functional changes occur, including atrophy, or decay, reductions in cell activity and increases in complex things like deposits of amyloid plaques and tau tangles, which can impact cognitive function.

Research has shown that mental stimulation similar to the stimulation that occurs in individuals who frequently use the Internet may affect the efficiency of cognitive processing and alter the way the brain encodes new information. "We found that for older people with minimal experience, performing Internet searches for even a relatively short period of time can change brain activity patterns and enhance function," Dr. Gary Small, study author and professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, said in a statement.

The UCLA team worked with 24 neurologically normal volunteers between the ages of 55 and 78. Prior to the study, half the participants used the Internet daily, while the other half had very little experience. Age, educational level and gender were similar between the two groups.

The participants performed Web searches while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, which recorded the subtle brain-circuitry changes experienced during this activity. This type of scan tracks brain activity by measuring the level of blood flow in the brain during cognitive tasks. While the study involves a small number of people and more research on this topic is needed, small study sizes are typical of fMRI-based research.

After the initial brain scan, subjects went home and conducted Internet searches for one hour a day for a total of seven days over a two-week period. These practice searches involved using the web to answer questions about various topics by exploring different websites and reading information. Participants then received a second brain scan using the same Internet simulation task, but with different topics.

The first scan of participants with little Internet experience showed brain activity in the regions controlling language, reading, memory and visual abilities. The second brain scan of these participants, conducted after the home practice searches, demonstrated activation of these same regions, but there was also activity in the middle frontal gyrus and inferior frontal gyrus – areas of the brain known to be important in working memory and decision-making.

Thus, after Internet training at home, participants with minimal online experience displayed brain activation patterns very similar to those seen in the group of savvy Internet users. "The results suggest that searching online may be a simple form of brain exercise that might be employed to enhance cognition in older adults," Teena D. Moody, the study's first author and UCLA researcher, said in a statement.

When performing an online search, the ability to hold important information in working memory and to take away the important points from competing graphics and words is essential, Moody noted.

Previous research by the UCLA team found that searching online resulted in a more than twofold increase in brain activation in older adults with prior experience, compared with those with little Internet experience. The new findings suggest that it may take only days for those with minimal experience to match the activity levels of those with years of experience, said Small.

Additional studies will be needed to address the impact of the Internet on younger individuals and help identify aspects of online searching that generate the greatest levels of brain activation. The findings were presented Oct. 19 at the meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago, Illinois.


Fat Police Target Government's Own Nutrition Standards

On Thursday, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal with the backing of consumer advocate groups announced that he is launching an investigation into the allegedly misleading food labeling program "Smart Choices." The Smart Choices Program allows manufacturers of foods that meet certain nutritional criteria to post on their packaging a green check-mark alongside a calorie and serving count indicator.

While the program's creators say that Smart Choices is intended to help consumers make better nutritional decisions, the Attorney General and many consumer protection advocates are questioning the program's nutritional standards and decrying the program as "deceptive" and "potentially misleading"---namely because a few nutritionally suspect foods like Teddy Grahams, Kraft Cheese crackers and Cocoa Krispies happen to qualify.

Ironically, the program's nutritional standards that Mr. Blumenthal and consumer advocates are questioning are based directly on the USDA's dietary guidelines. For example, calories from fat can't exceed 35% of total calories and sodium content must be less than 480 mg per serving.

Smart Choices is exactly the kind of program that Mr. Blumenthal and consumer advocates should be in favor of since it makes nutritional information more visible to consumers. Lately, government officials have been pressuring the food industry to take a more active role in curbing obesity. Some city and state governments like New York City's have even required fast food restaurants to post nutritional information on menus. Congress has also been threatening the industry with a sugar tax. (To appease Congress, Coca Cola just unveiled a 90-calorie mini can and a plan to highlight calories on the front of nearly all products.)

The Smart Choices Program is doing exactly what government officials say that the food industry should do, but won't do on its own. But now that the industry is taking the initiative to promote healthier choices, the government wants to criminalize the industry for doing it in a marketable and profitable way. The government may want Americans thinner---just as long as the food industry's profits aren't getting fatter.


Regulation Not Worth Its Salt

Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration, working with the Institute of Medicine, has been considering a change in the regulatory status of salt. The FDA cannot currently restrict the amount of salt that can be added to processed foods, and the proposed change would allow them to do so.

Advocates of the proposed regulation, like former FDA commissioner David Kessler and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, argue that reducing the sodium in foods would improve people’s health and cut public health spending. Opponents argue that the evidence supporting health benefits of sodium reduction is by no means conclusive, and that attempts to reduce sodium intake could actually be harmful.

But a recent study by University of California, Davis nutritionists concludes that it may not even be possible to reduce salt intake through regulation. The study shows that people are naturally inclined to regulate salt intake to physiologically determined levels by unconsciously selecting foods to meet their needs.

According to the study, measurements collected from over 19,000 individuals from 33 countries worldwide indicate that daily sodium intake is confined to the relatively narrow range of 2,700 to 4,900 mg, with the worldwide average of 3,700 mg. This challenges the widely held belief that daily sodium consumption in the United States, which averages about 3,400 mg, has reached extreme levels.

The study also cites decades of research describing the specific mechanism by which the central nervous system, acting together with several organ systems, controls our appetite for salt.

In one cited study, a group of nearly 600 participants took part in what was to be a 3 year sodium intake intervention, with the goal of reducing daily intake to 1,850 mg. After the first 6 months, researchers noted that participants were unable to reduce sodium intake below about 2,750 mg per day—close to the bottom of the range the UC Davis study identified.

Another study had similar findings. In this study, subjects, through intensive dietary counseling, reduced their daily sodium intake to an average of 1,775 mg over 4 weeks. The subjects were then randomized to receive either a 2,300 mg sodium tablet or a placebo, while still receiving counseling.

When taking the placebo, average sodium intake stabilized around 2,750 mg—again very close to the bottom of the identified range. This means that subjects naturally increased their sodium intake when blinded to their treatment. When this group was switched over to receive the 2,300 mg sodium supplement, daily intake rose to only 4,050 mg, far less than the predicted 5,050 mg. This suggests that subjects naturally reduced their dietary sodium intake without consciously intending to do so.

The UC Davis study goes on to cite a number of surveys indicating that sodium intake in the United Kingdom has “varied minimally” over the past 25 years, despite a costly Food Standards Agency campaign to reduce sodium intake in the UK.

The Institute of Medicine says that daily sodium intake should not exceed 2,300 mg, and new guidelines to be released in 2010 may set the recommended maximum even lower. Any regulatory action taken by the FDA would presumably aim to reduce intake at least to this 2,300 mg level, even though it is 17 percent lower than the bottom of the range the UC Davis study identified, and a full 38 percent lower than the worldwide average.

Given the findings of this study, it seems likely that regulation restricting sodium in foods would be ineffective because people would unconsciously adjust their diets to compensate. As the study puts it, “[sodium intake] is unlikely to be malleable by public policy initiatives”, and attempts to change consumption would “expend valuable national and personal resources against unachievable goals.”


21 October, 2009

Fathers at birth 'causes longer labour, mental illness'

I am inclined to think the ob/gyn below has a point. It's risky to rely on clinical experience as evidence but it would be a mistake to disregard it willy nilly. I am inclined to think that it should be up to the woman: The father should be present only if the woman definitely wants that

For those fathers who make it through without fainting, the miracle of childbirth is an unforgettable experience. But their presence could actually be harming the mother and child, a leading obstetrician warned yesterday. Michael Odent claims having a husband or partner in the room at the birth increases the likelihood of a Caesarean section, subsequent marriage break-up and even mental illness. He also believes it makes the labour longer and more painful because the woman is distracted by the father's anxiety.

Delivering children would be much simpler if women were left alone in the care of their midwife, he claims.

'The ideal birth environment involves no men in general,' he said yesterday. 'Having been involved for more than 50 years in childbirths in homes and hospitals in France, England and Africa, the best environment I know for an easy birth is when there is nobody around the woman in labour apart from a silent, low-profile and experienced midwife.

'In this situation, more often than not, the birth is easier and faster than what happens when there are other people around, especially male figures – husbands and doctors.'

More than 90 per cent of births in the UK have a male partner in attendance, studies show.

But Dr Odent claimed that having males present at the birth makes the mother tense, leading her to produce adrenaline. This slows her production of the hormone oxytocin, which is vital for childbirth, thus extending the length of the labour. 'If she can't release oxytocin she can't have effective contractions, and everything becomes more difficult,' said the French doctor, who runs the Primal Health Research childbirth charity in London. 'Labour becomes longer, more painful and more difficult because the hormonal balance in the woman is disturbed by the environment that's not appropriate because of the presence of the man.'

Sexual attraction between a couple can also disappear after the birth and lead to divorce, he says. Some men even end up suffering from a widely unrecognised male equivalent of postnatal depression. The 'masculinisation of the birth environment' has, Dr Odent argues, contributed to the number of women now having Caesarean sections.

He is due to outline his controversial views at the annual conference of the Royal College of Midwives in Manchester next month. But critics say there is little evidence to support his claims. Duncan Fisher, of the fatherhood advice website Dad Info, said: 'I think he's wrong and is not basing his argument on evidence either that it damages men or their relationships with mothers. 'Of course, not all men are nervous and a lot of women would be even more nervous without their partner there. Mothers want them there because it is not home.'

Mary Newburn, of the National Childbirth Trust, said there were now cultural pressures on men to attend the birth of their child. She added: 'There's such a feeling among women that "you got me into this, I have carried the baby for nine months and now I have to go through labour and birth, so the least you can do is be with me, and if you feel a bit squeamish, then tough". 'I wouldn't go as far Dr Odent in saying that men are always unhelpful in labour. But it's not men's right to be there. 'The most important thing is that the woman feels safe, secure and supported, so if she wants to have a woman around instead, that's fine.'


Teen net addicts at risk of mental health problems

Where's his proof? Epidemiology deals in correlations. It proves nothing. This is just an exercise in speculation motivated by the usual academic contempt for ordinary people

OBSESSIVE use of the internet could create a mental-health epidemic, with up to 10 per cent of adolescents at risk, a Sydney academic warns.

World studies have documented dangerous levels of "internet addiction" – computer use that interferes with daily lives – says Lawrence Lam, a behavioural epidemiologist at the University of Sydney and the Children's Hospital at Westmead.

In Greece and the US, studies found 8 per cent of adolescents could be classified as computer addicts. In China, where Dr Lam helped conducted recent research, the level of addictive computer use was 14 per cent. "I would say in Australia we would be following the same trend," he said.

Dr Lam said researchers were yet to agree on whether to label the problem as an addiction or a mental-health problem but it was expected the condition could be added to the next edition of the key reference book for mental-health professionals, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

He said people who played online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft, were especially prone to the condition, which he defined as an “uncontrollable and damaging use of the internet”.

Dr Lam said boys were 50 per cent more likely to be affected than girls. He advised parents to watch for sharp changes in how often or how long children were online.


Screening test ‘doubles the chance of pregnancy for women on IVF’

A genetic-screening test could more than double the chances of pregnancy for women who undergo fertility treatment, a study suggests. The first trial of its kind has found that two out of three women having in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) became pregnant if their embryos were checked for abnormalities before being implanted in the womb, compared with less than a third where the test was not used.

The technique, known as comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH), checks chromosomes in the developing embryo. Only those embryos with the best chance of becoming a healthy baby are used in fertility treatment. The £2,000 test is available in only a handful of private clinics in Britain. Researchers hope that it will become standard practice to help both NHS and paying patients to start a family.

Dagan Wells, a Senior Fellow in Reproductive Genetics at Oxford University who developed CGH, said that babies had now been born among a group of 115 American women whose embryos had been screened. The results will be presented this week at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference in Atlanta.

The women received IVF treatment at the Colorado Centre for Reproductive Medicine in the US, but cells from the embryos were flown to Dr Wells’s clinic in Oxford for analysis. The results showed that 66 per cent of women fell pregnant if CGH was used to select the best embryos for implantation — more than double the proportion (28 per cent) of women who fell pregnant at the clinic when the test was not used.

Dr Wells described the improvement in pregnancy rates as “astonishing”, and particularly impressive as many of the women were on their “last chance” at conceiving with fertility treatment — they were typically aged 39 with two failed IVF cycles behind them. “We were taken aback by the impact it had on the success rates,” Dr Wells said. “I think it’s at the point now that we can say with great confidence that we are seeing a positive effect of this.”

Up to one in six couples have difficulty conceiving a baby naturally and some 37,000 patients are treated at IVF clinics in Britain each year. During treatment, a woman’s eggs are collected, fertilised in a laboratory with her partner’s or a donor’s sperm and then implanted back into the womb. But many women suffer miscarriages or do not become pregnant at all if the resulting embryos carry an abnormal number of chromosomes. However, until now it has proved difficult to examine all the chromosomes in an embryo, meaning that screening techniques have produced limited success in weeding out those with little chance of leading to a successful pregnancy.

CGH solves the problem by allowing doctors to look at every chromosome in the developing embryo. It could be particularly useful for older women, who are more likely to produce eggs with the abnormalities. It could also be used to maximise the chances of success for younger women and couples paying up to £3,000 for each cycle of IVF treatment, and to check for genetic conditions such as Down’s syndrome.

More than 20 babies have so far been born in the United States as a result of CGH screening, Dr Wells added. Screened embryos so far have a live birth success rate of 80 per cent per cycle of IVF, compared with 60 per cent for women who did not have the test.

Last month fertility specialists in Nottingham used a similar technique — known as “array CGH” — to examine eggs rather than embryos. A couple who had failed with 13 IVF attempts produced a baby.


20 October, 2009

Positive thinking is positively bad for you

It has always seemed obvious to me that approaching life with Christian humility rather than thinking you are Superman will get better results in most ways. You are much less likely to be seen as obnoxious, for a start. The sources the writer below quotes in support of her conclusion are not all as sound as one would like but the case against promoting high self esteem has long ago been made in the academic literature. See e.g. here --JR

There's an ad for Volkswagen being shown in cinemas at the moment. A good-looking man is driving an elegant car; in the background the soundtrack plays a song saying: 'With positive thinking, life won't let you down.' Harmless enough, you may think, but what makes the advertisement suddenly sickening is when the car passes a load of sheep on their way to the abattoir - they are all nodding their heads cheerfully in time to the music.

Yes, I know it's a joke, but there is still the implication that if you look on the bright side you, too, will be able to have a glamorous VW like the man in the ad, and, even if you're on your way to be slaughtered, a positive mind-set will make that jolly, too.

It won't. Indeed, this pre-occupation with thinking positively, with self-esteem and with the conviction that our thoughts somehow shape our futures is actually a dangerous obsession that leads not to happiness and fulfilment but rather disappointment and failure. A new book has just come out in America called Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

In it, the author Barbara Ehrenreich, a sociologist, actually goes so far as to consider whether positive thinking, in its most extreme forms, might have been partly responsible for the financial crash in the U.S. She suspects this because positive thinking and undue optimism has taken such a hold of America that anyone who dares to say: 'Hold on a moment! Is what we're doing really right?' is deemed a 'toxic' nay-sayer. And shunned.

There is a theory behind positive thinking called the law of attraction, that if you think bright, positive and optimistic thoughts, then bright, positive and optimistic things will be drawn to you. Similarly, if you're always looking out for faults, bad things will befall you. The obsession with this theory has, in the States, often resulted in negative-thinking people being sacked and instead of whistleblowers being seen as wise and sensible saviours who spot dangers ahead, they're usually vilified.

Barbara Ehrenreich started suspecting the power of positive thinking when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She would look at cancer websites and become enraged by the relentlessly Polyanna-ish attitude to it all. People were writing: 'Cancer gives my life meaning,' 'Breast cancer is a gift,' 'Cancer is your connection to the divine.'

Indeed, a while ago, I was so furious about the idea that good comes out of every disaster, that I wrote a book after my father died called You'll Get Over It - The Rage of Bereavement. It describes how when I'd read other books to help me come to terms with my father's death, I hurled most of them across the room when I got to the final chapters, which so often talked of death as being a gift, a blow that strengthens us and gives us wisdom and maturity. Utter tosh.

Positive thinking doesn't just force us to somehow celebrate when we get ill, but it also informs the mad idea that happy people don't fall sick. And yet that's so clearly not true.

One of the happiest people I've known died of breast cancer - Ruth Picardie, a girl who lit up her world with joy and optimism (her sister wrote a book recording her slow and painful death), while we all know old people who are longing to die but, despite persistent falls, pneumonia and so on, often appear to have no hope of respite from life in the immediate future.

Then there's this insidious view that positive thinking can actually 'beat' illness and disease. I despair when I hear my friends, having been diagnosed with cancer, saying that they'll fight it, when the truth is that fighting has nothing to do with it. When it comes to fatal disease, we are powerless. No matter how much time is spent visualising the cancer cells as little demons being slaughtered by our uplifting thoughts, it makes not a blind bit of difference, whatever bestselling spiritual gurus like Deepak Chopra claim.

Apparently, one woman with cancer wrote to him because after doing all the visualisation exercises, she still suffered. He replied: 'Cancer is simply very pernicious and requires the utmost diligence and persistence to eventually overcome it.'

According to Barbara Ehrenreich: 'There is hope . . . which is longing. There is optimism, which is a natural feeling that things are going to go well, and there is positive thinking, which is a discipline, a way of forcing ourselves to think positively - if you expect things to get better, they will.' And it is this forcing yourself to look on the bright side which is the most pernicious.

In the UK an estimated one-third of top bosses used personal coaches in 2007. And companies these days are constantly trying to change the mood of their offices. They push people into 'bonding weekends' whether they naturally bond or not. They employ motivational speakers to address their staff. One employee had to attend training sessions which involved standing there shouting: 'I feel healthy! I feel happy! I feel terrific!' and then throwing the 'winning punch'.

And ever since Norman Vincent Peale gave us his The Power of Positive Thinking in 1952, the market has been flooded with books on the subject of thinking positively. Peale's spiel went like this: 'Visualise yourself as succeeding . . . whenever you think something negative, deliberately think of a positive thought to negate it, don't build up obstacles.'

In another book for gullible idiots, Secrets Of The Millionaire Mind, the author advises readers to place their hands on their hearts and say: 'I admire rich people! I bless rich people! I love rich people! And I'm going to be one of those rich people now!'

What is interesting about positive thinking is how delusional it is. Rather than being called 'positive thinking', it ought to be called 'magical thinking'. When I mentioned my thoughts to a therapist recently, she said: 'But of course positive thoughts are good!' A client had apparently come to her, unable to get a job, going bankrupt and miserable because her husband was leaving her. Rightly, the therapist pointed out to her that at least she had a roof over her head, had been offered another job, and was a terrific mother to her two children. 'It was good for her to think positively!' she said.

But, I pointed out, the therapist had not advocated positive thinking. She'd advocated realistic thinking, which is what we all need to focus on. Had the client come to her banging on about her brilliance, it would have been sensible for my friend to point out that yes, she was brilliant, but that didn't stop the fact that she was also bankrupt and her husband was leaving her.

It's interesting that in an age when the current mantras run thus: 'Every time a door closes another opens,' 'Every crisis is an opportunity in disguise,' 'When life hands out lemons, squeeze out a smile,' everything seems to be going wrong, and particularly for those in America and the UK, where positive thinking thrives. Far from being the greatest nation on earth, more children die in infancy in the U.S. or grew up in poverty than in many other industrialised nations. Healthcare is broken. It has the highest proportion of the population in prison, and is plagued by gun crime and personal debt.

However, in the days when the West did well - during and after World War II for example - we were all taught the opposite of positive thinking. We were encouraged 'not to get too big for our boots'. 'Who do you think you are? The Queen of Sheba?' our mothers would say, if we were too proud of any achievement. Or 'Don't let it go to your head.'

Interestingly, a study recently published in the journal Psychological Science showed that people with low self-esteem felt worse after repeating positive mantras about themselves.

In 1986, the Californian State Assembly appointed a task-force to investigate the subject of self-esteem, examining more than 30,000 research findings. The conclusion was that there was no correlation between levels of self-esteem and educational failure, crime, alcoholism, drug-taking, teenage pregnancies or child abuse. In other words, feeling good about yourself will not stop you going off the rails.

Indeed, the pre-occupation with self-esteem could actually be a disadvantage. In an international study, it was found that American students who ranked last in international comparisons of maths abilities ranked first when asked how they felt about their maths abilities. Positive thinking had completely deluded the entrants about their own abilities.

There's too much smiling going on these days. And smiling is starting to look very phoney. Whenever I see Tony Blair give one of his crazy rictus smiles, whenever I hear a mother say to her daughter, for the umpteenth time that day: 'Love you, you're brilliant,' I wince. Don't tell me to 'Have a nice day!' Thank you, I have other plans. More realistic ones.


Birthday cakes banned in British school

Because they are "unhealthy"

It was supposed to be a treat for Olivia Morris to share among her classmates on her ninth birthday. But no sooner had she blown out the candles on the chocolate cake than it was banned - for failing to comply with healthy eating rules. Staff informed Olivia's mother Rebecca that birthday cakes were no longer acceptable because they were at odds with the school's healthy living message. So, instead of sharing it round, Olivia was forced to take the cake home uneaten.

The treat was baked by her great-grandmother Eileen Morris, 79, who described the ban as 'crazy'. 'It was a lovely cake decorated with Maltesers and Jellytots, with chocolate icing and nine pink candles,' she said. 'I understand the need to teach children healthy eating, but surely a birthday cake is a special treat.'

Mrs Morris has been baking cakes for her family to take to school for four decades. The family tradition began when her own children Mark, now 48, and Jane, 52, started at Rockingham Infant and Junior School in Rotherham. When her five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren went to the same school she carried on sending in birthday cakes. Mrs Morris, from Kimberworth Park, Rotherham, said she blamed celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for the ban. He used the South Yorkshire town to launch his Ministry of Food TV show, vowing to teach its residents about healthy eating after parents were spotted passing junk food through school railings to bypass a ban on fast food.

Last night headteacher Heather Green stood by her decision to ban the cake. 'We love celebrating the birthdays of our pupils in class and in assemblies,' she said. 'At the same time, however, we are working really hard to promote healthy eating and lifestyles among our pupils. It is a tricky balance not to give a mixed message to pupils if we say to them "eat healthily at school" but at the same time we say "bring in cakes and buns to celebrate all our different events". 'We also take into account children with allergies and the pressure that some parents feel they are under to provide such treats.'


Food Cops’ Obesity Message is Off-Key

Ever wonder why more people don’t take the stairs—especially when so many people are trying to lose weight? An enterprising group in Sweden (an initiative of Volkswagen) had a theory that if activity is more fun, more people will do it and change their behavior for the better. The group turned a set of stairs into a giant piano, with each step representing a key. And according to their analysis, 66 percent more people took the stairs after the change.

It’s no secret that waistlines are getting larger in America. The New York City Department of Hype “Health” and other dietary scolds point the finger at soda pop. Others have suggested (and later recanted) that corn sweetener is the culprit. But this blame game only focuses on one half of the obesity equation: calories “in.”

Alternatively, we showed in our book Small Choices, Big Bodies that minor changes in lifestyle over the past few decades can add up to explain why we’re not burning as many calories anymore. What kinds of changes? More desk jobs and less work in the fields. More people driving to work more. More labor-saving devices, like dishwashers and washing machines.

Last year, CCF’s research director took a trip to Stockholm and saw petite women washing down starchy, meaty meals with pint after pint of draught beer. But the “obesity epidemic” was nowhere to be found. That’s because the home of the smorgasbord has a strong urban culture of biking or walking to get around.

Small changes can produce big effects. Innovative ways to increase physical activity instead of finger-pointing are music to our ears.


19 October, 2009

PETA Stunts Are Still Trashy

Targeting elementary school children with a bloody elephant character? That was so last week. This week, PETA put up a billboard in the United Kingdom featuring a child killer near the victim's home. But (thankfully) the animal rights wingnuts have been dealt a setback in that country: The government-run Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has banned a different PETA billboard from the country. Why? For wrongly implying that eating meat causes H1N1 “swine” flu:
The agency said the poster -- on which the words "meat kills" and "go vegetarian" were transposed over the names of deadly diseases, of which swine flu featured most prominently -- was misleading and could cause undue fear and distress.

But the ASA noted that of the four diseases referred to on the poster -- E. coli, mad cow, swine flu and MRSA -- only two were known to have originated from eating meat, and said the advert could cause some readers to wrongly infer swine flu could be caught in this way.
Perhaps the ASA figured out that an organization whose Senior Vice President breathlessly says that “[w]e’d love it if the world turned vegan tomorrow” isn’t going to give meat a fair shake.

PETA is also in the news for offering a $2,500 reward for information in a case of four dead pit bulls found in a trash bin. Does the crime sound familiar? Yep. PETA’s own employees went on trial after they were caught red-handed dumping 31 pets in the trash to rot in 2005. Right after killing them in the back of a PETA-owned van.

So let’s review the PETA philosophy: Meat makes you sick, at least until someone reminds the public that it doesn’t. And animals aren’t garbage—unless it’s PETA doing the trash dumping. PETA has killed more than 21,000 dogs, cats, and other “companion animals” since 1998, and it’s suddenly upset over the deaths of four dogs.

Pot? Kettle? You can’t spell “pathetic” without the letters P, E, T, and A.


Senate insurance proposals put premium on "healthy" living

More government meddling in people's private lives

Get in shape or pay a price. That's a message more Americans could hear if the health care reform bills passed by the Senate Finance and Health committees become law. By more than doubling the maximum rewards and penalties that companies can apply to employees who flunk medical evaluations, the bills could put workers under intense financial pressure to lose weight, stop smoking or even lower their cholesterol.

The initiative, largely eclipsed in the health care debate, builds on a trend that is already in play among some corporations and that more workers will see in the packages they bring home during this month's open enrollment. Some employers offer lower premiums to people who complete personal health assessments; others offer only limited benefit packages to smokers.

The current legislative effort takes the trend a step further. It is backed by major employer groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. It is opposed by labor unions and groups devoted to combating serious illnesses, such as the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Diabetes Association.

President Obama and members of Congress have declared that they are trying to create a system in which no one can be denied coverage or charged higher premiums based on their health status. The health insurance lobby has said it shares that goal. However, so-called wellness incentives could introduce a colossal loophole. In effect, they would permit insurers and employers to make coverage less affordable for people exhibiting risk factors for problems like diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

"Everybody said that we're going to be ending discrimination based on preexisting conditions. But this is in effect discrimination again based on preexisting conditions," said Ann Kempski of the Service Employees International Union.

The legislation would make exceptions for people who have medical reasons for not meeting targets.

Under current regulation, incentives based on health factors can be no larger than 20 percent of the premium paid by employer and employee combined. The legislation passed by the Health and Finance committees would increase the limit to 30 percent, and it would give government officials the power to raise it to 50 percent. A single employee whose annual premiums cost him and his employer the national average of $4,824 could have as much as $2,412 on the line. At least under the Health Committee bill, the stakes could be higher for people with family coverage. Families with premiums of $13,375 — the combined average for employer-sponsored coverage, according to a recent survey — could have $6,687.50 at risk.

An amendment passed unanimously by the Health Committee would allow insurers to use the same rewards and penalties in the market for individual insurance, though legislative language subsequently drafted by the committee's Democratic staff does not reflect that vote, Sen. Mike Enzi (Wyo.), for the committee's ranking Republican, has said. The bill drafted by the Senate Finance Committee would set up a trial program allowing insurers in 10 states to use wellness-based incentives for individuals.


18 October, 2009

'Too-Fat' Baby Denied Health Care insurance

This is appalling. This is one of the bad consequences of the constant lying propaganda about obesity. One would have hoped that an insurance company had more competent actuaries than this one seems to have

A Colorado couple said their 4-month-old son was denied health insurance because he is overweight. Alex Lange, who measures 25 inches long and weighs 17 pounds, was denied coverage after underwriters ruled him a high-risk patient because of his "pre-existing condition" -- obesity.

Bernie and Kelli Lange tried to get insurance for their family with Rocky Mountain Health Plans when they were told by a broker the company couldn't cover Alex because he was "too fat."

Alex is in the 99th percentile for height and weight for babies his age. Insurers don't take babies above the 95th percentile, no matter how healthy they are otherwise, the Denver Post reported on its Web site.

Bernie Lange said there is something absurd with denying an infant coverage. "I could understand if we could control what he's eating. But he's 4 months old. He's breast-feeding. We can't put him on the Atkins Diet or on a treadmill," Bernie Lange told Grand Junction television station KKCO.

The family plans to appeal Rocky Mountain's denial.


Copper bracelet arthritis cure is a myth, say scientists

Copper and magnetic bracelets worn by thousands to alleviate arthritis are useless, researchers claim. The trial - the first scientifically-based study of its kind - raises doubts over the multimillion-pound alternative pain therapy industry.

Magnetic therapy and copper replacement are said to help a variety of ailments, including chronic joint pain caused by osteoarthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders. Manufacturers suggest the condition can be alleviated by re-balancing the body's magnetic field or topping up depleted copper levels though the skin. Many prefer to use the bracelets rather than drugs because there are no side effects.

But researchers from the universities of York, Hull, Durham, along with the NHS, found there was no difference in symptoms whether patients wore magnetic straps or de-magnetised ones. They asked 45 arthritis sufferers aged 50 and over to wear four wrist straps in turn over a 16-week period.

They tested out a commercially available magnetic wrist strap, a weak magnetic wrist strap, a de-magnetised wrist strap and a copper bracelet. Their pain levels were rated on an internationally recognised score index and their use of medication noted, says a report published in the latest issue of the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine. No difference was found in terms of their effect on pain between the four devices, with similar results found for joint stiffness and need for medication.

Stewart Richmond, of York University, who led the trial, said: 'It appears that any perceived benefit obtained from wearing a magnetic or copper bracelet can be attributed to psychological placebo effects. 'People tend to buy them when they are in a lot of pain, then when the pain eases off over time they attribute this to the device. However, our findings suggest that such devices have no real advantage over placebo wrist straps that are not magnetic and do not contain copper.' Dr Richmond added that although some arthritis sufferers do have lower copper levels, this is an effect of the condition rather than a cause.

Magnetic and copper bracelets typically cost between £30 and £50, with the industry worldwide worth around £2.45billion. Dr Richmond said: 'I realise this may dispel the myth and puncture a few balloons, but I don't want to see people wasting their money.'


Milk police treat adults like foolish children

Why can't people make their own decisions about what sort of milk they drink? Many things in life are risky and we all have to strike our own balance between risks and rewards. Cutting off options is authoritarian and arrogant

A national battle is heating up between proponents of drinking raw milk for health benefits and food safety advocates such as the Food and Drug Administration. Drinkers of raw, or unpasteurized, milk say it tastes better, helps with digestive problems and boosts immunity. The FDA warns the milk is "inherently dangerous." It can be a host for potentially harmful germs, FDA spokesman Michael Herndon says.

The sale of raw milk is legal, with varying restrictions, in 28 states, with five additional states allowing it to be sold as pet food, according to the Weston A. Price Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit that advocates raw milk. Efforts to tighten or loosen sales restrictions on raw milk have been underway this year in several states, including:

• Maryland. A bill to legalize raw milk sales has been under consideration since February.

• Texas. The state health department recently lost a bid to tighten raw milk sales regulations.

• Connecticut. After the state health department traced an E. coli outbreak to raw milk in 2008, a bill was introduced to rescind farmers' rights to sell raw milk in stores. The bill died in committee after a February hearing.

• Wisconsin. Raw milk supporters recently hired a lobbyist to try to amend state law to allow raw milk sales, according to a state report.

Although no official industry statistics are kept on sales of raw milk, advocates of raw milk, such as the Weston A. Price Foundation, say more consumers want the choice. Demand for raw milk "is rapidly growing," says Sally Fallon Morell, president of the foundation.

Mark McAfee, owner of the Organic Pastures raw milk dairy in Fresno, Calif., calls the raw milk campaign an "out-of-control grass-roots movement." In less than 10 years he says, he has expanded to serve 50,000 to 60,000 people a week.

The FDA has not seen appreciable growth in the production of raw milk, Herndon says. He warns consumers, "Do not compromise your health and safety by subscribing to the raw milk fad."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says raw milk can host germs such as E. coli and salmonella. A joint CDC and FDA statement implicated raw milk in 45 outbreaks from 1998 to 2005 in which people became sick from various bacteria.

Drinkers of raw milk pay many times the cost of pasteurized milk, said McAfee, who charges $10 per gallon — compared with a national average of $3.17 for pasteurized milk, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture.


17 October, 2009

Non-urban dwellers living near parks are healthier and less depressed

Another variation on an old theme. You would never guess from the media report below that this did NOT apply to city-dwellers (dwellers in "strongly urban areas"), which is an example of why it is important to go back to the original journal article, and the "Results" section of the article at that. I have found many times over the years that the conclusions don't reflect the results. So the findings in fact DISPROVE the claim that green surroundings are generally beneficial. The only reasonable conclusion from the research is that the minority who live in or near the countryside ("slightly urban areas") do so in part because it makes them feel better, which is not much of a discovery. It is just a finding of individual differences, not a finding about greenery in general. Some people like the countryside and some don't

City dwellers living near parks are healthier and suffer fewer bouts of depression, a study has revealed. The study was adjusted to take into account socio-economic background and found that the effect of green surroundings was greatest for people with low levels of education and income.

The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that in urban zones where 90 per cent of the area was green space the incidence of anxiety disorders or depression was 18 people per thousand. In areas with only 10 per cent greenery the incidence was 26 per thousand.

The annual rates of more than a dozen disease types, including cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, digestive and mental disorders, were also lower for those living near parks. The impact on health was most marked in people who spent a lot of time in their green surroundings, especially children and people aged 45 to 65.

The findings are based on health records in the Netherlands for nearly 350,000 people registered with 195 family doctors in 95 practices across the country. “The role of green space in the living environment should not be underestimated,” the study concludes.


Abstract follows:

Morbidity is related to a green living environment

By Jolanda Maas1 et al.

Background: Due to increasing urbanisation, people face the prospect of living in environments with few green spaces. There is increasing evidence for a positive relation between green space in people's living environment and self-reported indicators of physical and mental health. This study investigates whether physician assessed morbidity is also related to green space in people's living environment.

Methods: Morbidity data were derived from electronic medical records of 195 general practitioners in 96 Dutch practices, serving a population of 345,143 people. Morbidity was classified by the general practitioners according to the International Classification of Primary Care (ICPC). The percentage of green space within a one kilometre and three kilometre radius around the postal code coordinates was derived from an existing database and was calculated for each household. Multilevel logistic regression analyses were performed controlling for demographic and socio-economic characteristics.

Results: The annual prevalence rate of 15 of the 24 disease clusters was lower in living environments with more green space in a 1 km radius. The relation was strongest for anxiety disorder and depression. The relation was stronger for children and people with a lower socio-economic status. Furthermore, the relation was strongest in slightly urban areas and not apparent in very strongly urban areas.

Conclusion: This study indicates that the previously established relation between green space and a number of self-reported general indicators of physical and mental health can also be found for clusters of specific physician assessed morbidity. The study stresses the importance of green space close to home for children and lower socio-economic groups.

J. Epidemiol. Community Health, 2009

The mechanics of the placebo effect

If you thought the placebo effect was all in the mind, think again. Scientists have solved the mystery of why some people benefit from remedies that do not contain any active pain-relief ingredients. Research suggests that placebos work, in part, by blocking pain signals in the spinal cord from arriving at the brain in the first place. When patients expect a treatment to be effective the brain area responsible for pain control is activated, causing the release of natural endorphins.

The endorphins send a cascade of instructions down to the spinal cord to suppress incoming pain signals and patients feel better whether or not the treatment had any direct effect. The sequence of events in the brain closely mirrors the way opioid drugs, such as morphine, work — adding weight to the view that the placebo effect is grounded in physiology.

The finding strengthens the argument that many established medical treatments derive part of their effectiveness from the patients’ expectation that the drugs will make them better.

The latest studies on antidepressants suggest that at least 75 per cent of the benefit comes from the placebo effect. GPs also observe that patients report feeling better only days after being prescribed antidepressants, even though the direct effects take several weeks to kick in.

In the study, published today in the journal Science, the spinal cords of 15 healthy volunteers were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The scan homed in on an area called the dorsal horn, which transmits pain signals coming up through the spinal cord into the pain-related areas in the brain.

During the scan, the volunteers received laser “pinpricks” to their hands. The volunteers were told that a pain-relief cream had been applied to one of their hands and a control cream to the other. But unknown to the volunteers, an identical control cream was administered to both hands.

When people believed that they had received the active cream, they reported feeling 25 per cent less pain and showed significantly reduced activity in the spinal cord pathway that processes pain.

Previously, it has been shown that placebo causes the release of natural opioids in areas of the brain involved in pain control, such as the rostral anterior cingulate cortex. However, it was not known whether the natural opioids acted on the spinal cord in the same way as artificial painkillers or whether they simply changed people’s tolerance or interpretation of pain. “We’ve shown that psychological factors can influence pain at the earliest stage of the central nervous system, in a similar way to drugs like morphine,” said Falk Eippert, of the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, who led the study.

Until now, the difficulty of obtaining MRI images of the spinal cord, because of its small size and its being surrounded by airways and pulsating arteries, prevented this question from being addressed. However, advances in image processing allowed the Hamburg team to obtain high resolution scans of the region.

The advance in imaging techniques is likely to have important applications for drug development. Pharmaceutical companies are working to develop new anaesthetic drugs that target the pain pathways in the spinal cord. Being able to image this area of the body provides a direct way of testing whether the drugs are working as intended.

The findings will continue to fuel debate over the prescription of “sugar pill” cures. In a study in 2005, 48 per cent of Danish GPs admitted having prescribed a placebo at least ten times in a year. A variety of placebo cures, such as Obecalp pills for children, are also available on the internet.


16 October, 2009

Five cups of green tea a day lowers cancer risk (?)

No reference for this study is given so it is hard to evaluate but it sounds similar to a lot of Western epidemiological reports. So we have to ask what else characterizes big drinkers of green tea in Japan? Do such people tend to be richer? If so, we could be seeing here nothing more than the usual finding that poor people tend to have poor health. Since antioxidants tend to cause premature death, the explanation for the finding given below is clearly bass ackwards

Drinking five cups of green tea a day can lower the risk of developing certain blood cancers, according to a new Japanese study. Casting a doubt on the theory of all things in small doses, the research showed that high consumption of green tea helps to fight the development of cancer.

The consumption of at least five daily cups of green tea was found in a ten-year study to reduce the risk of blood cancers by 42 per cent and lymph system cancers by 48 per cent.

The health benefits of drinking anti-oxidant rich green tea have been well documented, although they are more commonly associated with lowering the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The new study, conducted by Tohoku University, analysed the age, gender, lifestyle and health of 40,000 Japanese over a ten-year period for a range of scientific research purposes.

In relation to green tea consumption, Dr Toru Naganuma concluded that drinking the beverage may have a favourable effect "for particular cancers". Dr Naganuma examined the impact of varying green tea levels on the health of the people taking part in the study in conjunction with examining their diets in the context of alcohol, soybean and fish consumption.

The results showed that the overall risk of blood cancers was reduced by 42 per cent among participants who drank five or more daily cups in comparison with those who drank one cup or less a day while the findings were 48 per cent lower in relation to lymph system cancers.


People 'anxious' when cut off from internet

So the anti-technology brigade will cause suffering if they get their way. They would like that, of course

People are more likely to feel "anxious" when cut off from the internet or their mobile phone than feel "liberated", according to a survey. Staying in a place with no mobile phone coverage, or suffering from the internet going down, is a cause of high stress and anxiety for an increasing number of people, the study suggested.

As many as 85 per cent of full-time mothers always have the internet turned on at home, while a third of people said they no longer felt any sense of guilt about always being "connected" either by having their mobile phone or computer turned on.

The results indicated that 36 per cent of people were anxious about keeping in touch with their family if they were disconnected, compared with 29 per cent who felt they were liberated. When it came to work 29 per cent cent said they were anxious when cut off, compared with 28 per cent saying they felt liberated.

The survey, undertaken for Virgin Media by the analysts Future Laboratory, identified a type of consumer who "switched on to switch off." James Brook, psychologist, said: "These people know that, the modern world waits for no one and that taking a break from technology means potentially missing out.” “At any time we might miss an important email or a phone call, an old friend may try to get in touch via Facebook or breaking news may come in. If they feel that they cannot keep up with these things because they are not connected, it will naturally have a negative impact on their emotional wellbeing and peace of mind.”

Full-time parents arents are the most likely group to be connected with just under half 49 per cent continually having the digital television switched on. They are also the most frequent users of mobile phones.

Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of online parenting network Netmums, said: “Particularly for new mums, you are confined to the house for quite long periods, and it really is a link to the outside world."


15 October, 2009

Scientists discover comfort food

Nibbling on chocolate or even sipping a glass of water can relieve aches and pains, a study has shown. A team of researchers says the distraction of eating or drinking for pleasure acts as a natural painkiller. Although the findings come from studies on animals, the scientists believe the same effect takes place in people.

Dr Peggy Mason, of Chicago University, found that rats were less bothered by pain if they were eating a chocolate chip or drinking water. 'It's a strong, strong effect, but it's not about hunger or appetite,' she said. 'If you have all this food in front of you that's easily available to reach out and get, you're not going to stop eating, for basically almost any reason.' Past studies have shown that eating can ease pain.

However, the latest study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, is the first to show that food and drink act as a painkiller in the absence of hunger or thirst. In the experiments, rats were given either chocolate, sugar water or plain water while the floor of their cage was heated with a light bulb positioned underneath. The animals reacted to the heat by raising a paw off the floor. But the animals were much slower to raise their feet when they were eating or drinking than when they were not occupied with food and drink. It made no difference whether the rats were eating chocolate or drinking water, despite past studies which found that only sugary food and drink protects against pain.

'This really shows it has nothing to do with calories,' Dr Mason said. 'Water has no calories, saccharine has no sugar, but both have the same effect as a chocolate chip. It's really shocking.'

When the experiment was repeated with quinine - a bitter drink that rats find unpleasant - the animals reacted to heat as quickly as when they were not eating.

The scientists believe that food and drink only triggers pain relief if it is pleasurable. Eating chocolate made no difference if the rats were ill, although drinking water continued to delay their response to the hot floor, they found. In the wild, animals cannot afford to be distracted during the rare, but important, times they are able to drink or eat.

The researchers say a part of the brain called the raphe magnus - helps blunt pain when eating or drinking. The same area eases pain while sleeping or going to the lavatory.

Dr Mason believes the effect is also found in people. Past studies have shown that babies suffer less pain if they are given a sugary drink while having a vaccine booster. But she believes the latest findings could end the practice of using sweets to calm children when they visit the doctors. 'Ingestion is a painkiller but we don't need the sugar,' Dr Mason said. 'So replace the doctor's lollipop with a drink of water.'

Dr Don Katz, a neuroscientist at Brandeis University who studies taste, said: 'They're saying the purpose of the taste system is to give the animal a cue that helps it decide what stimulus they should or shouldn't pay attention to. 'This shows there is a whole region there to enable the animal to keep eating.'

In 2005 scientists at the University of Cincinatti, in the US, found that sugary foods and drinks cut levels of the potentially harmful hormone glucocorticoid, which the brain produces when we're under pressure.

The research on rats showed when they had sugary food or drink, their bodies produced lower levels of glucocorticoid in response to stressful situations.


Orthorexia nervosa: An unhealthy obsession with eating "healthy" foods

Boulder dietitian Lisa Lanzano sometimes sees clients whose palms have turned orange from eating an excess of fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, carrots and squash to the exclusion of almost all other foods.

"They think they're eating healthy," she says of the diet so high in carotenoids that it causes orange pigmentation in the skin. "(But they) don't allow themselves to the eat the food that nourishes them in a healthy way."

Such obsessively correct eating has a name -- orthorexia nervosa -- although it does not have official recognition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. The term was coined in a 1997 Yoga Journal article by Coloradoan Dr. Steven Bratman. In 2000, the article was reprinted in the Utne Reader. Bratman then wrote a book, "Health Food Junkies," about the topic.

In the article, Bratman defined orthorexia nervosa as a "pathological fixation on eating proper food." Bratman, who still lives in Colorado and is now working on a master's degree in public health, says that after the publication of the article, he was excoriated over the idea that healthy eating can take an unhealthy turn. Some even accused him of working for McDonald's or agribusiness, even though he had practiced alternative medicine for 25 years.

Bratman says he rarely talks about orthorexia nowadays, but the concept has lived on among health professionals who deal with eating disorders. Although it is not an official diagnosis, the concept of orthorexia can be a useful way for health professionals to understand the perspective of a person whose once-appropriate idea of a proper diet may have crossed the line into disordered eating.

Lanzano says she sometimes see orthorexic tendencies at work in some of her clients when they travel. "Something is packaged in plastic instead of glass ... people will skip a meal in a travel situation. If it's not the food they believe is healthy for them, they just won't eat," she says. "That's where it starts to cross a line. Instead of taking care of themselves, it's ... abusing themselves in the name of health."

When healthy becomes unhealthy

Dr. Anita Kumar-Gill, a psychiatrist and medical director of the Eating Disorder Center of Denver, says people who have a tendency toward obsession, rumination and rigidity are more at risk than others for this type of eating disorder. "Especially when there's a tendency toward the elimination of certain types of food and the conceptualizing of certain foods as being bad," Kumar-Gill says.

It's a warning flag if a person's eating patterns begin to interfere with normal life, and he or she starts to forbid more and more types of food from his or her diet.

As Bratman described orthorexia in his 1997 article: "The act of eating pure food begins to carry pseudospiritual connotations. As orthorexia progresses, a day filled with sprouts, umeboshi plums, and amaranth biscuits comes to feel as holy as one spent serving the poor and the homeless ... This "kitchen spirituality" eventually reaches a point where the sufferer spends most of his time planning, purchasing, and eating meals."

If such food obsession reaches a point that the calories being consumed fall below nutritional requirements and weight drops below normal levels, a person should take a close look at his or her behavior, experts say.

However, even when such obvious physical signs are present, it can be difficult for a person to see such behavior as problematic. Kumar-Gill explains that many people with eating disorders -- with orthorexic tendencies or not -- are "egosyntonic," which means that the behaviors present in the disorder are closely in tune with the individual's ideal of a proper self. "It's like a really, really tight glove on your hand," Kumar-Gill says. "You don't even know the glove is there. It's difficult to distinguish the disorder from oneself."

Clinicians sometimes find the orthorexic concept useful because it can provide a perspective on how the patient might see his or her own eating habits. Orthorexics generally see their food restrictions as part of a quest for health rather than a desire to lose weight. "If you don't see the distinction that the individual sees, you may not be able to align with the individual clinically," Kumar-Gill says. "If you say 'You have an eating disorder,' you're going to lose (the patient.)"

With that understanding in place, however, the treatment for a severely orthorexic patient is similar to treatment for more typically expressed anorexia or bulimia, Kumar-Gill says. In the Eating Disorder Center of Denver, that would include work with psychiatrists, dietitians, and individual and a family therapist, art therapy, mindful meditation. Kumar-Gill says many eating disorders have co-morbidities, meaning that other conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder may be present. In some cases, those patients are treated with drugs.

The bigger picture

Dietitian Lanzano of Boulder's Essential Nutrition says she suggests that clients eat well, but not perfectly. That means incorporating a large variety of foods and eating the healthy things nutritionists espouse such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Generally avoiding pesticides, hormones and preservatives is useful, too.

She starts by asking clients what their favorite foods are. Often they list foods such as hamburgers, pizza or candy -- something that they consider absolutely forbidden.

Lanzano suggests eating "joyfully, healthy and naturally." "That means eating foods we love and trusting our bodies to handle the occasional piece of candy or pizza," she says. "If you know you love a food and never allow yourself to eat it, you're telling yourself you can't be trusted with that food." And she adds, the human body is designed to eliminate toxins and impurities. The occasional less-than-healthful food won't tip the body into an unhealthy sate.

Taking a strict attitude about various types of food can also take it out of its cultural context, making food a collection of complex chemicals rather than something that may have been cooked with intentionality, says Dietitian Lynn Smith of Source Nutrition in Boulder. "You can cook consciousness into food," she says. "Anyone can relate to a meal cooked by Mom or Grandma (where you felt) totally nourished."

As for Bratman, he says many people take food way too seriously. "There's way more important things in your life than the quality of what you eat," he says. "Nobody on their death bed says 'I wish I ate less ice cream.'"


14 October, 2009

'Ban under-2s from watching TV', says report

Note that no evidence of the supposed ill-effects of TV watching by toddlers is quoted. It is just opinion from intrusive busybodies. It should not be particularly hard to do a double-blind study of the matter but they will avoid that like the plague. Double blind studies have a nasty habit of upsetting popular notions. If there were any truth in the assertions below, my son should be a gibbering idiot -- as he has spent most of his life in front of some screen or other, a TV screen or a computer monitor. He is in fact socially popular, in good health, has a much broader knowledge of the world than most and also has a first class honours degree in mathematics. But he IS the son of an academic. It's genetics that explains what he is, not some tripe about TV watching

Children should be banned from watching television until they are 2 years old because it can stunt their language development and shorten their attention span, according to new Australian recommendations. The guidelines warn of the damage done by sitting inactive for hours and advise that reading, drawing or solving puzzles should also be kept to a minimum.

For children aged between 2 and 5, time in front of the TV screen should be limited to an hour a day, according to health experts, in the first official guidelines on children’s viewing habits.

Too much television can affect young children’s ability for social interaction and damage their concentration, they say. The guidelines — drawn up by the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and to be published by the Government next week — are part of a national anti-obesity drive. Belying Australia’s image as a fit, healthy and sports-obsessed nation, a quarter of its children are seriously overweight — a figure that is expected to rise to a third by 2020.

The report, although intended mainly for childcare centres, also advises parents to make a plan for reducing screen time at home. The Get Up and Grow report says: “Based on recent research it is recommended that children younger than 2 years of age should not spend any time watching television or using other electronic media (DVDs, computer and other electronic games). “Screen time . . . may reduce the amount of time they have for active play, social contact with others and chances for language development. [It may] affect the development of a full range of eye movement [and] reduce the length of time they can stay focused.”

Research by the hospital indicates that very young children in Australia spend more time watching television than in any other activity. Four-month-old children watch an average of 44 minutes of television daily, while children under 4 years with pay TV at home spend at least three hours a day in front of the screen.

Nearly a third of children live in households that have a television switched on all the time, the policy brief says, with television used as a “babysitter” from earliest infancy. “Face-to-face interactions and responsive, engaged relationships provide the foundation for all child development,” the report says. It advises that children aged 2 to 5 should not be inactive — defined as time spent watching TV, reading, drawing or solving puzzles — for more than an hour at a time during waking hours. From the age of 1, children should be active for at least three hours a day.

The guidelines have been welcomed by Australian childcare experts. Lee Burton, a commentator on childcare, was in favour of a complete ban on television for toddlers in childcare centres. “I think this is aimed at helping people to understand the effects of television-watching on very young children and to advise them this is not a good thing,” he said. Barbara Biggins, the chief executive of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, said: “There are ways of entertaining young children that don’t involve plonking them in a passive viewing situation — even if it’s playing in the mud or watching insects crawling.”


Weighing into family life — again

British obesity campaigners want all expectant parents to be weighed. We should tell them to get stuffed

‘Parents are stuffing food into their children. The portion sizes are too large, they are insisting the children finish what’s on the plate and much of the food being eaten has high levels of fat, sugar and salt.’ So says Tam Fry, a trustee of the UK National Obesity Forum (NOF), who will argue at the NOF’s annual conference this week that midwives should record the body mass index (BMI) of newly pregnant women and their partners. Where parents are obese, midwives should then give them advice on their eating habits on the basis that fat parents are more likely to produce fat children, and that being obese will increase the risk of a variety of health conditions, particularly type-2 diabetes.

Fry told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘I know some people will think this goes too far down the road of the nanny state, but I think if you tell people that their own habits can put their future children at risk they just might listen.’

There are practical problems with such a proposal, as pointed out by Janet Fylde, policy adviser to the Royal College of Midwives: ‘If you say to a woman that you want to weigh her and her partner, to see if they are likely to have fat children, you are putting your whole relationship with them in jeopardy, and also increasing the risk of women going on diets when they are pregnant, which could harm the baby. We absolutely disagree with this proposal.’ (2)

Mere trivialities like the inefficiency and potential harmfulness of this kind of intervention and the way it infringes on parents’ rights have never stopped obesity campaigners and health guardians from meddling in family life in order to ‘save’ children. But the consequences of their proposals and actions can be very serious indeed.

A year ago, I debated Tam Fry on BBC Radio 2. He argued that overfeeding children should be regarded just as seriously as child abuse and that very fat children should be taken into local authority care (see Childhood obesity is not a form of child abuse, by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick). It seems local authorities agree with him: The Times (London) recently reported on a case where two children from Dundee were taken into care because they were deemed to be too fat.

And yet the assumption that fat parents produce fat children who become fat adults who die young - and that drastic intervention can prevent this - is full of holes.

Firstly, children may be overweight for particular periods while growing up, but then lose such ‘puppy fat’. Secondly, it is far from inevitable that larger parents will start ‘stuffing food’ into their children. Frankly, most parents find it hard enough getting their children to eat what is put in front of them. The idea that parents could force kids to eat more than they want seems bizarre.

Thirdly, it is far from inevitable that children will copy their parents’ behaviour rather than make their own decisions about how to life as adults - including choosing different eating habits or being more active. It would be better to allow children to grow up and decide for themselves than interfere in what should be private matters between parents and kids.

Fourthly, obesity must, to some extent, be genetic, like many other aspects of how we look. If parents are fat because of a hard-wired disposition to lay down body fat, their children may very well inherit this propensity. Guilt-tripping expectant parents or, worse, taking children away from overweight parents in such circumstances seems pointlessly cruel.

As Professor Jeya Henry of Oxford Brookes University told spiked earlier this year: ‘There is no evidence that an overweight young person, whether six, seven or eight years old, will become an overweight adult.’ He noted that while we should not ‘belittle the issues of obesity and overweight’ we need to ‘keep these issues in proportion’ (See ‘Whatever next: fat babies? Fat fetuses?’, by Tim Black).

The real problem is that obesity is treated as a disease, in and of itself. The alleged need to cure this ‘disease’ is used as an excuse to intervene in relationships that should, as far as possible, remain private. But obesity is not a disease - it’s a body shape. There appears to be a strong relationship between extreme levels of obesity and ill health, but simply being big does not automatically mean you are ill. The majority of fat people are in good health, while many thin people are chronically unwell. Body shape does not automatically determine health.

There is a very strong correlation between high BMI and type-2 diabetes. However, it is not clear that obesity itself is the problem. For example, it may be that there is some other factor that both increases a person’s propensity to pile on the pounds and to become diabetic.

However, these health effects really are only very strong amongst people who are ‘morbidly’ obese - with a BMI of at least 40. In adults, that equates to being roughly 40 kilogrammes (about 90 pounds) over the so-called ‘ideal’ weight range. In the most recent statistics from the Health Survey for England, that means about 1.2 per cent of adult men and 2.2 per cent of adult women. That’s not exactly common, then.

That is not to say that being very overweight is much to celebrate. The vast majority of obese people would love to lose weight for much more practical reasons than the possibility that they’ll lose a few years’ worth of old age. Mobility, clothes shopping, even basic self-esteem must all be major problems for those who are very overweight in a society that simply loathes obesity.

But even if it could be shown that interventions in pregnancy and childhood could guarantee healthier lives for children in the long run, such interventions would still be a problem. The relentless rise of state interference into family life robs us of an important, private sphere in which we can make decisions for ourselves. We should defend our freedom to decide what is best for our children, and not have our decisions dictated to us by target-setters in Whitehall or social services departments closer to home.


13 October, 2009

Fattening the Nanny State

Obese people and public-health scolds have one thing in common: a compulsion to keep behaving in a way that does not produce helpful results. The obese tend to keep eating too much and exercising too little regardless of what others say. Disciples of maternal government persist in meddling in individual choices whether it works or not.

One of the pet campaigns of the second group, ostensibly on behalf of the first one, is forcing restaurants to provide accessible nutritional information about their offerings. In 2008, the city of New York passed a law mandating calorie data on fast-foot menus and menu boards, on the assumption that better knowledge would make for healthier eating.

"Presenting nutrition information on restaurant menus empowers consumers and influences food choices," the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene promised. Let people know that a McDonald's Angus Deluxe is larded with enough calories to sustain a family of four for a month, the thinking went, and they'll gravitate to something more slimming.

But the early evidence suggests that people don't choose high-calorie fast foods because they don't know any better. They choose them because they like them, and they don't really care if others disapprove.

That's the implication of a new study in the journal Health Affairs conducted by researchers at New York University and Yale University. They asked questions of and collected receipts from customers at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and KFC outlets in the city before and after the law took effect, and did the same in Newark, N.J., which has no such law.

The impact of the ordinance didn't quite fulfill those fond expectations. To start with, only about half of the fast-food customers in New York said they noticed all this helpful information, and only a quarter of the patrons in this group said it made any difference in their choices.

Even those who said the data affected their decisions were fooling themselves. Before the law was implemented, the average customer in New York bought items containing 825 calories. Afterward, the figure was 846. In Newark, during the same time period, the typical patron went from 823 calories to 826.

In neither place did diners cut back on saturated fat, sodium or sugar. The labeling law was the moral equivalent of the Chicago Olympics bid -- lots of hype to little effect.

How to explain this outcome? "New York City health officials said that because the study was conducted immediately after the law took effect, it might not have captured changes in people's behavior that have taken hold more gradually," reported The New York Times.

Nice try. The authors of the study considered that possibility and gave it little credence. "Consumers in our sample reported frequenting fast-food restaurants approximately five times per week," they noted, "which indicates that they likely had repeated experiences with calorie labels before our follow-up data collection."

Moreover, said the report, "It is not clear whether continued extensive exposure beyond a month would have made consumers more or less likely to respond to labels." Maybe the information would sink in over time. Or maybe customers who noticed at first would soon tune it out.

But it's not hard to find likely reasons for the failure of this approach. One is that the sort of people who make a habit of eating at Burger King generally don't put a high priority on a sound diet. Giving them nutritional information is a bit like recruiting for Greenpeace at a rifle range -- a doomed enterprise. The people who are most likely to act on fast-food nutritional information are the ones least likely to encounter it, because they're packing a lunch or eating at home.

Rebecca Krukowski, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, says another factor may be at work -- what might be called the coals-to-Newcastle problem. "Oftentimes, when people are interested, they already have the information," she told me. "Maybe they've already been through a weight-control program and become well-educated about nutrition and have become pretty good at estimating calories."

So the menu labels tell them little they didn't already know. Meanwhile, it seems, the people who lack the needed information generally prefer to ignore it when it's foisted on them.

Architects of intrusive policies, like those at the New York health department, may wonder how on earth someone could be given valuable information and not use it to make better decisions. But we could ask the same thing about them.


Experts warn of the dangers of detox diets

DIETERS are in danger from fad detox diets which experts warn are of no benefit. Some companies have launched aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at young women who want to lose weight. But doctors said any diet or detox program involving fasting could cause the body to break down.

"There's no medical or scientific evidence that there's any health benefits from fasting," Dr Jane Smith from the Royal College of General Practitioners said. "You could be doing your body harm. There's a lot of money to be made selling magic (solutions) to people."

One of the more popular programmes this summer is the Lemon Detox Diet fad, whose fans include Beyonce and Tania Zaetta, who is paid to spruik the product. The concoction of palm and maple syrup, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and pure water claims to shed weight and cleanse the body.

Mother-of-two Rylee Page is one dieter who refuses to go near the product after suffering severe side-effects. "I was so light-headed that I was driving the car and had to pull over," she said. "I was walking around like I was in a daze. I would strongly advise anyone who has kids or drives not to use it."

Instead of detoxing, dieticians suggest people cut out caffeine, alcohol and high fat foods for a week to achieve the same results. A spokesman for the Lemon Detox Diet said there were some "normal symptoms" including light-headedness, headaches, dizziness and nausea. [!!!]


12 October, 2009

Bad drug reactions in over 500,000 children

This is a valuable reminder that the only drugs with no side-effects are ones with no main effects. Valuable drugs can be taken off the market by unreasonable hysteria about entirely predictable side-effects. People should be allowed to make their own informed choices, not have choices made for them by bureaucrats in response to sensation-mongering publicity

Children younger than age 5 are most commonly affected. Penicillin and other prescription antibiotics are among the drugs causing the most problems, including rashes, stomachaches, and diarrhea. Parents should pay close attention when their children are started on medicines because “first-time medication exposures may reveal an allergic reaction,’’ said Dr. Florence Bourgeois, lead author and a pediatrician with Children’s Hospital, Boston. Doctors also should tell parents about possible symptoms for a new medication, she said.

The study appears in October’s Pediatrics, which will be released today. It’s based on national statistics on patients’ visits to clinics and emergency rooms between 1995 and 2005. The number of children treated for bad drug reactions each year was mostly stable during that time, averaging 585,922.

Bourgeois said there were no deaths resulting from bad reactions to drugs in the data she studied, but 5 percent of children were sick enough to require hospitalization.

The study involved reactions to prescribed drugs, including accidental overdoses. They were used for a range of ailments including ear infections, strep throat, depression, and cancer. Among teens, commonly used medicines linked with troublesome side effects included birth control pills. Bad reactions to these pills included menstrual problems, nausea, and vomiting.

Children younger than 5 accounted for 43 percent of visits to clinics and emergency rooms; followed by teens ages 15 to 18, who made up about 23 percent of the visits. Similar numbers of hospitalized children - about 540,000 yearly - also have bad reactions to drugs, including side effects, medicine mix-ups, and accidental overdoses, recent government research suggests. The new report indicates children at home are just as vulnerable.

Michael Cohen, president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, said a common problem involves giving young children liquid medicine. Doses can come in drops, teaspoons, or milliliters, and parents may mistakenly think those amounts are interchangeable.

The study was funded by the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


Nutty tax on soft drinks in NYC

Our brawl with New York City’s dietary control freaks is drawing some serious attention. The city is spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to run anti-soft-drink subway ads depicting a soda turning into globs of fat. We’re countering with our own “Big Brother or Big Apple?” ad campaign. Yesterday, The New York Times used this fizzy fight as a lead-in to profile our fight against soda taxes in its “Letter from America” column. Writing for the Times, International Herald Tribune columnist Richard Bernstein asked us why we object to proposals from food activists, like those at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, to reduce soda consumption. We explained:
There are so many reasons. There are ideological reasons, scientific reasons, and policy reasons.

From the ideological point of view, [taxes should not] be a tool for social engineering, to change people’s behaviors. People draw the parallel with tobacco, but there’s a huge chasm of a difference between the two. There’s an incontrovertible link between tobacco and serious diseases. Soda is one of a plethora of products that are overused by some people, but there’s nothing wrong with it per se.

There’s not a shred of evidence that shows that [a soda tax] will work. All the studies show that it will have no impact on obesity rates.
The Times noted that academic research on the ineffectiveness of a soda tax is likely our “strongest argument”:
[W]hether [taxes are] effective or not, there is something to the argument that a government-imposed penalty on Coke and Mountain Dew does represent a nanny-like intrusion.
Is there any indication that the Big Apple food police will ease up on their intrusions? Not exactly. Especially if, like Hizzoner Michael Bloomberg, they don’t practice what they preach.


11 October, 2009

Obesity Science Catches Up With the Sound Bite

Two myth-shattering pieces of obesity science hit the academic world this morning, and the usual controlling, finger-wagging party poopers are regrouping. Yes, indeed, victory is sweet. Taken together, the two studies should go a long way toward bursting the activist fantasy that getting between Americans and the foods they enjoy is the road to better health.

In Los Angeles, researchers from the RAND Corporation (including noted food scold Deborah Cohen) looked at a new zoning ordinance that keeps fast-food restaurants from opening in one poor area of the city. The theory behind the move, of course, was that economically disadvantaged Angelenos needed the firm hand of government to steer them away from an extra-value meal deal.

Did it work? "We argue that the premises for the ban were questionable," the RAND researchers write. In fact, wealthier areas of town had a higher concentration of fast-food restaurants than the poorer sections of Los Angeles. The actual data, the study says, disagreed with "media reports about an over-concentration of fast-food establishments" in South Los Angeles.

But don’t worry, overzealous regulators. The RAND authors assure us that if fast-food zoning doesn’t make us all stick-thin, labeling menus with calorie counts will do the trick:
Regulations on the horizon may be more likely to address the problem of overconsumption than the action in Los Angeles. Menu labeling is one such provision that provides information consumers need to make informed choices (the economist's view) as well as cues that help people restrain themselves from ordering portions that have too many calories (the psychologist's interpretation).
Which brings us to today’s second piece of good news: Calorie-count menu labeling in New York City is an unmitigated failure. The New York Times reports today that when professors from Yale and New York University interviewed fast-food eaters in New York City and Newark, NJ, they found something surprising. Typical customers ignored calorie numbers posted on menu boards and simply ate what they wanted to:
[A]bout half the customers noticed the calorie counts, which were prominently posted on menu boards. About 28 percent of those who noticed them said the information had influenced their ordering, and 9 out of 10 of those said they had made healthier choices as a result.
But when the researchers checked receipts afterward, they found that people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect …

“In an ideal world,” researchers wrote, “calorie labeling on menus and menu boards would have an immediate and direct impact on everyone’s food choices.” But this is the real world. And people still have choices that are (thankfully) immune from tinker-happy social engineers. At least for now. NYU study author Brian Elbel tells the Times that the menu tinkering is far from over: “[L]abels are not enough.”


Hope for ME sufferers as scientists find cause of chronic fatigue disorder

This seems well worth subjecting to a proper clinical trial

Scientists may have discovered the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome - the mysterious condition that affects 250,000 Britons. They have found a strong link between the illness, sometimes known as ME or myalgic encephalomyelitis, and a virus connected to prostate cancer. It is too soon to say if the virus causes ME but researchers say it is a strong contender.

Chronic fatigue syndrome leaves sufferers feeling tired and achy, no matter how much rest they get. Symptoms of ME, nicknamed 'yuppie flu' in the 1980s, include debilitating tiredness and painful limbs.

The study, published in the journal Science, found the virus, XMRV, in the blood of 68 out of 101 ME patients. In contrast, just eight out of 218 healthy people had the virus. In a second, unpublished study, the same team found 95 per cent of ME patients had antibodies to the virus, showing they have been infected with XMRV.

Researcher Dr Judy Mikovits, of Whittemore Peterson Institute in Nevada, said: 'With those numbers, I would say, yes, we've found the cause.' It raises the prospect that antiviral medicines could be used to treat ME.

Tony Britton, of the ME Association, said: 'This doesn't conclusively prove a link.'


10 October, 2009

More "Mediterranean diet" crap

This probably just shows that country people were less depressed. Country people would be more likely to be sticking to their traditional diet and probably have fewer stresses

People who eat a Mediterranean diet rich in fruit, vegetables and cereals may be less likely to develop depression, Spanish researchers have found. The prevalence of mental disorders is lower in Mediterranean countries than in countries in Northern Europe. Dietary differences, such as use of olive oil, may be the reason, [And they may not. More likely it is the closer family ties there] the researchers said.

To find out more, Almudena Sánchez-Villegas and colleagues at the clinic of the University of Navarra, in Pamplona, studied 10,094 healthy Spaniards who filled in questionnaires. Participants were followed for an average of 4½ years.

Those who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely had a more than 30 per cent reduction in risk of depression compared with those who ate diets with the fewest hallmarks of the Mediterranean diet, the team reported in the October issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

Other factors such as marital status, number of children and factors associated with a healthy diet, as well as personality traits such as anxiety were taken into account. Over the study period, 480 new cases of depression were identified — 156 in men and 324 in women. "The specific mechanisms by which a better adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern could help to prevent the occurrence of depression are not well known," [Because they don't exist?] the study's authors concluded.

They speculated that elements of the diet or the combination of foods may improve blood vessel function, fight inflammation and reduce oxygen-related cell damage to reduce the risk of developing depression.

The Mediterranean diet includes nine features, including:

* A high intake of monounsaturated fatty acids such as olive oil.

* A moderate intake of alcohol and dairy products.

* A low intake of meat.

* A high intake of legumes, fruit and nuts, cereals, vegetables and fish.

In particular, people who ate the most fruits, nuts and legumes showed the lowest risks for depression. Participants who had a strong adherence to the diet tended to be more physically active, male, former smokers, married and older.

Last year, Dutch researchers suggested depression in older people may be linked to low levels of Vitamin D, which is obtained from sun exposure.


Importance of salt recognized officially in Australia

BREAD sold in Australia must contain iodised rather than ordinary salt from today. Bakers are required to use only salt with the added essential nutrient, in a move by health officials to address the re-emergence of iodine deficiency in Australia.

"Iodine is particularly important for the normal development of a baby's brain and nervous system," said Dr Paul Brent, chief scientist for Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). "Not having enough iodine during pregnancy and early childhood can cause developmental delays and lead to reductions in mental performance ... this damage prior to 2-3 years of age is irreversible." Dr Brent said adults also needed iodine to ensure the healthy function of their thyroid gland, to help it produce hormones that regulate metabolism and body temperature.

Iodine is also found in fish, seafood, dairy products and eggs, and a constant dietary intake is required, Dr Brent said, as the human body did not store iodine in large amounts. "Mandatory iodine fortification (of bread) is expected to reduce inadequate iodine intakes from 43 per cent to less than five per cent of the Australian population," he said.

The Australian Thyroid Foundation (ATF) said the move was a welcome first step, coming after the issue of iodine deficiency had been "overlooked and ignored ... by Australian public health authorities". "Whilst the mandatory fortification of iodised salt in bread is a step in the right direction and will improve the situation ... it will not fix iodine deficiency in this country," said ATF's chief medical adviser Creswell Eastman.

Prof Eastman said the salt in other staples - such as biscuits and cereals - should also be switched to iodised salt to "ensure all Australians are able to receive adequate levels of iodine needed for good brain development and function and good thyroid health". Adults need 150 micrograms of iodine daily, he said, while a child needs 120 micrograms and for pregnant women the required intake increases to 250 micrograms.

Prof Eastman said the move to fortify bread would raise an average Australian's intake of iodine by about 46 micrograms daily. "Low iodine intake is one of the most important international public health issues, often resulting in lower IQs amongst children and difficulties in conceiving among women," he said.

The move on iodine comes after mandatory folic acid fortification was also introduced to Australia's bread supply last month. The nation's bakers were required to add a small amount of folic acid to their products from September 13, to address a deficiency that poses a particular risk to foetal development during pregnancy.

Organic bakers are exempt from the changes, and their bread products are not required to include either iodised salt or folic acid.


9 October, 2009

Antioxidants make people more, not less, prone to diabetes

This is further confirmation of the harm that antioxidants can do. Nasty for the food freaks who gobble them up. Another great theory murdered by a brutal gang of facts

We've all heard about the damage that reactive oxygen species (ROS) - aka free radicals - can do to our bodies and the sales pitches for antioxidant vitamins, skin creams or "superfoods" that can stop them. In fact, there is considerable scientific evidence that chronic ROS production within cells can contribute to human diseases, including insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

But a new report in the October 7th Cell Metabolism adds to evidence that it might not be as simple as all that. The researchers show that low levels of ROS - and hydrogen peroxide in particular -- might actually protect us from diabetes, by improving our ability to respond to insulin signals. "Our studies indicate that 'physiological' low levels of ROS may promote the insulin response and attenuate insulin resistance early in the progression of type 2 diabetes, prior to overt obesity and hyperglycemia," said Tony Tiganis of Monash University in Australia. "In a way, we think there is a delicate balance and that too much of a good thing - surprise, surprise - might be bad."

Tiganis' team found that mice with a deficiency that prevented them from eliminating physiological ROS didn't become insulin resistant on a high-fat diet as they otherwise would have. They showed that those health benefits could be attributed to insulin-induced signals and the uptake of glucose into their muscles. When those animals were given an antioxidant, those benefits were lost, leaving the mice with more signs of diabetes.

Tiganis said whether antioxidants are ultimately good for people will probably depend on their state of health or disease. "In the case of early type 2 diabetes and the development of insulin resistance, our studies suggest that antioxidants would be bad for you." Under some conditions, treatments designed to selectively increase ROS in muscle - if they can be devised - might even help, he says.

It's not the first time studies have suggested that antioxidants can be a negative, Tiganis adds. Studies in worms have suggested that antioxidants can shorten lifespan, as have some epidemiological studies in humans. Other recent reports indicate that antioxidants may negate the longer-term benefits of exercise training by lowering the activity of certain genes involved in ROS defense.

Tiganis said it will ultimately be important to work out at what stage ROS go from being good to bad. He suspects it probably depends on the levels and/or the source of their generation. (ROS are generated both on the surfaces of cells and within cells by mitochondria, which convert nutrients such as glucose into energy, he explained.)

Although any health implications of the new findings would require further study, the findings lead Tiganis to suspect it is best not to take daily antioxidant vitamins, especially if you are otherwise healthy. "Do exercise," he says, as this is a natural source of ROS that may promote insulin action.


Will this drug put an end to monthly misery for women?

Let's hope it is not a new thalidomide

For millions of women it's a misery they cannot avoid. But now they might no longer have to soldier on stoically in the face of agonising period pains. Scientists have made a breakthrough by creating a pill which could put an end to the discomfort.

The key to the drug's potential success is that it is designed to tackle the cause of stomach cramps which leave some women bedridden, rather than just the symptoms. Dr Jim Phillips, of Vantia Therapeutics, the Southampton-based company behind the discovery said: 'Dysmenorrhoea [painful menstruation] affects a large number of women and there is currently no targeted therapy to treat the condition. 'I think it would be fair to call it a breakthrough, there is certainly no other treatment like it. 'From our research there is nothing to suggest it won't work.'

The drug, known for now as VA111913, has already been proved safe and has few side effects, and if secondary trials are successful it could be available within four years. It will now be trialled on 128 women aged between 18 and 35 in Britain and the United States. Volunteers who suffer pain severe enough to interfere with normal daily life will receive doses of the drug for a maximum of six days during their menstrual cycle. The drug works by bringing the hormone vasopressin, which controls the muscles that contract in the uterus wall, down to normal levels.

The company's chief medical officer, Hilary McElwaine-John, said: 'We found that what was on the market did not meet the need of those women who can't even get to work or school because of the pain.' Dr Phillips added: 'We believe this could offer an effective alternative to the over-the-counter painkillers.'

Figures show that period pain affects 80 per cent of women at some point in their lives. Many have tried techniques such as relaxing exercises or placing a hot water bottle on the stomach to try to combat it, and the most common treatments offered to sufferers tend to be over-the-counter pills such as ibuprofen or naproxen. There is such a clamour for ways to ease the discomfort that the therapeutic market for period pains is estimated to be worth more than £600million worldwide.

Dr Phillips estimates that if the drug is successful, the revenue it could bring in could run into the multi-millions. He said: 'We won't get any revenue from it for at least five years, but if it is successful we would be looking for commercialisation partnerships that would be worth tens of millions of dollars in the U.S.'

Period pain is caused by contractions in the womb during menstruation. Each one temporarily stops the blood flow, causing the tissue to be starved of oxygen. At the same time chemicals called prostaglandins are released that induce stronger contractions and can cause more pain.

The result of the trial, which will be taking place over the next two months, will be known by the middle of next year.


8 October, 2009

Cancer jabs programme is 'mass experiment' says researcher as health officials insist vaccine for teenagers is safe

The woman squawking below sounds exceptionally dishonest and irresponsible. She wants to postpone use of a vaccine until more evidence is in. But there is already enough evidence to convince fussy government drug regulators so I suspect some sort of ulterior motive deriving from commercial rivalries in what she is saying. Postponing use of the vaccine for four more years would sentence to death many who might have benefited from it if it had been given earlier so she is in fact murderously irresponsible

The cervical cancer vaccination programme was last night branded a 'public health experiment' by a senior researcher who helped develop the drug. Dr Diane Harper - one of the world's leading cervical cancer experts - said health officials and drug firm bosses were exaggerating the jab's benefits. And she claimed parents were not being properly warned about the 'small but potentially adverse' risks of Cervarix and other vaccines.

But health officials, cancer charities and scientific experts all insist the programme is safe and urged parents and schools not to panic.

Dr Harper's comments follow the death of 14-year-old Natalie Morton, who collapsed an hour after receiving the jab at school on Monday. Initial post mortem results have suggested that her death was caused by a rare and serious illness - rather than the cancer vaccine.

Under the Government's cervical cancer programme, Cervarix is being offered to girls between 12 and 18. It works against two strains of HPV - a sexually transmitted virus that causes 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases.

Yesterday the Department of Health said it had 'great confidence' in the safety of its cervical cancer vaccination programme. 'We have been clear all along that there is no reason to suspend HPV immunisation - the programme against cervical cancer continues today,' a spokesman said. 'We have one of the most successful immunisation programmes in the world and have great confidence in the safety of them. 'Young girls can continue to protect themselves against cervical cancer by having this vaccine.' But Dr Harper, of the University of Missouri-Kansas, who was involved in the clinical trials of Cervarix, believes it should have been tested for another four years before being introduced in Britain.

Patient trials have only been running for seven and a half years - not long enough to show whether it continues protecting women into their late 20s and 30s, she said. 'It is a public health experiment,' she said. 'Parents consenting to HPV vaccination must be told that the duration of the vaccine is unknown, and that it is entirely possible that the initial vaccination series will only postpone, not prevent, future cervical cancers in their daughter,' Dr Harper said.

Around one million girls have been given the vaccine. There have been 4,657 reports of suspected adverse reactions - including sore arms, dizziness and swelling.

Although the drug is safe for the majority of women, there are very rare 'real dangers' - including the risk of brain damage, paralysis and death, Dr Harper said. Even if the jab is only dangerous for one person in a million, women should be told the risks, she said. She also believes the benefits of the vaccine as a 'cure' are being exaggerated. The jab does not prevent 30 per cent of cervical cancers - which means women will still need to be screened for pre-cancerous lesions.

Dr Harper helped develop the HPV vaccine which is produced as Cervarix - the GlaxoSmithKline product distributed by the NHS - and Gardasil which is produced by Merck and distributed in the U.S.

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'It is wrong to suggest the benefits are exaggerated. Ninety nine per cent of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV and the vaccine will protect against about 70 per cent of them. 'The evidence is that the vaccine is very safe. And long-term follow up studies have shown that it offers extremely high levels of protection that continue to last.'

An initial post mortem showed the vaccine was 'unlikely' to have caused the death of Natalie Morton as she had a rare and grave underlying health problem, which was unknown to her family. Stepfather Andrew Bullock said Natalie, who attended Blue Coat CofE School, in Coventry, had been 'poorly for some time'. She had been to see her GP several times and investigations into a mystery illness had been under way, he said.

Britain's decision to go against the rest of the Western world and opt for the Cervarix vaccine was made to save money, health charities claim. They said the decision condemned thousands of young women to an unpleasant sexual infection from which they would have been protected had ministers chosen the rival vaccine, Gardasil. The U.S. and every single major western European country went for Gardasil, which protects against more strains of HPV, the sexual infection which can cause cervical cancer. It is understood that Britain chose Cervarix after the Health Protection Agency advised that it would save more than £18million a year.

There is no suggestion that Gardasil is any safer than Cervarix. In fact there have been 30 deaths following reported adverse reactions to Gardasil in the U.S., plus a number in Germany and Austria. But charities pointed out the extra strains of HPV that Gardasil protects against would have prevented thousands from catching genital warts - an infection on the rise, especially among the young. They said the money saved will be outweighed by the £22million the NHS spends every year treating genital warts. 'Our concern is that we didn't pick the right vaccine in the UK,' said Lisa Power, of the Terrence Higgins Trust sexual health charity. 'We felt that Gardasil was more effective against more things. 'HPV may not be fatal, but it is very unpleasant and it is on the rise. In 2008 there were 92,525 new cases of genital warts. That's very expensive to treat, as well as leaving 92,525 very unhappy people.'

GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Cervarix, claims its vaccine lasts longer than Gardasil, meaning there is less chance of a booster being needed later in life.


Scientists claim sitting up straight at desks can boost our confidence

I am skeptical about this one. I think the subjects were just giving the edxperimter what they thought he wanted

Most of us will remember the telling off we used to get from our parents if we didn't sit up straight as children. But it seems good posture is not the only reason we would have done well to heed their advice - scientists claim it could also make us more confident.

In an experiment, people were told to sit up straight or slump over their desks. They were then told to list three positive or negative personal traits relating to their future career.

Afterwards they took a survey in which they rated themselves on how well they would do as a future professional.

This found that the answers of those who held the upright posture were more likely to be in line with the traits they had written down earlier - a sign that sitting up straight reinforces positive thoughts.

Professor Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University, said: 'It turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. 'Sitting up straight is something you can train yourself to do, and it has psychological benefits.'


7 October, 2009

Beer Raped Your Daughter and Gave Her Gonorrhea. Again

The Washington Post claimed near-supernatural powers for a tiny beer tax on Monday. A booze tax, write Lloyd I. Sederer and Eric Goplerud, will pay for health care reform. But that's not all!: "Research indicates that a 10 percent increase in current alcohol excise taxes-that is a penny for a beer-would result in less drinking, especially among underage drinkers, reducing rape, robbery, domestic violence and liver disease. A tax increase of 3 cents per beer would cut youth gonorrhea by 9 percent."

I'm going to pull out that last line one more time in case you, like me, sometime skim over blockquotes too quickly: "A tax increase of 3 cents per beer would cut youth gonorrhea by 9 percent."

Look at the lovely young lady above. If only a three cent tax on that Budweiser could have saved her from the heartbreak of VD.

Messrs. (Drs.?) Sederer and Goplerud have taken the fine art of vaguely claiming that "studies show..." to a new level. Obviously, the argument here is that lots of beer makes people more likely to rape, pillage, etc. and that pricier beer means less consumption. A quick Google reveals that they're pulling from 2000 study that looked at beer taxes and gonorrhea rates in various states. Reason, of course, tore this study a new one back when first made the rounds. Key passage: "[David Murray of the Statistical Assessment Service, a non-profit think tank in D.C.] does yeoman's work pointing out the junk reasoning at the root of so much junk science. This one was a high, hanging curve for Murray, who said the CDC's thinking was on the level of "the sun goes down because we turn on the street lights."

The really interesting thing is that the CDC, in effect, agrees with that criticism. It buries its assent, however, in an editorial note that says the findings "do not prove a causal relation between higher taxes and declining STD [sexually transmitted disease] rates."

There are parallels to the outlandish claims made for a 3 cent soda tax. It will end obesity! Pay for health care reform! Make dentists obsolete! A handy review of the bad math behind the idea that small soda taxes will take a significant dent out of obesity here.

UPDATE: A alert reader writes: "Of course, it's probably safe to say that obese teenagers are less likely to be sexually active and therefore less likely to contract STDs. So really, supporters of 'obesity' taxes are really just supporting the infliction of STDs upon America's youth (which in turn drives up health care costs). That's just common sense."


Nanoparticles may be used to help kill tumours

Greenies and food freaks hate nanoparticles so this might help stop further attacks on them

BRITISH scientists are developing ways to use nanoparticles as tiny magnets that can heat up and kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells around them. The researchers have found that iron-oxide nanoparticles can be attached to cancer-seeking antibodies, or injected into cancer-seeking stem cells, which take them straight to the tumours they need to kill.

Heating the cells to just 5 or 6 degrees Celsius above body temperature, in a new device called a magnetic alternating current hyperthermia, or MACH, machine, can kill the cancer cells. The researchers said the MACH device was like a microwave, heating only targeted cells. "This offers a new way to treat cancer," the team from University College London said. "If we get the magnetic particles to migrate to cancer cells, we can kill only the cancer cells, leaving the healthy cells unharmed – the ultimate targeted therapy."

The scientists said the work was at an early stage and no tests had yet been done on humans. They predicted another decade of developing, refining and testing the techniques before they could be licensed to treat cancer. "We are aiming to be ready to go to clinical trials at the end of three years," said Professor of Physics Quentin Pankhurst.

The scientists said they had already seen the stem cell delivery technique work in mice. Mark Lythgoe, director of the university's centre for advanced biomedical imaging, said he and colleagues had shown in a study due to be published soon that certain cells, called mesenchymal stem cells (MSC), when loaded with magnetic nanoparticles, would take them direct to secondary lung tumours, or lung metastases. "We have now just started the trial where we put those animals into the heating system... to see whether it has killed the lung metastases," he said.

Two other methods were also showing promise, one using cancer-seeking antibodies to carry nanoparticles to head and neck tumours, and another using magnetic fields to steer the tiny magnets to specific parts of the body which need treatment. "The idea is that we could use these three guided techniques to get the cells to go to the tumour," said Mr Lythgoe. "Then when you've got them there, you put the patient into the MACH system, it heats up the iron oxide particles like a microwave."

Heat is known to kill cancer cells but scientists are seeking ways to target the heat more specifically so healthy cells are not destroyed. Research presented last month by German scientists showed that heat-treated tumours responded better to chemotherapy, meaning the technique could allow chemotherapy doses to be reduced in the future, reducing toxic side effects.


6 October, 2009

Cheap cosmetics best

A FACE cream selling for less than $12 a bottle has been voted the most effective anti-wrinkle cream by the British consumer group Which?. Another cream selling for under $10 in discount supermarket Aldi also came out tops in a separate UK consumer test, proving price is no indicator of effectiveness when it comes to the $5 billion-a-year cosmetics business.

The sister organisation to Australian Choice, Which? put 13 moisturisers and anti-wrinkle eye creams to the test over six weeks on consumers aged 35 to 65. High-definition photos were taken over the trial period and then analysed by an expert panel. The Simple Kind To Skin Rich moisturiser beat big names like Clinique, Avon, Clarins and Garnier. They concluded the budget moisturiser out-performed a Clinique eye cream costing 64 times more per 10ml.

It even outperformed the much-hyped Boots No. 7 Protect and Perfect eye cream, hailed as a miracle wrinkle eraser in media reports earlier this year after research, part-funded by Alliance Boots, was published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Which? also concluded that none of the eye creams came close to their claims to eliminate the appearance of wrinkles, but that the Simple product "worked just as well" as other moisturisers. Here in Australia, the Simple moisturiser sells for just $11.49 for 125ml at Big W and Priceline.

The other consumer-voted, face-saving budget buy is a generic supermarket brand sold by Aldi. When UK paper The Mirror enlisted 2000 volunteers to blind test anti-wrinkle creams, the product that came out on top surprised everyone because it was 95 per cent cheaper than all the others. Aldi's Lacura Q10 anti-wrinkle day cream, selling as Lacura Day Cream here in Australia for just $8.99, was voted the best. When the results were published, British consumers cleared Aldi's shelves of 35,000 jars in one day.

Choice put anti-ageing creams to the test back in 2007 and the cheaper Olay Regenerist performed as well as a Lancome product. It also outperformed the over-the-top expensive La Prairie product. The "supermarket moisturiser" now retails for $49.99 for 50ml.

Dr Stephen Shumack, of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, said: "There is no point in buying the expensive product because, really, it's just a nice jar to put in the bathroom." The only clinically proven product to reverse some photo ageing was Retin A, an acne preparation with high levels of vitamin A.


Canadian oldsters immune to swine flu

Halton’s medical officer of health suspects there has been an outbreak of pandemic H1N1 flu virus among staff at a long-term care home in Burlington. Dr. Bob Nosal said “over 10” staff at the home are confirmed to have Influenza A. However, he said it’s almost guaranteed further sub-typing tests will show the flu strain to be pandemic H1N1.

The reason for Nosal’s assessment is that one of the ill staff has an “epidemiological link” – a personal connection – with one of two adults in Halton with the first confirmed cases of the pandemic H1N1 flu virus in the region this fall.

While flu outbreaks are not uncommon in long term care homes, this one is unique in that it has so far hit only staff – not elderly residents. Nosal said that might be because of the residents’ residual immunity to H1N1, or swine flu. “People born before 1957 are thought to have been exposed to the swine flu virus or a strain of it,” said Nosal.

Staff at the long term care home, which the Region is not identifying, have suffered the usual flu symptoms of fever, cough and sore throats, said Nosal. Some staff had them in early September and have presumably returned to work, he added.

There have been no hospitalizations due to the virus this fall. The Region is also reporting there has not been any increased absenteeism reported in Halton schools.


5 October, 2009

'Video games are a social network'

Video and computer games have long been stigmatized by health knowalls as leading to social isolation. It was never true in the past and it is even farther from the truth now. Video games are fast becoming one of the most social forms of entertainment around, writes IGN Australia Games Editor Cam Shea

A quiet revolution is taking place in the world of videogames. Gaming is being transformed: what was once regarded as a solitary pursuit for nerds is becoming one of the most social forms of entertainment.

Take the Xbox 360 - its online service has grown from basic friend information and voice chat with other players during online games, to full video chat, the ability to form parties that stay grouped no matter what people are doing and avatars as well. Plus, coming soon, Facebook and Twitter integration.

The games are also changing - an online component is standard for most titles these days, while plenty of games focus almost entirely on online gameplay. Gamers, after all, like to compete - but they also like to socialise and be part of a community. Few games demonstrate this better than World of Warcraft (WoW).

The Warcraft collective

In fact, for all the press that surrounds the game – discussing its popularity and cultural impact, the sensationalist treatises on WoW addiction, and the fine-toothed examinations of every new announcement – it’s not often recognised that WoW is an intensely social phenomenon.

This is an experience that works best with friends: whether real life or people met through the game. For many players it’s the friendships they have in-game that keep them coming back - and that’s by design.

While it is possible to play WoW on your own for a while, the "end game" is built entirely for teams.

To see all that WoW has to offer, you’ll need to join a guild and work together with other players. When you’re spending hours at a time, several days a week with people, it’s no wonder bonds form. In this game, being a loner just isn’t an option.

With 11.5 million people around the world paying a monthly subscription fee to play WoW, it would seem that gamers are more social than they’re often given credit for.

A great example of this is Blizzcon – an annual event held in Los Angeles by the game’s developer, Blizzard Entertainment. It’s at this two day convention that the company makes its biggest announcements and gives the fans a chance to sit in on panels and play their upcoming games before release. The 20,000 tickets for the 2009 event sold out in less than 30 seconds, and around 50,000 other people signed up to the pay per view service to watch it online.

There are a number of reasons tickets to this event are so sought after, but for WoW players one of the chief attractions is that Blizzcon represents a great opportunity to meet up with other players – often for the first time in real life, and the result is an event that feels – at times – like a school reunion; good humoured, social and rowdy.

Real mateship

People travel from all over the world to attend, and yes, a number of Aussies made the journey this year. Tarn Smith, a Sydneysider studying to be a jewel crafter, came to Blizzcon to meet up with guys he’s known since the game launched - almost five years ago.

Why is he still enthused about WoW after all this time? “What keeps you going is the social aspect,” he said. “It’s the only thing that really keeps you there after the content’s been beaten. That’s the one key thing.”

Dean and Brett Jones, two WoW players from Perth, also found the game useful from a social perspective. “It was a way we connected with our real life friends,” Dean said. “So if they lived in another town or another city, it was a good way for us to get into contact with them… it was an easier medium to talk to them through WoW than to – say – text them, give them a call or send them an email. It would be the place to find them.”

“A lot of my mates have stopped playing,” said Nick Carman from Sydney, “so I basically started up on a different server with a different bunch of people, and it is a whole new experience.”

For WoW, the people define the experience almost as much as the content, and the result is a player base with a strong sense of ownership over the game world. WoW and Xbox Live are just two examples of a broad trend. Gaming as a whole is becoming an increasingly social space. It’s time to finally shed that nerdy loner image; to step out from the basement into the light of day as a mature and social entertainment medium.


What a stupid way to reach conclusions: Doco stirs theory of cancer link to viruses

Consulting "experts" tells you very little. Experts can easily be wrong and often have been. A lot of expertise is mere opinion. New research would be a better use of funds than making a film

A DOCUMENTARY claiming viruses can trigger a larger number of cancers than first thought is expected to divide Australian cancer experts when it airs later this month.

But Catching Cancer also suggests that because viral infections can be prevented relatively easily through vaccines and other measures, there may be a new means of defeating the disease.

Made by Australian documentary maker Sonya Pemberton, the program also investigates whether a virus was responsible for 16 women developing breast cancer while working at the ABC's Brisbane television studios, forcing the site's evacuation in 2006.

Scientists agree that about 20 per cent of cancers are triggered by viruses. These include: liver cancer, triggered by hepatitis B and C; cancers of the anus, genitals and cervix, triggered by human papillomavirus; Burkitt's lymphoma, triggered by Epstein-Barr virus; and stomach cancer, triggered by the bacterium helicobacter pylori.

But a minority of scientists argue this percentage is far higher. American biologist Paul Ewald of the University of Louisville, quoted in the program, said the figure could be as high as 95 per cent.

The documentary includes interviews with a dozen Australian and overseas cancer experts, including sceptics of cancer viral transmission such as geneticist David Vaux from La Trobe University. Professor Vaux said the list of cancers caused by viruses was well established but small. ''Viruses can cause some cancers but they don't have a role in others,'' he said. ''Really, there isn't much debate … there's not much evidence for anything else.''

Ian Oliver, chief executive of the NSW Cancer Council, said cancer was caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors. ''If it was a virus related to breast cancer, I wonder what its mode of transmission would be - sex, touch,'' Professor Oliver said. ''One of the cruellest scenarios I have come across was [of] grandkids being told 'don't cuddle up or kiss grandma, you might catch it'. We don't want any of that catching on.''


4 October, 2009

Swine flu vaccine myths 'busted' by Australian experts

Fear and misinformation have clouded the need for widepread swine flu vaccination, experts said today, at a 'mythbusting' seminar convened by vaccine manufacturer CSL.

Though the pandemic has faded for now, it could return to Australia's shores as early as February next year and the country ideally needs more than half the population vaccinated by that time, said Professor Robert Booy of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance.

Immunisation and influenza experts including Professor Booy, Professor Alan Hampson of the WHO's Influenza Specialist Group and Professor Terry Nolan of the University of Melbourne said they wanted to dispel some of the myths that had sprouted around the vaccine, through underinformed media reports and anti-vaccination campaigners. They emphasised the risk, especially to young people and pregnant women, if the virus returns in force next year. And they speculated that it was only the expertise and new techniques in Australia's hospital intensive care wards that prevented a much higher death toll this year.

MYTH: The swine flu vaccine has been rushed through without the normal tests.

FACT: The vaccine took just as long to prepare as the usual seasonal flu vaccine, has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and has been subjected to greater scrutiny than the usual flu vaccine.

MYTH: Swine flu is so mild that you might as well just catch it and not bother with the vaccine.

FACT: The number of deaths caused by swine flu could be up to ten times those that we know about, because it might have exacerbated other underlying diseases. It is particularly dangerous in young people and pregnant women.

MYTH: I had the flu this year, so it was probably the swine flu and I'm immune.

FACT: With a new pandemic, especially in children, the immune response may not be strong enough to prevent another infection.

MYTH: In 1976 a swine flu vaccine in the USA caused paralysis (Guillian-Barre Syndrome) and it could do again.

FACT: It was a one-off. The original effect was only an additional one case of GBS per 100,000 people vaccinated. The modern vaccine is very different, and no subsequent vaccines have been linked to GBS. In fact, research suggests vaccination may REDUCE the likelihood of getting GBS, which can be caused by an infection.

MYTH: The use of multi-dose vials poses an infection risk.

FACT: Not if GPs follow standard infection control procedures. Previous cases of MDV-related infection are decades old. The only real risk is the potential for some of the vaccine to be wasted, because the vials must be thrown away a day after opening.

MYTH: The vaccine contains dangerous amounts of mercury.

FACT: The multi-dose vials contain a small amount of thiomersal, a mercury-based preservative. It is in such small trace amounts — similar to the amount of mercury in some foods — that there is no credible evidence it poses any risk whatsoever.

MYTH: The vaccine is unsafe for pregnant women to use.

FACT: There is no reason to believe there would be unusual risks for pregnant women. In fact, because the flu is most dangerous to that group, they should be encouraged to vaccinate.

MYTH: The vaccine is not safe for children.

FACT: Tests to establish the appropriate dose for children are still under way, but there is no reason to think they will turn up any problems.

MYTH: People with egg allergies should not have the vaccine.

FACT: Most egg allergies are only mild, and the vaccine will be safe for these people.


Cockroach inspires cheap artificial heart

A ground-breaking £1,500 artificial heart inspired by the anatomy of the cockroach could revolutionise human cardiac care, scientists in India believe.

The development of a robust, affordable and safe synthetic heart remains one of the holy grails of biomedical engineering amid a shortage of donated organs and rising levels of heart disease. In Britain, critically ill adults wait an average of 103 days and children 143 days for a donated heart, according to the NHS. In India, heart disease will end more lives per year than all infectious illnesses combined, including diarrhoea, tuberculosis and malaria, by 2015, World Health Organisation figures suggest, as Western lifestyle diseases take a grip.

The heart may appear quite a simple organ: a powerful muscle that acts as a pump to move blood around the body. But efforts to replicate it have floundered. The two artificial hearts available in the US today are expensive, costing at least $50,000 (£30,000) apiece. Both have problems, with patients vulnerable to infections and strokes, experts say.

Sujoy Guha, a biomedical engineer at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, believes that the most critical problems are a result of artificial hearts attempting to mimic the real thing. The human heart has four chambers, but only the left ventricle is responsible for building the pressure that moves blood around the body. Depending on one chamber to do the hard work places this part of an artificial heart under enormous strain.

Dr Guha likens the process to trying to scale a four-foot rise in just one bound. “Do it too often and your knees will give way,” he said. “Much better to use a series of small steps.”

The sudden build-up of pressure inside conventional artificial hearts can also damage blood cells, Dr Guha said. This can lead to clotting and strokes, and means that patients must be given anti-coagulants, which place them at risk of severe bleeding. By contrast, his prosthetic heart builds pressure in stages, through five chambers — a model based on the anatomy of a cockroach. He has been working on his prototype heart, which is made from titanium and plastic and runs on batteries that can be recharged from outside the body, since the early 1960s.

The heart of the cockroach has 13 chambers, which build pressure in a series of steps. If one fails, the animal still continues living. “When I was learning my biology I became fascinated by the cockroach,” Dr Guha told The Times. “It is hardy [and] survives extreme conditions. It came into this world before humans and will survive beyond us.”

Dr Guha is testing his device on goats, and hopes to move on to humans in the next 18 months. He believes that his artificial heart could be available in five years. He hopes to make one available for about £1,500, a feat he says is possible because his project is government-funded and will not have to pay research costs.


How to make a perfect cup of tea in the traditional English way

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More here.

3 October, 2009

A most instructive finding

Vaccinated British teenager killed by tumour NOT the vaccine. Temporal conjunction is not causation. Danger in a therapeutic product should be judged by the number who do NOT suffer ill effects. Drugs such as Vioxx that were taken safely by hundreds of thousands get taken off the market because of apparent adverse effects of the drug in a handful of cases. But it is just superstitious and implausible guesswork to assume that the rare ill-effects were due to the drug. The case below is instructive because the initial accusations against the vaccine could clearly be shown to be wrong

THE teenage girl who died shortly after being immunised against cervical cancer was killed by a malignant chest tumour and not by a reaction to the vaccine manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, an inquest has heard. Natalie Morton, 14, fell ill on Monday after being vaccinated at her school under a national immunisation programme against the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). She died a few hours later after being admitted to hospital.

"The pathologist has confirmed today at the opening of the inquest into the death of Natalie Morton that she died from a large malignant tumour of unknown origin in the heart and lungs," said Dr Caron Grainger, joint director of public health for the Coventry area where Natalie died. "There is no indication that the HPV vaccine, which she had received shortly before her death, was a contributing factor to the death, which could have arisen at any point," Dr Grainger said.

In paying tribute to Natalie, her stepfather Andrew Bullock said she was "kind, fun-loving and had a beautiful smile". "We will miss her very much", he said.

The Department of Health said the immunisation program was continuing and that to date more than 1.4 million doses of Cervarix have been administered. Manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline had recalled the batch of vaccine used at the school pending an investigation. "GSK's deepest sympathies lie with the parents at this very sad time," said a spokeswoman, adding that she did not want to comment further.

The program to vaccinate girls aged 12 to 13 began in September 2008 to fight cervical cancer, which is the 12th most common women's cancer in Britain, killing more than 1000 each year.

News of Natalie's death came shortly before US health regulators again delayed a decision on whether to allow Glaxo to sell Cervarix in the United States where a panel of specialists has recommended its use. An advisory panel to Japan's Health Ministry backed the vaccine earlier this week.


The elixir of life? Diabetes pill could help you live longer and stay healthier

Rather a lot of bright-eyed optimism here: The sort of optimism that can lead to iatrogenic disasters. These results derive from genetically defective mice and even findings from normal rodents do not always generalize well to humans -- and there will undoubtedly be side effects of as yet unknown severity

A cheap pill taken by millions of diabetics could hold the secret to a long and healthy life. Research suggests that metformin, which costs as little as 2p a tablet, could extend human life. It may also be able to keep us physically agile and mentally sharp in old age, it was found. There are even indications that it can help prevent people putting on weight.

Professor Dominic Withers, of University College London, said the findings suggest it would be possible to establish drugs to combat ageing. The researchers took their inspiration from studies on worms, flies and dogs that showed those on very low-calorie diets tend to live longer, healthier lives. To mimic the effect, without the need for dieting, they created designer mice unable to make a key protein called S6K1. Experiments showed that blocking S6K1 raises levels of an energy sensor called AMPK. When we eat less, levels of AMPK rise, and the body goes into a survival mode and ageing slows.

Metformin, which has been safely used for more than 50 years to control blood sugar levels in age and obesity-related diabetes, has also been found to raise levels of AMPK. The tests found that both sexes of mice were healthier, but the effects were most dramatic in the females, which also lived longer. Their lifespan increased by an average of 20 per cent. But a few saw an increase of more than 50 per cent, the journal Science reports.

In 'middle-age', the creatures were leaner than ordinary mice of the same age and had stronger bones and better balance, strength and co-ordination. They were also more inquisitive, suggesting they were mentally sharper. Even their immune systems appeared stronger and more youthful. It is hoped that metformin may mimic these other effects of blocking S6K1.

In the case of the diabetics who are already taking it, its ability to extend life may be cancelled out by the effects of the disease.

Professor Withers plans to test the drug's anti-ageing abilities in mice and hopes to start the first human trials within five years. These would be likely to be in obese people whose weight puts them at risk of diabetes and other conditions in later life. The researchers also want to test the drug's ability to ward off Alzheimer's.

Trials with laboratory mice have produced encouraging results so far. Metformin's long record as a safe drug means it would have to go through fewer safety tests than a brand-new medicine. But it is still likely to be 15 years before it is widely used to protect against the diseases of old age. In the meantime, the professor 'strongly advises' against healthy adults taking the medicine in the hope of extending their life.

Researcher Dr David Gems said: 'We are suddenly much closer to treatments for ageing than we thought. 'We have moved from the initial findings in worm models to having "druggable" targets in mice. 'The next logical step is to see if metformin can slow the ageing process in humans.'


Keep your self-righteous fingers off my processed food

Just in time for the worst economic downturn since the Depression, here comes a new crop of social critics to inform us that we're actually spending too little for the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit on, and the gasoline that runs our automobiles.

Never mind that US job losses these days range from 200,000 to 500,000 a month, that foreclosures are up 32 percent over this time last year, and that people are relearning how to clip newspaper coupons and save at the supermarket. Dire economic circumstances don't seem to faze these spending enthusiasts, who scold us for shopping at supermarkets instead of at farmers' markets, where a loaf of "artisanal" (and also "sustainable") rye bread sells for $8, a cup of ice cream for $6, and a pound of organic tomatoes goes for $4.

The latest cheerleader for higher prices is Ellen Ruppel Shell, a professor of science journalism at Boston University who has just published a book titled Cheap. It's not a guide to bargain-hunting. The theme of Shell's book, subtitled The High Cost of Discount Culture, is "America's dangerous liaison with Cheap."

Shell's argument goes like this: shopping at discount stores, factory outlets, and, of course, Wal-Mart (no work of social criticism is complete without a drive-by shooting aimed at that chain) exploits Chinese factory workers (who would much rather be back on the collective farm, wearing their Mao suits) and degrades the environment because much of the low-price junk wears out and ends up in landfills.

Even IKEA comes in for a drubbing in Shell's book. Yes, the Swedish chain's inexpensive, assemble-yourself furniture may look tasteful, but behind every Billy bookcase lies a gruesome tale (in Shell's view) of Siberian forests ravaged for all that pine veneer, and gallons of fossil fuel burned by couples motoring to IKEA's remote store locations, strategically chosen for their rock-bottom land values. Most damaging of all, says Shell, is the cost to America's soul.

"The economics of Cheap cramps innovation, contributes to the decline of once flourishing industries, and threatens our proud heritage of craftsmanship," she writes. In her view, we should all save up for "responsibly made quality goods," preferably from shops attainable by "public transit."

Maybe it's because I've got IKEA furniture in every room in my house (although my husband did finally lay down his Allen wrench and declare a permanent strike against "assemble-yourself," forcing us to move up the socio-furniture-nomic scale to Crate & Barrel), but I ask, what's wrong with low prices? If you don't care for the quality, well, as my mother always says, you get what you pay for.

In an online debate with the Atlantic's economics writer, Megan McArdle, Shell observes with disapproval that, when prices are adjusted for inflation, Americans today spend "40% less on clothes, 20% less on food, more than 50% less on appliances, about 25% less on owning and maintaining a car" than they did during the early 1970s. Over that same period, Census Bureau tables show, US median household income rose by at least 18% in constant dollars — despite the much-lamented (by Shell and others) decampment of "once-flourishing" manufacturing jobs to China and elsewhere. That's why even America's poorest people nowadays can afford automobiles, cell phones, and TVs.

Yet a significant number of social critics wish they couldn't. Robert Pollin, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst — cited approvingly by Shell — has argued for higher clothing prices and steep taxes on fossil fuels in the name of various social and green causes, even though, as he conceded in a January article in the Nation, the latter measure would "impose higher energy prices on businesses and individuals." "Even America's poorest people nowadays can afford automobiles, cell phones, and TVs. Yet a significant number of social critics wish they couldn't."

The most zealous of the spend-more crowd, however, are the food intellectuals who salivated, as it were, at a steep rise in the cost of groceries earlier this year, including such basics as milk and eggs. Some people might worry about the effect on recession-hit families of a 17% increase in the price of milk. Not Alice Waters, the food-activist owner of Berkeley's Chez Panisse restaurant, who shudders at the thought of sampling so much as a strawberry that hasn't been nourished by organic compost and picked that morning at a nearby farm — and she thinks everyone else in America should shudder too. "Make a sacrifice on the cell phone or the third pair of Nike shoes," Waters airily informed the New York Times in April.

Echoing Waters was her fellow Berkeley food guru, Michael Pollan, professor of science journalism (a hot field for social critics, obviously) at UC Berkeley. Pollan (no relation to Robert Pollin) is the author of the best-selling Omnivore's Dilemma and coiner of the mantra "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" that is on the lips of every foodie from Bainbridge Island to Martha's Vineyard. Pollan, too, rejoices at the idea of skyrocketing prices for groceries, hoping they might "level the playing field for sustainable food that doesn't rely on fossil fuels."

Pollan also hopes that rising prices might constitute another weapon in his ongoing war against his agribusiness villain of choice: corn. Corn is a plant, of course, and thus should theoretically rank high on Pollan's list of permissible edibles. But it is also the basis of such dubious items as snack chips, Coca-Cola (made with high-fructose corn syrup, the godfather of obesity) and suspiciously plentiful beef (corn-fed).

Pollan is a "locavore," one of those people who believe that in order to be truly ethical, you should eat only foods grown or killed within your line of sight (for me, that would be my neighbor's cat). He once described a meal he made consisting of a wild boar shot by him in the hills near his Bay Area home and laboriously turned into pate, plus bread leavened by yeast spores foraged from his backyard.

Lately, Pollan has set his sights on Häagen-Dazs ice cream, not because it contains corn syrup (it doesn't) but because it's a commercially made product, and if there's one thing Pollan hates, it's commerce. His latest pronunciamento is "Don't buy any food you've ever seen advertised."

Demanding that other people impoverish themselves in the name of your pet cause — fostering craftsmanship, feeling "connected" to the land, "living more lightly on the planet," or whatever — goes way beyond Marie Antoinette saying "let them eat cake." It's more like Marie Antoinette dressing up in her shepherdess costume and holding court in a fake-rustic cottage at the Petit Trianon.

Those who think that there is something wrong with owning more than two pairs of sneakers or that exquisite fastidiousness about what you put into your mouth equals virtue need to be teleported back to, say, the Depression itself. Then, privation was in earnest and few people had telephones, much less cell phones.

Read some 1930s memoirs: Back then, people who couldn't afford "quality" furniture slept on mattresses on the floor and hammered together makeshift tables out of orange crates. They went barefoot during the summer and sewed their children's clothes out of (nonorganic) flour sacks. That was what "cheap" meant then — not today's plethora of affordable goods, which the social critics would like to take away from us.

Meanwhile, Professor Pollan, eat all the "plants" you like — but don't try to pry me from my Häagen-Dazs dark-chocolate ice cream. I bought it at Safeway, and it's sitting on my IKEA kitchen table.


2 October, 2009

Too many lollies (candies) 'may lead to jail' (?)

I am pleased that proper caution is expressed below about this finding. There is a weak tendency for delay of gratification to be a consistent trait so that could be involved

CHILDREN who eat too many lollies are more likely to become violent criminals as adults, new research finds. The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, followed more than 17,000 children over four decades. The British researchers found of the children who consumed lollies and chocolate daily at the age of 10, 69 per cent were later arrested for a violent offence, the Associated Press reports.

But while the researchers said the results were interesting, more studies were needed to confirm the link. “It's not that the sweets themselves are bad, it's more about interpreting how kids make decisions,” said Simon Moore of the University of Cardiff, one of the paper's authors.

Mr Moore said parents who bribed their children into good behaviour with sweets could be doing them more harm than good, as the treats might prevent their offsprings from learning about deferring gratification, leading to impulsive behaviour and violence instead.

But the study stopped short of recommending parents stop giving the sugary treats. “This is an incredibly complex area,'' Mr Moore said. “It's not fair to blame it on the candy.''

While the study took into account other variables, including different parenting skills and varying social and economic backgrounds, these factors failed to alter the researchers’ findings.


Baby cooling therapy ‘cuts risk of brain damage from oxygen deprivation’

A therapy for newborn babies based on lowering the body temperature could significantly reduce the risk of brain damage after oxygen starvation at birth.

Complications such as the umbilical cord becoming twisted cause babies to be deprived of oxygen in about 2 in 1,000 births and can frequently result in cerebral palsy or other neurological problems. In standard treatment babies are placed in an incubator, kept warm and helped to breathe using a ventilator. However, a large-scale clinical trial published today reveals that babies have better long-term outcomes if they are cooled down by a few degrees instead.

The study, involving 325 newborn infants, showed a 57 per cent reduction in the risk of brain damage when babies were given the cooling therapy compared with standard treatment. The treatment is effective because cooling slows down the metabolism and can provide a window during which neurons that have been deprived of oxygen but are not irreparably damaged can recover, according to scientists.

The “delayed cell death” effect that occurs after oxygen deprivation is comparable to what happens when you burn your skin, explained Professor Marianne Thoresen, a specialist in neonatal neuroscience at the University of Bristol and a co-author of the study. “Some cells are killed immediately and you can’t rescue, but others can be saved if you immediately put your hand under cold water,” she said. Reducing oxygen metabolism throughout the body means that, relative to demand, there is more oxygen available to cells, allowing them more quickly to re-establish a chemical equilibrium.

The study, which is published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, recruited newborn babies who were suffering from oxygen deprivation from hospitals across Britain. Outward symptoms included being blue in the face, being unable to breathe unaided, lack of a heartbeat and low blood pressure.

325 babies took part in the research carried out between 2002 and 2006, with 163 receiving intensive care with cooling and 162 receiving standard intensive care. The standard care group were kept in incubators, which maintained the babies’ body temperatures at 37C. The babies in the cooled group were wrapped up in a specially designed blanket with circulating cold fluid so that their body temperature was lowered to 34-35C. After 72 hours of cooling the babies were slowly warmed back to a normal body temperature.

In the standard care group 42 of the infants were found to have severe disabilities 18 months later, compared with only 32 of the infants who had received the cooling treatment. Mortality rates were not significantly different for the two groups, however. The Co-chief investigator, Dr Denis Azzopardi, from Imperial College London, said: “The study builds on a 20-year body of research but gives, for the first time, irrefutable proof that cooling can be effective in reducing brain damage after birth asphyxia.”

Previous studies have shown the technique to be highly effective in treating animals. NICE is considering whether to make cooling therapy a recommended NHS treatment, based on the results of the study.

Professor Thoresen began investigating the technique after discovering that it was routinely used by a Swedish obstetrician in the 1950s. She was also persuaded by anecdotal evidence that cooling the body down could help to protect neurons from long-term damage. “In Norway, we have very cold water and you hear these stories of a five-year-old falling through the ice and being picked up half an hour later without any serious adverse affects,” she said.

Carmel Bartley, Family Support Manager from the children’s charity Bliss, said: “This is very welcome research into an area which is known to save lives. Cooling of babies with birth asphyxia is an innovative technique already being used in some neonatal centres. This is a specialist treatment that we would like to see used more widely to ensure the very best outcomes for our most vulnerable babies.”


1 October, 2009

Children whose mothers work are 'less healthy'

What a colossal heap of steaming crap the report below is. They did NOT show that the kids are less healthy. All they showed is that the kids ate less fruit and veg -- and the benefit of fruit and veg is little more than an urban myth. Traditional Eskimos eat practically none but have LOW rates of cardiovascular disease etc. And THAT has been known for around a century!

But even forgetting Eskimos, the authors have certainly not demonstrated any harm from the pattern of food intake that they observed. What evidence is there to set a particular level of fruit and veg intake as being "enough"? Official propaganda about "5 serves" has no foundation in double blind studies that I have ever been able to find -- even though such studies should be relatively easy to do. We now know that official recommendations about how much alcohol one should drink were just guesswork, so I have got $100 for anyone who shows me that the "5 serves" recommendation is any different. Further, I don't like to kick a dead horse but the findings are based on self-reports -- which are notoriously unreliable.

The journal article is here. Its title is "Examining the relationship between maternal employment and health behaviours in 5-year-old British children". The leading author is Summer Sherburne Hawkins

The children of working mothers are less healthy than those who stay at home, according to an authoritative study by British researchers.

Almost two out of three mothers with children under five work in Britain with numbers expected to rise, but new research has shown this can affect children's health.

In a study which will cause renewed debate over who have to divide their time between caring for their offspring and going out to work, the researchers found children whose mothers worked were more likely to be driven to school, to watch more than two hours of TV a day, and have sweetened drinks between meals. Children of mothers who worked full time also ate less fruit and vegetables, the study suggests. [How awful!] Middle class families suffer the same problems as the findings remained similar even when household income was taken into account, the paper said.

Encouraging mothers to return to work has been a key Labour policy and Patricia Hewitt said in 2004 when she was Trade and Industry Secretary that mothers who do not return to work were 'a real problem'.

The research, on more than 12,000 British children aged five, was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. The research, from a team at the Institute of Child Health in London, found although children whose mothers worked full time ate less fruit and vegetables, the link disappeared when looking at mothers who worked part-time, the research showed. However, there was no difference between working mothers and non-working mothers on the level of exercise a child took or whether they mainly snacked on crisps and sweets between meals.

Research author, Professor Catherine Law, paediatric epidemiologist at the Institute of Child Health, said: "Our results do not imply that mothers should not work. "Rather, they highlight the need for policies and programmes to help support parents to create a healthy environment for their children."

The researchers noted that around 60 per cent of women with a child aged five or younger in the UK or USA are employed, adding in the study: "Time constraints may limit parents’ capacity to provide their children with healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. "Although we found that flexible work arrangements were not detrimental, they are unlikely to be important in helping parents support the development of positive health behaviours in their children."

They recommended nurseries and childminders should help bridge the gap, by helping ensure children got their recommended levels of fruit, vegetables and exercise: "Policies and regulations can create an environment that promotes healthy eating and physical activity. "Providing structured guidance could support parents by ensuring that the foods and physical activity offered at childcare would help their children to achieve dietary and physical activity recommendations."

A total of 30 per cent (4,030) of the mothers had not worked since the birth of their child but the rest were employed. They typically worked 21 hours per week and for 45 months. The mothers were questioned about the hours they worked and their children's diet, exercise and activity levels when the youngsters were five.

The findings showed that after factors such as mother's education, socioeconomic circumstances and ethnic origin were taken into account, children were 55 per cent more likely to be driven to school if their mother worked 21 hours or more a week. [That's bad?? Sounds safer to me] They were 33 per cent more likely to watch more than two hours of TV a day, than children whose mothers did not work at all.

Lucy Lloyd, director of communications for the Family and Parenting Institute, said the study does not say where the children are being cared for while the mothers are working, whether they are in formal childcare or being looked after by a relative. She added: "We should not use this study to blame working mothers, we do not want a stick to beat them with. It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions from this paper."

Jill Kirby, director for the Centre for Policy Studies said: "The overall picture seems to confirm earlier studies where mothers are more rushed and trying to deal with the demands of working life they are less likely to be able or motivated to ensure their children have a healthy diet and lifestyle. "The answer is not more government regulation but more choice for families to enable them to choose parental care over childcare where they want to and to relieve some of the pressure mothers are put under to place their children into formal care instead of looking after them at home themselves, especially in the early years."

Sue Palmer, an education consultant and writer, said she was not surprised about the new research. She said: "The simple common sense explanation is that the parent knows the child so they know the best way to persuade it to behave and teach good habits. If you don't know your little one that's not so easy. "If parents are close to those children in those first three years, they can set up default habits of eating, activity, play, bedtime routines, mealtime rituals which can help to counter the effects of consumer messages that children are often getting, very often more towards junk food. "If you can set up default habits when the child is very small through the close relationship, it seems there is a good chance those habits can continue. If they aren't set up early, it is more difficult to set up these habits."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Our Change4Life movement is already helping over 370,000 families eat well, move more and live longer by helping them to understand the harm that fat and added sugar can cause to children’s health, and offering them simple yet effective ways to make changes to their diet and increase their activity levels. “This is part of the Government's £372 million pound strategy to reduce childhood obesity."


Can loneliness heighten the risk of breast cancer?

It can if you are a mouse. Comparing human social life with mice put into a highly unnatural situation must be some pinnacle of absurdity

Lonely women could be at greater risk of breast cancer, researchers claim. Scientists have shown the stress and anxiety caused by ‘social isolation’ can speed up the growth of potentially deadly tumours. Although the findings are based on a study of mice, experts say they have implications for human health and could even pave the way for new types of cancer drugs.

Researchers at Chicago University made the discovery after carrying out experiments on animals that were genetically predisposed to develop breast cancer. The stress caused by living alone altered the behaviour of genes in their breast tissue and sped up the growth of tumours.

The idea that women who have stressful lives might be at higher risk of breast cancer dates back 100 years. However, there has been conflicting evidence from studies about whether stress triggers the disease.

Dr Suzanne Conzen, who led the latest study, said: ‘I doubted there would be a difference in the growth of the tumours in such a strong model of genetically inherited cancer simply based on chronic stress in their environments, so I was surprised to see a clear, measurable difference both in mammary gland tumour growth and interestingly in accompanying behaviour and stress hormone levels.’

Her team took two groups of identical mice and raised them in two environments. One lived in social groups, the others were kept in solitary confinement. Despite having exactly the same food and access to exercise, the isolated mice grew larger tumours.

The lonely mice were also more ‘nervy’, releasing more stress hormones when they were agitated. Stress did not just increase the activity of genes in the brains, but in tissue around their bodies.

The findings, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, could explain how their environment makes people more susceptible to other potentially dangerous diseases such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

The study also revealed key genetic changes involved in cancer growth, raising the prospect of new drugs to slow down tumours. ‘Given the increased knowledge of the human genome, we can begin to identify and analyse the specific alterations that take place in cancer-prone tissues of individuals living in at-risk environments,’ Dr Conzen said. ‘That will help us to better understand and implement cancer prevention strategies.’

Past studies have shown that social support and friendship can boost a woman’s chances of recovering from breast cancer, and that the lonely and depressed are more vulnerable to a host of serious diseases.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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