Monitoring food and health news

-- with particular attention to fads, fallacies and the "obesity" war

The original version of this blog is HERE. Dissecting Leftism is HERE (and mirrored here). The Blogroll. My Home Page. Email me (John Ray) here. Other mirror sites: Greenie Watch, Political Correctness Watch, Education Watch, Immigration Watch, Gun Watch, Socialized Medicine, Eye on Britain, Recipes, Tongue Tied and Australian Politics. For a list of backups viewable in China, see here. (Click "Refresh" on your browser if background colour is missing) See here or here for the archives of this site

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, 2010

British death rates at record low 'due to rise in statins use'

This is sheer unsubstantiated propaganda. Lifespans were steadily increasing long before statin use

Death rates in Britain have fallen to record lows, official figures have shown, amid claims the introduction of cholesterol-lowering statins is largely responsible for the fall.

Last year the number of people who died in England and Wales fell by 3.5 per cent to almost 492,000, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found.

The latest figures showed that over the past five years deaths resulting from heart disease and cerebrovascular diseases had fallen by a third.

The ONS said the “age-standardised mortality rates” had not been so low since 1952 when the population was smaller and relatively healthy. The infant mortality rate in 2009 was also at its lowest point, it found.

Experts said the introduction of statins, which combat cardiovascular diseases, had contributed to the dramatic fall in deaths.

The drugs are taken by millions of Britons to lower their cholesterol in order to cut their risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It is estimated that about five million people in Britain are on statins, which are credited with saving 7,000 lives a year.

They also said that it was also in part to the NHS’ determination to become a world leader in heart treatment. "We should be celebrating the wonderful news that the number of people dying from coronary heart disease is continuing to fall,” said Prof Peter Weissberg, the British Heart Foundation medical director.

"The decline is due to a whole host of reasons including a better public understanding of heart disease risk factors, important government policies aimed at improving lifestyles and more effective treatments.

According to the ONS, there were 6,573 deaths per million population for males and 4,628 deaths per million for females. Over the whole year 491,348 people died in England and Wales compared to 509,090 the previous year. Over the past 10 years the highest death rate among males was for circulatory diseases despite a fall of 42 per cent in the rate, to 2,078 deaths per million. The female death rate for circulatory disease also fell over the same period by 40 per cent to 1,312 deaths per million.

But the fall in age-standardised mortality rates for cancer was more gradual, with death rates 15 per cent lower for males and 13 per cent lower for females in 2009 than a decade earlier.

The leading cause of death for both sexes was ischaemic heart diseases, which accounted for about one in six male deaths and one in eight female deaths last year.

Lung cancer was the second leading cause of death for males, accounting for more than seven per cent of male deaths.

More than one in 10 females died from a stroke, which was the second highest cause of deaths.

"Since more people are surviving their heart attacks and living longer, the burden of heart disease is actually rising,” Prof Weissberg said. "We can't afford to take our eye of the ball because heart disease is still the UK's biggest killer. "We have a long road and a lot of hard work still ahead of us."


Legally enforced hysteria

The Baltimore City Health Department issued its first environmental citation for repeat violations of the city's trans fat ban. The Health Department issued Healthy Choice, a food facility in the 400 block of Lexington Street, a $100 fine on Thursday. "It was the second time they were found with a high trans fat level in their ingredients," said Health Department agent Juan Gutierrez.

Officials said that during inspections in July and this month, the facility was found to be using a margarine product with trans fat levels in excess of what the law allows.

The law banning food facilities from serving or selling non-prepackaged food items containing 0.5 grams or more of trans fats went into effect in September 2009.

"They originally had a margarine that was above 3 grams, actually, which is very high compared to the .5 that is allowed. Then when we came back and they had replaced it, they replaced it with one that was 2 grams, so it still was too high," Gutierrez said. The facility discarded the products in both instances, health officials said.

"I think they're doing it right. They're doing what they have to do," Healthy Choice owner Ki Jeong said. Jeong said he will abide by the decision but said the new margarine will cost him double what the original type costs.

Trans fats are artificial fats that are known to elevate bad cholesterol and cause heart disease, according to health officials. Studies have indicated that trans fats are responsible for as many as 30,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year.

The city said it has worked with bakeries to come up with alternatives to using trans fats.

"While we are pleased with the high rates of compliance we've seen since the ban took effect, we will continue to sanction businesses that repeatedly fail to comply," said Commissioner of Health Dr. Oxiris Barbot.

The Health Department said more than 100 Baltimore restaurants have received warnings since the ban went into effect. Agents said that if restaurants don't make changes after a citation is issue, the establishment could be shut down.


30 October, 2010

Cooked breakfast 'cuts fertility'

This is rubbish. The sample is tiny and unrepresentative for a start. And if the findings mean anything, they probably mean that working class men (who are generally unhealthier) are more likely to eat a traditional breakfast

Men who frequently indulge in a traditional English cooked breakfast could be reducing their chances of fathering children, according to new research.

A diet rich in saturated fats - found in foods like fried bacon, sausages, butter and cream - could cut the sperm count by almost half, found researchers at Harvard Medical School in the US.

Their study discovered that it did not matter if the man was fat or thin - such a diet had the same negative effect on sperm concentration.

Dr Jill Attaman and colleagues looked at 91 men seeking fertility treatment and asked them how often they ate certain foods, what types of oil they used in cooking and baking and the types of margarine they consumed.

Of the group, 21 men also had the levels of fatty acids in their sperm and semen measured.

Presenting the study's findings at the annual American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in Denver, she said: "We were able to demonstrate that in men who took in higher amounts of fats, such as saturated fat and monounsaturated fat, there was an association with decreased sperm concentration."

Overall, men with the highest saturated fat intake consumed 13 per cent of their daily calories as saturated fat, while those in the lowest third took in eight per cent.

The study concluded: "Men in the highest third of saturated fat intake had 41 per cent fewer sperm than those in the lowest third. "Likewise men in the highest third of monounsaturated fat intake had 46 per cent fewer sperm than those in the lowest third."

She said diet could have a greater impact on ability to father a child among men with a lower base level of sperm concentration.

Conversely, the study found that a higher intake of polyunsaturated fats - namely omega-6 and omega-3, commonly found in oily fish - was associated with better sperm movement and shape, both indicators of fertility.

While the exact reasons for the apparent link between diet and sperm quality remain unclear, she said that "dietary modifications could be beneficial for global health as well as reproductive health".

Dr Tony Rutherford, chair of the British Fertility Society, said the study was small but the conclusion was that people should eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Meanwhile, a British expert in men's health said that it was poorly appreciated that a man was as often the cause of a couple's infertility as a woman.

Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in andrology at Sheffield University, who will be speaking at the UK Fertility Show at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in London next week, said: "It is often misunderstood by couples trying to conceive that in nearly half of all such instances, it is problems with the man’s sperm that is either directly or partially responsible for their lack of success."


Ignorant Food Snobbery: Judge Orders McDonald’s to Pay Obese Employee $17,500

A Brazilian court ruled this week that McDonald’s must pay a former franchise manager $17,500 because he gained 65 pounds (30 kilograms) while working there for a dozen years. The 32-year-old man said he felt forced to sample the food each day to ensure quality standards remained high . . .The man also said the company offered free lunches to employees, adding to his caloric intake while on the job.

This is sheer idiocy. McDonald’s does not make people fat. I lost 10 pounds while working at McDonalds for a summer. McDonald’s food is not any fattier than the food served by many other restaurants. The foie gras served in fancy restaurants is much fattier than hamburgers. Quiche Lorraine is also fattier than a hamburger.

Food snobs may not like proletarian food like hamburgers, but then, I am indifferent to foie gras, which tastes a lot like canned dog food to me. Should I be able to keep food snobs from eating foie gras, just because it’s very fatty? (Ironically enough, my wife is French, so I’ve been exposed to foie gras a lot.)

There is now a big movement afoot to tax fast food in the pursuit of mythical public-health benefits. The government is also moving to restrict the salt content of food, which could lead to increased obesity rates and more heart attacks and make it harder to market low-fat foods.


29 October, 2010

Plastic water bottles won’t hurt you

Canada has announced it will ban the chemical bisphenol A -- known as BPA -- which is used to make plastic water and baby bottles.

The head of the Canadian environmental group Environmental Defence is thrilled: "Kudos to the federal government. ... We look forward to seeing BPA legally designated as 'toxic' as soon as possible."

But the evidence doesn't actually show that BPA is toxic. Europe's equivalent of the FDA concluded: "(T)he data currently available do not provide convincing evidence of neurobehavioral toxicity."

Richard Sharpe of the University of Edinburgh explained: "Some early animal studies produced results suggesting the possibility of adverse effects relevant to human health, but much larger, carefully designed studies in several laboratories have failed to confirm these initial studies."

The initial studies injected BPA into animals, rather than giving it by mouth, which is how we humans are exposed. Since BPA degrades in the gut when we consume it, very little gets to our cells.

Yet many people are sure BPA causes not only breast and prostate cancer but also obesity, diabetes, attention deficit hyperactivity, autism, liver disease, ovarian disease, disease of the uterus, low sperm count and heart disease. When a chemical is said to cause so many disorders, that's a sure sign of unscientific hysteria. But a documentary called "Tapped" says it's true. It quotes experts claiming "BPA may be one of the most potent toxic chemicals known to man."

Nonsense. Not only is there no good evidence that BPA locked into plastic can hurt people, it actually saves lives by stopping botulism. "Since BPA became commonplace in the lining of canned goods, food-borne illness from canned foods -- including botulism -- has virtually disappeared," says the American Council of Science and Health.

You never hear the good news about BPA in the mainstream media. Fear-mongering gets better ratings.

"Tapped" also asserts that other dangerous chemicals poison bottled water. In the film, toxicologist Dr. Stephen King says that we should be "horrified" at all those chemicals. But when we called King, he sent us a study saying "testing" reveals a surprising array of chemical contaminants in every bottled water brand analyzed -- at levels no different from those routinely found in tap water.

"Tapped" claims cancer rates are up because of these chemicals, but that's another myth. Cancer incidence rates are flat. They would have declined if not for new screening methods. Life spans are up, too.

Not every mom has fallen for the BPA scare. "Truth or Scare," the blog of a woman who calls herself "Junk Science Mom," recently called out one of the people behind the anti-BPA campaign: scaremonger/hustler David Fenton:

"If you believe what you see and hear in the media, those fighting an unnecessary battle against bisphenol-A (BPA) are altruistic individuals concerned about health and safety. ... But there is an ugly truth behind the scenes that you will never hear about in the media. Greed, propaganda, political agendas, profits, lies and scams. And it all can be tied to one person and one powerful PR firm. David Fenton and Fenton Communications. ...

"He is the puppet master, and we moms are his puppets. He orchestrates the scare, and we, being fearful for our children, unknowingly carry out his plan for him. He comes out a winner, and we are duped into wasting our time, money and energy fighting a battle that never needed to be fought."

Good for you, Junk Science Mom, whoever you are. "Truth or Scare" is a wonderful addition to the debate.

But if BPA isn't toxic, why will Canada ban it? And why have Connecticut and Minnesota already done so? Because scientifically illiterate legislators are quick to panic. When the media sensationalize, legislators respond. Two FDA scientists -- Ronald J. Lorentzen and David G. Hattan --[AZ1] note the bias toward sensationalism: "The disquieting public invocations made by some ... about the perils of exposure (to BPA) ... galvanize the public debate."

When even notoriously risk-averse FDA scientists speak out against the BPA panic, the scaremongers must have gone absurdly far.


Supreme Court case may wipe out vaccine industry

Back when Congress knew how to pass good legislation, in this case in the mid-1980s, it took most cases involving vaccine liability out of the normal court system and put them in a special vaccine court where science and medicine would rule instead of the whims of scientifically and medically ignorant juries.

That’s because vaccine companies were going the way of the woolly mammoth, in part because it’s just not a very profitable business and in great part because they were awash in over $3.5 billion of lawsuits claiming little more than the post hoc fallacy of “Before the person was vaccinated her or she was fine and since the vaccination he or she became sick.” Seriously.

Even as it dramatically cut spurious claims, it helped persons who really had suffered from adverse reactions both by cutting litigation costs and by taking them outside of “roulette wheel” justice wherein a case might net a reward of millions while a virtually identical one would be rejected entirely.

But as I write at, this system itself is now endangered by a Supreme Court case in which the plaintiffs are claiming that having lost their case in Vaccine Court that rather than appeal within that system they should be able to try the case in state or federal court. And Congress did allow for some such exceptions.

But no, not this one. It’s very clear from the history of what led up to the statute that Congress did not want cases such as these to bypass the system. Why? In part as one court found, it could to a great extent destroy that very system. I provide other arguments. If we lose this system many, many children will not get their vaccines until something else is instituted. And many will die.


28 October, 2010

ObamaTV on NBC: ‘Law & Order: Soda Police’

The Law & Order franchise has always made a fetish of being “ripped from the headlines.” Law & Order: SVU—the popular, sexed-up spin-off of the now-retired original—seems particularly intent on cramming up-to-date political commentary into every hour-long episode.

Remember Terri Schiavo? If you don’t, you can refresh your memory with SVU Episode 7×08. Want to hear your favorite detectives debate the standards of Army recruiters? That’s 11×08. And don’t miss 11×10, in which a man kills “anchor babies” of immigrants and claims he did it because he was brainwashed by a right-wing television personality. (Bill O’Reilly was not a fan of that episode.) And then there’s the October 13th episode.

Here’s the “plot”: a beautiful blonde woman named Lindsay is found dead. The detectives investigate. It turns out that Lindsay had a lot of enemies. See, Lindsay was a PR representative for a big soda company—and, of course, soda kills children.

“Lindsay Elding and all the soda companies know their products are poison,” one angry (but sympathetic) lobbyist tells the detectives. When one detective protests gently that lack-of-exercise—not soda—is to blame for childhood obesity, the lobbyist is indignant. “Ask Davy Gamm’s mother,” he says. “She’ll tell you what soda did to her son.”

Cue sentimental scene between female detective and dead child’s mother:

Davy’s Mother: Davy was 12 when he took his life. I tried to make him stop with the cola. But he was addicted to it.

Det. Benson [slowly, with furrowed brow]: Soda made him kill himself.

Davy’s Mother: I collected all the research. High-fructose corn syrup can make you obese. And obesity can make you depressed.

Det. Benson: And depression can lead to suicide.

So let me get this straight: you’re saying soda killed your son because soda can make people fat, and being fat can make people depressed, and depression can make people kill themselves? Guess I never thought about it like that before! Color me convinced!

And there’s more. Davy Gamm’s mother—who’s a nurse—reveals that she filed a wrongful death suit against the soda company for her son’s suicide. When Detective Benson says she’s “not sure” that the company can be blamed for Davy’s death, Davy’s mother shakes her head sadly and replies:

“That’s what the jury said. But we would’ve won our suit if that woman hadn’t built the ColaNow athletic center for the community.”

That woman, of course, is Lindsay. Not only is she guilty of killing children with soda, she’s also guilty of building gyms for underprivileged communities in her corporation’s name. Good thing she’s dead!

In true Law & Order form, the episode has a (predictable) twist: it seems that Lindsay wasn’t killed for her soda-peddling after all, but over a personal grudge.

Yet the real message of the episode is clear: soda is the new tobacco. It’s the monster in the closet; it’s coming for your children; and it’s to blame for whatever’s wrong with your life.

So keep your kids off soda! Or, actually, don’t. Just keep them off Law & Order: SVU—not just because it’s political propaganda masquerading as crime-drama, but because really, when you get down to it, it is a very, very bad show.


Strange taste finding may be useful

The ability to taste isn't limited to the mouth, and researchers say that discovery might one day lead to better treatments for such diseases as asthma.

It turns out that receptors for bitter tastes also are found in the smooth muscles of the lungs and airways. These muscles relax when they're exposed to bitter tastes, according to a report by researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore in Nature Medicine.

That surprised Dr. Stephen B. Liggett, a lung expert who noted that bitter tastes often are associated with poisonous plants, causing people to avoid them.

Liggett said he expected the bitter-taste receptors in the lungs to produce a "fight or flight" reaction, causing chest tightness and coughing so people would leave the toxic environment.

Instead, when scientists tested some non-toxic, bitter compounds on mice and on human airways in the laboratory, the airways relaxed and opened more widely.

The compounds "all opened the airway more profoundly than any known drug that we have for treatment of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," Liggett said.

Liggett said that eating bitter-tasting foods or compounds would not help in the treatment of asthma. To get a sufficient dose, he said, sufferers would need to use aerosolized compounds, which can be inhaled.


27 October, 2010

Forget Obesity, Fight Liberalism

With the year winding down, many Americans are now receiving their health insurance renewal packets for 2011 and are reporting, with eye-rolling disgust, higher premiums. Employees and retirees on Medicare and Medicare-supplement plans are seeing, as well, in this age of ObamaCare, greater emphasis on lifestyle and behavioral issues such as obesity, with some information going so far as to define it as a disease.

Nanny-staters frequently gripe that the food choices of the obese and unhealthy drive up the cost of insurance for everyone. New York, of course, has all but banned trans-fats, the Institute of Medicine recommended earlier this year that the FDA limit salt content (a proposal, apparently, still under consideration), and, of course, McDonald’s is facing increased fire from consumer advocacy groups for its Happy Meals targeted at children. Back in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is suggesting that food stamps not be payable for Coca-Cola and other sugary, fattening sodas.

The latter example may not define Nanny-statism but it reflects a prevailing mindset, and the din of voices calling for individual responsibility in food choices is growing louder (if only the Left invoked individual responsibility in, say, sentencing guidelines and school choice). Yes, the war on obesity targets not just the makers of Twinkies, but the non-exercising, mass-consuming sofa-citizens, as well. Lest they miss anyone, Michelle Obama is taking it to the school children, and some, mostly elderly, Americans know their BMI (body mass index) numbers as well as their Social Security numbers.

So what is wrong with encouraging individual responsibility? Nothing, but the problem with government “persuasion” is what price are we willing to pay in freedom? Nothing written here is meant to encourage or condone obesity, only to submit that a market-oriented system based on competition and choice best promotes a culture of individual responsibility, with the warning that those who make dangerous choices will ultimately bear the consequences, thus lowering the price of health care.

Yes, premiums will likely always reflect the costs of someone’s ill behavior, but only an enormous toll in human contentment and liberty will ensure uniform diet, exercise and lifestyle regimens.

To which an extreme advocate of the Nanny-state would reply, “So, what?” Who cares if a few over-consuming obese divan-denizens are shamed and ostracized into sacrificing their Cokes and Twinkies for the sake of numbing down America’s vibrant lifestyle to that of a somber, socialistic, shadow-of-its-former self, European sissy-state?

The goal of ObamaCare, and the future legislation upon which the current act is mere prelude, is equality of outcome and homogenization of behavior. They cannot rightly criticize capitalism for its inefficiency, so they condemn its so called excesses.

The prevailing wisdom is that we consume too much. They are always grousing that America consumes more than its share of the world’s resources. Our greed is bad for the environment, thus the need for cap and trade legislation.

It is not the notion of America the bountiful that animates liberals, but disgust with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Little Debbie and others who add fun, flavor and color to our lives. The risk of an inch or two to our waistlines is not worth ceding our liberty to killjoy bureaucrats at any level of government. If we are serious about cutting fat, forget middle America, why don’t we just start in Washington?


Six-monthly jab 'will help beat osteoporosis'

A cheap six-monthly jab for the crippling bone disorder osteoporosis is to be made available on the NHS. Post-menopausal women at increased risk of fractures should be treated with Prolia if other treatments are unsuitable, says the drug rationing body Nice.

Trials of the drug in women show it dramatically cuts the number of spine and hip fractures and even helps bones to regrow.

The treatment, which works out at £1 a day, could provide a new option for one in four women who cannot tolerate existing medication because it causes serious stomach side effects. An estimated 170,000 women a year are unable to take bisphosphonates and risk their bones deteriorating further without treatment.

The new drug, which is also known as denosumab, has been approved by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

Prolia works in a different way to existing medicines as it stimulates patients’ immune systems to block a protein called rank ligand, which regulates the activity of cells that break down bone. The drug reduces the activity of these cells throughout the body, increasing bone density and strength.

Amgen and GlaxoSmithKline, the companies who are co-marketing denosumab, welcomed the NICE decision.

John Kearney, General Manager at Amgen said: ‘Amgen researchers were the first to discover a fundamental biochemical pathway that controls bone remodelling almost fifteen years ago and we are thrilled that this discovery has led today to patients having access on the NHS to a convenient treatment that really has been shown to be highly effective in preventing fractures caused by osteoporosis.’


26 October, 2010

Aspirin a day could halve risk of death from prostate cancer

Note that these results concern only a very narrow group of men: Those who already have cancer but in whom the cancer has not spread. Generalizing beyond that group would be incautious

Men with prostate cancer can halve their chances of dying by taking aspirin every day, researchers have found. They discovered that patients with a tumour which had not spread beyond the prostate gland, and who were also being treated with surgery or radiation, saw a drastic improvement in their life expectancy by taking the drug.

Aspirin was found to have a positive effect on all patients – but those with more aggressive forms of the disease appeared to get the most benefit. A ten-year study of 5,000 men with the early stages of disease found that aspirin reduced the risk of dying from 10 per cent to 4 per cent.

Previous trials have suggested prostate cancer may be prevented by daily doses of aspirin but there have been mixed results.

The findings come a week after a study found that healthy people can cut their risk of bowel cancer by taking 75mg of aspirin a day for five years. And earlier this year U.S. researchers said the painkiller could help women with breast cancer.

The latest findings on prostate cancer will be released next week to the American Society for Radiation Oncology in San Diego.

Of the 5,275 men taking part in the U.S. study, 1,982 were taking anticoagulant drugs such as aspirin and warfarin – usually for other conditions such as heart disease.

As a result there were varying doses of anticoagulants being taken. The anti-cancer effect was found with all such drugs but was ‘most prominent’ with aspirin.

The risk of prostate cancer spreading to the bones was also cut, along with the risk of dying from the disease.

Study leader Dr Kevin Choe, of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, said: ‘If the major effect of anticoagulants is preventing metastasis (the ability of cancer cells to spread to other parts of the body) this may be why previous clinical trials with anticoagulant medications had mixed results, since most patients in these trials already had metastasis.’

He added that while findings from this study are promising, further studies are necessary before the addition of aspirin to prostate cancer therapy becomes standard treatment.

The results coincide with a study led by Cardiff University which found a combination of hormone drugs and radiotherapy can reduce the death rate among prostate cancer patients by 43 per cent. British experts say ‘doubling up’ on drugs and radiotherapy, which is increasingly being used in the NHS, should become the new standard treatment.


New treatment for perinatal accident gives good results

It sounds a great improvement on previous practice

Research led by Australians has shown how a radical therapy could halve the number of babies who die from a birthing complication caused by inhaling their own waste.

Meconium aspiration syndrome, caused when a baby's first bowel movement occurs wrongly before birth, affects one in 2000 births in Australia and is more common in developing nations.

It can cause fatal airway blockages and inflammation, said Associate Professor Peter Dargaville, from the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania, who headed a multinational trial of a new lung cleaning technique for newborns. "It involves putting a large amount of cleansing fluid into the lungs … the amount we use in a term baby is about 50 to 60ml," Dr Dargaville said yesterday.

"Many neonatologists, and people involved in neonatal intensive care, gasp when they see the video of the procedure because normally we are trying to keep the lungs dry. "It is a radical departure from what we would normally consider to be appropriate care."

The fluid, a dilution of a medicated liquid otherwise used to fortify lungs in premature babies, is syringed into the baby's airway. It is sucked out after some chest massage, collecting the waste as well, in a process that takes about a minute.

Dr Dargaville said this "lavage" treatment differed from the conventional approach in which the baby was monitored and supported in the intensive-care unit as it cleared the waste itself.

The trial involved 66 severely ill babies who were "on the knife edge" and treated across 20 neonatal intensive-care wards in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan. Mortality among the lavage-treated babies was 10 per cent, compared to 23 per cent among those babies who received the conventional treatment.

None of the lavage-treated babies needed a heart and lung bypass intervention, unlike some who failed to respond to conventional treatment.

Dr Dargaville said the trial, while small in number, showed how MAS babies who were critically ill on life support "can tolerate a lung-cleansing procedure, using a large volume of cleansing fluid". "It is not something that can be undertaken lightly … it can't really be done by people who haven't been trained in the technique," he said. "[But] for the most serious cases of MAS I do think this has something to offer."

The syndrome is thought to account for about 10 per cent of all newborns who need intensive care in China, where up to four in 10 babies born with it die.


25 October, 2010

More nonsense from the Marmot

Or is he onto something this time? He says some sensible things below. I have reddened the most sensible bit. I like the last sentence too

A hormone naturally created in the body could be the elixir of life, scientists believe. According to a study of thousands of over-50s, the substance known as DHEAS makes you live longer – and is more plentiful the wealthier you are. Research suggests that in future tablets, patches or injections could boost the DHEAS level.

In the meantime, leading a more fulfilling life could have a similar effect, says Professor Sir Michael Marmot, who led the research.

Higher levels are associated with both greater amounts of exercise and an active life with lots of pastimes, interests, friends and family – all of which tend to come with wealth.

The hormone is secreted by the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys. Production is greatest in childhood and teenage years, before gradually declining through adult life. By the age of 80 it could be just 10 per cent of the peak teen level.

Having more DHEAS in the body is linked to a better memory and ability to cope with mental tasks, particularly in men.

The research also found higher levels of a second hormone, the insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I), in those who are better off. The two hormones help control reactions to stress and regulate various body processes including digestion, the immune system, mood and energy usage.

Researchers said it is too soon to say whether the higher level of DHEAS is a result of being rich. However, Sir Michael believes the benefits of wealth, which include a better diet, greater control over life, less stress, more travel and involvement in the wider world through hobbies, sport or other interests will encourage the body to create DHEAS.

He stressed that improving the level of the hormone is not a simple matter of popping a pill.
‘In my view, it is a much bigger issue and involves the package of choices that wealth opens up,’ he added. The study was carried out by University College London for the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

Hormone levels were measured by taking blood samples from more than 10,000 people aged over 50, who have been monitored since 2004.

Sir Michael said: ‘We found a clear social gradient in several health indicators with less wealthy people having higher levels of obesity, lower levels of physical exercise, higher levels of smoking, lower fruit and vegetable intake and being more likely to suffer from hypertension and diabetes.

‘A striking new finding is that the hormone DHEAS which predicts life expectancy also follows a social gradient – less wealth, lower levels of DHEAS. ‘I believe this is the first time this has been identified. ‘My own interpretation is that it is a counter to stress. Having higher levels of DHEAS protects you.’

The same study confirmed previous research showing a correlation between poverty and increased levels of obesity, larger waist size and other measures of ill-health.


Celery good for memory -- in mice

A new study conducted by US researchers has claimed that celery -- staple ingredient of soups -- helps in preserving memory.

Celery has always been on the dieters list as it very low in calories. The study found that a chemical found in high concentrations in celery, capsicum peppers and peppermint could prevent loss of memory with the rise in the age.

"It shows you food doesn't have to be exotic or expensive to have exciting health properties. You are better off spending your money on a range of healthy fruit and vegetables rather than concentrating on this week's trendy superfood", explained, Carina Norris, independent nutritionist and author based in Fife.

The research team from the University of Illinois analyzed the effect posed by luteolin--a substance found in celery--on the brain. The research was performed using young mice in the age bracket of three to six months and older ones aged two years.

The study found that older mice given a diet rich in luteolin showed great results in memory tests compared to mice which were not fed on foods rich in luteolin.

Luteolin assists in escaping the chances of inflammation of the brain related to age. Age-related brain inflammation has been discovered to bear wide association with memory loss.


Four killed by celery

A food processing plant in Texas has been shut down after contaminated celery was linked to the deaths of four people. The victims all died from listeriosis food poisoning after eating chopped celery from the factory in San Antonio.

The rare bacterial infection is particularly dangerous for newborn babies, pregnant women and the elderly. It can be caused by not washing or cooking raw vegetables properly. No details were given about the victims.

Texas health chiefs traced the bacteria to chopped celery from Sangar Produce and Processing. They ordered the plant to stop operations immediately and recall all its products shipped since January.

‘At this point, the order prohibits the plant from reopening without our approval,’ health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams told CNN. ‘We will work with the company about setting up some guidelines before it can reopen,’ she added.

Six out of ten cases investigated by health officials over the past eight months were linked to the tainted celery. Four of those people died. Sangar strongly refutes the Texas Department of State Health Services accusations.


24 October, 2010

Lies, damned lies and medical science

Much of what medical researchers conclude in their studies is misleading, exaggerated, or flat-out wrong. So why are doctors—to a striking extent—still drawing upon misinformation in their everyday practice? Dr. John Ioannidis has spent his career challenging his peers by exposing their bad science

By David H. Freedman

In 2001, rumors were circulating in Greek hospitals that surgery residents, eager to rack up scalpel time, were falsely diagnosing hapless Albanian immigrants with appendicitis. At the University of Ioannina medical school’s teaching hospital, a newly minted doctor named Athina Tatsioni was discussing the rumors with colleagues when a professor who had overheard asked her if she’d like to try to prove whether they were true—he seemed to be almost daring her. She accepted the challenge and, with the professor’s and other colleagues’ help, eventually produced a formal study showing that, for whatever reason, the appendices removed from patients with Albanian names in six Greek hospitals were more than three times as likely to be perfectly healthy as those removed from patients with Greek names. “It was hard to find a journal willing to publish it, but we did,” recalls Tatsioni. “I also discovered that I really liked research.” Good thing, because the study had actually been a sort of audition. The professor, it turned out, had been putting together a team of exceptionally brash and curious young clinicians and Ph.D.s to join him in tackling an unusual and controversial agenda.

Last spring, I sat in on one of the team’s weekly meetings on the medical school’s campus, which is plunked crazily across a series of sharp hills. The building in which we met, like most at the school, had the look of a barracks and was festooned with political graffiti. But the group convened in a spacious conference room that would have been at home at a Silicon Valley start-up. Sprawled around a large table were Tatsioni and eight other youngish Greek researchers and physicians who, in contrast to the pasty younger staff frequently seen in U.S. hospitals, looked like the casually glamorous cast of a television medical drama. The professor, a dapper and soft-spoken man named John Ioannidis, loosely presided.

One of the researchers, a biostatistician named Georgia Salanti, fired up a laptop and projector and started to take the group through a study she and a few colleagues were completing that asked this question: were drug companies manipulating published research to make their drugs look good? Salanti ticked off data that seemed to indicate they were, but the other team members almost immediately started interrupting. One noted that Salanti’s study didn’t address the fact that drug-company research wasn’t measuring critically important “hard” outcomes for patients, such as survival versus death, and instead tended to measure “softer” outcomes, such as self-reported symptoms (“my chest doesn’t hurt as much today”). Another pointed out that Salanti’s study ignored the fact that when drug-company data seemed to show patients’ health improving, the data often failed to show that the drug was responsible, or that the improvement was more than marginal.

Salanti remained poised, as if the grilling were par for the course, and gamely acknowledged that the suggestions were all good—but a single study can’t prove everything, she said. Just as I was getting the sense that the data in drug studies were endlessly malleable, Ioannidis, who had mostly been listening, delivered what felt like a coup de grâce: wasn’t it possible, he asked, that drug companies were carefully selecting the topics of their studies—for example, comparing their new drugs against those already known to be inferior to others on the market—so that they were ahead of the game even before the data juggling began? “Maybe sometimes it’s the questions that are biased, not the answers,” he said, flashing a friendly smile. Everyone nodded. Though the results of drug studies often make newspaper headlines, you have to wonder whether they prove anything at all. Indeed, given the breadth of the potential problems raised at the meeting, can any medical-research studies be trusted?

That question has been central to Ioannidis’s career. He’s what’s known as a meta-researcher, and he’s become one of the world’s foremost experts on the credibility of medical research. He and his team have shown, again and again, and in many different ways, that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies—conclusions that doctors keep in mind when they prescribe antibiotics or blood-pressure medication, or when they advise us to consume more fiber or less meat, or when they recommend surgery for heart disease or back pain—is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong.

He charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed. His work has been widely accepted by the medical community; it has been published in the field’s top journals, where it is heavily cited; and he is a big draw at conferences. Given this exposure, and the fact that his work broadly targets everyone else’s work in medicine, as well as everything that physicians do and all the health advice we get, Ioannidis may be one of the most influential scientists alive. Yet for all his influence, he worries that the field of medical research is so pervasively flawed, and so riddled with conflicts of interest, that it might be chronically resistant to change—or even to publicly admitting that there’s a problem.

The city of Ioannina is a big college town a short drive from the ruins of a 20,000-seat amphitheater and a Zeusian sanctuary built at the site of the Dodona oracle. The oracle was said to have issued pronouncements to priests through the rustling of a sacred oak tree. Today, a different oak tree at the site provides visitors with a chance to try their own hands at extracting a prophecy. “I take all the researchers who visit me here, and almost every single one of them asks the tree the same question,” Ioannidis tells me, as we contemplate the tree the day after the team’s meeting. “‘Will my research grant be approved?’” He chuckles, but Ioannidis (pronounced yo-NEE-dees) tends to laugh not so much in mirth as to soften the sting of his attack. And sure enough, he goes on to suggest that an obsession with winning funding has gone a long way toward weakening the reliability of medical research.

He first stumbled on the sorts of problems plaguing the field, he explains, as a young physician-researcher in the early 1990s at Harvard. At the time, he was interested in diagnosing rare diseases, for which a lack of case data can leave doctors with little to go on other than intuition and rules of thumb. But he noticed that doctors seemed to proceed in much the same manner even when it came to cancer, heart disease, and other common ailments. Where were the hard data that would back up their treatment decisions? There was plenty of published research, but much of it was remarkably unscientific, based largely on observations of a small number of cases.

A new “evidence-based medicine” movement was just starting to gather force, and Ioannidis decided to throw himself into it, working first with prominent researchers at Tufts University and then taking positions at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health. He was unusually well armed: he had been a math prodigy of near-celebrity status in high school in Greece, and had followed his parents, who were both physician-researchers, into medicine. Now he’d have a chance to combine math and medicine by applying rigorous statistical analysis to what seemed a surprisingly sloppy field. “I assumed that everything we physicians did was basically right, but now I was going to help verify it,” he says. “All we’d have to do was systematically review the evidence, trust what it told us, and then everything would be perfect.”

It didn’t turn out that way. In poring over medical journals, he was struck by how many findings of all types were refuted by later findings. Of course, medical-science “never minds” are hardly secret. And they sometimes make headlines, as when in recent years large studies or growing consensuses of researchers concluded that mammograms, colonoscopies, and PSA tests are far less useful cancer-detection tools than we had been told; or when widely prescribed antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil were revealed to be no more effective than a placebo for most cases of depression; or when we learned that staying out of the sun entirely can actually increase cancer risks; or when we were told that the advice to drink lots of water during intense exercise was potentially fatal; or when, last April, we were informed that taking fish oil, exercising, and doing puzzles doesn’t really help fend off Alzheimer’s disease, as long claimed.

Peer-reviewed studies have come to opposite conclusions on whether using cell phones can cause brain cancer, whether sleeping more than eight hours a night is healthful or dangerous, whether taking aspirin every day is more likely to save your life or cut it short, and whether routine angioplasty works better than pills to unclog heart arteries.

But beyond the headlines, Ioannidis was shocked at the range and reach of the reversals he was seeing in everyday medical research. “Randomized controlled trials,” which compare how one group responds to a treatment against how an identical group fares without the treatment, had long been considered nearly unshakable evidence, but they, too, ended up being wrong some of the time.

“I realized even our gold-standard research had a lot of problems,” he says. Baffled, he started looking for the specific ways in which studies were going wrong. And before long he discovered that the range of errors being committed was astonishing: from what questions researchers posed, to how they set up the studies, to which patients they recruited for the studies, to which measurements they took, to how they analyzed the data, to how they presented their results, to how particular studies came to be published in medical journals.

This array suggested a bigger, underlying dysfunction, and Ioannidis thought he knew what it was. “The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.”

Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results—and, lo and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”

Perhaps only a minority of researchers were succumbing to this bias, but their distorted findings were having an outsize effect on published research. To get funding and tenured positions, and often merely to stay afloat, researchers have to get their work published in well-regarded journals, where rejection rates can climb above 90 percent. Not surprisingly, the studies that tend to make the grade are those with eye-catching findings. But while coming up with eye-catching theories is relatively easy, getting reality to bear them out is another matter. The great majority collapse under the weight of contradictory data when studied rigorously.

Imagine, though, that five different research teams test an interesting theory that’s making the rounds, and four of the groups correctly prove the idea false, while the one less cautious group incorrectly “proves” it true through some combination of error, fluke, and clever selection of data. Guess whose findings your doctor ends up reading about in the journal, and you end up hearing about on the evening news? Researchers can sometimes win attention by refuting a prominent finding, which can help to at least raise doubts about results, but in general it is far more rewarding to add a new insight or exciting-sounding twist to existing research than to retest its basic premises—after all, simply re-proving someone else’s results is unlikely to get you published, and attempting to undermine the work of respected colleagues can have ugly professional repercussions.

In the late 1990s, Ioannidis set up a base at the University of Ioannina. He pulled together his team, which remains largely intact today, and started chipping away at the problem in a series of papers that pointed out specific ways certain studies were getting misleading results. Other meta-researchers were also starting to spotlight disturbingly high rates of error in the medical literature. But Ioannidis wanted to get the big picture across, and to do so with solid data, clear reasoning, and good statistical analysis. The project dragged on, until finally he retreated to the tiny island of Sikinos in the Aegean Sea, where he drew inspiration from the relatively primitive surroundings and the intellectual traditions they recalled. “A pervasive theme of ancient Greek literature is that you need to pursue the truth, no matter what the truth might be,” he says. In 2005, he unleashed two papers that challenged the foundations of medical research.

He chose to publish one paper, fittingly, in the online journal PLoS Medicine, which is committed to running any methodologically sound article without regard to how “interesting” the results may be. In the paper, Ioannidis laid out a detailed mathematical proof that, assuming modest levels of researcher bias, typically imperfect research techniques, and the well-known tendency to focus on exciting rather than highly plausible theories, researchers will come up with wrong findings most of the time. Simply put, if you’re attracted to ideas that have a good chance of being wrong, and if you’re motivated to prove them right, and if you have a little wiggle room in how you assemble the evidence, you’ll probably succeed in proving wrong theories right.

His model predicted, in different fields of medical research, rates of wrongness roughly corresponding to the observed rates at which findings were later convincingly refuted: 80 percent of non-randomized studies (by far the most common type) turn out to be wrong, as do 25 percent of supposedly gold-standard randomized trials, and as much as 10 percent of the platinum-standard large randomized trials. The article spelled out his belief that researchers were frequently manipulating data analyses, chasing career-advancing findings rather than good science, and even using the peer-review process—in which journals ask researchers to help decide which studies to publish—to suppress opposing views. “You can question some of the details of John’s calculations, but it’s hard to argue that the essential ideas aren’t absolutely correct,” says Doug Altman, an Oxford University researcher who directs the Centre for Statistics in Medicine.

Still, Ioannidis anticipated that the community might shrug off his findings: sure, a lot of dubious research makes it into journals, but we researchers and physicians know to ignore it and focus on the good stuff, so what’s the big deal? The other paper headed off that claim. He zoomed in on 49 of the most highly regarded research findings in medicine over the previous 13 years, as judged by the science community’s two standard measures: the papers had appeared in the journals most widely cited in research articles, and the 49 articles themselves were the most widely cited articles in these journals. These were articles that helped lead to the widespread popularity of treatments such as the use of hormone-replacement therapy for menopausal women, vitamin E to reduce the risk of heart disease, coronary stents to ward off heart attacks, and daily low-dose aspirin to control blood pressure and prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Ioannidis was putting his contentions to the test not against run-of-the-mill research, or even merely well-accepted research, but against the absolute tip of the research pyramid. Of the 49 articles, 45 claimed to have uncovered effective interventions. Thirty-four of these claims had been retested, and 14 of these, or 41 percent, had been convincingly shown to be wrong or significantly exaggerated. If between a third and a half of the most acclaimed research in medicine was proving untrustworthy, the scope and impact of the problem were undeniable. That article was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.....

When a five-year study of 10,000 people finds that those who take more vitamin X are less likely to get cancer Y, you’d think you have pretty good reason to take more vitamin X, and physicians routinely pass these recommendations on to patients. But these studies often sharply conflict with one another. Studies have gone back and forth on the cancer-preventing powers of vitamins A, D, and E; on the heart-health benefits of eating fat and carbs; and even on the question of whether being overweight is more likely to extend or shorten your life. How should we choose among these dueling, high-profile nutritional findings? Ioannidis suggests a simple approach: ignore them all.

More here

I have put up this article alone today as it is such important information: Well worth reading the whole thing. I only note the obviously misleading publications in this blog. We see in this article that even the most solid-looking findings are often crap -- JR

23 October, 2010

Now POTATOES are incorrect!

The food Fascism just grows like a cancer

Potato growers are fighting back against efforts to ban or limit potatoes in federal child nutrition programs, arguing the tuber is loaded with potassium and vitamin C and shouldn't be considered junk food. One Washington man is so exasperated by the proposals that he's in the midst of a 60-day, all potato diet to demonstrate that potatoes are nutritious.

"We're just really concerned that this is a misconception to the public that potatoes aren't healthy," said Chris Voigt, head of the Washington Potato Commission. "The potato isn't the scourge of the earth. It's nutrition."

Healthy food advocates said they're not anti-potato, but they think children need a greater variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains to fight a tripling of child obesity rates in the past 30 years.

"The potato is the most common vegetable," said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association. "My impression is that the goal is to increase the amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. I don't believe anyone is specifically attacking the potato."

With that in mind, the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, recommended that the U.S. Department of Agriculture stop participants of the federal Women, Infants and Children program, known as WIC, from buying potatoes with federal dollars. The institute also called for the USDA-backed school lunch program to limit use of potatoes.

Under an interim rule, the USDA agreed to bar WIC participants from buying potatoes with their federal dollars. Potatoes are the only vegetable not allowed. Next year, the agency will roll out a final rule on the WIC program, which last year served 9.3 million children and pregnant and breast-feeding women considered at risk for malnutrition.

The WIC program is a supplemental food program, and the determination was made that consumption of white potatoes was already adequate, said Christine Stencel, spokeswoman for the Institute of Medicine. "The recommendation was made to encourage consumption of other fruits and vegetables," she said.

Jean Daniel, spokeswoman for USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, said the WIC program was updated for the first time in 30 years after a study showed more consumption of leafy greens and other veggies was needed.

The USDA is expected to release changes to the federal school lunch program by the end of the year. The program subsidizes lunch and breakfast for nearly 32 million needy kids in most public schools and many private ones, and those schools must follow guidelines on what they serve.

Whatever the USDA decides, potatoes won't disappear from school lunches, although they might become less common, Daniel said,
"It's an opportunity to make healthy eating choices as varied as possible, and it's a learning lesson for children about how to put a plate together that's healthy and balanced," she said.

The Institute of Medicine made its school lunch recommendation late last year after determining that standards for the federal lunch program don't match up with the government's own dietary guidelines, calling for lots of fresh fruits and veggies and more whole grains.

This hardly marks the first time that potato growers have felt targeted. Low-carb diets, such as Atkins and South Beach, prompted the U.S. Potato Board to allocate $4.4 million for an 18-month public relations campaign in 2004 to stress the nutrition factor in potatoes.

Growers note that potatoes have more potassium than bananas, and that one serving provides roughly 45 percent of the daily recommended value for vitamin C. They also offer some fiber and other minerals and vitamins.


Please Pass the Salt

On many American dinner tables sits a salt shaker. And in many American meals sits a fine amount of salt. Whether it is food from a restaurant, processed food or canned, salt is an integral ingredient.

The government has taken note of this phenomenon. And what used to be warnings by medical professionals saying Americans are consuming too much salt, are evolving into something more.

The federal government has noticed the weight gained by the American people and feels entitled to fix it. And with the passage of ObamaCare, the government is well on its way to fulfilling its mission. “The government has no business interfering with the diets of Americans,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “It also has no authority to do so.”

The idea of the government restricting America’s salt intake might sound funny and a bit ridiculous, but it is a very plausible and serious proposal. In fact, what states like New York have already made into laws regarding its nutritional guidelines, can be found in ObamaCare as well.

New York passed legislation for restaurant chains forcing many of them to post calorie information on menu boards for consumers, and even ruled that some cities have to have nutritional information posted directly on the menus.

A similar mandate was passed in ObamaCare: a federal-menu labeling law. This new law will affect restaurants with 20 or more locations by forcing them to put nutritional information for menu items on the menus themselves, menu boards and even drive-thrus. This law also requires vending machine owners to comply by the same rules.

New York has also banned the use of all artificial trans fat in restaurant foods. Of all the 50 states New York has continuously been the lab rat of sorts for new nutrition-based regulations. Why is this important?

Thomas Frieden, now the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), used to be the head of New York City’s Health Department.

If you haven’t picked up on it already, this Administration is full of surprises and hidden agendas — though this one may not remain hidden for much longer.

Obama knows the odds of Republicans taking over the House and possibly the Senate are pretty good. How then will his radical new diet restrictions come to pass? Easily.

With the use of Executive Orders and regulations, Obama doesn’t need the approval of Congress. He just needs other departments of the federal government, like the CDC, to take his plan as their own.

In an October 2010 press release by the CDC, an announcement was made that five states and communities across the country will receive a total of $1.9 million for sodium reduction efforts.

It looks like Frieden isn’t wasting any time promoting how good America will be with less salt intake. The recipients of his grant: California, Shasta County and Los Angeles; Kansas, Shawnee County; and New York, New York City and Broome and Schenectady counties.

Furthermore, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report in April encouraging the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to set standards for salt added to prepared meals and processed foods. Though the FDA has not come out with a plan on how to attack salt intake in America, it is being considered. This should be of great concern to every American.

And to one particular American it is. Charles, who refers to himself as the Chief Salt Patriot, launched a grassroots effort to keep the government out of America’s eating habits. “When the government started talking about regulating salt, that was it. That was the last straw for me,” says Charles of Salt Patriots. “I thought this was a good way for me to take action.”

Charles has even designed buttons and salt shakers sold on his website to endorse his cause. “I’m scared of these laws,” he says. “They are numerous and ridiculous, but they’re real. The government is there to protect the Constitution, that’s all. Not to control our diets.”

ALG’s Wilson agrees and adds, “The Nanny State approach this government is willing to take shows how far they are willing to go to regulate every aspect of individual Americans’ lives — from cradle to grave. We need to keep the government out of the kitchen.”

If not stopped, this fight could land itself at your dinner table. One of the most basic and readily available ingredients would be portioned by the government. Possibly similar to how England withheld salt to American rebels during the Revolutionary War in an effort to make them weak.

But not to worry, the federal government promises to have America’s best interests in mind. In the meantime, hold onto your salt shaker and be careful who you pass it to.


22 October, 2010

Is cancer a modern disease?

This is utter rubbish. People in ancient times died much younger and most cancers emerge relatively late in life. The findings below are exactly what you would expect from that. The author recognizes that problem but her rebuttal is weak. It depends on her small sample of old-age mummies being representative. Yet it was basically only the top stratum of Egyptian society that was mummified and upper class people are much healthier than lower class people. And ANYONE who survived to old age in that society would have to have been unusually healthy

Cancer is often regarded in our society as a natural, if grim, part of the human ­condition — a dark shadow that hangs over our health. This is hardly surprising, given that one in three people develop cancer at some stage in their lives, with the disease ultimately responsible for a quarter of all deaths in Britain.

Yet it is possible that cancer is not nearly as natural as we might think. Through research with fellow scientist Professor Michael Zimmerman, I have uncovered powerful ­evidence to suggest that cancer could largely be a modern phenomenon linked to our diet, ­environment and lifestyles.

Over the past 30 years, we have ­conducted an extensive study into ancient mummified bodies, skeletal remains and classical literature from ancient societies. If cancer had always been ­prevalent in humans, we would have expected to find a large number of cases of it.

But what we discovered was striking. In all these studies, involving tens of thousands of ­individuals, we found hardly any. Among the hundreds of mummies we examined, only three definite ­incidences of cancer were detected: one from Chile, one from 14th-century Italy and one from ancient Egypt.

And out of the thousands of bones studied from European Neanderthal ­society, only one — a 35,000-year-old skull bone from Stettin, Germany — had traces of a ­malignant tumour.

In ancient Egyptian documents, too, there is no clear mention of the disease, though the ­Egyptians had relatively sophisticated medical knowledge. The near complete absence of any ­evidence of cancer in the ancient world suggests that the ­disease could be ­‘man-enhanced’, meaning its increased ­prevalence is the result of our ­industrialised and highly-stressed ­modern societies.

Since Professor Zimmerman and I published our report, last week, several objections to our theory have been loudly voiced by other scientists.

One key argument is that cancer is essentially a disease of older people, and, therefore, as life expectancy was so much lower in the ancient world, far fewer people would have contracted it. According to this thesis, the vast majority would have died of something else before they had the chance of getting cancer. But this does not stand up.

The average rates of life expectancy in the ancient world might have been far lower than today, but, even so, some ­individuals lived to an old age, as we know from skeletal records and ­literature. Yet our studies reveal that none of them seem to have had cancer.

Significantly, we found ample evidence of other age-related conditions, such as osteoarthritis, which leads to bone degeneration, and ­atherosclerosis, which causes the ­arteries to harden. If such diseases obviously existed in the ancient world, then why is the ­evidence missing for cancer?

Others have questioned the methods we used to test the mummies, ­claiming that modern techniques are not sophisticated enough to draw conclusions about the incidence of cancers.

But, once more, this does not stand up to scrutiny. My colleague Professor Zimmerman conducted experiments using cutting-edge scanners to see how well cancer tumours are preserved in mummified tissue. His tests found the ­process of mummification actually ­preserves such tumours very well. So, contrary to the claims of our detractors, traces of cancer should undoubtedly have survived from the ancient world — if they existed.

That is all the more true because the absence of medical surgery at the time would have meant that any individual tumour would have remained within the body rather than being cut out.

I am, therefore, sticking with our belief that, over the great sweeping narrative of history, cancer must have been extremely rare in the ancient world compared with today.

We suggest this huge difference may have been down to the changes in our lives that modern society has brought, from pollution to diet. Essentially, ­cancer has to be a man-made disease.

Our research supports the views of medical campaigners and experts who have long argued that mounting ­incidence of cancer is caused by factors present only in the modern world.

Diet is a classic example. Today, we consume large quantities of processed foods (which have often been produced with huge amounts of cancer-causing pesticides or chemicals) and heavily-salted instant meals, as well as fatty takeaways and sugary drinks.

In contrast, the ancient Egyptians had a far healthier diet, which — for most of the population — consisted of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. Occasionally, on feast days, they may have had meat.

More here

Cinnamon is good for diabetics

A bit surprising but much of the pharmacopeia is of herbal origin so it is not very surprising. Abstract below

Glycated haemoglobin and blood pressure-lowering effect of cinnamon in multi-ethnic Type 2 diabetic patients in the UK: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial

Aims: To determine the blood glucose lowering effect of cinnamon on HbA1c, blood pressure and lipid profiles in people with type 2 diabetes.

Methods: 58 type 2 diabetic patients (25 males and 33 females), aged 54.9 ± 9.8, treated only with hypoglycemic agents and with an HbA1c more than 7% were randomly assigned to receive either 2g of cinnamon or placebo daily for 12 weeks.

Results: After intervention, the mean HbA1c was significantly decreased (P<0.005) in the cinnamon group (8.22% to 7.86%) compared with placebo group (8.55% to 8.68%). Mean systolic and diastolic blood pressures (SBP and DBP) were also significantly reduced (P<0.001) after 12 weeks in the cinnamon group (SBP: 132.6 to 129.2 mmHg and DBP: 85.2 to 80.2 mmHg) compared with the placebo group (SBP: 134.5 to 134.9 mmHg and DBP: 86.8 to 86.1 mmHg). A significant reduction in fasting plasma glucose (FPG), waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) was observed at week 12 compared to baseline in the cinnamon group, however, the changes were not significant when compared to placebo group. There were no significant differences in serum lipid profiles of total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL and LDL cholesterols neither between nor within the groups.

Conclusions: Intake of 2g of cinnamon for 12 weeks significantly reduces the HbA1c, SBP and DBP among poorly controlled type 2 diabetes patients. Cinnamon supplementation could be considered as an additional dietary supplement option to regulate blood glucose and blood pressure levels along with conventional medications to treat type 2 diabetes mellitus.


21 October, 2010

Taking fish oils in pregnancy 'does not boost brain power of baby'

Taking fish oil during pregnancy does not reduce the chance of post-natal depression or boost brain development in babies, research has shown.

Many women take supplements including fish oil after there were suggestions it could improve their child's co-ordination, brainpower and vocabulary. Some studies had suggested omega 3 could also reduce the chances of post-natal depression.

However a new study conducted by the University of Adelaide has found no differences among women taken the capsules and those not.

Professor Maria Makrides said a study of 2400 pregnant women in five Australian maternity hospitals between 2005 and 2009 said rates of post-natal depression were the same and that there were no differences in the cognitive development of babies at 18-months-old either.

The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In the trial half the women were given fish oil capsules in the last three months of pregnancy and the other half were given vegetable oil capsules.

Prof Makrides, who is Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Adelaide and Deputy Director of the Women's and Children's Health Research Institute, said: "These results show that recommendations to increase omega 3 fatty acids in pregnancy are being made without sound evidence.

"Despite the paucity of hard evidence, women are being recommended to increase their intake of fish oil fats in pregnancy and the nutritional supplement industry is successfully marketing products with fish oil, claiming they optimise brain function in both mother and infant.

"Before omega 3 supplementation in pregnancy becomes widespread, it is important to establish not only any benefits, but also any risks to mother or child."


Midnight munchies make you fat

Since mice are nocturnal, the process outlined below could well not work the same way in humans

Persistent exposure to light at night may lead to weight gain, even without changing physical activity or eating more food, according to new research in mice.

Researchers found that mice exposed to a relatively dim light at night over eight weeks had a body mass gain that was about 50 percent more than other mice that lived in a standard light-dark cycle.

"Although there were no differences in activity levels or daily consumption of food, the mice that lived with light at night were getting fatter than the others," said Laura Fonken, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in neuroscience at Ohio State University.

The study appears this week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If the mice are not less active or eating more, what's causing the bigger weight gain? Results suggest that mice living with light at night eat at times they normally wouldn't. In one study, mice exposed to light at night – but that had food availability restricted to normal eating times – gained no more weight than did mice in a normal light-dark cycle.

"Something about light at night was making the mice in our study want to eat at the wrong times to properly metabolize their food," said Randy Nelson, co-author of the study and professor of neuroscience and psychology at Ohio State.

If these results are confirmed in humans, it would suggest that late-night eating might be a particular risk factor for obesity, Nelson said.

In one study, mice were housed in one of three conditions: 24 hours of constant light, a standard light-dark cycle (16 hours of light at 150 lux, 8 hours of dark), or 16 hours of daylight and 8 hours of dim light (about 5 lux of light). The researchers measured how much food the mice ate each day. They also measured how much they moved around their cages each day through an infrared beam crossing system. Body mass was calculated each week.

Results showed that, compared to mice in the standard light-dark cycle, those in dim light at night showed significantly higher increases in body mass, beginning in the first week of the study and continuing throughout.

By the end of the experiment, light-at-night mice had gained about 12 grams of body mass, compared to 8 grams for those in the standard light-dark cycle. (Mice in constant bright light also gained more than those in the standard light-dark cycle, but Nelson said the dim light-at-night mice were better comparisons to the light exposure that humans generally get.)

The dim light-at-night mice also showed higher levels of epididymal fat, and impaired glucose tolerance – a marker of pre-diabetes.

Although the dim light-at-night mice didn't eat more than others, they did change when they ate, results showed. These mice are nocturnal, so they would normally eat substantially more food at night. However, the dim light-at-night mice ate 55 percent of their food during the daylight hours, compared to only 36 percent in the mice living in a standard light-dark cycle.

Since the timing of eating seemed significant, the researchers did a second study, similar to the first, with one important difference: instead of having food freely available at all times, food availability was restricted to either the times when mice would normally be active or when they would normally be at rest.

In this experiment, mice exposed to the dim light at night did not have a greater gain in body mass than did the others when their food was restricted to times when they normally would be active.

"When we restricted their food intake to times when they would normally eat, we didn't see the weight gain," Fonken said. "This further adds to the evidence that the timing of eating is critical to weight gain."

The findings showed that levels of corticosterone, a stress hormone, were not significantly different in dim light-at-night mice compared to those living in a standard light-dark cycle.

That's important because corticosterone has been linked to changes in metabolism, Fonken said. This shows there doesn't have to be changes in corticosterone levels to have changes in metabolism in the mice.

So how does light at night lead to changes in metabolism? The researchers believe the light could disrupt levels of the hormone melatonin, which is involved in metabolism. In addition, it may disrupt the expression of clock genes, which help control when animals feed and when they are active.

Overall, the findings show another possible reason for the obesity epidemic in Western countries.

"Light at night is an environmental factor that may be contributing to the obesity epidemic in ways that people don't expect," Nelson said. "Societal obesity is correlated with a number of factors including the extent of light exposure at night."

For example, researchers have identified prolonged computer use and television viewing as obesity risk factors, but have focused on how they are associated with a lack of physical activity.

"It may be that people who use the computer and watch the TV a lot at night may be eating at the wrong times, disrupting their metabolism," Nelson said. "Clearly, maintaining body weight requires keeping caloric intake low and physical activity high, but this environmental factor may explain why some people who maintain good energy balance still gain weight."


20 October, 2010

The probiotic myth

They claim to boost your immune system and help digestion. But probiotic yoghurt drinks and supplements don’t live up to their promises, according to an EU watchdog. It concluded there is no scientific proof that products such as Actimel and Yakult have any health benefits at all.

The European Food Safety Authority has now banned companies from making such assertions – and they will face heavy fines if they break the rules.

The watchdog dismissed more than 800 claims regarding the increasingly popular probiotic drinks, yoghurts and supplements, ruling that suggestions the products could strengthen the body’s natural defences and reduce gut problems were either too general or could not be proven.

The supposed health benefits of probiotic goods enable manufacturers to sell them at much higher prices than normal yoghurts and milkshakes. For example, a packet of seven 65ml bottles of Yakult costs up to £2.50 – double the price of the same quantity of chocolate milk.

Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Authority watchdog banned a TV advert for Actimel, manufactured by Danone, which suggested it stopped children falling ill. It ruled that the promotion was ‘misleading’ and its claim that the drink was ‘scientifically proven to help support your kids’ defences’ was not supported.

Danone has subsequently dropped most of its claims that Activia yoghurts and Actimel drinks boost the immune system.

But other probiotic firms claim the European watchdog has been unnecessarily rigorous. Last night, Yakult issued a statement saying the rejected claim was just one aspect of its research. A spokesman added: ‘The claim was supported by well-designed, double-blind, placebo-controlled human studies.

‘In response to the EFSA opinion, the company wishes to discuss the evaluation process and this outcome with EFSA. ‘With the benefit of further guidance, the company anticipates a positive EFSA opinion in due course.’


Bacteria turned into 'silver bullet' to combat flu

Bacteria normally found in yogurt have been turned into "silver bullets" that can destroy viruses and could provide a cure for the common cold. Scientists have discovered that they can attach tiny studs of silver onto the surface of otherwise harmless bacteria, giving them the ability to destroy viruses.

They have tested the silver-impregnated bacteria against norovirus, which causes winter vomiting outbreaks, and found that they leaves the virus unable to cause infections. The researchers now believe the same technique could help to combat other viruses, including influenza and those responsible for causing the common cold.

Professor Willy Verstraete, a microbiologist from the University of Ghent, Belgium, who unveiled the findings at a meeting of the Society for Applied Microbiology in London last week, said the bacteria could be incorporated into a nasal spray, water filters and hand washes to prevent viruses from being spread.

He said: "We are using silver nanoparticles, which are extremely small but give a large amount of surface area as they can clump around the virus, increasing the inhibiting effect. "There are concerns about using such small particles of silver in the human body and what harm it might cause to human health, so we have attached the silver nanoparticles to the surface of a bacterium. It means the silver particles remain small, but they are not free to roam around the body."

The bacteria used, Lactobacillus fermentum, is normally considered to be a "friendly" bacteria that is often found in yogurts and probiotic drinks that can help to aid digestion. The researchers found that when grown in a solution of silver ions, the bacteria excrete tiny particles of silver, 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, which stud the outside of the cells.

Although the bacteria eventually die as a result of the silver, they remain intact and the dead cells carrying the silver particles can then be added to solutions to create nasal sprays or handwashes.

The researchers also found they could be fixed onto other surfaces such as water filters or chopping boards, which can harbour viruses.

Norovirus typically causes 90 per cent of the gastroenteritis cases around the world and is normally spread through poor hygiene or in contaminated food. Last winter it affected an estimated one million people in England and Wales and forced many hospital wards to be closed.

Influenza is a respiratory infection that normally spreads through the air when infected individuals sneeze and it is breathed in by those around them. Although there are some drugs to treat flu viruses, they are not commonly prescribed. Nasal sprays carrying silver studded bacteria might provide an alternative, according to Professor Verstraete.

Silver nanoparticles are already used in antimicrobial fabrics for sports wear clothing as they can help to reduce the growth of bacteria that can lead to the clothes smelling. But there have been widespread concerns about applying such tiny particles in ways that could lead to them getting inside the human body.

Silver is already known to cause damage to the liver, kidneys and lungs in large enough amounts and there are fears that the small size of the particles could allow it to pass into other parts of the body and cause harm.

Professor Verstraete, however, claims that by attaching the silver to the outside of the Lactobacillus fermentum bacteria, the silver is fixed onto a larger object that cannot pass into other parts of the body. He is now working with drug giants Janssen, and Johnson and Johnson to further develop the technology to tackle other viruses.

He also hopes to identify new types of bacteria that can pass through the gut while carrying the silver particles, allowing them to tackle infections there.

Dr Michael Dempsey, a biologist at Manchester Metropolitan University who has studied the affects of silver nanoparticles on microorganisms, said: "A nanoparticle contains around 15,000 atoms of silver according to some recent research from China on how they work. "This means a high concentration of silver atoms come into contact with the micro-organism, punch a hole in its wall and destroy it."


19 October, 2010

The cure with a sting: Eczema cream meant to soothe 'makes skin WORSE'

Yet more ill-researched "wisdom" crumbles. Even theories that are "obviously" true must be tested

For years people with eczema have been advised by doctors to use a cheap emollient cream to soothe their irritated skin. But researchers have now discovered that aqueous cream BP can make the condition worse. Tests show a detergent contained in the cream thins the skin and actually causes irritation.

Although aqueous cream has been prescribed for millions of sufferers from childhood, it is the first time research has been carried out on an ingredient called sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS).

Previously it was thought the ‘stinging’ sensation affecting half of users was due to a preservative or antiseptic in the cream.

In a study by Bath University researchers, aqueous cream reduced the thickness of healthy skin in volunteers by more than 10 per cent in just four weeks and water loss was increased.

Professor Richard Guy, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at Bath, said the remedy was likely to aggravate the dry, itchy rashes that plague eczema sufferers. He said: ‘The skin has a protective barrier layer of lipids, around one eighth the thickness of a sheet of paper, that stops chemicals from getting into the body and keeps moisture in.

‘SLS is a detergent used to mix oils into water-based moisturisation creams to give a nice creamy texture. It’s also used widely in shower gels and other cosmetics. 'Our study has found that rubbing aqueous cream containing SLS into the skin thins this protective barrier, making the skin more susceptible to irritation by chemicals. So to use this cream on eczemous skin, which is already thin and vulnerable to irritation, is likely to make the condition even worse.’

The study was published in the British Journal of Dermatology.


Hard exercise damages your heart

A very thorough article below by Kurt G. Harris MD, a radiologist with a very skeptical approach to accepted dietary wisdom.

He is also derisive about the benefit of statins: "For primary prevention, there is no demonstrated mortality benefit to taking statins".

He also seems to be one of the few health writers who is aware that correlation is not causation. What a guy!

I first saw this study by Brueckmann and Mohlenkamp last spring and I'm a bit surprised that the nutrition and fitness blogosphere hasn't noticed it. I think you may have to be an academically-oriented cardiologist or radiologist to really understand the significance of the findings, as the MRI imaging science is a bit esoteric. Also, it's published in Radiology, which is not exactly Gina Kolata territory.

I'll do my best to convince you of just how disturbing this study should be to those who believe that "aerobic" exercise will make you immortal.....

Mainstream thinking still maintains that lots of aerobic exercise is good for cardiovascular health - to the point where everyone uses the word "cardio" as a synonym for long sessions of aerobic effort. Like the diet-heart and lipid hypotheses, this idea is actually only about 40 years old. In the first half of the 20th century, it would have been thought as absurd as the idea that butter clogs your arteries.

So let's say you want to see just how protective "cardio" is against the number one killer of Americans -coronary heart disease. Instead of just looking for atherosclerosis, though, we want "the thing itself" of actual myocardial damage. Who knows, maybe runners get more plaque but have fewer plaque ruptures or a less thrombogenic blood profile?

So in the Breuckmann study, they recruited 102 active marathon runners. To be a marathon runner (and perhaps to maximize their power to show how healthy "cardio" is) required at least 5 marathons in the past 3 years. Many had run dozens or more in their lifetime. Anyone with a known history of heart disease or diabetes was excluded. The average age was 57 with age 50-72. The median number of marathons was 20. Weekly mileage was 35 (55km). Mean work was 4700 METs per week.

There were 102 totally asymptomatic age-matched controls, also with no history of diabetes, who had no significant history of vigorous exercise.

All subjects had cardiac MRI with LGE imaging. Those with LGE abnormalities were called back to have perfusion imaging as well to help tell if they had evidence for ischemia.

What do you think they found? After all, these were a bunch of completely asymptomatic runners. Conventional wisdom will assure you that only eating copious fiber and making turds like a gorilla could make you healthier than being a serious runner.

Would you believe 12% of asymptomatic marathon runners had evidence of myocardial damage on LGE?

Would you believe that among the sedentary controls only 4% had abnormal LGE?

I am obliged to point out that by the conventional arbitrary criteria used in biomedical publishing, the difference was "not statistically significant". To meet the standard definition, there would have to be a 95% chance the difference is real. Instead, the significance level was 8% by McNemar's test, so there is only a 92% probability that the difference is not due to chance. That's a relief.

Among runners with LGE, there were two patterns of abnormality. In the first pattern, found in 5, there was evidence on perfusion imaging and an anatomic pattern that confirmed these were typical ischemic infarcts. That is, they are evidence of heart attacks due to insufficient blood supply in the distribution of a particular diseased coronary artery. The kind of heart attacks we are all familiar with that kill 500,000 Americans a year. Two of the controls had these classic appearing infarcts.

Runners 5 classic heart attacks
Sedentary 2 classic heart attacks

The second pattern of abnormality, seen in 7 runners and 2 of the sedentary, was non-classic LGE. These areas of dead tissue were found in the middle or outer layers of the heart muscle, rather than the subendocardial layer. They also tended to be more patchy in disrtibution. This non-classical pattern can indicate scarring or fibrosis from non-ischemic injury to the heart muscle, including myocarditis. However, despite lack of evidence for ischemia on perfusion MRI, this pattern can also occur to due coronary microembolization, where a coronary artery is not narrow enough to cause ischemia, yet small bits of plaque break off or tiny blood clots form and plug the arterioles deep in the muscle - causing infarction and permanent scarring in an "atypical" pattern.

The authors speculate that this atypical infarction could be due to exaggerated shear stress related to marathon running and disturbance of prothrombotic and fibrinolytic systems contributing to microthrombotic emboli.

I think that is a reasonable speculation.

Runners 7 non-classic heart attacks
Sedentary 2 non-classic heart attacks

So whether we are looking at classic heart attacks or non-classic, the ratio is about 2.5 or 3 to 1 in favor of being relatively sedentary.

But, you might say, how do we know this LGE is significant? First, there was evidence of ischemia in most of the classic cases even if you don't buy my statement LGE by itself is definitive evidence of a heart attack.

Second, in only 21 months of followup, 1 of 90 runners without LGE had a significant coronary event and 3 of 17 runners with LGE had a significant event. Significant events included two cases of collapse and EKG abnormalities after a race. None died, but all were proved to have severe coronary disease by conventional angiography and were stented or had bypass surgery. This event-free survival was significant by log-rank at the .0001 level.

Third, the median CAC (coronary artery calcium score) in the runners with LGE was 192, and in the runners with no LGE it was 26. This is a big difference and shows that coronary atherosclerosis is tracking the LGE evidence of heart attacks. So it's probably not just thrombogenicity or arrythmias on top of an invariant level of coronary disease.

Now I'll be good and put on my Karl Popper hat for just a second. Maybe the runners all took up running a few years ago and had bad CAD to begin with? Maybe they had not yet run enough marathons to reverse their disease? From another good paper by the same group on the same subjects:

1) The more marathons run, the higher the likelihood of heart disease. The number of marathons run was an independent and significant predictor of the likelihood of myocardial damage.

The runners had about the same prevalence of non-zero coronary calcium compared to age matched controls randomly assigned from a survey population. This was so despite the Framingham risk score being lower for the runners and there being more than 5 times as many smokers among the controls.

2) Compared to age-matched controls, the runners had 40% higher HDL -c (mean of 74 mg/dl) and 18% lower LDL (121) Again, these more favorable lipid risk factors did not show a benefit in calcium scores, which correlate well with atherosclerosis (not heart attack, but coronary heart disease). Statin deficiency, I guess. How many torpedoes before the Bismarck of the Lipid Hypothesis finally sinks?

3) Compared to age and risk factor matched controls (a second set of controls with similar rates of smoking and other risk factors), 36% of runners had a calcium score or CAC above 100, versus 21% of age and risk factor matched controls. (High CAC means more coronary atherosclerosis) So if the "risk factors" like lipids and BMI and such really are helping you, running seems to be doing something to undo the effect.

There are many good references quoted by Brueckmann and Mohlenkamp. Among them is This paper by Kwong and Chan from Circulation. They looked at the presence of LGE as a predictor of major cardiac events (heart attack) and the ultimate relevant end point for us all - death.

They said: "LGE demonstrated the strongest unadjusted associations with MCE and cardiac mortality (hazard ratios of 8.29 and 10.9, respectively; both P 0.0001). LGE remained the strongest predictor selected in the best overall models for MCE and cardiac mortality."

A hazard ratio of 11 for future cardiac mortality is very, very very, high. 1100% more likely to die is gold standard hazard ratio, of the same magnitude as smoking and lung cancer. This makes it hard to doubt the significance of having LGE and would not be seen if there were benign explanations for it.

This makes sense. How could there be a better predictor of whether you will have a heart attack than evidence that you have already had a clinically silent one?

Brueckmann and Mohlenkamp are German, but get points for an English level of understatement: "...It seems safe to state that marathon runners most likely did not have a lower rate of LGE than did the healthy control subjects, who did not regularly exercise."

Do you think that might be why this paper was in Radiology instead of JAMA or NEJM? Is that why there was no press conference before the paper came out? Do you think maybe Kolata or Jane Brody might have told you about this study in the New York Times if the numbers had been reversed? It's time for some Kuhnian iconoclasm. Let's take the hammer to some "normal science".

I think that atherosclerosis is not caused by lack of sustained high-level aerobic ("cardio") exercise. Just like I don't think lack of "cardio" is the cause of the obesity epidemic. I think premature atherosclerois is caused by diet. Our susceptibility to a bad diet is contributed to by genetics.

I think that not only does sustained "cardio" not protect you from atherosclerosis, I think it is quite likely that through repetitive shear stress with endothelial damage and promotion of an inflammatory state, that it promotes atherosclerosis.

Further, I think that "cardio" can precipitate the thromboembolic and acute inflammatory events like plaque rupture - acute heart attacks, even if it does not directly contribute to atherosclerosis, which I think it does.

Could "cardio" promote atherosclerosis and myocardial damage by being confounded by diet? That is, could the wheat, carbohydrate and linoleic acid found in low fat "healthy" diets be more prevalent in marathon runners by virtue of their greater caloric intake of this noxious garbage?

That's a possibility. I think it may apply to cyclists, most of whom seem to eat horribly and who seem to be prone to osteoporosis.

Even if these findings are all confounded by a noxious athletic diet, I still find no grounds at all to believe that "cardio" protects your heart or makes you live longer.

I think a modicum of repetitive physical activity can improve your mood. I like to a run a 5 k every now and then. It feels good and cross-country seems good for your coordination with all the varied terrain. A little cross-country and some sprinting sure seems to make me more functional. I am not under the delusion that it will improve my overall health or my longevity, though.

Same goes for eating vegetables, fiber, antioxidants, and most supplements. No magic foods.

The good kind of exercise, resistance training, makes you more functional and stronger. That is the only sensible definition of fitness if we follow the hippocratic oath with our selves: Primum Non Nocere

I think if you eat the SAD that adding a little exercise may mitigate some damage in a compensatory fashion by improving your glucoregulatory function and sucking up some of that excess glucose. I don't eat the SAD, though.

I vote we keep the terminology. We should keep calling marathons, centuries on the bicycle and hours on those ridiculous stairmasters and treadmills "cardio" to remind us which organ we are likely to be putting at risk.

Running a marathon is looking about as smart as boxing or playing football. So maybe you should stick to crossfit and weightlifting for your exercise. Or TV watching.


18 October, 2010

Exercise just makes you eat more

So the weight loss from doing exercise is small. Abstract from Am J Clin Nutr. below

Nonprescribed physical activity energy expenditure is maintained with structured exercise and implicates a compensatory increase in energy intake

By James E Turner et al.


Background: Exercise interventions elicit only modest weight loss, which might reflect a compensatory reduction in nonprescribed physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE).

Objective: The objective was to investigate whether there is a reduction in nonprescribed PAEE as a result of participation in a 6-mo structured exercise intervention in middle-aged men.

Design: Sedentary male participants [age: 54 6 5 y; body mass index (in kg/m2): 28 6 3] were randomly assigned to a 6-mo progressive exercise (EX) or control (CON) group. Energy expenditure during structured exercise (prescribed PAEE) and nonprescribed PAEE were determined with the use of synchronized accelerometry and heart rate before the intervention, during the intervention (2, 9, and 18 wk), and within a 2-wk period of detraining after the intervention.

Results: Structured prescribed exercise increased total PAEE and had no detrimental effect on nonprescribed PAEE. Indeed, there was a trend for greater nonprescribed PAEE in the EX group (P = 0.09). Weight loss in the EX group (21.8 6 2.2 kg compared with +0.2 6 2.2 kg in the CON group, P , 0.02) reflected only ’40% of the 300–373 kcal/kg body mass potential energy deficit from prescribed exercise. Serum leptin concentration decreased by 24% in the EX group (compared with 3% in the CON group, P , 0.03), and we estimate that this was accompanied by a compensatory increase in energy intake of ’100 kcal/d.

Conclusions: The adoption of regular structured exercise in previously sedentary, middle-aged, and overweight men does not result in a negative compensatory reduction in nonprescribed physical activity. The less-than-predicted weight loss is likely to reflect a compensatory increase in energy intake in response to a perceived state of relative energy insufficiency.


Vitamin A pill 'could save the sight of millions as they get older'

A drug based on vitamin A could prevent millions from going blind as they get older, doctors believe. The treatment was able to stop the most common cause of blindness in old age during trials.

Researchers behind the drug, fenretinide, found it halted the advance of age-related macular degeneration, for which there is currently no cure. They targeted the most prevalent form of the condition, known as ‘dry’ AMD, which is caused by the deterioration and death of cells in the macula – the part of the retina used to see straight ahead.

The disease robs sufferers of their sight by creating a blackspot in the centre of their vision. It can make it impossible to carry out everyday tasks such as reading, driving and watching television. While the less common ‘wet’ form can be treated, nothing can be done to help the bulk of patients.

The U.S. research studied fenretinide, which is derived from vitamin A, the vitamin found in carrots, and which was originally designed to tackle arthritis. Almost 250 men and women with dry AMD took a fenretinide pill a day or a placebo.

In the highest dose, the drug halted visual deterioration after a year. This suggests that while it was unable to do anything to stop cells that were already damaged from dying, it protected healthy cells. Although the research is still preliminary, it offers promise of a treatment for the disease.

It affects millions across the world and 300,000 Britons. The number of UK sufferers could more than treble to one million within 25 years as the population ages.

Dr Jason Slakter, of New York University School of Medicine, said: ‘There are currently no effective treatments for dry AMD and the need for finding one is grave. ‘Our study wasn’t designed to give a final answer. ‘It was designed to see if there was a biological effect and if the drug was working in the way we’d expect and to find out if it was well tolerated by patents. ‘I think we answered all of these points favourably. The bottom line is that I am excited about doing more studies.’

Further, larger trials are planned for the end of next year. If the drug lives up to its initial promise, it could be in widespread use for dry AMD by 2015. The treatment works because in normal circumstances the eye needs vitamin A to help it see. The retina naturally uses the vitamin and is helped to do so by a compound called retinol binding protein, or RBP.

However in some patients, the vitamin can produce poisons that kill the delicate cells, leading to loss of vision. Fenretinide acts as a decoy, attaching itself to the RBP and stopping vitamin A from causing harm, the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s annual conference heard.

Wet AMD, in which tiny blood vessels bleed into the retina, is less common, but progresses more rapidly, with central vision being lost within months of diagnosis.

Caught early enough, wet AMD can be stopped in its tracks by a technique called photodynamic therapy, which uses a light-activated dye to destroy abnormal blood vessels. Drug treatments are also available.

Fenretinide also halved the odds of the patients, who already had dry AMD, going on to develop wet AMD.

A spokesman for the research team said: ‘Years of use of fenretinide to treat cancers, rheumatoid arthritis have shown it to be safe and well-tolerated.’


17 October, 2010

New call to tax junk food

No clear evidence quoted to show that the proposed taxes will have any effect on obesity. You know why? Because there IS NO such evidence -- none that I have seen after years of reading in the literature anyway. If you tax a particular food, it is basic economics that people will switch their preferences to other foods. People will just get the calories they want elsewhere. And a tax on salty food would be a real laugh. Are they going to confiscate all salt-shakers as well?

The article below makes vague reference to a study of salty foods that supports their case so I looked up the MJA to get the exact reference but the latest issue does not contain the article referenced. Maybe it has not yet been put online. I'm betting that the "study" concerned was either a simulation or the usual epidemiological crap -- such as this. Only a double blind study would settle the matter

More public health experts have joined the call for a tax on junk food, saying the existing focus on "individual behaviour change" will do little to curb surging rates of obesity. Ms Holly Bond, PhD candidate at the Michael Kirby Centre for Public Health and Human Rights, said more than 60 per cent of Australian adults and one in four children were now either overweight or obese.

Obesity had overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness, and yet government had so far resisted calls to adopt the same approach it championed for tobacco and alcohol. "Junk foods have the same pattern of misuse and the same social costs as tobacco and alcohol," said Ms Bond, from Monash University. "... We propose that a tax on junk food be implemented as a tool to reduce consumption and address the obesity epidemic."

Ms Bond said while many foods were high in sugar, salt and fat the tax could be applied to the "worst foods" in this category, those which had "little to no nutritional value such as potato chips, confectionary and soft drinks".

In an paper published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia, she points to US research which found a 10 per cent increase in soft drink prices would reduce consumption by 8 - 10 per cent. Another study found a 10 per cent increase in the price of salty snacks could reduce a typical American’s body weight by up to half a kilogram per year, and generate $1 billion. [So salt makes you fat???] It also found a 10 per cent reduction in fruit and vegetable prices, subsidised using junk food tax revenue, would increase their purchase by 7 and 5.8 per cent respectively.

"Unsurprisingly, the US soda industry, which claims that such taxes would ‘hurt hard working, low and middle income families, elderly residents and those living on fixed incomes‘ would destroy jobs," Ms Bond said. "Arguments of this sort were raised by the tobacco industry when tobacco taxation was first proposed."

Ms Bond said the companies involved in the sale of junk food had a responsibility to their shareholders first and so would "resist any change" that could hurt profits even those "for the greater public good".

She said the Henry tax review emphasised the importance of tobacco taxes in reducing smoking (but it ruled out a junk food tax) while a recent National Preventative and Health Taskforce report did recommend a review of tax policy to encourage healthier eating. "The government will more likely continue to construct obesity as a problem of individual behaviour change rather than one requiring comprehensive interventions," Ms Bond said. "This approach aligns with industry objectives and ... the results will probably be the softest forms of regulation, such as voluntary targets."

Imposing a 10 per cent tax on all junk food was also a central plank of the ACE-Prevention report, released last month and backed by the Public Health Association of Australia.


Why So Many (Medical) Studies Based On Statistics Are Wrong

W. Briggs, statistician, nails just one of the frauds that pervade medical research

This was inspired by the (unfortunately titled) article Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science, publishing in this month’s Atlantic (thanks A&LD!).

The article profiles the work of John Ioannidis, who has spent a career trying to show the world that the majority of peer-reviewed medical research is wrong, misleading, or of little use. Ioannidis “charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed…he worries that the field of medical research is so pervasively flawed, and so riddled with conflicts of interest, that it might be chronically resistant to change—or even to publicly admitting that there’s a problem.”
“The studies were biased,” he says. “Sometimes they were overtly biased. Sometimes it was difficult to see the bias, but it was there.” Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results—and, lo and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it’s easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously. “At every step in the process, there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what is going to be concluded,” says Ioannidis. “There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded.”

Most medical studies—and most studies in other fields—rely on statistical models as primary evidence. The problem is that the way these statistical models are used is deeply flawed. That is, the problem is not really with the models themselves. The models are imperfect, but the errors in their construction are minimal. And since (academic) statisticians care primarily about how models are constructed (i.e. the mathematics), the system of training in statistics concentrates almost solely on model construction; thus, the flaw in the use of models is rarely apparent.

Without peering into the mathematical guts, here is how statistical studies actually work:

1. Data are gathered in the hopes of proving a cherished hypothesis.

2. A statistical model is selected from a toolbox which contains an enormous number of models, yet it is usually the hammer, or “regression”, that is invariably pulled out.

3. The model is then fit to the data. That is, the model has various drawstrings and cinches that can be used to tighten itself around the data, in much the same way a bathing suit is made to form-fit around a Victoria’s Secret model.

4. And to continue the swimsuit modeling analogy, the closer this data can be made to fit, the more beautiful the results are said to be. That is, the closer the data can be made to fit to the statistical model, the more confident that a researcher is that his cherished hypothesis is right.

5. If the fit of the data (swimsuit) on the model is eye popping enough, the results are published in a journal, which is mailed to subscribers in a brown paper wrapper. In certain cases, press releases are disseminated showing the model’s beauty to the world.

Despite the facetiousness, this is it: statistics really does work this way, from start to finish. What matters most, is the fit of the data to the model. That fit really is taken as evidence that the hypothesis is true.

But this is silly. At some point in their careers, all statisticians learn the mathematical “secret” that any set of data can be made to fit some model perfectly. Our toolbox contains more than enough candidate models, and one can always be found that fits to the desired, publishable tightness.

And still this wouldn’t be wrong, except that after the fit is made, the statistician and researcher stop. They should not!

Consider physics, a field which has far fewer problems than medicine. Data and models abound in physics, too. But after the fit is made, the model is used to predict brand new data, data nobody has yet seen; data, therefore, that is not as subject to researcher control or bias. Physics advances because it makes testable, verifiable predictions.

Fields that make use of statistics rarely make predictions with their models. The fit is all. Since any data can fit some model, it is no surprise when any data does fit some model. That is why so many results that use statistical models as primary evidence later turn out to be wrong. The researchers were looking in the wrong direction: to the past, when the should have been looking to the future.

This isn’t noticed because the published results are first filtered through people who practice statistics in just the same way.
Though scientists and science journalists are constantly talking up the value of the peer-review process, researchers admit among themselves that biased, erroneous, and even blatantly fraudulent studies easily slip through it. Nature, the grande dame of science journals, stated in a 2006 editorial, “Scientists understand that peer review per se provides only a minimal assurance of quality, and that the public conception of peer review as a stamp of authentication is far from the truth.” What’s more, the peer-review process often pressures researchers to shy away from striking out in genuinely new directions, and instead to build on the findings of their colleagues (that is, their potential reviewers) in ways that only seem like breakthroughs…

Except, of course, for studies which examine the influence of climate change, or for other studies which are in politically favorable fields: stem cell research, AIDS research, drug trials by pharmaceuticals, “gaps” in various sociological demographics, and on and on. Those are all OK.

Incidentally, predictions can be made from statistical models, just like in physics. It’s just that nobody does it. Partly this is because of expensive (twice as much data has to be collected), but mostly it’s because researchers wouldn’t like it. After all, they’d spend a lot of time showing what they wanted to believe is wrong. And who wants to do that?


16 October, 2010

The collectivized responsibility of petty socialism

A fat tax is a vain attempt to contain medical costs that will spiral upwards regardless

Rising healthcare costs and continuing recession-related fiscal problems have impelled numerous world governments to introduce a "fat tax."[1] Support for a similar policy is growing in the United States, which according to leading intellectuals suffers from a collective "weight problem."[2]

Fast-rising weights and a general deterioration of health have increased the volume of weight-related medical issues. The implications for countries burdened with socialized medicine (including the United States, which suffers from a government-restricted insurance market that provides limited federal healthcare in the form of Medicare and monetary aid to the poor) consist in an increased monetary burden for society as a whole.

Fixed low costs to the consumer, whether free (universal healthcare ) or relatively cheap (limited welfare, like that of the United States), have caused a predictable increase in quantity demanded.[3] While the consumer directly pays a below-market price for the service, the true cost is hidden since the rest of it is subsidized by the government. Therefore, the rising costs that come with a rise in quantity demanded are simply deferred to taxpayers. David Leonhardt, writing for the New York Times, puts it simply,

"This extra weight has caused a sharp increase in chronic diseases, like diabetes, that are unusually costly. Other public-health scourges, like lung cancer, have tended to kill their victims quickly, which (in the most tragic possible way) holds down their long-term cost. Obesity is different. A recent article in Health Affairs estimated its annual cost to be $147 billion and growing. That translates into $1,250 per household, mostly in taxes and insurance premiums".[4]

The solution to the problem is a tax on selected foods,[5] based on the idea that a price floor on certain foods will lead to a fall in quantity demanded.[6] However, this solution can be likened to building a barrier to regulate the height of the waterline in a swimming pool, yet leaving the hose on. In other words, a fat tax — of any and all variety — does not address the root problem.

The root of our current medical problem lies in the collectivization of the consequences of an individual's irresponsible choices. The issue is that the costs of one person's decisions are spread equally throughout society, to the point that that individual hardly feels the penalties of his value judgments — short of illness and death. Indeed, this socialization of responsibility effectively rids the individual from all incentive to reconsider his or her values and desires. The erosion of responsibility, operating with the understanding that the consequences of poor decisions will be mitigated by what is benignly called a "social safety net," is where the viability of socialized medicine falls apart.

Despite all the money and legislation thrown at fixing socialized medicine — including the current crusade to replace the bloated Medicare and Medicaid programs with a universal healthcare system in the United States — the fact is that temporary mends are just that, temporary. The system is bound to collapse given the nature of the problem. Worst of all, while the system is artificially maintained, the consequences — including corroding standards of living — must be borne by society as a whole.

The only solution is the one provided by the free market, where the consequences of one individual's actions are internalized lest he provoke some form of reaction from another individual.[7] We can therefore derive that in a free market the costs of irresponsible choices related to one's health would be shouldered by the individual only.

Negative Externalities of Medicinal Socialism

An economic externality is a cost or benefit of an action that affects an individual unrelated to that action. A common example of a negative, or cost-related, externality is pollution. If a firm dumps its waste into a river, and the current manages to transport the waste onto another individual's property, the cost of the waste is said to be externalized to, or borne by, an individual who had not agreed to the action in the first place. Similarly, the cost of theft is not suffered by the thief but by the victim, and as such the cost of the act of theft has been externalized to the victim.

This is the fate that has befallen socialized medicine. The costs of health-related irresponsibility have been externalized to society through the mechanism of public subsidization of medical costs. The costs of an unhealthy lifestyle, manifested in the free market in the form of expensive hospital bills or rising insurance prices, are borne by the government and distributed among the population as a whole. Therefore, it follows that in a completely socialized market in medicine — a true universal healthcare system — all monetary costs are externalized to those coerced into paying for a system they never agreed upon.

Just as bad, socialism incentivizes irresponsibility. In the case of socialized healthcare, it does so by distorting or completely doing away with the price mechanism. The price mechanism can be seen as the market's process of balancing supply and demand of a certain good or service. It guarantees that generally speaking a particular good and service will never experience a notable shortage or surplus, as far as the entire market goes.

This is because, given the axiom of purposeful human action,[8] people will economize their use of a particular good based on its price. For example, if the price of a short medical checkup is $35, an individual might decide his symptoms aren't worth the cost, whereas he might have gone if the price were $25. Simply put, the price of a good will allow an individual to decide whether or not he can garner the highest utility from a particular action, or whether he can reap greater utility from the alternative.[9]

What socialized medicine does is artificially reduce the price of healthcare or do away with it altogether (if universal healthcare is completely subsidized by the state). This leads individuals to acquire the service when they would have otherwise abstained from it. In a situation in which the cost of the service is not subsidized by a third party, such price ceilings usually lead to severe shortages — one needs only to point at the effects of price ceilings in the gasoline market or those imposed on the utilities market. In the case of socialized medicine, since the cost is borne by the whole of society — masquerading as "public funding" or "government funding" — faux price ceilings simply lead to upward spiraling costs.

Government, determined either through power-driven self-interest or a distorted concept of utilitarianism, tends to attempt to solve cost-related problems by plugging holes in their system with ad hoc regulations. Such is the nature of this recent fat tax — and such will be the nature of all future regulations that attempt to control the way man lives his life.

The moral dilemma is clear: Does the provision of universal healthcare justify infringement upon individual liberty? More broadly stated, do the ends justify the means? Morality aside, it is nevertheless clear that, regardless of the means, the outcome of socialism — including socialized healthcare — is the same. One can plug a hole, but doing so will only cause the system to rupture elsewhere.

A fat tax might cause a marginal decrease in consumption of fatty foods; but it has absolutely no bearing on whether or not individuals may decide to cut down on exercise, eat too many calories worth of healthier food, etc. Each of these problems requires their own set of regulations. Not only does the end result of socialized healthcare remain the same, but the state itself slowly transforms into a police state in an attempt to enforce these regulations.

Unfettered Markets and the Internalization of Responsibility

That the United States and other governments are seriously considering implementing — or have already implemented — a fat tax should not be used to illustrate the problems of unhealthy behavior. Rather, it should be a clear sign of the problems that plague socialized healthcare. To the extent that the aforementioned is true, it therefore follows that given these empirical examples of economic theory at work, the correct path to take for the future of healthcare is toward privatization. Only through privatized healthcare, or a free market in medicine, can marginal costs be internalized.[10]

The fact that markets are imperfect should not be a reason to substitute them with socialism. The market is a continuous process of entrepreneurship, driven by the profit motive and guided by the price mechanism. Economic competition and the insatiable desire for profit guarantees rising standards of living, as long as entrepreneurs are allowed complete liberty in exercisable action. Only through the free market can individuals innovate and labor to internalize both benefits and costs, and therefore only through the free market can externalities be resolved.

It is only through the free market that healthcare can ultimately be provided to all those who seek it. Much like automobiles, televisions, foodstuff, water, and countless other goods and services that have been left to the devices of the market, those who produce within the healthcare industry would be forced — by their own self-interest, in conjunction with competition — into providing greater supplies of healthcare along with augmenting quality.

To assume that a free market in healthcare would not provide demanded services to potential customers is to assume that the individuals who compose this market operate irrationally.


The rescued Chilean miners came out well DESPITE the therapy industry

Millions of people around the world will crack a smile today as they watch the 33 Chilean miners finally being hoisted back to life. But Those Who Know Better, the overlords of the therapy industry, see something different: not a happy ending to a two-month nightmare, but the start of an even longer nightmare of ill-health, craziness and PTSD for these unfortunate creatures from the dark. According to the experts, what we’re really witnessing in Chile today is a volcanic eruption of human instability, as 33 ticking timebombs of emotional frailty are raised to the surface.

One psycho-expert, echoing an army of others, told Fox News that the rescue of the men will release a ‘cauldron of emotions’; apparently ‘molten, churning reservoirs of emotion are about to emerge from that mine’. And there’s no telling what this geyser of two months worth of repressed feelings will give rise to. Fox’s fortune-teller says it could spawn ‘divorces, violence, terrible despondency, panic attacks, plays for celebrity that fall short and lead to suicide, addiction to alcohol and illicit drugs and gambling, and wild allegations levelled by one miner against another’. For the mental-health lobby, it seems, every silver lining has a cloud.

How will these men who coped remarkably well in a 32 degrees Celsius underground cavern for more than two months now cope with the temptation to descend into a drug-addled world of violence and backstabbing? On this question, the experts are unanimous: as one of them sums it up, the freed 33 will require ‘all the skill of the very best mental-health professionals available’.

Is it just me or does this look like a brazen job-creation scheme? At a time of recession and cutbacks, I guess even the mental-health lobby has to find ways to earn a crust - even if that means cynically re-presenting 33 fairly hard, robust miners as men on the verge of a nervous breakdown who will need professional help for the rest of their lives.

The most startling thing about the various psycho-pronouncements being made about the miners is not their undiluted miserabilism, their ability to see future suicides where most of us see a moment of joy, but their ignorance of the facts of the past two months. Because the inconvenient truth is that the 33 miners survived underground not as a result of psychological advice and intervention but by sometimes rebelling against the psychologists who kept a watchful eye on their every move. The real story of the Chilean miners, for anyone who cares to look, is that the interventions of the various wings of the trauma industry often make things worse rather than better, and people are mostly happier and healthier without them.

The on-site psychology team at the San Jose mine treated the trapped men with extraordinary mean-spiritedness. Driven by the conviction that they, as one headline put it, ‘know best’, and backed up by the dime-a-dozen profferings of every headline-hungry psychologist and therapist around the globe, the psychologists saw it as their duty to police the men’s thoughts and even to censor letters from their families in case they triggered ‘problematic emotions’. Such petty authoritarianism is the end result of the deep-rooted idea that life is way too hard and complicated to be negotiated without the words of wisdom of the therapy lobby.

One of the medical experts at San Jose - part of a team of 300 people that oversaw the men’s health and needs - said there was a ‘daily arm wrestle’ between the miners and the psychology team. That isn’t surprising. The mental-health experts overground used a system of ‘prizes and punishments’ to try to control the men’s behaviour - for their own good, of course.

So when the men assented to hour-long phone calls with the mental-health team, as they did when they were first found to be alive 17 days after getting trapped, they were rewarded with prizes such as access to TV shows. But when they refused to talk to the psychologists, as they started to do in mid-September when their health and body weight were improving as a result of sent-down food and they insisted that ‘we are well’, the psychology team would deprive them of luxuries. As one on-site doctor put it: ‘We have to say, “OK, you don’t want to speak with psychologists? Perfect. That day you get no TV, there is no music - because we administer these things.”’

The psychology team became judge and jury of what the men could do for enjoyment and even how they could communicate with their families. When the men asked for cigarettes and alcohol, saying that these small pleasures would help them cope better than their daily phone call with the experts, the psychology team begrudgingly agreed to send down cigarettes but not booze - because ‘the average miner consumes large quantities of alcohol’, one of the psychologists said, and there is no telling how they will behave when inebriated in hot, cramped conditions. The men were furious. But only because they don’t understand the dangers of drinking, one of the on-site doctors snootily declared. ‘These are not PhD scientists, they are rough-and-tumble miners’, he said, giving a glimpse into the experts’ deep disdain for the men they were supposed to be helping.

But the thing that really tore the miners and their mental-health betters apart - the thing that ensured ‘the honeymoon was over’, as the lead on-site psychologist put it - was the psychology team’s ‘widespread censorship’ of family letters to the men. Early on, every time a family member wrote a letter it had to be submitted for psychological evaluation first, before being sent down the so-called umbilical cord to the men underground, so that any material judged ‘psychologically inappropriate’ could be removed.

There was uproar when the families discovered that there was a backlog of letters waiting to be okayed. One of the miners had asked his wife during a video link-up: ‘Why don’t you write to me anymore?’ In fact she had been writing everyday, but her letters were awaiting ‘psychological approval’. Eventually government officials stepped in and ended the vetting of the letters.

The men rebelled against these measures in any way they could. At one stage they delayed taking vaccines that had been sent down until they got something they wanted. And as they regained weight courtesy of the food sent down the umbilical cord, ‘their antagonism to the daily psychology sessions increased’, as one report put it.

That is, the healthier they got, the closer they became through their own methods of bonding, the more they looked upon the psycho-sessions as an unnecessary irritation. Their decision to blank the mental-health team was not a result of stupidity, of their lack of a PhD in science - rather it sprung from a belief that they could cope better on their own, without videophone advice from on high. As a psychiatrist at Chile’s Catholic University put it, ‘If there is one group that is not exactly disposed to psychologists, it is miners’.

Indeed, the men instituted their own systems for coping: they had a leader, they set up a prayer room, they lunched together everyday, worked in shifts to clear rubble, and had a daily ‘showing your cards’ session at which they got things off their chests. That’s far healthier than sharing your problems with a faceless stranger who might ground you or deny you television privileges if you say the ‘wrong thing’. In working together rather than relying on external expert advice, the men reminded us of a truth often forgotten in today’s Oprahite age: mucking in, offering solidarity, is a far better guarantor of survival and happiness than being told how you should feel by aloof know-it-alls.

The way the men were treated was like a microcosm of today’s therapy industry. The censoring of letters spoke to the idea that people are psychologically fragile and easily harmed by other people’s words. The deprivation of certain ‘prizes’ if they didn’t speak to the mental-health team revealed the authoritarian dynamic behind today’s therapeutic interventions. The notion that they wouldn’t survive without external expertise highlighted the general view of all of us as needing guidance from the new gods of emotional correctness. That Fox News expert said the men are ‘just as subject to the laws of psychological gravity as you or I’. In truth, the men broke these so-called, actually non-existent laws of psychological gravity. And in doing so they have shown, implicitly at least, and contrary to every piety of the modern age, that we don’t need expert advice to survive and thrive.


15 October, 2010

Hispanics Outlive Whites and Blacks in US

For once there are some reasonable explanations below for the findings. Another factor may be inadequate food supply in the childhoods of the Hispanics concerned. Restricted calorie intake both lengthens lives and shortens stature!

U.S. Hispanics outlive whites by more than two years and blacks by more than seven, according to the government's first calculation of Hispanic life expectancy.

The startling report released Wednesday is the strongest evidence yet of the "Hispanic paradox" — long life expectancy for a population that has a large share of poor, undereducated members.

A leading theory is that Hispanics who manage to immigrate to the U.S. are among the healthiest from their countries.

A Hispanic born in 2006 could expect to live about 80 years and seven months, the government estimates. Life expectancy for a white is about 78, and for a black, just shy of 73 years.

Until recently, federal researchers didn't calculate life expectancy for Hispanics as a separate group; they were included among the black and white populations. The report is based on death certificates.

By breaking out the longer-living Hispanics, the life expectancies for non-Hispanic whites and blacks both declined slightly, said the report's author, Elizabeth Arias of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An estimated 40 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population are people born in other countries who immigrated here, and in some cases they arrived after arduous journeys to do taxing manual labor. It takes a fit person to accomplish that, suggesting that the United States is gaining some of the healthiest people born in Mexico and other countries, said Dr. Peter Muennig, an assistant professor at Columbia University's school of public health who has studied life expectancy in different countries.


Canada succumbs to the hysterics

Of course BPA is toxic. So is water if you drink enough of it. As always, the toxicity is in the dose. And with BPA, very few people get more than a few molecules of it at a time

CANADA has become the first country in the world to declare as toxic Bisphenol A, a compound used in many consumer products, despite opposition by the chemical industry. The move comes only two weeks after the European Food Safety Authority said the chemical, commonly referred to as BPA and used in some baby bottles and plastic and canned food packaging, poses no health risks. France and Denmark, as well as Australia and some US states, however, have independently limited its uses.

On Wednesday, the compound was formally listed without fanfare by the Canadian Government as being toxic to both the environment and human health in an official notice. "A scientific assessment of the impact of human and environmental exposure to Bisphenol A has determined that this substance constitutes or may constitute a danger to human health and the environment," said the announcement in the Canada Gazette.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Canada is the first country to take such "bold action." "Canadians can rest assured that we are working hard to monitor and manage Bisphenol A," added Environment Minister Jim Prentice.

BPA is made from petroleum and, according to the Government, Canadians are exposed primarily through food packaging. Canada was also the first to ban its use in baby bottles in October 2008, after tests showed it can affect neural development and behaviour in laboratory animals exposed in the womb or very early in life.

As well, it may be concern for human fertility, as it has been shown to disrupt hormone systems in animals.

Over 130 studies over the past decade have also linked even low levels of BPA to serious health problems, breast cancer, obesity and the early onset of puberty, among other disorders.

The chemical industry has disputed its impact on humans, and it is still widely used in plastic water jugs, medical devices, hockey helmets, mobile phone housings, computers, car bumpers, carbonless papers and other consumer products.

Bisphenol A is also used in the manufacture of epoxy resins, which act as a protective lining on the inside of metal-based food and beverage cans.

Global production of the chemical was estimated at four billion kilograms per year in 2006. Approximately half a million kilograms was imported annually into Canada in products, but this has decreased substantially since 2006, according to an industry survey.


14 October, 2010

IVF kids taller than natural born tiddlers

Almost certainly a social class effect. Richer people tend to be taller and IVF has many costs

CHILDREN born via IVF are typically taller than those born naturally, a study has found. It also showed that newborn IVF children, created from a fresh embryo transferred back into the mother, also tended to be about 190g lighter than naturally conceived children.

Mark Green from the University of Auckland's Liggins Institute, who conducted the study, said up until now there had been no research conducted past the birth stage of IVF children. "There's been four million children born from IVF ... we wanted to see what the long-term implications were," he said.

Dr Green found that IVF children conceived with fresh, as opposed to thawed, embryos, were on average up to 2.6cm taller than children born without assisted conception.

The study involved healthy, pre-pubescent children aged between four and 11, of which 72 were born from IVF using fresh embryos, 43 IVF children from frozen embryos and 94 naturally conceived children.

And girls were noticeably more affected by height gains than the boys. "We've got no real hypothesis on why that might be, we do know that a lot of different things affect males and females in utero," he said.

Dr Green has called for more research into IVF born babies because scientists do not know if the treatment is beneficial or detrimental. "We need more long-term studies because we know some of the later diseases, such as diabetes and cardiac disease, can be affected by events that happen during gestation, and they don't really occur till the 40s or 50s," Dr Green said.


Memory booster pill: Hope for elderly who suffer 'senior moments'

Good news if it works but the side effects could be a concern. Cortisol is a stress hormone so reducing it could lead to apathy, lethargy etc.

A pill that prevents so-called ‘senior moments’ is being developed by British doctors. Taken later in life, it could put an end to forgetting where the car keys are, or not being able to remember names.

The drug, which is aimed principally at absent-mindedness rather than brain diseases, has already been tested on animals. It could go to human trials next year and, if these are successful, be on the market within five years.

Jonathan Seckl, who led the research at Edinburgh University, said: ‘A third of older people have what is euphemistically called mild cognitive impairment. ‘But it is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and it is also pretty frustrating if you can’t remember what you left the house to do or where you put your keys. ‘It is soul-destroying and memory clinics are full of patients who are deeply frustrated by being unable to remember things.’

Such problems are at least partially due to high levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, damaging the brain’s ‘memory hub’. Professor Seckl has shown that an enzyme called 11beta-HSD1 boosts levels of cortisol and he created the drug to stop that happening.

Known as UOE1961, it sharpened the minds of elderly mice to such an extent that they were as good as much younger creatures at performing tests of memory and learning. What is more, the animals were treated for only two weeks, the Journal of Neuroscience reports.

Professor Seckl, who was funded by the Wellcome Trust, said: ‘They were coming toward the end of their lifespan and had profound deficits in their ability to learn things. ‘We turned them back to being as good as young animals, which was very exciting. What that teaches us is that that sort of memory loss is not irreversible.’

It is too early to know what side-effects UOE1961 will have. But, on the plus side, reducing levels of stress hormones is likely to be good for the heart. It is thought the drug will work only on the ageing brain – meaning it will not help young people cram for exams.


13 October, 2010

HRT 'raises risk of kidney stones by 20 per cent'

This is juvenile rubbish. It is data dredging pure and simple. In a large correlation matrix, statistically significant effects will emerge by chance alone. And that's how this finding emerged: unexpectedly. This time it was kidney stones. Next it will be something else. And the size of the effect is in any case too small to permit causal inferences

Women who take hormone replacement pills for the menopause are far more likely to develop painful kidney stones, according to scientists.

Researchers from the University of Texas, studied 24,000 postmenopausal women over five years. They found those who took hormones had a 21 per cent higher risk of getting kidney stones compared to those who took a dummy pill. The risks were similar for women taking Prempro, pills containing estrogen plus progestin - or Premarin, estrogen-only pills.

Recent data suggest that overall, about six per cent of postmenopausal women develop kidney stones.

The kidneys remove waste products from the blood and transfer them into the ureter. Occasionally this waste can form into crystals that collect together into stone-like lumps. They can grow to the size of golf balls and cause severe pain. If the stones block the urinary system they can cause infection and kidney damage. Large stones are sometimes treated with noninvasive shock wave therapy or surgery.

Study leader Dr Naim Maalouf said women considering HRT to ease hot flushes and other symptoms such as mood swings should 'look at the bigger picture,' weighing those benefits against the risks for kidney stones. He added that HRT has also been linked with far more serious health problems such as breast cancer and heart attacks.

The U.S government recommends that hormone replacement pills only be used to relieve menopause symptoms, in low doses for the shortest possible time.

Victoria Davis, a spokeswoman for Pfizer Inc - which took over Premarin and Prempro maker Wyeth Pharmaceuticals last year - noted that the government research was not designed to examine kidney stone risk.

The studies analysed by the researchers were designed to examine hormones' effects on various ailments, but not specifically kidney stones. However, women were asked periodically if they'd been diagnosed with kidney stones during the multi-year studies.

The latest study appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.


Botox helps with migraines!

Left bed-bound by up to 20 migraines a month, 12-year-old Harvey Jacobs has found an unlikely cure – Botox.

His mother Sue, 39, heard claims that the wrinkle treatment could put an end to the crippling headaches and arranged for her son to have the procedure eight weeks ago. For the first time in years he has not had a single migraine in weeks and is like a ‘new boy’, she said.

The mother of three added: ‘The difference is amazing. We were absolutely desperate. He used to have about three days a week off school and this term he has had no time off at all. We have even managed to take days out as a family. It is wonderful.’

Harvey, who also suffers from mild cerebral palsy and epilepsy, was first struck down by agonising migraines six years ago. At times he would be incapacitated five times in a week and be in such agony he would be screaming for 24 hours.

The Botox treatment works by relaxing the corrugator muscle – the small ‘frown’ muscle around the eyebrow – which can cause migraines by affecting the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for sensation in the face.

Harvey was booked into a private clinic where he was given an injection above his right eye. The £350 treatment lasts around two months.

Migraines affect one in seven people and cost the British economy billions each year.


12 October, 2010

US nutrition bureaucrats seek “simplicity” in new food pyramid

How about truth instead? NOTHING leads to permanent weight loss outside surgery and lifespan differs little for all but the extremes of the weight range. Good to see below however that it is all just politics

With most Americans overweight or obese and at risk of high blood pressure, policymakers are working to reinvent the familiar food pyramid and develop advice that is simple and blunt enough to help turn the tide.

Although most people do not read them, the guidelines have broad impact on Americans’ lives. They dictate what is served in school breakfast and lunch. They affect education materials for food stamp recipients and information on the nutrition labels of food packages. They also underpin nutritional information available in community centers, doctors’ offices, and hospitals.

The government updates its dietary guidelines for Americans every five years. [So what was right yesterday is wrong today?]

What the new guidelines will say when they are unveiled in December is still under wraps. But the interagency committee is searching for new ways to communicate lessons about healthful eating and is working to make the food pyramid “more meaningful and engaging,’’ said Robert Post, deputy director of the Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition and Policy Promotion, which is leading the development of the guidelines.

Healthful eating has gained a high profile through Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move’’ initiative to fight childhood obesity. But historically, the government has shied away from offering controversial advice.

And with food, everything is controversial: A boost for one type of food in the guidelines can be viewed as a threat by providers of competing products. The result, critics say, is a nutritional education system so politically influenced that it is ineffective. This year’s process appears to be no exception.

In public comments, the meat lobby has opposed strict warnings on sodium that could cast a negative light on lunch meats. The milk lobby has expressed concerns about warnings to cut back on added sugars, lest chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milks fall from favor. Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation also weighed in against added-sugar restrictions in defense of the cranberry.


The problem with “fat” taxes

States are increasingly looking to soda, candy, and other so-called “fat” taxes as a way to shore up their budgets. That’s happening despite a lack of evidence that these taxes have any significant effect on obesity rates, the usual rationale for these taxes.

As happened previously with alcohol and tobacco, special-interest groups are targeting these foods and beverages because they are relatively easy to demagogue and they allow lawmakers to promote the taxes as a public health initiative rather than a tax increase. These taxes, however, must be extremely high to have any effect on obesity rates; they are highly regressive (disproportionately affecting lower-income people); and they prop up government spending increases by allowing lawmakers to kick fiscal problems down the road.

Any number of legal products and services can have negative effects if used in excess, but that doesn’t mean heavy-handed government intervention makes for good tax policy. Studies show that states with high “sin” tax rates also tend to have higher overall tax burdens. Further hurting small business owners and taking more money out of the pockets of an already-strained citizenry is unnecessarily burdensome and does not help the state’s fiscal condition.

Lawmakers who genuinely want to get their budgets under control should avoid hiking sin taxes and instead focus on real budgetary reforms such as enacting a reasonable tax and expenditure limit, reforming unfunded liabilities, and privatizing non-core functions of government.


11 October, 2010

Those wicked fizzy drinks again

Fizzy drinks ("pop", "soft drinks") are regularly attacked by the obesity warriors because they are allegedly very calorific. Though milk, which is also highly calorific, gets a pass, for some reason.

The attack does not end there, however, there is also an unhappy band who attack fizzy drinks not only because they are sweet but because the particular sweetener in them is particularly naughty: Meet the fructose warriors. The article below is an introduction to the controversy and I will add a few further words at the bottom of it -- JR

Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco, is the star of the video above. While he presents some material that’s scientifically sound, he also makes enough errors to warrant a healthy dose of criticism. There’s a ton of material he goes over, so instead of writing a multi-chapter opus, I’ll discuss the aspects that I feel are the most relevant and interesting.

Bravo, Doc

Lustig’s delivery is clear, confident, charismatic, and engaging overall. I’m sure many would think that his style is annoyingly smug and preachy, but I find it entertaining. This is a good thing, since the video is about 90 minutes long. Amidst the folly that prompted this post, he offers a few good observations.

First off, he makes a valid point that the public health movement against dietary fat that started in the early 1980′s was a grandiose failure. The climb in obesity to epidemic proportions over the last 30 years is plenty of evidence for this. It was also accurate of him to cite the significant increase in overall caloric consumption over this same time period. Furthermore, he shows an interesting progression of Coca-Cola’s 6.5 oz bottle in 1915 to the 20 oz bottle of the modern day.

Lustig acknowledges the First Law of Thermodynamics as it applies to changes in bodyweight. He attacks the vague expression that “a calorie is a calorie” by pointing out that different nutrients impart different physiological effects and have different roles within the body. His concluding recommendations included kicking out liquid calories except milk, which is generally a good strategy for children. Okay, so far so good. But what does he say that’s so misleading? Let’s take a look.

Boooo, Doc

While Lustig correctly points out that the nation’s overall caloric consumption has increased, he proceeds to blame carbohydrates as being the primary constituent. The thing is, he uses data spanning from 1989-1995 on children aged 2-17. Survey data is far from the gold standard of evidence, but if you’re gonna cite it, you might as well go with something more recent that includes adults.

Here’s the latest from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), which tracked the percent of total daily calories of the range of food groups from 1970-2007. The actual spreadsheet of the following figures can be downloaded here, click on the “Percents” tab at the bottom [1]:

* Meats, eggs, and nut kcals decreased 4%.

* Dairy kcals decreased 3%.

* Percentage of fruit kcals stayed the same.

* Percentage of vegetable kcals stayed the same.

* Flour and cereal product kcals increased 3%.

* Added fat kcals are up 7%,

* Added sugars kcals decreased 1%

* Total energy intake in 1970 averaged 2172 kcal. By 2007 this hiked up to 2775 kcal, a 603 kcal increase.

Taking a hard look at the data above, it appears that the rise in obesity is due in large part to an increase in caloric intake across the board, rather than an increase in carbohydrate in particular.

Lustig insufficiently addresses the ‘energy out’ side of the equation. According to the research, it’s possible that over the last couple of decades, we’ve become more sedentary. King and colleagues recently compared the physical activity data in the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1988-1994 with the NHANES data from 2001-2006, and found a 10% decrease [2]. From a personal observation standpoint, that figure seems conservative (internet surfing for hours after your desk job shift, anyone?). It’s safe to say that all 603 extra daily calories have been landing in the nation’s collective adipose depot.

It’s also safe to say that all this finger-pointing at carbohydrate is just as silly as the finger-pointing toward fat in the ’80′s. Lustig takes the scapegoating of carbohydrate up a notch by singling out fructose. Perhaps the most passionate point he makes throughout the lecture is that fructose is a poison. Well, that’s just what we need in this day and age – obsessive alarmism over a single macronutrient subtype rather than an aerial view of the bigger picture.

Fructose is evil, context be damned

So, is fructose really the poison it’s painted to be? The answer is not an absolute yes or no; the evilness of fructose depends completely on dosage and context. A recurrent error in Lustig’s lecture is his omission of specifying the dosage and context of his claims. A point he hammers throughout his talk is that unlike glucose, fructose does not elicit an insulin (& leptin) response, and thus does not blunt appetite. This is why fructose supposedly leads to overeating and obesity.

Hold on a second…Lustig is forgetting that most fructose in both the commercial and natural domain has an equal amount of glucose attached to it. You’d have to go out of your way to obtain fructose without the accompanying glucose. Sucrose is half fructose and half glucose. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is nearly identical to sucrose in structure and function. Here’s the point I’m getting at: contrary to Lustig’s contentions, both of these compounds have substantial research showing not just their ability to elicit an insulin response, but also their suppressive effect on appetite [3-6].

But wait, there’s more. In studies directly comparing the effect of fructose and glucose preloads on subsequent food intake, one showed no difference [7], while the majority have shown the fructose preload resulting in lesser food intake than the glucose preload [8-10]. A recent review of the literature on fructose’s effect on satiety found no compelling case for the idea that fructose is less satiating than glucose, or that HFCS is less satiating than sucrose [11]. So much for Lustig’s repeated assertion that fructose and fructose-containing sugars increase subsequent food intake. I suppose it’s easier to sensationalize claims based on rodent data.

In the single human study I’m aware of that linked fructose to a greater next-day appetite in a subset of the subjects, 30% of total daily energy intake was in the form of free fructose [12]. This amounts to 135 grams, which is the equivalent of 6-7 nondiet soft drinks. Is it really that groundbreaking to think that polishing off a half-dozen soft drinks per day is not a good idea? Demonizing fructose without mentioning the dose-dependent nature of its effects is intellectually dishonest. Like anything else, fructose consumed in gross chronic excess can lead to problems, while moderate amounts are neutral, and in some cases beneficial [13-15].

I’m obviously not in favor of replacing anyone’s daily fluid intake with soft drinks, but I can already see a number of straw man arguments headed my way. This is because people have a tendency to think in either-or terms that strictly involve extremes. I’ll quote an elegant review by independent researcher John White that echoes my thoughts [16]:

Although examples of pure fructose causing metabolic upset at high concentrations abound, especially when fed as the sole carbohydrate source, there is no evidence that the common fructose-glucose sweeteners do the same. Thus, studies using extreme carbohydrate diets may be useful for probing biochemical pathways, but they have no relevance to the human diet or to current consumption.

Atkins, Japan, & alcohol – oh my!

One of Lustig’s opening assertions is that The Atkins diet and the Japanese diet share one thing in common: the absence of fructose. This is flat-out false because it implies that the Japanese don’t eat fruit. On the contrary, bananas, grapefruits, Mandarin oranges, apples, grapes, watermelons, pears, persimmons, peaches, and strawberries are significant staples of the Japanese diet [17]. Lustig’s claim also implies that the Japanese do not consume desserts or sauces that contain added sucrose. This is false as well.

Another oversimplification Lustig makes is that fructose is “ethanol without the buzz,” and that fructose is toxic to the liver. This once again helps me illustrate my point that even in the case of alcoholic beverages, their risk or benefit to health is dose-dependent. Just like his extremist treatment of fructose, Lustig bases his case on the effect of chronic isolated ethanol consumption in large doses. It’s easy to examine ethanol out of its normal context within beverages such as wine, because then you can conveniently ignore the evidence indicating its potential health benefits when consumed in moderation [18].

Partial redemption

Towards the end of Lustig’s lecture, he mentions that fructose within fruit is okay because its effect is neutralized by the fiber content. To a degree, this is a valid claim. However, in building this stance, he uses sugarcane to illustrate just how fiber-dominant natural sources of fructose are, and this is the exception rather than the rule. He claimed that, “Wherever there’s fructose in nature, there’s way more fiber.” That statement is far from universally true. Drawing a few common examples from the major fruits consumed in Japan, a midsize banana contains roughly 27 total grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of fructose and 3 grams of fiber. A midsize apple contains 25 total grams of carbohydrate, 12 grams of fructose and 4 grams of fiber. Two cups of strawberries contains 24 total grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fructose, and 6 grams of fiber.

I would add that fiber is only one of the numerous phytochemicals in fruit that impart health benefits. Thus, it’s not quite as simple as saying that fructose is evil, but once you take it with fiber, you’ve conquered the Dark Side.

Summing up

I have a great deal of respect for Lustig’s professional accomplishments, and I share his concern for the nation’s penchant for sitting around and overconsuming food and beverages of all sorts. However, I disagree (as does the bulk of the research) with his myopic, militant focus on fructose avoidance. He’s missing the forest while barking up a single tree.

So, what’s the upper safe limit of fructose per day (all sources considered)? Again, this depends on a number of variables, not the least of which are an individual’s physical activity level and lean body mass. Currently in the literature is a liberal camp reporting that fructose intakes up to 90 grams per day have a beneficial effect on HbA(1c), and no significant effects are seen for fasting triacylglycerol or body weight with intakes up to 100 grams per day in adults [15]. The conservative camp suggests that the safe range is much less than this; roughly 25-40 grams per day [19]. Figuring that both sides are biased, the middle figure between the two camps is roughly 50 grams for active adults.

Although the tendency is to get hung up on the trivial minutia of an exact gram amount, it’s not possible to issue a universal number because individual circumstances vary widely (this is a concept that baffles anti-fructose absolutists). The big picture solution is in managing total caloric balance with a predominance of minimally refined foods and sufficient physical activity. Pointing the finger at fructose while dismissing dosage and context is like saying that exercise should be avoided because it makes you fat and injured by spiking your appetite and hurting your joints.

SOURCE. Follow-up discussion here.

Canada has half the obesity incidence of the USA yet fructose is the main swetening agent in Canadian fizzy drinks too. And Australia uses sucrose (from sugarcane) almost exclusively in its drinks yet falls roughly half way between Canada and the USA in obesity.

Epidemiology is never positive proof of anything but is pretty persuasive as disproof and the comparison between the three rather similar countries that I have just quoted does not at all fit the pattern that the fructose fanatics would predict. Only a double blind study would settle the matter but the epidemiology hardly encourages such a study

I personally would be pleased if the fructose warriors were right. I come from sugarcane country in Australia and a ban on fructose would no doubt do wonders for my home town. Sugar from sugarcane is pure sucrose

UPDATE: I probably should note that sucrose is a naturally-occurring molecule in its own right. The fact that it can be analysed as a combination of fructose and glucose does not mean that it has to be produced that way nor does it mean that it has the same properties as those simpler molecules. If the lusty one wants to ban sucrose because fructose forms part of its chemical makeup he is in effect trying to ban all the major natural sweeteners -- which is nuts -- JR

Now it's beetroot juice!

It appears to give elite athletes a tiny extra edge but drinking a lot of it has unpleasant side effects

When Chris Carver ran an ultra-marathon in Scotland last year, which challenges athletes to run as far as possible within 24 hours, he ran 225 kilometres.

Determined to do better in this year's race, Carver added something extra to his training regime: beetroot juice. For a week before the race, he drank the dark purple juice every day. Last month, Carver won it by running 238 kilometres. "The only thing I did differently this year was the beetroot juice," said Carver, 46, a professional runner based near Leeds, in northern England.

He said more exercise would have improved his endurance, but to get the same result he attributes to the juice - an extra 13 kilometres - it would likely have taken an entire year.

Some experts say adding beetroot juice to your diet could provide a performance boost even beyond the blood, sweat and tears of more training.

In two studies conducted at Exeter University on 15 men, Stephen Bailey and colleagues found cyclists who drank a half-litre of beetroot juice several hours before setting off were able to ride up to 20 per cent longer than those who drank a placebo blackcurrant juice.

By examining the cyclists under a scanner that analyses how much energy is needed for a muscle to contract, Bailey and colleagues discovered beetroot juice allows cyclists to exercise using less oxygen than normal.

"The beetroot juice was effective even without any additional training," Bailey said. "It reduces the energy requirements on your muscles so you can last longer." While the beetroot juice was provided free by its manufacturer, Exeter University paid for the research.

Bailey said the high nitrate content of beetroot juice is responsible for its athletic benefits. Scientists aren't exactly sure how it works, but suspect having more nitric oxide in your body, a byproduct of nitrate, helps you exercise with less oxygen. Bailey said the same effects might be possible if people ate more nitrate-rich foods like beetroot, lettuce or spinach.

Bailey and colleagues calculated beetroot juice could translate into a 1 to 2 per cent better race time, a tiny improvement likely only to matter to elite athletes. They are still tweaking the dosage but say athletes should consume the juice a few hours before training so their body has time to digest it. Their latest study was published in June in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

"Drinking beetroot juice is not going to turn a recreational runner into an Olympic champion, but it might make tolerating more exercise easier so you can train more," said Dr Andy Franklyn-Miller, a sports medicine expert at the Centre for Human Performance in London. He was not connected to the research and has not received any funding from beetroot juice makers.

Franklyn-Miller said since people often reach an athletic plateau where more training doesn't help, beetroot juice could give you an extra edge you wouldn't get otherwise. "It's not banned, so there's no reason not to try it," he said. Still, he warned drinking too much of the juice could lead to side effects like abdominal cramps, diarrhea or purple urine.

Previous studies in Britain and the US have found beetroot helps the heart by lowering blood pressure.

Other experts warned manipulating your diet can't replace the benefits of training. "Certain foods can help you maximise the benefits from exercise, not reduce the amount you're doing," said Roger Fielding, director of the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at Tufts University. He was not connected to any research on beetroot or any other nutritional supplements.

For serious athletes, Fielding said changing your diet could help. "If a very small improvement is valuable to you, it's possible something like beetroot juice could do that," he said.

Other studies have shown drinking things like pickle juice or having a small carbohydrate snack during a marathon, can prevent cramps and improve performance. Scientists have also found cherry juice, which helps reduce exercise-induced swelling, could be strong enough to reduce some athletes' use of anti-inflammatory pain medication.

Fielding said the benefits of beetroot juice and other foods and drinks could have wider benefits and might one day be used to help elderly people with muscle weakness.

Some elite athletes warned beetroot juice may not be to everybody's taste. "A few of my friends think it's really disgusting," said Colin McCourt, 25, a British runner competing at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi this month.

In April, McCourt started drinking cherry and beetroot juice, which he credits with helping him train longer and more often. "I feel like I get a benefit from it, even if it's minimal," he told Associated Press Television.

McCourt said he will continue to adjust his training regimen in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics, but plans to maintain his juice habit. "There will be a lot more beetroot juice if my stomach can take it."


10 October, 2010

The Government’s Weight-Loss Program

America is quickly becoming the fattest nation in the world. Results from the 2007–2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate that about 34.2 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 years and over are overweight, 33.8 percent are obese and 5.7 percent are extremely obese.

But, as big of a problem as it may be, is it the right of the federal government to step in and begin regulating the diets of Americans?

Michelle Obama thinks that it is, and is busy launching an initiative that starts with America’s overweight children. Partnering even with Walt Disney, Mrs. Obama has pushed her initiative, “Let’s Move,” with Public Service Announcements, appearing with various Disney stars and even helped some of them plant a garden.

Though Mrs. Obama has recently touted the weight problem amongst school-aged children as her No. 1 priority while she’s in the White House, this isn’t the first time the issue has been discussed.

Eating a proper diet even became a topic at now Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings. When Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma asked her during the hearings if the government can pass a law forcing Americans to eat fruits and vegetables, her answer wasn’t no.

So what does this mean? Does the government have more up its sleeve than just Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative?

Some state governments have already taken steps to make its citizens more aware of the fatty, high-calorie foods in restaurants.

In 2008, in California, for example, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that made it the first state in the nation to have its restaurant chains with 20 or more locations statewide post calorie information on menus and indoor menu boards for consumers. New York passed similar legislation for restaurant chains, but went a step further and ruled that some cities have to have nutritional information posted directly on the menus. New York has also banned the use of all artificial trans fat in restaurant foods.

The federal government followed suit and passed a federal-menu labeling law within ObamaCare. This new law will affect restaurants with 20 or more locations by forcing them to put nutritional information for menu items on the menus themselves, menu boards and even drive-thrus. This law also requires vending machine owners to comply by the same rules.

In April 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a plan to begin limiting the amount of salt allowed in processed foods. Though it does not know what the reduced sodium levels will be, the FDA hopes to implement the plan over a 10-year span.

There is no denying that today’s American diet has a penchant towards salt, but is it the role of the federal government to limit the intake?

“Not only does the federal government not have the Constitutional authority to regulate its citizens’ diets, how could it?” asks Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG). “The big-government policies of this Administration have failed. What would make the American people think that the government’s handling of their diets would be any different?”

Yet, the White House is still trying. Following the pleas of Mrs. Obama, the Senate passed the Child Nutrition bill — a good start for her “Let’s Move” initiative. This bill would provide $4.5 billion to school lunch and other federal child-nutrition programs.

An Associated Press article on the subject stated that schools wouldn’t do away with popular foods, like hamburgers, but would make them healthier — higher-quality meat and a whole wheat bun perhaps. Also, vending machines would be stocked with less candy and sugar-filled drinks.

The House has yet to pass the bill. Mrs. Obama hopes it might come up for a discussion during a lame-duck session in November.

It seems this Congress and Administration has forgotten that eating at McDonald’s is a choice. Whether the calories are posted on the menus or not, if someone is craving a double cheeseburger, they are probably going to get one.

The more the government intrudes on the lives of Americans, the less freedom its people have. Yes, America has a weight problem, but it’s not the federal government’s job to fix it.


IVF breakthrough helps pregnancy chances

This sounds very good news indeed

THE chances of having a baby through IVF may be hugely improved thanks to a Melbourne breakthrough that could also allow parents to choose their child's sex. Scientists from the University of Melbourne and Repromed have developed a groundbreaking way to measure the health of an embryo and the likelihood of a successful pregnancy through IVF treatment.

By measuring the level of glucose consumed by embryos in the first five days, the researchers can determine which are the healthiest and have the best chance of resulting in a successful pregnancy. The procedure has been tested in 50 patients, with 32 becoming pregnant and 28 babies born as a result. The research could significantly improve birth rates in IVF and help one in six Australian couples experiencing infertility to become parents.

Amazingly, it was pioneered by the university's head zoologist, Prof David Gardner. "The 28 babies resulted from the embryos which had the highest glucose uptake," Prof Gardner said. "Previous studies with animals have shown that the healthiest blastocysts are those with the greatest glucose consumption, indicating the likelihood of a successful pregnancy. "It is exciting to find that this process appears to be the same in people."

In the laboratory, fertilised embryos are kept in a glucose solution to mimic the conditions of the uterus to provide nutrients for the embryos to grow.

By measuring the precise amount of the solution each embryo consumes during the four to five days they are left to grow, the Melbourne team has discovered that those taking in the most solution also have the highest chance of resulting in a baby.

The scientists have also discovered that female embryos appear to take up more glucose than male embryos, providing a possible means of determining their sex before they are transferred to hopeful mothers - something that is causing ethical debate in fertility circles. "This is a very early observation, but it may have the potential to help identify gender at early embryo stage," Prof Gardner said.

The University of Melbourne and Repromed research will be detailed to world experts at the Fertility Society of Australia's annual scientific meeting in Adelaide next week.


9 October, 2010

Three cups of tea a day 'can protect against heart attacks' (?)

I drink tea regularly so I could be inclined to hail the findings below. But the tiny difference quoted is incapable of supporting causal inferences. It's all just another sermon of the stupid old antioxidant religion

Drinking just three cups of tea a day can protect against heart attacks and stroke, claim researchers. A new review shows regular drinking of either black or green tea can reduce the risk of heart problems by 11 per cent. It cuts the build-up of plaque in the arteries - a combination of dangerous fat and cholesterol.

In terms of the delivery of antioxidants, two cups of tea is equivalent to five portions of vegetables or two apples

The review by researchers at the University of Western Australia says the benefits of tea are largely due to the flavonoid content, antioxidant ingredients that counteract cardiovascular disease. One cup of tea provides 150-200mg of flavonoids. In terms of the delivery of antioxidants, two cups of tea is equivalent to five portions of vegetables or two apples.

The review published in the science journal Molecular Aspects of Medicine also found the flavonoid content of black tea is equal to that of green tea. Almost 80 per cent of Britons are tea drinkers.

Dr Jonathan Hodgson, co-author of the review, said 'There is now consistent data indicating that tea and tea flavonoids can enhance nitric oxide status and improve endothelial function, which may be at least partly responsible for benefits on cardiovascular health.'

Dr Catherine Hood from the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel said 'Compared with US studies, the cardiovascular benefits of tea are particularly strong in European studies. This includes UK studies where most of the tea consumed is black.

'Plaques in the carotid artery (a marker of atherosclerosis) have been shown to be less common in both men and women who drink tea. 'Bearing in mind the number of studies, including human trials, data demonstrates that flavonoids in tea can inhibit the development of atherosclerosis.

'This review also highlights evidence from randomised controlled trials showing that tea consumption may improve the health of the inner lining of the blood vessels as well as evidence that tea may reduce the risk of high blood pressure and lower blood pressure.

'Adding milk to tea doesn’t affect the absorption of flavonoids from tea, according to several human research trials. In addition, the antioxidant effects seen in our blood following tea consumption are similar whether or not milk is added.'

She said 'Evidence is growing that three to four cups of black tea each day is good not only for general health, but also for cardiovascular health. 'Given the popularity of black tea in the UK, this is good news for those who enjoy regular cups of tea.'


Obesity war risking people's lives

Sustained (life-long) weight loss is virtually impossible without medical intervention so the "war" is pressuring people into taking drugs and having procedures that are far more risky to health than the "obesity" itself. Diets mostly end up making people fatter so in desperation some turn to these dangerous measures

A POPULAR weight loss drug has been withdrawn from sale following a review by Australia's medical watchdog and research showing it could cause overweight people to suffer a heart attack or stroke.

Pharmaceutical company Abbott on Friday announced it would immediately cease distribution of its drug sibutramine, which is sold under the brand name Reductil.

Australians now using the prescription-only medicine should make an appointment with their doctor to seek advice on an alternative, a company spokesperson said in a statement.

"Abbott today announces that it has voluntarily ceased marketing and distribution of sibutramine in Australia," the spokesperson said. "Doctors should not issue any new prescriptions for sibutramine. "Patients who wish to stop treatment before seeing their doctor can do so at any time."

The spokesperson said 30 million people had used the drug worldwide since it was introduced in 1997, though it was a "modest-sized product for Abbott in Australia".

The European Medicines Agency suspended the marketing of sibutramine earlier this year, while Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) moved in June to tighten the conditions under which doctors could prescribe the drug.

This followed the release of preliminary results of the six-year and 10,000 patient SCOUT study, which showed the weight loss drug carried a potentially fatal cardiovascular risk.

"Analysis of the final results of the SCOUT study have since confirmed there is an increased ... risk of major cardiac events such as heart attack and stroke in obese and overweight patients," the TGA said in an update posted on its website on Friday.

"... It remains unclear whether the safety of sibutramine is acceptable even in those who respond to the medicine."
The Abbott spokesperson said the company still believed the drug had a "positive benefit/risk profile when used appropriately" although it would be pulled from sale following talks with the TGA.

Other known side-effects of the drug include trouble sleeping, constipation, a dry mouth, fast heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, heart palpitations, headache, anxiety and dizziness.


8 October, 2010

LOL! Fish oil strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

No, no no! Not the beloved fish oil!

Fish oil – long encouraged by doctors as a supplement to support heart and joint health, among other benefits – induced severe colitis and colon cancer in mice in research led by Michigan State University and published this month in the journal Cancer Research.

Jenifer Fenton, a food science and human nutrition researcher at MSU, led the research that supports establishing a dose limit for docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil, particularly in people suffering from chronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases.

"We found that mice developed deadly, late-stage colon cancer when given high doses of fish oil," she said. "More importantly, with the increased inflammation, it only took four weeks for the tumors to develop."

Specifically, the research team found an increase in the severity of the cancer and an aggressive progression of the cancer in not only the mice receiving the highest doses of DHA but those receiving lower doses as well. The mice used in the study were prone to inflammatory-like bowel disease; inflammation is an important risk factor for many types of cancers, including colon cancer.

"Our findings support a growing body of literature implicating harmful effects of high doses of fish oil consumption in relation to certain diseases," Fenton said. "Currently, there is a call by academics and the food industry to establish dietary guidelines for omega-3 consumption. This is primarily motivated by the fact that most Americans are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and there is substantial evidence supporting the beneficial effects of the consumption."

The findings were surprising, specifically because DHA has been shown to have some anti-inflammatory properties, according to Fenton: "We hypothesized that feeding fish oil enriched with DHA to mice would decrease the cancer risk; we actually found the opposite. These mice were less equipped to mount a successful immune response to bacteria that increased colon tumors."

Fenton cautions people may not need to avoid fish oil; what the research shows is needed are guidelines on dosing. With any nutrient, there is a "bell curve" effect. On the left of the curve are those deficient in a nutrient; on the right are those in excess.

She said people already receiving enough omega-3 fatty acids through their normal diet and foods have no need for added supplementation.

"With fish oil, we don't yet know how much is appropriate," said Fenton, also a researcher with the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station. "There are many examples of taking supplements, nutrients or chemicals in excess that can promote cancer (for example, beta-carotene supplementation in smokers). Supplementation is most useful when the person taking them is deficient in that specific nutrient."

The research team's findings could have an important preventive health impact, specifically in light of the high rates of colon cancer in the United States. Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease have an increased risk of developing colon cancer, and when the cancer metastasizes it can be fatal.

The next step, Fenton said, is to test omega-3 fatty acid levels in people with inflammatory bowel disease. To that end, she is continuing to build relationships – via MSU's College of Osteopathic Medicine campus in Macomb County – with gastrointestinal specialists to develop a cohort of patients.

"To help develop guidelines, we need to see how these findings correlate to human populations," she said.


Some food trivia

Generally, cooler environments preserve food best – apart from tropical fruit. Banana skins, for example, have evolved to survive in warm conditions, because that is where they grow best. Anything below 13.3C damages the membranes, releasing enzymes which lead to skin blackening. To avoid a mushy banana, keep it away from the chiller.

It is not just fears for our health that keep food scientists busy. They are also involved in the aesthetics of the dinner table. Everybody loves that first frothy splash of champagne into a flute, but why, on pouring the second glass, does the fizz seem to be less fizzy?

Don't worry – it's not the alcohol playing tricks. A dry glass has thousands of tiny nucleation sites on its inside surface, caused by scratches, irregularities and even dust. Like all fizzy drinks, champagne is supersaturated with carbon dioxide, which is just itching to convert back into gas from its liquid form. When champagne meets one of these nucleation sites, its liquid is repelled, allowing the dissolved gas to form a bubble. This quickly grows and heads towards the surface, while another forms in its place. That is why trails of bubbles in champagne appear to emanate from the same point on the glass's inner surface.

A wet glass, therefore, provides fewer nucleation sites – hence, less fizz. In fact, glass manufacture has become so precise that producers have to ensure that the inner surface is rough enough to create bubbles by deliberately introducing imperfections. Otherwise, your champagne would look more like a chablis.

Such precision has also been applied to beer – in particular, to the discovery that the optimum number of sharp pointy bits on a bottle cap is 21. Go on, count them. Years of trial and error led to the internationally accepted German standard DIN 6099, which ensures that almost every bottle cap is the same. This is because 21 is the ideal number when you take into account the circumference of the cap, the likelihood of its metal splitting, and the chances of it sticking in the capping machine. So when you open your next bottle of lager, pay homage to those who bothered to find out, starting with William Painter, in 1892.

Of course, some researchers do care about the more serious stuff, driven by fear of the future and an ever-increasing population on a warming, land-impoverished planet. Sadly, New Scientist's correspondents concluded that there was no one foodstuff that could feed the world on its own – even the ingenious suggestion that we resort to cannibalism, to recycle the necessary nutrients, was vetoed on the grounds that it would be subject to diminishing returns.

However, they did come up with a menu that could feed a family of four for 365 days a year, using only eight square metres of land. Rotating crops (so that the soil didn't lose one nutrient more than any other) would be vital, as would ploughing back dead plant matter and maintaining a vegetarian diet. After that, you would need to grow crops that take up very little space and grow vertically rather than horizontally, if possible.

So, come 2100, we'll be existing on a diet of runner beans, mangetout, parsnips, potatoes, blackberries, sprouts, tomatoes and radishes. The adventurous among us will grow herbs, while the more wealthy may have a few hens wandering about providing eggs (and, more pertinently, providing their own fertiliser).

The only thing that could relieve the tedium of such a diet would be a few drinks – another pet topic of New Scientist readers. My book, Why Can't Elephants Jump?, covers such weighty questions as whether fizzy water weighs less than still, and why certain cocktail garnishes float while others sink.

Yet we have to admit that science alone can't provide all the answers. In particular, the question of why James Bond prefers his vodka martinis shaken rather than stirred taxed researchers for some time. Most connoisseurs now agree that a stirred martini is superior to Bond's shaken one. So why was a man of impeccable taste drinking the wrong kind?

Various theories bounced around the science foodie community. Was shaking better because aldehydes oxidised the vermouth in the Martini, in the way that red wine oxidises while it "breathes", as researchers in France surmised? Not so, said scientists in Ontario, who thought that shaking a Martini broke down hydrogen peroxide in the drink, thus altering its flavour. Or were spicules of ice from the shaking process clouding the Martini? Or did shaking the Martini "bruise" the vodka?

In the end, the answer was more prosaic. When Ian Fleming was writing his novels, shortly after the Second World War, grain was expensive, so a lot of vodka was made from potatoes. Potato vodkas are markedly more oily than the grain vodkas we are used to today. As a very enjoyable blind taste test in our offices confirmed, potato vodka shaken with ice dissipates the oil, making for a smoother drink. Bond, being a man of sophistication, would have known this. So it was that oily potatoes played their part in the birth of one of movieland's most famous catchphrases.

More here

7 October, 2010

Obesity is NOT a public health burden

Which removes the major rationale for government intervention. The comments below by economist Ross Gittins are based on conventional assumptions -- which are in turn based on dogmatic interpretations of epidemiological findings -- but if those findings are usable to condemn obesity, it seems equally reasonable to use those findings to exonerate it. What's good for the goose is good for the gander

I have bad news and good about the O-word. Although there has been a suggestion in some quarters that the media got over-excited about the "obesity epidemic", a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - unlikely to be a purveyor of faddish enthusiasms - has confirmed the seriousness of the problem.

The report says obesity is worsening throughout the developed world and becoming the top public health concern. One in two people is now overweight or obese in almost half the developed countries. In some, two out of three people will be in trouble within 10 years.

In Australia, 61 per cent of adults are overweight or obese, making us almost as fat as the Americans. In 20 years, our overweight rate has risen faster than in any other developed country. It is projected to rise another 15 per cent in the next 10 years.

And the good news? It's saving taxpayers money.

Although healthcare spending for obese people is at least 25 per cent higher than for someone of normal weight, and increases rapidly as people get fatter, severely obese people are likely to die eight to 10 years earlier, so their shorter lives mean they incur lower healthcare costs over their lifetime. It's even greater than the saving on smokers.

If you don't like that, try this. As measured by gross domestic product, obesity is a win-win-win situation. The more you eat the more you add to GDP and the profits of businesses. If the messages of advertising and marketing make you self-conscious about your overweight, everything you spend on fancy diets, gym subscriptions etc adds to GDP.

And then when you damage your health, everything you, the government and your health fund spend on trying to keep you going adds to GDP. Even when you die prematurely that won't count as a negative against GDP, although the absence of your continued consumption will be missed.

Two of our greatest campaigners on obesity are Garry Egger, the professor of lifestyle medicine at Southern Cross University and the founder of GutBusters, and Boyd Swinburn, professor of population health at Deakin University.

They've written a book, Planet Obesity, which takes a rather different tack. Since obesity is endemic, it can't be dismissed as the product of gluttony and sloth on the part of a few individuals.

Obesity has been rising since the 1980s. Before then it was rare. Clearly, it's a product of our modern lifestyle, of the way we organise our society.

We're getting fatter for a host of interacting reasons. According to the OECD report, the supply and availability of food altered remarkably in the second half of the 20th century, brought about by big changes in food production technologies and an increasing and increasingly sophisticated use of promotion and persuasion.

The price of calories fell dramatically and convenience foods became available virtually everywhere, while the time available for traditional meal preparation from raw ingredients shrank as a result of changing working and living conditions.

"Decreased physical activity at work, increased participation of women in the labour force, increasing levels of stress and job insecurity, longer working hours for some jobs, are all factors that, directly or indirectly, contribute to the lifestyle changes which caused the obesity epidemic," the report says.

See what this is saying? The rise in obesity is a product of the success of capitalism and the technological advance it fosters and exploits.

People in developed countries have been getting taller and heavier since 1800. For almost all that time, our weight gain has made us healthier but in recent decades it's greatly accelerated and is now making us unhealthy.

Until fairly recently, economic growth was making us unambiguously better off. Making us more secure, more prosperous and, because of scientific advances, improving our health. But now we've overshot the sweet spot and continued economic growth is starting to worsen our health.


Another bit of conventional wisdom bites the dust

Skipping 'kiss' during kiss of life may be better: research

Skipping the kiss when giving the "kiss of life" could help save more lives, doctors have discovered. People who suffer a cardiac arrest in the street are more likely to survive if bystanders carry out chest compressions without stopping to give "mouth-to-mouth".

The study found that the survival rate of people who received conventional CPR, including the kiss, was 7.8 per cent. This compared with 13.3 per cent for those who were given compression-only CPR.

It is thought the decline in blood circulation when people stop chest compressions to give rescue breaths causes some resuscitation efforts to fail.

The time taken to get adequate blood low going again after the pause is also detrimental.

Several other studies have also shown compression-only CPR may be better than the traditional method and experts say bystanders may be more willing to attempt it if no rescue breaths are required.

The study by the Arizona Department of Health Services in Phoenix was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr David Cone, of the Yale University School of Medicine, wrote in an accompanying editorial that further research should be conducted in this area.

International organisations on resuscitation are currently reviewing guidelines.


6 October, 2010

Light drinking in pregnancy makes the offspring smarter and better behaved

And what a tizzy that finding is provoking! "Experts" (i.e. believers in the conventional wisdom) don't want to believe the evidence. They do however eventually get around to realizing -- now that it suits them -- that correlation is not causation and that women who can drink in a controlled manner are probably smarter anyway -- and pass that on to their children genetically. The results do nonetheless suggest that moderate drinking is not harmful

Experts warn mothers-to-be should not raise a glass to new British research showing "light drinking" during pregnancy has no detrimental effect.

The study tracked the long-term health of more than 11,500 British children born at the start of the decade and it found no sign of harm - and perhaps even a benefit - from mums who drank low levels of alcohol throughout their pregnancy.

The finding runs counter to official advice for Australia's impending mums and experts say there were factors that may have skewed the data and abstinence remained the safest approach.

“The finding ... was that children exposed to light drinking in pregnancy had better cognitive ability at age five years in comparison to children of mothers who did not drink during pregnancy,” said Dr Lucy Burns, senior lecturer and chief investigator at the University of NSW's National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. “This was, however, only one of the many outcomes in the report, the majority of which found no improvements in child functioning.

“Given the increasing body of knowledge now showing that alcohol disrupts brain development in the foetus ... it seems most sensible to continue to promote abstinence during pregnancy as the best approach.”

The study rated new mothers from either teetotal through to light drinkers (one or two standard drinks a week), moderate drinkers (three to six drinks weekly or five at any one time), and binge or heavy drinkers (seven or more drinks a week or six in any one sitting) during their pregnancy.

About 60 per cent of the mums abstained during pregnancy while one in four (26 per cent) were light drinkers, one in 20 (5.5 per cent) were moderate drinkers and 2.5 per cent were heavy drinkers.

Their children's development was assessed at ages three and five years.

Heavy drinking mums were more likely to have children who were hyperactive and with behavioural and emotional problems. But, in a surprise result, children of light drinkers were found to be 30 per cent less likely to have behavioural problems compared to mothers who abstained.

Professor Wayne Hall, from the University of Queensland's School of Population Health, said it was “highly unlikely” that light drinking alone carried a benefit for children.

“It is much more likely that women who report drinking these small quantities have children at lower risk of developing behaviour disorders because they have better diets, are healthier, use antenatal care, are better educated (and) probably drink alcohol with meals.”

These benefits were unlikely to have been completely factored out by the researchers, Professor Hall said.

The expert reaction came as an Australian study was also released showing low levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy did not increase the risk of birth defect.

The study of 4,700 women who gave birth in Western Australia between 1995 and 1997 did however show drinking more than seven standard drinks a week during the first trimester carried a four-fold increased risk of birth defects.

“While this finding may provide some reassurance to mothers who unknowingly consumed alcohol before they knew they were pregnant, the best advice is still to follow the national guidelines that advise expecting mums to avoid alcohol in pregnancy,” said Dr Colleen O'Leary from Perth's Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.

The official advice of NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) is “for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option”.


Is it REALLY organic?

By Mischa Popoff (who is an organic inspector)

Organic food is better for you. Right? It's more nutritious. It contains more vitamins, minerals and other good things like antioxidants, plus it's fresher and tastier. Right?

Hold that thought.

Organic food is also more pure and natural. It contains far less harmful pesticide residues than conventional food. It's also relatively free of herbicides, fungicides and other "cides" used extensively by conventional farmers. Right?

Again, hold that thought.

Perhaps best of all, organic agriculture uses natural sources for fertility like composted manure or clover plough-downs instead of synthetic ammonium nitrate. A whopping 50% of synthetic nitrates run off conventional fields into rivers and streams and end up in oceans where they cause algal blooms which are lethal to natural ecosystems. That in itself is reason enough for many consumers to pay healthy premiums for organic food. Right?

Yet again, hold that thought.

There are many good reasons why organic agriculture is supposed to be better for the environment and for your health. There are even some good studies that confirm, for the most part, many of the assumptions outlined above. But no one is bothering to prove whether the farm itself is organic in the first place.

Imagine how many world records would be broken at the Olympics if they quit testing athletes. Imagine if an athlete only needed a dated and signed list of all the things he ingested over the last four years to "prove" he was clean. See anything wrong with that? This is how the $46 billion organic industry runs. It's a bureaucratized honor system with piles of paperwork that are somehow supposed to prove no one is cheating.

Feel better now?

Sure, organic farmers are probably an honest bunch. But why not test to make sure? I worked for five years across the continent as an Advanced Organic Inspector, and the overwhelming majority of the 500 farmers I inspected asked me that very question when I dropped by to look at their audit trail. Indeed, what's the point of bothering to do studies to see how beneficial organic food might be if we don't even know if it's really organic in the first place?

With 80% of organic food being imported from places like China, Mexico, Brazil and Chile, you really have to wonder what steps are being taken to ensure full compliance with organic standards.

The problem lies with the ever-expanding matrix of players between the farmer and the consumer: private and state certifiers, federal regulators, review committees, sub-committees, local chapters, inspector review boards, international policy boards, accreditation committees, technical committees, and so on. Then there are all the broker/traders, wholesalers and retailers who bring organic food to the store shelf. None of them are about to jeopardize their revenue streams by demanding once-annual tests of organic farms. Indeed, 80% of their business relies on cheap imports.

Governments consulted with all of these players to come up with national organic standards, but forgot to ask farmers and consumers what they thought. The result is the biggest "feel good" system ever devised; a system which fails to promote sustainability and doesn't even begin to promote soil fertility, purity or nutrition. There's no effort to stamp out fraud and negligence, or to improve what it means to be organic.

"Adequate" hardly begins to describe it, and you're paying for it whenever you and your family fill up on organic groceries.

SOURCE. Popoff has a book on the subject here. The blurb at least is worth reading.

5 October, 2010

The autism/Mercury scare again

Brainless. A mercury compound in vaccines (Thimerosol) was for many years said to cause autism. But when the compound was withdrawn from vaccines, the incidence of autism still kept rising. It was a classic before-and-after experiment but no evidence is enough for some attention-seekers. What the guy below wants to do is just epidemiological rubbish anyway

A researcher who has found strong evidence that autism is caused by mercury poisoning has been refused access to data that could point to emissions from coal-fired power stations.

The director of the Swinburne Autism Bio-Research Initiative, David Austin, said the data on autism incidence by postcode could quickly answer the question of whether mercury emissions from power stations are implicated in babies and infants developing the disorder.

When Professor Austin requested the information after a review of international scientific literature confirmed "a mercury-autism relationship", the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs said it could not be released on privacy grounds.

"It's a fairly easy study to do and yet it is so important. We are keen to do it as quickly as possible in Australia because we are a big coal-burner," said Professor Austin. "If the information says there is no link, then we can go forward comfortably. If the answer is yes, there can't be much more important information than knowing the way structures in our society work like how power generators are impacting on our grandchildren."

The department rejected Professor Austin's request while the government was in caretaker mode and he has now called on the federal minister, Jenny Macklin, to override her department.

Researchers could have a full report ready within 12 months once they got the data, Professor Austin said. It would be easy to compare autism statistics from Tasmania, where there are no coal-fired power stations, with areas such as the Hunter Valley, where there are, he said.

"We are very lucky that we collect good data as a nation on this, so we have a good idea of autism rates available on the Centrelink database. The government privacy issues shouldn't be viewed as such an impassable obstacle when such a big thing is at stake," he said.

Professor Austin's research has already found elevated levels of porphyrins, a marker for mercury damage, in the urine of Australian autistic children.

A University of Texas study two years ago found a statistically significant link between the amount of mercury released from industrial sources such as coal-fired power stations and increased autism rates. The prevalence of autism in the community reduced by 1-2 per cent every 16 kilometres of distance from the pollution source, it concluded. [Yes. Because only the poor would want to live next to a power station]

"There is already major concern in the Hunter around respiratory concerns, but the US research suggests it may go beyond to neurological and developmental implications and I can't think of a more important question for research if that is so," Professor Austin said.

Calling for the information's release, a NSW Greens MP, John Kaye, said the number of children with autism in NSW government schools grew from 2267 to 5995 between 2003 and 2009, a jump of 165 per cent.

"Coal-fired power plants are responsible for approximately one-third of all mercury emissions attributable to human activity," he said.

A department spokeswoman said that under government protocols, data referring to fewer than 20 individuals would not be released to protect privacy. "Professor Austin asked for specific data by postcode. Most of this data would refer to less than 20 individuals," she said.


Only manage five hours of sleep? It's the ideal amount for women who want to live longer

This is all very well but any causal inference is mere speculation. It could be that generally healthier people need less sleep. Saying that a certain amount of sleep is "best" is rubbish. It's an individual matter

Women who think they aren't getting enough beauty sleep shouldn't worry - resting for between five and six and a half hours a night are more likely to live longer, research claims. Those who get slightly less than the healthy recommended amount of seven hours tend to outlive those who sleep much more.

The researchers hope their findings will help dismiss the commonly-held belief that people aren’t getting enough sleep.

While adults are advised to have at between seven and nine hours a night to stay healthy, many end up getting much less.

This latest study involving 459 elderly women in America found that those who slept for between five and six and a half hours a night had the longest survival rates.

Researchers from the San Diego School of Medicine have been monitoring the participants aged between 50 to 81 since 1995 to try and establish a link between sleep and mortality.

In their first study they worked out peoples’ sleeping habits using wrist activity monitors, which are able to tell whether a person is awake or asleep by how much they move and then count up the overall hours of sleep a night. Last year the researchers tried to get back in touch with all the women 14 years later to find out whether they were still alive. They established that those who had more than six and a half hours sleep a night or less than five were far less likely to be alive today.

Professor Daniel Kripke said: 'The surprise was that when sleep was measured objectively, the best survival was observed among women who slept 5 to 6.5 hours.' 'Women who slept less than five hours a night or more than 6.5 hours were less likely to be alive at the 14-year follow-up.'

Professor Kripke said the study, published in the journal Sleep, should allay some people’s fears that they’re not getting enough sleep. He added: 'This means that women who sleep as little as five to six-and-a-half hours have nothing to worry about since that amount of sleep is evidently consistent with excellent survival. 'That is actually about the average measured sleep duration for San Diego women.'

Around one third of the UK adult population regularly sleeps five hours or less a night. But many celebrities and successful figures of the past have been known to get much less. Madonna, Margaret Thatcher and Florence Nightingale are amongst those who survived on four hours sleep a night, while scientist Nikola Tesla, who helped invent x-rays, had just two hours sleep a night.

Long term studies show that those who drop down to five hours or fewer face a 70 per cent extra risk of dying from all causes.


4 October, 2010

Women Who Get Dental Care Have Lower Risk of Heart Disease, Says Study

The usual rubbish. Richer women are more likely to be able to afford dental care and rich people are healthier anyway

A new study led by a University of California, Berkeley, researcher could give women a little extra motivation to visit their dentist more regularly. The study suggests that women who get dental care reduce their risk of heart attacks, stroke and other cardiovascular problems by at least one-third.

The analysis, which used data from nearly 7,000 people ages 44-88 enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study, did not find a similar benefit for men.

Published online Sept. 29 in the journal Health Economics, the study compared people who went to the dentist during the previous two years with those who did not.

"Many studies have found associations between dental care and cardiovascular disease, but our study is the first to show that general dental care leads to fewer heart attacks, strokes, and other adverse cardiovascular outcomes in a causal way," said study lead author Timothy Brown, assistant adjunct professor of health policy and management at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health.

In the world of health and medical studies, causality is typically determined through randomized controlled trials in which two or more groups of people are essentially equal, except for the receipt of a treatment or intervention, such as a new drug, a periodontal procedure or a health education class. The group that did not receive the treatment -- the control group -- is compared with the group that did. Differences in outcomes between the groups are attributed to the treatment.

But randomized controlled trials are not always possible, so researchers sometimes turn to a statistical approach called the method of instrumental variables to rule out other potential factors that could account for different outcomes between groups. The use of instrumental variables is common among economists to evaluate the effects of economic policies, but it is less well-known in the clinical setting.

"While relatively short randomized controlled trials of specific types of dental treatment are possible, we can't run long-term randomized controlled trials of whether general dental care reduces cardiovascular disease events like heart attacks and strokes," said Brown, a health economist. "Individuals randomized to the treatment group would enjoy general dental care and those randomized to the control group would get no dental care at all. Many, if not most, people in the control group would simply get dental care on their own, destroying the experimental design, and making the results of the experiment worthless. The method of instrumental variables allows us to avoid this problem."

The method helped researchers rule out self-selection bias, or the possibility that people who seek out dental care are different -- perhaps healthier in general -- than those who don't.

Data from the Health and Retirement Study had been collected every two years from 1996 to 2004. This longitudinal study followed the same individuals over time, and each biennial survey included questions on whether subjects had visited the dentist and whether they had experienced a heart attack, stroke, angina or congestive heart failure during the prior two years. Deaths from heart attacks or strokes were also included in the analysis. The study took into account other risk factors, such as alcohol and tobacco use, high blood pressure and body mass index.

The fact that men and women did not benefit equally from dental care did not completely surprise the researchers. "To my knowledge, previous studies in this area have found that the relationship between poor oral health and cardiovascular disease markers varies by gender, but none have examined differences between men and women with regard to actual cardiovascular disease events," said Brown, who is also associate director of research at UC Berkeley's Nicholas C. Petris Center on Health Care Markets & Consumer Welfare.

"We think the findings reflect differences in how men and women develop cardiovascular disease," said study co-author Dr. Stephen Brown, a first-year obstetrician/gynecologist resident at the West Virginia University Charleston Division School of Medicine. "Other studies suggest that estrogen has a protective effect against heart disease because it helps prevent the development of atherosclerosis. It's not until women hit menopause around age 50 to 55 that they start catching up with men."

The study authors suggest that for dental care to have a protective effect, it should occur early in the development of cardiovascular disease.

The researchers did not have data on the type of procedures used during the dental visit, but they pointed to other studies that indicated three-fourths of older adult dental visits involved preventive services, such as cleaning, fluoride and sealant treatments.


Death rates INCREASED by 20mph zone... and getting rid of cameras reduces accidents

Reducing the speed limit to 20mph in all residential streets does not significantly improve road safety, an official report has revealed.

Towns around the country [Britain] are planning to introduce the limit in the belief that lower speeds save lives. However, analysis of the first citywide scheme in Portsmouth has shown the number of people killed or seriously injured actually increased after the speed limit was reduced from 30mph.

While the 20mph limit has been widely implemented in specific streets, for example near primary schools, the case for reducing the limit in all residential streets appears to have been badly damaged by the Department for Transport report.

Analysis by consultants Atkins, on behalf of the Department for Transport, found the average number of people killed or seriously injured annually in Portsmouth rose from 18.7 to 19.9 after the scheme was launched in 2007.

Motorists' average speeds reduced by only 1.3mph to 18.5mph. The Portsmouth speed limit is not enforced by speed humps or cameras, instead relying on motorists obeying the law.

Previous studies have found that 20mph zones in which traffic-calming measures are also deployed produce bigger reductions in drivers' average speeds.

City centre 20mph zones have been introduced in Newcastle upon Tyne, Oxford, Edinburgh and Bristol.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport minister, has given his backing to 20mph limits. Earlier this year he said: 'For a child being hit at 30mph and 20mph is the difference between life and death. 'But this is also about making our town centres more attractive places to live and work, and reducing carbon emissions by encouraging people to cycle or walk.'

A spokesman for the transport department said: 'This report by an independent contractor on the Portsmouth scheme is one of several research documents available to help councils decide whether they want to put in place 20mph zones or limits. 'It is up to local authorities to make these decisions using their knowledge of local roads and in consultation with local communities.'

Meanwhile a town where all the speed cameras were switched off has reported a sharp drop in the number of accidents. Over the past year there have been 14 minor and two serious accidents in the streets of Swindon monitored by cameras. This compared with 15 minor, five serious and one fatal accident in the same streets the previous year when cameras were operational.

Roderick Bluh, leader of the Tory-controlled council, said: 'it is beginning to look as though we were right all along when we said these cameras were revenue raisers.'


3 October, 2010

Think Saturated Fat Contributes to Heart Disease? Think Again…

Leading Scientists Re-Examine the Role of Saturated Fat in the Diet

For the past three decades, saturated fat has been considered a major culprit of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and as a result dietary advice persists in recommending reduced consumption of this macronutrient. However, new evidence shows that saturated fat intake has only a very limited impact on CVD risk -- causing many to rethink the “saturated fat is bad” paradigm.

A series of research articles published in the October issue of Lipids[1] provides a snapshot of recent advances in saturated fat and health research, based on science presented at the 100th American Oil Chemists’ Society (AOCS) annual meeting in Orlando, Florida (May 2009). During a symposium entitled “Saturated Fats and Health: Facts and Feelings,” world-renowned scientists specializing in fat research analyzed the evidence between saturated fat intake and health, and overall agreed upon the need to reduce over-simplification when it came to saturated fat dietary advice.

“The relationship between dietary intake of fats and health is intricate, and variations in factors such as human genetics, life stage and lifestyles can lead to different responses to saturated fat intake,” said J. Bruce German, PhD, professor and chemist in the Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California at Davis. “Although diets inordinately high in fat and saturated fat are associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk in some individuals, assuming that saturated fat at any intake level is harmful is an over-simplification and not supported by scientific evidence.”

Professor Philippe Legrand of Agrocampus-INRA in France confirmed this by discussing various roles that different saturated fatty acids play in the body. His main conclusion was that saturated fats can no longer be considered a single group in terms of structure, metabolism and cellular function, and recommendations that group them together with regard to health effects need to be updated.

Effect of Saturated Fat Replacement on CVD Risk

Results from a research review conducted by Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, MPH, Department of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard University School of Public Health, found that the effects of saturated fat intake on CVD risk depend upon simultaneous changes in other nutrients. For example, replacing saturated fat with mono-unsaturated fat yielded uncertain effects on CVD risk, while replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates was found to be ineffective and even harmful especially when refined carbohydrates such as starches or sugars were used in place of fat[2]. Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat gave a small reduction in CVD risk, but even with optimal replacement the magnitude of the benefit was very small. According to Mozaffarian it would be far better to focus on dietary factors giving much larger benefits for CVD health, such as increasing intake of seafood/omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and decreasing intake of trans fats and sodium.

‘’Carbohydrate intake has been intimately linked to metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of risk factors that can increase CVD risk,’’ said Jeff Volek, PhD, RD, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut. His research showed that very low carbohydrate diets can favorably impact a broad spectrum of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk factors, even in the presence of high saturated fat intake and in the absence of weight loss.

Kiran Musunuru, MD, PhD, MPH. Cardiovascular Research Center and Center for Human Genetic Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, focused on the role of carbohydrates and fats on atherogenic dyslipidemia – a new marker for CVD risk often seen in patients with obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. He showed that low-carbohydrate diets appear to have beneficial lipoprotein effects in individuals with atherogenic dyslipidemia, compared to high-carbohydrate diets, whereas the content of saturated fat in the diet has no significant effect.

Full-Fat Dairy: An Unnecessary Target?

As long as saturated fat targets remain firmly rooted in dietary advice, nutrient-rich foods that contribute saturated fat to the diet, like full-fat dairy products, will continue to be unduly criticized regardless of their health benefits.

A recent meta-analysis of epidemiological and intervention studies of milk fat conducted by Peter Elwood, DSc, MD, FRCP, FFPHM, DUniv, Hon DSc, Honorary Professor at the School of Medicine, Cardiff University, found that milk and dairy consumption actually was associated with a decrease in CVD risk[3].

“It is clear that we have barely scratched the surface in our understanding about the biological effects of saturated fatty acids,” said Cindy Schweitzer, PhD, Technical Director, Global Dairy Platform. “Scientific meetings where researchers from different disciplines within the field of nutrition share information are extremely important to identify both the gaps in our knowledge and the studies that are needed to answer the important questions about diet and health.”

All of these recent research advances add to the growing body of science re-assessing the role of saturated fat in the diet. Whether it’s nutrient replacement or better understanding the role certain foods can play in CVD risk, saturated fat is definitely not be as bad as once thought.

To view the relevant papers from Lipids visit here


Cancer genes "turned down"

A new cancer vaccine concept developed by researchers at The University of Queensland's Diamantina Institute has been licensed to US-based developer of RNAi (ribonucleic acid interference) therapeutics, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, Inc., through UniQuest, UQ's main research commercialisation company.

The intellectual property licensed exclusively to Alnylam relates to research from Associate Professor Nigel McMillan's molecular virology group, which was described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work investigated the use of RNAi to induce an effective immune response against tumours.

One of the most exciting aspects of this rapidly advancing frontier in biomedical research, according to Associate Professor McMillan, is the potential for treating diseases and helping patients in a fundamentally new way. “It's one of those holy grail areas of cancer research – finding a way for the immune system to ‘see' cancer cells, which are very good at hiding away," Associate Professor McMillan said. "Even current therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation treatment ultimately need the immune system to ‘clean up' cancer cells.”

“RNA Interference is like the volume control on a radio – a way to turn down the expression (or volume) of single genes. "Cancer is often caused by certain genes being over-expressed (or turned up far too loud) and now that the sequencing of the human genome is complete we have begun to understand which genes need turning down.

“A surprising finding from our RNAi work is that not only can we turn down genes, but we can also alert the immune system to the presence of a cancer cell. "This means we can treat a few cancer cells and the immune system, now aware of the cancer, can attack and remove the rest of the untreated tumours.”

UQ's Diamantina Institute put Queensland in the spotlight in 2006 when Gardasil was launched globally - the cervical cancer vaccine developed from the research of Institute Director Professor Ian Frazer and the late Dr Jian Zhou.

Associate Professor McMillan's RNAi research has used cervical cancer as a model system to test RNAi therapy. “In cervical cancer where genes from the human papilloma virus are driving the cancer, we have shown that turning off these genes by RNAi causes these cancer cells to stop growing and die," he said.

UniQuest also commercialised the intellectual property relating to Professor Frazer and Dr Zhou's discovery.

“This licensing agreement opens up new opportunities for RNAi-based products to be developed into vaccines for cancers and infectious diseases,” UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson said.

“Partnering with an international company such as Alnylam promotes collaboration and makes it possible for the Australian research community to contribute directly to global efforts in the fight against a range of terminal and chronic human illnesses,” Mr Henderson said.

Dr Stuart Pollard, Vice President, Scientific and Business Strategy at Alnylam, said the company was pleased to have secured key vaccine-related intellectual property, which describe opportunities for the advancement of novel RNAi-based vaccines in many human diseases. “While our primary focus remains on the development of RNAi therapeutics, Alnylam's strategy is to also explore the full breadth of RNAi applications in medicine," Dr Pollard said.

The role of RNA molecules has been under the microscope since nucleic acids were first discovered in 1868; however, RNAi and the implications gene silencing may have for drug discovery and development are widely acknowledged to represent one of the most significant biology breakthroughs already this century.


2 October, 2010

Just bad boys, or malfunctioning brains?

"Bad" has to be judged by its consequences, regardless of its cause -- JR

Antisocial boys who abuse drugs, break laws and act recklessly aren't just "bad": many of them may have malfunctioning brains, according to a new study.

"Brain responses to everyday rewards and punishments gradually guide most youngsters' decisions to conform with society's rules," said Thomas Crowley, a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and leader of the study.

A brain area known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is associated with decisionmaking, after receiving information about rewards and punishments from an inner part of the brain. (Image courtesy US Nat'l Center for Biotechnology Info/NIH)

But "when these seriously troubled kids experience rewards and punishments. their brains apparently malfunction," he added. "Our findings strongly suggest that brain malfunction underlies their frequent failure to conform to rules, to make wise decisions, and to avoid relapses back to drug use and antisocial acts."

The scientists, from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Maryland, studied 20 adolescent boys who on average had been on probation 139 of the previous 180 days.

Nineteen of the 20 had the psychiatric diagnosis of conduct disorder, and all had diagnoses of substance use disorder. They had been abstinent, however, an average of about five weeks when studied. They were compared with 20 other boys who did not have serious antisocial or drug problems, but who were of similar age, ethnicity, and home neighborhoods.

All were asked to play a computerized risk-taking game that repeatedly presented a choice between a cautious and a risky behavior: press the left button and always win one cent, or press the right button and either win five cents or lose ten cents.

Interestingly, the scientists said, the number of risky right presses was similar in the two groups. This might have occurred, they added, because the game forced the boys to deliberate for several seconds before pressing either button.

Yet there were dramatic differences in brain activity between the two groups of players, the researchers noted. They examined which parts of the brain were most active during play using a scanning technology known as functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Normally, a brain region called the the anterior cingulate cortex monitors changing rewards and punishments, and then sends that information to another brain region, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which regulates one's choices among possible behaviors.

During decision-making, antisocial boys had significantly less brain activity than normals in both of those regions, and also in other decisionmaking areas, the investigators found. On the other hand, there were no parts of the brain in which the antisocial youngsters showed more activation.

As predicted by others not associated with the study, the antisocial boys also had dysphoria, a chronic sad-anxious state, the researchers said. They also displayed "reward insensitivity"; in the game their brains showed less response than the comparison boys' brains to wins. They additionally were found to have "punishment hypersensivity," with greater brain response to losses than comparison boys.


Why Are We Underusing a Cure for Drug Overdose?

If we came up with a sure cure for lung cancer, we wouldn't withhold it because it might encourage people to smoke. But something about heroin addiction tends to cloud our thinking on public health policy. On this subject, though, Los Angeles has enjoyed a moment of sunny clarity.

The federal Centers for Disease Control reported in July 2006 that more than 16,000 people died in 2002 from drug overdoses. Philadelphia loses more lives to heroin than to homicide. Chicago witnessed nearly 200 deaths in 18 months from overdoses of fentanyl, an exceptionally powerful opiate that is often mixed with heroin.

One way to prevent people from overdosing is to stop them from using drugs. But as smokers have demonstrated, knowing you should quit and actually quitting are two different things. Despite all our law enforcement and education efforts, there are nearly 120,000 heroin users in the United States.

Abstinence is best, but when it's not universal, other remedies are needed. Luckily, one has emerged. Naloxone is a medicine with one conspicuous attribute: It can stop a heroin overdose in its tracks.

In 2006, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to spend $100,000 to dispense naloxone to community organizations that offer treatment and other help to addicts. It's the latest government to acknowledge that the first step toward curing drug abuse is keeping the abuser alive.

The board has grounds to act. Fatal drug overdoses in Los Angeles have hit the highest level in a decade. Among whites between the ages of 25 and 44, they are the leading cause of death. In 2002 and 2003, there were more than 900 known deaths involving heroin, or more than one every day.

The fiercest critics of drug use may think overdoses are not such a bad thing, since they get rid of troublesome lowlifes. But even by that harsh logic, naloxone is worthwhile, if only because not all excessive ingestions are lethal. Hundreds of heroin users are admitted to Los Angeles County's public hospitals every year with nonfatal overdoses, at a typical cost of $16,000 apiece. Many others get emergency room care. All this means an overdose of tax burdens for local residents.

There is no question that naloxone (also known as Narcan) works. Emergency medical service providers in Los Angeles County already use it about 1,000 times a year.

In Cook County, Ill., a naloxone distribution program operated by the Chicago Recovery Alliance helped to bring down the number of deaths from 466 in 2000 to 324 in 2003. Dan Bigg, director of the program, says that between January 2001 and September 2006, it documented 478 episodes of reversed overdoses -- most or all of which would have been fatal.

But even though deaths for heroin overdoses are rampant in many places, we have held back from mass deployment of a medicine that can save lives. The federal government provides no money for overdose treatment efforts, though Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced a bill to change that. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has been wary of naloxone, arguing, "We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin."

No, we don't. But it's entirely feasible for governments to proselytize against drug use while trying to keep drug users alive, just as we preach against tobacco while providing medical care to smokers stricken by emphysema.

Naloxone has several great advantages beyond its capacity to instantly avert death. One is that it's very cheap -- about 26 cents a dose. Another is that unlike methadone, which is used to wean addicts off heroin, it has no recreational use. So there is no danger addicts will abuse it or sell it in the black market.

It also can be administered by minimally trained laypeople, which makes it ideal for treating heroin addicts. Many of them die because their fellow drug users are afraid to call 911 and invite an encounter with police. Giving naloxone to a user means he can inject a friend in severe distress, sparing a life without risking jail.

Saving heroin users from killing themselves is not as good as persuading them to give up heroin entirely. But naloxone is a priceless tool for addressing drug problems. After all, as Dan Bigg notes, you can't cure an addict once he's dead.


1 October, 2010

Study: Video games aid decision-making

This would seem to be one in the eye for the sensation-mongering Susan Gruenfeld

Playing action video games, the source of parent-child conflict, may improve a person’s ability to make quick and accurate observations, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Rochester found that video gamers who played 50 hours of the fast-paced role-playing games “Call of Duty 2’’ and “Unreal Tournament’’ made accurate decisions up to 25 percent faster than those who played a slow-moving strategy game.

The researchers recruited 20 young adults, none of whom was a frequent player of action video games, and measured their initial decision-making skills using a boring visual computer task.

Recruits staring at a static black-and-white screen were asked to watch a cluster of darkened dots and quickly say in what direction the dots were moving. Researchers noted how often the participants correctly perceived the dot movement and how quickly they responded with the correct answer.

The recruits then spent the next 10 weeks playing video games on computers at the research facility, five hours a week. The researchers had divided the group at random: Half played the action games, hunting foes or shooting up robots; half played “The Sims 2,’’ building and maintaining virtual communities. After 50 hours of game time, researchers measured how the players’ decision-making performance changed with a final moving-dot test.

The action gamers made decisions just as accurately as their strategy-gaming peers about the movement of the dots, but they also sped up their response time.

“The benefit is coming from enhancing the amount of information the brain of action-game trainees can pick up from the environment for the task at hand,’’ said Daphne Bavelier, a contributing author of the study.


A general syndrome of cancer susceptibility

Worth knowing if you have relatives who get early onset cancer of any type. Most of the women in my mother's family died of breast cancer so I should be wary. Onset was generally reasonably late in life, however. And at 67 my survival is already not too bad

Relatives of young breast cancer victims are at higher risk from other forms of the disease, research has found. Scientists believe entire families may be carrying faulty genes that make them up to seven times more likely to develop certain cancers.

It is known that some forms of breast cancer are caused by defective genes, which can be passed from a mother to daughter. But researchers believe other cancers are caused by groups of faulty genes which are inherited.

Scientists found if a woman develops breast cancer before she is 35, her parents and siblings are more at risk of breast, ovarian, prostate, lung, bladder, and brain cancer.

Their study found that fathers and brothers of women diagnosed with what is known as ‘very early onset’ breast cancer were six and a half times more likely to develop prostate cancer.

Both parents and all her siblings had a four times higher risk of bladder cancer, three times greater risk of brain cancer and were seven times more likely to get lung cancer.

The mothers and sisters of these women were two and a half times more likely to get ovarian cancer and three times more likely to get breast cancer.

The University of Melbourne study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at 2,200 parents, brothers and sisters of 500 women diagnosed with very early breast cancer. The scientists believe sets of faulty genes which make cells less resistant to cancer are being passed down through generations.

They hope eventually they will be able to pinpoint the exact defective genes responsible for each type of cancer, enabling people to have gene tests early on in their life. Once this is known patients would be able to have screenings and preventative treatment.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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