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

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

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

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

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

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


31 October, 2013

A miscarriage of science: BPA’s unproven pregnancy risk

The headlines are out: Pregnant woman should fear the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) because a “new study” says it increase the risk of miscarriage. Fortunately, we have lots of good reasons to doubt these headlines.

What does the study really say? We don’t completely know since it’s not available in any peer-reviewed publication. All that’s available is an abstract produced for a recent presentation at a conference hosted by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). The abstract does, however, provide enough information to allay fears—despite how the headlines read.

Based on the abstract, we can see that the study examined 114 women in the early stages of pregnancy who also are a high-risk group for miscarriage. The researchers took “spot samples” of the women’s blood and measured BPA in their blood serum. Sixty-eight of these women suffered from miscarriages, and the rest carried their babies to term.

The researchers then measured the BPA in the serum to see if those who miscarried had more BPA in their blood serum than the others. They then divided these 68 women into four groups based on the BPA exposure levels, ranging from those with the lowest to those with the highest. Using this data, the researchers calculated that those in the group with the highest BPA levels in their serum had an 80 percent higher risk of miscarrying than did those in the lowest-exposed group.

Sounds pretty clear, right? WRONG! Here’s why this study isn’t as meaningful as you might think.

First, the authors did not find a cause-and-effect relationship, they simply found an association, and it was pretty weak. Researchers express the strength of such associations numerically as a “risk ratio.” In this study, the risk ratio for the highest risk group was 1.83, which is low and suggests that the result may have arisen by accident or researcher bias. “Although any measure of risk would follow a continuous distribution and there are no predefined values that separate ‘strong’ from ‘moderate’ or ‘weak’ associations, relative risks below 3 are considered moderate or weak,” points out Paolo Boffetta of the The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in an article on the topic of relative risk.

The study’s promoters are aware that the findings are inconclusive, yet they advance alarming claims with clever rhetoric. For example, Dr. Linda Giudice, president of the ASRM,commented to the press that although the study proves nothing, it adds to the “biological plausibility” that BPA affects fertility and health. It is true that if something also has a biological explanation (plausibility), researchers can make a stronger argument for a cause-and-effect relationship—particularly if their study discovers a reasonably strong association. But using biological plausibility to rationalize a weak association is itself, pretty weak!

Second, the sample size here is very small, which greatly increases the probability that the weak association is little more than accidental. Larger samples by definition are more representative of the larger population. Accordingly, if this study was ten- or twenty-times bigger, a weak association would have greater meaning.

Third, the BPA was measured only once. Since BPA levels in the body can fluctuate considerably over time, one-time measures can’t reveal which women really have higher exposures. Accordingly, the data going into the study is not good enough to draw conclusions.

Finally, while the authors and news organizations suggest this adds to the research indicting BPA, they fail to note that many other studies that contradict it. This study would be much stronger if it was consistent with the larger body of research, particularly the larger, best-designed scientific research. But it’s not.

Scientific panels around the world have reviewed the full body of BPA research repeatedly, and they all concluded that current consumer exposure to BPA is simply too low to have any adverse public health impacts!

This study is consistent with the almost daily barrage of government-funded, usually small and often poorly designed studies reporting largely meaningless weak associations. Politicians have funded them in response to the clamoring and hype created by misguided, anti-chemical environmental activists. We can expect to see more of this misuse of science as the researchers and their activist partners continue the fear-mongering.

This case is full of such examples. In a press release, referencing this unpublished study, Giudice notes: “Many studies on environmental contaminants’ impact on reproductive capacity have been focused on infertility patients and it is clear that high levels of exposure affect them negatively. These studies extend our observations to the general population and show that these chemicals are a cause for concern to all of us.”

This cryptic comment has no real relevance to the study at hand, even though Giudice placed it directly under the abstract in the release. After all, what chemicals is she talking about? Who knows? It is clear that the high-level chemical exposures to which she refers have nothing to do with extremely low, easily metabolized trace levels of BPA. Nothing at all. But her comment worked well in the “news” stories alleging BPA-induced miscarriage risk. And that’s the only apparent reason to make such a misplaced comment.

The authors have also spun the issue to grab headlines. Lead author, Ruth B. Lathi notes in USA Today, that although they did not show that BPA is dangerous “it’s far from reassuring that BPA is safe.” Well that comment may be safe to say since you can’t prove absolute safety—of anything! Not even a glass of water.

She also recommends avoiding plastic food packaging, not cooking in plastic food containers, and not leaving bottled water in the sun. Never mind that BPA is not used for most of these products, which Lathi doesn’t specify. There isn’t any BPA in the lightweight flexible plastic that makes single-use bottled water or plastic storage containers such as Gladware, which is what Lathi seems to be suggesting we avoid. She also says to limit eating canned food.

BPA is used to make hard-clear plastics, such as the 5-gallon water jugs used in office water coolers and safety goggles. And it’s used in resins that line canned goods to prevent rust and the development of deadly pathogens in our food supply. Can Lathi assure us that removing those resins will be safe? Certainly not, yet her rhetoric advances policy in that direction.

But what does it matter? After all, the scientific discussion about BPA apparently isn’t about the facts—or good science.


Pregnant women who gain a lot of weight may be more likely to have a child with autism

Some appropriate caution about the causal path expressed below

Pregnant women who put on a lot of weight may be more likely to have an autistic child. Weight gain in pregnancy varies greatly, with most women gaining between 17.5lb to 30lb, putting most of the weight on after week 20.

Now a study has found that autism spectrum disorder was more prevalent in in children born to mothers who gained 33.5lb during pregnancy than in those who gained 30.5lb, for instance.

Previous studies have identified links between pregnancy weight gain and autism. But this new study found a link between autism and pregnancy weight gain after taking into account how much a woman weighed before.

Lead author Dr Deborah Bilder, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah, said: 'These findings suggest that weight gain during pregnancy is not the cause of autism.

'Rather, [it] may reflect an underlying process that it shares with autism spectrum disorders, such as abnormal hormone levels or inflammation.'

Researchers carried out the study by comparing the cases of eight-year-olds living in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties.

A group of 128 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders were compared to a control group of 10,920 children of the same age and gender.

The research was possible in Utah because it tracks how much weight women put on during pregnancy.

The study had one surprising result: Researchers found no connection between a mother’s BMI before she became pregnant and the incidence of autism - something that hasn't been seen in previous studies.

Researchers also examined a second group of 288 Utah children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and compared their data with that of unaffected siblings.

In both scenarios, pregnancy weight gain patterns obtained from birth certificate records were identified as common factors in mothers who gave birth to children born with autism.

The findings suggest that these small changes in pregnancy weight gain and autism may share the same underlying cause.

Dr Bilder added: 'The findings in this study are important because they provide clues to what may increase the risk of having an autism spectrum disorder.

'Doctors have known for a long time that proper nutrition is essential to a healthy pregnancy. Pregnant women should not change their diet based on these results. Rather, this study provides one more piece for the autism puzzle that researchers are exploring.'

The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.


30 October, 2013

Alzheimer’s to be treated by replacing faulty genes -- one day

Alzheimer’s will be treated or even prevented by replacing faulty genes, an expert in the disease has predicted. Men and women could be given a nasal spray packed with healthy versions of the defective genes that cause the illness.

Professor Julie Williams, of Cardiff University, said the entire population could eventually be screened in middle-age to identify those at most risk of the memory-robbing disease.

They could then be given cutting-edge gene therapy and other treatments to stop the disease ever developing.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect more than 800,000 Britons, with the number expected to double in a generation as the population ages.

Existing drugs delay the progress of Alzheimer’s, but their failure to tackle the underlying cause in the brain means that the effect quickly wears off and the disease soon takes its devastating course.

The professor, who was given a CBE in the Queen’s birthday honours last year for her work on Alzheimer’s, made the prediction after jointly leading the biggest-ever study into the genetics of the disease.

The landmark study, involving more than 180 researchers from 15 countries, pinpointed 11 genes that raise the risk of Alzheimer’s.

The size of the collaboration allowed them to identify more genes in less than three years than have been found in the past two decades.

By taking the total to 21, it also more than doubles the number of known Alzheimer’s genes, the journal Nature Genetics reports.

Alzheimer’s charities said the ‘exciting’ discovery of genes linked with the disease ‘opens up new avenues to explore in the search for treatments for the condition’.

The new genes were found by comparing the DNA of more than 25,000 people suffering from Alzheimer’s with that of 48,000 people without the disease.

Professor Williams, who is chief scientific adviser to the Welsh Assembly in addition to being a working researcher, said: ‘What surprised us most about the findings was the very strong pattern that showed several genes implicating the body’s immune system in causing dementia.

‘Each individual gene will carry a relatively low risk but when you put all the information together, they are telling us an interesting and novel story and that takes us in a new direction.’

She added that the find needs to be followed up with ‘great urgency’ to determine just how the genes cause dementia. Knowing this will speed the search for new drug treatments.

But another possibility is correcting the flawed DNA, or the genetic variations that cause Alzheimer’s, by giving people a nasal spray packed with healthy genes.

Professor Williams said: ‘I do think that in ten years’ time we might be looking at a genetic therapy. That might be feasible but not quite yet.

‘If you have variation that you know is contributing to a disease, the most effective way of reducing the risk is to change the variation in a very precise way. Genetic therapies will allow you to just change the elements that are contributing to the disease.

She added that ‘in the distant future’ everyone in their 40s or 50s could be screened for dementia genes and given genetic therapy and other treatments in a bid to stop the disease ever developing.

The study also suggested links between Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Professor Hugh Perry of the Medical Research Council, which part-funded the study, as did Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘Understanding how our genetic code contributes to Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias and neurodegenerative diseases is a crucial part of the puzzle in learning how we can prevent their devastating effects.’


Kids should spend no more than TWO HOURS online per day, warn doctors

This is just opinion -- relying on a few correlational studies that prove nothing

The recommendations are bound to prompt eye-rolling and LOLs from many teens but an influential pediatricians group says parents need to know that unrestricted media use can have serious consequences.

It's been linked with violence, cyberbullying, school woes, obesity, lack of sleep and a host of other problems. It's not a major cause of these troubles, but 'many parents are clueless' about the profound impact media exposure can have on their children, said Dr. Victor Strasburger, lead author of the new American Academy of Pediatrics policy.

'This is the 21st century and they need to get with it,' said Strasburger, a University of New Mexico adolescent medicine specialist.

The policy is aimed at all kids, including those who use smartphones, computers and other internet-connected devices. It expands the academy's longstanding recommendations on banning televisions from children's and teens' bedrooms and limiting entertainment screen time to no more than two hours daily.

Under the new policy, those two hours include using the internet for entertainment, including Facebook, Twitter, TV and movies; online homework is an exception.

The policy statement cites a 2010 report that found U.S. children aged 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours daily using some kind of entertainment media. Many kids now watch TV online and many send text messages from their bedrooms after 'lights out,' including sexually explicit images by cellphone or internet, yet few parents set rules about media use, the policy says.

'I guarantee you that if you have a 14-year-old boy and he has an internet connection in his bedroom, he is looking at pornography,' Strasburger said.

The policy notes that three-quarters of kids aged 12 to 17 own cellphones; nearly all teens send text messages, and many younger kids have phones giving them online access.

'Young people now spend more time with media than they do in school — it is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping' the policy says.

Strasburger said he realizes many kids will scoff at advice from pediatricians — or any adults.

'After all, they're the experts! We're media-Neanderthals to them,' he said. But he said he hopes it will lead to more limits from parents and schools, and more government research on the effects of media.

The policy was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics. It comes two weeks after police arrested two Florida girls accused of bullying a classmate who committed suicide. Police say one of the girls recently boasted online about the bullying and the local sheriff questioned why the suspects' parents hadn't restricted their internet use.


29 October, 2013

Drinking three cups of coffee a day could halve the risk of liver cancer

Some proper reservations about the direction of causation expressed below

Three cups of coffee a day could reduce the risk of liver cancer by up to 50 per cent, latest research has shown.

One study found the drink reduces the risk of the most common type of liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), by 40 per cent but separate research indicated that risk could be reduced by half.

Study author Dr Carlo La Vecchia, said 'Our research confirms past claims that coffee is good for your health, and particularly the liver.'

Dr Vecchia, of the department of epidemiology, Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche 'Mario Negri' and the department of clinical sciences and community health, Universit` degli Studi di Milan, Italy, added: 'The favorable effect of coffee on liver cancer might be mediated by coffee's proven prevention of diabetes, a known risk factor for the disease, or for its beneficial effects on cirrhosis and liver enzymes.'

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of articles published between 1996 and September 2012, involving 16 high-quality studies and a total of 3,153 cases.

It also included data on 900 more recent cases of HCC published since the last detailed research in 2007.

Despite the consistency of results across studies, time periods and populations, it is difficult to establish whether the association between coffee drinking and HCC is causal, or if this relationship may be partially attributable to the fact that patients with liver and digestive diseases often voluntarily reduce their coffee intake.

Dr La Vecchia, whose research was published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, added: 'It remains unclear whether coffee drinking has an additional role in liver cancer prevention.

'But, in any case, such a role would be limited as compared to what is achievable through the current measures.'

Primary liver cancers are largely avoidable through hepatitis B virus vaccination, control of hepatitis C virus transmission and reduction of alcohol drinking.

These three measures can, in principle, avoid more than 90 percent of primary liver cancer worldwide.

Liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, and the third most common cause of cancer death.

HCC is the main type of liver cancer, accounting for more than 90 percent of cases worldwide.

Chronic infections with hepatitis B and C viruses are the main causes of liver cancer; other relevant risk factors include alcohol, tobacco, obesity and diabetes.


Eat chocolate to banish greys: How to munch your way to younger hair

This seems to be just opinion

You can spend hundreds on conditioners and treatments — but healthy, beautiful hair is more about what you put into your body than what you slather on your head.

Ricardo Vila Nova, resident trichologist at Urban Retreat in Harrods says: ‘Poor diet can cause hair thinning and hair loss as well as lacklustre hair, dryness and excess sebum.

A high-stress lifestyle and bad nutrition can be catalysts for damage which may need four years to recover.’

If your hair keeps breaking, eat red meat: ‘Iron is a top strength booster,’ says Vila Nova. It carries the blood’s supply of oxygen around the body keeping hair strong and nourished.

Thin and limp hair is the first sign that you aren’t getting enough iron. As red meat is a great source of iron, eat a portion of beef or lamb at least twice a week. Vegetarian? Lentils and tofu are also good sources of iron.

Going grey? Try chocolate.

Melanin, the pigment that forms the colour in your hair and skin, is responsible for keeping your tresses vibrant.

Foods that boost the presence of melanin in your body include chocolate (especially the dark variety).

If you want softer hair, eating salmon might help as the Omega-3 and 6 it contains boost scalp health.

Essential fatty acids keep the scalp moisturised, help hair maintain hydration and elasticity.

Oily fish such as tuna, salmon and mackerel are excellent sources of fatty acids: eat them once or twice a week.

Finally, avocados and walnuts could boost hair shine.

The better lubricated the cuticle layer on your hair, the smoother the surface of the hair and the shinier it looks. Bon appetit!


28 October, 2013

The savvy snacker's secret? Eating 30 almonds a day reduces hunger pangs and doesn't cause weight gain -- if you are a pre-diabetic

The actual finding was that the nuts did nothing. Total calorie intake was unaffected

Snacking has become something of a national pastime, with an estimated 97 per cent of people munching their way through at least one snack a day. While this habit may keep hunger at bay, it's fuelling an obesity epidemic.

Now new American research may hold the answer - munching on almonds can reduce hunger without increasing weight.

Researchers at Purdue University, in Indiana, found that eating 1.5oz of dry-roasted, lightly salted almonds every day reduced volunteers’ hunger, improved their Vitamin E levels and ‘good’ fat intake, and did not cause them to pile on the pounds. 1.50z of almonds is equivalent to 43g or around 30 individual nuts.

The researchers conducted a four-week trial to investigate the effects of eating almonds on weight and appetite.

The study included 137 adults at increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The participants were divided into five groups - a control group that avoided all nuts and seeds, a group that ate 1.5oz of almonds at breakfast and one that ate the nuts at lunch.

There was also a group that snacked on them in the morning, and one that ate them in the afternoon.

The volunteers were not given any other rules other than to follow their usual eating patterns and physical activity.

The results showed that even though they were eating approximately 250 calories a day in the form of the almonds, they did not eat any more calories overall.

‘This research suggests that almonds may be a good snack option, especially for those concerned about weight,’ said Dr Richard Mattes, professor of nutrition science at Purdue University and the study's lead author.

‘In this study, participants compensated for the additional calories provided by the almonds so daily energy intake did not rise.

‘They also reported reduced hunger levels and desire to eat at subsequent meals, particularly when almonds were consumed as a snack [as opposed to during a meal].’

Almonds have also previously been shown to increase the feeling of fullness in both normal weight, and overweight people.

This is thought to be due to almonds' monounsaturated fat, protein, and fibre content.

Previous research has shown that eating almonds can cut a person's risk of liver cancer because of the nuts’ Vitamin E content.

The Vitamin E in almonds is also thought to protect against heart disease and eye damage in old age.

Another study suggested that eating almonds can help prevent diabetes because it can help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce cholesterol levels.


If you want your partner to trust you, make them an omelette: Compound found in eggs credited with increasing feelings of trust

That hormones can influence behaviour, every married man knows, but it seems unlikely that diet would have lasting effects

Chaps, if you fear your wife doesn’t entirely trust you, get on her good side by whipping up an omelette. And to really make an impression, serve chocolate mousse for dessert.

Research has credited tryptophan, a compound found in eggs and chocolate, with increasing feelings of trust.

Other foods rich in tryptophan include red meat, cottage cheese, spinach, nuts and seeds, bananas, tuna, shellfish and turkey.

The advice follows a study in which Dutch researchers asked a group of volunteers to pair up and take part in a game of trust.

In the game, the first member of the pair is given some money and given the option of giving some to their partner. The gifted cash is then tripled and the second person can then give some of it back.

The game is seen as a measure of trust because the first player could end up a lot better off but only if he trusts the second player enough to give him a large sum initially.

Those taking part in the study were given orange juice to drink and in half of the cases, the juice was supplemented with tryptophan.

Players who had the tryptophan transferred almost 40 per cent more cash, the journal Psychological Science reports.

The Leiden University researchers said: ‘Interpersonal trust is an essential element of social life and co-operative behaviour.

‘After all, most people will only work together if they expect others to do so also, making mutual trust an important precondition for establishing mutual co-operation. ‘We found that people who took tryptophan transferred significantly more euros than people who took the placebo.

‘Our results support the materialist approach that you are what you eat, the idea that the food one eats has a bearing on one’s state of mind. ‘So the food we take may act as a cognitive enhancer that modulates the way we think and perceive the physical and social world.

‘In particular, the supplementation of tryptophan or diets containing tryptophan may promote interpersonal trust in inexpensive, efficient and healthy ways.’

Tryptophan is formed in the body during the digestion of some proteins and is a building block of the ‘feel-good’ brain chemical serotonin.

It is also a natural sedative, which has led to it being blamed for making people doze off after eating a big turkey dinner.


27 October, 2013

Five Phony Public Health Scares

Activist misinformation harms Americans

Health activists, nutrition nannies, medical paternalists, and just plain old quacks regularly conjure up menaces that are supposedly damaging the health of Americans. Their scares range from the decades-long campaign against fluoridation to worries that saccharin causes cancer to the ongoing hysteria over crop biotechnology. The campaigners' usual "solution" is to demand that regulators ban the offending substance or practice. Here are five especially egregious examples of activist misinformation.

1. Americans should consume no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, in order to reduce everybody's risk of heart disease, strokes, and high blood pressure.

You hear this one all the time. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. A June 2013 report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest asserted, "Immediately reducing average sodium consumption levels to between 2,200 mg to 1,500 mg per day would save about 700,000 to 1.2 million lives over 10 years." These nutrition nannies have been urging the U.S. government to lower the upper limit of daily recommended sodium intake to just two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt.

But a May 2013 study by the Institute of Medicine calls those longstanding recommendations into question. Contrary to years of anti-salt dogma, consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day may actually harm people suffering from congestive heart failure. There was also "no evidence for benefit and some evidence suggesting risk of adverse health outcomes" if the person with a low-salt diet has diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or pre-existing cardiovascular disease.

"The evidence on health outcomes," the report concluded, "is not consistent with efforts that encourage lowering of dietary sodium in the general population to 1,500 milligrams per day."

2. Vaccines cause autism.

In 1998 the British researcher Andrew Wakefield claimed in The Lancet that he had identified an association between vaccination against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) and the onset of autism. Thus was launched one of the more destructive health scares of recent years, in which tens of thousands of frightened parents refused to have their children vaccinated. Anti-vaccine cheerleaders such as the actress Jenny McCarthy fanned those fears.

Years of research and numerous studies have thoroughly debunked this scare. For example, the Institute of Medicine issued a 2011 report, "Adverse Effects of Vaccines," that found no association between MMR vaccination and autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees that "there is no relationship between vaccines containing thimerosal and autism rates in children." The Lancet finally retracted the infamous Wakefield study in 2010. Also in 2010, Britain's General Medical Council banned Wakefield from the practice of medicine after concluding that his paper had been not just inaccurate but dishonest.

3. Cellphone use causes cancer.

The fear here is that radio frequency waves emitted by cellular phones are associated with higher risk of various brain cancers. One anecdotal report even suggested that women who secreted their cellphones in their bras were more likely to get breast cancer.

It is true that in 2011 the hyper-precautionary International Agency for Research on Cancer classified cellphones as a "possible carcinogen." But as a somewhat snarky response in the Journal of Carcinogenesis pointed out, the agency classifies coffee and pickles as possible carcinogens, too. Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute flatly states that "to date there is no evidence from studies of cells, animals, or humans that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer." A 2012 comprehensive review of studies in the journal Bioelectromagnetics found "no statistically significant increase in risk for adult brain or other head tumors from wireless phone use."

4. High fructose corn syrup is responsible for the obesity "epidemic."

This particular scare was launched by a 2004 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which noted, "The increased use of HFCS in the United States mirrors the rapid increase in obesity." The authors pointed out that American consumption of HFCS had increased by more than 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990, and they estimated that Americans consumed an average of 132 kilocalories of HFCS per day. Digesting fructose, they suggested, failed to send signals to the brain to tell people to stop eating.

Since this scare was unleashed, a lot of research has investigated many different hypotheses about how HFCS might be worse for people than table sugar (sucrose). Most have turned up nothing significant.

A 2012 review article in the journal Advances in Nutrition summarized this research: "a broad scientific consensus has emerged that there are no metabolic or endocrine response differences between HFCS and sucrose related to obesity or any other adverse health outcome. This equivalence is not surprising given that both of these sugars contain approximately equal amounts of fructose and glucose, contain the same number of calories, possess the same level of sweetness, and are absorbed identically through the gastrointestinal tract." Another 2012 review article, in the Journal of Obesity, concluded, "In the past decade, a number of research trials have demonstrated no short-term differences between HFCS and sucrose in any metabolic parameter or health related effect measured in human beings including blood glucose, insulin, leptin, ghrelin and appetite."

So if HFCS is not to blame for the fattening up of Americans, what is? How about pigging out? The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in 1970 Americans consumed an average of 2,169 calories per day. In 2010, the figure was about 2,614. Sweeteners such as sugar and HFCS provided only 42 of this 445-calorie increase.

5. Exposure to trace amounts of synthetic chemicals is a major cause of cancer.

Rachel Carson's passionate 1962 bestseller Silent Spring warned that we "are living in a sea of carcinogens." More recently, a 2010 report issued by the President's Cancer Panel declared, "The true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated."

But is that so? As the American Cancer Society's Cancer Facts and Figures 2013 notes, "Exposure to carcinogenic agents in occupational, community, and other settings is thought to account for a relatively small percentage of cancer deaths-about 4% from occupational exposures and 2% from environmental pollutants (man-made and naturally occurring)." The same group rejected the President's Cancer Panel's conclusion as well, arguing that it "does not represent scientific consensus."

In fact, at the same time that human ingenuity has been generating all these useful synthetic compounds, both cancer incidence and death rates have been falling. While cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States, a 2012 report by the National Cancer Institute confirms that overall cancer death rates continue to decline, and that over the past decade the incidence of cancer continues to fall for men while holding steady for women.

Once a bogus health alarm has been launched, more careful researchers must waste years and tens of millions of dollars battling the misinformation. In the meantime, worried Americans actually harm their health by refusing to get their kids vaccinated, or squander their money on such items as "chemical-free" products.

Scaremongering, unfortunately, can be both lucrative and a source of gratifying media attention, so it's not likely to go away anytime soon.


25 October, 2013

3-year-old baby born with HIV may have been cured thanks to 'unusually aggressive' treatment

Babies are very flexible developmentally so this may not be replicable in adults

Doctors now have convincing evidence that they put HIV into remission, hopefully for good, in a Mississippi baby born with the AIDS virus — a medical first that is prompting a new look at how hard and fast such cases should be treated.

The case was reported earlier this year but some doctors were skeptical that the baby was really infected rather than testing positive because of exposure to virus in the mom's blood.

The new report, published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, makes clear that the girl, now 3, was infected in the womb. She was treated unusually aggressively and shows no active infection despite stopping AIDS medicines 18 months ago.

Doctors won't call it a cure because they don't know what proof or how much time is needed to declare someone free of HIV infection, long feared to be permanent.

'We want to be very cautious here. We're calling it remission because we'd like to observe the child for a longer time and be absolutely sure there's no rebound,' said Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, a University of Massachusetts AIDS expert involved in the baby's care.

The government's top AIDS scientist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, agreed.

'At minimum, the baby is in a clear remission. It is possible that the baby has actually been cured. We don't have a definition for cure as we do for certain cancers, where after five years or so you can be relatively certain the person is not going to go and relapse,' he said. A scientist at his institute did sophisticated tests that showed no active virus in the child.

A government-sponsored international study starting in January aims to test early treatment in babies born with HIV to see if the results in this case can be reproduced.

Most HIV-infected moms in the U.S. get AIDS medicines during pregnancy, which greatly cuts the chances they will pass the virus to their babies. But the Mississippi mom got no prenatal care and her HIV was discovered during labor. Doctors considered the baby to be at such high risk that they started the child on three powerful medicines 30 hours after birth, rather than waiting for a test to confirm infection as is usually done.

Within a month, the baby's virus fell to undetectable levels. She remained on treatment until she was 18 months old when doctors lost contact with her. Ten months later when she returned, they could find no sign of infection even though the mom had stopped giving the child AIDS medicines.

Only one other person is thought to have been cured of HIV infection — a San Francisco man who had a bone marrow transplant in 2007 from a donor with natural resistance to HIV, and showed no sign of infection five years later.

In the Mississippi baby, 'there's no immune mechanism we can identify that would keep the virus in check' like that bone marrow donor, said another study author, Dr. Deborah Persaud of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, who helped investigate the case because she has researched treatment in children.

Dr. Peter Havens, pediatric HIV chief at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and a government adviser on HIV treatment guidelines, said the child may have an undiscovered genetic trait that helped her manage the virus.

'I'm just not convinced that her dramatic response would be replicable in a large population,' he said. It's too soon to recommend treating other high-risk babies so aggressively without more study, he said.

In the upcoming study, doctors plan to give AIDS medicines for at least two years and watch for signs of remission before suspending treatment and seeing whether a remission results.

The Mississippi case 'did open people's eyes further' about a possible cure, Luzuriaga said. 'We might be able to intervene early and spare children a lifetime of therapy. That is the potential impact of this case.'


Strokes in under 64s soar by 25% in 20 years as doctors issue warning over toll taken by unhealthy lifestyle

DESPITE the way statins are handed out like peanuts

Rocketing global rates of stroke among the young and middle-aged are a ‘wake-up call’, say British experts. In the past 20 years the number of strokes afflicting people aged 20 to 64 have jumped by a quarter, an international study shows.

Strokes in this age group now make up 31 per cent of the worldwide total, compared with 25 per cent before 1990.

Although the rate of strokes among older people is declining in the UK, Britons are still more likely to die from stroke than someone living in France, Germany and the US.

In the poorest areas of the UK the number of people dying from stroke is around three times higher than in the least economically deprived.

Jon Barrick, chief executive of the Stroke Association, called the study a ‘wake-up call to governments across the globe’.

Poor lifestyles, increasing sedentary habits, obesity and diabetes threatened to eradicate advances made in Britain in recent years, he warned.

Figures from King’s College London earlier this month revealed a 40 per cent fall in stroke rates among elderly people since the mid-1990s.

Experts said the drop was due to better treatment of high blood pressure and cholesterol.

But rates remain high for people aged 45 and under, and those of black Caribbean and African origin, and a drop in the total number of strokes is unlikely because more people are living longer.

The latest findings, published in The Lancet medical journal, form part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010, looking at major diseases and causes of ill health in 50 countries.

The results reveal stark differences between rich and poor. [As usual]

Strokes were linked to 46 per cent more disability and illness and 42 per cent more deaths in poorer countries than in richer ones between 1990 and 2010. In rich countries, stroke rates fell 12 per cent over the two decades.

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, high blood pressure and unhealthy diet were thought to play a role in increasing stroke rates in low-to-middle income countries.

Professor Valery Feigin of New Zealand’s National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences said: ‘The worldwide stroke burden is growing very fast and there is now an urgent need for culturally acceptable and affordable stroke prevention, management and rehabilitation strategies to be developed and implemented worldwide.’

Each year around 152,000 strokes occur in the UK, costing the NHS an estimated £3.7billion, and there are over a million Britons living with the effects of stroke.

In January, BBC presenter Andrew Marr, 54, suffered a stroke, which he blamed on his relentless schedule.

Mr Barrick said at least half of strokes could be prevented by simple lifestyle changes, such as taking more exercise.

‘The report reveals a shocking disparity between rich and poor, where death rates from stroke are up to ten times higher in lower income countries,’ he said.

‘Closer to home, within the UK, the number of people dying from stroke is around three times higher in the most economically deprived areas, compared to the least deprived.

‘Stroke survivors often face a black hole when discharged from hospital, with one in five in the UK receiving no support from services to help them recover.

‘This is a stark warning. We urgently need to address this global stroke crisis by prioritising stroke prevention and investment into stroke research.’

A second study published in The Lancet Global Health showed that in 2010, three-fifths of the global disability and more than half of deaths due to stroke were from bleeding in the brain.

This type of stroke, known as a haemorrhagic stroke, is deadlier than more common ischaemic strokes that cut blood supply to the brain.


24 October, 2013

Does living in a sunny place reduce the risk of a child developing ADHD?

Correlational data only. Interpretation speculative.

The percentage of the variance in ADHD explained by sunlight (correlations around .7) was extremely high but that is to be expected of ecological correlations.

Individuals were not examined. High sunlight AREAS and high ADHD AREAS were correlated. Are high sunlight areas simply less likely to REPORT ADHD? Could be. The study may simply show that plenty of sunlight makes you Pollyanna-ish

Children who live in sunny areas may be less likely to suffer from ADHD, a new study suggests.

Dutch researchers have found that very sunny regions have a lower prevalence of the condition, suggesting that high sunlight intensity may exert a 'protective' effect.

Researchers came to the conclusion after analysing maps that showed the U.S. states (and nine other countries) most affected - and how sunny they were.

Even after taking into account other factors that are known to be associated with ADHD, they found there was still a relationship between solar intensity and how many children suffered from the condition.

To test their theory further, the researchers also looked at whether there appeared to be relationship between sunlight exposure and autism or major depressive disorders - but there was not.

The data maps were released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Study leader Martijn Arns, of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, suggests that our biological clocks may help explain the apparent connection with sun exposure.

Sleep disorder treatments intended to restore normal circadian rhythms, including light exposure therapy, have been shown to improve ADHD symptoms.

He suggests one solution in less sunny areas could be to install more skylights in classrooms and schedule playtime to get maximum sun exposure.

And that with our heavy use of tablets, smartphones and PCs - which disrupt sleep - manufacturers should develop colour-adjusted screens to filter out disruptive blue light.

ADHD is the most common childhood psychiatric disorder, with an average worldwide prevalence of about five to seven per cent, but it also varies greatly by region.

Symptoms include an inability to focus, poor attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior, and the normal process of brain maturation is delayed in children with ADHD. Many people also report sleep-related difficulties and disorders.

Scientists do not know what causes it, but genetics play a clear role. Other risk factors have also been identified, including premature birth, low birth weight, a mother's use of alcohol or tobacco during pregnancy, and environmental exposures to toxins like lead.

The research is published in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.

Commenting on the findings, editor Dr. John Krystal, said: 'The reported association is intriguing, but it raises many questions that have no answers. 'Do sunny climates reduce the severity or prevalence of ADHD and if so, how? Do people prone to develop ADHD tend to move away from sunny climates and if so, why?'


Geographic Variation in the Prevalence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: The Sunny Perspective

By Martijn Arns et al.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common psychiatric disorder of childhood, with average worldwide prevalence of 5.3%, varying by region.


We assessed the relationship between the prevalence of ADHD and solar intensity (SI) (kilowatt hours/square meters/day) on the basis of multinational and cross-state studies. Prevalence data for the U.S. were based on self-report of professional diagnoses; prevalence data for the other countries were based on diagnostic assessment. The SI data were obtained from national institutes.


In three datasets (across 49 U.S. states for 2003 and 2007, and across 9 non-U.S. countries) a relationship between SI and the prevalence of ADHD was found, explaining 34%–57% of the variance in ADHD prevalence, with high SI having an apparent preventative effect. Controlling for low birth weight, infant mortality, average income (socioeconomic status), latitude, and other relevant factors did not change these findings. Furthermore, these findings were specific to ADHD, not found for the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders or major depressive disorder.


In this study we found a lower prevalence of ADHD in areas with high SI for both U.S. and non-U.S. data. This association has not been reported before in the literature. The preventative effect of high SI might be related to an improvement of circadian clock disturbances, which have recently been associated with ADHD. These findings likely apply to a substantial subgroup of ADHD patients and have major implications in our understanding of the etiology and possibly prevention of ADHD by medical professionals, schools, parents, and manufacturers of mobile devices.


Is a high-fat diet GOOD for the heart? Doctors say carbs are more damaging to the arteries than butter or cream

The great backflip has begun

Cutting back on butter, cream and fatty meats may have done more harm to heart health than good.

Experts say the belief that high-fat diets are bad for arteries is based on faulty interpretation of scientific studies and has led to millions being ‘over-medicated’ with statin drugs.

Doctors insist it is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease, which was based on faulty interpretation of scientific studies.

Some western nations, such as Sweden, are now adopting dietary guidelines that encourage foods high in fat but low in carbs.

Cardiologist Aseem Malhotra says almost four decades of advice to cut back on saturated fats found in cream, butter and less lean meat has ‘paradoxically increased our cardiovascular risks’.

He leads a debate online in the British Medical Journal website that challenges the demonisation of saturated fat.

A landmark study in the 1970s concluded there was a link between heart disease and blood cholesterol, which correlated with the calories provided by saturated fat.

‘But correlation is not causation,’ said Dr Malhotra, interventional cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University Hospital, London.

Nevertheless, people were advised to reduce fat intake to 30 per cent of total energy and a fall in saturated fat intake to 10 per cent.

Recent studies fail to show a link between saturated fat intake and risk of cardiovascular disease, with saturated fat actually found to be protective, he said.

One of the earliest obesity experiments, published in the Lancet in 1956, comparing groups on diets of 90 per cent fat versus 90 per cent protein versus 90 per cent carbohydrate revealed the greatest weight loss was among those eating the most fat.

Professor David Haslam, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘The assumption has been made that increased fat in the bloodstream is caused by increased saturated fat in the diet?…?modern scientific evidence is proving that refined carbohydrates and sugar in particular are actually the culprits.’

Another US study showed a ‘low fat’ diet was worse for health than one which was low in carbohydrates, such as potatoes, pasta, bread.

Dr Malhotra said obesity has ‘rocketed’ in the US despite a big drop in calories consumed from fat. ‘One reason’ he said ‘when you take the fat out, the food tastes worse.’

The food industry compensated by replacing saturated fat with added sugar but evidence is mounting that sugar is a ‘possible independent risk factor’ for metabolic syndrome which can lead to diabetes.

Dr Malhotra said the government’s obsession with cholesterol ‘has led to the over-medication of millions of people with statins’. But why has there been no demonstrable effect on heart disease trends when eight million Britons are being prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs, he asked.

Adopting a Mediterranean diet after a heart attack is almost three times as powerful in reducing death rates as taking a statin, which have been linked to unacceptable side effects in real-world use, he added.

Dr Malhrotra said ‘The greatest improvements in morbidity and mortality have been due not to personal responsibility but rather to public health.

‘It is time to bust the myth of the role of saturated in heart disease and wind back the harms of dietary advice that has contributed to obesity.’

Dr Malcolm Kendrick, a GP and author of The Great Cholesterol Con, said Sweden had become the first western nation to develop national dietary guidelines that rejected the low-fat myth, in favour of low-carb high-fat nutrition advice.

He said ‘Around the world, the tide is turning, and science is overturning anti-fat dogma.

'Recently, the Swedish Council on Health Technology assessment has admitted that a high fat diet improves blood sugar levels, reduces triglycerides improves ‘good’ cholesterol - all signs of insulin resistance, the underlying cause of diabetes - and has nothing but beneficial effects, including assisting in weight loss.

‘Aseem Malhotra is to be congratulated for stating the truth that has been suppressed for the last forty years’ he added.

Timothy Noakes, Professor of Exercise and Sports Science, University of Cape Town, South Africa said ‘Focusing on an elevated blood cholesterol concentration as the exclusive cause of coronary heart disease is unquestionably the worst medical error of our time.

‘After reviewing all the scientific evidence I draw just one conclusion - Never prescribe a statin drug for a loved one.’


23 October, 2013

Daily exercise 'can boost pupils' secondary school results by a grade'

So who were the inactive ones? Probably lower class, who are dimmer anyway. The results may tell us NOTHING about exercise as such

One hour’s exercise each day can boost children’s GCSE results by a grade amid fresh evidence of a link between physical activity and academic achievement.

Researchers found that pupils could improve their results in a series of key academic subjects with increased exposure to activities such as PE, lunchtime games or cycling to school.

The study – based on an analysis of almost 5,000 schoolchildren – found that grades increased in direct correlation with the amount of physical exercise undertaken in the average day.

It emerged that an extra 17 minutes of exercise for boys and 12 minutes for girls at the age of 11 – beyond the current average for the age group – could boost children’s results by the age of 16.

Overall, researchers found an average of 60 minutes of “moderate to vigorous” physical activity could be the difference between achieving a C or B grade by the time pupils sat their GCSEs.

The effect was particularly marked for girls in science, it emerged.

The disclosure – in a study by academics at Dundee and Strathclyde universities – comes amid concerns that children in Britain are leading increasingly sedentary lifestyles as they spend hours every day glued to televisions, the internet and games consoles.

Previous figures have shown that almost nine-in-10 children fail to get the 60 minutes of daily exercise recommended for a good health and a third complete less than an hour each week.

It is thought that physical activity can stimulate chemicals in the brain that lead to improvements in academic performance.

Repeated studies have also created a link between physical fitness and memory, attention span and "on-task" focus, which can have an effect on classroom performance.

Writing in today’s report, academics said: “If moderate to vigorous physical activity does influence academic attainment this has implications for public health and education policy by providing schools and parents with a potentially important stake in meaningful and sustained increases in physical activity.”

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, was based on data from 4,755 children born in the early 90s and tracked through their education.

Scientists analysed physical activity levels for between three and seven days when children were aged 11 using a motion sensor.

Factors likely to influence academic attainment, such as birthweight, mother’s age at delivery, smoking during the pregnancy and socioeconomic factors were taken into account.

The study found that boys took part in an average of 29 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, while girls clocked up just 18 minutes. It was significantly less than the recommended level of 60 minutes for all children.

Academics then compared exercise regimes with children's academic performance in English, maths, and science at the ages of 11, 13 and 16.

Boys’ GCSE results at the age of 16 increased for every additional 17 minutes’ exercise – beyond the average – registered at the age of 11, while girls showed an improvement for each extra 12 minutes.

The study, led by Dr Josephine Booth, from Dundee, and Prof John Reilly, from Strathclyde, said that increasing activity levels among boys and girls to a recommended hour “would translate to predicted increases of academic attainment of almost one GCSE grade (eg. an increase from a grade C in English to a grade B)”.

Exercise appeared to impact on science results the most, particularly among girls.

“This is an important finding, especially in light of the current UK and European Commission policy aimed at increasing the number of females in science subjects,” the study said.


Forget creams and ointments – duct tape really can cure verrucas

Verrucas are a type of wart on the foot. People who go barefoot rarely get them. Wearing thongs (flip-flops) instead of shoes may also be protective

Quack remedies such as duct tape to cure verrucas and bathing in oats to cure skin complaints really can work, a panel of doctors has found.

Some sufferers of common complaints have sworn by household cures for years, which also include using the lubricant WD-40 to ease arthritis and drinking breast milk to cure infections.

They had never been put to the test until the Channel 4 programme Health Freaks, broadcast last night, carried out controlled studies on them.

Dr Ellie Cannon, a west London GP, was among the medics who assessed some of the unusual homespun treatments presented to them by advocates of the cures.

She said: “We know people do use duct tape for verrucas and we did see in the trial we did that it improved them for some. In one case the verruca went completely.”

One patient featured on the programme said they had had a verruca for eight years and had been unable to shift it until they used duct tape, which finally cleared it up.

In the trial, some participants used duct tape and some used Elastoplast.

Dr Cannon said further investigation was needed to establish why duct tape was so effective as a remedy, as this remained unclear.

She added: “It’s not what we would call a consistent treatment. It doesn’t work for everyone.

“The three of us on the panel had different theories about why it was working. It might be that the tape is starving the verruca of oxygen, or it might be that the adhesive in the tape is causing an immune reaction.”

Other unusual treatments tested on the programme include breast milk to cure infections and an oat bath for the skin complaint psoriasis.

Breast milk was found to be less effective than one might expect, Dr Cannon said, while oat baths did help a little.

Another homespun remedy, using the lubricant WD-40 to treat arthritis and chest pain, was suggested by two builders but was deemed to be too unsafe to trial.

Dr Cannon said: “One of the things that surprised me was just how widespread the use of some of these remedies is. WD-40 is so widely used on building sites to treat arthritis that the manufacturers have had to put a notice on their website saying it’s not for human use.

“In years gone by the remedy might only be known within a particular family but the internet has made them much more commonly known.

“Another thing that surprised me was how prepared people are to try out remedies that could have dangerous side-effects, like drinking their own urine.”

Other remedies that the doctors were presented with included amber necklaces to cure teething trouble, copper coins to clear up styes, turmeric as an acne cure and leeches to cure deep vein thrombosis.

The doctors concluded that many of the “cures” are a result of the placebo effect, when patients’ bodies heal themselves because the patient is convinced they have been given a miracle remedy.

“Even when people have three doctors telling them their treatment has no medical benefits, once they are in that zone, believing in their remedy, they won’t be persuaded otherwise.”

In the test, all of the people given duct tape found their verrucas shrank by at least one millimetre, whereas none of those who used surgical tape saw any difference at all.

Dr Cannon said: "I'll certainly suggest to my patients that they give it a try if they aren't having any success with other treatments."


22 October, 2013

Three glasses of wine could reduce chance of conception -- if you already have serious fertility problems

Drinking three small glasses of wine a week could reduce some women's chances of conceiving by two thirds, research has found

The study of women's drinking habits in the months before they began fertility treatment found that even low quantities of alcohol had a dramatic impact on the ability to conceive.

Research on couples who had already undergone around three failed cycles of IVF, found that women who abstained from all alcohol had a 90 per cent chance of achieving a successful pregnancy, over three years.

However, women who drank an average of just three small glasses of wine a week had a 30 per cent chance of conceiving over the same period.

Researchers said the same patterns were likely to hold true for couples trying to conceive naturally.

The study found that even women who drank just one or two glasses of wine a week - well within Government safe drinking limits for those trying to conceive - drastically jeopardised their fertility, with success rates of 66 per cent.

Government advice recommends that women trying to get pregnant should drink no more than 1 to 2 units of alcohol twice a week - the equivalent of up to two glasses of wine.

Researchers who led the study of 90 women, presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's annual conference in Boston, US, said it was not clear why relatively small quantities of alcohol had such an impact.

Lead author Dara Godfrey, an IVF specialist from Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, said: "My advice to patients is always to limit or abstain from alcohol. But whether they do or not its up to them. Alcohol definitely has a detrimental effect on pregnancy success."

Dr Godfrey said the same impact was likely to occur in women trying to conceive naturally, with the greatest effect likely to be felt among those who had several drinks on the same evening.

She said researchers had not identified the mechanism which meant alcohol reduced fertility, but that it was possible it jeopardises normal egg development.

Some fertility clinics recommend that clinics stop drinking for three months before they start IVF treatment, because it takes that long for an egg to develop.

Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at the University of Sheffield said the differences in pregnancy rates between the groups were substantial, and consistent with advice to avoid alcohol if trying to conceive.

However, he said it was possible that there were other differences between the women who abstained from alcohol entirely, and those who had several drinks a week.

Dr Pacey said: "I would wonder whether alcohol could be a surrogacy marker for something else - that the women who have something to drink are more likely to be stressed."

Stress levels affect hormones such as cortisol which can interfere with reproductive cycles.

The university's research on sperm quality last year suggested that moderate intake of alcohol did not affect male fertility, he said.

"There is a certainly a bit of a difficulty in advising men that it is okay for them to drink if trying to conceive but women shouldn't touch a drop - that could create tensions in many a household," he said.


A jog in the park won’t cure serious depression

A study of over-prescription for depression and anxiety deserves analysis because it contains a mix of truth… and hidden agendas

GPs are turning us into a nation of pill-poppers, according to shock headlines last week. The research, commissioned by the charity Nuffield Health, found that GPs are 46 times more likely to prescribe medication for depression and anxiety ''rather than recommend other, medically proven alternatives such as exercise’’.

This feeds in nicely to the social narrative surrounding primary care: that GPs are too busy and harassed to listen and are only interested in pushing us out of the door clutching a prescription to keep us quiet. Dr Davina Deniszczyc, the medical director of Nuffield Health, said: ''The compelling evidence that physical activity can play an important role in both treating and alleviating early symptoms of mental ill health isn’t sufficiently filtering through to front-line and primary care services.’’

This study deserves a closer analysis because it contains a mix of truth… and hidden agendas. The newspaper reports indicated, correctly, that it was commissioned by a charity. But although Nuffield Health is technically a charity, it is actually a private hospital chain. It was criticised when it emerged that the group paid only £100,000 corporation tax in 2011, despite a turnover of £575?million, because of its ''charity’’ status. Its chief executive, David Mobbs, has a salary package of £860,000. It has 31 hospitals but also 60 membership gyms. So, a cynic could argue that it has a vested interest in, firstly, undermining people’s confidence in GPs and, secondly, commissioning research that promoted exercise. The study is, in essence, a nicely dressed up piece of covert marketing.

And it works as a marketing message because it does contain some truth. I should emphasise that I routinely prescribe antidepressants to patients with moderate to severe depressive illness, and they are effective. It is also true that sometimes antidepressants are prescribed to people for whom exercise would be beneficial, such as those with a mild depressive illness. But for many, their depression is so severe that the idea of a brisk jog in the park to lift their spirits is absurd. It can be a life-threatening illness that deserves prompt pharmacological intervention.

However, what the study failed to explore was why GPs were so ready to prescribe antidepressants. The real story here is about psychological therapy services. Historically, GPs have been reliant on antidepressants because access to the alternative – the ''talking therapies’’ – in the NHS is subject to very long waiting lists.

When I began training it was not unusual to hear of patients waiting for several years to receive therapy on the NHS. The response to this was the IAPT scheme – or Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, which evolved from a paper first tabled by health economist Lord Layard in 2005. He argued that, as well as humanitarian grounds, there was a sound economic argument for providing evidence-based therapies quickly and effectively for people with depression and anxiety, as it would reduce the cost of incapacity benefit. On the basis of his assessment, staff were recruited and trained and services were rolled out across the country providing cognitive behavioural therapy. At the end of the first three full financial years of operation in March 2012, more than one million people had used the service and 45,000 people had been moved off benefits as a result.

Unfortunately, it has been a victim of its own success. Those with only mild symptoms are seen quickly by specially trained professionals, but not doctors or psychologists, which limits the complexity of the cases they are able to deal with. So while money has poured into IAPT services to deal with minor complaints, waiting times for more complex cases have lengthened. There are reports of people with severe depression having to wait over a year. This is not to denigrate IAPT services – they do a great job. But, with the success of IAPT, the Government feels it has solved the problems of accessing “talking therapies” when there are still shamefully long waiting lists for those that need help the most.

GPs still prescribe antidepressants because, for some patients, the alterative is an insufferably long wait before they get any respite from their symptoms.


21 October, 2013

Super-vaccine could eliminate need for annual flu jabs within five years after successful trials

A new 'Holy Grail' flu vaccine which gives lifelong protection against all strains of the virus could be available within five years. Scientists from Britain and Europe are getting ready to start large-scale trials of a universal vaccine after early tests on humans proved successful.

If all goes to plan the new injection would stop the need for annual flu jabs and could save thousands of lives every year.

It could also be effective against highly dangerous forms of the disease, such as Spanish flu, even if they mutate, preventing global pandemics like the one which killed 100million people in 1918.

Despite carrying out human trials on almost 100 patients over many years, this is the first positive news.

Professor John Oxford, British flu expert and a key researcher of the study, said that his team are 'wildly enthusiastic' about the vaccine's prospects.

The programme has recently received a multi-million pound EU grant to fund its research.

At the moment vaccines work by identifying viruses by their 'coats', however as viruses mutate these change, making old vaccines ineffective.

The universal vaccine works by attacking proteins hidden within the virus which are common throughout harmful strains.

If it works, the 'Holy Grail' vaccine would eliminate the need for annual flu jabs and could save thousands of lives every year and prevent global flu pandemics

The news comes at the end of a week which has seen a new strain of bird flu re-emerge in China and after it was reported to have passed between humans in August.

A 32-year-old woman was said to have died after caring for her father who was infected by the H7N9 strain of bird flu.

Reports of human infection began in March this year but have trailed off in the last few months having killed at least 45 people out of 136 cases.

However as poultry stocks swell ahead of Chinese new year a 35-year-old man in the eastern province of Zhejiang has been hospitalised and the World Health Organisation confirms two more people are in hospital with another 88 being sent home.

A nasal flu spray has also been made available for all children aged between two and three years old, and will eventually be extended into a national programme for all under-16s.

If trials of the new flu super-jab are successful it could be available for use by 2018.


Man-made virus could defeat the disease that stole Coleen Rooney's sister: Tests on mice offer new hope for Rett Syndrome

For Beth Johnsson, having a daughter with Rett Syndrome is ‘like losing a child you still have.’ Until she was 18 months old, Hannah was alert, responsive and developing normally.

Yet, Beth, 35, an English teacher, explains: ‘Very suddenly, the beautiful baby we knew slowly began to disappear – she was alive, but we couldn’t get to her.’

Hannah is now six yet has the mental capabilities of an 18-month-old – a reality that is only too stark when she is playing with her brothers Matthew, three, and Noah, who is almost two.

Just like her baby brother, she frequently screams, tries to eat everything within arm’s distance, pulls her hair (and her brother’s) and finds it hard to support her own weight.

Yet now scientists may be close to eliminating the condition. Astonishingly, Rett Syndrome (RS) – which also afflicted Coleen Rooney’s little sister, Rosie, who died aged 14 in January – has been reversed in mice.

One child in 12,000 is born with RS, yet few people have heard of it. The genetic disorder affects almost exclusively females, causing them to regress neurologically and physically.

Almost all cases are caused by a mutation in the MECP2 gene which prevents nerve cells in the brain from working properly. Currently there is no cure and only the symptoms are treated. Sufferers can live to their 40s but most die before 25.

Beth and her husband Vince, 37, from Sutton in Surrey, first noticed something was wrong when Hannah started to react oddly to people’s emotions.

‘Her normal responses reversed – she would become very distressed when someone laughed,’ says Beth. ‘This was accompanied by screaming which was difficult to bear.’

There was a sudden slowing in her development, and nursery workers noticed she had started to shake occasionally. Beth and Vince took Hannah to the doctor but they were reassured there was nothing wrong with her because she was reaching all her milestones, albeit slowly. But Hannah continued to regress until she started to pull out her hair in handfuls.

‘Even at this point no one could tell me what was wrong with her,’ adds Beth. ‘It was incredibly frustrating.’

Finally, tests revealed the true cause. When the couple were given the news they were strictly told not to search the internet about the condition and to ‘carry on as normal’. Doctors wanted to prevent them frightening themselves.

‘I’m not sure I’d have managed to get out of bed if I’d known what lay ahead,’ Beth admits.

Since then there has been a steady decline in Hannah’s abilities. She wakes throughout the night for hours at a time and needs a strict routine, otherwise she screams for long periods.

Until recently, neurodevelopmental conditions were thought to be irreversible. Yet there is hope from the Edinburgh University research which in 2007 reversed RS symptoms in mice.

‘That took our breath away,’ says Dr Adrian Bird, who led the study. The mice were infected with a virus that altered the gene and reversed symptoms. ‘Mice are different from humans, but it is a very strong indicator that therapies could be developed in our lifetime,’ says Dr Bird.

For Beth, the research is the light at the end of the tunnel and she will work tirelessly to raise money until there is a therapy for Hannah. She says: ‘I refuse to lose hope.’


20 October, 2013

Do high doses of vitamin C raise prostate cancer risk? Study shows popping too many supplements could give men tumours

Men who take high doses of vitamin supplements could be increasing their risk of lethal prostate cancer by nearly 30 per cent, say researchers.

A study of 48,000 men spanning more than two decades suggests popping too many vitamin pills can put them in danger of tumours that are more likely to be fatal.

The researchers linked high doses of vitamin C to an increased risk of lethal and advanced prostate cancer.

The results, by experts from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, in the US, and the University of Oslo in Norway, are not the first to raise the alarm over the dangers of excess vitamin consumption.

Nearly a quarter of adults in the UK are estimated to take antioxidant supplements or multivitamins regularly in the hope that it will help protect them against illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. The market for such products is worth around half a billion pounds a year.

In recent years, high-dose vitamins have become popular, with people taking more in the belief that it is better for them.

For example, health food shops now sell vitamin C tablets in doses of 1,000mg each, but the body needs only about 40mg a day to keep cells healthy and promote healing.

In the latest research, the scientists set out to see if antioxidants in vitamin pills and food could reduce the chances of a prostate tumour.

From 1986 to 2008 they followed 48,000 men aged between 40 and 75. Every four years, the men completed food questionnaires designed to record their dietary habits. The researchers followed them up to see which ones developed prostate cancer.

The results, published in the International Journal Of Cancer, show that total antioxidant intake – from foods or pills – neither increased nor decreased the risk of a tumour. Antioxidants fight the process, called oxidation, that destroys cells.

There was some suggestion antioxidants from coffee had a slightly protective effect.

But the most alarming finding was that men with the highest intake of antioxidants from vitamin pills were 28 per cent more likely to get lethal prostate cancer than those who took the lowest amount of pills or none.

Those with the highest intake of antioxidants from vitamin pills were 15 per cent more likely to get advanced prostate cancer – a tumour that spreads quickly beyond the prostate, reducing the chances of survival.

In a report the researchers said: ‘High intake of antioxidants from supplements was associated with increased risk for lethal and advanced prostate cancer.

'The main contributor is vitamin C, and this finding warrants further investigation.’

But the researchers stressed that, until more research is carried out, they cannot be sure that vitamin tablets actually cause cancer.

It may be that the cancer victims felt unwell for several months before their diagnosis and simply increased vitamin intake to try to ward off symptoms such as fatigue.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, of the Health Supplements Information Service, which is funded by supplements makers, said: ‘It is entirely possible that these men may have had prostate-related symptoms and fatigue long before diagnosis. 'The cancer may have had nothing to do with the supplements.’


New HRT drug may help to PREVENT breast cancer in British women

A menopause treatment which could prevent breast cancer, rather than causing it, may soon be available for British women.

Evidence shows the new hormone replacement therapy pill is even more effective at combating menopause symptoms, such as hot flushes, than the standard treatment.

But crucially, early trials show it may prevent growth of breast cancer tumours. Existing forms of HRT, by contrast, are thought to cause the disease.

Researchers say it could be given to millions of women worldwide who are too afraid to take menopause treatment due to the risk of breast cancer.

And they also believe it could be given to younger women with a strong family history of the disease to prevent it occurring.

The pill – called Duavee – has just been approved for use in America and will be available in chemists there from January.

It is now being considered for use in Britain by the EU watchdog – the European Medicines Agency – which is expected to make a decision in the next few months.

The drug contains the hormone oestrogen which combats symptoms of the menopause including hot flushes, night sweats, sleeping problems and thinning of the bones, or osteoporosis.

But the problem with oestrogen, which is in standard HRT, is that it is thought to trigger the growth of cancer tumours.

To combat this, a chemical called bazedoxifene is added to the Duavee pill, blocking the cancer-causing effects of oestrogen. This means the drug has all the benefits of reducing menopause symptoms as normal HRT but does not trigger breast cancer.

Trials on 8,000 women have shown it reduces hot flushes by 85 per cent – making it more effective than standard HRT, which cuts them by 75 per cent. It also prevents fractures caused by bone thinning by 40 per cent and participants said it had improved their overall happiness.

But in tests on mice the chemical prevented the growth of breast cancer tumours – and scientists are convinced it will have the same effect on women.

Professor Richard Santen of the University of Virginia, who is an expert in the role of oestrogen in breast cancer, said: ‘If this does what we think it does this is huge.’

Unveiling the findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in Boston, he added: ‘I’ve been around for 45 years studying breast cancer and when you look at the effects of these agents in animals, the animals have really predicted what’s going to happen in patients.’

Breast cancer is the most common form of the disease in women and in the UK there are just under 50,000 new cases each year and 11,500 deaths.

In 2001 and 2002 two major US studies suggested breast cancer was being triggered by HRT leading to millions of women worldwide abandoning the drug. In Britain, the numbers of women on HRT fell by half – only a million now take it today.

Doctors are concerned that many are suffering the debilitating symptoms of the menopause and putting themselves at risk of osteoporosis because they are too afraid to take HRT.

The new drug’s manufacturer Pfizer has not revealed the cost of the pill – which would be taken once a day – but say it would be comparable to current forms of HRT, which is between £2 and £7 for a month’s supply depending on the type.

Professor Santen said that if it was shown to prevent breast cancer, it could be given to thousands of younger women at high risk of the disease. This summer the NHS began offering these women the drug Tamoxifen, but it can have very unpleasant side effects such as depression, tiredness, blood clots, hot flushes and headaches.

The professor said trials had so far shown the new pill had limited side effects.

The drug could be available in Britain next year if the EU watchdog approves it, although it may take several years to show it prevents breast cancer in humans.


18 October, 2013

Air pollution leading cause of cancer, WHO finds

If you are talking about third worlders cooking over a cow-dung fire in a windowless hut, maybe. For the rest it's just opinion based on rodents or an inconclusive correlational base

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said outdoor air pollution is a leading cause of cancer in humans.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer declared on Thursday that air pollution is a carcinogen, alongside known dangers such as asbestos, tobacco and ultraviolet radiation. The decision came after a consultation by an expert panel organized by IARC, the cancer agency of the World Health Organisation.

"The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances," said Kurt Straif of the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

"We now know that outdoor air pollution is not only a major risk to health in general, but also a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths."

The IARC said a panel of top experts had found "sufficient evidence" that exposure to outdoor air pollution caused lung cancer and raised the risk of bladder cancer.

Although the composition of air pollution and levels of exposure can vary dramatically between locations, the agency said its conclusions applied to all regions of the globe.

Air pollution was already known to increase the risk of respiratory and heart diseases.

The IARC said pollution exposure levels increased significantly in some parts of the world in recent years, notably in rapidly industrialising nations with large populations.

The most recent data, from 2010, showed that 223,000 lung cancer deaths worldwide were the result of air pollution, the agency said.

In the past, the IARC had measured the presence of individual chemicals and mixtures of chemicals in the air - including diesel engine exhaust, solvents, metals, and dust.

But the latest findings were based on overall air quality.

"Our task was to evaluate the air everyone breathes rather than focus on specific air pollutants," said the IARC's Dana Loomis.

"The results from the reviewed studies point in the same direction: the risk of developing lung cancer is significantly increased in people exposed to air pollution," he added.

The predominant sources of outdoor air pollution were transport, power generation, emissions from factories and farms, and residential heating and cooking, the agency said.


The half-price IVF that boosts chance of getting pregnant: New technique uses far fewer drugs and could be done during a woman's lunch hour

A half-price version of IVF that women could have in their lunch-hour has been shown to raise the chances of having a baby drastically.

It is particularly effective for those in their late 30s and early 40s and success rates are almost twice as high as the conventional fertility treatment.

The technique involves using far lower doses of drugs, with the result that it is not only far cheaper, but also has virtually no side effects.

Many women undergoing normal IVF suffer from mood swings, nausea and headaches. In rare cases it can cause a life-threatening condition whereby their abdomen fills with fluid.

This new method, known as mini-IVF, involves giving women a daily pill for ten to 12 days which contains a low dose of the fertility drug clomid.

This encourages their ovaries to produce eggs and during this time the women undergo ultrasound scans every few days to check the eggs are developing healthily.

Once the eggs are large enough – around another ten days later – they are removed during a five-minute operation which does not require a general anaesthetic.

This means women can have it done before work, or during their lunch break, unlike normal IVF which lasts half a day and requires them to be put to sleep.

Doctors from St Louis, Missouri, who developed the method say it should be routinely offered to all women as it is cheaper, safer and a far more effective alternative.

Trials involving 520 women unveiled at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in Boston showed that success rates for women over 35 were a third higher compared with those undergoing conventional IVF.

The results were even better among the over-40s – those using this new method were twice as likely to have a baby compared to if they had used the conventional fertility treatment.

Dr Sherman Silber, a fertility expert who helped develop the method, said it was so effective it offered women in their 40s the same chance of falling pregnant as those in their twenties.

In women aged 35 or below, success rates are about the same as standard IVF but the researchers say they would also benefit from using it because it is far cheaper and has fewer side effects.

Dr Silber said: ‘This is perfect for Britain and it would save an incredible amount of money. This is the magic solution.’

A course of mini-IVF costs between £1,200 and £1,800 compared with standard IVF which is between £3,000 and £4,000.

The reason it is so much cheaper is that it involves using far lower doses of the fertility drug clomid.

But this also makes it safer as large amounts of medication can lead to the deadly condition ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome whereby their abdomens fill with fluid – this occurs in 1 per cent of women having IVF.

One of main reasons women in their late 30s and early 40s have problems conceiving either naturally or with IVF is that they do not produce enough healthy eggs, capable of developing into an embryo and eventually a foetus.

In fact, the high dose fertility drugs used in conventional IVF worsen this problem as although they make a woman produce more eggs, they also appear to result in changes in the DNA of the eggs which make them defective.

But mini-IVF only uses very low doses of the drugs that do not make the woman’s eggs less healthy.

Professor Geeta Nargund, a consultant gynaecologist at the London fertility clinic Create said: ‘This study is a valuable addition to the growing evidence that mild stimulation IVF needs to become the first choice in IVF clinics for many women.’


17 October, 2013

Epigenetics: Can we alter genes?

A useful summary of a school of thought below but most of the supposed epigenetic effects have fairly obvious alternative explanations. The children of the Dutch famine survivors may have been disadvantaged in a number of ways -- such as a damaged hormonal environment in utero etc.

Towards the end of the Second World War, something unprecedented happened in modern Europe: a famine. Operation Market Garden, the Allies’ attempt to push across the Rhine in September 1944, had failed, and in retaliation for Dutch collusion the Nazis blockaded towns across the western Netherlands for more than six months. The resultant food shortages – known as the Dutch Hongerwinter – were severe: with just 580 calories of food per person per day, over 22,000 people died from malnutrition, and thousands of babies were born badly underweight.

When scientific researchers analysed the meticulous Dutch medical records decades later, they could see the health effects of prenatal exposure to famine: that the infants who survived were more susceptible to health problems. But they also found a curious anomaly: that these children’s own children – born years later, and well fed – were also significantly underweight. The famine had, it seemed, “scarred” the victims’ DNA.

Which was surprising. After all, for decades we’ve all been told: you are what you eat. You are what you drink. You are how much, or how little, you exercise; you are whatever toxins you imbibe or inhale. Your genes may have destined you to a little baldness, or an increased susceptibility to some vulgar tumour. But as health experts have cautioned you repeatedly: you are a product of your own lifestyle choices.

And yet a quiet scientific revolution is changing that thinking. For it seems you might also be what your mother ate. How much your father drank. And what your grandma smoked. Likewise your own children, too, may be shaped by whether you spend your evenings jogging, worrying about work, or sat on the sofa eating Wotsits. And that nurture, rather than our intractable nature, may determine who we are far more than was ever previously thought.

Epigenetics is a relatively new scientific field; research only began in earnest in the mid Nineties, and has only found traction in the wider scientific community in the last decade or so. And the sources of its data are eclectic, to say the least – stretching from famines in northern Sweden to the 9/11 attacks to the medical notes of Audrey Hepburn.

Audrey Hepburn, who spent her childhood in the Netherlands during the Dutch Hongerwinter, attributed her clinical depression later in life to the malnutrition in her formative years (Credit: Hulton Archive)

But already epigenetics is offering explanations to how our diets, our exposure to toxins, our stress levels at work – even one-off traumatic events – might be subtly altering the genetic legacy we pass on to our children and grandchildren. It’s opened up new avenues into explaining – and curing – illnesses that genes alone can’t explain, ranging from autism to cancer. Moreover, its momentum is resurrecting old theories long dismissed – and rewriting the textbooks and biological rules once thought sacrosanct.

Ever since the existence of genes was first suggested by Gregor Mendel in the 1860s, and James Watson and Francis Crick came up with the double-helix model in 1953, science has held one idea untouchable: that DNA is nature’s blueprint. That chromosomes passed from parent to child form a detailed genetic design for development. So when, 10 years ago, researchers finished mapping the human genome, it promised to revolutionise the field of molecular medicine.

In many ways it did, but something was still missing. Back in the Fifties, biologists had already theorised that something on top of the DNA sequence was actually responsible for “expressing” what came out. As Adrian Bird, a genetics professor at the University of Edinburgh, explains: “We knew there are millions of markers on your DNA and on the proteins that sit on your DNA. What are they doing? What is their function? How do they help genes work, or stop working?”

It was termed the epigenome (literally “upon genetics”). But only in the last few years has research revealed more detail of the vast array of molecular mechanisms that affect the activity of the genes. And that your DNA itself might not be a static, predetermined programme, but instead can be modified by these biological markers. Chief among them are what are called methyl groups – tiny carbon-hydrogen instruction packs that bind to a gene and say “ignore this bit” or “exaggerate this part”.

Methylation is how the cell knows it needs to grow into, say, an eyeball rather than a toenail. In addition, there are also what are called “histones”, controlling how tightly the DNA is spooled around its central thread, and therefore how “readable” the information is. And it’s these two epigenetic controls – an on-off switch and a volume knob, if you will – which give each cell its orders.

Except this epigenetic “interpretation” of your DNA is not fixed – it alters dramatically. And not just during big life changes, like puberty or pregnancy. Now research has found it can also change due to environmental factors, such as our stress levels, if we smoke, etc.

As an example: scientists now know that a bad diet can interfere with this methylation. Which means a cell can grow abnormally. Which means you get a disease or – at worst – a cancer. Scientists used to think that these little epigenetic instructions would be left off your DNA before it was passed onto your children. That when a sperm and egg combined, the embryo had a “clean slate”. Alas, no. New research has found that about one to two per cent of our epigenetic tags cling on. And thus your worst habits – smoking, overeating – are the ones that can be passed onto your offspring, and even further down the hereditary line. Or, put another way: your grandfather was making lifestyle decisions that affect you today.

In biological terms, the idea is heretical. After all, Darwin’s central premise is that evolutionary change takes place over millions of years of natural selection, whereas this new model suggests characteristics are epigenetically “memorised” and transmitted between individual generations. And yet, slowly but surely, the evidence is mounting.

The Hongerwinter is one field of study. Another project focused on the inhabitants of Överkalix, an isolated town in northern Sweden. During the mid 1800s, the community was hit by several periods of intense famine when the crops failed. By studying the medical records found in parish registers, researchers were able to show that the population who went from a normal diet to overeating during a year of crop success produced grandchildren who experienced far shorter lives. And significantly too: a difference of around 32 years.

“There are social implications to these results,” says Marcus Pembrey, emeritus professor of paediatric genetics at University College London, who collaborated on the Överkalix research. “In the sense that you don’t live your life just for yourself but also for your descendants. Although it is important to realise that transgenerational effects are for better as well as worse.” For the medical world, however, the implications could be hugely important.

Suddenly, new “epidemics” such as auto-immune disorders or diabetes might be traced back to epigenetic markers left generations ago. At the University of Texas, for example, a study of rats suggests that soaring obesity and autism rates in humans could be due to “the chemical revolution of the Forties” — and our grandparents’ exposure to new plastics, fertilisers and detergents. As professor of psychology and zoology David Crews explains: “It’s as if the exposure three generations before has reprogrammed the brain.” There could also be implications to what we eat. Already, pregnant women are encouraged to take folic acid, vitamin B-12 and other nutrients containing “methyl groups”, as they decrease the risk of asthma and brain and spinal cord defects in their foetuses.

There is also increasing evidence that certain cancers are caused by misplaced epigenetic tags. So scientists are developing new drugs to silence the bad genes which were supposed to be silenced in the first place. A team of molecular biologists at Temple University in Philadelphia, for example, are currently investigating an ingenious potential alternative to traditional chemotherapy: treating cancer patients with drugs that “reprogramme” cancer cells by reconfiguring the epigenetic markers. Team leader Prof Jean-Pierre Issa, director of the Fels Institute for Cancer Research, hopes this “reshuffling” of the epigenome could, perhaps one day, even produce a cure.

However, the biggest excitement – and, indeed, controversy – surrounds growing research that suggests it’s not just physical characteristics or illnesses we might be passing onto future generations. Instead, our DNA might be affected by behavioural epigenetics too.

Research on rats by Prof Michael Meaney of McGill University, Montreal, and Frances Champagne, a behavioural scientist at Columbia University in New York, have identified changes in genes caused by the most basic psychological influence: maternal love. The 2004 study showed that the quality of a rat mother’s care significantly affects how its offspring behave in adulthood – that rat pups that had been repeatedly groomed by their mothers during the first week of life were subsequently better at coping with stressful situations than pups who received little or no contact.

Frances Champagne identified changes in rats' genes caused by maternal love (Credit: Joe Blossom / Alamy)

You might think this is nothing new; that we already know a loving upbringing has positive psychological effects on children. But Prof Meaney’s research suggests the changes are physiological, not psychological. Epigeneticists also think socioeconomic factors like poverty might “mark” children’s genes to leave them more prone to drug addiction and depression in later life, regardless of whether they’re still poor or not.

There’s also evidence that markers put down during pregnancy can affect our psychological welfare. Further research into the Hongerwinter found that children who were affected in the second trimester of their mother’s pregnancy had an increased incidence of schizophrenia and neurological defects. The actress Audrey Hepburn may be a case in point. She spent her childhood in the Netherlands during the famine, suffering from anaemia and respiratory illnesses at the time; she attributed her clinical depression later in life to the malnutrition in her formative years.

But even one-off traumas could affect later generations too. The attacks of 9/11 offered a key insight. An estimated 530,000 New York City residents suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after witnessing the attacks – of which approximately 1,700 were pregnant women. But research by Rachel Yehuda, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, found the effects could last longer. She found that mothers who were in their second or third trimester on the day of the attacks were far more likely to give birth to stressed-out infants – i.e. children who reacted with unusual levels of fear and stress when faced with loud noises, unfamiliar people, or new foods.

In short, it seems some children inherited the nightmare their mothers experienced on that day. Will these 9/11 children pass that fear onto their own children? It remains to be seen. But Yehuda has obtained similar results in the adult offspring of Holocaust survivors, and is currently trying to identify the epigenetic markers associated with PTSD in combat veterans.

Indeed, in the space of less than two decades, the field of epigenetics has exploded. With it has emerged new strands of data analysis, sociology, pharmaceutical research and medical discovery. The field is still young – and yet already its bold claims are causing scientific schisms.

As Bird warns: “I do think people have jumped the gun and seen more positive results than are really out there. As yet, there is no evidence worthy of the name that lifestyle choices affect the health of children, let alone grandchildren. I worry that suggesting this is a scientific fact will encourage more futile parental guilt.” But researchers leading the charge, such as Champagne, are philosophical. As she has said: “Critics keep everyone honest. The enthusiasm in the field is obviously great, but I think people’s expectations of what this means need to chill out a little bit.”


Oreos are as addictive as cocaine, say scientists

Ho hum! Putting the cart before the horse again. It would be more realistic to say that cocaine and other drugs hit the receptors that we have always had in order to enable food appreciation and discrimination. Food came first. Drugs imitate it

Oreos can be as addictive to the brain as cocaine, the authors of a scientific study have claimed.

The chocolate cookies have been found to trigger the same neurons in the brain's 'pleasure centre' as the outlawed drug during extensive lab testing on rats.

Neuroscientist Joseph Schroeder from Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut, led research into the addictive effect of the indulgent treat.

His team discovered that the hungry rodents' reaction to the biscuit was comparable to that of rats who had been offered cocaine in earlier tests.

As well as finding that, like humans, rats prefer to eat the cream part of their Oreo first, scientists also saw similarities between the levels of addiction in 'Oreo rats' and their cocaine hooked cousins.

To arrive at the conclusion, Schroeder placed rats in a maze which had two routes to different treats. One on side, they placed rice cakes and on the other they placed Oreos.

After the animals had explored the maze fully, they were then left to choose which treat they would prefer to stay at.

Speaking of his findings, Schroeder said: 'Just like humans, rats don’t seem to get much pleasure out of eating rice cakes.'

The results, which showed the rodents had a strong preference for the chocolate treat, were compared to those of an identical test involving drugs.

One on side of the maze, the rats would be given an injection of saline while on the other they were given a dose of cocaine or morphine.

According to Schroeder, the rats in the Oreo experiment spent as much time hanging around their Oreo zone in the food test as they did the cocaine zone in the drug test, showing similar levels of addiction.

Writing in a statement describing the study, to be presented at the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego next month, Schroeder added: 'Our research supports the theory that high-fat and high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do.

'That may be one reason people have trouble staying away from them and it may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.

'(The results) lend support to the hypothesis that maladaptive eating behaviors contributing to obesity can be compared to drug addiction.

Lauren Cameron, a student at Connecticut College who worked on the study said: 'It really just speaks to the effects that high fat and high sugar foods and foods in general, can have on your body.

'The way they react in your brain, that was really surprising for me.'


16 October, 2013

Rasher of bacon a day can harm a man's fertility: Half portion of processed meat 'significantly harms sperm quality'

Just the usual correlational rubbish. Men who eat fish rather than bacon are probably more middle class

Men who eat just one rasher of bacon a day could be reducing their chances of becoming fathers. Half a portion of processed meat such as a rasher or a small sausage can significantly harm sperm quality, scientists believe.

Those who want to boost the odds of having a child should eat fish instead – with species such as cod or halibut appearing to have a particularly dramatic effect on fertility.

The findings add to the growing evidence that a couple’s chances of having children is strongly governed by their lifestyle – with smoking, alcohol and stress having a detrimental effect and exercise and diet enhancing it.

Experts are still unclear why certain foods can harm or promote fertility, but red meat is thought to contain high levels of pesticides and other substances that can interfere with hormones. White fish is rich in zinc, which is believed to boost fertility.

In a study to be presented this week at a meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Boston, Harvard University researchers compared the eating habits of 156 men undergoing IVF treatment with their partners.

They were each questioned how often they ate a range of foods including processed meat, white meat, red meat, white fish and tuna or salmon. Men who consumed just half a portion of processed meat a day had just 5.5 per cent ‘normal’ shaped sperm cells, compared to 7.2 per cent of those who ate less.

Men who had dishes containing white fish at least every other day – or half a portion daily – had far better sperm quality than those who ate it rarely.

Lead researcher Dr Myriam Afeiche said: ‘We found the effect of processed meat intake lowered quality and fish raised quality.’

But Dr Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society, was cautious about the findings.

‘The relationship between diet and men’s fertility is an interesting one and there is certainly now convincing evidence that men who eat more fresh fruit and vegetables have better sperm than men who don’t,’ he said.

‘However, less is known about the fertility of men with poor diets and whether specific foods can be linked to poor sperm quality.

‘In this instance, the authors link men’s intake of processed meat with the size and shape of their sperm. This may be a real effect, but the study is small and we know that accurately measuring sperm size and shape in the laboratory is fraught with error.

‘However, it is already known that high intake of processed meat is linked to other health issues and so advising men to limit their intake of processed food may improve their health generally as well as possibly be good for their fertility.’

Last year, Cambridge University researchers calculated that the number of cases of bowel cancer, heart disease and diabetes would drop by 10 per cent if men halved their intake of processed meat.


Could that low-fat diet make you EVEN FATTER? As experts question conventional wisdom on diets, the extraordinary results of one man's experiment

Everyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows the formula: eat less and move more. According to this, what you eat doesn't matter so much, as long as you keep an eye on the total number of calories - though it's best to avoid fat because not only has it got more calories, but one type of fat, the saturated kind, raises your risk of heart disease, too.

This has been the thinking behind the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that has been the cornerstone of dieting and healthy eating for more than 40 years.

But today, this mantra is increasingly being questioned by clinicians and nutritional scientists - not least because it seems to have failed to halt the obesity epidemic.

The sceptics believe that the idea of all calories being equal is flawed. Indeed, Professor David Lawrence, an expert in nutrition and obesity data analysis, said recently in the journal BMC Medicine that the idea is based 'on an outdated understanding of the science'.

The sceptics argue that calories from different sources have different effects on the body, with calories from carbohydrates more likely to encourage weight gain.

Not only is the calorie theory under attack, but evidence is also emerging to show that lowering fat might not cut heart-disease risk, after all.

A major study published in the authoritative New England Journal of Medicine compared the clinical benefits of a conventional low-fat diet with two types of Mediterranean diet, which are naturally considerably higher in fat.

The study had to be stopped early because the heart attack and stroke rate in the Mediterranean options was so much lower it was deemed irresponsible to keep patients on the conventional diet.


Faced with mounting evidence, Swedish dietary experts recently made a dramatic U-turn, recommending a low-carb, rather than low-fat, diet for weight loss.

The bombshell came from the Council on Health Technology Assessment, which advises the Swedish government. Based on a review of 16,000 studies, it said the best sorts of food for losing weight were the likes of olive oil, double cream and bacon.

So the rules are being rewritten: to lose weight, cut down on carbs and eat more fat.

So what, precisely, is behind this new thinking? It comes down to the effect different foods have on your hormones.

The most important of these hormones, and the one that's crucial for weight loss, is insulin.

Insulin is the hormone that controls fat storage. A high-carb diet increases the amount of glucose in the bloodstream, which in turn means you produce more insulin. The more insulin the body produces, the more fat gets stored. A low-carb diet means less insulin, making it easier to lose weight because less fat is then stored.


Dramatic new evidence for this has come from a unique experiment conducted by a personal trainer from East London. As Sam Feltham explains: 'My business is helping people to lose weight, and if all calories aren't equal, that could make a real difference.'

A few months ago, Sam upped his intake to a massive 5,000 calories every day. For three weeks he got these calories from a low-fat, high-carb diet; for another three, he ate more fat and cut right back on carbs.

He did exactly the same, moderate exercise regimen each time.

Now, according to the conventional wisdom, the weight gain would be the same on both regimens. After all, a calorie is just a calorie.

In fact, on the low-fat diet Sam stacked on 16?lb - more than a stone - and gained 3.7?in(9.5?cm) around his middle.

But when he ate more fat and cut his carbs, he added just 2½?lb and lost 1?in (2.5?cm) from his waistline.

'I've long been sceptical of the claim that all calories are created equal,' says Sam, who's just over 6?ft tall and normally weighs 14?st (89?kg).

For the low-carb, high-fat part of the experiment, Sam got his 5,000 calories from foods such as eggs, mackerel (which is very fatty), steak, green veg and coconut oil, interspersed with three snacks of nuts - walnuts, pecans or almonds (which are naturally high in fat).

While 72 per cent of his total calorie intake came from fats, 22 per cent came from protein and just 5.9 per cent from carbs. Each meal was exactly the same every day.

With the high-carb diet, most of his calories (63?per cent) came from carbohydrates, 13?per cent from protein, and 22?per cent from fat.

He ate garlic bread, low-fat lasagne, crumpets, low-fat yoghurts and rice pudding, chocolate muffins and wholemeal bread.

Admittedly the types of fat on his high-fat diet weren't your usual fatty foods, such as cream and butter. And his high-carb diet wasn't exactly 'healthy'.

The effects of the high-fat diet: Sam pictured on Day 1 and Day 21 of his new diet. He gained 2.5 lb and lost an inch off his waist

But the point was not comparing the health benefits of the two, says Sam. 'It was an experiment to test the idea that different foods affect your body's biochemistry differently. 'If it is true that cutting calories is the key to weight loss, then excess calories should put on the same amount of weight whether they come from a “healthy” diet full of fat or a poor diet full of carbs.'

He says he was 'really surprised' at how little weight he put on with the low-carb/high-fat diet, while on the high-carb/low-fat diet his body fat increased from 12.7 per cent of his body weight to 16.9 per cent.


While Sam's experiment was by no means a scientific one, as well as the weight gain, what was even more striking was what an unhealthy effect the high carbohydrate regimen had on standard markers for heart health.

For when Sam had his blood tested after his three weeks on high carbs, 'the diet effectively gave him metabolic syndrome', says Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist at the Royal Free Hospital in London (who speaks with the added authority of having recently co-authored a report on tackling obesity for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges).

Metabolic syndrome is a precursor to heart disease and diabetes.

'Particularly worrying was that his triglycerides (fats in his blood) had gone up four times, while his so-called 'good' (HDL) cholesterol had dropped,' says Dr Malhotra.

'That is not a good combination. Add to that the increase in his waist measurement, and he was looking a lot less healthy than he had been.

'What's more, a level of inflammation in his liver had doubled, which is also linked with diabetes and heart disease. 'If someone came into my clinic in that state, I'd make it clear they needed to make some serious changes to their diet and start eating a diet low in carbs. I was really surprised that the damaging changes had happened so quickly.'


15 October, 2013

Chemicals in foods can 'double miscarriage risk' (?)

These are just boring old scares that have been investigated many times and found to be baseless. It makes a good story, though. The phthalate results are at least amusing -- and not the first time. This study showed that phthalates IMPROVED male fertility

A chemical found in dozens of household items may double a woman’s risk of miscarriage, researchers warn.

Scientists said pregnant women should avoid canned food, stop heating food in plastic containers and even avoid touching cash register receipts.

Researchers from the prestigious Stanford University in California found pregnant women with the highest levels of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in their blood were 80 per cent more likely to miscarry.

They measured levels of the chemical – found in plastics and items including water bottles, sunglasses and CD cases – when the pregnancy was confirmed by the doctor.

Lead researcher Dr Ruth Lathie said: ‘Until further studies are performed, women with unexplained miscarriages should avoid BPA exposure in an effort to remove one potential risk factor.

‘There are some simple things that people can do, but it’s impossible to avoid it completely.

‘Avoid anything that involves cooking or warming food in plastic as the chemicals leak out of plastic materials at a higher rate at higher temperatures.

‘Avoid canned food, avoid cooking or heating plastic and also avoid touching things that have high BPA resin – something as simple as a cash register receipt which is coded with resin that has BPA in it.’

Miscarriages are common and statistically one in three women in the UK will suffer one at some point during their lives.

A spokesman from the Miscarriage Association said the US study was too small to draw any firm conclusions, and warned against causing further worry for pregnant women who are already told to avoid many products, including caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, raw eggs and pate.

In another study, the US Government’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development looked at the records of 501 couples who were trying to become pregnant between 2005 and 2009.

All provided urine samples which were measured for levels of BPA and phthalates – another group of chemicals used in plastics.

They were monitored for a year and kept diaries stating if and when they became pregnant.

Oddly, the researchers found that high levels of phthalates affected men’s fertility but not women’s. Couples where the male partner had high recordings were 20 per cent more likely not to conceive within the year.

Dr Linda Giudice, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said: ‘These chemicals are a cause of concern to all of us. 'We don’t know necessarily the exact biochemical mechanism [cause] but other studies point to the need to be aware of the use of these chemicals.’

The findings from the two studies follow a World Health Organisation move to ban phthalates and bisphenol A amid suggestions they also cause breast cancer, leukaemia, asthma and birth defects.

The WHO said the chemicals had ‘serious implications’ for health, and a ban was needed to ‘protect future generations’.

Elizabeth Salter-Green, of the campaign group CHEM Trust, said: ‘Both pieces of research highlight how vitally important it is for the UK Government to agree the need for EU measures to eliminate our exposure to all hormone disruptors.

'We could be jeopardising future generations as hormones are so fundamental to our ability to reproduce.’

The studies are being presented today at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s conference in Boston.


Exercise keeps Alzheimer's at bay -- if you are a mouse

A rigorous walk could hold the key to slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in later life. A natural chemical produced by the body during exercise could one day be given as an injection to inhibit the diseases, researchers say.

The protein, called FNDC5, is produced by muscular exertion and is released into the bloodstream as a hormone called irisin.

They hope to use it to keep the neurons in the human brain healthy while also making new ones.

‘What is exciting is that a natural substance can be given in the bloodstream that can mimic some of the effects of endurance exercise on the brain,’ said professor Bruce Spiegelman, from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

‘Our results indicate that FNDC5/irisin has the ability to control a very important neuro-protective pathway in the brain.’

In the study, laboratory mice regularly ran on a wheel for 30 days. The exercise spurred a rise in the FNDC5 protein. That in turn increased a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic protein (BDNF) in a part of the brain involved in learning and memory.

They used a harmless virus to deliver the protein to mice through the bloodstream, in hopes the FNDC5 could reach the brain and raise BDNF production. Seven days later, they examined the mouse brains and observed a significant increase in BDNF in the hippocampus area of the brain.

Professor Spiegelman says more research is needed and the next step is to develop a stable form of irisin.


14 October, 2013

Pomegranates can protect the heart from a high cholesterol diet by 'strengthening the arteries' -- in pigs

Pigs are certainly a better model of humans than are rodents but their normal diet does not of course include the highly processed foods eaten by humans in advanced societies -- so generalizations must be regarded as preliminary

It is heartening news for those who can’t resist pigging out. Pomegranates could reverse some of the damage done by junk food, research suggests.

A supplement made from the fruit helped keep blood vessels healthy, a key step in keeping heart attacks and strokes at bay.

In the first study of its kind, Spanish researchers looked at the effect of a pill packed with pomegranate plant chemicals called polyphenols on the circulation of pigs.

Pigs were chosen because their cardiovascular system is similar to ours.

Not surprisingly, feeding them fatty food damaged their blood vessels and, in particular, their delicate lining.

This lining, or endothelium, is important as it releases substances that control the expansion and contraction of blood vessels.

Damage to it can be a first step in atherosclerosis – the hardening of the arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

The blood vessels of the pigs fed fatty food were less elastic. The animals also made less nitric oxide, a blood vessel widening-gas and had other signs of heart problems.

However, a daily dose of Pomanex, a supplement with 200mg of polyphenols called punicalagins, cancelled out many of the effects, the Congress of the European Society of Cardiology heard.

Researcher Dr Lina Badimon, of the Catalan Institute for Cardiovascular Sciences in Spain, said: ‘Enriching a diet with pomegranate polyphenols can help in preventing and retarding endothelial dysfunctions, which are among the first signs of atherosclerosis and strokes.’

This is far from the first time that the pomegranate has made health headlines. Previous research has credited pomegranate juice with lowering blood pressure – likely by reducing the amount of stress hormones made by the body.

In another study, a glass of pomegranate juice a day improved blood flow to the heart by more than a third in people whose arteries were clogged with cholesterol.

One of the oldest cultivated fruits, the pomegranate has been a symbol of fertility, death and eternity. Some believe the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was a pomegranate rather than an apple.

The fruit pulp is the main ingredient of grenadine syrup, used for flavouring cocktails and soft drinks.


Australian researchers reveal upside to gaming

The benefits of playing video games may offset the negative impact of exposure to screen violence, according to Australian-led research.

Experts are divided over whether brutal games increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour and desensitise people to violence.

The chief executive of the young and well co-operative research centre at the University of Melbourne, Jane Burns, said gaming could provide stress relief and social engagement for adolescents.

"Moderate gaming can reduce stress and improve health and wellbeing," she said. "It also helps young people form connections with peers because gaming creates a sense of community, mutual participation and a shared passion. That's the kind of thing that young people could harness to improve their mental health."

While there were risks associated with "extreme" gaming, she said the vast majority of young Australians were not in that category.

A professor of community, child and family health at the University of Newcastle, Graham Vimpani, said there were conflicting views about the dangers associated with violent video games.

In a presentation to the Australian Council on Children and the Media conference in Sydney last week, he said the Australian government had reviewed the evidence and found it to be inconclusive, but the American Academy of Paediatrics said screen violence "represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents".

Research presented at the conference claimed exposure to screen violence in adolescence changed the development of young people's brains, leading to increased aggression, reckless behaviour and decreased empathy. The chief executive of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association of Australia, Ron Curry, said there was no "strong evidence that violent video games can cause long-term effects on aggressive behaviour".

Research commissioned by the association found 68 per cent of games submitted to the Australian Classification Board for rating in the first eight months of this year were either G or PG rated.

Morgan Tear, a social psychology researcher at the University of Queensland, said playing violent video games was one of many activities which could produce negative effects on social behaviour.

"As a society we say it's OK for children to play contact sports which can be very aggressive and inflict real pain but at the same time worry about the impact of violent video games," he said.

"I'm not sure we should be so concerned about violent video games when there are a number of other activities which could be just as bad."


13 October, 2013

Wonder drugs cut toll of strokes by 40%: How the use of statins has helped thousands control their blood pressure (?)

The report below is thoroughly dishonest -- presumably written by an apostle of the statin religion or perhaps a featherheaded dupe who believes everything she hears. There is no way the effects of the various medications can be separated out in the data available below. The benefit could be entirely due to the various blood pressure drugs, not statins.

The fact that "Hypercholesterolemia increased significantly during the study period" suggests that the statins did not even control cholesterol, let alone blood pressure or stroke! Journal abstract added below -- JR

By Jenny Hope

Strokes have fallen by 40 per cent in just 16 years thanks to the growing use of statins.

The prescribing of blood pressure drugs have also helped cause rates to plummet among older people - those most vulnerable to their devastating effects.

Huge advances have been made in the treatment of patients with high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of charity Blood Pressure UK, said stroke rates were plummeting 'throughout the UK' as a result of better treatments

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of charity Blood Pressure UK, said stroke rates were plummeting 'throughout the UK' as a result of better treatments

Six million Britons take drugs to lower their blood pressure, usually for life. In addition, more than eight million take statins to reduce cholesterol levels - meaning these are now the most widely prescribed drugs in Britain.

Many older people have also heeded campaigns to have medical checks, and to make lifestyle changes such as cutting back on salt.

As a result, the incidence of strokes has dropped from 247 per 100,000 in 1995 to 149.5 in 2010, according to researchers at King’s College London.

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of charity Blood Pressure UK, said stroke rates were plummeting ‘throughout the UK’ as a result of better treatments.

‘We’ve got better blood pressure drugs now and they are used more effectively,’ he said. ‘In the past GPs would prescribe one drug.

‘But we now know they work more effectively in combination, and they are often more acceptable to patients, with fewer side effects, so they take them and don’t leave them in the medicines cupboard.

‘Statins cut the risk of stroke by 30 to 40 per cent so they have also played a part, but we need to do more.’ He said the study demonstrated a huge proportion of strokes were preventable.

‘Every patient who ends up on a stroke ward is a sorry indictment of our failure to help prevent it,’ he said.
Huge advances have been made in the treatment of patients with high cholesterol and high blood pressure

Huge advances have been made in the treatment of patients with high cholesterol and high blood pressure

Dr Yanzhong Wang, lecturer in medical statistics at King’s College London and lead author of the research, said ‘This study on the trends in stroke is the most comprehensive in the UK. It shows a 40 per cent overall reduction of stroke over 16 years, which is good news.’

Strokes affect around 152,000 Britons each year, often triggered by high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.

Patients with hypertension – the medical term for high blood pressure – are routinely advised to change their lifestyle and eat less salt, lose weight, drink less alcohol, eat more fruit and vegetables and exercise more.

The study, published in the medical journal Stroke analysed records on 4,245 patients living in South London who had their first-ever stroke between 1995 and 2010. But the findings are likely to apply to the rest of the country, say researchers.

The rate fell in men, women, white groups and those aged more than 45. But it did not drop among those aged 15 to 44 years and black groups. ‘The reasons for this are not entirely clear but it could be because of a rise in diabetes and obesity in these groups,’ Dr Wang said.

‘If this trend is not reversed we could face a major public health concern because long-term disability, as a result of stroke, will put a strain on health and social care services.’

Researchers are calling for greater efforts to identify younger people at risk, including those with diabetes.

Co-author Professor Tony Rudd said: ‘It is essential we begin to understand the reasons for the differences in incidence and how we can address them. Without this we are only going to see widening health inequalities amongst the UK population.’

Trends in Risk Factor Prevalence and Management Before First Stroke : Data From the South London Stroke Register 1995–2011

Iain J. Marshall et al.


Background and Purpose—Vascular risk factors are suboptimally managed internationally. This study investigated time trends in risk factors diagnosed before stroke and their treatment, and factors associated with appropriate medication use.

Methods—A total of 4416 patients with a first stroke were registered in the population-based South London Stroke Register from 1995 to 2011. Previously diagnosed risk factors and usual medications were collected from patients’ primary care and hospital records. Trends and associations were assessed using multivariate logistic regression.

Results—Seventy-two percent of patients were diagnosed previously with 1 or more risk factors; 30% had diagnosed risk factors that were untreated. Hypercholesterolemia increased significantly during the study period; myocardial infarction and transient ischemic attack prevalences decreased. Antiplatelet prescription increased in atrial fibrillation (AF), myocardial infarction, and transient ischemic attack (AF, 37%–51%, P<0.001; myocardial infarction, 48%–69%, P<0.001; transient ischemic attack, 49%–61%, P=0.015). Anticoagulant prescription for AF showed a nonsignificant increase (12%–23%; P=0.059). Fewer older patients with AF were prescribed anticoagulants (age, >85 versus <65 years; adjusted relative risk, 0.19; 95% confidence interval, 0.08–0.41). Black ethnicity (adjusted relative risk, 1.17; 95% confidence interval, 1.10–1.23) and female sex (adjusted relative risk, 1.09; 95% confidence interval, 1.03–1.15) were associated with increased antihypertensive drug prescription; other medications did not vary by ethnicity or sex.

Conclusions—Antiplatelet and cholesterol-lowering treatment prescribing have improved significantly over time; however, only a minority with AF received anticoagulants, and this did not improve significantly. Overall, 30% of strokes occurred in patients with previously diagnosed but untreated risk factors.


The ironies of Australia's public health policy regarding "obesity"

Jeremy Sammut

This week the CIS' WasteWatch blog focused on a new taxpayer-funded growth industry - the ever increasing number of reports into Australia's obesity 'epidemic'.

This is a very lucrative business for public health academics, especially now that the National Preventive Health Agency is able to fund research into the stubborn problems of over-eating and sedentary lifestyles.

However, the proliferation of obesity-related reports reflects the hard truth of public health policy - we have next to no idea about what actually works in terms of getting people off the couch and out of the takeaway shops.

The evidence regarding the effectiveness of the billions of dollars that Australian governments already spend on the promotion of healthy lifestyles is very weak.

This was the central finding of the UK Wanless review of public health policy, which found, in particular, that 'there is little evidence about what works among disadvantaged groups to tackle some of the key determinants of health inequalities.'

The lack of evidence reflects the fact that in a free society, governments rightly have limited authority over unhealthy lifestyle behaviours and lack the ability to micro-manage daily dietary and exercise habits.

Achieving lifestyle change is also extremely difficult as it ultimately depends on personal qualities - will, self-discipline, and impulse control - that public health policies struggle to instil in people who do not already possess them.

Not for nothing, therefore, have anti-obesity campaigns been accurately described as a 'policy looking for an evidence base.'

Obesity invites endless investigation and report after report after report.

Herein lies a greater irony. Those who endlessly warn the community about the perils of eating too much junk food have much in common with so-called 'vice industries' they love to attack.

Like those who trade in fatty foods and sugary and alcoholic drinks, the public health lobby is equally dependent on the flaws and weaknesses inherent in human nature to justify its call on public resources.

Rather than continuing to pour money into public health research that implausibly seeks to straighten the crooked timber of humanity, policy makers would be better off recognising the limits of government activity in relation to obesity.


11 October, 2013

How living near an airport could shorten your life: High levels of aircraft noise 'increase chances of dying from a stroke or heart disease'

Utter rubbish. Poor people are more likely to have to live in noisy areas and they are less healthy anyway

Living near an airport may increase your chances of dying from stroke, heart and circulatory disease, according to a study.

Those exposed to high levels of aircraft noise are up to a fifth more likely to need hospital treatment for, or die from, such diseases, it found.

Researchers say the noise may trigger a stress hormones response, which raises blood pressure, or disturb people’s sleep. They have called for further research, particularly into night flights.

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, come amid controversy over expansion of Heathrow and other airports to increase UK flight capacity.

Scientists at Imperial College London and King’s College London carried out a study looking at a population of 3.6million living near Heathrow in west London.

They compared data on day and night-time aircraft noise, with hospital admissions and mortality rates.

This showed the risks of life-threatening conditions were around 10 to 20 per cent higher in areas with highest levels of aircraft noise – covering around 70,000 people – compared with areas with least noise.

The researchers looked at noise levels from 2001, provided by the Civil Aviation Authority, and hospital admissions and deaths from 2001-05.

They took into account other factors linked to heart disease, such as social deprivation, ethnic composition, road traffic noise, air pollution and lung cancer rates.

For example, South Asian ethnicity, which is known to carry higher risks of heart disease, accounted for a large part of the association between heart disease admissions and noise levels due to a high population in the area of looked at.

The study covered 12 London boroughs and nine districts outside London where aircraft noise exceeds 50 decibels – about the volume of a normal conversation in a quiet room.

Study leader Dr Anna Hansell, from Imperial, said: ‘The exact role that noise exposure may play in ill health is not well established. 'However, it is plausible that it might be contributing, for example by raising blood pressure or by disturbing people’s sleep.’

Senior author Professor Paul Elliott pointed out that poor diet, smoking, lack of exercise and medical conditions such as raised blood pressure and diabetes all have a bigger impact on heart disease – doubling and tripling the risk.

But he added: ‘Our study raises important questions about the potential role of noise on cardiovascular health.’

However, Kevin McConway, professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said: ‘Within an area, these studies can’t tell us whether it’s the people most affected by aircraft noise who are most likely to get heart disease or have a stroke.

‘So the studies can’t directly tell us whether it is the aircraft noise that is affecting individual people’s chances of these diseases.’


Liquorice slows skins cancer cells: Compound found in root could hold key to beating most lethal form of the disease

Laboratory glassware findings only

Liquorice could hold the key to beating the most lethal form of skin cancer, scientists have discovered. Research carried out in the US has identified a compound found in liquorice root which slowed the growth of cancer cells during laboratory tests.

Now they hope the tumour-busting compound can be developed into a new drug to combat malignant melanoma.

Previous studies have found liquorice contains an anti-cancer chemical called glycyrrhizin.

But attempts to turn it into a medicine have been hampered by the fact that long-term consumption of glycyrrhizin can cause high blood pressure and even swelling on the brain.

But experts at the University of Minnesota in the US have now found another ingredient - called Isoangustone A - which has the same benefits but without the dangerous side-effects.

Malignant melanoma kills around 1,700 people a year in the UK and is the third most common cancer in people aged 15 to 39.

Over-exposure to the sun’s rays is the biggest cause and since the mid-1990s there has been a 24 per cent increase in cases.

The disease has historically had a very high death rate as the cancer has often spread by the time patients seek help.

Recently new drugs have emerged that appear to halt the spread of tumours by ‘resetting’ the immune system so that it is able to attack malignant cells.

In the latest research, scientists extracted Isoangustone A from liquorice root and applied it to skin cancer cells in the laboratory.

The compound slowed down the rate at which melanoma cells reproduce, partly by blocking the release of certain proteins needed for them to flourish.

When the scientists gave the extract to mice with skin cancer, it had the same effect - suppressing growth of the tumour.

Liquorice is already a popular remedy for cold sores. A balm made from the root can reduce the severity of outbreaks.

But too much liquorice can be harmful. A Scottish study found children born to women who ate over 100 grammes a week during pregnancy performed worse in intelligence tests at school and the harmful compound glycyrrhizin was blamed.

In a report on their findings, published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, scientists said: ‘Liquorice root is known to possess anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

We found Isoangustone A suppressed the proliferation of human melanoma cells and provides the basis for the potential development of a new agent.’


10 October, 2013

Babies born to smoking mothers 'have smaller brains and are more anxious and moody than other children'

This is very poor data. The smoker mothers were likely to be pretty poor types altogether and their kids reflected that. Smoking itself may have had no effect. Smokers are dumber, poorer etc. etc.

Children whose mothers smoked in pregnancy are more likely to become moody and depressed than other boys and girls, say scientists.

A study of more than 200 children found that those whose mothers were regular cigarette users while they were in the womb had smaller brains and were at greater risk of stress and anxiety.

Researchers suspect tobacco could affect development by destroying neurons and reducing oxygen to the foetus because of the narrowing of blood vessels.

The study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, said smoking throughout pregnancy could have long-term effects on the mental health of young children.

In England and Wales, 17 per cent of women smoke during pregnancy - while, among under 20s, the figure is 45 per cent.

Although most will go on to have a healthy baby, smoking can cause considerable damage to the unborn child.

Exposure to cigarettes in the womb is believed to alter brain structure, but little is known about how the organ's development is affected or if the behavioural problems observed are controlled by these differences.

Dr Hanan El Marroun and colleagues assessed the brains and emotional functioning of 113 six to eight year-olds whose mothers smoked from one to nine cigarettes a day during pregnancy.

Seventeen stopped when they discovered they were pregnant, while 96 continued throughout.

The results were compared to a control group of 113 children unexposed to cigarettes in the womb.

They showed that those whose mothers continued smoking had smaller brains with less grey and white matter.

They exhibited more emotional problems - such as depressive symptoms and anxiety and a smaller superior frontal cortex which specifically which controls mood.

Importantly, brain development of children whose mothers quit during pregnancy displayed no such problems.

Dr El Marroun, of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, said: 'It’s well known cigarette smoking can cause serious health problems including cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

'Smoking during pregnancy has also been shown to adversely affect offspring health. Yet up to 25 per cent of pregnant women report smoking during pregnancy.

'Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to spontaneous abortions, reduced growth and sudden infant death syndrome.

'During childhood and adolescence, prenatal tobacco exposure has been associated with behavioural and cognitive problems.

'Furthermore, evidence is accumulating prenatal tobacco exposure is related to psychiatric disorders and mortality from childhood to young adulthood.

'Thus having a better understanding of how alterations in the brain due to pre-natal exposure to cigarettes contribute to at-risk states in children is important.

'Largely our results both support and extend the previous neuro-imaging studies in adolescents. For example pre-natal tobacco exposure has been associated with reduction in cortical grey matter in teenagers.'

He said tobacco could affect brain development in the womb through nicotine - which has been demonstrated in animal studies - or disrupt the migration of brain cells.

Another possible explanation is maternal smoking leads to the unborn child being starved of oxygen and nutrients due to the arteries becoming clogged and less blood reaching it affecting growth of the brain.

Dr Marroun said: 'Overall, our findings suggest long-term effects of pre-natal tobacco exposure on brain development and emotional problems in young children.

'The results of the current study in combination with the existing literature about the long-term effects of pre-natal tobacco exposure emphasise the importance of preventing and reducing cigarette smoking during pregnancy.

'Our findings provide further support for the need of clinical and public health strategies aimed at the prevention of pre-natal tobacco exposure of children.'

He said more research is needed to explore the structural and functional neuro-developmental effects of prenatal exposure to tobacco.

Researchers now estimate that each year in England and Wales several hundred babies are born with a physical defect directly caused by their mother’s smoking.

Every year in England and Wales, around 3,700 babies in total are born with such a condition.

The chance of a baby being born with missing or deformed limbs because of its mother’s smoking is 26 per cent higher - and cleft lip or palate is 28 per cent more likely.

Similarly, the risk of club foot is 28 per cent greater and gastrointestinal defects 27 per cent more.

Skull defects are 33 per cent more likely and eye defects 25 per cent more common.

Of the 700,000 babies born each year in England and Wales, around 120,000 babies are born to mums who smoke.


The best cure for a hangover? SPRITE: Study finds lemon and lime drink is the best at helping the body process alcohol

It has long been a strong coffee or even a Bloody Mary that a worn-out reveller has turned to the morning after the night before. Now, however, experts say that Sprite may be best thing to lay your hands on.

Chinese scientists examined 57 beverages - ranging from herbal teas to fizzy pop - before concluding that the lemon and lime drink performed the best.

They first decided to look at what causes a hangover and discovered that rather than the alcohol itself, it could be the process of the body breaking down the alcohol that causes symptoms such as nausea and headache.

When we drink, our livers release an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which breaks down the ethanol in alcohol into a chemical called acetaldehyde (so less the alcohol enters the bloodstream).

This is then broken down into another chemical called acetate by an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).

While acetate is usually considered harmless - and has been linked with some of the health benefits of alcohol - being exposed to the more potent acetaldehyde is what causes hangover symptoms, the researchers found.

With this in mind, the researchers at Sun Yat-Sen University, in Guangzhou, tested a range of drinks, from teas, hot herbal drinks and various fizzy drinks - and examined how they affected ADH and ALDH.

They discovered that a herbal drink made with hemp seeds actually increased the length of the ADH process and inhibited the ALDH process, so a hangover would last for longer.

But Sprite was among the drinks that sped up the ALDH process, causing the alcohol to be broken down more quickly, thereby reducing hangover duration.

'These results are a reminder that herbal and other supplements can have pharmacological activities that both harm and benefit our health,' Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Prodessor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, told Chemistry World.

Young people - and regular drinkers - produce more of the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme, so they don't feel the effects of alcohol as much as older people, said consultant hepatologist Dr Rajiv Jalan of University College Hospital London.

The only good news is that, with age, hangover headaches become less of a problem. The headaches are the result of alcohol damaging the brain, causing it to swell temporarily and crash against the skull. But as we age our brains shrink, so there is more room for it to swell before it hits the bone.


9 October, 2013

Women who have their breasts removed over cancer fears may NOT improve their survival rate, study warns

Women who have a healthy breast removed over fears they might later develop breast cancer may not improve their survival rate, according to new research.

Earlier this year Hollywood star Angelina Jolie underwent surgery to remove her breasts after being told she had an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer due to a defective BRCA1 gene and her family history.

Jolie's mother, maternal grandmother and aunt all died from breast or ovarian cancer in their late 40s or in their 50s.

The double mastectomy lowered her chances of developing breast cancer to under five per cent.

But previous research has found most women undergoing this procedure do so out of fear, rather than an understanding of their actual risk. As much as four out of five preventative mastectomies are ‘misguided,’ campaigners claim.

The new University of Minnesota study set out to look at the decision-making processes that lead women to choose preventative mastectomy.

The research found women with early-stage breast cancer in one breast are increasingly opting to undergo a more aggressive operation to remove both breasts.

This comes just a week after eminent British surgeon, Professor Kefah Mokbel of the London Breast Institute, warned that would be pointless for women who are not in the same category as Jolie.

Scientists claim the risk of developing cancer in the other breast is very low.

Those at high risk include those with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer and women who test positive for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.

Dr Todd Tuttle, chief of surgical oncology, said: ‘There have been several studies in the last couple of years indicating that there may be a survival benefit for selected patients by having their healthy breast removed.’

To evaluate the effect of double mastectomies on life expectancy, the researchers conducted an study among women without a BRCA gene mutation.

Within this group, the researchers compared women who underwent a double mastectomy with women had an operation to remove early-stage breast cancer in one breast and no operation to remove the second breast.

It primarily analysed data from the Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group (EBCTCG) and the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) programme to determine how risks were reduced by each operation.

The two databases include information on the treatment and survival of early breast cancer and include more than 100,000 women who have participated in randomised trials over the last 30 years across the United States.

For the study, the researchers estimated the life expectancy gain of those who had double mastectomies among sub-groups of women newly diagnosed with cancer in one breast by age 40 to 60 years, oestrogen receptor status as positive or negative, and stage of cancer I or II.

They found that the maximum life expectancy gain for women who underwent the double mastectomies was six months for all scenarios including age, oestrogen receptor status, and cancer stage groups.

This procedure is a bigger operation associated with a longer recovery period and potentially more complications.

Dr Tuttle said: ‘I think this decision model study will provide women who are considering these extensive operations with more accurate information about whether or not contralateral prophylactic mastectomy (CPM) is going to improve their survival.

‘This information may ultimately help them answer an important question – “If I have that opposite breast removed, is that procedure really going to improve the likelihood that I will be alive 10 to 20 years from now?”’

The study was published at the 2013 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons.


How your parents can break your heart: Children starved of warmth and affection suffer lifelong health problems

This is pretty rubbishy stuff. Retrospective self-report is very weak data and unloved children probably suffer from other harms than merely being unloved

The effects of childhood abuse and lack of parental affection can last a lifetime, taking a toll both emotionally and physically, reveals a new study.

A new UCLA-led study for the first time examines the effects of abuse and lack of parental affection across the body's entire regulatory system.

The study, published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found a strong biological link for how negative early life experiences affect physical health and can even lead to cardiovascular disease.

However, it's not all bad news. 'Our findings suggest that there may be a way to reduce the impact abuse has, at least in terms of physical health," said Judith E. Carroll, a research scientist at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, and the study's lead author.

The researchers studied 756 adults who had participated in a study called Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA).

They measured 18 biological markers of health risk, such as blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormone, cholesterol, waist circumference, inflammation, and blood sugar regulation, and analysed if they were at higher biological risk for disease.

To determine the study subjects' childhood stress the researchers used a self-report scale called the Risky Families Questionnaire.

They found a significant link between reports of childhood abuse and multisystem health risks, but those who reported higher amounts of parental warmth and affection in their childhood had lower multisystem health risks.

The researchers also found a significant interaction of abuse and warmth, so that individuals reporting low levels of love and affection and high levels of abuse in childhood had the highest multisystem risk in adulthood.

'Our findings highlight the extent to which these early childhood experiences are associated with evidence of increased biological risks across nearly all of the body's major regulatory systems,' said Teresa Seeman, professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine and of epidemiology at the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA, and the paper's senior author.

'If we only look at individual biological parameters such as blood pressure or cholesterol, we would miss the fact that the early childhood experiences are related to a much broader set of biological risk indicators - suggesting the range of health risks that may result from such adverse childhood exposures.'

The authors note that the findings used information provided by the participants, so there may be some recall bias.

Also, the analysis may not have captured other factors affecting regulatory systems, such as poor nutrition or environmental pollution.

But the findings suggest that parental warmth and affection protect one against the harmful effects of toxic childhood stress.

Also, the lingering effects of childhood abuse can be linked to age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease. Among other things, this could have an effect on long-term health care costs.

'It is our hope that this will encourage public policy support for early interventions,' Carroll said.

'If we intervene early in risky families and at places that provide care for children by educating and training parents, teachers, and other caregivers in how to provide a loving and nurturing environment, we may also improve the long term health trajectories of those kids.'


8 October, 2013

‘Dozens of mental disorders don’t exist’

The fact that 14 mental disorders have now ballooned to 250 rather speaks for itself. Are we 18 times loonier than we were?

As World Mental Health Day approaches, has the drive to identify all illnesses created a ‘fiction’ of psychiatry?

In his riveting tale of how psychiatrists “medicalise” human suffering, Gary Greenberg recounts that, in 1850, a physician called Samuel Cartwright reported a new disease in the highly respected New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal. Cartwright named it drapetomania, from the ancient Greek drapetes for a runaway slave; in other words, here was a disease that “caused Negroes to run away”. It had one primary diagnostic symptom – “absconding from service” – and a few secondary ones, including “sulkiness and dissatisfaction just prior to flight”.

Drapetomania was, of course, consigned to the dustbin of medical history. It never made it into the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the leading authority on mental health diagnosis and research. But, Greenberg suggests in his scathing critique of the DSM, it might well have done – had the manual existed at the time.

After all, he notes, homosexuality was listed as a “sociopathic personality disorder” when the DSM was first published in 1952, and remained so until 1973. “Doctors were paid to treat it, scientists to search for its causes and cures,” he writes in The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry. “Gay people themselves underwent countless therapies including electric shocks, years on the couch, behaviour modification and surrogate sex.”

Greenberg, 56, is a US psychotherapist of 30 years’ experience and a prolific writer on mental illness (including his own depression after the collapse of his first marriage). But the target of his latest book is the DSM itself, the so-called “psychiatrist’s bible”, which aims to provide a definitive list of all mental health conditions, along with their diagnostic criteria.

Updated at regular intervals – DSM-5, the fifth edition, was published in May – it has considerable influence worldwide, including in the UK, where it underpins several clinical guidelines on mental health. Yet Greenberg holds that by imposing a pseudoscientific model on our “hopelessly complex” inner world, it creates a “charade” of non-existent disorders.

As World Mental Health Day approaches this week, he argues that, thanks to the DSM, “countless millions” are hooked on powerful antidepressants to cure a mythical “chemical imbalance”, while rates of mental disorders in children, including autism, bipolar illness and ADHD, have rocketed. The DSM is, he says, a “fiction” which medicalises human experience and allows psychiatrists “dominion over the landscape of mental suffering”.

Greenberg’s language may at times sound overblown but he isn’t alone. DSM-5, 14 years in the writing, has been criticised by many for the unhealthy influence of the pharmaceutical industry and its tendency to medicalise behaviours and moods that many would argue fall within the normal range.

“Few professionals are happy with the DSM,” Greenberg says on the phone from his home in Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, teenage son, cat, dog and “a dozen or so” hens. “We are forced to engage with a charade of diagnostic disorders that we don’t believe our patients have for the crassest of reasons – money.”

(In the US, people have to have their diagnosis confirmed by the DSM to access insurance funds for treatment.) “It’s not just psychotherapists – even psychiatrists admit this is a deeply flawed document.”

The rot set in during the 19th century, he says, when expectations of medicine changed dramatically after the discovery of micro-organisms. “It created a desire for all mental suffering to be understood in the same way as physical suffering, such as smallpox or cholera. To consider craziness as another treatable disease which originates in biology had tremendous appeal.”

Playing into this is another factor, the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. Despite an attempted clean-up in recent years by the American Psychiatric Association, 67 per cent of the “task force” members responsible for DSM-5 are reported to have industry links.

Yet Greenberg believes that many psychiatrists – and even drug reps – are well-meaning. “It is intellectual rather than financial corruption. The idea that human suffering can be reduced to a biochemical imbalance – this is about ideology rather than money.”

Greenberg’s book tracks in painstaking detail how the DSM’s decisions have created “false epidemics” of over-diagnosis and over-treatment. In 1994, for example, the diagnostic threshold for bipolar disorder was lowered to cover people without full-blown mania (instead, they have elevated moods that doctors call hypomania, but which Greenberg describes as exuberance).

As a result, bipolar diagnoses soared, as did prescriptions for mood stabilisers and antipsychotic drugs, which in the US were for the first time being advertised directly to the public. “Suddenly, everyone and his brother was bipolar,” says Greenberg. About six million people are now diagnosed as bipolar in the US, and in the UK, it’s one in 100.

He also describes how a loophole in the DSM criteria was exploited “by one of the few real bad guys in psychiatry” to establish a juvenile version of the disorder, without any solid evidence. This was at a time, coincidentally, when powerful antipsychotics were being rebranded as mood stabilisers. As a result, diagnoses of child bipolar illness increased 40-fold over a decade. “In 2007 alone half a million children, 20,000 of them under six, were prescribed drugs that a decade before would have been prescribed only in the most dire circumstances,” says Greenberg.

The side effects of some of the drug cocktails children were prescribed included obesity, diabetes and suicidal thoughts.

In an attempt to reduce bipolar diagnoses in children, DSM-5 has introduced a new illness, called Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), to cover intensive temper tantrums. But this too is proving controversial, with fears that it may capture some children who may be volatile, but who are not ill. “Clinical trials of treatments for DMDD are probably already under way and may well lead to another treatment epidemic,” he says.

A different tale concerns Asperger’s syndrome, which was first included by the DSM in 1994. Greenberg explains that this had some beneficial effects. “It may not have been a disease but calling it one gave a hitherto neglected group of children access to support and educational services, as well as a sense of identity and community.”

The result though, was that from a worldwide prevalence of four in 10,000 for autism disorders (including Asperger’s) in 1988, 20 years later this was one in 88. Alarmed at diagnostic rates “getting out of hand”, DSM-5 has removed Asperger’s, replacing it with the umbrella term Autistic Spectrum Disorders. This means a “higher threshold for diagnosis”, according to Greenberg, and possibly less access to educational benefits for future generations.

He is unimpressed with the DSM-5’s new Hoarding Disorder - “Is an eccentric old man living amid his junk sicker than a billionaire who is always thinking of the next way to make a buck?” – and argues that anyone over the age of 50, including himself, would qualify for another new entry: Mild Cognitive Disorder.

Greenberg is particularly dismissive about DSM-5’s changes to the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder. Until now, this diagnosis was specifically excluded in cases of recent bereavement, on the grounds that grief is normal. That exemption has been removed in DSM-5, leading critics to argue that grief has been medicalised.

“The exemption clause was an embarrassment because it challenged the idea that depression is caused by biology and led critics to demand that other external factors, such as divorce and redundancy, be exempt too,” he says. “So they got rid of it, which means that if you are depressed while bereaved you can be classified as mentally ill.” Not that bereaved people who are depressed shouldn’t be helped, he adds. “But is it really a medical problem?”

So what needs to happen? Psychiatrists, he believes, must narrow their scope – to make a “reasonable claim” for certain mental illnesses falling within their domain. “When the DSM was published there were 14 mental disorders and now there are 250 – it needs to scale back.”

There is a place for drug treatments, he says, although “you only have to look at the clinical trials to see they help some people but not all.”

Above all, psychiatrists need to be more honest with their patients, he believes. “They shouldn’t tell people their illness is caused by a chemical imbalance when there is no evidence this exists. Psychiatry has little knowledge of the underlying processes governing mental health and it should not pretend otherwise.”


FL: Mom’s outrage after sporty 11-year-old daughter is sent home with a letter from school calling her overweight

A mother has hit out at her daughter's school after the athletic teen was sent home with a letter saying she was 'overweight'. Lilly Grasso, all 5’5”, 124 pounds of her, is nowhere near overweight and is a healthy, active teenager.

But Naples (FL) Middle School sent a letter to her home warning of the dangers of obesity, according to her mother Kristen Grasso.

‘Lily is tall, athletic, solid muscle -- by no means is she overweight,’ the concerned mother told WFTX before showing a refrigerator stocked with healthy foods.

The letter, sent after a health screening by the Collier County Health Department, cited her body mass index (BMI) as the reason she’s considered obese. These notices have been derisively referred to across the country as ‘fat letters.’

A baffled Kristen Grasso was at odds with the message being sent to young girls when a healthy child is being labeled as fat, she told the station. 'My concern is kids that see the results of this test that may be classified as overweight that aren’t, and the self-esteem issues that they may get,’ she explained.

The middle school volleyball player has a BMI of 22, which resulted in her being labeled as overweight by the county health department, according to the letter.

The upset mother pointed out that a girl her age and size has a BMI of 20.8, which is healthy weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The letter also lists the girl as being two inches shorter than she currently is, according to the Orlando Sentinel, which makes the BMI calculation performed by the school wholly inaccurate.

Part of a new strategy in combating childhood obesity, fat letters are the rage in many states – and are being credited for a major turnaround in the adolescent obesity numbers.

At least 20 states have started sending home letters addressed to parents of children deemed overweight and at risk of future health problems. Though an expert admitted parents do sometimes object, she said the letters are making a difference.

After several years of rising childhood obesity rates, the ranks of the young and overweight have begun to drop in at least 17 states, according to the CDC. Florida is one of them.


7 October, 2013

IVF babies 'are a third more likely to develop childhood cancer'

Ho hum! Need for IVF sometimes springs from poor health. Any surprise that some of the children of such mothers are in poor health too?

Children born as a result of IVF are a third more likely to get cancer, a major study found.

Scientists said those born after fertility treatments were 33 per cent more likely to have childhood cancer.

They were 65 per cent more likely to develop leukaemia and 88 per cent more likely to develop cancers of the brain and central nervous system.

The study suggests fertility treatment may change the way certain genes function when they are passed from parent to child in a process known as ‘genomic imprinting’.

These faults in genes are linked to childhood cancers, the Danish researchers said.

They warned these changes could be triggered by aspects of fertility treatment such as exposure to hormones, semen preparation, freezing embryos, growth conditions of embryos or delayed insemination.

But they could not rule out the chance that the increased risk was the result of parents’ infertility, not the treatment.

Earlier this year, British research on more than 100,000 children born after fertility treatment found they had no increased risk of cancer.

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is among the most widely used fertility techniques, with around 18,000 IVF babies born in Britain each year.

An egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm, then returned to the womb to grow.

The research, in the journal Fertility and Sterility, reviewed 25 studies from 12 developed countries, including the US, the UK, Denmark, France and Israel, from 1990 to 2010.

‘The results of the largest meta-analysis on this topic to date indicate an association between fertility treatment and cancer in offspring,’ wrote author Dr Marie Hargreave, of the Danish Cancer Society research centre, Copenhagen.

‘The etiology [origin] of childhood cancer is still largely unknown, but it has been hypothesized that fertility treatment may play a role.’

One theory is that anti-oestrogen drugs that stimulate ovulation are similar to diethylstilbestrol, a drug once given to pregnant women to stop complications, but later linked to childhood cancer.

The researchers stressed that the risk of cancer among children born after fertility treatment remains low.

They wrote: ‘Infertile couples may already have an increased number of epigenetic defects .?.?. which come to light through the treatment process.’

Most children in the studies were born after IVF but some couples used other techniques such as intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection or intrauterine insemination.

Dr Allan Pacey, the chairman of the British Fertility Society, said: ‘Although this paper reports an apparent increase in the incidence in childhood cancer, the association is small and it is still not possible to say whether it is a consequence of IVF or the underlying infertility of the parents.’

Cancer is the second biggest cause of death of children in developed countries. Around 1,600 children are diagnosed each year in Britain.

A spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said: ‘A recent UK study found there to be no increased risk of cancer to children as a result of assisted reproduction treatment.’

Geeta Nargund is medical director at Create Health Clinics, which promotes ‘mild IVF’, with fewer fertility jabs and lower dosages. She said: ‘This is an interesting study which raises concerns about potential long-term effects of fertility treatment on children.’


Scientists find simple 'scratch' technique improves IVF treatment success

A simple 15-minute procedure costing less than £100 has been shown to nearly double the success rate of IVF treatment, a new study has disclosed.

The research, led by British scientists, has also shown for the first time that the technique increased the number of babies born as a result.

Gently scratching the lining of the womb in the month before IVF treatment was shown to increase in the clinical pregnancy rate of women undergoing IVF to 49 per cent, compared with the current average of 29 per cent.

The procedure - known as endometrial scratching - also increased the number of live births from the current average of 23 per cent to 42 per cent.

Dr Nick Raine-Fenning of the Nottingham University Research and Treatment Unit, who is collaborating with Brazilian scientists on the research, said: “This is the first well-designed trial conducted into endometrial scratching and the results are promising. “Other trials have provided anecdotal evidence, but these have been limited and many questioned the validity of the technique.

“We are now carrying out a follow-up study in Nottingham to provide further guidance into the use of endometrial scratching and early results are encouraging.”

A spokesman added that despite widespread use of the scratching technique, which first came to prominence in 2003, the mechanism behind its success remains unknown.

The trial involved 158 women who had previously received unsuccessful courses of reproductive treatment, which costs an average of £4,500 per cycle.

Of the total number of patients 77 received the scratching priocedure between one and two weeks before core reproductive treatment began.

Of the 77, 39 women achieved pregnancy and 33 resulted in live births, compared with 23 live births in the control group.
The short procedure takes just 15 minutes in clinic and can be carried out by trained nurses using simple equipment already in use.

The procedure may add less than £100 to the cost of an IVF cycle.
Results of the latest research will be presented at the International Society of Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology World Congress in Sydney.


6 October, 2013

Walking an hour a day can cut risk of breast cancer: Brisk stroll can reduce chance in over-50s by 14%

All this research shows is that people in poor health don't walk much

Women who walk for an hour a day can cut their risk of breast cancer in later life, say researchers. Taking a brisk stroll can dramatically reduce the chances of developing the disease in women over 50, the period at which they are most at risk.

Just 60 minutes of so-called moderate activity a day led to a 14 per cent lower risk compared to women who were less active, a study revealed. And women who did more vigorous activities got almost double the protection, cutting their risk of breast cancer by a quarter.

Previous studies have shown the benefits of exercise, but scientists claim the latest research is the first to examine walking. It is thought to help cut down the body fat that can produce cancer-stimulating hormones such as oestrogen and insulin.

Scientists at the American Cancer Society studied 73,615 post-menopausal women, of whom 4,760 were diagnosed with breast cancer during a 17-year follow-up.

Among all women in the group, 47 per cent said walking was their only recreational activity. Of that group, those who walked at least seven hours a week had a 14 per cent lower risk of getting breast cancer compared to those who walked three hours or fewer every week.

The study also found that women who took part in more vigorous exercise for an hour each day had a 25 per cent lower risk of developing the disease than the least active.

The results were unaffected by factors such as a woman’s weight or the use of hormone replacement therapy.

Dr Alpa Patel, senior epidemiologist at the Society, said: ‘Our results clearly support an association between physical activity and post-menopausal breast cancer, with more vigorous activity having a stronger effect.

‘Our findings are particularly relevant, as people struggle with conflicting information about how much activity they need to stay healthy.’

Dr Patel said promoting walking could be a good way of getting women to be more active. In the UK, around 50,000 women develop breast cancer each year – four out of five in the over-50s age group – and 400 men.

At the same time, three-quarters of Britons fail to do the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate activity such as gardening, dancing or brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise including playing a sport, running or aerobics.

Dr Hannah Bridges, of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said just 30 minutes’ moderate activity a day – or 3.5 hours a week – can reduce the risk of breast cancer by at least 20 per cent.

‘Any activity that raises your pulse reduces your risk – so regular brisk walks are an easy and free way to get active,’ she added.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Campaign, said: ‘This study adds further evidence that our lifestyle choices can play a part in influencing the risk of breast cancer and even small changes incorporated into our normal day-to-day activity can make a difference.’

The study was published online in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.


The Irony of Michelle Obama's Water Campaign

Jonah Goldberg

Michelle Obama wants you to drink more water, at least one more glass a day. Frankly, I think it's great. Sure, the science behind some of her claims is somewhere between iffy and debatable. If you're not dehydrated, drinking more water won't give you more energy or cure your headaches, as her office vaguely claims. But it might take up belly space that otherwise would have gone to grape soda, Red Bull or some other sugary concoction.

Team Michelle won't admit this is the real agenda, insisting this is just a healthy, helpful reminder from the first lady. "Water is so basic," she explained from Watertown, Wis., "and because it is so plentiful, sometimes we just forget about it amid all the ads we watch on television and all the messages we receive every day about what to eat and drink. The truth is, water just gets drowned out."

Except that's not really true. According to Beverage Tracker (you don't subscribe?), in 1998, soda was our No. 1 drink of choice, with Americans consuming 54 gallons of the stuff every year. Today, it's down to 44 gallons, while water consumption has hit 58 gallons and rising.

Although on one level it may seem as if Obama is breaking the corporate grip on our drinking habits by celebrating the original no-frills beverage, it's more like she's pulling a Ferris Bueller: jumping in front of a parade in progress and acting as if it were for her all along. There's nothing more mainstream than going with the flow.

We tend to talk about culture as if it's something produced solely by obvious outlets like Hollywood or publishing. But the trend toward bottled water (which accounts for 21 of those 58 gallons a year Americans consume) is every bit as real a cultural phenomenon as Miley Cyrus' twerking -- even more so. Whenever we talk about ancient Greek or Egyptian culture, we spend an awful lot of time talking about what they drank and ate, we study their pots and pans, and we even write the occasional ode to their urns. There was no popular demand to see Cyrus behave like a bonobo in heat. There's a very real demand to drink pure water instead of other beverages.

We crossed a milestone in 2006 when, according to the U.S. Census, Americans started drinking more bottled water than beer. Susan McWilliams, a brilliant (liberal) political scientist, lamented this turning point in American culture. "There's a reason that beer commercials tend to include lots of people hanging out in a room together," she writes, "and bottled water commercials tend to include lone individuals climbing things and running around by themselves, usually on a beach at sunrise -- even though they are not being chased."

Bottled water is the beverage for an atomized generation that listens to music in a private headphone world. Beer is social. "Most people drink beer to lower social inhibitions," McWilliams notes, "to make it easier to have conversations with other people, to assuage loneliness, to grease the wheels for engaging in what my students euphemistically call 'relationships' -- in other words, to give a form and excuse for social life. You don't drink beer to improve your private, individual health."

This last point is one I can confirm after years of empirical testing.

Indeed, while every brand of bottled water has its own unique sales pitch, they all share one appeal: It's not common water.

Which raises one irony. Lots of socially engaged young people have started to rebel against bottled water on the grounds that all of that plastic is allegedly wasteful and deleterious to the environment. Some will even note that bottled water is an indictment of the public water system, the same way FedEx and UPS reflect poorly on the U.S. Postal Service. In other words, drinking Fiji water is a kind of lifestyle luxury most associated with elite culture -- like eating kale salads and having a home gym. It is of a piece with Michael Bloomberg's notorious efforts to make poor people live the way rich people think they should.

That doesn't make Obama's efforts misguided, but it's worth pointing out that even -- or perhaps especially -- liberals have a noblesse oblige all their own.


4 October, 2013

Cholesterol Drugs Linked To Eye Damage, JAMA Study Confirms Anew

A new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology titled, “Association of Statin Use With Cataracts: A Propensity Score-Matched Analysis,” reveals that the top-grossing, cholesterol-lowering drug class known as statins is significantly increasing the risk of cataracts within exposed populations.[1]

Statin-induced eye damage will be a surprising finding to some, especially to statin drug advocates who have argued that the purported ‘antioxidant’ effects of statins ‘may slow the natural aging process of the lens.’ This latter, strictly theoretical benefit is increasingly being disproved by the biomedical literature. In fact, last year, we reported in an article titled, “Blind To The Truth: The Eye-Damaging Effects of Statins,” on findings published in Optometry and Vision Science, revealing that statin drugs users have a 48% higher risk of pathological eye lens changes commonly associated with cataract formation.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye which leads to a decrease in vision, and is a leading cause of blindness in the world. The most commonly identified causes are aging, trauma and excessive UV radiation exposure, along with a still poorly understood genetic component. While there is preclinical evidence that the opacity of the lens can be reversed through natural substances such as wheatgrass,[2] the most common conventional approach is to treat the condition with surgery, which does nothing to mitigate or undo the underlying causes.

Researchers at San Antonio Military Medical Center, San Antonio Texas, compared the risks for development of cataracts between statin users and nonusers, using a military health care system database. The study design was described as follows:

Based on medication fills during fiscal year 2005, patients were divided into 2 groups: (1) statin users (received at least a 90-day supply of statin) and (2) nonusers (never received a statin throughout the study). Among 46?249 patients meeting study criteria, we identified 13?626 statin users and 32?623 nonusers.

The main results were reported as follows:

"For our primary analysis, we matched 6972 pairs of statin users and nonusers. The risk for cataract was higher among statin users in comparison with nonusers in the propensity score-matched cohort (odds ratio, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.02-1.17). In secondary analyses, after adjusting for identified confounders, the incidence of cataract was higher in statin users in comparison with nonusers (odds ratio, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.15-1.40). Sensitivity analysis confirmed this relationship."

In other words, the risk for cataract was between 9% and 27% higher in statin users, leading the study authors to conclude: “The risk for cataract is increased among statin users as compared with nonusers. The risk-benefit ratio of statin use, specifically for primary prevention, should be carefully weighed, and further studies are warranted.”

What is important to point out is that the human eye is an extension of the nervous system, which is the second most lipid- and cholesterol-concentrated tissue type next to adipose tissue in the human body. The lenses of mammals, but particularly the human lens, is extremely stable due in part to its cholesterol content. Amazingly, this is why the only reported lipid remaining in a frozen mammoth 40,000 years after its death was from its lens membranes.[3] Therefore, given the crucial role that cholesterol plays as a structural and functional biomolecule within the eye, is it any wonder that cholesterol-inhibiting drugs adversely affect them?

Also, considering that statin drugs bear a wide range of additional health risks, with over 300 known adverse effects associated with their use extensively documented in the biomedical literature [see our Statin Drug database], the reported cardiovascular benefits of this drug class may not be significant enough any longer to justify their use.

To the contrary, the research increasingly indicates that statin drugs are both muscle-damaging (myotoxic) and nerve-damaging (neurotoxic) – a concerning heart-damaging (cardiotoxic) combination, as the heart muscle is a highly nerve-dense muscle.

At the very least, patients need to be adequately informed of their risks in order for the medico-ethical principle of informed consent to even be possible. Failing that, the drug-based default approach in using statin drugs for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease violates the most basic ethical and likely legal rights of their patients.


Struggling to conceive? Try eating a hearty breakfast: Extra calories in the morning increase ovulation -- if you've got polycystic ovary syndrome

Women who struggle to get pregnant should try tucking into a hearty breakfast, new research suggests. The study revealed that eating a big meal in the morning, rather than evening, can help women with polycystic ovary syndrome to conceive.

Having the bulk of the day's calorie intake in the morning helps to regulate insulin, testosterone and other hormones that can have an adverse of a women's chances of getting pregnant.

The findings revealed that glucose levels and insulin resistance decreased by eight per cent in those eating their biggest meal in the morning, while the group who ate their biggest meal at dinner time showed no changes.

Another finding showed that among the 'breakfast' group, levels of the male hormone testosterone dropped by nearly half, while in the 'dinner' group the level stayed the same.

In addition, there was a much higher rate of ovulation in woman within the 'breakfast’ group compared to the 'dinner' group, showing that eating a hearty breakfast leads to an increase in the level of fertility among woman with polycystic ovary syndrome.

Polycystic ovary syndrome affects approximately six to 10 per cent of women of reproductive age, disrupting their reproductive abilities.

It creates a resistance to insulin, leading to an increase in male sex hormones (androgens), and can also cause menstrual irregularities, hair loss on the scalp, increased body hair, acne, fertility problems and diabetes.

Experiments were carried out at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on 60 women over 12 weeks.

The women, aged between 25 and 39, were thin with a body mass index of less than 23 and suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome.

The women were divided into two groups and were each allowed to consume about 1,800 calories a day.

The difference between the groups was the timing of their largest meal - one group consumed their largest meal, approximately 980 calories, at breakfast, while the other ate their biggest meal of the day in the evening.

Researchers wanted to examine whether the timing of calorie intake affected insulin resistance and the increase in androgens among woman suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome.

Study leader Professor Oren Froy said: ‘The research clearly demonstrates that indeed the amount of calories we consume daily is very important, but the timing as to when we consume them is even more important.’


3 October, 2013

Why did I just eat that cookie? How caveman instincts NOT emotions guide us to calorie-laden treats

Pretty right. That you are fighting human nature is a good reason why dieting rarely works for long

Caveman instincts lead us to reach for the cookie jar not our emotions, according to one weight loss expert.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, from the University of Ottawa, explains in an article for NY Daily News, that dieters tend to experience cravings at the same point in the day when their bodies tell them 'it's time to leave the safety of [the] cave and replenish energy supplies.'

He says that people are inherently driven towards foods high in sugar and fat, not 'green leafy vegetables', because of the brain's hunter-gatherer wiring.

'Unfortunately, no one has sent our bodies the memo that there's far less cause for concern that calories will be difficult to hunt or find these days,' he writes.

'[Vegetables are] not energy dense, and our bodies, forged by the white-hot evolutionary crucible of floods, droughts and long harsh winters, know that in response to the body's call for calories, it's sugar and fat that will fit the bill.'

Dr. Freedhoff says the worse hunger pangs - often blamed on feelings of depression, stress or anger - tend to strike in late afternoon and through the evening.

To combat these sudden snack attacks he recommends eating smaller meals frequently.

He says if the body gets the right balance of calories and protein, it will 'sooth [its] primitive overly anxious worries about a food supply that was, until exceedingly recently, exceedingly tenuous.'

He also advises patients to calculate their total daily calorie needs using an energy expenditure calculator, which are easily available online. This can then be broken down accordingly.

A study earlier this year also confirmed the desire to eat high-fat foods is rooted in mankind’s ancestry.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Leigh Gibson from Roehampton University, London, said: 'From an evolutionary point of view, junk food cravings are linked to prehistoric times when the brain . . . reacted to the benefit of high-calorie food as a survival mechanism.

'We are programmed to enjoy eating fatty and sugary substances, and our brains tell us to seek them out.'


Bad news for weekend couch potatoes: Men who do DIY are 23% less likely to die young

The usual speculation. So let me speculate: Middle class men are more house-proud so work on their houses more -- and they are healthier anyway

It may not be what men want to hear as they contemplate putting their feet up at the weekend. But new research shows undertaking do-it-yourself jobs round the house could be the secret to living longer.

A study by Danish scientists showed men who broke into a sweat by regularly doing DIY were much less likely to die prematurely than those who sat round the house taking it easy. Among men aged between 50 and 64, DIY was associated with a 23 per cent decline in risk of death from all causes, according to a report in the medical journal Epidemiology.

Britain’s couch potato lifestyle is thought to be storing up an epidemic of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Research out earlier this week showed just 30 minutes of exercise a day could slash high blood pressure - a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes - by a fifth.

In the UK, people are advised to do 150 minutes of moderate activity such as gardening, dancing or brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise including playing sport, running or aerobics every week. Three out of four Britons fail to achieve this.

In the latest study, scientists at the Danish Cancer Society in Copenhagen looked at nearly 60,000 middle-aged men and women to see how physical activity affected lifespan.

The volunteers were taking part in a long-term study which recorded their exercise patterns. The results showed that taking part in sports, such as jogging, cut the risk of dying for women by 25 per cent and for men by 22 per cent.

Cycling had similar benefits while gardening also promoted a longer lifespan- especially in men.

But the study also tracked DIY activity levels in men and found it had a powerful protective effect against premature death.

The researchers said taking part in some kind of physical activity was more important than spending hours at it.

Their findings did not show those spending more time exercising or doing DIY lived any longer.

They said: ‘This could suggest that avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is more important than a high volume of activity.’


2 October, 2013

Teenage girls who eat peanut butter twice a week 'reduce their risk of breast lumps by 39%'

Note that is only BENIGN breast lumps that appeared to be reduced! Mention of cancer reduction is not warranted

Teenage girls who regularly eat peanuts are 39 per cent less likely to develop benign breast disease by the age of 30.

Some benign breast diseases, while noncancerous, increases the risk of breast cancer later in life.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Harvard Medical School found the link was particularly strong in girls who ate peanuts when they were between the ages of nine and 15.

‘These findings suggest that peanut butter could help reduce the risk of breast cancer in women,’ said senior author Dr Graham Colditz, associate director for cancer prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Centre at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

The researchers studied 9,039 U.S. girls between 1996 and 2001, and then again between 2005 and 2010 when they were 18 to 30-years-old.

They found that the participants who ate peanut butter or nuts twice each week were 39 per cent less likely to develop benign breast disease than those who never ate them.

The study’s findings also suggest that beans, lentils, soybeans and corn also may help prevent benign breast disease, but consumption of these foods was much lower in these girls meaning the evidence was weaker.

Past studies have linked peanut butter and nut and vegetable fat consumption to a lower risk of benign breast disease.

However, participants in those studies were asked to recall their teenage food intake years later.

This new study is the first to use reports made during adolescence with continued follow-ups.

About 80 per cent of all breast lumps are benign, or noncancerous, and they are considered to be benign breast diseases. These lumps tend to be moveable and smooth and are often found in both breasts.

They can be caused by benign breast changes, breast infections or injury and medications such as birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy.

Previous research by the Shanghai Cancer Institute suggested that eating peanuts - and other foods rich in Vitamin E - could cut the risk of liver cancer. It also found that Vitamin-E rich foods, such as peanuts, can protect against heart disease and eye damage in old age.


The great superfood U-turn: Feasting on salmon and nuts may NOT preserve brainpower after all

Eating oily fish has long been hailed as a way to keep brains active and cut the risk of a stroke. But now U.S. scientists believe eating the fish and nuts might not act as a brain boost after all.

Contrary to previous research, the latest suggests that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon and in nuts, may not halt the decline in brainpower.

Study author Eric Ammann of the University of Iowa, said: 'There has been a lot of interest in omega-3s as a way to prevent or delay cognitive decline, but unfortunately our study did not find a protective effect in older women. 'In addition, most randomised trials of omega-3 supplements have not found an effect.

'However, we do not recommend that people change their diet based on these results.

Past studies have credited oily fish with the ability to cut post-natal depression, reduce the risk of Altzheimer's disease and diabetes, stroke and arthritis as well as help children perform better in exams and even add two years' to a person's life expectancy.

Mr Ammann said: 'Researchers continue to study the relationship between omega-3s and the health of the heart, blood vessels and brain. 'We know that fish and nuts can be healthy alternatives to red meat and full-fat dairy products, which are high in saturated fats.'

The study, published in the journal Neurology, involved 2,157 women age 65 to 80 who were enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative clinical trials of hormone therapy.

The women were given annual tests of thinking and memory skills for an average of six years. Blood tests were taken to measure the amount of omega-3s in the participants' blood before the start of the study.

The researchers found no difference between the women with high and low levels of omega-3s in the blood at the time of the first memory tests. There was also no difference between the two groups in how fast their thinking skills declined over time.


1 October, 2013

UK: Smokers are losers

People who are unemployed are almost twice as likely to smoke as those in work, new figures reveal. Research also shows people in their early 20s, those who co-habit with a partner and workers in low paid manual jobs are most likely to smoke.

The Office for National Statistics data reveals overall smoking levels have remained unchanged since 2007, when the ban on smoking in public places came into force.

Almost four in ten (39 per cent) of people not in a job but seeking work smoked compared to 21 per cent of those in a job, and 17 per cent among the economically inactive such as pensioners and students.

More than half (54 per cent) of unemployed 25 to 34 year olds smoked compared to just 25 per cent of those in work.

Among over-60s, being in work made no difference to smoking rates, standing at 17 per cent for both groups.

Maura Gillespie, from the British Heart Foundation, said: 'Here we have yet more clear evidence of the troubling link between employment status and smoking rates and it doesn’t make great reading.

'Smoking is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease and there’s an urgent need for increased and sustained funding for targeted cessation services in areas with high numbers of smokers.'

Smoking rates were also highest among people in routine and manual occupations, such as bar staff and delivery drivers (33 per cent), the ONS said.

By comparison it was lowest in managerial and professional occupations, such as accounting and teaching (14 per cent).

Based on marital status, smoking was highest among co-habiting couples, where 33 per cent said they were currently a smoker and 22 per cent were ex-smokers. For married people just 14 per cent were smokers and single people 27 per cent.

The ONS said: ‘One in five adults aged 16+ in Great Britain were cigarette smokers in 2012. ‘The rate of smoking in Great Britain has remained largely unchanged over the last five years.

‘From 2008 to 2012 the rate remained largely unchanged, whereas the most significant change occurred between 1974 and 2007, when the rate fell from 45 per cent to 21 per cent.’

Printed warnings about the dangers of smoking first appeared on packets in 2008 and tobacco displays were banned in big stores in Wales last year.

The ONS said: ‘Today it’s easier to find support to quit smoking, and it’s harder to avoid the message that smoking is a major health risk with increasingly graphic health warnings on tobacco products.

‘The smoking ban has created environments that make it easier to avoid smoking and make smoking less of social norm.

‘However, despite a range of recent policy initiatives, the rate of smoking has remained largely unchanged since 2007. What is unknown is what the rate of smoking would have been over the past five years in the absence of such policies.’

David Cameron has faced criticism or shelving plans to force cigarettes to be sold in plain packaging. Campaigners argue it would prevent young people from taking up smoking.

Health minister Anna Soubry has admitted 'gorgeous’ cigarette packets persuaded her to take up smoking as a ‘symbol of glamour'.

The figures show 15 per cent of 16-19 year olds were smokers last year, more than half the 31 per cent seen in 1998. However the proportion of people smoking aged 25-34 rose, from 23 to 27 per cent reversing falls seen since 2008.

Most pregnant women give up smoking during pregnancy, but seven per cent of women do not kick the habit.

However the ONS said this figure could be an underestimate because ‘some women may be less likely to admit to smoking given the health risks attached’.


Is Masculine Behavior in Boys Being Misdiagnosed as Autistic?

The article raises a rather interesting question. We’ve talked before about an educational system biased against boys. What if the spike in autism diagnoses is really that same discomfort with masculine behavior?

I’ve seen boys being routinely misdiagnosed as ADD and medicated for it just for being well… boys. But as problematic as randomly tossing Ritalin at inquisitive boys is… this is even more serious.

"Even more basic than that, if we don’t have a firm grasp of gender differences in how young children communicate and socialize, we can mistake traditional masculine behavior for high-functioning autism.

Many boys just get perplexed when you try to empathize with them. As an example, I recently had the following interaction with Alan, an eight-year-old:

Alan: In my soccer game over the weekend, the other forwards on my team never passed to me. I was so mad.

Dr. Gnaulati: You were mad because your teammates didn’t pass to you, eh.

Alan: Why are you repeating what I just said? Didn’t you hear me?"

The issue here isn’t communications. It’s an incompatible style of communications. And we’re seeing more and more of this in educational environments where the paradigm is shifting away from logical thinking and toward ostentatious shows of empathy.

"It’s this public discomfort with discussing children’s gendered behavior that gets many traditionally masculine boys inappropriately labeled as high-functioning autistic. Poor eye contact, long-winded monologues about one’s new favorite topic, being overly serious and businesslike, appearing uninterested in other’s facial expressions, and restricting friendships to those who share one’s interests, may all be signs of Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism. However, these same traits typify boys who are traditionally masculine in their behavior.

Parents somehow have to ask the uncomfortable question in the doctor’s office: Is he high-functioning autistic or really a more masculine-identified boy? If it’s the latter, what a boy may need is some combination of acceptance and personal and professional help to finesse his social skills over time—not an incorrect diagnosis and unnecessary medical treatment."

But in our Brave New World, we may be just medicating masculinity.

"In our extroverted culture, where being a “team player” and a “people person” are seen as linchpins of normalcy, the notion that a brainy, introverted boy might legitimately prefer the world of ideas over the world of people is hard for most people to accept."

We’re developing a hive culture with a premium on conformity, on constantly ‘checking in’ and receiving the pings that say everyone is on the same page.

But the other thing that isn’t discussed is the erosion of parenting skills in the elite liberal set. We have a combination of liberal parents incapable of discipline medicating their boys and diagnosing them with mental illnesses because they can’t relate to them.


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Posts here by Dr. John Ray

I am pleased to report that when my son was a toddler, the first thing he learned to say was his McDonald's order.

SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

Obesity does NOT causes diabetes. But insatiable eating is a prominent symptom of diabetes. So diabetes DOES cause obesity, which accounts for the correlation between the two things. The streets are full of fatties who don't have diabetes. How come? If conventional medical theory were correct we should be in the midst of an epidemic of diabetes. A recent high quality study has also found that fatties are LESS likely to die of diabetes

Elite people frequently express disapproval of red meat eating as a way of expressing their felt superiority to the ordinary people who eat it

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

Phthalates harmless

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 and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth About Ancel Keys. Keys was a brilliant man but his concentration on heart disease misled him. He was right that high fat intake predicted high rates of heart disease (though it was ANIMAL fat in particular that was the "culprit") but he overlooked that the same intake predicted LESS mortality from other causes. The same narrow vision led him to be the earliest prominent advocate of the "Mediterranean diet" hypothesis. It's true that Mediterraneans have less heart disease but they have more of other causes of death, so that Mediterranean countries do not have particularly long lifespans when compared with other developed countries. If there are any lessons about diet to be learned from lifespans, it is un-Mediterranean countries like Australia and the Nordic countries that one should look to.

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


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