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

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

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

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

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

What fast food does to girls


31 October, 2011

Daily dose of statins could cut risk of breast cancer by 30%

I knew this would be an epidemiological rather than an experimental finding as soon as I saw the heading. Although they are downplayed below, very troubling side-effects are common with statins. So it is only the unusually healthy who can tolerate them. And the unusually healthy are unusually healthy in other ways too. What the finding below again shows, therefore, is that good health has some generality

A daily dose of drugs designed to lower cholesterol could also slash the risk of breast cancer recurring, say researchers.

They found that women who had developed a breast tumour were nearly 30 per cent less likely to suffer a relapse if they took a type of statin called simvastatin.

Millions take statins to combat heart disease by lowering cholesterol, but research has suggested that high cholesterol could also be a key factor in the development of breast cancer.

The latest findings raise the possibility that the pills, at around 40p a day, could be a cheap and effective way of helping to prevent breast cancer returning, if future large-scale investigations confirm the results.

A team of U.S. and Danish researchers, led by Dr Thomas Ahern from Harvard Medical School in Boston, looked at nearly 19,000 Danish women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1996 and 2003.

The women were tracked for nearly seven years to see if they suffered a recurrence. Researchers also found out whether they had taken statins and, if so, which type.

Those on simvastatin were 30 per cent less likely to see their tumour return than those who had taken no form of statin.

It belongs to a class of drugs known as lipophilic statins, which means they dissolve easily in fat.

But women who took another class, known as hydrophilic statins, saw little or no reduction in cancer risk. Hydrophilic drugs, such as pravastatin, dissolve better in water.

In a report on their findings, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the researchers said the results are promising enough to warrant a large clinical trial to see if statins could be routinely used to treat breast cancer.

‘In the interim, doctors prescribing statins to breast cancer survivors should favour simvastatin over other types,’ they said.

All statins attack the enzyme that produces low density lipoproteins or ‘bad cholesterol’ which can form fatty deposits in the arteries. But they are classed as either water or fat soluble depending on how they are absorbed by the body.

Fat-soluble statins enter cell membranes more easily. Scientists think statins that are more fat soluble may for some reason have a more powerful effect in terms of keeping cancer at bay.

Simvastatin is available as a generic drug or under the brand names Ranzolont, Simvador and Zocor as tablets.

It is one of the cheapest statins and is available in low doses from pharmacies without a prescription.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends doctors prescribe statins to those whose chance of having a ‘cardiovascular event’ – such as a heart attack – in the next ten years is 20 per cent or higher.

Although the drugs are effective and generally safe, they can cause side-effects ranging from mild symptoms – such as headaches, pins and needles and nausea – to a rare condition called rhabdomyolysis, where muscles become sore and inflamed.

The research is the latest in a long line of studies to suggest statins may have powerful cancer-fighting properties.

In September, research revealed that men with suspected prostate cancer who had been taking statins before they had their biopsy were nearly 10 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with a tumour and 24 per cent less likely to have an aggressive cancer.

Around 48,000 women in Britain are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, equal to more than 130 a day.


We're going to have to abolish drug licencing you know

Yes, I do mean health type drugs, not fun type ones, for the latter a system of licensing would be a tremendous step forward from the current position. But for health type drugs we really are going to have to abandon drug licensing. Or at he very least, our current system of licensing them.

The reason is that currently we've a system which, however bad it is, however many people it kills by keeping new drugs off the market through the expense of getting a license, is aimed solely and purely at mass market drugs. If, as we move to more personalised medicine, we stop having mass market drugs then we cannot have a drug licensing system which is set up only for those mass market drugs that no longer exist.
If each drug takes $1 billion to reach the market and 10 million people use it over its patent protected lifetime, then each patient contributes, on average, $100 to the development of that drug. If we keep shrinking the denominator, then the economics become more difficult. Taken to the extreme of personalized medicine, with one specific drug for each person, we cannot expect that one person to cover the $1 billion development cost. Even if the development cost drops to $1 million per new drug, the economics won't work.

I think the average development cost would need to drop to $10,000 per drug to be reasonable. To reach this price, we would need to exclude the FDA completely--allow drugs to be marketed without prior FDA approval--or allow the FDA to approve the process of drug development instead of each specific drug.

And there are drug treatments out there which are tantamount to a new drug or each person: cancer treatments that study the DNA of the cancer, the specific immune system and which then turbocharge one to attack the other as an example.

Even where we retreat from such extremes we already know that different drugs have different effects on different parts of the population even when being used to treat the same disease. Those of West African derivation can react quite differently, as a group, to a drug than those of northern European, or East African, or Australasian genetic heritage as can each group from the other. We're finding certain gene combinations which mean that certain drugs will or will not work in sub-groups of such larger collectives as well. All in all, we're finding that ever more drugs have ever smaller target populations, to say nothing of those drugs we've developing, or would like to, to treat complaints that only strike a few people.

We therefore have to reduce the cost of a license for each and every drug: which means abandoning out current methods of licensing drugs. We simply cannot continue to use methods solely appropriate for mass market drugs when we're not in fact trying to develop mass market drugs.

All of which is rather alarming really. For you could, I am sure, talk to any individual who works in or with the drug licensing authorities and easily gain agreement with the basic thesis above. But there's nothing quote so conservative as a bureaucracy when acting collectively, however reasonable or intelligent the component parts of it.


30 October, 2011

Probiotic yoghurts help your gut to break down carbs?

No change in the bacterial population but they produce different enzymes? Hard to believe. And the sample of only SEVEN twin pairs is ludicrously small

After wolfing down a pizza you may want to finish with a probiotic yoghurt, after researchers found they help the body to break down carbohydrates.

Scientists from Washington University School of Medicine wanted to look at what impact, if any, live bacteria in popular yoghurts have on digestion.

They performed studies on mice as well as identical female twins using a yoghurt that had five strains of live bacteria.

The team found eating the yoghurt twice a day for seven weeks did not alter the mix of microbes in the intestines of the women or the mice.

However, when they took a closer look at the mice they found there were significant changes in some of the bacterial enzymes involved in metabolising carbohydrates.

Many of the key changes noted in the highly controlled laboratory environment were also found in the seven pairs of twins.

Study author Dr Jeffrey Gordon, said: 'Carbohydrates are an important part of our diet, and the way they are broken down by gut microbes is an important part of digestive health.

'A number of carbohydrates are quite complex and can only be digested by enzymes made by gut microbes. 'We found that when the mice were given the bacterial strains found in the yogurt, at doses comparable to those consumed by humans, they could more efficiently break down certain classes of carbohydrates.'

Our guts contain millions of bacteria known collectively as the microbiota.

This complex system works to break down certain nutrients that our bodies could not otherwise digest, prevents the growth of harmful bacteria, produces nutrients such as vitamin K and biotin as well as hormones to tell our bodies when to store fat.

The research, which was published in Science Translational Medicine, could help scientists analyse the many health claims made by makers of probiotic yoghurts.

'This is a proof of principle. We have developed an approach to test the health effects of probiotics that focuses on how those microbes influence the dynamic operations of our gut microbial communities,' Dr Gordon said.

He added that their long-term goal was to develop ways to improve the nutritional value of the foods we eat.


Kellogg's adds vitamin D to cereal to fight rickets

It is a tremendous condemnation of British public health precautions that this is happening. During WWII they started adding vitamin D to butter and margarine. What happened to that?

Kellogg's is to add vitamin D to all its children's cereals in a bid to fight the rise of rickets among young people. The breakfast cereal producer will add the ingredient to cereals including Coco Pops and Rice Krispies, as part of a healthy eating drive to "help avoid" the bone-softening condition among younsters.

A survey by Kellogg's found that 82 per cent of paediatric dietitians have seen a rise in rickets among young people in the past five years, with nearly half of them treating cases in the past year.

The number of children under 10 admitted to hospital with rickets jumped by 140 per cent over the eight years between 2001 and 2008, it found.

The food giant will add vitamin D to most of its cereals, particularly those targeted at children, by the end of 2012. Corn Flakes and Ricicles already contain the vitamin, but it will be added to Rice Krispies by March next year and will be in Frosties by September.

Scientists have linked the causes of rickets, which can cause weak bones and bowed legs, to a lack of vitamin D.

The chemical is normally absorbed into the body through sunlight, but it can also be ingested through eggs, oily fish and fortified breakfast cereals. As more children spend time indoors watching television and playing computer games, their exposure to the sun is vastly reduced, meaning that they need an alternative source of the vitamin.

Vitamin D deficiency can lead to illnesses including cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and multiple sclerosis.

Rickets was thought to have died out in the 1930s, but 20 per cent of young children still show symptoms of the condition, a study by researchers at Southampton University found.

Professor Nicholas Clarke, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the university, said Kellogg's move to include vitamin D in its children's cereals was "a good idea".

Alyson Greenhalgh-Ball, European nutrition director at Kellogg's, added: "Healthcare professionals would like to see the introduction of a recommended daily intake [of vitamin D], so we are clear on how much vitamin D children need to avoid these health issues."

The cereal producer's decision has also been praised by health experts, who said the move was "fantastic." "We used to get enough vitamin D from sunlight but we are not getting as much," Jacqui Lowdon, of the British Dietetic Association, told the Daily Mirror. "Children are not playing outdoors as much as they used to and also people are slapping on suncream a lot more. "So if we can get vitamin D into food children like to eat, that’s fantastic."


29 October, 2011

More evidence that coffee cuts skin cancer

As a conference paper not yet peer-reviewed or published, this is very hard to evaluate. But the fact that only one type of cancer benefits smacks of a data dredging result

MORE evidence that coffee, particularly among female drinkers, has a positive effect against the most common form of skin cancer worldwide has been released.

Women who drank more than three cups per day of caffeinated coffee saw a 20 percent lower risk of getting basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a slow-growing form of cancer, than those who drank less than a cup per month.

Men who drank the same amount saw a nine percent lower risk, said the research presented at the 10th American Association for Cancer Research International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research in Boston.

"Given the nearly one million new cases of BCC diagnosed each year in the United States, daily dietary factors with even small protective effects may have great public health impact," said researcher Fengju Song, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of dermatology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "Our study indicates that coffee consumption may be an important option to help prevent BCC."

The data was derived from the Nurses' Health Study (Brigham and Women's Hospital) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (Harvard School of Public Health).

The nurses study followed 72,921 participants from June 1984 to June 2008. The health professionals study tracked 39,976 participants from June 1986 to June 2008.

Basal cell carcinoma was the most frequently diagnosed skin cancer in the groups, totalling 22,786 cases.

The benefits of coffee drinking were not seen against the next two most prevalent types - squamous cell carcinoma (1953 cases) or melanoma (741 cases).

Basal cell carcinoma is a non-melanoma form of skin cancer, and is the most common cancer in the United States. Seventy-five percent of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, according to the American Cancer Society.

It is most common in people with light hair and green or blue eyes, and can manifest itself as a skin sore that bleeds and doesn't heal, though it rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

Previous studies have shown coffee drinkers tend to have fewer incidences of breast, uterine, prostate and colon cancers, but the beneficial effects are not seen in people who drink decaffeinated coffee.


Drinking alcohol ‘improves your chances of surviving a heart attack’


Women who like to have a daily drink, be it a glass of white or a rum and coke, can enjoy it knowing it is helping their hearts, researchers say. A study from Harvard Medical School, found women who drank anything from a few beverages a month to more than three a week lived longer than women who remained tee-total.

The findings, which focused on more than 1,000 women and were published in the American Journal of Cardiology, add to mounting evidence that alcohol can boost heart health.

'One thing that was interesting was that we didn't see differences among different beverage types,' said study leader Joshua Rosenbloom. 'The most recent evidence suggests that it's the alcohol itself that's beneficial.'

The team found women had a similarly reduced risk of dying within the follow up period whether they drank wine, beer or spirits.

One drink a day is a really good target, assuming that a person can be disciplined about that,' commented Dr James O'Keefe, a cardiologist at St. Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Missouri.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,200 women hospitalised for a heart attack. They asked questions about how many alcoholic drinks the women usually consumed, along with other health and lifestyle questions.

After at least 10 years of follow up, the team found that 44 out of every 100 women who had abstained from alcohol had died. This compared to 25 out of every 100 light drinkers and 18 out of every 100 heavy drinkers.

This meant drinkers had a 35 percent lower chance of dying following a heart attack compared to those who didn't touch alcohol.

In an earlier study including men and women, Dr O'Keefe found that people who continued to drink moderately after having a heart attack had better health than those who abstained.

'You don't need to assume that people need to stop drinking once they develop heart disease,' he said. 'The problem is that alcohol is a slippery slope, and while we know that a little bit is good for us, a lot of it is really bad.'


28 October, 2011

Aspirin every day can cut cancer risk by 60%: British scientists find first proof of preventative effect

If you've got a genetic defect called Lynch syndrome

Taking aspirin regularly can cut the long-term risk of cancer, according to the first major study of its kind. British researchers found it can reduce the risk by 60 per cent in people with a family history of the disease.

The landmark research covering 16 countries is the first proof that the painkiller has a preventive action that is likely to benefit anyone using it every day.

Millions who take low-dose aspirin to prevent heart disease will gain from its anti-cancer properties, while healthy people may follow the example of increasing numbers of doctors who take it for insurance.

In the study of 861 patients with Lynch syndrome, a genetic fault leading to bowel and other cancers at an early age, half were given two aspirins a day, 600 mg in total, for two years.

The remainder were given placebo, or dummy, pills, says a report published online in The Lancet medical journal.

Initially, the researchers found no change in cancer rates between the groups. But when they followed up the study after five years, they detected a significant difference.

By 2010 a total of 19 new bowel cancers had been identified among those given aspirin and 34 among the placebo group - a cut of 44 per cent among those taking the drug.

When researchers focused on the 60 per cent of patients who they were certain had conscientiously taken aspirin for at least two years they found an even more striking result. Just ten cancers were discovered in the aspirin group compared with 23 in the placebo group, a cut of 63 per cent.

Rates of other cancers linked to Lynch syndrome were almost halved by taking aspirin.

Professor Sir John Burn from Newcastle University, who led the research, said: ‘What we have finally shown is that aspirin has a major preventive effect on cancer but it doesn’t become apparent until years later.’

The study is being hailed as the last piece of the jigsaw after years spent trying to prove that aspirin has a direct effect in stopping tumours. A big step forward came last year with a study which showed that low-dose aspirin cuts overall death rates by a third after five years’ use.

However, it used records to look at the incidental benefits for patients taking it to stave off further heart attacks and strokes. The latest trial actually set out to prove that cancer could be prevented in people taking it for no other reason.

Experts say healthy middle-aged people who start taking aspirin around the age of 45 or 50 for 20 to 30 years could expect to reap the most benefit because cancer rates rise with age.

There is widespread concern that side-effects such as stomach bleeding and haemorrhagic stroke outweigh any advantage among healthy people.

Sir John, who takes aspirin every day, estimates there are 30,000 people with Lynch syndrome in the UK who might benefit from aspirin treatment. He said: ‘If we put them all on two aspirins a day now, in the next 30 years or so we would prevent 10,000 cancers. On the other hand, this would cause around 1,000 ulcers.

‘If we can prevent 10,000 cancers in return for 1,000 ulcers and 100 strokes, in most people’s minds that’s a good deal, especially if you’ve grown up in a family with three, four, five, six people who have had cancer. ‘On the other hand, if you’re just in the general population and you don’t have cancer in your family, then that’s going to be a much finer balance.’

Further research will take place, he said, to discover the ideal dose of aspirin.

Professor Chris Paraskeva, Cancer Research UK’s bowel cancer expert at the University of Bristol, said: ‘This adds to the growing body of evidence showing the importance of aspirin, and aspirin-like drugs, in the fight against cancer.’


The horrors of Halloween advice

Why is the US health-and-safety brigade scaring kids about everything from inflammable costumes to poisonous treats?

Americans are really into Halloween. For weeks now, stoops, window sills and shop fronts here in New York have been decorated with cob-web, red and orange lights, ghost figures and jack-o-lanterns. Adults and children alike are busy planning their outfits for the annual parades, costume parties and trick-or-treating on 31 October.

The medieval roots of the door-to-door candy-collection tradition have all but been forgotten. These days Halloween is just an excuse to dress up as zombies, witches, vampires and other scary figures and to have a silly, cosy and fun time. But some are apparently taking the mischievous tradition of scaring the bejesus out of one another a tad too seriously.

ABC News warns that ‘while this is a time for little ones to have fun, parents shouldn’t let the kids’ enthusiasm drown out common sense. There are many hazards associated with Halloween.’ Face paint can trigger allergies, costumes can get caught in car doors or catch fire, masks can slip over the eyes, young children can choke on treats, cut their fingers off while carving pumpkins or be kidnapped by strangers.

Scary, indeed. In America, Halloween is apparently a highlight not just for candy-crazy, fun-loving kids, but also for every health-and-safety-obsessed organisation in the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise parents to ensure their children go trick-or-treating in groups or with a trusted adult, that they carry flashlights and that they walk, not run, between houses. Adults should limit the amount of treats kids eat and check them for choking hazards before the kids start gorging them. Kids should only be allowed factory-wrapped candies and should avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers. Their costumes should be flame-resistant and, to be on the even safer side, kids should not walk near lit candles.

The National Fire Protection Association says each house should have two clearly marked exits in case of an emergency. Battery-powered or electric candles are preferable, but if you do insist on lighting candles, they should be kept at least one foot away from decorations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes small children should never carve pumpkins. ‘Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.’ Trick-or-treaters should stay on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk. If no sidewalk is available, they should ‘walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic’.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology warns of the hidden dangers of buying decorative contact lenses without a prescription. There is apparently no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ contact lens. ‘Lenses that are not properly fitted may scratch the eye or cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea.’

The US Food and Drug Administration says ‘partygoers and partythrowers’ should avoid juice that hasn’t been pasteurised or otherwise processed. Before bobbing apples, a traditional Halloween game, thoroughly rinse the apples under cool, running water to reduce the amount of bacteria that might be on them. ‘As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.’

The American Red Cross has published 13 (nearly) rhyming tips for a safe Halloween. For example, ‘If you visit a house where a stranger resides, accept treats at the door and, please, don’t go inside.’

Why are these organisations so scared of Halloween? Or, rather, why are they so scared of letting parents use their common sense, of allowing people just to let loose and to have some respite from the worries, rule-making and diet-watching that are already part of their and their children’s everyday life? Whenever the public sees an opportunity to relax and have fun, health-and-safety obsessives see an opportunity to scare them back into submission. It’s not necessarily sinister, though, it’s just their creepy, intuitive reaction to stop people from experiencing fun overload.

Sure, all these dangers are a possibility – decorations can catch fire, apples could be covered in bacteria and masks may temporarily obscure kids’ vision. But pointing out the obvious, over and over, and exaggerating the risks behind these things won’t make people feel safer. It just helps turn what is a harmless holiday into a nightmarish, control-freakish night of health-and-safety horror.


27 October, 2011

Not your fault! Hormones linked to weight

ANY dieter knows that it's hard to keep off weight you've lost. Now an Australian study has found that even a year after dieters have shed a good chunk of weight quickly, their hormones are still crying out, "Eat! Eat! Eat!"

The findings suggest that dieters who have regained weight are not just slipping back into old habits, but are struggling against a persistent biological urge.

"People who regain weight should not be harsh on themselves, as eating is our most basic instinct," Joseph Proietto from the University of Melbourne says. He's the author of the study published in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Weight regain is a common problem for dieters. To study what drives it, Mr Proietto and his colleagues enrolled 50 overweight or obese patients in a 10-week diet program in Australia.

They wanted to see what would happen in people who lost at least 10 per cent of their body weight. Ultimately, only 34 people lost that much and stuck with the study long enough for analysis.

The program was intense. On average, the participants lost almost 13.6kg during the 10 weeks, faster than the standard advice of losing half to kilo a week. They took in 500 to 550 calories a day, using a meal replacement called Optifast plus vegetables for eight weeks. Then for two weeks they were gradually reintroduced to ordinary foods.

Despite counseling and written advice about how to maintain their new weights, they gained an average of 5.4kg back over the next year. So they were still at lower weights than when they started.

The scientists checked the blood levels of nine hormones that influence appetite. The key finding came from comparing the hormone levels from before the weight-loss program to one year after it was over. Six hormones were still out of whack in a direction that would boost hunger.

The dieters also rated themselves as feeling hungrier after meals at the one-year mark, compared to what they reported before the diet program began.

Experts not connected to the study said the persistent effect on hormone levels was not surprising, and that it probably had nothing to do with the speed of the weight loss.

People who lose less than 10 per cent of body weight would probably show the same thing, though to a lesser degree, said Dr George Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

A key message of the study is that "it's better not to gain weight than to try to lose it", Dr Bray said.

Why would a dieter's body rebel against weight loss? It's an evolutionary holdover from earlier times, when weight loss could threaten survival and reproduction, says Dr Rudolph Leibel, an obesity expert at Columbia University in New York.

So "it's not surprising at all" that our bodies would fight back for at least a year, he said. "This is probably a more or less permanent response".

People who lose significant weight not only gain bigger appetite but also burn fewer calories than normal, creating "a perfect storm for weight regain", Dr Leibel said.

He said avoiding weight regain appears to be a fundamentally different problem from losing weight in the first place, and that researchers should pay more attention to it.

The study was supported by the Australian Government, medical professional groups and a private foundation. Mr Proietto served on a medical advisory board of Nestle, maker of Optifast, until last year.


Mrs Obama accused of gluttony

She does not practice what she preaches

MICHELLE OBAMA is now furious with Southern cooking queen PAULA DEEN for crowing that the first lady, a healthy-eat­ing advocate who’s waging a war against childhood obesity, pigs out on fattening foods.

While plugging her new book, “Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible,” the feisty TV chef took a pot shot at Michelle for gorging herself on greasy french fries, fatty hot chicken wings and sug­ary deep-fried Snickers bars!

“Michelle’s spitting mad,” a source told The ENQUIRER. “She thinks Paula is trying to smear her and her family just as the 2012 presidential election race swings into gear.”

The trouble first be­gan before Barack Obama was even elected president in 2008, when Michelle made a guest appearance on Deen’s popular “Paula’s Party” show and revealed that fried shrimp was her family’s favorite meal.

Then in an interview af­ter filming the program, Paula quipped that Michelle would be serving high-fat, greasy and sugary foods in the White House if Obama won the elec­tion!

Now Paula is rehashing those at­tacks on Michelle in an attempt to plug her latest cookbook and offset Michelle’s new book about eating healthy, noted the source.

“She’s no different than the rest of us,” Paula said about Michelle in a new interview. Paula added: “She probably ate more than any other guest I ever had on the show! She kept eating even dur­ing commercials. Know what (the Obamas’) favorite foods are? Hot wings. Y’know – those kinds of foods that aren’t necessarily top-of-the-list healthy foods.”

“Michelle now deeply regrets ever being on Paula’s show,” added the source. “There are a lot of digs she would have been able to brush off, but portray­ing her as a high-calorie gorger during her crusade for healthy eating is crossing the line.”


26 October, 2011

Just one can of fizzy drink a day may make teenagers behave more aggressively

Some unusual humility (in red) below. High fizzy drink consumption may simply indicate high self-indulgence generally

Just one can of fizzy drink a day is linked to more aggressive behaviour by teenagers, claim researchers. A new study found youngsters were significantly more likely to be violent and carry weapons if they regularly consumed fizzy soft drinks.

The study showed those having more than five cans of non-diet carbonated drinks a week were more likely to get involved in violent assaults.

The US researchers are uncertain if the link is causal, but have not ruled this out.

It is possible that unknown factors causing aggression in youngsters also influence their dietary habits – which is why they opt for fizzy drinks – but previous research suggests poor nutrition may be a cause of antisocial behaviour.

The latest findings, reported online in the journal Injury Prevention (must credit), come from a survey of 1,878 teenagers aged 14 to 18 from 22 state schools in Boston.

They were asked how many cans of non-diet fizzy soft drinks they had consumed over the past week. Up to four cans was considered ‘low’, and five or more was classified as ‘high’.

Just under one in three pupils fell into the ‘high’ category, some drinking more than two or three cans a day.

The scientists then investigated any potential links to violent behaviour. Youngsters were asked if they had been violent towards their peers, a brother or sister, or a partner, and whether they had carried a gun or knife in the past year.
PUGH cartoon on fizzy drinks

Overall, frequent soft drink consumption was associated with a 9 per cent to 15 per cent increased likelihood of engaging in aggressive behaviour.

Violence and weapon-carrying was in any event common among the teenagers, who largely represented ethnic minorities from poor backgrounds. Of the group, 50 per cent were black or multi-racial, 33 per cent Hispanic, 9 per cent white and 8 per cent Asian.

However, rates of violent behaviour increased in a ‘dose response’ as students consumed more fizzy drinks, the researchers found.

Just over 23 per cent of teenagers drinking one or no cans a week had carried a gun or knife, rising to just under 43 per cent of those drinking 14 or more cans.

For the same increase in fizzy drink consumption, the proportion of those who had shown violence to a dating partner rose from 15 per cent to 27 per cent.

Rates of violence towards peers rose from 35 per cent to more than 58 per cent, and towards siblings from 25 per cent to more than 43 per cent.

The researchers, led by Dr Sara Solnick from the University of Vermont, said ‘There was a significant and strong association between soft drinks and violence.

‘There may be a direct cause-and-effect relationship, perhaps due to the sugar or caffeine content of soft drinks, or there may be other factors, unaccounted for in our analyses, that cause both high soft drink consumption and aggression.’

More speculation HERE

Fish could cut risk of dementia as it boosts blood flow to the brain

Wow! They found that fish oil did NOT affect mental performance but still think it MAY be a good thing! Nothing can shake the Omega-3 religion

Eating fish may boost blood flow to the brain which could stave off dementia in later life, researchers have discovered.

The health benefits of a diet rich in omega-3, a fatty acid found in oily fish, have long been suspected, and the findings of two studies into its effects on young people suggest that it can improve reaction times in 18-35 year olds as well as reducing levels of mental fatigue after they perform tough tasks.

Although the results suggest that, contrary to popular belief, taking omega-3 or fish oil supplements may not have an impact on the mental performance of young adults, the researchers at Northumbria University say the increased blood flow to the brain it caused could be important for older people.

Lead researcher Dr Philippa Jackson said: ‘These findings could have implications for mental function later on in life. The evidence suggests that regularly eating oily fish may prevent cognitive decline and dementia, and increased blood flow to the brain may be a mechanism by which this occurs.

'If we can pinpoint both the behavioural and brain blood flow effects of this fatty acid in older healthy people, then the benefits for those with mental degenerative conditions associated with normal ageing could be that much greater.'

Researchers now plan to conduct a study on omega-3 use in people aged 50-70.


25 October, 2011

Bringing on birth the 30s way 'is safer': Trial finds fewer side effects than with modern practices

A method of inducing labour that dates back to the 1930s has been found to work as well as modern treatments but with fewer side effects.

Researchers tested a mechanical catheter against a hormone gel to determine which was better at starting labour in women whose pregnancies were overdue.

Both were similarly successful in helping women to have natural births rather than surgical deliveries.

But the catheter method led to fewer complications, less distress for the baby and lower infection rates in mothers, says a report published in The Lancet.

Scientists compared the gel, containing prostaglandin E2 – the most widely-used way of bringing on labour – with the Foley catheter – invented in the 1930s by an American surgeon – where a balloon is inserted into the womb and then pumped up with a saline solution to imitate the onset of labour.

The trial was conducted at 12 hospitals in the Netherlands, and involved 824 women, half of whom were induced with the catheter and the rest with the gel.

Caesarean rates were similar in both groups, totalling 23 per cent for the Foley catheter versus 20 per cent for those using the gels.

But using the catheter reduced the number of operative deliveries caused by foetal distress, and led to significantly fewer babies being admitted to the neo-natal ward for special care – just 12 per cent compared with 20 per cent for those using gels.

There were just five cases of infection during labour among women in the Foley catheter group compared with 14 in the gel group.

Kitty Bloemenkamp, from Leiden University, said fewer side effects and less pain suggested ‘Foley catheters would be a woman’s preferential choice of labour induction’.

Patrick O’Brien, spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: ‘It’s reassuring that this research shows both methods are equally effective. 'Women shouldn’t think they’re being offered an old-fashioned technique that’s inferior to more modern treatment.’


Obesity police vs. Tony the Tiger

Remember Hoodrat? He was the seven-year old who stole his grandmother's car for a joyride back in 2008. I don't know how many underage kids are stealing cars, but it's doubtful Hoodrat is an isolated case. Should the government step in to regulate automotive advertising to avert copycat offenses?

Of course not. But something similar is being proposed in Washington.

Regulatory agencies have formed a working group on obesity, and are proposing significant changes in how foodstuffs are marketed, targeted, advertised, and sold. The working group is comprised of representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Trade Commission.

The interagency request for comments is subtitled "Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts." Their argument goes something like this: "Reduce sugar, salt, and fats in foods marketed to kids or cease marketing to them." In other words, eliminate Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald, Toucan Sam, sports figures, and other characters pimping for foods deemed fattening and unhealthy or significantly change your products. Voila! No more fat kids!

Would this mean no more adorable polar bears in Coca-Cola commercials? No more Santa Claus and his sleigh-bells appearing in fast-food and candy ads?

In fact, many of the foods already accepted by the Womens, Infants, and Children program come under fire by the interagency group as too fattening. Oatmeal? Heck, even noted diabetic and kindly grandfather icon Wilford Brimley promotes that stuff.

Could it be that the advertising of food blamed for obesity in Hoodrat's generation is also the same medium responsible for prompting the pudgy young gangsta to swipe his granny's car? If so, shouldn't the advertising of vehicles be closely monitored as well?

To answer that last question - yes, but only monitored by the industry that took it upon itself several years ago to pull a Guy Ritchie-directed commercial that featured youngsters behind the wheel of a high-flying Corvette. It was a cool ad. Cute and expensive, too. But it only aired during the 2005 Super Bowl, and was yanked after viewer complaints convinced GM's marketing gurus the negative fallout was too great to continue airing it.

One wishes a similar campaign had been waged against that creepy Burger King mascot long before the fast-food chain put him out to pasture earlier this year. But, in fact, our nation's fast-food restaurants have been offering healthier menu selections for years.

And yet the forces of government presumably must battle the rising tide of blubber in our school-age children, blaming advertising for promoting unhealthy caloric intake and inactive lifestyles. This begs the question: Do overweight teachers and school administrators also promote obesity by making it appear as normative? What about fat parents? Should government regulators - pardon the pun - weigh-in on these fronts as well?

Where does a well-intentioned government stop its incursions into every nook and cranny of the body politic? Even Gov. Snyder is waging war against obesity.

I'm all for promoting healthy eating and robust living, but perhaps instead of government mandating a choice between substituting ingredients and altering advertising, perhaps they should allow the industry and the broadcasters airing their commercials to resurrect the old Schoolhouse Rock animated shorts. I'm already trying to find a word that rhymes with "orange."


24 October, 2011

The freedom to buy and sell raw milk

The August 3, 2011, shakedown of the Rawesome food cooperative in Venice, California, in spite of the tragic outcome, has produced one positive result. The ruthless raid on the part of miscellaneous government agencies has sparked a wave of unprecedented discord over the question, How can government dictate what we choose to eat when we each have unique standards for good nutrition?

This federalista blitzkrieg came at a time when raw milk alarmism had reached an all-time high. The folks who wish to banish raw milk can't leave the issue alone, and instead they have ramped up a cacophonous crusade against one of nature's glories. Day after day, articles and news bits appear in the mainstream media, full of fear mongering and panic-producing propaganda in regard to the safety of raw milk.

A July 2011 article on has some interesting survey results on comparative raw-milk regulations on a state-by-state basis. To summarize, 30 states allow consumers to transact with raw-milk producers while 20 states prohibit that act of freedom. And don't forget that federal laws prevent the sale of any raw milk over state lines. The federal government's response to the good white stuff moving over state lines is to send in armed soldiers in full battle gear to seize and destroy.

Thirteen mini-regimes across the United States allow the sale of raw milk on the farm where it was produced, while four of those thirteen allow only "incidental occurrences," with that being defined as "occasional sales, not as a regular course of business; no advertising." Surely, the feds can interpret "occasional" and "regular" and "advertising" in a whole host of capricious ways. After all, it is the use of arbitrary laws with a host of potential interpretations that enables the feds to conduct their criminal operations that consist of seizing product and regulating small producers out of business.

Four of those 13 states only allow raw goat milk while Kentucky and Rhode Island — now get this — require a prescription from a physician! Of course, you can interpret that to mean raw milk must be medicinal (ask moms who remedy their child's allergies with raw milk), but then again, there's no such thing as a Big Milk Pharma that exists as a corporate arm of the state to keep its products available for the masses. Lastly, 11 states allow raw milk to be sold in retail stores outside of the farm.

Several of the states that allow the sale of raw milk for human consumption have various twists and turns in their laws that make it very difficult to get the milk from the farm to the consumer. This essentially limits, or in some cases prevents, the sale of the product. However, imaginative entrepreneurs whose businesses are stifled by the government's despotic decrees have conceived the idea of herd shares, and this allows folks to jump through aboveboard hoops to buy a "piece" of a herd and get their raw milk. Though this is a costly administrative burden for both buyer and seller, any time that people can conjure up visionary ways to skirt the laws of the regime, freedom has taken a small step forward.

It is important to note that Rawesome was a private, voluntary cooperative of consenting members who took responsibility for any potential risks. Rawesome members even signed waivers before becoming a food-club member. With all of the agencies involved (USDA, FDA, LA County Sheriff, CDC) over a period of a year, this jihad came at great expense to taxpayers. The LA Weekly described it this way:
The official word from the DA's office is that Stewart, Palmer & Bloch were arrested on criminal conspiracy charges stemming from the alleged illegal production and sale of unpasteurized goat milk, goat cheese, yogurt and kefir. The arrests are the result of a yearlong sting. The 13-count complaint alleges that an undercover agent received goat milk, stored in a cooler in the back of Healthy Family Farms van, in the parking lot of a grocery store. While it's legal to manufacture and sell unpasteurized dairy products in California, licenses and permits are required. Rawesome may have violated regulations by selling raw dairy products to non-members.

Here is a link to the 21-page complaint.Download PDF Among the many charges against owner James Stewart is one that immediately stood out: entering into private leasing arrangements with consumers. This charge is still fuzzy, and I am sure the feds can produce a whole book of crimes.

In a recent edition of the Atlantic, an article was published that does a solid job of covering the Rawesome food-club raid and its aftermath. The Atlantic writer, Ari LeVaux, compares the Rawesome raid by federal and local agencies to the contamination of 36 million pounds of Cargill ground turkey (one tally is 77 known ill people, 1 dead). Rawesome was raided, trashed, and shut down, and meanwhile, Cargill executives were analyzing the costs of a recall vs. the potential for negative publicity from the tainted meat so they could voluntarily decide whether or not to recall the product.

LeVaux went on to say that food freedom in America is vanishing. A quote from the end of the article states the following: "This is the state of food freedom in America today: It's being sacrificed in the name of food safety." But this is not about safety. These raids that are hostile to food choice are about

* seizing power, which benefits federal and local governments and provides justification for their continued growth through the looting of taxpayers;

* eliminating the competition for the rent-seeking corporate state, meaning the big business–big government alliance;

* displaying the omnipotent power of the enforcement state (militarized police and federal/state agencies); and

* affirming rejection of any individual's right to self-ownership, and thus making the case that we are subjects to be ruled, including our behaviors and personal lifestyle choices.

The apostles of safety — assorted lawyers, corporate interests, meddlesome consumers, and other misguided safety advocates — have joined the government's campaign against raw milk to promote their own special interests and opinions. There is no tyranny of good intentions here.

More here

Alcohol Myths Persist Beyond Prohibition

In a recent article for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, I make the case that many elements of Prohibition did not fade away after the repeal of the 18th Amendment. In his October 13 opinion piece for The Detroit News, former police chief Jerry Oliver proves my point by digging up an old alcohol myth — one that was used to force Prohibition on the nation. In short, Mr. Oliver expresses the belief that producers of alcohol only seek to have customers consume as much alcohol as possible, thereby making it necessary for the government to intervene in the name of “moderation.”
Historically, it was unscrupulous alcohol producers selling directly to consumers or in cahoots with bars to sell only their products, sometimes at artificially low prices, that fostered an environment for abusive alcohol consumption. It was these excesses that helped trigger the Prohibition backlash.

…Today, most states require producers to sell to state-licensed distributors who in turn sell to local retailers. Exceptions abound where specific states allow direct-to-consumer shipments from wineries…

Critics of this time-tested approach argue the system is antiquated, citing its roots to the last days of Prohibition. That’s like arguing the Constitution is antiquated because it was written in the 1700s.

While Chief Jerry Oliver is correct that Prohibition was a backlash against Americans’ increasing alcohol use (or at least the perception of increasing use) there is no evidence that the system of direct sales or “unscrupulous” producers were the cause of increased consumption. His claim that “tied houses” (saloons owned or operated by alcohol producers) caused people to drink more is the same old myth used by the Temperance movement to push Prohibition on the country. However, we now have a large body of historical evidence that seems to debunk this presumption. Using cirrhosis of the liver as a proxy, historians have found that drinking sharply decreased in the decade preceding Prohibition — even though tied houses still abounded. While incidences of cirrhosis declined further at the start of Prohibition, they rose again toward its end.

This myth of “unscrupulous” producers has been used to maintain the mandatory three-tier system that forces alcohol producers, like brewers, to rely on a middlemen — wholesalers — to get their products into bars, restaurants, and stores. The only real reason not to shift to a voluntary system is to protect the profits of middlemen, who wield considerable political power. A voluntary distribution system would allow small producers to skip the middleman and cut costs, resulting in lower prices for consumers.


23 October, 2011

Children need calories, not nagging TV Chefs and BMI targets

Last week came the news that being too thin can be just as damaging as being too fat when it comes to women trying to get pregnant.

Experts in Chicago analysed data from 2,362 cycles of IVF involving women under the age of 40. For women who were underweight – with a body mass index (BMI) of between 14 and 18 – the chance of delivering a healthy baby was 34 per cent. It was significantly higher (50 per cent) in healthy or slightly overweight women (with a BMI of 19 to 28), and was 45 per cent in very overweight and obese women (BMI of 29 to 43).

To be honest, I don't understand why they thought this research was worth funding. I am always shocked when the likes of Victoria Beckham or superstylist Rachel Zoe manage to get pregnant.

My first thought is always: How is that even possible? If these superhumanly thin famous women employed any high-tech trickery, I doubt they would tell us. So there is this big myth that being thin doesn't compromise your life in any way, it merely makes it marvellous.

Look at the contestants on The X Factor. The first thing they are subjected to is a fitness regime, viz the charmingly chubby Craig Colton, forced to run on the treadmill when surely he should be honing his songwriting skills, or learning how to decode the small print on all those recording contracts.

I wish they had kept curvaceous Scot Jade, who would have encouraged a million teenage girls to chuck away their calorie-counters and toxic chocolate-covered 'diet' bars. She was passed over in favour of young women who either look like hookers or nymphs.

Why is it so difficult for underweight women to conceive? When you starve your body, it shuts down all but essential services. Hormone production is one of the first to go. Your body believes you are under assault and that times are hard (for the eating-disorder sufferer both assumptions are correct) and so it doesn't believe bringing another mouth into the world is very wise. Without enough fat, women stop producing oestrogen, which in turn ripens and releases eggs.

I would have laughed had it not been so tragic when my gynaecologist told me I still have the eggs of an 18-year-old. That was the age I both started (briefly) and then stopped (more or less for ever) menstruating. These eggs are not viable, of course, merely sort of in aspic, a relic of the life I could have had, if only I'd eaten.

I don't want to go on about anorexia, the causes or the cures. Instead, I want to talk about the responsibility of having children. Now, even though I complain when small infants shriek unmuffled during my spa days atop Harrods, there were points in my life when I did try to get pregnant.

I lied to my then boyfriend about being on the Pill; I actually stole my husband's sperm, even when our divorce was clearly on the cards (I won't go into the gory details, but if there is anyone out there reading this who has a son, please tell him not to underestimate the duplicity of women).

If I'd had a child, it is more than likely I would have passed on to her or him my issues with food and body image. I was in a hotel on Friday morning having breakfast. A couple of tables away, a gay couple were sat with their daughter, who was about five or six. She was wearing a tracksuit and she was, it has to be said, a little on the chubby side.

She kept getting up and browsing the elaborate, sumptuous buffet (it was the Four Seasons, after all). She came back nursing a tall glass of orange juice. 'Do you know how many calories are in that juice?' asked one of the men. 'Didn't we talk about diluting?'

And I saw her future mapped out for her. Never again will food just be something enjoyable; it will come with a figure: the number of calories, as well as her own. Which should shrink at all costs. Food will occupy her thoughts as she goes to sleep and when she wakes up. She will know, in fine detail, what she ate yesterday. She will plan what she will eat tomorrow.

Most often, she will fail to hit her target. But if she is the steely, self-disciplined type, she might succeed, and so have a lifetime of denial to look forward to. And loneliness. Until she shrivels like a prune, desiccated and defeated, or yo-yos in size ever more violently.

Forget the Government's BMI targets. Forget too Jamie Oliver's bid to get kids eating more healthily. Kids need calories. Don't make food an issue. Make it an irrelevance. And if you can't, then don't make kids.


The breastfeeding wars go on

The decision about how to feed a new baby is often unnecessarily fraught.

Last year, when supermodel Gisele Bundchen made her infamous comment that there should be a "worldwide law" that mothers breastfeed for six months, I was one of those who jumped up and down with outrage. Bundchen retracted her statement, but it was too late. Women hated her.

I don't want to be told what to do, let alone with my body. The right to choose must be protected and "breastfeeding bullies", as they are often called, do no one favours. What I wasn't prepared for, then, was the sheer weight of anti-breastfeeding myths I've found since I became a parent this year. And now I realise these sentiments found their way into my psyche long before I even thought about starting a family.

My reservations were largely informed by comments about pain, pushy midwives, "saggy" breasts, and the more "liberated" modern choice to skip breastfeeding altogether. I worried I would be embarrassed in public. I mistrusted my body's ability to do it at all. On some level I expected to fail, and feared being made to feel guilty by some nosey "Breast is Best" advocate.

Instead, what I found surprised me. Breastfeeding, when it works, is as enjoyable for mums as for babies, and while nursing is natural, it is also learned. The most basic reason for this is that we don't see breastfeeding. We don't watch babies regularly attach to nipples and suckle every day the way people in more traditional cultures do.

We have made breastfeeding all but invisible and taboo. As Germaine Greer has written, in our culture breasts are viewed as sexual organs, not as a source of nutrition.

There was something of a furore in 2008 when Angelina Jolie appeared on a magazine cover breastfeeding. Similarly, a photograph of Miranda Kerr breastfeeding her son caused mixed reactions of praise and disapproval, while provocative photographs of her in lingerie and swimwear don't cause a whiff of controversy.

Breastfeeding has become a battleground. A mention on my Twitter account of public breastfeeding earned me the comment, "Many folk are made uncomfortable by it. Think of others." On the US TV drama Game of Thrones, breastfeeding was used as a metaphor for perversion and madness when a mentally unstable queen breastfed her son of age seven or eight while addressing her court. One of the more popular gross-out skits on comedy show Little Britain concerned an adult man who still breastfeeds on his wedding day.

In a 2009 article in The Atlantic, Hanna Rosin called the breast-is-best movement an "upper-class parents' jingle" and suggested breastfeeding is "an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down".

No wonder we are confused. Between the breast-is-best push and its backlash, we are giving women seriously conflicting messages. Sometimes infant formula is necessary. But when women choose not to breastfeed let's make sure they are informed about exactly what they are choosing.

What I didn't expect, after some tough moments in the early days that nearly saw me quit, was that I would benefit so much from nursing. I am yet to find a stress relief quite so instant and gratifying. Six to eight times a day my shoulders relax, my hormones do wonderful things for me and that happy drug hits. When my daughter is unsettled, I need only attach her to my bosom to see that tiny fist relax.

According to UNICEF, breastfed children have 15 per cent fewer GP consultations in the first six months and at least six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children. The benefits don't stop there: medical experts report that breastfeeding has the potential to prevent 1.4 million deaths in children under five in the developing world; and people who were breastfed have lower mean blood pressure and lower total cholesterol, and perform better in intelligence tests. If a pill did all that, we'd race out in droves to buy it.

Every parent does the best they can and things don't always work out the way we desire. But with more supportive workplaces for nursing mothers, more breastfeeding-friendly communities and better support in the first crucial days, most obstacles are avoidable and better outcomes for mothers and babies possible.


22 October, 2011

Pregnancy via IVF could make women 50% more likely to suffer pre-eclampsia complication (?)

Many women who need to use IVF may have other health problems so that alone could account for such things as pre-eclampsia. Saying that IVF CAUSES pre-eclampsia is just the usual epidemiological hubris. Some reasonable comments in the last 3 grafs below

Mothers who have IVF are almost 50 per cent more likely to suffer pre-eclampsia during their pregnancy than those who conceive naturally, researchers say.

A study in the U.S. found that pregnant women who have had fertility treatment are at greater risk of the condition, which can be lethal to mother and child.

One of the most common causes of premature birth in the UK, pre-eclampsia affects 70,000 British women every year. It is characterised by high blood pressure and can lead to convulsions, blood clots, liver damage and kidney failure. Mothers who suffer from the condition are usually prescribed drugs to lower their blood pressure and told to stay in bed.

Doctors hope such a treatment will reduce the stress on the baby and give it a chance to thrive before the birth, which usually involves a Caesarean section.

Melinda Messenger, the television presenter, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, the singer, both had emergency surgery after pre-eclampsia diagnoses. They both delivered healthy sons, but many families are not so fortunate: pre-eclampsia claims the lives of up to 1,000 babies and ten mothers a year.

There were 42 per cent more cases in women who had conceived using IVF, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's annual conference heard. Researchers could not be certain why, but said the process of growing the embryo in the lab first might cause 'subtle changes' in the development of the placenta.

The placenta is the organ which provides a baby with oxygen and nourishment as it grows in the womb. Problems with the placenta can trigger further abnormalities in the mother's body during pregnancy, then the baby's, leading to pre-eclampsia.

Charles Kingsland, of the British Fertility Society, said age could also be a factor in the development of the condition.

He said that women who have IVF are often older than those who conceive naturally and may already have medical problems which increase their risk of developing it.

He urged women having IVF not to worry but added: 'We need to be aware that in this group of patients, who may be older, who may have difficulty in getting pregnant, that it doesn’t follow that just because you have got pregnant that everything else is going to be easy.'


Can aromatherapy oils poison you? How tiny particles 'may damage liver and kidneys'

This should put a rocket up the "alternative" people

They are meant to soothe aches and pains, relieve stress and induce a sense of relaxation. But aromatherapy oils may in fact do more harm than good, according to scientists. They have claimed that the extracts – used in baths, massages or burned in rooms – react with the air to produce tiny irritant particles.

Researchers found that when the so-called essential oils were used in relaxation spas for massages, the concentration of these potentially harmful particles increased tenfold.

The scientists said that certain chemicals in the oils, called volatile organic compounds, mix with the air to form secondary organic aerosols. These particles irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and are also known to cause headaches, nausea, and damage to the liver and kidneys.

This study only examined the size and number of these particles released when people had massages in spas. However other research has shown they are also produced by burning essential oils in the home or office – although not to the same extent.

Essential oils such as lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus and peppermint are extracted from plants and trees. The oils are thought to have a number of health benefits, including improving the skin, boosting the immune system and helping with sleep.

But the scientists from the Chia-Nan University of Pharmacy and Science, Tainan, Taiwan, warn that the negative effects ‘cannot be neglected’.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Engineering Science, measured the volumes of certain secondary organic aerosols when oils were rubbed in during massages in two spas in Taiwan. Oils which generated the highest number of aerosols were lavender, tea tree, peppermint, lemon and eucalyptus.

The scientists concluded: ‘As aromatherapy, used by the general public and some health institutes, has become one of the most popular complementary therapies, its impact on indoor air quality and health effects cannot be neglected.

‘Volatile organic compound degradation caused by the reaction of these compounds with ozone present in the air can produce small, ultrafine by-products called secondary organic aerosols which may cause eye and airway irritation.’

They added: ‘We compared secondary organic aerosol levels associated for the various fragrant and herbal essential oils tested and conclude that the layout and ventilation within a particular spa may affect the level of indoor air pollutants produced during massage with aromatherapy.’

In 2007, another group of scientists also from Taiwan showed that burning tea tree, lavender and eucalyptus oils in the office also produced large numbers of these harmful particles.

Aromatherapy oils have also been found to worsen breathing problems in those with lung disease and to increase symptoms of asthma. And nurses have reported that they can cause skin burning and rashes – often because people put far too much into their baths or on to their skin.

Britons spend around £126million on aromatherapy products and herbal medicines every year. Sceptics argue that many of the perceived benefits of the oils are caused by a placebo effect – and people just convince themselves they feel calmer and more relaxed. They also say there is little scientific evidence that they can relieve pains, cure wounds or boost immunity.


21 October, 2011

Mobile phones 'DON'T raise risk of brain cancer,' says largest study of the subject so far

But nothing will convince the people-hating fanatics, of course. Anything popular is bad

Using a mobile phone does not increase the risk of brain cancer, claim scientists.

Research into cancer rates of one of the largest groups of mobile phone users ever studied found no difference compared with people who did not use them.

It is the second major study this year to rule out any change in rates of the disease - despite more than 70 million mobile phones being used in the UK.

The latest Danish study investigated data on more than 358,000 mobile users over 18 years, thought to be the longest follow-up so far. But campaigners insisted the research was 'seriously flawed' and would falsely reassure mobile phone users.

Researchers led by the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Copenhagen found cancer rates in the central nervous system were almost the same in both long-term mobile phone users and non-users.

They studied the whole Danish population aged over 30 and born in Denmark after 1925 by gathering information on subscribers to mobile phones from the Danish phone network operators and from the Danish Cancer Register.

They analysed data of 10,729 central nervous system tumours between 1990 and 2007, says a report in (the online site of the British Medical Journal).

When the figures were restricted to people with the longest use of mobile phones – 13 years or more – the cancer rates were almost the same as that among non-subscribers.

The researchers said they observed no overall increased risk for tumours of the central nervous system or for all cancers combined in mobile phone users.

There have been fears that cancer could be triggered by the brain's exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted from mobile handsets held to the ear. But the researchers said they observed no overall increased risk for tumours of the central nervous system or for all cancers combined in mobile phone users.

The authors said: 'The extended follow-up allowed us to investigate effects in people who had used mobile phones for 10 years or more, and this long-term use was not associated with higher risks of cancer.

'However, as a small to moderate increase in risk for subgroups of heavy users or after even longer induction periods than 10-15 years cannot be ruled out, further studies with large study populations, where the potential for misclassification of exposure and selection bias is minimised, are warranted.'

Professor Malcolm Sperrin, Director of Medical Physics at Royal Berkshire Hospital, and Fellow of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, said: 'This study is very large in terms of the number of people involved, is large in terms of the number of usage of the phones and also has a random nature being based on the purchase of a telephone contract rather than being a sub-group.

'The findings clearly reveal that there is no additional overall risk of developing a cancer in the brain although there does seem to be some minor, and not statistically significant, variations in the type of cancer. 'This paper supports most other reports which do not find any detrimental effects of phone use under normal exposures.'

Earlier this year Manchester University researchers found no statistically significant change in rates of newly diagnosed brain cancers in England between 1998 and 2007, saying it was unlikely 'we are on the forefront of a brain cancer epidemic'.

But other scientists disagree, saying the Danish study excluded business users and included as non-users people who began using mobiles later on.

Denis Henshaw, Emeritus Professor of Human Radiation Effects, Bristol University said the study was 'worthless', and the researchers themselves admitted non-users may have been misclassified which would bias the findings. He said: 'This seriously flawed study misleads the public and decision makers about the safety of mobile phone use.'

Vicky Fobel, director of MobileWise, a charity advising on mobile phone and health, said: 'All this shows that this study and the press release promoting its findings are misleading the public by implying that phone users have the all clear.

'The study only looked at short-term use of mobile phones and by mis-analysing the data has massively underestimated the risks. All the other studies that have looked at the long-term risks have found a link between phone use and brain tumours.

'This study gives false reassurance and distracts us from the important job of helping the public, especially children, to cut the risk from mobiles.'


Being too skinny damages fertility more than obesity

Being too thin is worse than being too fat when trying for a baby, women have been warned. A study found that skinny women are less likely to become pregnant than those who are overweight – including those classed as dangerously obese.

The researcher, fertility specialist Richard Sherbahn, said that the amount of attention being paid to the health risks of being overweight meant that the perils of being underweight are being largely ignored.

The problem is being exacerbated by the ‘size zero’ culture in girls and young women striving to emulate the painfully thin look of models and other celebrities.

Dr Sherbahn, of the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago, crunched the figures on almost 2,500 sessions of IVF carried out at his clinic over an eight-year period.

The women were divided into three groups by weight – very thin, normal and obese. The normal weight group included some women who would be classed as overweight in the UK. Some 50 per cent of those in the normal weight group had babies. This compared with 45 per cent of those in the obese group, which included women classed as dangerously obese, and just 34 per cent of those classed as very thin.

The women classed as very thin had a BMI, or body mass index of 14 to 18. A woman who is 5ft 4in tall and weighs 7stone will have a BMI of 17. One who is 5ft 10ins tall and weighs 9 stone will have a BMI of 18.

Dr Sherbahn said that while some other studies had hinted that being skinny may be worse for fertility than being fat, he was ‘surprised’ at the size of the effect. It is known that being very thin can make it difficult to get pregnant naturally, due to a drop in the female sex hormone oestrogen. But women undergoing IVF are given hormones, so this couldn’t be the reason for the results.

The women in all three groups produced similar numbers of eggs, so the problems for the very thin later must have occurred at a later stage in the process, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference heard.

One possibility is that the embryos found it more difficult to implant in the wombs of the very thin women because they were undernourished. Dr Sherbahn said: ‘It could be in evolutionary terms that if people were too thin that maybe food wasn’t readily available and maybe it wasn’t the best time to reproduce and maybe the uterus wasn’t at its best.’

He added that women are likely unaware that it can be more damaging for their fertility to be too thin rather than too fat.

‘I am no expert on the sociological side of it but I have a teenage daughter and it seems that girls idolise models who are anorexic-looking. ‘It seems that the ideal body structure for young women is this overly-skinny physique and women don’t understand that there is any concern about that.’

He said that women trying to get pregnant – naturally or with fertility treatment – should try to get as close to their ideal eight as possible.

In Britain, hospital trusts can refuse to fund IVF for women who are underweight.

Charles Kingsland, a consultant gynaecologist at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and member of the British Fertility Society, said: ‘For some people, getting pregnant is very easy but for others it is difficult and it is important to look at your bodyweight. ‘There is no doubt that if it is appropriate for your height, you have a higher chance of conceiving.’


20 October, 2011

Fat taxed enough already

Easy on the cheddar, chubby! Don't even think about eating those fries, fatty! Do I even have to mention the profiteroles, porky? Are these merely playground taunts? Worringly, they increasingly echo the voice of governments worldwide.

Owing to the rise of so called 'fat taxes', authorities are taking an ever-more active part in what their citizens digest (and what comes out of their wallets, of course). In the last few months alone, Hungary, France and Denmark have all implemented their own 'fat tax'. And whilst, as it stands, no gendarme will be confiscating your next banana-split, authorities, in their paternalistic wisdom, are increasingly frowning upon foods deemed undesirable.

Take Denmark, for example: a range of fatty foods, including even milk and butter, will be subjected to a tax if their saturated fat content is above 2.3%. The price of a pack of butter, for example, will increase by 45% due to the tax. Therefore, so it is thought, those selfish souls who indulge themselves on fatty foods will buy tofu and lentils instead: hey presto, obesity problem solved!

Things are never so simple, of course. The tax has already been received by many Danish firms as a 'bureaucratic nightmare', piling on additional costs to firms in an already tough period. Once more, any tax such as this is going to be inherently regressive; those least able to afford any price increases will be hit the hardest. But what does it matter? The French 'fat tax' is expected to raise an estimated €120,000,000 p.a.. A nice little earner.

Nor are we immune to such government meddling here in Perfidious Albion. Having successfully tackled all our other social, political and economic dilemmas, David Cameron is allegedly so enamoured by the idea of a 'fat tax' that he is toying with the idea of implementing one of our very own, as too are Finland and Romania.

Most are in agreement that obesity is a society-wide problem. The more rotund we become, the more our healthcare costs increase. So what's the solution? Surely not pricing poor people out of the market for fatty foods. We must seek a solution other than 'more taxes' – the default position of any government. Perhaps our BMIs could be helped by making it easier for people to help out at sport clubs without undergoing a raft of CRB checks, or by reforming our health system which currently permits the cost of atrocious health habits to be picked up by someone else.

Sadly the precedent has already been set. When we already allow the government to dictate what we may and may not consume in the form of innumerable drugs, letting them control what we eat is a logical advancement. And it will all be done for our 'own good'.

And nor is this merely a European phenomenon: the world over governments are beguiled with the notion of controlling our bodies. In New York, for example, it is now compulsory to display the calorific content of foods, presumably because people use to think that a bucket of KFC was a healthy snack. How long is it till cars are plastered with images of car-crash victims? After all, cars are dangers, didn't you know?

Along with this, Chicago's new mayor has implemented a mandatory 'wellness programme', in which one can only presume that those unworthy enough to be a few pounds overweight are scolded by their organic-mung-bean-fed superiors.

Can't we be left alone to comfort-eat in peace? Lord knows we need it, considering how grim the new is nowadays. If only someone would implement a tax on bad ideas produced by government.


The MALE biological clock: After 41 your chances of becoming a father 'declines rapidly'

This sounds reasonable but note that IVF to some extent ameliorates the problem. I became an IVF father at 44

It is not just women that have to worry about their biological clock. Male fertility declines with age – with even a year making a difference, researchers have warned.

They say that after the age of 41, a man’s odds of fathering a child decline rapidly. And after 45, those who haven’t started a family and want one should start doing something about it.

But with the likes of Des O’Connor having his fifth child at 72, and Rod Stewart becoming father for the eighth time at the age of 66, other experts said the finding should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The warning comes from a study of IVF patients in which the man’s sperm fertilised an egg from a donor.

In the context of the study, the use of donor eggs allowed the researchers to separate out the effect of the man’s age from that of the woman’s. The donor eggs all came from young, healthy women and so any differences in pregnancy rate must be due to the sperm.

And the difference was clear, with fertility declining by up to seven per cent with each extra year on a man’s age between 41 and 45. After that, it declined even more rapidly.

The average age of the men whose partners got treatment through IVF was 41. But the average age of those in which the IVF was unsuccessful was 45, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference heard.

The chances of pregnancy fell from 60 per cent at the age of 41 to just 35 per cent for the 45-year-olds.

Researcher Paula Fettback, of the Huntington Medicina Reproductiva clinic in Brazil, said: ‘Age counts. ‘Men have a biological clock too. It is not the same as for women but they can’ t wait forever to have children. ‘They have to think about having children, especially after 45.’

A second study presented at the conference backed up the warning. There, fertility plummeted in male mice from a year old – equivalent to middle-age in people. Fewer eggs were fertilised and fewer embryos grew long enough to be used in IVF.

Pregnancies took longer to occur and when they did, the miscarriage rate rocketed from zero using sperm from young animals, to over 60 per cent.

The researchers, from the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, said they believed there would be ‘some parallel’ with men. ‘We found an abrupt reproductive deterioration in mid-life, equivalent to humans in their 40s.’

Other studies have found that children of older fathers also run an increased risk of heart defects, autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy, and are almost twice as likely to die before adulthood.

While men constantly make fresh sperm, the ‘machinery’ that makes it can slow down and become defective over time. In addition, genetic errors may creep into sperm as men get older.

But other experts said advised would-be fathers not to worry.
IVF can compensate for many problems in sperm, in a way that it can't with eggs. Dr Richard Sherbahn, of the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago, said that while it is likely that male fertility does decline, any difference is likely to be just a few per cent over decades.

He added that IVF can compensate for many problems in sperm, in a way that it can’t with eggs.

Charles Kingsland, a consultant gynaecologist at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and member of the British Fertility Society, questioned the quality of the study and added that the quality of a woman’s eggs is far more important.

He advised men who want to stay in good reproductive shape to eat healthily, not smoke, drink only in moderation, keep active and avoid hot baths, as sperm likes cool temperatures. He added: ‘There are a lot of advantages to being a young father. First and foremost, you’ve got energy. But being an older father also confers certain advantages – stability, wisdom, maybe a bit of financial security but you don’t have the energy. ‘I wouldn’t go rushing off to procreate on the basis that tomorrow my fertility might drop.’


19 October, 2011

Paleo-Style Meals

Karen De Coster is an accountant of some sort who seems to have lots of hatreds. She offers dietary advice below without reference to a single scientific study of what she recommends. Her advice is however on its face ludicrous. She is an advocate of the "caveman' diet.

I had to laugh when I read what she says about a normal Western diet. These are the effects of a normal diet that she lists: "obesity, diabetes, inflammation, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, cancer, ambiguous mental disorders (such as depression and anxiety), and dubious behavioral disorders". She left out the most important one: An unprecedentedly long lifespan!

The caveman diet may well be a good way of controlling weight. Almost any consistently-followed dietary discipline probably is. But the other claims are just an expression of the common elitist hatred of everything that normal people enjoy

The term "living like a caveman" is plastered all over the mainstream news these days, drawing in folks who are curious about this new "caveman diet." The media has become inordinately curious as to how so many people can overcome burdensome weight problems and scores of health issues by adopting an eating plan that is essentially a rejection of modern food convenience and a return to sanity through personal responsibility.

The paleo or "primal" lifestyle is receiving an abundance of attention because enquiring minds want to know more about it. The main thrust behind the paleo or primal lifestyle is that we humans are hunter-gatherers, and our genes are partial to the real food just like our ancestors. We have not evolved to adapt to the heavily processed, high-carbohydrate, grain-loaded, industrial oils-based garbage diet of the modern era. Those of us who reject this conventional diet negatively refer to it as the Standard American Diet (SAD). The effects of this food have been devastating on all of human health, and not only in America. Everywhere the SAD is embraced, people are suffering all of the same afflictions associated with modern western civilization: obesity, diabetes, inflammation, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, cancer, ambiguous mental disorders (such as depression and anxiety), and dubious behavioral disorders.

Mark Sisson’s newest book, 21-Day Total Body Transformation, is not a gimmicky guide for daft dieting and short-term sculpting. Instead, it’s a book on how to live real – eating real food, employing real movement, and adapting to your modern life through the application of evolutionary principles. The book not only challenges the Standard American Diet, but it also rejects the overly-stressful and time-consuming exercise patterns that have become common practice for folks who struggle to lose weight through fitness.

Both movement and food are crucial elements in transforming your health, and Sisson places a high emphasis on diet because years of disinformation, from the scientific community as well as the government-media establishment, have confused an issue that is actually very straightforward once you come to understand some of the basic concepts.

Don’t let the book’s title mislead you – the 21-day transformation is not about going from out-of-shape to svelte in three weeks so you cram yourself into those undersized clothes hanging in your closet. Instead, Sisson describes the book as a 21-day adventure, or transformation, to eliminate old habits and replace them with new ones. He calls it a transformation "that will last for the rest of your life." This transformation is best described as a move from the Standard American Diet and futile chronic exercise to primal, evolutionary-based practices that take the most advantageous conventions from our ancestors and reshape them for modern life. Sisson calls this "dialing in your eating, exercise, sleep, and play for the rest of your life."

This book is a follow-up to Sisson’s mega-selling 2009 release, Primal Blueprint, for which Mark received many accolades for the book’s originality and precise message. For many folks, however, adopting new habits, after a lifetime of established routines, presents them with a thorny challenge without a blueprint to guide their action plan. This book serves that purpose.

Sisson lays out the framework by introducing eight key concepts that form the core of the transition from one who engages prevailing practices to a freethinking and empowered individual. Adherence to these concepts will serve to reform the reader’s habits and establish some new ways of thinking that supplants conventional wisdom. The eight key concepts are, in summary: (1) reprogramming your genes through choices (2) discovering optimal gene expression, or finding your own perfect recipe for health (3) transitioning from a carbohydrate-based metabolism to a fat-burning metabolism (4) controlling body composition through food quality (5) understanding why grains are unnecessary (6) unraveling the lies and myths about fat (7) knowing the role of exercise in weight management, and (8) maximizing fitness with minimal time.....

Eating right – real, whole foods – is so simple, yet so misunderstood, and most people don’t have a clue where to start. Fighting through the food demons and exercise mythology is not always a clear path at a time when there is so much conflicting information being cranked out from second-rate sources and so-called "health experts" are ramming conventional nonsense down the collective throat of the disoriented populace.

More fanaticism here

Simple liquorice pill that takes the misery out of the menopause

"The numbers involved in the study were too small to be sure the liquorice had any effect"

It probably brings back happy childhood memories. But liquorice could also help take some of the misery out of the menopause. A pill containing the sweet root cuts the number of hot flushes women experience by up to 80 per cent, as well as helping to keep bones strong, researchers say. And there are no side-effects to boot.

The pill produced ‘remarkable’ results when taken daily by women who were close to or going through ‘the change’, the scientists insist. This is thought to be because plant chemicals in liquorice have a similar effect to the female sex hormone oestrogen, levels of which plummet around the menopause.

A U.S. fertility conference heard that in future, liquorice-based supplements could provide women who cannot or will not take traditional, oestrogen-based hormone replacement therapy with an effective alternative.

The oestrogen in the pills, patches and implants used by up to one million British women can cause headaches, dizziness, stomach cramps and nausea. In addition, fears that HRT raises the risk of breast cancer and heart problems have refused to go away.

The researchers, from the University of Southern California, gave supplies of liquorice extract called licogen or a placebo pill to 51 women who were going through or who were close to the menopause. The volunteers, who had an average age of 51, took a pill once a day for a year. They also kept diaries to note their symptoms.

It took eight months for the women to see any improvement. But within a year, most of those taking the liquorice found that the number of hot flushes and night sweats they had each day fell by 80 per cent – or from an average of ten to just two.

And instead of waking an average of four times, their sleep was disturbed just once or twice, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference heard.

Hot flushes and night sweats affect most women in the years leading up to and after their last period. Most women are bothered by them for four years, but they can disturb sleep, zap energy, cause embarrassment and reduce quality of life for up to 20 years.

Researcher Donna Shoupe said: ‘Women really felt it worked and made a difference.’

The liquorice also seemed to slow the thinning of bones that comes with age.

Unfortunately, eating it as a sweet rather than as a concentrated supplement is unlikely to do much.

The researchers were funded by a liquorice company but carried out the study independently. They added that HRT should still be a woman’s first choice.

David Sturdee, president-elect of the International Menopause Society, said the numbers involved in the study were too small to be sure the liquorice had any effect.

But he added: ‘Anything that we can get that is non-hormonal and would be useful as an alternative to HRT… must be welcomed.’


18 October, 2011

Baroness Greenfield, junk neuroscience, and the dangers of video games

By Tom Chivers

Dr Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist at Cardiff University and the author of the Science Digestive blog, has kindly written the following guest post in response to yet another ill-thought-through rant from Baroness Greenfield, the former director of the Royal Institute and prominent critic of video games and the internet. It's a good thing Dr Burnett did so, because if I'd done it, it would probably have been a very short post: "Please stop talking, Baroness Greenfield. Please." Anyway, here he is:
Baroness Greenfield, the former director of the Royal Institution, has once again been holding forth about the potential damage that video games and other technological entertainments are wreaking on the brains of young people.

As a doctor of behavioural neuroscience who teaches via an online course, I have a special interest in how our brains are influenced by behaviour and technology, so the Baroness’s pronouncements were of particular fascination to me. But her view, that electronic media can damage our brains, is almost the exact opposite of my own. While some of her claims have an element of truth to them, it's aggravating to see a well-known public intellectual misuse basic facts to support outlandish and harmful conclusions. I’ll take a look at a few of them in turn.

* She says technology which plays strongly on the senses – like video games – can “blow the mind" by temporarily or permanently deactivating certain nerve connections in the brain.

First things first: 'Mind' in scientific terms has no universally accepted definition, so the majority of behavioural and neurological studies simply ignore it as a factor altogether. But pedantry aside, the temporary or permanent deactivation of nerve connections in the brain is implied to be a negative consequence of excessive computer game playing, as opposed to a perfectly normal and actually quite essential occurrence in a typical, healthy brain. A great deal of the brain's connections are actually used for deactivating other connections and processes. One of the brain's most powerful neurotransmitters (the chemicals used by neurones to communicate with each other) is gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is inhibitory, meaning it stops activity in other cells. And it's really good at this.

The constant deactivating of parts of the brain is vital to our functioning as normal cognitive beings. There can be times when too much of the brain is active at once, and these are seldom good things, as anyone who's had a seizure or violent hallucination will probably attest. You could argue that Baroness Greenfield is referring to specific, damaging connections, but I can only be as precise in my comments as she is being in hers. Areas of the brain being shut down or deactivated is as normal a part of development as losing your milk teeth.

* "If you play computer games to the exclusion of other things this will create a new environment that will have new effects … every hour you spend in front of a screen is an hour not spent climbing a tree or giving someone a hug."

The problem here is that this effect is not specific to video games. Anything you do excessively will create a new environment that your brain will eventually adapt to. If you are a keen fisherman you will spend a great deal of time staring at a large volume of water while holding an elaborate stick. Does this have long-term effect on your brain structure? Most likely, yes. Is it seriously damaging? Not as far as anyone is aware.

And yes, every hour you spend in front of a screen is an hour not spent climbing a tree or giving someone a hug. And every hour you spend on a train is not spent on a horse. What of it? Every hour spent doing something is an hour not spent doing something else. You may feel that climbing trees is a more 'positive' activity than video games, but that's purely a subjective view. It's undoubtedly an enjoyable pastime, but I think most people would agree though that you have significantly less chance of falling and breaking your neck while playing on an X-Box.

* She goes on to claim (the article is paraphrasing): “Screen technologies cause high arousal, which in turn activates the brain system’s underlying addiction and reward, resulting in the attraction of yet more screen-based activity.”

Again, yes. This is a largely accurate statement. But it's annoying how people (scientists in particular) will use long-winded, verbose methods of describing something in order confuse people, and attribute a meaning to it which suits their arguments. In this case, the phrase "high arousal, which in turn activates the brain system’s underlying addiction and reward, resulting in the attraction of yet more … activity" is more commonly known as 'fun' or 'enjoyment'. This same effect can be seen in football fans or pretty much anyone who has a persistent hobby. The long-term damaging effects of these aren't being questioned, so what sets video games part as a negative? The intense visual stimuli? The interactive nature of them? The requirement for concentration? The competitive element? All of these factors apply to any sport you want to name.

* The average child will spend almost 2,000 hours in front of a screen between their tenth and eleventh birthdays.

I don't know where this figure comes from, as no references were provided. But even if it is right, what of it? Welcome to 21st century Western society. Everything has a screen now. I currently own about seven. It's where we get our information from. A while ago, it was books. Some people would spend a lot of time reading books, which are rectangular, information-rich objects that could cause intense arousal and engage many brain regions. But people who condemn books aren't usually respected for it.

To be clear: there are undoubtedly things to criticise about video games. They can be needlessly violent, they can be unrewarding: perhaps it is unwise to subject children to such graphic themes, perhaps they do teach children unrealistic or dubious things. But each of these criticisms can be levelled at any entertainment format. The use of electronic media is an undeniable fact of life now, and is changing the way we see the world. In many ways, it's encouraging that so many children become adept at computer-based activities from such a young age; it'll give them more of a chance of making it in an increasingly technical society.

Baroness Greenfield clearly has her reasons for disliking computer games and other electronic entertainments, and I'm sure they're noble ones. But this does not justify the use of junk science, or the public airing of overblown conclusions based on little or no evidence. With every unsubstantiated claim, Baroness Greenfield distances herself further from the scientific community that once had such respect for her.


The establishment has been very indulgent to the loud-mouthed Jewish girl with her hunger for attention but her dumping from the Royal Institution and now this rebuke in the Telegraph would seem to indicate that she has finally gone too far. Her pronouncements were always designed to pander to elite prejudices and were always poorly founded in science. See here and here

3-in-1 test that 'virtually guarantees IVF success' could be available within months

A three-in-one test that could almost guarantee the chance of having a baby could be available within months. By allowing only the best eggs or embryos to be selected for IVF, the Oxford University test is expected to slash the odds of miscarriage and greatly boost the chances of a woman having a healthy baby. This would cut the financial and emotional costs of trying time after time to start a family.

IVF costs between £3,000 and £15,000 a course, but success is far from guaranteed. Just one in four of the 40,000 women who have it each year have a baby.

The test's inventor, Dagan Wells, said: 'It offers the possibility of enhancing success rates of IVF, allowing couples to more rapidly get to the point of having a child and avoids the heartbreak of miscarriage and termination of pregnancies affected by serious disorders.'

The new technique builds on an existing test called array comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH) which counts the number of chromosomes in an egg or embryo.

Healthy eggs should have 23 chromosomes and embryos 46, but many have more or less than this, greatly increasing the risk of miscarriage and of having a child with a condition such as Down's syndrome.

Up to three-quarters of miscarriages are thought to be due to embryos having the wrong number of chromosomes, with eggs from older women particularly likely to be defective.

'Astonishing' results released two years ago revealed array CGH to more than double a woman’s odds of getting pregnant.

Now, the technique’s pioneer Dr Wells is trying to make it even better by bolting on two other checks. He told the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference that one involves counting the number of mitochondria – the tiny ‘batteries’ inside cells that turn the food we eat into energy.

The other involves checking structures called telomeres. These are tiny biological clocks that cap the ends of chromosomes, protecting them from damage, much like the caps on the ends of shoelaces prevent fraying.

Studies suggest that short or fraying telomeres can make the difference between ‘life or death’ for an embryo.

Dr Wells said testing for three defects rather than one could take the IVF success rate from the 80 per cent or so of array CGH to approaching 100 per cent. ‘We hope to fill in that gap and get closer to getting a successful pregnancy from every IVF cycle.’

He added that his test won’t help women whose pregnancies fail because of problems with the womb. But this is not a major cause of IVF failure and other researchers are working on ways of getting round it.

Dr Wells plans to make it available to around 15 British IVF clinics within weeks. However, initially, only the chromosome data will be used when deciding which embryos to use in IVF.

After around six months, he will look at the telomere and mitochondria data taken from the embryos at the time and see whether it also helped predict the women’s odds of becoming pregnant.

If so, he plans to make the full three-in-one test available to British clinics. It will only be available privately initially and is expected to add around £2,000 to the cost of IVF, the same as array CGH.

The British Fertility Society has previously cautioned against the use of array CGH until there is large-scale data on how well it works.


17 October, 2011

Cheers to a pint of bone builder: Older women could guard against osteoporosis by drinking beer


Older women could guard against osteoporosis in later life by drinking a pint of beer a day. A new study has shown that ale is an ideal source of dietary silicon, which is crucial in the formation of new bone. Bone is continuously being lost and reformed and silicon is vital for helping to renew it.

Although silicon is contained in some plants and beans, one of the richest and most easily absorbed sources is beer, as it is an ingredient of the malt used in the brewing process. Several previous studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between the amount of silicon in a person’s diet and their bone mineral density.

In the new study, Professor Jonathan Powell, head of nutrition research at Cambridge University, studied the effects of beer on bone formation and found that ethanol – which is also present in alcohol – helps to prevent bone loss and silicon encourages the growth of new bone.

‘Silicon combines with the hormone oestrogen to produce a beneficial effect and as women age, their oestrogen levels fall, and so, as they get older, it is important for women to take in a good daily amount of silicon,’ says Prof Powell.

Real ale, which is less refined and processed and so higher in silicon, is preferable to lagers.

‘As a population, we used to get some of our silicon from grain and cereals, but as our food is much more processed today, this is now a lot less. Water also has a certain amount, but the purification process has reduced that as well.

‘Our research shows that the absorption rate of silicon from beer is the highest of any foodstuff. ‘A pint of beer contains around 8mg of silicon – around a third of our daily recommended intake.

‘Pre-menopausal women would benefit from drinking a half-pint a day as a means of absorbing silicon, and post-menopausal women would benefit from a pint of beer a day.’

Approximately three million people in the UK are thought to have osteoporosis, and there are more than 230,000 fractures every year as a result. Sufferers include Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall, who is known to be partial to a glass of real ale.

Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, says: ‘Studies such as this are interesting, but they should be viewed with caution and not taken as an excuse for increasing the amount you drink or for drinking certain types of alcohol excessively.’


Cartoon Characters on Cereal Boxes Get Reprieve

The Fruit Loops Tucan and the Lucky Charms Leprechaun just got a reprieve. The Government announced that it is backing off of a plan to get rid of cartoons characters on cereal boxes.

Government officials fine-tuning guidelines for marketing food to children say they won't push the food industry to get rid of colorful cartoon characters on cereal boxes anytime soon.

Allowing the brand icons from popular cereals to remain untouched is one of the concessions officials say they are likely to make as they work to convince food companies to curb junk food marketing to children.

The draft of voluntary guidelines released earlier this year sets maximum levels of fat, sugars and sodium, among other requirements, and asks food companies not to market foods that go beyond those parameters to children ages 2 through 17. The guidelines would apply to many mediums, including ads on television, in stores and on the Internet, in an effort to stem rising obesity levels.

The food industry, backed by House Republicans, who are holding a hearing on the issue Wednesday, has aggressively lobbied against the voluntary guidelines, saying they are too broad and would limit marketing of almost all of the nation's favorite foods, including some yogurts and many children's cereals. Though the guidelines would be voluntary, food companies say they fear the government will retaliate against them if they don't go along.

Officials from the Federal Trade Commission, the Agriculture Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who jointly wrote the guidelines, will on Wednesday face the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has already made its distaste for the proposal clear. In a letter last month, Republicans on the committee wrote the agencies and called the guidelines "little better than a shot in the dark."

Following the industry objections, the congressional pushback and a public comment period on the proposal, the government agencies involved appear to be softening their approach. In testimony released by the committee before the hearing, David Vladeck, director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the coalition of government agencies is "in the midst of making significant revisions to the original proposal.

Among the changes he suggested are narrowing the age group targeted and focusing on children aged 2 to 11 instead of up to age 17 and allowing marketing of the unhealthier foods at fundraisers and sporting events. Vladeck also said that his agency would not recommend that companies change packaging or remove brand characters from food products that don't qualify, as was originally suggested in the guidelines.

"Those elements of packaging, though appealing to children, are also elements of marketing to a broader audience and are inextricably linked to the food's brand identity," Vladeck says in prepared testimony. Tony the Tiger is well-known as the mascot for Frosted Flakes and Toucan Sam for Fruit Loops, both Kelloggs' cereals.

Still, industry officials say they would not be appeased by the changes suggested in the prepared testimony. Scott Faber, a lobbyist for the Grocery Manufacturer's Association, said companies want the government to prove how these changes will help stem obesity and do a cost analysis looking at the effects through the chain to customers.

"The impact of these proposals would be far reaching and negative," he said of the voluntary guidelines.

The industry came out with its own guidelines over the summer, proposing to limit advertising on some foods for children but adjusting the criteria. Though the industry proposal is more lenient than the government one, it has won praise from federal officials, who said they would consider it if they finalize the guidelines.

It isn't clear how soon that will happen. House Republicans have attempted to delay the guidelines through the budget process by asking for further study of the guidelines' impacts.

If they are not delayed by Congress, a final draft of the standards could come by the end of the year.


16 October, 2011

Don't ever touch a doorknob again!

The latest attack on mobile phones would apply "a fortiori" to doorknobs

One in six mobile phones in Britain is contaminated with faecal matter, according to new research released ahead of Global Handwashing Day. Experts say the most likely reason for the potentially harmful bacteria festering on so many gadgets is people failing to wash their hands properly with soap after going to the toilet.

The findings of the UK-wide study by scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London also reveal a tendency among Britons to lie about their hygiene habits.

Although 95% of people said they washed their hands with soap where possible, 92% of phones and 82% of hands had bacteria on them. Worryingly, 16% of hands and 16% of phones were found to harbour E. coli - bacteria of a faecal origin. Harmful E. coli (Escherichia coli) is associated with stomach upsets and has been implicated in serious cases of food poisoning such as the fatal O157 outbreak in Germany in June.

Hygiene expert and UK campaign leader for Global Handwashing Day Dr Val Curtis, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: "This study provides more evidence that some people still don't wash their hands properly, especially after going to the toilet. I hope the thought of having E. coli on their hands and phones encourages them to take more care in the bathroom -- washing your hands with soap is such a simple thing to do but there is no doubt it saves lives."

More ivory tower nonsense here

When fighting cancer is folly

Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something

Whenever I have a medical appointment, my wife inquires, "What did the doctor say?" I always give the same answer: "She said I'm going to die." Not because I have some fatal illness, but because life is a terminal condition.

Americans might keep that fact in mind in considering the recent news made by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. It recently recommended against routine screening of healthy men for prostate cancer, on two grounds: The test doesn't save lives, on balance, and the treatments are usually worse than the disease.

Everyone who gets prostate cancer will die. But usually not from prostate cancer.

There are lessons in the task force report, both for individuals and for institutions that pay for screening of this sort. But chances are, those lessons will be ignored. In the American health care system, the pressures to do something, useful or not, are more powerful than the pressures to do nothing.

Prevention is a totem of modern medicine. Under his health care reform, President Barack Obama says, insurance companies will have to provide free mammograms and colonoscopies because "it saves money, and it saves lives." He stuck to this position even after this same Preventive Services Task Force came out against routine mammography for women under 50.

This is one of those conditions where ignorance can truly be bliss. Most men who live long enough will develop cancer of the prostate. And for most of them, it will be effectively harmless.

The idea of a harmless cancer may be hard to grasp. Typically, though, prostate cancer grows very slowly and has no symptoms, and by the time it gets around to killing you, you're already dead.

In the old days, countless males walked around with a song in their hearts and a spring in their steps, despite the malignant cells in their nether regions. They didn't know, and it didn't matter. But then scientists invented the PSA test, doctors started using it, and men by the millions found out they had prostate cancer.

Worse yet, they—or, rather, their doctors—proceeded to do something about it, namely surgery. When physicians wielding sharp instruments start removing stuff down there, the endeavor has definite drawbacks, such as sexual and urinary dysfunction.

What it doesn't have is definite benefits. A 2004 study found that for every 48 men who undergo operations for prostate cancer, only one will live longer as a result. But half will suffer permanent side effects affecting a certain cherished organ. Other studies are even more damning, finding that screening had zero effect on the death rate.

How can that be? Several reasons: The test often yields false positives, it can't tell if the cancer is truly dangerous, and surgery doesn't always work. A lot of patients get treated for cancers that won't kill them, and others get treated for cancers that will kill them anyway.

Richard Ablin, a scientist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, discovered the enzyme that the test picks up. But he wrote last year in The New York Times that PSA screening is "a hugely expensive public health disaster."

Some 20 million men get the test each year, to find out something that will almost certainly do them no good. We assume that knowledge is always a boon. But this time, it isn't.

The prevailing approach to prostate cancer illustrates our collective disregard for medical expense. Some $3 billion a year is spent in this country for PSA screening, with Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Administration often picking up the tab.

That doesn't count the cost of the roughly 85,000 surgeries done each year on cancerous prostates, or the expense of treatment for the side effects that often ensue. The federal task force didn't factor finances into its recommendation. But the rest of us ought to.

More Here

15 October, 2011

The newest superfood: How a purple potato helps lower blood pressure and doesn't make you put on weight (?)

This is a tiny study over a short period of time and seems to have been conducted without a control group! Quite worthless

Health-conscious cooks could soon be serving up a new superfood – the purple potato. Provided it is cooked without fat, it has been proved to reduce blood pressure and doesn’t even make you put on weight.

The deep colour of the Purple Majesty variety comes from the same compounds found in blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, red cabbage and aubergines.

U.S. researchers found that when eaten by overweight patients with high blood pressure, it was as effective as porridge oats in lowering their reading.

The experts monitored 18 volunteers, who ate six to eight golf-ball-sized potatoes with skins twice daily for a month. Their average diastolic blood pressure dropped by 4.3 per cent and the systolic pressure decreased by 3.5 per cent.

If your GP says your blood pressure is ‘140 over 90’, it means you have a systolic pressure of 140 and a diastolic pressure of 90.

High blood pressure associated with obesity can result in strokes and early death.

Purple Majesty contains an abundance of polyphenols, natural nutrients which are said to play a part in decreasing the risk of heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. The colour comes from anthocyanins, a group of health-enhancing polyphenols.

The study findings could help resurrect the reputation of the potato, which is seen by dieters as a food to avoid. It also fails to qualify as one of five vegetable and fruit portions which should be eaten each day.

Dr Joe Vinson, who led the research at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, said: ‘The potato, more than perhaps any other vegetable, has an undeserved bad reputation that has led many health-conscious people to ban them from their diet.

‘Mention potato and people think “fattening, high-carbs, empty calories”. In reality, when prepared without frying, and served without butter, margarine, or sour cream, one potato has only 110 calories and dozens of healthful phytochemicals and vitamins. We hope our research helps to remake the potato’s nutritional image.’

Despite the livid colour, the purple potato tastes similar to the more conventional varieties with white flesh.


Steve Jobs doomed himself by shunning conventional medicine until too late, claims Harvard expert

Steve Jobs would probably be alive today if he had not put off conventional medical treatment in favour of alternative remedies, a leading cancer doctor has said.

Dr Ramzi Amri, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, claims the Apple boss had a mild form of cancer that is rarely fatal and that his choice of treatment 'eventually led to an unnecessarily early death'.

Writing on Quora, a forum frequented by Silicon Valley executives, Dr Amri said: 'Let me cut to the chase - Mr Jobs allegedly chose to undergo all sorts of alternative treatment options before opting for conventional medicine.

'Given the circumstances, it seems sound to assume that Mr Jobs' choice for alternative medicine has eventually led to an unnecessarily early death.'

Mr Jobs died earlier this month due to respiratory arrest caused by pancreatic cancer. He was 56. His death certificate, released by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department this week, said that Mr Jobs had a 'metastatic pancreas neuroendocrine tumor' and there would not be an autopsy. The certificate also stated that Mr Jobs had the cancer for eight years before his death and that he was first diagnosed in October 2003.

Dr Amri claimed that Mr Jobs succumbed to the disease more quickly because of his apparent refusal to embrace 'conventional treatment', especially over the last year, the period when he visibly began to lose weight. The pancreatic cancer expert wrote: 'It seems that even during this recurrent phase, Mr Jobs opted to dedicate his time to Apple as the disease progressed, instead of opting for chemotherapy or any other conventional treatment.'

For nine months between his diagnosis in 2003 and at least July 2004, Mr Jobs 'decided to employ alternative methods to treat his pancreatic cancer, hoping to avoid the operation through a special diet ', according to a 2008 CNN Money article.

But the rapid advance of the cancer caused Mr Jobs to undergo an operation known as a 'Whipple procedure' in which he had his pancreas and duodenum removed. Dr Amri suggests that this procedure, which is only undertaken if the cancer is quickly spreading, might not have been necessary had the Apple CEO pursued conventional medicine sooner.

He wrote: 'The only reason he'd have a transplant would be that the tumour invaded all major parts of the liver, which takes a considerable amount of time.'

Dr Amri claims that had Mr Jobs had the cancer surgically removed immediately after the disease was diagnosed then he may well have survived with 'no residual side-effects'. He added that as Mr Jobs had comparatively mild neuroendocrine tumors, compared to the far more aggressive pancreatic adenocarcinoma tumours that 95 per cent of pancreatic cancer sufferers have. He wrote: 'In my series of patients, for many subtypes, the survival rate was as high as 100 per cent over a decade.'

Dr Amri said he had the 'profoundest respect for Mr Jobs and his legacy' and did not wish to offend anyone with his comments.

But he added: 'I have done 1.5 years of research on the type of tumour that affected Steve Jobs and have some strong opinions on his case, not only as an admirer of his work, but also as a cancer researcher who has the impression that his disease course has been far from optimal.'

When contacted by website Gawker, Dr Amri said: 'I wrote that on a personal title and it's my personal opinion.'


14 October, 2011

Bachelors at double the risk of dying from the most common types of cancer

So: People in poor health are less likely to marry

Bachelors are twice as likely to die of cancer compared with married men, a study has found. Researchers who looked at cancer death rates over 40 years found that men and women who had never married were more likely to die from 13 of the most common types of cancer, including lung, breast and prostate.

But the increased death rate was most stark in unmarried men over the age of 70 – and it has been increasing every decade.

Norwegian scientists looked at the records of 440,000 men and women diagnosed with cancer from 1970 to 2007, and compared them with marital status.

Never being married when diagnosed – rather than being divorced or widowed – doubled the death rate in men from 18 to 35 per cent and in women more modestly from 17 to 22 per cent.

Previous studies have shown married people generally have better health and live longer than single people, as they tend not to smoke and drink as heavily, and have better mental health. The researchers at the University of Oslo say this is likely to be a factor in cancer death rates.

They also suggested that married people are probably diagnosed earlier as they tend to visit the doctor more and may comply better with treatment as they have a spouse to support them.

Mortality rates for unmarried men have gone up by 3.4 per cent every decade compared with those who are married.

For divorced and widowed men, the death rate is slightly higher than married men but not as high as bachelors.

Dr Safia Danovi, from Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Cancer survival is a complex issue and there may be many reasons for these findings.

‘Early diagnosis is still key to beating cancer so people should visit their doctor as soon as they notice a change that is unusual for them, whether they’re married or not.’


British government Minister tells us to eat less to tackle obesity but won't put pressure on the food giants

That heading is a non-sequitur if ever there was one. A more reasonable statement would be: "Minister tells us to eat less to tackle obesity but won't put pressure on us to do so". What are the food merchants supposed to do? Make their food too repulsive to eat?

The nation’s daily diet needs to be slashed by five billion calories to prevent an obesity epidemic, the Government warned yesterday. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said that the country is collectively over-indulging in the equivalent of 17million cheeseburgers every day.

His latest plans rely on consumers being ‘more honest’ about what they eat and drink.

But doctors and campaigners, including TV chef Jamie Oliver, described them as ‘woefully inadequate’ and an ‘abdication of the Government’s responsibility to protect public health’.

They accused Mr Lansley of failing to take on the might of the junk food industry because he has refused to force firms to cut back on fat, sugar and salt levels. He has also resisted pressure to insist on calorie counts on labels.

And, bizarrely, on the same day the public was urged to eat less, a group of Government scientists announced an increase in the recommended daily calorie limit for those who are not overweight.

Britain has one of the worst obesity rates in Europe with some 60 per cent of adults and at least a quarter of primary school children considered overweight or obese.

They are at far higher risk of diabetes, forms of cancer and heart disease in later life, and women are more likely to suffer serious complications in pregnancy.

To address the problem, Mr Lansley has published a new strategy which encourages people to be ‘more honest with themselves’ about what they eat and drink. His ‘call for action’ includes:

* The food and drinks industry doing more to encourage healthier choices and cutting calories in products;

* Encouraging people to take more exercise, ditch public transport and walk to work;

* Town halls using new powers to ring-fence funds for public health work;

* Continued investment in the NHS’s Change4Life programme to persuade families to adopt healthier lifestyles.

But the ‘pointless’ proposals came under heavy attack by leading doctors, scientists and campaigners.

Charlie Powell of the Children’s Food Campaign said: ‘This is a deeply disappointing and utterly inadequate response which represents a squandered opportunity to address the UK’s obesity crisis.

‘It is nothing less than an abdication of the Government’s responsibility to protect public health.’

A spokesman for the British Medical Association said: ‘We do not feel the strategy has gone far enough. It will take more than industry self-regulation and personal responsibility to reduce the obesity crisis. ‘The Government needs to introduce legislation that will help people make healthy choices.’

Jamie Oliver, who launched a national campaign to make school dinners healthier, said: ‘I’m far from impressed with the Government’s empty, pointless obesity strategy. ‘Simply telling people what they already know – that they need to eat less and move more – is a complete cop-out.’

Professor Jack Winkler, who has previously advised the Government on nutrition policy, said: ‘It’s a lot of sound and fury but not much action. ‘The Government is desperately trying to sound like it is doing something without doing very much.’

Ministers claim that on average we eat 10 per cent more calories a day than we need. This works out at 250 calories for men and 200 for women – the equivalent of a chocolate bar or two glasses of wine. And collectively, for every person in Britain, it totals five billion extra calories a day.

If current trends continue, nearly half of men and 40 per cent of women will be obese by 2030. But the Government claims that if its strategy is a success, by 2020 obesity rates will be starting to fall.

Mr Lansley said: ‘Reducing the number of calories we consume is essential. It can happen if we continue action to reduce calories in everyday foods and drinks, and if all of us who are overweight take simple steps to reduce our calorie intake.’

Last year Mr Lansley announced that food and drinks firms would not face strict regulations to force them to make healthier products. Instead, they would be encouraged to sign up to voluntary promises.

He has also stripped the Food Standards Agency of its role to set targets for food firms to reduce saturated fat and salt.


13 October, 2011

Tory peer: solution to obesity epidemic is to eat less

The simple solution to Britain’s obesity epidemic is to eat less, an eminent medic has claimed

Lord McColl of Dulwich, a Tory peer and former Professor of Surgery at Guy’s Hospital, warned that millions are dying from being too fat and that their health problems will “wreck” the NHS. But he said that it was “misleading” for politicians to claim that taking exercise will help people lose weight, when all they really need to do is eat less food.

Lord McColl said in a Lords debate on Thursday: “In order for an obese person to lose weight - bearing in mind that most of them can't exercise because they are so overweight - all he has to do is eat less. “I recognise it's not the job of politicians to tell people how to live their lives but it's surely the duty of government to speak the truth and give a lead. “By continuing to stress that exercise is the answer, politicians are misleading the public.

“The message is absolutely clear. This is the most serious epidemic to affect this country for 100 years. It's killing millions. It will wreck the NHS for sure. The answer is simply to eat less.”

But Baroness Murphy, speaking "on behalf of well-rounded people", argued it is as hard for obese people to lose weight by eating less as for heroin addicts to stop taking the drug. She said: “What we need is population solutions, we need to support people to eat less and we will need to tackle the food industry.”

Diane Abbott, a Labour health spokesman, claimed that the Government has made the problem worse by cutting school sports while allowing fast food giants and the drinks industry to write public health policies.


There is one sure-fire way not to become obese – just eat less

Rose Prince

Coming from a line of curvy women, I possess no skinny jeans. Nor indeed skinny genes, according to the latest research. Thinness may be inherited from your parents, says a study by University College London’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, much like Jerry Hall and her model clan.

Pah! Don’t give me that old excuse: “I can’t help it – I am hereditarily doomed to have a large bottom, so I may as well eat cakes.” The only thing I have inherited from my ancestors is the ability to eat a lot and a joy in feeding others. I was stuffed with big helpings as a child – so much so that the dogs put on weight when I left home. None of this is to do with genetics.

It all seems fairly obvious – except to those who need to act to stop the obesity epidemic. The Government is dragging its feet on the issue, when lives and money (to the tune of billions) must be saved. This week, Lord McColl, a former professor of surgery at Guy’s Hospital, warned that unless we become decisive about the causes of obesity, it could wreck the NHS. It is misleading to claim lack of exercise is the cause, he said during a House of Lords debate, when all an obese person has to do is eat less. Hear, hear. Unless this glaringly obvious fact is exposed, the cost of obesity is certain only to fly out of control.


Want to cure that snack habit? Eat more protein as too little makes you hungry

This was a very small study over a very short time period so may be right but is far from conclusive

Too little protein in your diet makes you feel hungry and reach for fattening snacks, an international study shows. Eating more than the average amount of foods such as meat, fish, eggs and nuts can stop you gaining two pounds a month.

Researchers found that those whose meals were ten per cent protein consumed 260 more calories a day than those on 15 per cent protein. Eating more protein in the form of meat, fish, eggs and nuts can stop you gaining two pounds a month, say researchers

Not only did they eat more but 70 per cent of the extra calories they ate were between snacks between meals rather than at mealtimes. Raising consumption to 25 per cent – as advocated by the Atkins Diet – was no extra help in halting over-eating.

An average British adult eats around 12 per cent protein, but for many people this has gone down as a result of diluting their protein intake with lots of carbohydrates from processed foods.

The researchers from Cambridge University and the University of Sydney recruited 22 volunteers, all of a healthy weight and aged between 18 and 51, to live and eat in a science facility.

While the foods looked the same, they had different protein levels. Typical meals were a savoury muffin for breakfast, and tuna bake with salad for lunch and beef pasty or spaghetti bolognaise with vegetables and a dessert for dinner.

The amount of fat remained constant at 30 per cent of the total calories in a meal but the carbohydrate was adjusted to either 45, 50 or 60 per cent of the meal.

Volunteers all took the same amount of exercise – a one-hour supervised walk per day – and did the same activities to avoid them eating out of boredom or stress.

People who consumed ten per cent protein a day ate on average an extra 1,036 calories over a four-day period compared with those who ate a 15 per cent protein diet. Over a year that would be enough to gain two stone.

Each was asked to rate how hungry they felt at one-hour intervals and those who ate 15 per cent protein felt fuller two hours after a meal than those on the 10 per cent protein diet while at 25 per cent the difference was no higher.

Lead author Alison Grosby, of the University of Sydney, said: ‘The results show humans have a particularly strong appetite for protein, and when the proportion of protein in the diet is low this appetite can drive excess energy intake.’

For weight loss, nutritionists recommend arranging your plate so a quarter of your food is protein, a quarter is carbohydrate and half is vegetables.

Co-author Dr Susan Jebb, head of the Human Nutrition Research Unit at Cambridge said: ‘Eating a large amount of carbohydrate and fat, such as in fizzy drinks are a major risk factor for obesity and they dilute your protein content, so there is a case for a modest increase, although we are not advocating eating huge amounts of protein or cutting out carbohydrates altogether.

‘If what we found translates into the real world a 15 per cent protein intake would certainly be enough to prevent people over-consuming and help them lose weight.

The study is published today in the journal PLoS One.


12 October, 2011

Chocolate 'cuts stroke risk'

The usual story about chocolate is that it is only dark chocolate that is beneficial, and, as the study rightly notes, only about 10% of the population eat dark chocolate. But in this study total chocolate only was measured. So the results are a little surprising

It is notable that only BIG chocolate eaters gained a benefit and one should also note that the effect is small in absolute terms. That does rather suggest some third underlying variable producing the effect.

Could that be the usual social class effect? Sweden has aggressively enforced income equality so could it be that the wives of the smarties who manage to evade those pressures to some extent and gain a higher than usual disposable income show their status via a high chocolate intake? There is of course a general tendency towards assortative mating: Husbands and wives will generally have fairly similar IQs. And people with high IQs are healthier

It's all very speculative and the data is poor anyway (weakly validated self-report) but all interpretations of epidemiological correlations are speculative. With 350 items in the questionnaire the results could also be nothing more than a product of data dredging

Women who eat a bar of chocolate a week could reduce their chances of having a stroke by 20 per cent, according to a new study.

A study of more than 33,000 Swedish women found that those who ate the most chocolate had the lowest chance of stroke. People who ate 66g per week – about a bar and a half – were 20 per cent less likely to suffer a stroke, while those who consumed 8g a week or less were at the highest risk.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, add further weight to previous studies which highlight the health benefits of eating chocolate and cocoa.

Earlier this year Cambridge University experts found that regular doses of chocolate can reduce the risk of heart disease by a third, while a separate study suggested it can be as good for the health as exercise.

Scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm questioned 33,372 women about their eating habits in 1997 and over the next decade about 1,600 suffered strokes.

Susanna Larsson, one of three researchers, said: "We followed 33,000 women over the course of 10 years, and we found that those who ate most chocolate had a much lower risk – 20 per cent lower – of suffering a stroke."

Chocolate was expected to help protect against stroke because it lowers blood pressure, thereby reducing a key risk factor, she added.

The women who took part were not asked whether the chocolate they ate was dark or light, a distinction which would have helped establish a firmer connection between cocoa – the protective agent in chocolate – and stroke risk.

The researchers will now carry out a similar study in men, and expect to find similar results.

Dr Sharlin Ahmed, of The Stroke Association, said: “Previous research has suggested that dark chocolate can increase levels of good cholesterol and decrease blood pressure, both of which can reduce your risk of stroke.

"However, it’s very hard to say whether this is true of all types of chocolate and it’s difficult to determine whether the reduced stroke incidence found in this study is directly linked to the amount of chocolate consumed. A lot more research is needed.”


High doses of vitamin E 'can significantly INCREASE risk of prostate cancer'

Vitamin E is favoured by the anti-oxidant cultists so this may be one reason why they die younger. The effect is small, however

High doses of vitamin E can significantly increase the risk of men developing prostate cancer, says a major study.

The chances of developing the disease rose by 17 per cent, even years after men stopped taking the vitamin, claim researchers.

The latest warning over potential harm caused by vitamin supplements follows a study which found women taking multivitamins and other supplements have an increased risk of dying.

The new findings come from a U.S. trial which was attempting to confirm earlier reports that extra vitamin E and the mineral selenium could help prevent prostate cancer.

Instead the researchers discovered the opposite - more cases of prostate cancer among men taking 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E a day than placebo, or dummy capsules.

This is the equivalent of 363mg a day – the measurement used in Britain – which is 30 times more than the recommended daily amount.

Lead researcher Dr Eric Klein, of the Cleveland Clinic in Chicago, said millions of older Americans take supplements containing vitamin E, many of them at the megadose levels of the study.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (must credit), he said ‘The observed 17 per cent increase in prostate cancer incidence demonstrates the potential for seemingly innocuous yet biologically active substances such as vitamins to do harm.

‘The lack of benefit from dietary supplementation with vitamin E or other agents with respect to preventing common health conditions and cancers or improving overall survival, and their potential harm, underscore the need for consumers to be sceptical of health claims of unregulated over-the-counter products in the absence of strong evidence of benefit demonstrated in clinical trials.’

More than 35,000 healthy men in their 50s and older took part in the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (Select) at 427 centres in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. They were given either a daily placebo or various combinations of vitamin E and selenium supplements between August 2001 and June 2004.

In 2008, volunteers were told to stop taking the supplements because the trial was not going to achieve an expected 25 per cent reduction in prostate cancer risk.

The researchers continued monitoring the health of some men, which is when more cases of prostate cancer emerged in the group assigned to take vitamin E.

A total of 529 men given placebo pills developed prostate cancer compared with 620 taking vitamin E alone, 575 taking selenium alone, and 555 taking both supplements.

Although selenium alone, and selenium plus vitamin E, were associated with slightly raised prostate cancer rates, they were not statistically significant.

But the researchers said the extra risk associated with vitamin E became apparent during the third year of the trial and could not have occurred by chance.

But co-author Dr Lori Minasian, acting director of the US National Cancer Institute, said it was a biological ‘mystery’ why taking vitamin E should result in an extra risk of prostate cancer.

Dr Helen Rippon, head of research management at The Prostate Cancer Charity, said ‘This new large-scale research radically challenges the hope that vitamin E and selenium supplements might be an effective way for men to reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer.

‘Rather, the researchers have shown that, far from being protective, selenium has no effect upon prostate cancer rates in men, whilst excessive levels of vitamin E actually increases a man’s risk of getting the disease considerably. 'For men, a simple dietary supplement to protect against prostate cancer remains elusive'

‘Dietary supplements are often taken without the advice of medical professionals as they are often seen as risk free – but as this important new study shows, the true effects of these supplements are not always clear.

‘Unfortunately for men, this means that a simple dietary supplement to protect against prostate cancer remains elusive. Therefore, any man wishing to reduce their risk of the disease should stick to a healthy, balanced diet which will ensure they get the right level of vitamins and minerals they need, without supplements.’

In the UK, the recommended daily amount of vitamin E is 12mg and most multivitamin pills contain between 15mg and 30mg. However, the UK Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals says the upper ‘safe’ limit is between 700 and 800mg a day – twice as much as taken in the study.

Dr Carrie Ruxton from the industry-backed Health Supplements Information Service, said the study volunteers were taking extremely high doses that would be regularly taken by few Britons.

She said ‘This is yet another trial, of which there have been many during recent years, in which very high dose dietary supplements are used in an attempt to prevent disease.

‘Yet, vitamins and minerals are not intended for this purpose; they are essential nutrients which should be consumed in recommended amounts to maintain health and prevent nutrient deficiency.’


11 October, 2011

Vitamin pills just make you fat

So what happens if you take 3000 vitamin supplements over five months? Following the experience of Time journalist John Cloud, precious little.

Cloud experimented on himself by following a regimen of vitamin pills, suggested to him by a vitamin company in the US. He took 22 pills a day, as well as protein bars and psyllium fibre.

His doctor checked him out before and after his experiment. The only noticeable effect was that his vitamin D levels had increased, and so had his girth - by almost five kilograms.

His experiment has inspired mixed reactions in the scientific and business community in Australia, where vitamins are a multimillion-dollar industry.

Sydney University associate professor in human nutrition, Samir Samman, said the largest body of evidence on vitamin use showed their efficacy was questionable.

He pointed to clinical trials of people suffering from cardiovascular disease who were given vitamins A, E, and C, beta-carotene and selenium. "The first really important finding was that these made no effect - that there was no improvement in people taking large amounts of vitamins in relation to cardiovascular disease," Professor Samman said.

"The statistics also showed that large doses of vitamins actually have a small, but statistically significent, increase in mortality for these patients."

He said Cloud's experiment came to similar conclusions as other academic research into the efficacy of vitamins. "You find sporadic bits of information promoting this, or saying that this is beneficial if you are being treated for a condition," he said. "But if people are otherwise healthy, and adequately nourished, then why are they taking additional supplements?"

Australian Medical Association chairman of the council of general practice, Brian Morton praised Cloud's experiment. "It may not stand up to a class one evidence test but it is not a bad way of monitoring how effective supplements are for you," Dr Morton said.

"I would suggest talking to your GP before you start taking supplements, but if you are going to do it yourself - jot down why you are doing it and what you want to get better. Buy enough for a month and then see if you are any better."

Dr Morton said that he rarely suggests vitamins to his patients, unless they are suffering from a serious illness. "If for example, a patient has been treated for cancer, and their appetite and vitamin intake is down because of all those awful side effects, I will suggest a multi-vitamin.

"But, otherwise, you should not take them without good reason. Most Australians have the problem that their diet has an excess, not a deficiency, of vitamins."

Blackmores director of education, Pam Stone, who is also a naturopath, agreed that supplements had to be taken in consultation with a doctor or pharmacist.

But she said it was wrong to assume from Cloud's experiment that vitamin supplements had no use. "It comes down to people taking responsibility for their health and well-being, and looking after their diet and overall lifestyle," Ms Stone said.

"You need five serves of vegetables every day, and you can't expect that a multivitamin will [replace] that. "We don't encourage people to indiscriminately self-select supplements. They need advice from a trusted healthcare professional," she said.


Study: Heart attacks hit smokers younger

The effect is a large one so there are good grounds for seeing the cause-effect relationship suggested

Smokers tend to suffer heart attacksyears earlier than non-smokers, suggests a new study from Michigan.

“Individuals who smoke are much more likely to have a heart attack, and will present with a heart attack a decade or more earlier,” said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a cardiologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, who wasn’t involved in the new study.

The findings, he said, also show that “you could have a heart attack in the absence of other risk factors if you smoke.”

Researchers led by Dr. Michael Howe from the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor studied about 3,600 people who were hospitalized with a heart attack or unstable angina — pain caused by low blood flow to the heart that is often a precursor to a heart attack.

One-quarter of the patients were current smokers. And on average, they were younger with fewer health problems than non-smokers with heart trouble.

Non-smoking men were 64 years old at hospital admission, on average, compared to 55 for male smokers. For female heart patients, average ages were 70 for non-smokers and 57 for smokers.

Smokers were less likely to have other health problems that are linked to heart risks, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.

That and their younger age explained why researchers also found that people who lit up were less likely to die in the six months following an attack than non-smokers.

That “smoker’s paradox” — the idea that smokers who have a heart attack have better outcomes, including a lower risk of death, than non-smokers — didn’t last. The difference in death over the next six months — five percent in male non-smokers, versus three percent in male smokers, and eight and six percent in female non-smokers and smokers, respectively — was explained by age and other risk factors.

Fonarow said the findings are just one more example of the heart dangers posed by smoking, but emphasized that kicking the habit can erase those extra risks. “It’s never too late to quit, and the benefits are very early,” he told Reuters Health.

“Even within a few days of stopping smoking, there is a reduction in (heart) risk. As time goes by, within one to two years much of that risk is gone for heart attacks,” he added. “From a coronary risk standpoint, there is an immediate benefit and that continues to extend over time.”

The findings, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, also showed that female smokers were more likely than male smokers to have another heart attack or other heart problems in the next few months after the initial attack or angina.

“The real key messages are that smoking is a tremendous risk factor for having acute coronary events (earlier)… and that these risks may be even greater in women than in men,” Fonarow said.


10 October, 2011

Skin cancer 'lifesaver': The 5p heart pill that stops tumours growing (?)

A rather strange report: Beta blockers do not prevent melanoma but if you are taking them when you get melanoma the cancerous cells are slightly less likely to spread. The effect is tiny anyway so tells us nothing about causes

Pills costing just 5p a day could save the lives of thousands of patients with the deadliest form of skin cancer, researchers claim. Beta blockers have been shown to reduce the death rate by 13 per cent by preventing tumours spreading to other organs.

The drugs are commonly handed out to hundreds of thousands to treat high blood pressure and heart problems. But an international team of scientists has found that they can also help those with malignant melanoma, giving them a greater chance of survival.

Researchers from Ohio State University in the U.S. and Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark looked at the records of 4,000 people with the condition.

The group included 372 patients who were also being prescribed beta blockers for high blood pressure or heart problems.

The scientists found that those who had been taking the drugs for at least three months before they were diagnosed with cancer were 13 per cent less likely to die within five years.

Beta blockers have been used to treat high blood pressure and heart conditions, including irregular heartbeats and angina, since the Sixties.

They slow the patient’s heartbeat by preventing the release of certain stress hormones, which means the heart does not have to pump so hard and blood pressure comes down. Now experts think they may also prevent cancer from spreading by stopping the growth of blood vessels that supply tumours.

However, they stress that there is no evidence that the pills prevent skin cancer. Writing in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the researchers concluded: ‘Our data did not reveal any impact of beta-blocker use on the incidence of cancer. ‘But the drugs may have unrecognised potential as a therapeutic intervention for melanoma and possibly other forms of cancer.’

Rates of malignant melanoma have doubled in the past decade. There are more than 10,000 new cases every year, and 2,000 deaths.

The disease’s rise has been partly attributed to holidaymakers spending too much time in the sun. The soaring popularity of sunbeds has also been blamed.

Skin cancer tumours, which first manifest themselves as a small mole on the skin, can be surgically removed if caught early enough. However, once they have spread to other parts of the body – such as the lungs, liver, bones and brain – the disease is usually terminal.


The Jaffa Cake doughnuts that prove a fat tax will never work

By Janet Street Porter

Concerned about rising levels of obesity, David Cameron is enthusiastic about imposing a new tax on food that contains more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat.

Denmark is the first country to impose this ‘fat tax’ — Danes now pay 25p more for a small pack of butter and 9p extra for a normal-size burger.

The Danes are very different to the Brits — although they (like us) produce fabulous butter and delicious bacon, they’re relatively slim. Just 10 per cent of the population rate as chubby, well under the EU average of 15.5 per cent — while we’re top-ranked, with 24.5 per cent of Brits carrying excess kilos.

If the current rate of guzzling continues, 70 per cent of the UK will be overweight by 2050, meaning massive costs for the poverty-stricken NHS.

There’s no denying our backsides are spreading fast — but is taxing demon foods the answer?

Picking on fat as the sole reason for health problems is bizarre — sugar, salt and carbs consumed to excess can be just as problematic. Even so, plenty of governments are keen to change the way their voters eat. Diet has stopped being a matter of personal choice and become an activity that has to be monitored, taxed and controlled.

Hungary imposed a tax on food with high levels of sugar, salt, caffeine and carbs. Trans fats are banned in Switzerland, Austria and Denmark. The fat tax is under consideration in Finland and Romania. Once, eating was a simple pleasure, now it’s something nanny states want to police.

Sadly for Cameron, Fat Tax UK is one piece of social engineering that’s doomed to failure.

Digest this news: Greggs, the High Street baker, astonished industry analysts last week with an impressive increase in sales, bucking recent trends in retailing. Tesco has just reported the worse set of figures for 20 years, and Sainsbury’s launches a new pricing campaign this Wednesday in an effort to prop up sales.

A bitter battle is being fought by food retailers — so what is Greggs’ secret weapon? The answer is — a big doughnut!

The baker has sold 1.4 million of its new ‘superstar’ doughnuts in five weeks. The humble jam doughnut has been sexed up and re-launched as coconut snowball, choc vanilla and strawberry milkshake. All have proved winners and the most popular is the Jaffa Cake doughnut, combining two fattening treats in one.

And when Westfield opened its new shopping mall next to the Olympic stadium, Greggs broke its own sales records in one day. It is hardly flogging the food of sporting heroes.

The new doughnuts have their own Twitter and YouTube profiles and their Facebook page has 280,000 ‘friends’. Each of these ‘superstar’ doughnuts (promoted online with fictitious biographies) contains a whopping 320 to 420 calories — and they are being sold in boxes of four as a special promotion.

I know little about what makes a trendy doughnut, but I accept we Brits love stodge in all its fattening forms. We gave the world jam roly-poly, Bakewell Tart, Spotted Dick, steak and kidney pudding and the jumbo sausage roll.

The Great British Bake Off has been the telly hit of the season — featuring calorie-laden sponges and profiteroles piled high with cream. Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook, Jamie’s Great Britain, features mini Yorkshire puddings and recommends storing left-over goose fat to roast potatoes.

Yes! Just typing this list of scrumptiousness makes me feel peckish. The need for solid, filling food is ingrained in our genes. When the weather turns chilly, I’m not going to be planning a salad or a bit of steamed chicken, but a hotpot or a stew.

Labour considered a fat tax in 2004, when a study suggested it might prevent up to 3,200 deaths a year and raise £2 billion in extra revenue. So why hasn’t it been introduced before? The Institute for Fiscal Studies thinks a fat tax would cost the poor more than the middle classes — undoubtedly true as cheap food contains the most additives.

The healthiest way to eat is to cook fresh ingredients from scratch — something few people do. Those on minimum wages have little money, time or inclination. It will take a whole generation of teaching cookery in primary schools to change ingrained eating habits and poor nutrition, not a fat tax.

If you want to lose weight, eat less off a smaller plate. It costs nothing and works like a dream. The only thing required is will power, and that’s in short supply. As the triumph of Jaffa Cake doughnuts proves, in these depressing economic times, we want to eat something naughty to cheer ourselves up.


9 October, 2011

An apple is bad for your teeth but Coke is safe!

You can't win! A Coke for the teacher? One thing is sure: Ignore all advice from epidemiologists

Eating apples can be up to four times more damaging to teeth than carbonated drinks, according to new research. Wine and lager also increase the risk of dental damage but pickled onions and grapefruit, which are consumed less frequently, do not.

'It is not only about what we eat, but how we eat it,' says Professor David Bartlett, head of prosthodontics at King's College London Dental Institute, who led the study.

'Doctors quite rightly say that eating apples is good, but if you eat them slowly the high acidity levels can damage your teeth. The drinks most often associated with dietary erosion, particularly cola, showed no increased risk.

The results emphasise that dietary advice should be targeted at strong acids rather than some of the commonly consumed soft drinks.'

In the new study, the researchers looked for links between tooth wear at several sites in the mouth, and diet in more than 1,000 men and women aged 18 to 30.

They looked for damage to the 2mm surface enamel of their teeth, and at the dentine, the main supporting structure of the tooth beneath the enamel, and compared it with diet.

People who ate apples were 3.7 times more likely to have dentine damage, while carbonated drink consumers had no additional risk.

Fruit juice increased the likelihood of damage to the enamel around the top of the teeth near the gums fourfold, while lager, which is acidic, raised the chances of dentine damage threefold.

Some apples contain as much as four teaspoons of sugar which contributes to raised acid levels in the mouth.

Dr Glenys Jones, nutritionist at the Medical Research Council's Human Nutrition Research unit, says: 'Fruit can be acidic and obviously does have a sugar content but I would not want anyone to be discouraged from consuming fruit and fruit juices.'

One suggestion is to eat your apple with milk or a piece of cheese as both contain calcium, which neutralises acid. Drinking water immediately after eating an apple will also help, washing away harmful effects.

Dr Jones adds: 'Drinking fruit juice and smoothies with a straw is a way of protecting your teeth. 'Brushing your teeth before eating acidic foods can also help because it provides a barrier between the food and the teeth.'


British PM's plan for a fat tax is clutching at straws

The PM should get the nation off its economic backside before worrying about our waistlines

Terry Wogan

So, the Prime Minister is “seriously considering a food levy to tackle Britain’s obesity crisis”. Give it a rest, Dave. This is a smokescreen everyone can see through. We’d prefer you to get the country off its backside first, then worry about our figures.

Anyway, Prime Minister, I know it’s the conker season but this is a very gnarled chestnut you’re trying to play with. Four years ago, the Labour health secretary, Alan Johnson, put it forcefully: “Obesity could be as big a crisis” – there’s that “c” word again – “as climate change, unless the nation starts to lose weight soon.”

At the time, some thinking people wondered how an increasing number of fat people could threaten all life on the planet. Perhaps, they speculated, heavier people have a deeper carbon footprint? Could the increase in weight make Earth fall out of its orbit? People were worried, but from on high, answer came there none.

Then, just in time to spare everybody’s feelings, came another report, a couple of days after Mr Johnson’s scary words, that being obese is not your fault. The nation let its belt out a couple of notches and breathed more freely again.

This new report said that, as we all suspected, being overweight is the result of “a society in which energy-dense and cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work are rife”. So, being obese is only partly to do with people choosing to stuff themselves with fatty food, or downing copious amounts of calorific booze. Fair’s fair, Cameron – if you’re serious about the fat levy, you’ll have to put extra tax on vacuum cleaners, washing machines, trains, cars and three-piece suites. Ed will have a field day.

And if you’re thinking, PM, that an easier way out would be to get everyone doing what P G Wodehouse called his “daily dozen” – callisthenics – it may be worth pointing out that our Stone Age ancestors didn’t drink or smoke, ate nothing but fruit and berries, got plenty of exercise running away from velociraptors, but never saw the wrong side of 35. On the other hand, the world’s oldest creature, the giant tortoise, has hardly moved a muscle in 200 years (to be fair, it only eats vegetables).

I’ve no wish to confuse the issue further, but a couple of years ago research revealed that modern food production is so energy-intensive that more carbon is emitted providing a person with the energy to walk to the shops than a car would emit covering the same distance.

So there you have it, Dave: exercise is not the answer, either, if you want to stay green. And if you want to stay in power, taxing cheap foods, which is what a “fat levy” will do, is only going to hurt further the people you need to help.


8 October, 2011

Anesthesia in Infancy Linked to Later Learning Problems

The obvious overlooked again. If you're sick enough to need anesthesia as a kid, you are more likely to have other problems too. There is no evidence that anesthesia is any problem. It is most likely just a symptom of general poor health and wellbeing. IQ and health are linked

Infants who are given general anesthesia more than once are twice as likely to have learning disabilities later on than children never exposed to the drugs, a new study suggests.

The results add to mounting evidence — from experiments in animals and observational studies in humans — that anesthesia might injure young developing brains.

"There's a persistent association between multiple anesthetic exposures during the first two years of life and subsequent problems with learning," lead author Dr. Randall Flick, a professor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told Reuters Health.

Whether the anesthesia is actually causing those disabilities is not clear, and experts caution that these results should not influence doctors' and parents' decisions to treat children who need painful procedures.

"This should not get in the way of having children receive adequate surgical care," said Dr. Bob Rappaport, head of the Food and Drug Administration's Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia and Addiction Products.

General anesthesia is used to make people unconscious, and therefore unable to experience pain sensations, during invasive or painful procedures.

In young animals, exposure to anesthetic drugs causes the normal process of pruning extra brain cells to become more pronounced and widespread, and the animals end up with learning and behavior problems later in life.

Flick and his colleagues compared the learning skills of 350 children who had received one or more doses of anesthesia before the age of two to 700 children who had never been put under.

The researchers only included children who were healthy and did not have long-lasting illnesses, which meant the reasons for the anesthesia were due to short-term, minor procedures such as putting in ear tubes or repairing a hernia.

Eighty-one of the kids who had had anesthesia developed a learning disability before the age of 19, while 138 children in the other group had learning disabilities.

Those figures translated to rates of disability that were about the same among children who had undergone one procedure with anesthesia and those who had never been exposed — roughly 23 and 21 out of every 100 kids in each group, respectively.

But for children who had had two or more procedures with general anesthesia, the rate was higher: 36 out of every 100 kids had a learning disability.

Rappaport told Reuters Health the FDA is working to accelerate research on anesthesia in children. Flick is a member of an FDA advisory panel on the subject.

The current study, which was funded in part by the FDA, does not conclusively show that the drugs are to blame for the children's learning problems. And, researchers note, the study's observational nature makes it impossible to tease apart the influence of the surgery itself from that of the medication.

For now, the panel recommends no change in the way anesthesia is used in children.

"We don't want parents to become excessively concerned about this and delay unneeded surgery," Flick told Reuters Health, "because the risk of delaying surgery would be greater than the risk of anesthesia exposure."


'Healthier' McDonald's low-fat blueberry muffin is saltier than a burger

So what! Talk of harm is just ideology. See the sidebar here. Salt and fat are both important in making things taste good so it is unsurprising that something low in one will have to be high in the other

A McDonald’s muffin marketed as a healthier option contains more salt than one of its burgers. The fast-food chain’s low-fat blueberry muffin has 1.7g of salt – more than in three packets of ready-salted crisps.

The figures come from health campaigners who claim that simple coffee-break snacks are part of the reason the nation is overdosing on salt every day.

Hidden salt in processed foods is said to be fuelling high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks, leading to thousands of premature deaths.

A study of coffee-break favourites by Consensus Action on Salt and Health found that while some food chains have made real efforts to cut salt levels, others have apparently failed to act. Its research found that around 85 per cent of popular coffee-break products contain as much salt as they did this time last year.

The salt content in a McDonald’s Double Chocolate Muffin has gone up from 1.1g to 1.2g, while Starbucks and the Eat chain were also accused of doing too little to cut salt levels.

Professor Graham MacGregor, of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, said: ‘Manufacturers need to stop hiding salt in their products and stop irresponsibly introducing new ones that are high in salt immediately. ‘It is the high levels of salt in our food that puts up our blood pressure, leading to strokes and heart attacks.’ [Theory only]

CASH nutritionist Kay Dilley said it was difficult for people to know how much salt was in a coffee-shop muffin or biscuit because of a poor labelling. ‘Without clear labelling we still have no idea how much salt we are eating in our coffee break,’ she said.

A McDonald’s spokesman said: ‘We have made substantial changes in salt content across our menu in the last few years and we are committed to making more changes in the future.’


7 October, 2011

Fitness fanatics should reach for the mustard and NOT spinach if they want to look like Popeye (?)

This was a rodent study only. People not involved

Fitness fanatics looking to build muscle should consider reaching for the mustard, a study has found. The steroid homobrassinolide, found in the mustard plant, increases muscle mass, the size of muscle fibres and appetite, research suggests.

In addition, the effect when tested on rats was similar to anabolic steroids, which promote the growth of muscle and which are used illegally by athletes to improve performance.

A team of scientists exposed rat muscle cells to different amounts of homobrassinolide and measured protein synthesis – the process in which cells build proteins – in cell culture. The result was increased production – vital for building muscles – and decreased breakdown of protein in the cells.

Researcher Dr Slavo Komarnytsky, at North Carolina State University, said: ‘We hope that one day brassinosteroids may provide an effective, natural, and safe alternative for age and disease-associated muscle loss, or be used to improve endurance and physical performance.’

'Because some plants we eat contain these compounds, like mustards, in the future we may be able to breed or engineer these plants for higher brassinosteroid content, thus producing functional foods that can treat or prevent diseases and increase physical performance.'

Dr Gerald Weissmann, editor of the FASEB Journal, in which the study was published, added: 'The temptation is to see this discovery as another quick fix to help you go from fat to fit, and to a very small degree, this may be true. ‘This study identifies an important drug target for a wide range of conditions that cause muscle wasting.’

During the research healthy rats then received an oral dose of homobrassinolide daily for 24 days and changes in body weight, food consumption and body consumption were measured.

Rats receiving the steroid gained more weight and slightly increased their food intake. Body composition was measured and showed increased lean body mass in the animals treated. This study was repeated in rats fed high protein diets and similar results were seen.

Results also showed increased grip strength and an increase in the number and size of muscle fibres crucial for increased physical performance.


Premature births are 30% higher in cities because of pollution (?)

All this shows, as far as I can see, is that rich people avoid polluted areas -- and rich people have better health generally. It was NOT a straight city/country comparison but rather a study of pollution-monitoring sites

Expectant mothers living in large towns or cities are a third more likely to give birth prematurely because of pollution, research suggests. Traffic fumes are the biggest culprit, with chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a by-product of petrol, producing a 30 per cent increase in risk.

Ammonium nitrate from agriculture and industry heightened the threat of premature birth by a fifth – 21 per cent – while benzene, a petrochemical, and diesel fumes caused a 10 per cent increase.

Researchers also noted the concentrations of pollutants were higher in winter than in summer, and coastal cities had cleaner air than those further inland.

Study author Dr Beate Ritz said: ‘Air pollution is known to be associated with low birth weight and premature birth. ‘Our results show traffic-related PAH are of special concern as pollutants and that PAH sources besides traffic contributed to premature birth. ‘The increase in risk due to ammonium nitrate particles suggests secondary pollutants are also negatively impacting the health of unborn babies.’

Researchers from the University of California looked at 100,000 births within a five-mile radius of air quality monitoring stations in the state, where Los Angeles is notorious for car-related air pollution.

The results, published in the journal Environmental Health, revealed that an increased concentration of PAH, benzene or diesel could increase the risk of giving birth prematurely.

Dr Ritz said: ‘Some pollutants were area-specific, relating to industry and urbanisation. However, overall exposure to critical pollutants such as PAH resulted in up to a 30 per cent increase in the risk of premature birth.

‘Other toxic substances, such as benzene and fine particulate matter from diesel fumes, were associated with a 10 per cent increase, while ammonium nitrate fine particles were associated with a 21 per cent increase.’


6 October, 2011

Study: Daily aspirin linked to vision loss

So people who are ill enough to take daily aspirin tend to have other health problems! Big deal. Aspirin-taking is probably just a symptom, not a cause of anything

Seniors who take aspirin daily are twice as likely to have late stage macular degeneration, an age-related loss of vision, than people who never take the pain reliever, according to a new study.

The data do not show that aspirin causes vision loss. But the findings, published in Opthalmology, are of concern if aspirin somehow exacerbates the eye disorder, given how many seniors take it daily for heart disease.

"For people who have age-related macular degeneration, it probably isn't wise to recommend taking aspirin," said William Christen of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who was not involved in the study.

Researchers led by Paulus de Jong at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and Academic Medical Center collected health and lifestyle information from nearly 4,700 people over age 65. The study included Norwegian, Estonian, British, French, Italian, Greek and Spanish seniors.

Of the 839 people who took aspirin each day, 36 had an advanced form of the disease called wet macular degeneration -- or about four out of every 100 daily aspirin users.

In comparison, roughly two out of every 100 people who took aspirin less frequently had the same type of macular degeneration.

The wet form of the condition, caused by leaking blood vessels in the eyes, leads to vision loss in the center of the eye's field of vision. The dry form is more common and less severe, although people still suffer visual impairment.

Together, wet and dry macular degeneration make up the leading causes of vision loss among people over age 60, afflicting millions of residents.

The researchers found that aspirin use was not tied to the dry form, nor to earlier stages of the disease.

"I don't think that's surprising," Christen told Reuters health. "I think the effects of aspirin may be different in the early stages of age-related macular degeneration than in the late stages."

De Jong told Reuters Health there has been controversy over the link between cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration.

He wrote in an email that his team had analyzed as "meticulously as possible" whether cardiovascular disease might have influenced the results, and still found that aspirin users -- regardless of their heart health -- are at a greater risk of the more serious type of vision loss.

For people with cardiovascular disease who take aspirin to prevent the condition from worsening, the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks to visual health, he added. "A healthy eye with full visual capacities is of no use in a dead body," he said.

Larger studies that follow people over time and document their aspirin use and vision will help resolve aspirin's role in macular degeneration, de Jong added.


This obsession with fat is really taxing

Denmark has introduced a ‘fat tax’ - but what business is it of governments to tell us what we should eat?

‘A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of health authoritarianism.’ With apologies for misquoting those dead, hairy Germans, Karl and Frederick, the creeping terror these days is not the possibility of the workers of the world uniting (if only). Instead it is governments’ decision to fill in the blank where their sense of purpose used to be with increasing intervention into every once-private detail of our lives. It’s no longer ‘you are what you eat’, but ‘you’ll be what we tell you to eat, or else’.

The latest episode in the war on our waistlines is the introduction of a ‘fat tax’ in Denmark. From 1 October, Danes are being charged for the amount of saturated fat in the food they eat. Any food that contains more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat - like meats, cheeses, butter, crisps and some fast foods - will be taxed with 16 Kroner (about £1.84) for each kilogram of saturated fat. For example, a packet of butter will now cost about 25 pence more than before.

Denmark is not the first country to impose this kind of tax. In January, Hungary introduced a tax on any ‘unhealthy’ foods that have more than the approved amount of fat, salt and sugar. The Hungarian policy looks like a blatant tax-grab justified on the basis that people who eat the wrong foods should pay more. Other countries that have introduced, or are considering introducing, similar taxes include Romania and Finland, while taxes on fizzy, sugary drinks have been in place for some time in five EU countries, including Denmark.

The question is, why the hell should a government decide - or heavily influence - our choice of food? Surely we should be the judge of what we eat. Why should we be taxed just for enjoying food?

In his bestseller, Kitchen Confidential, the American chef and writer Anthony Bourdain is forthright in his defence of butter: ‘I don’t care what they tell you they’re putting or not putting in your food at your favourite restaurant, chances are you’re eating a ton of butter. In a professional kitchen, it’s almost always the first and last thing in the pan.’ You want your food to taste good? Then you need plenty of fat and salt in it. That’s Cooking 101, but clearly they don’t care about that in the corridors of power in Copenhagen.

The fat tax is also fat headed. For example, it’s been known for decades that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease. In the early 1980s, a major study compared two groups of subjects: one ate a normal American diet; the other ate a diet that was lower in fat and, in particular, saturated fat. The result? No difference in heart-disease rates. In fact, even when the link between heart disease and saturated fat was first mooted in the 1950s, the data it was based on was extremely ropey. Yet this tale survives despite repeated failures to confirm it.

Nor is there much evidence that fat itself is fattening. In reality, it seems the previous Danish government (it just lost power in the September General Election) decided that Danes needed to be taxed on their unhealthy eating habits and then spent months trying to figure what exactly ‘unhealthy’ meant.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the war on our waistlines is being waged on a different front. A report by the School Food Trust claims that 40 per cent of primary schoolchildren’s packed lunches contain no fruit or vegetables. The SFT doesn’t have much faith in parents to feed their children properly, so it is urging them to allow their children to have school dinners instead.

Patricia Mucavele, research and nutrition manager at the SFT, told the BBC: ‘Packed lunches aren’t as nutritious as school meals - they are typically higher in saturated fat, sugar and salt, and often contain foods that can’t be provided in schools, such as sweets and salted snacks.’ Never mind what parents know about their own children’s food preferences, the cost of meals or all the other considerations that go into parental choices about what they feed their kids, the experts have spoken. If all else fails, the packed-lunch police (ie, teachers) will admonish any parents who don’t play by the rules.

Over in Ireland, there has been a bizarre, EU-funded health campaign that takes the notion of ‘fat=disease’ to its logical conclusion. ‘We’re all in the grip of an epidemic’, the campaign ad says. ‘Most of us already have it and we’re rapidly passing it on to others, giving them a higher risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It’s overweight, and it’s spreading.’ The message is ‘stop the spread’. This isn’t even a campaign against obesity - it’s against being merely overweight - and it flies in the face of evidence that carrying a wee bit of spare tyre is actually good for you (or at the very least, harmless).

For years, governments and health campaigners have been trying to make us afraid of what we eat, demanding that we only consume prescribed foods in prescribed amounts. It’s worked, to a degree. Even the most sceptical of people will have internalised some of this nonsense, turning their backs on foods they enjoy because they’ve been told that they’re deadly.

But clearly, in health campaigners’ minds, we’re not scared enough. So we must be cajoled and manipulated into further changing our diets, whether through food taxes, lectures about our children or fearmongering adverts. The aim is not, however, to make us slimmer or healthier - which is handy as such nagging and penalising doesn’t seem to make us any thinner anyway. No, the aim is to exercise influence over our lives, to give the powers-that-be a reason to be in power.

Medical professionals and TV documentary makers like to point out how being fat will leave you semi-helpless, struggling to get round on a reinforced mobility scooter. But by encouraging us to worry constantly about our health, it is this endless process of messing with our heads in relation to what we eat that is truly disabling.


5 October, 2011

Carbon monoxide study delivers a surprise

This is absurd. He found a NON-effect twice as often as he found a positive effect. We are looking at a random walk. The study proves nothing. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health should be ashamed of publishing such rubbish

Mothers in areas moderately polluted by carbon monoxide gave birth to children who were an average 58g lighter, a West Australian study suggests. "There was a decrease in optimal birth weight of 0.49 per cent," Telethon Institute for Child Health Research Gavin Pereira said, based on an expected baby weight of 3.5kg.

International studies into foetal growth and pollution have had mixed results.

"Our study was done in an Australian context,'' Dr Pereira said yesterday. "The levels of traffic-related air pollution is quite low so to find an effect is quite surprising."

Dr Pereira said 58g was about half the effect of smoking during pregnancy. "So in that context, the weight difference is not that small, particularly as larger populations are exposed," he said.

The study looked at carbon monoxide levels in three metropolitan areas in WA. An association was found in only one area

Dr Pereira said they took the child's birth weight and then worked out their expected size under optimal conditions. A computer model, developed by the Victorian Environmental Protection Authority, worked out the concentration of pollution at the mother's address.

"We'd expect the effects might be greater among more vulnerable populations. Traffic emissions could simply tip them over the edge," he said.

Dr Pereira said to minimise the contribution of traffic emissions, "use public transport, ride your bike, walk more and drive less".

More than 3000 women were included in the research, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.


NYC Mayor Bloomberg: 'Government’s Highest Duty' Is to Push 'Healthy' Foods

What an arrogant, self-important Fascist!

During a United Nations General Assembly summit on non-communicable diseases -- a discussion that included diet and eating habits -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said “governments at all levels must make healthy solutions the default social option."

Speaking on the government's role in diet and health last week, Bloomberg told the UN General Assembly, “There are powers only governments can exercise, policies only governments can mandate and enforce and results only governments can achieve. To halt the worldwide epidemic of non-communicable diseases, governments at all levels must make healthy solutions the default social option. That is ultimately government’s highest duty.”

Earlier in his address Bloomberg lauded the past dietary efforts of NYC, “In 2009 we enacted the first restriction on cholesterol-free artificial trans fat in the city’s food service establishments. Our licensing of street green card producer/vendors has greatly increased the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods with high rates of diet related diseases. And we’ve led a national salt reduction initiative and engaged 28 food manufacturers, supermarkets and restaurant chains to voluntarily commit to reducing excessive amounts of sodium in their products. ”

“Collaboration across borders among national and local governments and agencies is also critical. The challenges before us are too vast and complex for individual governments to overcome alone,” Bloomberg later added.

Shortly after the address, the UN adopted a political declaration on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.

Among the items included in the declaration are having governments intervene with the advertising of foods deemed unhealthy to “Promote the implementation of the WHO (World Health Organization) set of recommendations on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children, including foods that are high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, free sugars, or salt,” according to the document.

The political declaration also touches upon taxation of unhealthy food and intervening in it’s production itself to promote, “the development and initiate the implementation, as appropriate, of cost-effective interventions to reduce salt, sugar and saturated fats, and eliminate industrially produced trans-fats in foods, including through discouraging the production and marketing of foods that contribute to unhealthy diet.”


4 October, 2011

The rotten truth: Why 'fruit sugar' is one of the most damaging ingredients in our food (?)

There is a rehash of the old fructose scare below but most of the research appears to be epidemiological. I can see no evidence of harm from double-blind studies. That the most naturally-occurring form of sugar is bad for you seems crazy. It's amusing the number of bad things it is said to cause. See here, here and here for some skeptical articles

Sweet, cheap and natural — fructose sounds like the ideal ‘healthy’ sweetener. However, the sugar, which is found naturally in fruit but is now added to many processed foods, may hide a range of deadly secrets.

Scientists are discovering that fructose appears to be linked to serious modern epidemics such as cancers, heart disease, hypertension, kidney damage and even dementia.

The latest fears were raised last week by research that found people who consume lots of fructose by drinking fruit juice have an increased risk of rectal cancer. The research, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, suggests that the high content of fructose in processed fruit juice may be the trigger.

The problem, the researchers say, is that many substances found in fruit which help protect against bowel cancer — such as fibre, vitamin C and other antioxidants — are lost during processing.

There have been other concerns about the fructose content of fruit juice. Earlier this year, scientists at Bangor University warned that even freshly-squeezed juice contains up to five teaspoons of fructose per glass, which may lead to weight gain or even diabetes.

The British Dietetic Association says that because of this we should drink only one 150ml glass of juice a day. It warns: ‘Although fruit juice is natural, it has had all the fibre squeezed out of it and so the fructose is easily absorbed into the bloodstream.’

If only keeping one’s consumption of fructose down to safe daily levels were that straightforward. Nowadays, fructose is cropping up not just in fruit juice, where it occurs naturally, but in all sorts of foods and drinks — from biscuits to ice cream.

Most consumers wouldn’t know: it can be listed in the ingredients under a variety of names. The most common name for industrially produced versions is high-fructose corn syrup. It is a processed form of fructose derived basically from corn.

In the UK, it is replacing beet and cane sugar, because it’s cheap and keeps foods moist, boosting shelf life. It adds texture to food such as cereal bars and biscuits, making them chewy, and thickens ice cream and yoghurt drinks.

High-fructose-corn syrup is used in frozen products, too, as it reduces crystallisation. Another benefit is that it turns baked products an appetising brown, so you can often find it in cakes, pastries and bread rolls, crackers and cereals.

It’s easy to see why manufacturers of food and drink love corn syrup — and are using so much of it. A low-fat, fruit-flavoured yoghurt, for instance, can harbour ten teaspoons of the fructose-based sweetener in one pot. A can of soft drink can contain as much as 13 teaspoons.

Scientists are now growing increasingly worried about fructose syrup’s health effects, because although it contains around the same number of calories as cane sugar, the body does not metabolise fructose syrup in the same way. It places a far greater load on the liver, which, in turn, prompts a range of problems, including raised levels of fat in the bloodstream.

In August, a U.S. study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that adults who consumed high fructose corn syrup in fizzy drinks for two weeks as 25 per cent of their daily calorie requirement had increased blood levels of cholesterol and fats called triglycerides, which are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Fructose may also cause liver damage, the U.S. study found. As Dr Kimber Stanhope, who led the study, explains: ‘Fructose overloads the liver. It then gets turned into liver fat, which then increases blood triglycerides, cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease.’

She adds that fructose may also increase the risk of diabetes in this way. ‘The extra liver fat may cause the increased insulin resistance we see in people consuming fructose.’ Insulin resistance is linked to a higher risk of diabetes.

Fructose may also make you more prone to obesity. For example, laboratory research by Princeton University this year concluded that ‘long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup resulted in abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen’. Such abdominal fat may raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Professor Bart Hoebel, who led the study, says: ‘Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different to other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true.’

High blood pressure is another danger, say researchers at Imperial College, London. The study, published in the journal Hypertension earlier this year, showed that people’s blood pressure rose significantly for every extra sweetened drink they consumed per day.

Dr Ian Brown, one of the researchers, says fructose may reduce nitric oxide levels in the bloodstream. This chemical is vital for keeping blood vessels healthily dilated.

Professor Richard Johnson, who led the University of Colorado study, was moved by the seriousness of this result to declare: ‘Excessive fructose intake should be considered an environmental toxin with major health implications.’

Perhaps even more worrying, research by Cambridge University suggests fructose may be helping to fuel rising levels of dementia.

Laboratory studies have linked high intakes of fructose with the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brains of animals. These plaques are frequently seen in people with Alzheimer’s.

In the U.S., concerns over risks of high fructose corn syrup have led to it being branded ‘the devil’s candy’ — even Michelle Obama has declared she doesn’t want her daughters eating it.

In response, its makers, the Corn Refiners Association, are trying to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as ‘corn sugar’. This attempt to camouflage the product has prompted a high-level legal case in the U.S. courts —launched by makers of traditional cane-sugar sucrose who don’t want to be sullied by high-fructose corn syrup’s worsening reputation.

However, British health authorities seem unworried and unwilling to accept responsibility. The Food Standards Agency says: ‘The syrup is not classed as an additive. It’s just thick sugar. It’s not even classed as a novel food, so it is an issue about nutrition rather than food safety.’ The agency says any food-safety concerns should be the Department of Health’s responsibility. But the latter says the former should be regulating it.


Is an obsession with natural birth putting mothers and babies in danger?

There is no doubt that for most women in this country, childbirth remains a safe and happy experience. But it is also true that for too many, it is a highly risky and frankly horrific experience.

Stories abound of mothers-to-be left alone in labour, sometimes refused pain relief or surgical intervention, putting their babies’ health or even lives in danger.

The statistics make grisly reading: an average of 11 babies are stillborn every day in NHS hospitals, according to research published recently in The Lancet.

Unlike other high-income countries, it’s a figure that has remained largely unchanged over the past ten years — putting Britain on a par with Belarus and Estonia.

More than £27 million in compensation was paid in 2008 by London hospitals alone for childbirth cases. Indeed, a shocking 60 per cent of all payments made by the NHS Litigation Authority relate to obstetrics.

In June this year, an unprecedented police investigation was launched into the deaths of five babies and two mothers at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria. And last weekend it was revealed another baby’s death at the hospital is also to be looked into. So what is going on?

Midwives point to an understaffed, overstretched system dealing with both a rising birth rate and a growing number of more complicated deliveries as a result of obesity, older mothers and multiple births.

The Royal College of Midwives warned last week that existing ‘massive midwife shortages’ will soon worsen as maternity hospitals face ‘falling budgets and pressure to cut staff further, despite a rapidly rising birth rate’.

Yet experts are far from convinced that falling budgets and staff shortages are the only reason for the obstetric scandals that have mired the reputation of UK maternity healthcare. Take the tragic case of 26-year-old health care assistant Liza Brady, whose son Alex was delivered in September 2008 stillborn at Furness General with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his neck.

At 11lb 13oz, Alex was exceptionally large, yet midwives refused her request for a Caesarean — despite this having been suggested by a consultant obstetrician whom she saw during her pregnancy. During a long and painful labour, the midwives persistently refused her plea to be seen by a doctor and delayed the delivery even though the machine monitoring the baby’s heart showed he was in distress. ‘A doctor offered to help as he came on duty, but he was shooed away by the midwives who said he wasn’t needed,’ recalls Liza.

Prabas Misra, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at the hospital, was so appalled by Liza’s care that he expressed ‘grave concerns’ about her case in a letter to hospital colleagues. He condemned as ‘indefensible’ the midwives’ claim that the foetal heart rate had been normal, since they’d admitted being unable to pick up the heart rate because of positioning of the monitor.

Summing up, Mr Misra wrote of ‘the risk of trying to make every labour and delivery normal and natural, and not thinking laterally (about) possible complications. I am all for having a natural childbirth — but not at any cost’.

Although talking about a specific case, Mr Misra has put his finger on an issue at the root of the problems in obstetrics today: the dangerous myth, promulgated by some midwives, that natural childbirth is not only the kindest form of delivery but also invariably the safest.

For years, the prevailing view among some leading figures in midwifery was that obstetricians were little better than trouble-makers. They were seen as over medicalising the natural process of childbirth, slowing down labour with their foetal heart rate monitors, and so increasing the risk of complications. It became something of a turf war.

‘These people need a job to do — and, too often, it’s taking over from the midwives and reducing their autonomy,’ said Professor Caroline Flint, a former president of the Royal College of Midwives as she opened a new midwife-led unit in 1997.

Yet while public attitudes might have changed — as seen in the rise in the numbers of women asking for Caesareans — this view that natural delivery is the only way is still influential in the midwifery world.

The NHS Institute for Innovation & Improvement’s guidance for midwives, for instance, instructs them to ‘focus on normal birth and reduce the Caesarean rate’. Doctors, it says, should ‘only enter the room of a labouring woman when asked to review (the patient) by a midwife’.

And despite objections from obstetricians, the RCM’s high-profile Campaign For Normal Birth has the slogan: ‘Intervention and Caesarean shouldn’t be the first choice — they should be the last.’

James Drife, a retired obstetrician and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Leeds University, comments: ‘It’s difficult to see exactly who the RCM is campaigning against. Every woman would like a normal birth, but the real fear is of a bad outcome.

‘To prevent that happening, we need co-operation between all the professionals in the obstetric team, rather than campaigns about which treatment is best. Without such co-operation, there is a far greater risk of mistakes being made.’

Gill Edwards, a leading clinical negligence solicitor with the firm Pannone, is in no doubt why these fatal mistakes continue. ‘Too often, we see a desire for autonomy, sometimes verging on arrogance, on the part of some midwives,’ she says. ‘It leads them to ignore National Midwifery Council rules that require them to call on the skills of other health professionals whenever something happens which is outside their sphere of practice.’

Of course, the vast majority of midwives do a superb job and their professionalism is not comprised by rivalry with doctors or dogmatic views about natural birth. However, for a minority this is not always the case.

‘Some of our worst cases occur because the drive to achieve a “normal” delivery clouds the judgment of midwives about when to call in specialist help from an obstetrician, or for a paediatrician to be present at the birth to assist with resuscitation when there are signs of foetal distress during labour,’ says Ms Edwards.

Last month, NHS watchdog the Care Quality Commission highlighted the lack of ‘a joined-up approach to working together’ as a major risk factor at Furness General Hospital. The coroner who looked at Alex Brady’s death put it more simply: ‘I don’t believe the doctors integrated. The midwives ran the show.’

The criminal investigation into the hospital was launched after a coroner’s report on the death of ten-day-old Joshua Titcombe in July 2008 as a result of a serious lung infection.

The inquest had heard that his parents, Hoa and James, had urged midwives to treat their son for an infection for which Hoa had been given antibiotics — but were told there was no need for the baby to see a doctor.

The coroner’s report was damning, finding ‘no integration between the midwifery and paediatric teams’, alongside ‘a failure to record fully or at all many of the factors which, taken together, might have led to a greater degree of suspicion or a referral to a paediatrician’.

It wasn’t the first such case. In July 2008, Nittaya Henrickson and her newborn son, Chester, both died at the hospital after she suffered an amniotic fluid embolism, where fluid from the amniotic sac escapes into the mother’s bloodstream. It’s a leading cause of maternal death, but the baby normally survives provided it is delivered promptly by Caesarean.

At an inquest in July 2009, Chester’s father, Carl, described how he pleaded with the midwives to get a doctor after he felt his wife die in his arms — but was told she had only fainted and that no doctors were needed to deliver the baby.

But while the scale of the problems at Furness are unprecedented, the evidence suggests the nature of the problems is far from unique. Last month, Laura Newman, 21, told how her baby died, aged nine days, after being starved of oxygen during the birth at Sandwell Hospital in the West Midlands last December.

‘Not only was the midwife extremely rude and dismissive to Laura and her family, but when it was clear that something was wrong and the baby needed to be urgently delivered, the midwife ignored the warning signs,’ says Jenna Harris, of Irwin Mitchell solicitors, who is representing Laura.

Laura herself has urged ‘every expectant woman to make sure the midwife makes regular checks during labour. It doesn’t make any difference whether you had a healthy pregnancy or not; things can go wrong at the last minute.’

The failure by some midwives not to monitor the baby correctly is another major factor in baby injury and death. Some midwives are resistant to monitoring in the belief it is another step to over-medicalising birth.

Electronic foetal monitoring is designed to provide healthcare professionals with continuous information on the foetal heartbeat and uterine contractions. It is seen as a major defence against stillbirth or neurological damage.

Yet mistakes made in the use of the technology are a major contributing factor to babies being damaged during birth (leading to cerebral palsy and other problems) or dying, says Edwin Chandraharan, senior consultant obstetrician at St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust, London.

Mr Chandraharan recently pointed out: ‘A 1997 report highlighted that substandard care, especially with regard to CTG (cardiotocography or fetal monitoring) contributed to over 50 per cent of deaths during labour and birth. Unfortunately, more than decade later, (there is) a continuing problem of CTG misinterpretation.’

Last year, the Birth Trauma Association made a Freedom of Information request about obstetric cases going through the courts, and found that of 1,040 cases a large proportion related to failure to monitor the baby properly during labour.

‘While there are excellent maternity services, there are also some that are fragmented, dysfunctional and occasionally unsafe,’ says the association’s Maureen Treadwell. ‘For instance, despite evidence to the contrary, some midwives still believe using electronic monitoring on women considered to be at risk during childbirth is unhelpful because it makes medical intervention more likely. Simply having more midwives won’t change that.’

So what will? A start could be universal acknowledgement that no matter how much a woman longs for a normal delivery, ‘things can go wrong at the last minute’ — as Laura Newman put it.

And that recognition needs to start with antenatal information provided by midwives, which, according to Mrs Treadwell, is too often too rosy. ‘Women have the right to honest, objective information of what can go wrong, and what their choices are, and midwives have an ethical duty to provide that information,’ she says.

Such assessments have to be evidence-based. ‘Some midwives still suggest it’s equally safe to have a normal delivery with a breech baby, even though the evidence Caesareans are safest for breech births is overwhelming.’

More here

3 October, 2011

Once-a-day pill means you will never have to go grey

"Based on a secret fruit extract". Need I say more?

The likes of George Clooney, Phillip Schofield and Helen Mirren make going grey look distinguished, if not downright glamorous.

But whether it’s a sprinkling of salt-and-pepper in your 30s, or a full head of platinum in your 40s or 50s, most of us are not quite ready to embrace the ‘silver fox’ look too early in life.

Now scientists suggest that holding back the process could soon be as easy as popping a vitamin pill. They are working on a medication which, when taken daily, could let you hold on to your own naturally-coloured locks as long as possible.

The breakthrough comes after more than a decade of research at the laboratories of cosmetics firm L’Oreal.

The global market for hair colouring is worth an estimated £8billion and the company – the world’s largest in cosmetics and hair care – hopes to become the first to come up with the lucrative anti-grey formula.

Based on a secret fruit extract, the pill would be inexpensive and designed to be used in the same way as a daily dietary supplement.
From this to this? L'Oreal's new pill could eradicated the need for hair dye going forward

Bruno Bernard, head of hair biology at L’Oreal, said: ‘Ideally you would take it for your whole life, but realistically we’d encourage people to start using it before their hair goes grey because we don’t think it can reverse the process once it has started.

‘We have a watertight proof of concept, and we think it will have a market among men as well as women.’

If the formula, which is being developed in secret, is proven to be effective, it could earn the company billions. Between 2008 and last year, there was a 50 per cent increase in the number of men visiting hair salons to dye their hair, a study commissioned by L’Oreal revealed.

In Britain, sales of home hair colouring kits have risen by a third in the past three years. According to market research firm Mintel, more than two-thirds of women colour their hair.

Grey hairs usually begin to appear after the age of 30, when human hair cells begin to succumb to a process called oxidative stress, which makes them more susceptible to toxins. The pill would work by offering protection against this process.

Hair pigment cells die with age due to the lack of a protective enzyme called tyrosinase-related protein 2 (TRP-2), the researchers explained. Rather than creating a synthetic drug to mimic TRP-2, the scientists instead screened thousands of naturally occurring compounds, and eventually found one in a fruit – which they have not named.

Safety trials are under way, but the product’s mechanism will not be unveiled until the next International Investigative Dermatology meeting in 18 months.

Because going grey can take decades, it could be many years before it is clear how effective the product is.

Des Tobin, professor of cell biology at the University of Bradford’s Centre for Skin Science, and a leading hair expert, said: ‘With people living longer and working longer, they are in the grey zone for longer, and the demand for something like this is huge.

‘It’s not clear if replacing this enzyme really is the answer, but Bernard’s team have a very good knowledge of how the hair follicle works.’


Birth control beads 95 percent effective

Rosaries for the ovaries?

A birth control method that shows the 12-day "fertile window" of a woman's period using beads is more effective than a condom, U.S. researchers say.

Victoria Jennings -- a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Georgetown University Medical Center Institute for Reproductive Health at Georgetown University Medical Center -- said the Standard Days Method identifies the 12-day "fertile window" of a woman's menstrual cycle, taking into account the life span of an egg, 24 hours, and the viable life of sperm, about five days.

The researchers tracked study participants for three years. An earlier study that tracked women for one year found the new method was more than 95 percent effective at avoiding pregnancy -- higher than a diaphragm or condoms.

The Institute for Reproductive Health developed CycleBeads, a string of 32 color-coded beads with each bead representing a day of the menstrual cycle.

Beginning with the red bead, which represents the first day of her menstrual period, a woman moves a small rubber ring one bead each day. The brown beads are the days when pregnancy is very unlikely, and the glow-in-the dark white beads -- beads 8-19 -- represent her fertile days, Jennings said.

The study, scheduled to be published in the October issue of the Journal of Family Planning & Reproductive Health Care, found the multi-country three-year study of 1,659 women indicated women are likely to continue to use the method, and to use it effectively.


2 October, 2011

Denmark imposes world's first fat tax

DENMARK has become the first country in the world to impose a fat tax, after a week in which consumers hoarded butter, pizza, meat and milk to avoid the immediate effects.

The new tax, designed by Denmark's outgoing government as a health issue to limit the population's intake of fatty foods, adds three dollars a kilo to the price of saturated fats in a product.

This add about 40 cents to the price of a pack of 250 grams of butter.

The new tax will be levied on all products including saturated fats, from butter and milk to pizzas, oils, meats and pre-cooked foods, in a costing system that Denmark's Confederation of Industries says is a bureaucratic nightmare for producers and outlets.


Diet and exercise alone will not stem obesity

A very confused article below. It says the government should spend money on things that we know do not work!

THEY'VE tried the diets, they've tried the protein shakes, they've tried the pills, but for many of Australia's obese nothing seems to be working.

The number of obese Australians has more than doubled in the past 20 years and 60 per cent of the population is now classified as overweight or obese.

The disease cost the economy $8.3 billion in 2008, Access Economics says. But taxpayers could save billions of dollars by sending the obese to dietitians, fitness coaches or even surgeons to lose weight, rather than waiting until they end up in hospital.
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Researchers at the University of Queensland and Deakin University have estimated it would cost $140 million to provide diet and exercise programs to every overweight adult and would avert 3000 years of sickness. Spending $120 million on gastric bands for a quarter of very obese adults would avert 140,000 years of sickness, as they tend to result in bigger and longer lasting weight loss.

There is a growing consensus that diet and exercise alone won't achieve a permanent reduction in our alarming obesity levels. Some health experts argue obesity is a biological disease that can only be fixed by surgery, while others say there needs to be complete societal change including junk food taxes and better urban design.

"The public believe that fat people have only themselves to blame and we shouldn't spend money on them," Joseph Proietto, an obesity specialist at the University of Melbourne, said. "The main reason [for obesity] is genetic; the environment also contributes."

The federal government is now under growing pressure to find cost-effective ways to prevent people from becoming obese and developing chronic illnesses, instead of just treating them when they get sick.

"We need to have an overarching strategy for obesity in our country," Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said.

"We have to intervene earlier. We can't wait for people to turn up at hospitals. It's much more expensive to fund a heart attack patient or someone with diabetes."

Obese people have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, certain forms of cancer, and are likely to die younger.

To stop people getting fat, health experts want the government to tax junk food and drink, put traffic light nutritional information on food and cut junk food advertising to children. All of which would save money.

For those already tipping the scales, their options are to diet and exercise, take drugs, or undergo surgery. But what really works?

"Whatever you do, whether it's a band or a pill, a healthy diet and exercise are extremely important," Dr Tania Markovic, director of metabolism and obesity services at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, said. "Nothing will work without healthy eating and regular physical activity."

Overseas studies have shown people at risk of type 2 diabetes who lose 5 per cent of their weight by seeing a dietitian and doing supervised exercise cut their chances of developing the disease by 60 per cent.

GPs lobbying the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, to fund personal training sessions have been rebuffed with the reminder there is already a Medicare rebate for GP-referred visits to exercise physiologists.

Some health experts believe there should be a taxpayer-funded co-ordinated weight loss program for all obese Australians. UNSW and the University of Sydney are trialling programs incorporating sessions with dietitians, exercise physiologists and counsellors, with success.

"All indicators point to the recruitment of allied health professionals [to help treat obesity]," Chris Tzar, the director of the Lifestyle Clinic at UNSW said.

"I think there will be some standard treatment guidelines issued, based on the evidence of the program."

But Dr Hambleton warns the public purse can't afford tailored programs for everyone. "We know if you had a personal trainer and a personal chef you'd lose weight - there's a TV show that proves it. But it's not cost effective," he said.

And it might not result in significant permanent weight loss. Studies suggest obese adults who modified their diet and exercise lost less than five kilograms within two to seven years, while those who took obesity drugs as well had lost 5-10 kilograms within one or two years of treatment.

Those who had surgery reported weight loss of 25-75 kilograms within two to four years of the procedure.

Experts such as Dr Proietto say that the disease is a biological problem, which can only be truly fixed with drugs or surgery.

"There is little doubt that if people change their lifestyle, eat less and exercise more than they did before, they can lose some weight," Dr Proietto said. "The problem is there is overwhelming evidence people regain the weight."

Duromine and Xenical are the two drugs used to treat obesity in Australia and each costs about $120 for a month's dosage.

But Duromine, which suppresses appetite, can cause insomnia, and Xenical, which blocks fat absorption, can cause diarrhoea.

Now surgery is becoming an increasingly popular treatment. The number of Medicare claims relating to bariatric surgery almost tripled from 55,000 services in 2005 to 147,000 in 2009, costing taxpayers $19 million in that year.

Lap bands are the most common surgery. Very few public hospitals offer the procedure, which costs about $10,000 in a private practice. Private health funds charge members more for cover that includes obesity surgery.

"It is such a high-cost procedure that is used by a very small proportion of our customers," a NIB spokesman said. Just 0.2 per cent of NIB customers had obesity surgery in 2008, but that was double the number from 2006.

Dr Proietto is critical of taxpayer-funded campaigns such as the $41 million Measure Up campaign, which includes the Swap It Don't Stop It advertisements.

"I don't think governments should be wasting money on having balloons tell us to swap a big ice-cream for a little one … If you applied that money to operate on diabetics you'd end up saving millions."


1 October, 2011

Statins 'lower risk of prostate cancer' and could cut rate of deaths for just 40p a day (?)

Since you have to be unusually robust to tolerate statins, I interpret these findings as showing that unusually robust people get less prostate cancer

Pills taken by millions of men to combat heart disease could also significantly reduce their risk of getting prostate cancer.

Statins, which lower cholesterol, could play a crucial part in cutting the country’s prostate cancer death toll of around 10,000 men a year, two major studies suggest. Costing around just 40p a day, they might be a cheap and effective way of easing the cancer burden on the NHS if the latest findings are confirmed.

The U.S. studies suggest that high cholesterol could be a key factor in the development of the disease and that taking a daily dose of statins has a powerful preventive effect.

In the first, men with high cholesterol levels were found to be 22 per cent more likely than those with low or normal readings to suffer a prostate tumour. They were also 85 per cent more at risk of developing a serious, fast-growing form of the disease, according to researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

‘Statins may reduce the risk of advanced prostate cancer by lowering cholesterol,’ they told Cancer Causes and Control journal after studying 30,000 men.

In the second study, a team at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, looked at tissue samples from more than 4,000 men who underwent biopsies because doctors suspected they had prostate cancer.

Those taking statins for high cholesterol were nearly 10 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with a tumour and 24 per cent less likely to have an aggressive cancer than men who were not.
What the pills can do

The research also suggested the drugs reduce enlargement of the prostate, the scientists told the Journal of Urology.

These findings could mark a turning point in the debate over whether statins, which are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, have a protective effect against prostate cancer.

British experts said last night that more research is needed. Dr Kate Holmes, of the Prostate Cancer Charity, said: ‘There is some evidence to suggest men who have a normal or low level of cholesterol are less likely to develop prostate cancer. 'However, practical advice cannot yet be given to men who might hope to use statins to reduce their risk of prostate cancer.’

Dr Maria Tennant, of Cancer Research UK, agreed, adding: ‘It’s certainly an interesting and worthwhile area of research.’

Charity Prostate Action warned the latest data is from retrospective research, where patients are asked to remember what drugs they took. This is less accurate than a prospective study, where patients are monitored as they take part in it. Chief executive Emma Malcolm said the findings should be taken ‘with a pinch of salt’.

Nearly 32,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK and 10,000 men die from it – equal to more than one an hour. It is estimated that at least six million people in the UK, mostly over 40, take statins to keep their cholesterol levels under control.


Michael Bloomberg’s new Prohibition Era

New York City’s health-obsessive mayor is tearing up personal freedoms in his war against smoking, fast food and sugary drinks

Prohibition is a hot topic in the States. A three-part documentary TV series about the 1920s’ ‘Noble Experiment’ kicked off on PBS on Sunday and HBO launched the second season of hit drama series Boardwalk Empire, set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City. But the Prohibition, the eighteenth amendment to the American constitution, is not just making a comeback in the world of television. No, contemporary politicians like New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg are also doing their best to banish ‘evil drink’.

An all-out ban on alcohol is not on the mayor’s agenda, but he and his close colleague, health commissioner Dr Thomas A Farley, have their sights set on a sweeter target. Soon after endorsing a soda tax last year, the Bloomberg administration submitted a proposal to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to bar poor people from using food stamps to buy sugary drinks. It’s all part of the Bloomberg-Farley health-freak duo’s plan to turn New York into a leaner, cleaner and greener place. In other words, their mission is to sanitise the city that is known and loved worldwide for its take-no-BS attitude. So, away with cars, in with bicycles; out with burgers, in with lentil patties. Last week, Bloomberg even told the United Nations General Assembly that governments’ ‘highest duty’ is to make ‘healthy solutions the default social option’.

The mayor wanted to implement the sugary-drink prohibition as a two-year experiment to see how it would affect health problems. He and Farley surmised that keeping poor people away from soda pops would ‘do more to protect people from the crippling effects of preventable illnesses like diabetes and obesity than anything else being proposed elsewhere in this country — and at little or no cost to taxpayers’.

The proposal was, however, rejected last month by the USDA, which deemed it ‘too large and complex’ to implement and evaluate. As an alternative, a representative of the Agriculture Department suggested that the city could focus on other efforts to encourage consumers to make ‘healthy choices’.

Blooomberg and Farley were disappointed, of course, at the prospect of poor people having the freedom to squander their food stamps on stuff they enjoy. And now two researchers have come to the duo’s defence. Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Kelly D Brownell and Dr David S Ludwig suggested that if the federal government won’t allow elected leaders to test their theory that Americans’ health will deteriorate if poor people continue to buy sugary drinks, then it should at least conduct its own study into the matter.

But the soda-pop warriors shouldn’t get too down. After all, the USDA merely said that Bloomberg’s proposal, as it stands, would be impractical and difficult to measure, while essentially supporting the core idea behind it. Namely, the idea that city authorities should concern themselves with what New Yorkers consume, that they should ‘nudge’ people into making the right choices and discourage us from making bad ones, and that it’s up to the likes of Bloomberg and Farley to decide exactly what right and wrong is.

As New York City mayor, Bloomberg has launched wars on everything from tobacco – banning smoking in public places, including parks and beaches – to trans fats and salt. Big-chain restaurants in New York City are also now required to inform customers about calorie counts. And it’s all done for New Yorkers’ own good, of course. The presumption is that we should be reshaped into the image of the fashionably skinny, boringly clean-living, calorie-counting ruler of New York.

Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, got closer to the mark than the USDA when he said that the soda ban was not only ‘misguided and unworkable’, but was also ‘based on the false assumption that poor people were somehow ignorant or culturally deficient’. Berg sees the attempt to wean food-stamp users off soda as an attempt to ‘micromanage’ the lives of poor people. The snobby presumption here is, indeed, that low-income citizens don’t know what’s good for them or their families and that they, like children receiving pocket money, must have clear rules set for what they should or should not spend their food stamps on.

Bloomberg and his fellow health czars certainly have an unpalatable obsession with the habits of the poor. Back in 2004, for instance, the USDA rejected a request by officials in Minnesota to prevent food stamp recipients from buying junk food. And in the summer of 2008, Bloomberg introduced the Green Cart scheme, offering a special licence for fruit and vegetable vendors to hit the streets with carts loaded with fruit and veg. The scheme targets poorer areas where there is no WholeFoods as far as the eye can see and where the preferred street grub is more likely to drip with fat rather than with smugness.

The soda-ban proposal reeks of shallow snobbery. After all, Bloomberg has not suggested a pilot to see how restricting latte intake among the middle-classes will save lives and money. This even though a wholemilk caffe latte at Starbucks, for instance, contains more calories (200 calories in 12 ounces) than a soda drink (124 to 189 calories). Even using the non-fat milk, a caffe latte still weighs in at 120 calories - and that’s without any added sugar or chocolate sprinkles.

Unfortunately, the rejection of Bloomberg’s proposal deserves at most one cheer as the insidious idea that policymakers have the right, even the duty, to take away small freedoms, to micromanage our habits and steer us in the direction of adopting the lifestyle of the clean-living killjoys at City Hall has received the official thumbs-up.

Whereas the American Constitution is virtually a paean to liberty, the Eighteenth Amendment was about taking away freedom. Today, when policymakers are claiming that elected leaders’ highest duty is to make petty, but severely agency-robbing, decisions about what we eat and how we look, it looks like the moralistic, freedom-quelling spirit of the Prohibition Era is making a comeback.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

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

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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