FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC ARCHIVE
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
30 September, 2009
Margarine consumption is linked to lower IQs in children
Most amusing: A "healthy" choice turns out to be anything but. I wonder how the "health" establishment will handle that? Sadly, however, this is not as good an example of the limits of official wisdom as it looks.
The article is a much better example of how medical researchers tend to work in a sort of vacuum and ignore the big picture. It in fact reveals an extraordinary lack of insight into their own society by these eight New Zealand researchers. It was once illegal to buy margarine without a doctor's prescription in N.Z. They have a big dairy industry that they like to prop up. So, given the peculiarly strong emphasis on margarine as a therapeutic agent in New Zealand, it would seem highly likely that people who felt less healthy to start with tended most to buy it. And people with poor health have less healthy children -- and lower IQ is one correlate of poor health. The findings then tell us about who buys margarine rather than any effect that margarine has.
Trans fats indeed! What we see in the report is not the influence of trans fats but the influence of unwarranted assumptions and conventional thinking. It never ceases to amaze me that people who claim to be scientists seem to think they can just intuit the causal relationships in a dataset. They are witchdoctors, not scientists. Not one out of the eight of them said: "Hey! Wait a minute!"
The journal abstract is here. The title of the article is "Dietary patterns and intelligence in early and middle childhood" and the leading author is Reremoana F. Theodore. No corresponding author or email address is given, which is rather strange
It became popular as a healthier alternative to butter. But children who ate margarine every day had lower IQs than those who did not, a study has found. At the age of three-and-a-half, they scored three points lower on intelligence tests than other youngsters. Importantly, the link held even when parental occupation and other factors affecting wealth and class were taken into account, the study of children born in the mid-1990s showed.
By the age of seven, scores were six points lower – but only in children that had been underweight when born, suggesting that diet is particularly important for brain development in the more vulnerable. Writing in the journal Intelligence, the researchers from New Zealand’s Auckland University said it is unclear what lies behind the link.
However, trans fats may be to blame. The fats have been linked to memory problems in animal tests and may make it harder for the body to process healthier fats. In the mid-1990s, trans fats formed up to 17 per cent of the mix of some margarines. Today, however, levels are around 1 per cent – significantly lower than some butters. The discovery in recent years that the fats clog up the arteries, raising the risk of heart disease, has led to concerted efforts to cut levels in food. However, the high amounts in the past may have hampered the development of today’s adults.
The researchers, whose study showed that eating fish and cereal boosted intelligence, said: ‘We found a number of dietary factors to be significantly associated with intelligence measures. The association between margarine consumption and IQ scores was the most consistent and novel finding.’
The researchers said that more work was needed to confirm if trans fats, which are formed when vegetable oil is solidified, were at fault, or if something else was to blame. They said: ‘Children who ate margarine daily had IQ scores that were up to six points lower compared to children who did not. ‘The impact of regular margarine consumption on intelligence now warrants further investigation in order to replicate these findings and to identify possible mechanisms that may underlie this association.’
Sian Porter, of the British Dietetic Association, said that margarine is generally healthier than butter but the high fat content means that both should be used sparingly. A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency said that trans fat consumption in the UK is now below the recommended levels.
Fatties really are happier
I am a bit bemused by this study being done in Japan, though. I didn't think there were ANY fat Japanese outside the Sumo ring. Maybe that shows how much I know but I still suspect that "fat" in Japan would not be fat in (say) America. If the study is replicable in Western countries, however (and it probably is), this does suggest that the obesity "war" is in at least some cases an attack on happiness -- and that seems morally obnoxious. Once again we see public policy sold as being "for your own good" when it is not for your own good at all. Why are people not entitled to be fat and happy?
People who are "happy and fat" tend to respond less well to slimming programmes, said psychologists. The findings indicate that a little negativity might benefit slimmers by leading them to worry more about their health and appearance.
Researchers in Japan conducted psychological profiles of 101 obese men and women undergoing a programme of counselling, nutrition and exercise therapy. Patients were asked to fill in personality questionnaires before and after the six-month course.
The study found that optimism and self-orientation characteristics improved for most patients during the programme. Those who became more self aware through counselling were more likely to lose weight than those who did not. But the research also found that people with a happy-go-lucky bright outlook at the start of the therapy were less likely to succeed. These patients were described as having ''free child'' (FC) ego states marked by assertiveness and optimism. Successful weight loss was associated with a more responsible and cautious ''adult'' or ''A'' ego state.
The scientists wrote in the journal BioPsychoSocial Medicine: ''The positive aspects of the FC ego state involve controlling negative emotion and are related to the ability to look on the bright side and do things in one's own style, while the negative aspects are not caring about disease and giving in to temptation because of optimism, as well as instinctive and impulsive behaviours.
"Weight loss was observed for patients who had less of an FC ego state at the start of the programme and an increased A ego state during the six-month programme." Overall, patients lost an average of a stone [14lb] and their Body Mass Index - a measurement relating weight and height - fell by more than two points.
29 September, 2009
Let them drink water!
The food freaks want to wage war on the poor
Not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in the winter of 1942, physiologist A.J. Carlson made a radical suggestion: If the nation's largest citizens were charged a fee—say, $20 for each pound of overweight —we might feed the war effort overseas while working to subdue an "injurious luxury" at home.
Sixty-seven years later, the "fat tax" is back on the table. We're fighting another war—our second-most-expensive ever—and Congress seems on the verge of spending $1 trillion on health care. Once again, a bloated budget may fall on the backs of the bloated public. Some commentators, following Carlson, have lately called for a tax on fat people themselves (cf. the Huffington Post and the New York Times); others, like a team of academics writing in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, propose a hefty surcharge on soft drinks instead.
The notion hasn't generated much enthusiasm in Congress, but fat taxes are spreading through state legislatures: Four-fifths of the union now takes a cut on the sales of junk food or soda. Pleas for a federal fat tax are getting louder, too. The New York Times recently endorsed a penny-per-ounce soda tax, and Michael Pollan has made a convincing argument for why the insurance industry may soon throw its weight behind the proposal. Even President Obama said he likes the idea in a recent interview with Men's Health. (For the record, Stephen Colbert is against the measure: "I do not obey big government; I obey my thirst.")
For all this, the public still has strong reservations about the fat tax. The state-level penalties now in place have turned out to be way too small to make anyone lose weight, and efforts to pass more heavy-handed laws have so far fallen short. But proponents say it's only a matter of time before taxing junk food feels as natural as taxing cigarettes. The latter has been a tremendous success, they argue, in bringing down rates of smoking and death from lung cancer. In theory, a steep tax on sweetened beverages could do the same for overeating and diabetes.
It may take more than an analogy with tobacco to convince voters. As my colleague William Saletan points out, the first step in policing eating habits is to redefine food as something else. If you want to tax the hell out of soda, you need to make people think that it's a drug, not a beverage—that downing a Coke is just like puffing on a cigarette. But is soda as bad as tobacco? Let's ask the neuropundits.
Junk food literally "alters the biological circuitry of our brains," writes David Kessler [The Kessler quack again!] in this summer's best-seller, The End of Overeating. In a previous book, Kessler detailed his role in prosecuting the war on smoking as the head of the FDA; now he's explaining what makes us fat with all the magisterial jargon of cognitive neuroscience. Eating a chocolate-covered pretzel, he says, activates the brain's pleasure system—the dopamine reward circuit, to be exact —and changes the "functional connectivity among important brain regions." Thus, certain foods—the ones concocted by industrial scientists and laden with salt, sugar, and fat —can circumvent our natural inclinations and trigger "action schemata" for mindless eating. Got that? Junk food is engineered to enslave us. Kessler even has a catchphrase to describe these nefarious snacks: They're hyperpalatable.
Try as we might, we're nearly powerless to resist these treats. That's because evolution has us programmed to experience two forms of hunger. The first kicks in when we're low on energy. As an adaptation, its purpose is simple enough —we eat to stay alive. The second, called hedonic hunger, applies even when we're full—it's the urge to eat for pleasure. When food is scarce, hedonic hunger comes in handy, so we can stock up on calories for the hard times ahead. But in a world of cheap food, the same impulse makes us fat.
That's the problem with junk food. Manufacturers have figured out how to prey on man's voluptuous nature. Like the cigarette companies, they lace their products with addictive chemicals and cajole us into wanting things we don't really need. Soda is like a designer drug, layered with seductive elements—sweetness for a burst of dopamine, bubbles to prick the trigeminal nerve.
It's hard to draw a line, though, between foods that are drugs and foods that are merely delicious. Soda and candy aren't the only stimuli that "rewire your brain," of course. Coffee does, too, and so do video games, Twitter, meditation, and just about anything else that might give you pleasure (or pain). That's what brains do —they learn, they rewire. To construe an earthly delight as hyperpalatable —as too good for our own good— we're lashing out at sensuality itself. "Do you design food specifically to be highly hedonic?" Kessler asks an industry consultant at one point in the book. What's the guy going to say? "No, we design food to be bland and nutritious. …"
It's ironic that so many advocates for healthy eating are also outspoken gourmands. Alice Waters, the proprietor of Chez Panisse, calls for a "delicious revolution" of low-fat, low-sugar lunch programs. It's a central dogma of the organic movement that you can be a foodie and a health nut at the same time—that what's real and natural tastes better, anyway. Never mind how much fat and sugar and salt you'll get from a Wabash Cannonball and a slice of pain au levain. Forget that cuisiniers have for centuries been catering to our hedonic hunger —our pleasure-seeking, caveman selves— with a repertoire of batters and sauces. Junk foods are hyperpalatable. Whole Foods is delicious. Doughnuts are a drug; brioche is a treat. Some tastes, it seems, are more equal than others.
A fat tax, then, discriminates among the varieties of gustatory experience. And its impact would fall most directly on the poor, nonwhite people who tend to be the most avid consumers of soft drinks and the most sensitive to price. Under an apartheid of pleasure, palatable drinks are penalized while delicious —or even hyperdelicious— products come at no extra charge. What about the folks who can't afford a $5 bottle of POM Wonderful? No big deal, say the academics writing in the New England Journal of Medicine; they can always drink from the faucet. Here's how the article puts it: "Sugar-sweetened beverages are not necessary for survival, and an alternative (i.e. water) is available at little or no cost." So much for Let them eat cake.
We've known for a long time that any sin tax is likely to be a burden on the poor, since they're most prone to unhealthy behavior. (James Madison fought the snuff tax on these grounds way back in 1794.) But you might just as well say that poor people have the most to gain from a sin tax for exactly the same reason. It's also possible that revenues from a fat tax would be spent on obesity prevention —or go back to the community in other ways. There's a knotty argument here about the vexing and reciprocal interactions among health, wealth, and obesity. (I'll try to untangle some of these in my next column.) It's not clear whether, and in what direction, a soda tax might redistribute wealth. Whatever you think of the economics, though, raising the price on soda —and offering water in its place— will redistribute pleasure.
I don't mean to imply that any such regulation is unjust. We have laws against plenty of chemicals and behaviors that are as delightful as they are destructive. These are, for the most part, sensible measures to protect our health. What's disturbing is the thought that the degree of government control should vary according to who's using which drug. In April, the Obama administration called for an end to a long-standing policy that gives dealers of powdered cocaine 100 times more leeway than dealers of crack when it comes to federal prison sentences. Let's not repeat this drug-war injustice in the war on obesity. We may be ready to say that foods are addictive. Are we ready to judge the nature of a delicious high?
Is the definition of autism too broad? NHS claims one in 100 adults is autistic in some form
One per cent of the adult population is suffering from a form of autism, research has revealed. The study – the first of its kind – found that autism and related conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome, are as common in adults as in children. The finding is important because it had been suggested that the measles, mumps and rubella combination jab fuelled a rise in cases of the disorder after its introduction in the early Nineties.
If this were the case, rates of autism would be higher in children and young adults than in older age groups. But with the rate similar across all age groups, it seems that any rise in cases of autism in children can be attributed to better diagnosis and greater awareness of the condition.
As with children, the disorder is much more often found in males than in females. The Department of Health-funded research also found rates to be higher among single people and among men who haven’t been to university.
But the findings are likely to be seized upon as evidence that the definition of autism is now too broad. In the 1990s there was a huge surge in the number of autism cases reported in children, after a wider diagnostic definition of the condition was introduced.
The study found no evidence that rates of autism are on the rise and failed to find a link between the mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the condition. If there was a link with MMR, people aged in their early 20s or younger would expect to have higher rates of autism because they have had the jab, the report said. However, Jackie Fletcher, from vaccination awareness group Jabs, said: 'We're concerned the Department of Health is extrapolating from surveys not designed to find vaccine damage to bolster the uptake of MMR.'
Although rates of autism in children have been widely researched, the latest study is the first to attempt to set a figure for adults. Little was known about how autism affected people over the course of a lifetime.
1) Classic autism: The most severe form. Problems relating to people. They can be hypersensitive to their environment and be upset by certain colours and shapes. Often cling to rituals.
2) Asperger's syndrome: Milder form. Can be socially awkward and lack empathy.
3) Nonspecific pervasive developmental disorder (PDD-NOS): Shows some but not all the symptoms of classic autism
4) Rett syndrome: Rare condition that usually affects girls and is marked by poor head growth. May have poor verbal skills and make repetitive movements.
5) Childhood disintegrative disorder: Develops in children who previously seemed perfectly normal. Can stop talking and socialising.
Researchers asked more than 7,000 men and women 20 questions designed to pick up traits linked to autism and related conditions. Topics covered included attention to detail, ability to handle social interactions and ability to read emotions. After several hundred were put through a second, more stringent, assessment, the researchers estimated 72 people of those tested had autism or a related condition. If the results were extrapolated across the population as a whole, an estimated 1 per cent of adults would fall into the category. Three studies of children in England have come up with a similar rate, although other research has theorised the number numbers could be as high as one in 60.
Tim Straughan, of the NHS Information Centre, which carried out the study, said: ‘While the sample size was small and any conclusions need to be tempered with caution, the report suggests, despite popular perceptions, rates of autism are not increasing.’
Worryingly, the study also found men and women with the condition are no more likely to use services for those with mental or emotional problems than other adults. Mark Lever, of the National Autistic Society, said services and support for adults with autism were ‘woefully inadequate’. He added: ‘Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of adults with autism told us they do not have enough support to meet their needs. ‘This study gives us further evidence to demand that more vital support is put in place.’
28 September, 2009
The myth of the smoking ban “miracle”
Restrictions on smoking around the world are claimed to have had a dramatic effect on heart attack rates. It's not true. See also some prior comments on this blog on 15th.
‘Heart attacks plummet after smoking ban’ declared The Sunday Times earlier this month, as it reported that England’s smoking ban has ‘caused a fall in heart attack rates of about 10 per cent’ (1). A few days later, The Scotsman upped the ante, informing its readers that ‘Smoking ban slashes heart attacks by up to a third across world’ (2).
Tales of heart attacks being ‘slashed’ by smoking bans have appeared with such regularity in recent years that it is easy to forget that there is a conspicuous lack of reliable evidence to support them. It is almost as if the sheer number of column inches is a substitute for proof.
The most recent reports are a case in point. Although The Sunday Times claimed a 10 per cent drop in heart attacks, nowhere in the 500 word article was a source mentioned and no one was quoted giving this figure. The ‘study’ the newspaper referred to does not exist, and the anti-smoking pressure group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) – not renowned for downplaying the risks of passive smoking – went to the unusual lengths of posting a notice on its website the following day to point out that ‘the figures reported in The Sunday Times yesterday (and now circulating elsewhere) are not based on any research conducted to date’ (3).
Although the story quickly went around the globe, no one seems to know where the figure came from. It’s all rather strange. Basing journalism on anonymous sources is commonplace in the world of politics, but it is surely not necessary in the realms of science.
The second story – reported by a host of news organisations, including the BBC – also had no new data to report. Instead, it took its cue from an article in the journal Circulation which examined previous smoking ban/heart attack studies. If nothing else, the Circulation paper offers an opportunity to reflect on just how feeble the collected evidence is on this issue (4).
The first study to make the claim that smoking bans ‘slash’ heart attacks was met with howls of derision when it was published in the British Medical Journal in 2004 (5). Studying the modest population of Helena, Montana – where the number of monthly heart attacks seldom strayed into double digits – the study’s authors made the astounding claim that the town’s smoking ban had led to the rate of acute myocardial infarction (heart attacks) plummeting by 40 per cent.
Dubbed the ‘Helena miracle’ by a legion of sceptics, the 40 per cent finding was damned by its very enormity. Since the authors were adamant that the drop was due to secondhand smoke (rather than smokers quitting), the finding required the reader to believe that 40 per cent of heart attacks in pre-ban Helena had been solely caused by passive smoking in bars and restaurants. To understand quite how miraculous the Helena miracle was, one must bear in mind that around 10 to 15 per cent of coronary heart disease cases are attributed to active smoking. That passive smoking could be responsible for a further 40 per cent strains all credibility.
Despite the inherent implausibility of the hypothesis, further studies were swiftly commissioned. If smoking bans could be shown to immediately save lives, it would be a compelling reason to implement bans elsewhere and expand those already in place. And since all that was required to ‘prove’ the hypothesis was a rough correlation between a declining heart attack rate and the start of a smoking ban, the prospects were good. Heart attack rates had been falling for years in most countries and there were plenty of smoking bans to choose from. The law of averages dictated that another heart miracle would soon come to light.
Flawed though it may have been, the Helena research was followed by several studies that displayed such a cavalier approach to the scientific process that they bordered on the comical. Researchers in Bowling Green, Ohio, for example, saw a large rise in heart attacks during the first year of the smoking ban. Side-stepping this awkward fact, they simply redefined year two of the ban as the ‘real’ post-ban period and, since that year followed an abnormal peak, there was naturally a decline in the heart attack rate. As a consequence, the researchers could triumphantly declare that the smoking ban had led to a 47 per cent reduction in heart attacks (6).
In the Piedmont region of Italy, there was an inconvenient rise in heart attacks amongst those over the age of 60 after the ban, and so those people were simply ignored. In a study that was trailed by the BBC (‘Smoking ban reduces heart risk’), the researchers focused entirely on those under 60, thereby recording an 11 per cent drop in cases (7).
Studies such as these form the basis for the recent reports of smoking bans slashing heart attacks by ‘up to a third’. The Circulation paper gathers them together and concludes that, on average, smoking bans cause rates of acute myocardial infarction to fall by 17 per cent. It includes the studies from Ohio and Italy, as well as three studies that have never been published and have only been ‘reported at meetings’.
The paper does not, however, include a mammoth (published) study of the entire United States, which concluded: ‘In contrast with smaller regional studies, we find that workplace bans are not associated with statistically significant short-term declines in mortality or hospital admissions for myocardial infarction or other diseases.’ (8)
Nor does it include an (unpublished) paper which found no statistically significant fall in heart attacks amongst the entire populations of California, Florida, New York and Oregon (9).
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the ongoing heart-miracle farrago is the eagerness to focus on small studies when complete hospital data is so freely available. It is extraordinary that no BBC journalist, for example, has thought of taking a few minutes to see how many people were rushed to hospital with acute myocardial infarction before and after the smoking bans of England, Scotland and Wales. If they did so, they would see that smokefree legislation has had no tangible influence on heart attack rates at all.
The graphs below show the number of emergency admissions for acute myocardial infarction, with the arrow indicating the start of the smoking ban. What is abundantly clear in each case is that the number of heart attack admissions has been falling for some time. Far from causing further dramatic cuts in heart attack rates, the bans had no discernible effect.
Publicly accessible hospital admissions data is like kryptonite to those who are so eager to believe in miracles. In most epidemiological studies pertaining to secondhand smoke, the raw data is not published. Here, it is open to all and shows quite clearly that the long-term downward trend in heart attacks has not been affected in any way by the implementation of smoking bans. It provides such a simple and straightforward rebuttal to the heart attack ‘slashing’ hypothesis that one wonders what level of hubris drives those who still espouse it.
The three graphs above cover a population larger than the sample groups in all the studies reviewed in Circulation combined, but no matter how much empirical evidence exposes the fantasy of the Helena miracle, it may be too late for the anti-smoking lobby to back down on this issue. Too many reputations are at stake.
After five years of covering these stories so uncritically, the same may be true of the media. One can scarcely blame newspapers for covering stories that offer such dramatic conclusions as the heart miracles. The irony is that if they dug just a little deeper, they might find a more interesting, and more believable, tale of human folly.
SOURCE (See the original for graphics)
Smoking status doesn't predict cardiovascular death
This article forms an amusing footnote to the one above. It essentially explains WHY smoking bans don't reduce circulatory disease.
It is also an interesting example of how one must consider intervening variables before drawing causal inferences. Non-smokers live many years longer but that is not due to their non-smoking. Smokers have other health problems and it is the sum of those problems that lead to death. Another example of the poor having worse health, I think. The poor are much more likely to smoke
Could it be good news for smokers? Current and past-smokers with coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, or peripheral artery disease have less than half the cardiovascular mortality than never-smokers, the initial findings from a new study suggest. But don't be so quick to tell your patients to light up: After accounting for potential confounders, the association was not statistically significant.
"The relationship between smoking habit and outcome in patients with established arterial disease remains controversial," Dr. M. Monreal, of Hospital Universitari Germans Trias i Pujol, Barcelona, Spain, and colleagues write in the September issue of the European Journal of Internal Medicine. "Some studies have found that smoking may be associated with a better outcome among patients with acute coronary disease," they note. "As for patients with cerebrovascular disease or peripheral artery disease, there is little information on the influence of smoking on outcome."
The researchers used data from FRENA, an ongoing, observational registry of consecutive outpatients with symptomatic coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, or peripheral artery disease, to compare the incidence of cardiovascular death during follow-up of all enrolled patients according to their smoking status. A total of 2501 patients from 24 participating Spanish hospitals had been enrolled in FRENA as of May 2008. Of these, 439 (18%) were current smokers, 1086 (43%) were past-smokers, and 976 (39%) never smoked.
Compared to never-smokers, current and past-smokers were younger, more often male, and more likely to have chronic lung disease. Diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure were less common in current- and past-smokers. There were a total of 250 major cardiovascular events in 239 patients (9.6% of the original 2501) over a mean follow-up of 14 months. A total of 123 (4.9%) patients died (cardiovascular death, 68) during follow-up.
Significantly lower cardiovascular mortality was observed among current smokers and past-smokers compared to non-smokers (1.1 per 100 patient-years in current smokers, 1.9 in past-smokers, and 3.5 in non-smokers). Similar results were found when patients with coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, or peripheral artery disease were considered separately.
The mean age at cardiovascular death was 82 years for never-smokers, 70 years for past-smokers, and 67 years for current smokers. The mean age for non-cardiovascular death was 79, 74, and 69 years, respectively. "On univariate analysis, age >70 years, body mass index >28, chronic lung disease, heart failure, diabetes, prior history of artery disease, non-smoking status, atrial fibrillation, renal insufficiency, and the use of some drugs were significantly associated with an increased cardiovascular mortality," Dr. Monreal and colleagues write. However, on multivariate analysis, none of the variables, including smoking status, were independent predictors of cardiovascular death.
Eur J Int Med 2009;20:522-526.
27 September, 2009
Now breast milk is bad for you -- but only in Denmark
Since Denmark and Finland are both highly "correct" countries that are also very similar in most other ways, this is probably best seen as an artifact of poor sampling. The Finnish sample may have been more rural, for instance. And it certainly "explains" nothing. Correlation is not causation
A study in Denmark suggests hormone-disrupting environmental chemicals may explain why so many men in the country develop the disease. Danish men are up to four times more likely to have testicular cancer as men in neighbouring Finland. Denmark also suffers high rates of other male reproductive disorders, including poor semen quality and genital abnormalities. Some experts believe man-made pollutants that alter the effect of hormones in the developing foetus may be to blame.
Researchers measured levels of 121 chemicals in 68 samples of breast milk from women in Denmark and Finland. They found a dramatic difference between the two countries. Danish breast milk had significantly higher levels of some chemicals, including dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides, than Finnish breast milk. Chemicals in breast milk acted as a marker of exposure to the pollutants in the womb, said the scientists, whose findings are reported in the International Journal of Andrology. Previous research in animals and humans has suggested a connection between hormone-disrupting chemicals and testicular cancer.
Why women in Denmark should have more of the chemicals in their breast milk than their Finnish neighbours remains unclear. Study leader Professor Niels Skakkebaek, from the University Department of Growth and Reproduction in Copenhagen, said: "We were very surprised to find that some EDC (endocrine disrupting chemicals) levels, including some dioxins, PCBs and some pesticides, were significantly higher in Denmark than in Finland. "Our findings reinforce the view that environmental exposure to EDCs may explain some of the temporal and between-country differences in incidence of male reproductive disorders."
However he urged women to continue breast feeding which had "many beneficial effects for the child".
Rates of testicular cancer vary greatly around the world. In the UK, almost 2,000 men are diagnosed with the disease each year, while in the US the number is more than 8,000.
The FDA Rejects Another Good Cancer Drug
No wonder people are worried about bureaucrats controlling health care. They can do what they like -- and do. In this case the usual Leftist enmity to drug companies seems to have been at work. Margaret Hamburg, Obama's appointee as boss of the FDA, is of course a known Leftist. See here for one example of politics being behind bad FDA decisions.
But how would it be if your health insurer were equally arbitrary? What if a black official didn't like the fact that you are white, for instance? It's very hard to get official decisions overturned and you could well die in the meantime
As the debate about health-care reform has heated up, there's been a lot of talk about creating expert panels that give bureaucrats control over what treatments we can receive. Truth be told, these panels already exist. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bureaucracy made a decision that will deny women a viable option for fighting ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is a rare disease and is therefore not usually targeted by drug companies. The pharmaceutical industry tends to focus on cancers that strike a large number of people. Finding treatments for such cancers gives drug companies their best chance to earn enough profit to pay for the enormous cost of developing a new drug.
Thus it was remarkable that the Centocor Company even developed its chemotherapy agent Yondelis. The culmination of the company's efforts was an appearance July 15 before the FDA Oncology Drug Advisory Committee (ODAC), a panel of cancer experts that assists the FDA. But on the day of the meeting the FDA turned its back on 25 years of regulatory precedent and rejected a new cancer drug that by all known standards had passed muster for approval.
Centocor had all of its ducks in a row. For example, in 2006 approval standards for ovarian cancer drugs changed. So Centocor modified its process to meet the new standards. The FDA told the company that Yondelis would have to show a six-week improvement over the most effective therapy now being used to slow the progress of ovarian cancer. When its efficacy results came back, Yondelis showed a six-week improvement.
Instead of approving the drug, however, the FDA had second thoughts and decided the drug did not show enough efficacy to outweigh its toxicity levels. But those levels were not out of line with what other chemotherapies cause. Centocor recommended countering these toxicities by monitoring those who received the drug. Women who received the drug in the clinical trials reported feeling no worse on Yondelis than those who were on the less-effective control drug.
More importantly, these known lab toxicities were well characterized at a meeting in 2006 that the company had with the FDA. If the toxic effects were so important, why didn't the FDA tell Centocor it needed to show 12, 20 or whatever number of weeks that would pass muster? If the standards the FDA set up for this drug weren't enough to pass it, was it ethical to allow women to take this drug during its trials? The FDA needs to be held accountable if it failed to guide the company toward what it needed to do to gain approval.
One member of ODAC briefly challenged the FDA's role in choosing the parameters for this drug's success. But it's too much to expect the panel to be a counterweight to the FDA. The FDA's cancer director, Richard Pazdur, heavily influences the choice of ODAC members each year. This is a little like allowing a prosecutor to pick his friends for a jury. When the ODAC acts in lockstep with the FDA, it's reasonable to question the fairness of the system.
Those of us in the rare-cancer community were sickened by the fate of Yondelis. Women's gynecological cancer has always been an afterthought to drug developers. The more drugs we have to fight these diseases the better.
This episode shows that a healthy dose of reform is needed in two areas at the FDA Office of Oncology Products. The first reform is that the FDA should tell the sponsor exactly what is needed for approval. A concrete measure of efficacy should be added if doubts exist about toxicity.
The other area is reform of the manner by which the cancer panel is chosen by the FDA cancer director in the first place. Given the life and death importance of the issues, there should be a more independent process to assure that the "jury" has been selected fairly, so that, when needed, truth can be spoken to power. A truly independent and impartial ODAC, critiquing both the regulated and the regulators, is the best way to show that the FDA is secure in its science. That will help restore public trust in this important institution.
26 September, 2009
Does morphine cause bowel cancer?
Blocking signal molecule can prevent growth of large intestine and colon cancer. This is of relevance to heroin addicts. Don't laugh, but heroin (diamorphine) was orginally devised as a non-addictive form of morphine -- and that was achieved to some extent. It is not strongly physically addictive. The addiction is mainly psychological. But most heroin users will die of other things before they get bowel cancer
By seeing what substances and molecules affect the development of our diseases, we can develop drugs that prevent or cure diseases. In her dissertation at Kalmar University in Sweden, Ann Novotny has found that the signal molecule acetylcholine (ACh) is important for the progress of cancer of the large intestine and colon, knowledge that is important to factor in when developing drugs that block the effects of Ach on tumor cells.
Cancer of the large intestine and colon is the third most common cancer form in the Western world. Survival over a five-year period in Sweden is roughly 56 percent, but depends on how far the cancer has spread when it is discovered. It is known that the cancer has developed ways to signal in order to be able grow and spread independently of the regulatory systems of normal cells. In order to increase the number of survivors, it is important to map this signaling so that new forms of treatment for the cancer can be devised.
Ann Novotny studied the signaling used by the cancer in a portion of large intestinal and colon cancer. She found that there are receptors for opioids, such as morphine, on tumor cells. If morphine is supplied to these cells the protein urokinase is released, which the cancer cells can use to enhance their capacity to spread.
She also studied the nerve signaling molecule acetylcholine (ACh) and discovered that the cancer cells both build up and degrade the molecule. The study shows that the molecule is constantly released from the tumor cells and binds to a special receptor on the same cells, which leads to increased cell production as well as increased production of urokinase, which enhances the ability of the cancer cells to spread. These receptors can also be activated by nicotine, but also by the peptide SLURP-1 (secreted mammalian Ly-6/urokinase plasminagen activator receptor-related protein-1).
The levels of several enzymes, receptors, and the peptide SLURP-1 differ in early and late cancer of the large intestine and in healthy and diseased colons. This knowledge should help us develop drugs that block the effects of acetylcholine on tumor cells, which should be able to keep this cancer from developing further.
Small AIDS breakthrough: vaccine combination cuts HIV incidence a little
But useless for two thirds of the at-risk population. Full details of the research have yet to be released but the statistical significance of the difference reported looks dubious to me -- and we don't know if the study was double blind, though I assume it was
The experimental drug cut the risk of becoming infected with HIV by more than 31 per cent in the world's largest Aids trial of more than 16,000 volunteers in Thailand, researchers have announced. It is the first time in human trials that a vaccine has stopped the virus, which infects 7,500 worldwide every day.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned the development was "not the end of the road," but said he was surprised and very pleased by the outcome. "It gives me cautious optimism about the possibility of improving this result" and developing a more effective Aids vaccine, he said. "This is something that we can do."
"Today marks a historic milestone," said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the Aids Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, an international group that has worked toward developing a vaccine. "It will take time and resources to fully analyse and understand the data, but there is little doubt that this finding will energise and redirect the Aids vaccine field.
Even a partially effective vaccine could have a big impact. In 2007, two million died of Aids according to the United Nations agency UNAIDS.
Colonel Jerome Kim, who helped lead the study for the U S Army, which was also involved in the trial, said: "It is the first evidence that we could have a safe and effective preventive vaccine."
The Thailand Ministry of Public Health conducted the study, which used strains of HIV common in Thailand. Scientists stressed it is not clear whether the vaccine would work against other strains in the United States, Africa or elsewhere. The study tested a two-vaccine combination in a "prime-boost" approach, where the first injection primes the immune system to attack HIV and the second strengthens the response.
The vaccines are ALVAC, from Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine division of French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis; and AIDSVAX, originally developed by VaxGen Inc. and now held by Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases, a non-profit founded by some former VaxGen employees. ALVAC uses canarypox, a bird virus altered so it can't cause human disease, to ferry synthetic versions of three HIV genes into the body. AIDSVAX contains a genetically engineered version of a protein on HIV's surface. The vaccines are not made from whole virus — dead or alive — and cannot cause HIV.
Neither vaccine in the study prevented HIV infection when tested individually in earlier trials, and dozens of scientists had called the new one futile when it began in 2003. "I really didn't have high hopes at all that we would see a positive result," Dr Fauci confessed. The study tested the combination in HIV-negative Thai men and women ages 18 to 30 at average risk of becoming infected. Half received four "priming" doses of ALVAC and two "boost" doses of AIDSVAX over six months. The others received dummy shots.
All were given condoms, counselling and treatment for any sexually transmitted infections, and were tested every six months for HIV. Any who became infected were given free treatment with antiviral medicines. Participants were followed for three years after vaccination ended.
The results were that new infections occurred in 51 of the 8,197 given vaccine and in 74 of the 8,198 who received dummy shots. That worked out to a 31 per cent lower risk of infection for the vaccine group. The vaccine had no effect on levels of HIV in the blood of those who did become infected, providing "one of the most important and intriguing findings" of the trial, according to Dr Fauci, giving scientists important clues in identifying whether treatment drugs are actually make a difference by giving protection to the immune system. Full details of the $105 million study will be given at a vaccine conference in Paris in October.
This is the third big vaccine trial since 1983, when HIV was identified as the cause of Aids. In 2007, Merck & Co. stopped a study of its experimental vaccine after seeing it did not prevent HIV infection. Later analysis suggested the vaccine might even raise the risk of infection in certain men. The vaccine itself did not cause infection. In 2003, AIDSVAX failed in two large trials — the first late-stage tests of any Aids vaccine at the time.
It is unclear whether vaccine makers will seek to license the two-vaccine combination in Thailand. Before the trial began, the United States Food and Drug Administration said other studies would be needed before the vaccine could be considered for public use. Also unclear is whether Thai volunteers who received dummy shots will now be offered the vaccine. Researchers had said they would do so if the vaccine showed clear benefit — defined as reducing the risk of infection by at least 50 per cent.
The study was done in Thailand because US Army scientists did pivotal research in that country when the Aids epidemic emerged there, isolating virus strains and providing genetic information on them to vaccine makers. The Thai government also strongly supported the idea of doing the study.
Food crazies harassing businesses
Chicken, fake and real, looks to be a target of several consumer and nutrition groups. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is acting as co-counsel on a lawsuit filed Thursday by an Arizona woman accusing Quorn Foods Inc. of not disclosing on labels the fact that some people have serious allergic reactions to the main ingredient in its Quorn line of meat substitutes. Quorn is derived from a protein-rich fungus, which the company grows in large vats.
The fungus, Fusarium venenatum, was discovered growing in a field in Buckinghamshire, England, in the late 1960s and developed as a food product. "In the 1960s, people were concerned that we would run out of protein and started a search for new protein sources that could feed the world and discovered this fungus that grows naturally in soil. It makes a delicious and nutritious meat alternative. It has as much protein as eggs and as much fiber as broccoli on an ounce-per-ounce basis," said David Wilson, managing director of Quorn, which is a division of Marlow Foods, a British company.
He said the lawsuit was frivolous and unwarranted. "Quorn has been in the U.S. market since 2002 and has been enjoyed by millions of Americans. We have developed our labeling with the Food and Drug Administration, and it is accurate and fair," Wilson said.
But the center, a Washington-based nonprofit food safety and nutrition watchdog group and a vocal critic of restaurant chains that offer salt- and fat-laden foods, disagrees. It said that more than 1,000 people have reported suffering from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after eating Quorn's products, which include Chik'n Nuggets, Chik'n Patties, Chik'n Tenders and various Chik'n cutlets.
According to the lawsuit, Kathy Cardinale, a 43-year-old advertising executive, ate Quorn's Chik'n Patties on three occasions in 2008 and became "violently ill" each time. The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed in Superior Court in Stamford, Conn. The British company has its U.S. offices in Westport, Conn.
Meanwhile, the vegan-oriented Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says it is readying a lawsuit against the giant KFC fast-food chain under California law for failing to warn consumers that the chain's new grilled chicken product contains a carcinogen. [Lots of things are carcinogenic if you consume enough of them. The toxicity is in the dose. And giving rats huge doses of stuff is a common but scientifically disreputable way of branding something as a carcinogen. The food freaks commonly use that tactic]
The anti-meat advocacy group said that it commissioned independent laboratory tests that show that KFC's grilled chicken contains PhIP, a chemical that it said can increase a person's risk of developing cancer even if consumed in small amounts.
Not disclosing the presence of the chemical violates California's public health law, known as Proposition 65, the group contends. It plans to file the lawsuit next week in San Francisco County Superior Court.
Earlier this year, the group sued hot dog makers, alleging that their products increase cancer risk and should carry a warning label similar to those on tobacco products.
25 September, 2009
Irresponsible prostate testing proposal ignores risk of harm to men
Testing saves less than one life in a thousand and has its own perils. The great majority of men who get chopped about as a result would have been OK if left alone
In 2003, Professor Alan Coates, then 58 and head of Cancer Council Australia, admitted he had not had, and wasn't planning to have, a test to see if he had prostate cancer. Wayne Swan, a prostate cancer survivor, called his statement "public policy vandalism".
Coates was not a lone heretic. While it would be rare to find a smoker working in cancer control, or any woman in the same field who had not had a Pap smear, many men who know much about the evidence on whether prostate testing saves lives have not been tested themselves. A study in 2002 of male GPs in Victoria aged over 48 found less than half had been tested; many physicians choose to remain ignorant about whether they have the disease. What do they know that the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand does not?
The society has recommended 40 as the age for men to consider having their first prostate-specific antigen test, or PSA, and for those in the top half of PSA levels to be considered higher risk and "monitored closely". Those with lower levels could have less frequent testing.
Earlier this year, results from a European trial involving 160,000 men aged 55-69 were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Only some were given PSA tests. It showed that if you screen 1000 men, you will find 82 cases, and if you follow these men for an average of nine years, there will be 2.94 deaths. In 1000 unscreened men over the same period, 48 cases of prostate cancer will come to light by men presenting symptoms to their doctor. There will be 3.65 deaths. The difference between the two means, in short, testing saves 0.71 deaths per 1000 men over nine years.
Prostate cancer is a disease from which you are more likely to die very late in life. For elderly men - those over 84 - the death rate is 767 per 100,000 men, while for those aged 40 to 44 it is 0.3. This means there will be one death per year from prostate cancer in every 330,000 men aged 40-44, an age group the Urological Society now believes should be tested. The odds of any one man this age dying from the disease are nearly twice as poor as winning first prize in a lottery with 200,000 tickets.
By doing a PSA test on all these men and applying the proposed threshold, hundreds of thousands of men will now be considered higher risk and monitored closely for prostate cancer.
Autopsy studies show you can find prostate cancer in up to one-third of men of this age if you look hard enough for it. By finding all these cancers there is the potential for harm on a massive scale, because there are real and frequent risks associated with treatments for prostate cancer.
Getting a test result is just the beginning. When cancer is suspected following a PSA test, we know in Australia it is aggressively treated in younger men. The European trial showed that to save just one life from screening, an additional 48 men would need to be treated, and it was using a much higher threshold than is now proposed here. In other words, to save one life, 48 men would be treated who would not have died from the disease.
They are treated because our science is not advanced enough to know which of 49 men's lives will be saved by having their prostates removed. And the treatment is far from benign. According to a review last year by the US Preventive Services Taskforce, one year after surgically removing the prostate gland, 20 to 70 per cent of men have reduced erectile function, and 15 to 50 per cent have persisting urinary problems.
There is no evidence from trials to support the proposed new strategy, nor has the Urological Society commented on its cost-effectiveness. What are the costs of close monitoring of half the nation's men aged in their 40s? What health-care services are going to be cut to cover the additional costs? Or must the health budget be increased?
To make such recommendations without considering the potential to do harm to men and to the health-care budget is irresponsible. Furthermore, urologists and the companies selling PSA tests stand to benefit from concern among men to be tested. In a recent letter to the Herald a man who had undergone prostate removal said he paid $15,000. These facts are almost always absent from the advice given to men by the few agencies which are aggressively promoting screening.
Quackery at the University of Toronto
Three weeks ago or so, I expressed dismay at what I perceived as an autism quackfest being held at the University of Toronto. Worse, that quackfest had been partially funded by a grant from a very prestigious children's charity, The SickKids Foundation, which in response to complaints about its sponsoring the autism quackfest known as AutismOne/Autism Canada 2009 Conference, wrote a limp and pusillanimous form e-mail that it sent to everyone who complained. It was truly disappointing to see that an organization that should be supporting science-based research into the treatment of children's cancer and other serious diseases that primarily affect children would be lending its money, name, and prestige to autism quackery, including anti-vaccine loons, homeopaths, and "energy medicine" practitioners.
One salutary effect of my posts was that the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health. which had been previously listed on the early advertisements as a co-sponsor of this event, apparently told AutismOne to stop using its name. Certainly, more recent iterations of the Autism Canada website and advertisements show no such affiliation anymore.
I still find it truly depressing that the SickKids Foundation sees nothing wrong with funding this nonsense, and I sincerely hope that this is an older brochure and that the Dalla Lana School of Public Health has made it very plain that it does not support autism quackery.
‘Egg whisk’ pioneered by doctor helps pump blood during heart surgery
A miniature “egg whisk” that rotates faster than a high-speed food blender has been pioneered by a British doctor to help the heart to pump blood round the body during life-saving surgery. The ground-breaking procedure, which involves passing the fold-up whisk through the body to a site next to the heart, allows patients with weak hearts to have an artery unblocked without the risk of kidney failure or cardiac arrest.
More than 100,000 patients undergo artery-clearing angioplasty annually, but many remain at high risk of serious complications because of their problems pumping blood. But now Professor Martin Rothman, a cardiologist based at the London Chest Hospital, has completed the first human trials of the revolutionary whisk, which is inserted via a catheter through the groin shortly before the angioplasty takes place.
The procedure, which has not yet been licensed, has proved so successful in patients to date that it was broadcast live yesterday to a key conference in San Francisco attended by 10,000 cardiologists. The whisk, called the Reitan catheter pump, is inserted in a tube via the femoral artery and manoeuvred up to the aorta, where it folds out to form a plastic cage encasing two stainless steel propeller blades of about 8mm in length.
Once switched on — a wire running down the catheter allows it to be powered electrically — the device rotates at up to 12,000rpm, enhancing the pumping action of the heart by drawing blood down from the aorta to the arteries. This keeps vital organs, such as the kidneys, working as the patient undergoes angioplasty.
Professor Rothman told The Times that the device effectively “unloaded the heart”, reducing the risk of heart attack, kidney failure and cardiogenic shock — when reduced blood flow causes multi-organ malfunction. Once the angioplasty is completed, the Reitan catheter pump can be removed.
Professor Rothman said that with up to one in ten patients who need angioplasty being at risk of cardiac and renal failure, the device would bring benefits for thousands of patients every year and even appeared to improve severe kidney problems. He added: “This technology offers real opportunity for sick patients to undergo a very important procedure — patients who, were you to blow a balloon up in their arteries, would otherwise likely be pushed over the edge. “The pump is incredibly powerful — if you stuck it in a bucket of water it looks like the whole thing is boiling. It helps people with heart failure survive this procedure better and with less risk.”
Professor Rothman carried out the first trial after discovering the device, designed by Øyvind Reitan, a Swedish cardiologist and engineer, a few years ago. To date, the British doctor, who works in Barts and the London NHS Trust, has carried out 17 procedures, with published data on the first ten. While a pump would cost about £1,000, and can be used for only one procedure, the savings of preventing a patient from ending up on kidney dialysis are substantial. Three days on dialysis would cost about £10,000.
For the surgery last night, Professor Rothman operated on a woman, 79, who had blockages in her right coronary artery and proximal left anterior descending artery. As a diabetic with high blood pressure and raised cholesterol, the woman had been refused angioplasty by other cardiologists. She is now back on the ward.
Describing the notion that it might reverse kidney failure as a “Star Trek moment”, Professor Rothman said that his team were examining evidence collated so far. One case involved a woman who was only able to pass 10ml or urine per hour in the two weeks before the operation because of poor kidney function, who passed ten times the amount with the device in place.
“It was a revelation to see that patients who had a chronic or long-term impairment of the kidney could actually have that state reversed using the pump,” he said. “That was amazing. We saw the data and it made a lot of us think again. You think most people who have chronic kidney failure have exactly that. You don’t expect them to impove their function and that’s what we have seen.”
Ellen Mason, a cardiac nurse with the British Heart Foundation, described the work as pioneering. She said: “It is great to see a British cardiologist leading the way in the field of international cardiology. “The application would be in people with cardiogenic shock which is usually fatal, or severe heart failure probably due to a heart attack. The hope is that they would be able to undergo urgent treatment for heart attack, when before it would have been too risky. “The data from these trials will determine whether this will become more widespread in the UK and the rest of the world.”
A representative for Barts and The London NHS Trust, which includes the London Chest Hospital, said that it fully supported Professor Rothman’s work. “The trust is committed to providing first class clinical care to all its patients. Our support of cutting-edge research work such as the Reitan Catheter Pump System, is just one example of our ongoing work to help patients to live better, fuller and longer lives.”
24 September, 2009
British study finds no evidence of autism surge in children
Autism is as common among adults as it is among children, a study has found, dispelling fears of a link between the MMR vaccine and the condition. A study of rates of autism spectrum disorder among adults suggests that one in every 100 people over the age of 18 has the condition — broadly the same as that cited for children.
The data, collected by the NHS Information Centre, is the first to show how autism affects people over the course of a lifetime, concluding that it is similar across all ages.
People in more than 4,000 households in England were asked a series of questions aimed at assessing their psychiatric health. The results were used to identify adults with an autism spectrum disorder, including Asperger’s syndrome.
The centre said that the study found no evidence to support claims of a link between the MMR jab given to children and the development of autism: if the vaccine was to blame, autism rates among children should be higher because the MMR has been available only since the early 1990s.
The study — the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2007 — was funded by the Department of Health. It found that rates of autism were higher among men (1.8 per cent) than among women (0.2 per cent). This reflects studies in children, which have shown higher rates among boys than girls.
The report also found higher rates of autism among single people, among men with no university degree and among men who rent their homes rather than those in other types of housing. [The poor have worse health: The old, old finding]
Tim Straughan, chief executive of the NHS Information Centre, said: “This landmark report is the first major study into the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among adults to be carried out anywhere in the world. “The findings do not support suggestions of a link between the MMR vaccine and the development of this condition.” Mr Straughan said that while the sample size was small and any conclusions needed to be treated with caution, the report suggested that, despite popular perceptions, rates of autism were not increasing.
The MMR jab was first introduced in the UK in 1988. Concerns over the vaccine were sparked by a paper published in The Lancet in 1998 by Dr Andrew Wakefield. The research has since been discredited.
Mr Straughan said that the findings backed those from the National Audit Office (NAO) that more was required to support people with autism through adulthood. The NAO found there was very little recognition and service provision by local authorities or the NHS for adults with autism spectrum disorder.
The NHS Information Centre report found that people with autism do not access support services for mental or emotional problems in any greater numbers than the general population. “This does beg some questions about whether services, as currently configured, are meeting the needs of this group of people,” Mr Straughan said.
Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society (NAS), said that his organisation had long campaigned about awareness of “woefully inadequate” services and support for adults with autism. “Nearly two-thirds of adults with autism told us they do not have enough support to meet their needs. “Many thousands feel isolated and ignored and are often completely dependent on their families. This study gives us further evidence to demand that more vital support is put in place.” Mr Lever said that the report was the first part of a much more detailed research project into the prevalence of autism in the UK. “While we welcome this initial report, it only underlines the scale of the task that lies ahead and the importance of the forthcoming adult autism strategy in tackling the devastating lack of support and services,” he said.
Bashed your head? You needed a stiff drink
Crazy as it sounds, alcohol may one day be given to people with brain injuries to help them recover. The idea has arisen from a study of 38,000 people with head injuries, which found that those with alcohol in their blood were more likely to survive. For every 100 people who died when stone-cold sober, only 88 died with ethanol – the kind of alcohol in drinks – in their veins. "The finding raises the intriguing possibility that administering ethanol to patients with brain injuries may improve outcome," conclude the investigators.
Lead researcher Ali Salim of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said he hoped a trial could be mounted, but more information is needed first. "We need a better understanding of the exact mechanism, the appropriate dose and specific timing of treatment before we can embark on clinical trials," he told New Scientist.
Salim said that several previous studies have found similar beneficial effects – although others do not. Animal experiments, meanwhile, suggest that relatively low doses of alcohol protect the brain from injury, but high doses increase the risk of death. More research is also needed to establish how alcohol protects the brain, but Salim says it may work by blunting the amount of adrenalin reaching the brain, which reduces inflammation.
Despite alcohol's potential for helping patients survive brain injury, Salim stressed that it is to blame for half of all injury cases. "Alcohol is and will always continue to be bad, since it contributes to over 40 per cent of traffic-related fatalities," he says.
The study also found that drinkers suffered more complications and more severe injuries than non-drinkers, even though the overall survival rate was higher.
David Hovda, director of the Brain Injury Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, agreed that more research is needed before a clinical trial could take place. "One would have to know the therapeutic time window and, of course, the dose," he says. "But the mechanisms of action involving the neurobiology of traumatic brain injury have different timeframes and regional profiles which would make ethanol therapy difficult to manage correctly."
Hovda also points out that brain injuries can be very diverse, so ethanol might work for some but not others. "Severity and type really make a difference when deciding on therapeutic options," he says.
Journal reference: Archives of Surgery, vol 144, p 865
23 September, 2009
Lies and deceit below
The original journal article is here. The article below glides over the fact that the effect of HRT on incidence of cancer was NON-SIGNIFICANT statistically. And given the large numbers involved, the effect had to be pretty tiny in absolute terms for that to be so. The marginally significant difference in mortality among HRT users who DO get cancer is more a puzzle than a threat. In absolute terms, women on HRT are most UNLIKELY to die of lung cancer -- unless they smoke. Smoking is the real risk factor
The constant reliance on relative risk ratios is very annoying and uninformative. It may be good for getting journal articles published but it is useless to the average person trying to work out a reasonable policy for themselves. What they need to know is the ABSOLUTE risk -- and in all the reports about the evils of HRT it is negligible
If taking HRT raises your risk of some illness from 1 in 4000 to 1 in 3000, that gives a relative risk ratio big enough to generate a scary academic journal article but in absolute terms the risk is still negligible
Hormone replacement therapy, already linked to [minute] increases in breast cancer, heart disease and stroke, nearly doubles a woman's risk of dying from lung cancer, researchers reported Saturday in a finding that may be the final nail in the coffin for a therapy that is already in rapidly declining use. The findings "seriously question whether hormone-replacement therapy has any role in medicine today," wrote Dr. Apar Kishor Ganti of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in an editorial accompanying the online publication of the report in the medical journal Lancet.
The link to lung cancer "is yet another reason to not use hormone replacement therapy if it can be avoided," said Dr. Mark Faries, director of translational tumor immunology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., who was not involved in the research. "It raises the bar for deciding to do HRT."
The findings come from the Women's Health Initiative, a large study originally begun in 1991 to demonstrate, in part, that administration of a combination of estrogen and progestin could relieve debilitating symptoms of menopause and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. The hormone replacement arm, which enrolled more than 16,000 women, was halted prematurely after about 51/2 years when it was observed that the risks far outweighed any potential benefits.
The therapy not only did not protect against heart disease and stroke, but it yielded only questionable improvements in quality of life and produced a small but statistically significant increase in the risk of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer. Several subsequent reports have shown that the rate of breast cancer rose by at least 15 percent during the 1990s when HRT was blooming, then dropped sharply when many women abandoned the treatment after a 2002 report on the subject.
Treatment with estrogen has a deleterious effect on breast cancer patients because the hormone binds to estrogen receptors on tumor tissue, accelerating its growth. Recent laboratory studies have shown that lung tissue also has estrogen receptors and that the accelerated growth is even more dramatic in lung tumor cells, according to Dr. Richard J. Pietras, who directs the Stiles program on oncology at the University of California, Los Angeles' Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Among other effects, the hormone promotes the growth of blood vessels that nourish growing tumors.
"We've been suspecting for a long time that this is an area we need to investigate," Pietras said. The need is especially dramatic because the incidence of lung cancer in women has been growing and more women now die from it than from breast, ovarian and colon cancers combined. About 99,000 women are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, and 71,000 die from it.
The first results from the Women's Health Initiative suggested that the hormones might have an effect on lung cancer. To further explore a link, Dr. Rowan Chlebowski of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and his colleagues studied the women in the Women's Health Initiative for an additional 2 1/2 years.
At the end of the eight-year period, they found that 109 women who received the estrogen and progestin treatments had been diagnosed with lung cancer, compared with 85 in the group that received a placebo — a modest 23 percent increase in incidence.
The difference was more dramatic when they considered deaths. In the group receiving hormone therapy, 73 women died, compared with 40 in the placebo group, a 71 percent increase. The increase in lung cancer deaths accounted for half of the overall increase in deaths in the women receiving hormone therapy, Chlebowski said. The effect was most pronounced for so-called non-small-cell lung cancer, the most common form in women. There were 62 deaths from this type of tumor in women receiving hormones, compared with 31 deaths in the placebo group.
"The important thing is this is the identification of a new, lethal side effect of estrogen plus progestin use," he said. The findings "have special significance" for women who are now or have been heavy smokers, he said.
Women who were current smokers and who took hormone therapy had a 1 percent chance of dying from lung cancer in five years. Women who had smoked had about half that risk. "About half the post-menopausal women in the United States would fall into either category," he said.
The findings suggest that the hormones do not themselves cause lung cancer, but that they accelerate the growth of existing tumors, making them more aggressive and more likely to metastasize, Chlebowski said.
Lung cancer is "a very potent, brutal disease," said Dr. Glen Justice, director of the MemorialCare Cancer Center at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif. "The real take-home message here is that you have got to have a very good reason for going on hormones because we now know that there are so many negative effects."
Eating junk food could fatten your tax bill
And a tax is likely to be counterproductive anyway
Alarmed by a tripling of obesity rates among U.S. children over the past 30 years—nearly one in five of today’s adolescents is claimed to be obese—the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council issued a report just before Labor Day recommending a series of policy initiatives aimed at trimming the flab from America’s youth.
Saying the child obesity problem cannot be solved at the federal level, the two groups counsel state and local officials to impose their own soft drink taxes, tax “junk food,” limit access to television and video games in after-school programs, replace public school vending machines with water fountains, open school playgrounds to the general public, build more sidewalks and bicycle paths, make shopping at stores that sell fresh food more convenient for people living in low-income neighborhoods, and require restaurants to list calorie counts on their menus.
The report takes another step down the road to government control of lifestyle choices. The more successful the current administration is in displacing private health insurance with a taxpayer-financed public option, the more coercion to adopt healthy ways of living one can expect—stop smoking, exercise regularly and eat only the foods recommended by those who know what’s good for you.
A public health insurance program will deny coverage to no one and will charge everyone (probably within certain age groups) the same premium, including those with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or merely being overweight. Under the circumstances, there are only a few ways of keeping the program’s costs from careening completely out of control. Government can regulate the types of medical procedures for which health care providers can apply for reimbursement; limit the amounts of those reimbursements; and use selective taxes and other government powers to “encourage” individuals covered by the public option to avoid behaviors the so-called experts link to illness and injury.
With private health insurance, by contrast, insurers have incentives to charge premiums that reflect the actuarially determined probability that individual policyholders will submit claims. Smokers pay more for health and life insurance than nonsmokers, and overweight people, especially those with histories of adult-onset (Type 2) diabetes, high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels, pay more than those with a clean bill of health.
With risk-based insurance premiums, the consequences of smoking and overeating are not social costs, borne by everyone, but private costs borne largely by those who overindulge. Private health insurers do not charge higher premiums to people who enjoy soft drinks or junk food on occasion, but to those who regularly pig out and put on the pounds.
Selective excise taxes are blunt instruments for controlling behavior. Taxing soft drinks may cause people to drink less soda, but some will substitute other high-calorie drinks. Taxing Big Macs may reduce cash register sales, but some will simply eat more loaded pizza, or make cheeseburgers at home.
Maine already tried this. During the 10 years the so-called snack tax was in effect, the state’s adult obesity rate doubled, from 10 percent to 20 percent.
What Nobel laureate James Buchanan calls the “meddlesome preferences” of those who want you to behave as they do now threaten our personal freedoms. Lifestyle choices should not be ceded to government.
22 September, 2009
NYT love letter to FDA
New York Times reporter Gardiner Harris has a front page article in today’s paper on the head of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Oncology Drug Products, Richard Pazdur. As the article notes, Pazdur has come under severe criticism in recent years for obstructing the approval of numerous innovative cancer drugs. Some of this criticism is unfair, and Harris is clearly attempting to defend Pazdur and the FDA, while proving the critics wrong. After all, Pazdur has implemented reforms that permit the FDA to occasionally consider New Drug Applications for cancer drugs that are supported by fewer clinical trials, with fewer patients in those trials, and that measure progress toward a “surrogate end-point” such as tumor suppression instead of increased length of patient survival.
But that’s not the whole story. Steven Walker, a co-founder of the patient advocacy group Abigail Alliance, is rightly quoted saying “Patients are right to be angry and frustrated with Richard Pazdur. … He is a dinosaur.”
Indeed, in his zeal to defend Pazdur, Harris gets a few important facts wrong. For example, he writes that “Federal law requires that the agency demand two ‘well controlled’ trials before approving a drug; in cancer, the Food and Drug Administration is often satisfied with just one.” Wow, you might think, this Pazdur guy must really be special if he’s willing to disregard federal law in order to speed new drugs to market.
Except that federal law hasn’t required two Phase III trials in all cases since passage of the FDA Modernization Act (FDAMA) in 1997, which specifically permits FDA to approve a drug on the basis of a single Phase III trial if the Secretary of HHS (of which FDA is a part) determines the information sufficient to prove the drug is effective. Similarly, FDAMA specifically grants FDA permission to “fast track” the approval of important new drugs by considering surrogate end-points rather than increased length of survival. Pazdur’s contribution was not to come up with these great ideas, but merely to implement them at the request of Congress and President Clinton.
Pazdur looks even less good when you consider some of the products he’s accused of derailing, such as the prostate cancer drug Provenge, which I wrote about two years ago. Provenge works like a vaccine to help a patient’s immune system fight off prostate cancer, a disease with few other available treatments. The independent panel of scientific experts that advises the agency on new oncology drug approvals unanimously agreed that Provenge was safe, and voted 13 to 4 that it was effective enough for approval, but the agency demanded additional testing before it would approve the drug.
In one trial, 34 percent of patients receiving the drug were alive three years after treatment, compared to just 11 percent of patients receiving the placebo. But the median survival time for those taking Provenge was just 4½ months longer than for the placebo group. Still, Taxotere, the only currently approved alternative for advanced prostate cancer, extends survival for just half that time, while killing some 300 patients outright every year.
FDA’s main contention was that the clinical trial showing these benefits in Provenge was actually designed to find a different end-point. So, under Pazdur’s leadership, the FDA oncology drugs unit refused to approve Provenge despite pretty reliable evidence of its safety and efficacy. That story doesn’t make it into Gardiner Harris’s article, however, since it might weaken his case for Pazdur’s sainthood.
Harris does, however, trot out a patient advocate and an industry analyst to make the case that, even safe drugs with uncertain benefits shouldn’t be approved. “We want drugs that prolong survival, not drugs that just improve a test result,” said Frances Visco of the National Breast Cancer Coalition.
Naturally, we don’t want snake-oil salesmen touting non-existent benefits of sham treatments. But, why can’t we require full disclosure of the ambiguity, and let patients and their doctors choose? In far too many cases, waiting for absolute proof of some huge benefit serves only to keep promising new drugs off the market. It also means that dying patients are refused the only option that might prevent or delay their death.
Harris notes, as a humanizing aside, that Pazdur doesn’t eat meat “because he believes a vegetarian diet will help protect him from cancer, although the supporting evidence is as thin as vegetable broth.” That’s wonderful; a balanced vegetarian diet certainly can’t hurt, and there is some evidence suggesting that it may well help improve Pazdur’s health. But, if this dietary choice were subject to the same evidentiary standards that Pazdur places on new drugs, he wouldn’t have that choice.
What seems not to have occurred to Pazdur, Harris, and Pazdur’s other supporters is that, if a drug with uncertain effectiveness is approved, those who “want drugs that prolong survival, not drugs that just improve a test result,” don’t have to use it. They can hold out for a product with more certain benefits. But, when a drug with uncertain benefits is not approved, it means that everyone is denied the choice.
British chemical warfare centre helps with war on wrinkles
For almost a century Porton Down has been Britain’s nerve centre for chemical warfare. Now one of its discoveries has been sent into battle against crow’s feet and wrinkles. Cosmetic surgeons are switching to a Botox-type drug developed by the biological research laboratories in Wiltshire. They believe the treatment lasts longer than Botox and is both more effective and less painful.
The drug, Dysport, was developed in the 1970s by a civilian arm of Porton Down. It drew on second world war research into botulism, a condition caused by a bacterium that can lead to organ failure.
Treatment with Dysport, as with Botox, involves the injection of tiny amounts of botulinum toxin, which relaxes muscles by blocking the nerve impulses that cause contraction. This removes wrinkles and lines for several months.
One of the doctors switching to Dysport is Nick Lowe, a consultant dermatologist at the Cranley clinic in London, who counts Anne Robinson among his celebrity clients. He has conducted comparative studies on more than 100 patients and is now writing a scientific paper. He found that Dysport worked faster than Botox and the effects lasted longer. “It has been shown that with Dysport you get an ever so slightly greater spread — it has a wider effect than the same injection of Botox. I think that is one reason why it can give a slightly more natural look,” he said.
Nigel Horlock, a consultant plastic surgeon in Southampton, said: “I’ve had patients with Dysport who’ve said it works in three days and another patient who had it five months ago and it was still working.”
Dysport was developed to treat a range of illnesses including dystonia, which causes spasms. Its name is a contraction of dystonia and Porton Down. The cosmetic potential of the drug was recognised in America, and it was licensed for use in Britain this year.
21 September, 2009
HRT ‘increases risk of dying from lung cancer’
This is just another epidemiological correlation of unknown causation or implication. That it is a statistical freak is suggested by the fact that taking HRT did NOT increase the number who got lung cancer
Lung cancer is likely to be fatal in women who undergo HRT, according to new statistics. Women who take controversial hormone replacement therapy drugs to combat symptoms of the menopause could be more likely to die if they develop lung cancer. An eight-year study of 16,600 women found the disease was 71 per cent more likely to be fatal in women taking HRT compared with those taking a placebo pill. This was the case even though there was not a significant increase in the number of women taking HRT who developed lung cancer.
About 20 per cent of women take HRT drugs, which boost levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone and help combat hot flushes, insomnia and palpitations. However, there are already fears over their safety. Previous studies have linked the pills with some increase in the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, strokes and heart problems.
Leading cancer specialists said the latest study was ‘plausible’ because oestrogen could increase blood flow to tumours, so preventing cancer treatments from working as effectively.
The authors of the US study, which is being published in British medical journal The Lancet, said: ‘Findings should be incorporated into risk/benefit discussions with women considering combined hormone therapy, especially those with a high risk of lung cancer... such as current smokers or long-term past smokers.’
The risk of dying from lung cancer was greatest for women taking HRT aged 60 to 79. There was no increased mortality risk for women aged 50 to 59.
Dr Apar Kishor Ganti, of the University of Nebraska, said: ‘These results seriously question whether hormone-replacement therapy has any role in medicine today.’
But UK cancer specialist Professor Karol Sikora said: ‘It’s not conclusive. Women still need HRT and they like it because it makes them look and feel better. There isn’t currently an alternative, so they shouldn’t stop taking it and doctors shouldn’t stop giving it out.’
SF Mayor wants to charge stores that sell sodas
Calling soda the new tobacco, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will introduce legislation this fall that would charge a fee to retailers that sell sugary beverages. Newsom would need voter approval to tax individual cans of soda and sugary juice, but only needs approval from the Board of Supervisors to levy a fee on retailers. His legislation would charge grocery stores like Safeway and big-box stores, but would not affect restaurants that serve sodas.
Newsom wouldn't say how much the stores would have to pay or how the city would spend the fees. When he first floated the idea in 2007, he said the money would go to his Shape Up San Francisco exercise program and for media campaigns to discourage soda drinking.
The mayor said the city attorney's office has warned him the city would probably be sued over the matter, but he said it is worth the risk to try to curb a leading cause of obesity and diabetes. "We know we'll be sued," he said. "But I really believe this is important to do."
Newsom said he was particularly motivated to move forward with the legislation by Thursday's release of a UCLA study showing a link between soda and obesity in California. Researchers found that adults who drink at least one soft drink a day are 27 percent more likely to be obese than those who don't - and that soda consumption is fueling the state's $41 billion annual obesity problem. The study also found that 41 percent of children and 62 percent of teens drink at least one soda daily.
"Soda is cheap, sweet and irresistibly marketed to teens," said Susan Babey, the study's lead author. "Not enough teens know about the health and dietary risks of drinking huge quantities of what is essentially liquid sugar." San Francisco would be the first city in the country to levy a fee on soda if, as expected, it is approved by the board. A handful of states, including Arkansas and Missouri, tax sodas, and California has considered the idea in the past. A soda tax has also come up in the national debate about health care reform as one way to help pay to insure more people.
The American Beverage Association has consistently fought attempts to implement soda taxes, and on Thursday released a statement combatting UCLA's study. It read in part, "If our goal is to address obesity, then educating consumers about the importance of balancing calories consumed from all foods and beverages with the calories expended through physical activity is what matters - not demonizing any one particular food."
In San Francisco, a soda tax would be just the most recent example of a long line of legislation intended to improve residents' health - a pattern some residents have complained smacks of a nanny state. In recent years, city officials have banned the sale of cigarettes in pharmacies, added a fee to packs of cigarettes, required chain restaurants to display calories and fat content on menus, and created a program to recognize restaurants that don't serve trans fats.
Jim Lazarus, vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said the group opposes the soda tax. "Does this mean there's a fee on candy bars, on ice cream, on potato chips?" he asked. "Where do you draw the line?" He added that a small fee - likely to be passed on from the retailer to the consumer - wouldn't be enough to dramatically change people's habits, leading him to believe it's meant to be just another revenue source for the city.
Mitch Katz, director of the city's Department of Public Health, said a study conducted over the past nine months shows a clear link between soda consumption and an increased burden on the public health system. He did not have a total dollar figure. He said he considers a soda fee an incremental step, and that other sugary foods could someday have a surcharge as well. "It makes sense for the government to help people to make the right choices, and it makes sense to use dollars from charges on sweetened beverages on health programs," he said.
20 September, 2009
Eighteen reasons why you should NOT vaccinate your children against the flu this season
Reasons 7, 8, 10 and 17 are wild-eyed rubbish but the rest is well-founded
This year it is more important that you protect your children and loved ones from the flu vaccines than influenza itself. Here are the reasons:
1. This flu is simply another flu. It is not unusually deadly. In fact, the H1N1 swine flu in circulation is less deadly than many other influenza outbreaks. The first 1000 confirmed swine flu cases in Japan and China produced zero deaths. The Centers for Disease Control alleges 36,000 Americans succumb to the flu each year, but so far, since March through August of 2009 (6 months), the swine flu has been attributed to ~500–600 deaths in the US. The swine flu of 2009 has already swept through the Southern Hemisphere’s flu season without alarm. Only exaggerated reports have been issued by the World Health Organization regarding hospitalizations required during the flu season in South American countries. Getting exposed to influenza and developing natural antibodies confers resistance for future flu outbreaks. Artificially boosting antibodies by exposure to flu viruses in vaccines is more problematic than natural exposure. Americans have been exposed to the H1N1 swine flu throughout the summer of 2009 with far fewer deaths and hospitalizations than commonly attributed to the seasonal flu.
2. Health authorities tacitly admit prior flu vaccination programs were of worthless value. This is the first time both season and pandemic flu vaccines will be administered. Both seasonal flu and swine flu vaccines will require two inoculations. This is because single inoculations have failed to produce sufficient antibodies. Very young children and older frail adults, the high-risk groups in the population, may not produce sufficient antibodies in response to the flu vaccine. This is an admission that prior flu vaccines were virtually useless. The same people who brought you the ineffective vaccines in past years are bringing you this year’s new vaccines. Can you trust them this time?
3. In addition to failure to produce sufficient antibodies, this swine flu vaccine is brought to you by the same people who haven’t been able to adequately produce a seasonal flu vaccine that matches the flu strain in circulation. In recent years flu vaccination has been totally worthless because the strains of the flu in circulation did not match the strain of the virus in the vaccines. Authorities claim the prevalent flu strain in circulation in mid-September ’09 is the H1N1 swine flu, which appears to be milder than past seasonal influenza in circulation. If this data is correct, why receive the season flu shot this year?
4. The vaccines will be produced by no less than four different manufacturers, possibly with different additives (called adjuvants) and manufacturing methods. The two flu inoculations may be derived from a multi-dose vial and in a crisis, and in short supply, it will be diluted to provide more doses and then adjuvants must be added to trigger a stronger immune response. Adjuvants are added to vaccines to boost production of antibodies but may trigger autoimmune reactions. Some adjuvants are mercury (thimerosal), aluminum and squalene. Would you permit your children to be injected with lead? Lead is very harmful to the brain. Then why would you sign a consent form for your kids to be injected with mercury, which is even more brain-toxic than lead? Injecting mercury may fry the brains of American kids.
5. This is the first year mock vaccines have been used to gain FDA approval. Mock vaccines are made to gain approval of the manufacturing method and then the prevalent virus strain in circulation is added just days before it is actually placed into use. Don’t subject your children to experimental vaccines. Yes, these vaccines have been tested on healthy kids and adults, but they are not the same vaccines your children will be given. Those children with asthma, allergies, type I diabetes, etc. are at greater risk for side effects. Children below the age of 2 years do not have a sufficient blood–brain barrier developed and are subject to chronic brain infections that emanate into symptoms that are called autism. Toddlers should not be subjected to injected viruses.
6. Over-vaccination is a common practice now in America. American children are subjected to 29 vaccines by the age of two. This means a little bit of disease is being injected into young children continually during their most formative years! Veterinarians have backed off of repeat vaccination in dogs because of observed side effects.
7. Health officials want to vaccinate women during pregnancy, subjecting the fetal brain to an intentional biological assault. A recent study showed exposure flu viruses among women during pregnancy provoke a similar gene expression pattern in the fetus as that seen in autistic children. This is a tacit admission that vaccines, which inject a little bit of influenza into humans, causes autism.
8. Modern medicine has no explanation for autism, despite its continued rise in prevalence. Yet autism is not reported among Amish children who go unvaccinated. Beware the falsehoods of modern medicine.
9. School kids are likely to receive nasally-administered vaccines (Flu-Mist) that require no needle injection. But this form of live vaccine produces viral shedding which will surely be transmitted to family members. What a way to start an epidemic!
10. This triple reassortment virus appears to be man made. The H1N1 swine flu virus of 2009 coincidentally appeared in Mexico on the same week that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France visited Mexican president Felipe Calderon, to announce that France intends to build a multi-million dollar vaccine plant in Mexico. An article written by Ron Maloney of the Seguin, Texas Gazette-Enterprise newspaper announces a "rehearsal for a pandemic disaster" scheduled for May 2, 2009. The article says: "Guadalupe County emergency management and their counterparts around the country are preparing for just such a scenario…" This means county health authorities across the U.S. had been preparing a rehearsal for mass vaccinations prior to the announced outbreak in Mexico. Virologists admit this part swine flu/part avian flu/part human flu virus must have taken time to develop. But it somehow wasn’t detected by hundreds of flu monitoring stations across the globe. On April 24, 2009 Dr. John Carlo, Dallas County Medical Director, alludes that the H1N1 strain of the Swine flu as possibly being engineered in a laboratory. He says: "This strain of swine influenza that’s been cultured in a laboratory is something that’s not been seen anywhere actually in the United States and the world, so this is actually a new strain of influenza that’s been identified." (Globe & Mail, Canada)
11. Recall the swine flu scare of 1976. In a politically charged atmosphere where Gerald Ford was seeking election to the Presidency, the swine flu suddenly appeared at a military base. Vaccine was produced and millions of Americans were vaccinated. But the vaccine was worse than the disease, causing hundreds of cases of Guillain Barre syndrome and a few deaths. In a replay of the past, the White House is directly involved in promoting the H1N1 2009 swine flu vaccine. The federal government will use federal funds to pay off schools to administer vaccines, promote vaccination via highway billboards and TV advertisements, and conduct military-style mass inoculations in such rapid fashion that if side effects occur, it will be too late. The masses will have been vaccinated already. Over $9 billion has been allotted by the federal government to develop and deliver an unproven and experimental flu vaccine. Don’t be a guinea pig for the government.
12. Researchers are warning that over-use of the flu vaccine and anti-flu drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza can apply genetic pressure on flu viruses and then they are more likely to mutate into a more deadly strain. US health authorities want 70% of the public to be vaccinated against the flu this ’09 season, which is more than double the vaccination percentage of any prior flu season. This would certainly apply greater genetic pressure for the flu to mutate into a more virulent strain.
13. Most seasonal influenza A (H1N1) virus strains tested from the United States and other countries are now resistant to Tamiflu (oseltamivir). Tamiflu has become a nearly worthless drug against seasonal flu. According to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control, among 1148 seasonal flu samples tested, 1143 (99.6%) were resistant to Tamiflu!
14. As the flu season progresses the federal government may coerce or mandate Americans to undergo vaccination. France has already ordered enough vaccine to inoculate their entire population and has announced that vaccination will be mandatory. The US appears to be waiting to announce mandatory vaccination at a later date when it can scare the public into consenting to the vaccine. The federal government is reported to be hiring people to visit homes of unvaccinated children. This sounds like the Biblical account of Pharaoh attempting to eradicate all the young Israelite baby boys. Must we hide our babies now?
15. Public health authorities have cried wolf every flu season to get the public to line up for flu shots. Health authorities repeatedly publish the bogus 36,000 annual flu-related deaths figure to scare the public into getting flu shots. But that figure is based on the combined deaths from pneumonia in the elderly and the flu. Maybe just 5000–6000 or so flu-related deaths occur annually, mostly among individuals with compromised immune systems, the hospitalized, individuals with autoimmune disease or other health problems. As stated above, the swine flu in full force has only resulted in ~500–600 deaths in the first six months in circulation and it is far more dreaded by public health authorities than the seasonal flu. The Centers for Disease Control issues a purchase order for flu vaccines and then serves as the public relations agency to get the public to pay for the vaccines. Out of a population of 325 million Americans, only 100 million doses of flu vaccine have been administered each year and no epidemic has erupted among the unvaccinated.
16. The news media is irresponsible in stirring up unfounded fear over this coming flu season. Just exactly how ethical is it for newspapers to publish reports that a person has died of the swine flu when supposedly thousands die of the flu annually? In the past the news media hasn’t chosen to publicize each and every flu-related death, but this time it has chosen to frighten the public. Why? Examine the chart below. The chart shows that the late flu season of 2009 peaked in week 23 (early June) and has dissipated considerably.
While every childhood flu-related death should be considered tragic, and the number of flu-related pediatric deaths in 2009 is greater than prior flu seasons as a percentage, in real numbers it is not a significant increase. See chart below:
According to data provided by the Centers for Disease Control, for week 34 ending August 29, 2009, there were 236 hospitalizations and 37 deaths related to the flu. That would represent just 5 hospitalizations and less than one death per State, which is "below the epidemic threshold."
17. Public health officials are irresponsible in their omission of any ways to strengthen immunity against the flu. No options outside of problematic vaccines and anti-flu drugs are offered, despite the fact there is strong evidence that vitamins C and D activate the immune system and the trace mineral selenium prevents the worst form of the disease where the lungs fill up with fluid and literally drown a flu-infected person. The only plausible explanation as to why the flu season typically peaks in winter months is a deficiency of sunlight-produced vitamin D. Protect your family. Arm your immune system with vitamins and trace minerals.
18. Will we ever learn if the flu vaccine this year is deadly in itself? In 1993 the federal government hid a deadly flu vaccine that killed thousands of nursing home patients. It was the first year that flu shots were paid for by Medicare. The vaccine-related mortality was so large that this set back the life expectancy of Americans for the first time since the 1918 Spanish flu! Mortality reports take a year or two to tabulate and the federal government may choose not to reveal the true mortality rate and whether it was related to the flu or the vaccines. You say this couldn’t happen? It did in 1993!
SOURCE. (See the original for graphics)
Burger, ice cream fat 'sends signals to brain'
This is just a study of rats having bad things done to them but the conclusion is mundanre anyway: We eat more when we have food we like. Not exactly earth-shattering
A BIG hamburger on the way home from the pub on Friday night can still be making you hungry at work on Monday. A US study has found that fat from certain foods such as ice-cream and burgers heads to the brain, so that tub of ice cream really can control your brain and say "eat me." Once there, the fat molecules trigger the brain to send messages to the body's cells, warning them to ignore the appetite-suppressing signals from leptin and insulin, hormones involved in weight regulation - for up to three days.
"Normally, our body is primed to say when we've had enough, but that doesn't always happen when we're eating something good," said researcher Deborah Clegg. "What we've shown in this study is that someone's entire brain chemistry can change in a very short period of time. Our findings suggest that when you eat something high in fat, your brain gets "hit" with the fatty acids, and you become resistant to insulin and leptin. "Since you're not being told by the brain to stop eating, you overeat."
The researchers also found that one particular type of fat - palmitic acid which is found in beef, butter, cheese and milk, - is particularly effective at instigating this mechanism.
The study was performed on rats and mice but the scientists say their results, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, reinforced common dietary recommendations to limit saturated fat intake as "it causes you to eat more."
The study was conducted by exposing rats and mice to fat in different ways - by injecting various types of fat directly into the brain, infusing fat through the carotid artery or feeding the animals through a stomach tube three times a day.
The animals received the same amount of calories and fat and only the type of fat differed. The types included palmitic acid, monounsaturated fatty acid and unsaturated oleic acid which is found in olive and grapeseed oils. "The action was very specific to palmitic acid, which is very high in foods that are rich in saturated-fat," said Ms Clegg.
19 September, 2009
Come on Down to the Farmers Market (Bring Your Wallet and Your Food Orthodoxy)
In the mood for a bacon-gouda scone? A $5 pint of raspberries? Some $11-per-pound pork chops? How about the $4 bunch of parsnips? Well, you’re in luck: First Lady Michelle Obama has just cut the organic ribbon on a new farmers market just one block north of the White House. We just returned from the grand gathering of Washington DC’s food cognoscenti, and it had all the charm of wealthy debutantes trying to out-smug one another. A whopping $29 later, we had a pittance of food to take home—plus memorable exchanges with a scientifically challenged reporter or two. Where to begin?
The environmental value of this exercise was apparent right from the get-go. There were two metal detectors, 21 law-enforcement vehicles on the surrounding streets (with lights flashing), oodles of plastic take-home bags, and a gaggle of energy-draining TV cameras. Traffic was slowed all day as a result of the street closings near the White House, which kept cars on the road even longer than usual today.
Plus, there’s already another farmers market going on this afternoon. Just a five-minute walk away. Run by the same company. So twice as many fossil fuel-burning vans as usual were trucking farmers’ wares into the city, just to fill another 20 booths. Only six of which actually sold fruits and vegetables—supposedly the whole point of planting this “people’s market” so close to our nation’s executive mansion. (Michelle Obama told the crowd: “I have never seen so many people excited about fruits and vegetables.”) The others were hawking pricey organic meat, cheese, bread, cookies, and even yarn.
It made no matter to the city’s resident foodie elitists, though, who came out in droves despite the falling rain. The market’s organizers noted (via Twitter) that White House Chef Sam Kass was “welcomed like a rock star.” Organic chef doyenne Nora Pouillon showed up, as did José “Made in Spain” Andrés.
Ultimately, we bought seven ears of corn, seven jumbo apples, six tomatoes, and a loaf of multigrain bread. If that doesn’t seem like a lot of food to get for $29, that’s because it isn’t. (A supermarket just 4 miles away priced the same bounty for us at just $12.25.) So much for the admonition of the professional hand-wringers at Mother Jones to make the produce as cheap as possible.
Since there were very few people actually buying anything at the prevailing prices, our armload of plastic bags made us an easy target for reporters. But they weren’t the only ones taking notes. One TV reporter chatted about “how wonderful it would be to see real people eating real food all the time like this.” To which we replied: “Sure, if by real people you mean the few Americans who can afford a $5 heirloom tomato.”
“Well, I hope it makes everyone feel good anyway,” she offered. “That’s really the point anyway, isn’t it?”
Moving a few yards down Vermont Avenue, we encountered the former New York Times food writer Marian Burros (now writing for Politico). She asked about the corn in our shopping bags. “Ridiculously overpriced,” we said. “Maybe, but this corn is special,” Burros insisted. “It wasn’t produced using any biotechnology.” And a vendor sharing in the conversation agreed: “It’s a marvelous hybrid corn.”
“But hybrids are the result of biotechnology.” Burros snapped: “No they’re not. I know these things. I’ve been writing about this stuff all my life.”
We were so busy asking Burros what planet she lives on that we didn’t get the chance to ask if she’d recommend the new market to impoverished DC residents on food stamps, or those receiving benefits under the Women, Infants, and Children program. Many of the vendors were accepting both, including a two-for-one redemption on WIC “Farmers Market Nutrition Program” vouchers. But even at a 50 percent discount, we didn’t see a single person cashing in on the offer.
That may be because the White House farmers market doesn’t seem to be targeted at ordinary people. Judging from today’s crowd, it’s more about attracting well-to-do lawyers, gourmet snobs, and fans of the emerging fascination with eating “local.” For our money, though—and we did spend quite a bit of it—a trip to your local supermarket is a better bet. On balance, for one thing, it’s better for the environment. And even though pushing your cart through an ordinary grocery store might not fill you with gleeful self-satisfaction, you just might have enough money left over for dessert.
New virus from rats can kill 80 per cent of human victims
A PREVIOUSLY unknown virus that killed four of the five people it struck in an outbreak in South Africa last year has been identified as part of a family of viruses humans can catch from rats. The virus, named Lujo, is an arenavirus that over nine days caused rash, fever, muscle pain, diarrhoea, severe bleeding, vomiting, organ failure and death, said Nivesh Sewlall, who treated the first patient at Johannesburg's Morningside MediClinic Hospital. He reported the findings at an infectious disease conference in San Francisco yesterday.
Lujo appears more dangerous than other arenaviruses and related hemorrhagic fever syndromes, with the exception of Ebola and Marburg, which have similar fatality rates of about 80 per cent. Outbreaks of illness from these viruses have been sporadic and not widespread, but the World Health Organisation has said population growth into remote areas and urbanisation have led to new diseases emerging more quickly in recent years.
''It wasn't the outer jungle, this was suburban Lusaka,'' said Dr Sewlall, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Morningside. ''There are parts of Central Park that are more rural,'' he said, referring to the park in New York.
Scientists do not know where the pathogen came from, although humans usually catch other arenaviruses such as Lassa fever by inhaling dust contaminated with rodent droppings, according to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Human-to-human infections may occur through contact with bodily fluids or open skin cuts, the centre said.
The Lujo virus is named after Lusaka and Johannesburg, where it was first detected. The first case of Lujo virus was a critically ill tourist guide and polo player in Lusaka, Zambia, who was flown to Johannesburg for treatment in September last year.
The first patient died, as did three health-care workers who treated her. A fifth person, a nurse who treated one of the secondary cases, also caught the virus but survived after a barrage of treatments including the antiviral drug ribavirin. It was almost a year before she was able to return to work.
At one point, Dr Sewlall himself developed a fever after caring for the dying patients. ''It was [among] the hardest three hours of my life'' waiting for the test results to see whether he had caught the virus, Dr Sewlall said. The results were negative.
The research was presented at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Francisco yesterday.
18 September, 2009
School's lunchtime curfew to encourage "healthy" eating
This most likely means that the kids will pig out as soon as they get out of school -- and have a lifetime aversion to the "correct" food. Coercion rarely works out well
Lunchtime at All Saints Secondary School in Glasgow was an unusually well-attended affair yesterday. Hundreds of pupils sat down to a piping hot meal of chicken curry with rice, baked potatoes with an array of fillings, and salad-filled baguettes. Then again, most had little alternative. All Saints is one of eight secondary schools in the city participating in a pilot scheme aiming to improve the diets of students. The idea is simple: keep children on school premises to prevent them from accessing artery-clogging junk food such as greasy chips and burgers, all too readily available outside.
The scheme, the first of its kind in Scotland, involves about 1,000 first year pupils. The initiative began in August and will run until the end of the school year before an evaluation study is carried out to decide whether it should be rolled out to all first year pupils in Glasgow secondary schools.
Although the scheme is operating on the basis of presumption, rather than enforcement, staff have taken to patrolling the gates in some schools. To discourage pupils from reaching the stage of attempting to sneak out, a wide range of lunchtime activities have been introduced especially for first years, including games, music, film clubs, art clubs, and even “chill-out zones” with access to iPods, Playstation and Wii games.
Steven Purcell, leader of Glasgow City Council, who attended All Saints yesterday to launch the scheme, said he had been compelled to take strong action by the city’s renowned reputation for poor health. He also told of how many parents had complained about burger vans targeting schools. “If the pilot isn’t successful, we will be honest about that, but I think most people will recognise that we’re trying to do something about the appalling health record in Glasgow,” he said.
Mr Purcell said that other local authorities have expressed interest in the scheme. A number of nearby councils have asked for details of the initiative, while others have asked for a copy of the evaluation report.
Gerry Lyons, the headteacher at All Saints, said the school spent months consulting with parents and pupils, while they were still in primary seven (P7), before introducing the scheme. With the information they gathered, the school invested in new equipment, including pogo sticks, balls, and tennis racquets, to entertain those banned from going out. “The way we are getting cooperation is designing it around them,” he said.
Mr Lyons acknowledged there had been some concerns about the children being deprived of their freedom, but said the pupils “wanted” to stay on the premises. “The great thing is they are enjoying it,” he said. “It is part of the fabric of the school.”
The main goal of the scheme is to engender among children a lifelong habit of choosing healthy food, but it is also hoped that eating more nutritionally-balanced meals will improve their behaviour. Research conducted among primary school children in Hull suggested that children who eat a healthy lunch are better behaved, better able to learn and more likely to see their general health improved.
The local authority is also keen to improve uptake of school meals. Scottish government statistics show that the uptake of school lunches by primary pupils in Glasgow is one of the highest in the country at 59 per cent, compared with a nationwide average of 48 per cent. Yet that figure falls off dramatically for secondary pupils in the city, with just 30 per cent opting for school lunches compared with a nationwide average of 39 per cent.
Theresa Harran, chairwoman of All Saints’ parent-teacher council, said the feedback from parents about the scheme has so far been positive. However, she warned against extending it to senior pupils, pointing out it could infringe the rights of children aged over 16. “We need to embed it and make it part of the school culture, then we can see what interest there is in the upper school,” she said.
Amy McLeod, a first year pupil at All Saints, was enthusiastic about being locked in school at lunchtime, believing there is a greater choice of healthy food. “My favourite is the turkey meatballs with pasta,” the 12-year-old said. Darren Brady, 11, admits he was less convinced, but came round after the introduction of a few incentives. “I would rather be outside,” he said, “but when they started the activities, like football, and scooters, I began staying in”.
Mr Lyons happily conceded the trial has not been without its problems. “There are bigger queues now,” he said. “A fifth year came up to me and said, ‘Sir, the first years have eaten all the pickled onions. Can you do something about that?’.”
Scientists discover genetic cure for red-green colour blindness
Genetic scientists have discovered a cure for colour blindness, offering hope to millions of sufferers. Scientists at the University of Washington, in Seattle, and the University of Florida restored normal vision to two colour-blind monkeys. The technique could prove to be a safe and effective cure for colour blindness and other visual disorders related to the cones in the retina.
“Although colour blindness is only moderately life-altering, we have shown we can cure a cone disease in a primate and that it can be done very safely,” said Professor William Hauswirth, an ophthalmic molecular geneticist at the University of Florida. “That is extremely encouraging for the development of therapies for human cone diseases that really are blinding.”
Those suffering from red-green colour blindness cannot distinguish between colours in the green-red-yellow part of the spectrum. This can make reading maps, using the internet and selecting a matching shirt and tie impossible. The disorder affects about 8 per cent of Caucasian males, but fewer than 0.5 per cent of females.
Normal colour vision requires three types of cone in the retina, sensitive to light in the blue, green, and red parts of the spectrum. The squirrel monkeys in the study — Dalton and Sam — lacked a gene called L opsin that codes for the red-sensitive cone. The same gene defect causes most cases of red-green colour blindness in humans. The scientists knew the monkeys were colour blind because they were trained to perform a touchscreen test. When they identified some patterns of coloured dots they were rewarded with grape juice but they could not distinguish between the grey, green and red dots.
In the study, published today in the journal Nature, scientists restored normal vision to the monkeys by injecting a virus modified to contain the L opsin gene into the retina. Over 24 weeks the light sensitivity of the cones infected with the virus shifted towards the red part of the spectrum. Then the monkeys easily distinguished the patterns of grey, green and red dots.
The success of the treatment in adult animals demonstrated that the brain is able to rewire itself to take advantage of new receptors even in adulthood. The virus used to deliver the L optin gene, called adeno-associated virus, is not known to cause disease in humans. Two years on from the study, the monkeys have shown no adverse effects from the treatment.
Scientists are now looking to obtain permission to begin trials in colour-blind humans. “People who are colour-blind feel that they are missing out,” Jay Neitz, a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Washington, said. “If we could find a way to do this with complete safety in human eyes I think there would be a lot of people who would want it.”
17 September, 2009
We must curb Scotland’s drink problem, says BMA boss
Is this the ultimate do-gooder nonsense? Nothing will separate the Jimmies from their whisky and beer. Getting drunk and sticking shivs into one another on Saturday night is a grand old Scottish tradition -- particularly in Glasgow, where half of Scotland's population lives. Amusing that the Scottish doctor quoted below admits that he himself likes a drop
Alcohol now pervades everyday life and has become the hidden problem of middle-class, leafy suburbs, according to the new leader of Scotland’s doctors. Brian Keighley, the new chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said yesterday that issues with alcohol affected hard-working, respectable citizens who were drinking at home just as much as it did those receiving ASBOs on Friday night.
In the wake of a controversial report from the BMA supporting alcohol restrictions, Dr Keighley made clear how compelling the argument had become. He said: “If you look at what’s happening in terms of per capita consumption, it’s clear that we have a growing problem, and that’s not just about the people you want to serve ASBOs on a Friday night. “This is about the fact that alcohol is now next to the butter and the vegetables. The stigma about buying alcohol has gone, it’s now a normal part of everyday life.
“We know that people who are ostensibly good citizens — hard working, all the rest of it — are drinking more and more at home and we know that consequently the amount of cirrhotic liver disease is going up year on year. There were figures last week to say that in one in 15 surgical deaths alcohol was significantly involved.”
Dr Keighley, 61, who has been in general practice for 37 years in Stirlingshire and was also a police surgeon, spoke of the irony of being warned by the BMA, 30 years ago, not to prescribe barbiturates: “Now the most prevailing drug in Scottish society is that of alcohol and it’s more hidden in the sense that it’s everywhere, in the urban centres and the leafy suburbs like Bearsden. It’s all over Scotland.”
The BMA’s research, by the University of Stirling, called for a ban on alcohol advertising and sponsorship of sport and music events — such as T in the Park — in order to address the soaring cost of alcohol-related harm. It calculated that the drinks industry spent £800 million a year promoting alcohol in the UK. Dr Keighley said other measures to restrict alcohol consumption, such as warning labels on the bottles, did not work.
Irresponsible marketing and pricing were the issue. “We are finding that people are front-loading before they go out — front-loading on alcohol bought from supermarkets that is actually cheaper than a bottle of water. That can’t be right. “The BMA are not killjoys. We are not against alcohol. I don’t know many teetotal doctors. But it’s not up to us. We have a duty to lay in front of the general public the facts, and now, whilst we can say what we think should happen, it’s up to the public.
“There has also been criticism of our stance on advertising at social, cultural and sporting events. Well, society will have to decide. It just may not the most sensible thing to associate sport with things that actually militate against the ability to carry out those sports. It’s like putting the fox in charge of the chickens.”
Dr Keighley said a change in culture towards alcohol was essential. “Things have changed about the acceptability of drinking, about drinking in public and drinking to excess. We know people think we are conniving with the nanny state, but the people who criticise us are not the people doing what I’ve done which is to go to fatal road accidents or see the drunks in the police station or work in casualty.
“To be honest I would like to see more restrictions and more and more government interference. I would like to see a change of culture, but also by a realignment of the attitude of the public towards alcohol through education and through fiscal means.”
Key master gene that can KILL cancer identified by British scientists
This sounds like a two-edged sword. What boosts the fight against cancer could lead to auto-immune diseases -- such as diabetes and asthma. Not a very promising approach
A 'masterswitch' in the body's battle against cancer has been identified by British scientists, raising hope of new treatments. The key gene triggers the production of blood cells capable of fighting - and killing - tumour cells. The cells form part of the body's natural armoury against disease and we all have some.
But making more could bolster our defence, saving some of the 155,000 lives lost each year to cancer in the UK. The findings could also shed light on the immune system's role in other conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Infusions of natural killer cells donated from volunteers are already given to some cancer patients. However, because they come from another person, they are not a complete match and so do not work as well. The discovery of the 'master-switch' - a gene called E4bp4 that causes 'blank' stem cells to turn into natural killer cells - paves the way for a drug to boost the patient's own stock of the cells.
Researcher Hugh Brady, of Imperial College London, said: 'The natural killer cell was like the Cinderella of the white blood cells, we didn't know very much about them. 'We knew a little bit about how they work but we didn't know where they came from. 'We stumbled on this when researching childhood leukaemia. We thought the gene was involved in that. It turns it probably isn't but it has a very important role in the immune system. 'With a bit of serendipity we have found the key to the pathway that gives rise to natural killer cells.'
To investigate the role of the gene, Dr Brady genetically engineered mice who lacked it. The mice made other types of blood cell as normal but did not make any natural killer cells. This proves the gene to be pivotal in the production of natural killer cells, which fight viruses and bacteria as well as cancers, the journal Nature Immunology reports.
The researchers are now hunting for a drug that could increase cancer patients' production of these natural killer cells, and, it is hoped, their odds of beating the disease. A drug that boosts natural killer cell numbers is likely to be especially powerful against breast, bowel, lung and blood cancers. However, it would have to through numerous lengthy health and safety trials before reaching the market.
The benefits of the breakthrough do not end there. Rogue natural killer cells have been implicated in diseases in which the immune system attacks the body, including diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Further study of the gene's role could shed new light on these conditions. Abnormally high levels of natural killer cells have also been implicated in recurrent miscarriages.
Dr Brady said: 'Since shortly after they were discovered in the 1970s, some scientists have suspected that the vital disease-fighting natural killer cells could themselves be behind a number of serious medical conditions when they malfunction. 'Now finally, we will be able to find out if the progression of these diseases is impeded or aided by the removal of natural killer cells from the equation. 'This will solve the often-debated question of whether NK cells are always the "good guys", or if in certain circumstances they cause more harm than good.'
16 September, 2009
Health "Experts" Call Obesity A Threat to National Security
Now that we know it is a negligible health risk, it has become a security risk!!
Health care experts, including two former U.S. Surgeons General, said on Wednesday said that obesity has reached epidemic proportions and is a threat to security in the United States and abroad.
“Obesity is not just a health issue,” said Richard Carmona, who served as surgeon general in the George W. Bush administration. Carmona is now with the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent Obesity Alliance (STOP), a coalition of consumer, government, labor, business, and health insurers that advocate “innovative and practical strategies” to combat obesity. Obesity “affects our national and global security,” said Carmona. He said the U.S. has reached a “tipping point,” at which obesity “now impacts every aspect of our society, including the future of our health system.”
Obesity is crippling individuals and hurting American families, the workforce – even work productivity and the nation’s ability to be prepared for natural and manmade disasters: “When we look at one of the top reasons why young men and women fail to be retained on active duty in our uniformed services, obesity again rises to the forefront at a time when we need them more than ever.”
Jeffrey Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, a disease-prevention advocacy group, echoed Carmona’s concern about obesity, the military and national security.
“I want to pick up on something Dr. Carmona said about the growing problem of obesity, and this being one of the major causes of medical discharge from the military and how this is a national security issue,” Levi said. “Back in the ‘60s, one of the things that motivated Lyndon Johnson to support the Medicaid program -- and in particular the enhanced children’s health benefit within Medicaid -- was his shock that so many young men were being rejected for service in the military because they were underweight.
“And here we are, 40 years later, in a situation where we have quite the opposite problem,” Levi said. “So it’s a certain irony, but I think it underscores that this has to be something integrated into our discussion of health reform.”
The recommendations made by the panel include using “evidence based” guidelines for “clinical intervention” for obese individuals; monitoring the health of people who are already overweight or at-risk of becoming obese; community programs to encourage healthy lifestyles and focus on health literacy; and scientific research.
Health literacy is defined by the U.S. Health and Human Services as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”
David Satcher, appointed U.S. surgeon-general by President Bill Clinton, now heads the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine. He warned about America’s obesity problem in a 2001 report entitled, “Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity.”
“When I served as Surgeon General, obesity was a problem of epidemic proportions,” Satcher said in a prepared statement on the release of the recommendations. “Today, we are in a state of emergency when it comes to obesity.”
Satcher and Carmona said legislation addressing the obesity problem is necessary, given the way Americans live. “The Stop Obesity Alliance is not just about stopping obesity. It’s about stopping the lifestyles that lead to overweight and obesity,” Satcher said. “It’s about investing in healthy lifestyles.”
“Many of us super-sized when we should have downsized our meals,” Carmona said. “We also drove cars to purchase processed food while we could have been getting exercise by growing our own fresh food.”
A news release outlining the recommendations said that 72 million American adults are now considered overweight or obese and that 9.1 percent of annual health care costs in the United States, or about $150 billion, are related to obesity.
In his speech on health care reform Wednesday night, President Barack Obama said nothing about Americans’ personal lifestyle choices contributing to the escalating cost of health care. But Republicans did:
Rep. Charles Boustany (R-S.C.), in the Republican response to the president’s speech Wednesday night, said insurers should be able to offer incentives for wellness care and prevention.
Boustany, a heart surgeon, said that topic is particularly important to him: “I operated on too many people who could have avoided surgery if they’d simply made healthier choices earlier in life,” Boustany said.
Christine Ferguson [above], director of STOP, advanced a similar argument at Wednesday’s panel discussion: “Clearly, America cannot successfully reform the health care system without addressing obesity,” Ferguson, said. “While the situation is grave, the goal is attainable.”
Why reminiscing about old times can boost your health
I suspect that this study really shows the bad effects of boredom
Uncle Albert loved to talk about the war with Del Boy and Rodney in Only Fools and Horses, and now it appears he was right to do so. Talking about the past can be good for your health, research suggests. Pensioners who got into groups and reminisced about their youth, including their wartime experiences, saw significant improvements in memory.
Like Uncle Albert Trotter, a character made famous in the popular BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses who was known for his war time reminiscences with Del Boy and Rodney, they found talking about the past comforting.
Researchers found just six half-hour chats boosted recall by an average 12 per cent - more than would be expected with any pills - the British Science Festival heard. Importantly, care home residents with dementia, including some in the late stages of the disease, also experienced big improvements, with recall around 8 per cent better.
It is thought that the simple act of swapping stories about past adventures and experiences makes use of parts of the brain that might otherwise lie dormant, reinvigorating the person's ability to remember.
However, reminiscing one-on-one with a carer was not beneficial, meaning that the sense of togetherness fostered by teamwork is important to the process, the Exeter University researchers said.
Alex Haslam, a professor of social psychology, said: 'I don't think any drug would deliver anything close to that. 'If you had a drug that could do that, you could make a lot of money. The point is that the drug is the group. 'I think our sense of worth comes from the approbation of our peers - the group gives us a reason to live and a reason to engage. 'If you are just neglected in a care home and you have no reason to engage with other people, you just atrophy.' The study adds to growing evidence about the importance of social contact to health - and the damage that can be done by loneliness.
A large-scale US study found that stroke patients who were socially isolated were nearly twice as likely to have another stroke within five years as those with good social lives. In fact, loneliness raised the odds of a second stroke more than accepted risk factors such as high blood pressure and not exercising. Other studies have found that being cut off from friends and family can raise blood pressure, stress and the risk of depression, while weakening the immune system and a person's resistance to disease.
In the latest study, 73 people living in care homes in Cornwall and Somerset, were split into three sets for six weeks. The first took part in group reminiscence sessions, in which they were encouraged to talk about their lives, starting with their school days. Researcher Dr Catherine Haslam said: 'People often say that when reminiscing you shouldn't bring up the bad stuff, don't bring up the war. But the people we spoke to were happy to bring up the war. 'It was a very interesting and challenging time for most people. While there may have been some losses, it was a very important part of their lives and who they were.
Those in the second set chatted one-one-one with a carer, and the third played group games of skittles. Group reminiscence boosted memory, while the fun of playing skittles led to improvements in overall feelings of wellbeing.
Dr Haslam said it was clear that group activities were good for health. Although some care homes already run group reminiscence sessions, more are needed. She said: 'It is something that we could be much more aware of. It is increasingly happening in care homes but the problem is resources, we don't have people to run the sessions. 'If I was going to say something to the Government, I would say, put some financial resources into this. 'This is much cheaper in the long-term in terms of maintaining health and wellbeing than putting efforts into new drugs. 'I'm not saying not to invest in drug research but there has got to be an equal balance.'
Link found between Trichomonas sexual infection and risk of aggressive prostate cancer
A new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers has found a strong association between the common sexually transmitted infection, Trichomonas vaginalis, and risk of advanced and lethal prostate cancer in men. The study appears online on September 9, 2009, on the Journal of the National Cancer Institute website and will appear in a later print edition.
"Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in western countries, and the second leading cause of cancer-specific mortality. Identifying modifiable risk factors for the lethal form of prostate cancer offers the greatest opportunity to reduce suffering from this disease," said Jennifer Stark, an HSPH researcher and lead author of the study.
One potential risk factor is inflammation, which appears to play an important role in the development and progression of prostate cancer, but the source of inflammation of the prostate is not clear. Trichomonas vaginalis, which infects an estimated 174 million people globally each year and is the most common non-viral sexually transmitted infection, can infect the prostate and could be a source of inflammation. With respect to prostate cancer prevention, it is noteworthy that up to three-quarters of men infected with Trichomonas vaginalis may not realize they are infected, since they may not have any symptoms.
A previous study had found an association between risk of prostate cancer and Trichomonas vaginalis infection, but was not large enough to determine if there was a link between the infection and advanced and lethal disease.
In the present study, the researchers analyzed blood samples from 673 men with prostate cancer who were participants in the Physicians' Health Study and compared infection status based on antibody levels to 673 control subjects who were not diagnosed with prostate cancer. The blood samples were collected in 1982, on average a decade before cancer diagnosis.
The results showed that Trichomonas vaginalis infection was associated with a more than two-fold increase in the risk of prostate cancer that was advanced stage at diagnosis, and a nearly three-fold increase in prostate cancer that would result in death.
"The fact that we found a strong association between serologic evidence of infection with Trichomonas vaginalis, a potentially modifiable risk factor, and risk of advanced and lethal disease represents a step forward in prostate cancer, especially given that so few risk factors for aggressive prostate cancer have been identified," said Lorelei Mucci, assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at HSPH and senior author of the study.
The authors note that further research needs to be done to confirm the findings. If confirmed, the findings from the large-scale, prospective study would identify infections as one of the few known modifiable factors for aggressive prostate cancer. Moreover, since the infection is easily treated with an inexpensive antibiotic regimen, the results from the study suggest that prevention or early treatment of Trichomonas vaginalis infection could be a target for prostate cancer prevention.
15 September, 2009
The ban on public smoking in Britain has coincided with a fall in heart attack rates of about 10%
This sounds like a lot of self-satisfied nonsense to me. Rates of smoking have been dropping for decades. How do we know that this drop was caused by the ban on public smoking? And if passive smoking gives you heart attacks, how come the non-smoking wives of male smokers have a normal life expectancy? This is just do-gooder rubbish
Researchers commissioned by the Department of Health have found a far sharper fall than they had expected in the number of heart attacks in England in the year after the ban was imposed in July 2007.
In Scotland, where the ban was introduced a year earlier, heart attack rates have fallen by about 14% because of the ban, separate research has shown. Similar results are expected in Wales where a third study is still under way.
The success of the smoking ban is emerging as one of the most significant improvements in public health that Britain has seen, even measured by heart attack rates alone.
The early results of the study of England will increase calls for an extension of the ban. Ministers have already commissioned research into the possibility of banning smoking in cars, where children are at their most exposed. There have also been suggestions that parents could be banned from smoking at home in front of children. In time, the ban should bring more benefits through reductions in cancers caused by smoking and chronic pulmonary disease.
“We always knew a public smoking ban would bring rapid health benefits, but we have been amazed by just how big and how rapid they are,” said John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at Nottingham University.
About 9.4m British adults smoke; each year 114,000 die of smoking-related diseases. The ability of cigarette smoke to trigger heart attacks, even in non-smokers after just brief exposures, is less well known than its role in lung disease. About 275,000 people suffer heart attacks in Britain each year, of whom about 146,000 die.
Ellen Mason, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Exposure to cigarette smoke induces rapid changes in blood chemistry, making it much more prone to clotting. In someone who has narrowed or damaged coronary arteries, smoke exposure can tip the balance and cause a heart attack.”
The research into heart attack rates in England is being led by Anna Gilmore of Bath University. “There is already overwhelming evidence that reducing people’s exposure to cigarette smoke reduces hospital admissions due to heart attacks,” she said. Gilmore’s research is incomplete and she emphasises the final results for England will not be published for several months. However, the results for Scotland, where public smoking was banned earlier, have shown the benefits.
Jill Pell, public health professor at Glasgow University, and her colleagues found that after the ban the number of people admitted to nine Scottish hospitals because of a heart attack fell 14% among smokers, 19% among former smokers, and 21% for those who had never smoked. Once other factors had been taken into account, this translated into a decrease of about 14% because of the ban.
Last week the EuroHeart conference in Brussels heard of similar results in western Europe after smoking bans. France had a 15% drop in emergency admissions for heart attacks after a year, while both Italy and Ireland had an 11% reduction.
Study detects signs of autism in first weeks
Since physical attributes are almost entirely genetically inherited, this is not exactly surprising
A WORLD-FIRST study on siblings of children with autism is showing that signs associated with the behavioural disorder appear in babies in their first weeks of life. The Flinders University research is the first of its kind to study the behaviour of infants who have an increased risk of developing autism from as young as 10 days, and to revisit the children every second month until they are 18 months old.
The ability to diagnose children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder within the first months could lead to significant improvements in a child's quality of life, because it would enable parents to seek early intervention therapies for their children and to circumvent the formation of specific behavioural patterns.
Study co-ordinator Danielle Robson told The Australian preliminary results were showing children in an at-risk group - with an older sibling with an ASD including Asperger's syndrome - were developing different behavioural patterns to children from families with no history of autism. "Many of the at-risk infants are showing early patterns of behaviour that's consistent with autism even if they don't go on to develop autism," Ms Robson said yesterday. "Even if they didn't develop autism, their development is different to infants with no family history of autism and what it should be, suggesting there may be a broader spectrum of the disorder among family members."
The plight of parents with autistic children was highlighted last week when national rugby league star Mat Rogers and his wife Chloe Maxwell revealed that their son Max had been diagnosed with the behavioural disorder. The family has been working with a therapist four hours a day and they have noticed the three-year-old now engages with them.
Autism affects up to 16 children per 10,000, with wider spectrum disorders affecting up to 60 children per 10,000. The assessments measured a wide range of developmental areas, including traits associated with autism such as responding to people, sensory perceptions and pictures. During her assessments, Ms Robson used toys, pictures, noises and other items to gauge the child's attention and watch how they responded.
Differences between the groups included noticeable autism-related behaviours such as their ability to pay attention, respond to their own name, early language development and cognitive abilities, temperament and sensory processing. As well as using four internationally recognised behavioural measures to identify ASDs, Ms Robson and Flinders University psychologist Robyn Young created an early detection tool to assess traits thought to develop atypically in autistic infants from birth. Autistic traits are not generally detected in children until they are at least three years old, and many not until school.
Ms Robson said early detection enabled parents to seek intervention therapy for the child as soon as possible, which could significantly alter the formation of behaviour patterns. "Early intervention seems to improve their prognosis; there's anecdotal evidence that starting intervention early can lead to better outcomes," she said. Early intervention involves behaviour-modifying therapy, such as working repetitively with children to improve their understanding of verbal instructions, play skills and teaching children how to respond to others.
Of the 39 children assessed, including 15 not at risk, Ms Robson was able to tell the parents of three children there were definite signs of an ASD before their first birthday. "Three of those families started doing some behaviour modifications and all of those children at 18 months old didn't have autism," she said.
The aim of the study is to investigate whether autism could be detected at a younger age than with present diagnoses.
Report: FDA backs Gardasil for young men
Federal health advisers say Merck's vaccine Gardasil, which already is used to prevent cervical cancer in women, should also be approved to stop genital warts in men. A Food and Drug Administration panel voted unanimously with one abstention that the vaccine is effective for blocking the human papilloma virus, or HPV, in males ages 9 to 26. The panel voted 7-1 that the vaccine is safe for those patients. The FDA is not required to follow the group's guidance, though it usually does.
HPV causes warts and certain rare cancers of the genitals in both men and women. While an approval decision could theoretically double the market for Gardasil, analysts don't expect much use in males because genital warts usually clear up by themselves.
14 September, 2009
Organic gardening guru was a Nazi who took tips from Dachau experiments
Harvest time is here again on Germany’s 1.2 million allotments: potatoes have to be hoisted out of the soil and the last of the peas must be plucked. In the shed, next to the trowel and gloves, there will almost certainly be a well-thumbed copy of the gardeners’ bible written by Alwin Seifert, the country’s organic guru.
Now it emerges that at least some of Seifert’s useful tips in his bestselling book Gärtnern, Ackern-ohne Gift, (Gardening, Working the Soil without Poison) may have been gleaned from his observation of the experimental gardens set up on the grounds around Dachau concentration camp. Tended by half-starved slave labourers, at least 400 of whom were killed, drowned in the carp pond or trampled into the mud of the latrine trenches, the Dachau gardens were established at the behest of Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s security chief, and stretched to 211 blossoming hectares.
Seifert, who after the war became a founder of the Green movement, was one of the top landscape gardeners of the Nazi era. He even had the title Reichslandschaftsanwalt — advocate of the Reich’s Landscape. It was Seifert who managed to persuade the Nazi autobahn planners to make the motorway curve, following the natural contours of the German countryside. The well-connected gardener was also opposed to artificial fertilisers poisoning German soil and went to Dachau, apparently oblivious to the emaciated prisoners, to see what could be done in the gardens and arable fields of the Fatherland.
“The question has to be how much of the information that flowed into his book derived from the research being done in Dachau,” says the Munich-based cultural historian Daniella Seidl, who has been digging in the Bavarian and federal archives. “He was a regular visitor, maintained a correspondence with the head gardener Franz Lippert, and even arranged for a couple from the camp to work in his own household.” Some of the ideas being tried out in the Dachau gardens were certainly adopted by Seifert for use in his own garden in the Tyrol.
The Dachau complex was supposed to solve some riddles, such as why potatoes had become so vulnerable to pests and early decay, and to build a more or less scientific basis for an alternative “biological-dynamic lifestyle”. That meant growing herbs for use as medicine, extracting vitamins, but also Germanising food. Fermented blackberry and raspberry leaves were used to create German tea, reducing dependency on imports, and work was done on making a German pepper.
Gladioli were grown in great quantities to milk them for their vitamin C. The leaves were dried and pulverised in the camp garden complex and then mixed with a mixture of spices, beef fat and cooking salt to make a food supplement for SS troopers.
The gardeners also planted fields of primroses in a first attempt to extract an oil for use as medication. Evening primrose oil is now frequently used in complementary medicine.
“Seifert was probably most interested in Dachau’s use of compost techniques,” says Ms Seidl, who has just published her findings in a scholarly book, Between Heaven and Hell. The Dachau gardeners set up herds of cows over 750 hectares (1,850 acres), tended by up to 800 inmates, whose task was to gather the dung for testing in the camp gardens. The effect of dung on the soil was measured; a special compost was devised to speed the growth of healing herbs. This ran in parallel with experiments using worms to improve differently fertilised soil.
Seifert’s book goes into great detail about composting, and how it helps in poorly productive orchards. He writes with the authority of someone who has studied a large-scale project.
Unsurprisingly Seifert does not mention Dachau in the book, but he does give an appreciative nod to his old protector in the Nazi machine, Fritz Todt, the armaments minister and lord over millions of forced labourers. Seifert joined the Nazi party in 1937. He became a professor at Munich technical university, head of the nature preservation league (a forerunner organisation to the Greens) and before his death in 1972, influenced a whole generation of organic garden planners throughout Germany and Europe.
The passion for organic gardening gripped Germany and has never let go. Whether it will survive the horrific images that emerge from Ms Seidl’s research, the imprisoned priests who were strapped to ploughs, the inmates killed for taking a bite of raw rhubarb, the overseer who received a cash bonus for shooting his 100th Jew among the gladioli, is another matter.
Flu vaccine researchers find 1 dose works
U.S. and Australian researchers said late Thursday that the flu vaccine they have been testing for months not only works but is effective with adults after just one dose, raising the prospect that even a limited supply of the vaccine could go further than expected.
Scientists have been warning for months that the H1N1 flu, also known as the swine flu, could reach epidemic proportions during this year's flu season and that multiple shots of vaccine might be required to combat its spread. But they now think that a single dose will be enough to protect an adult within 10 days of its application, a fact that will mean that millions more Americans will likely be protected this fall than authorities had expected just weeks ago. "There was a concern that people would require two doses of the vaccine or that we would not even have a vaccine that induces a response," said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. "Not only does it induce a response, but it does it very potently."
Australian vaccine manufacturer CSL Ltd. on Thursday published results of a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that found between 75 percent and 96 percent of vaccinated people should be protected with a single dose, half the amount of vaccine that scientists recently thought would be effective. On Friday, U.S. data are scheduled to be released that show a similar result. In fact, protection after a single shot could start as soon as eight days after it is applied, Dr. Fauci said of the U.S. findings. He said researchers would know more about dosing for children within two weeks.
The findings from both countries are important because authorities recently announced that only limited supplies of the vaccine would be available early this fall. Only a third of the amount of vaccine that authorities had hoped to have by mid-October was actually planned to be shipped.
The studies offer hope that many more Americans can be vaccinated despite the scarce supply. "This is good news for supply for ourselves and globally," said Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is spearheading U.S. testing of the vaccine.
The Department of Health and Human Services has awarded nearly $2 billion in contracts this year to five pharmaceutical companies, including CSL, for bulk production of the vaccine and related materials. But the companies have not been able to boost supplies quickly because of the rate at which the vaccine grows in its host chicken eggs. "It's growing slowly. We originally thought we would have 160 million doses by mid-October," he said. "It's just going to take a little longer to get there."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says swine flu is the world's fastest-moving influenza pandemic, moving through 177 countries since it was identified four months ago. New York City health authorities estimate that more than 1 million residents have already been infected. "In our current global situation, in which demand for influenza vaccine greatly exceeds supply, dose-sparing strategies are needed," said Dr. Kathleen Neuzil, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle, in an editorial accompanying the Journal article.
13 September, 2009
Another straw man sent packing
Maori 'not retarded borderline psychotics' -- but nobody said they were. Compare the emotional tirade reported below with the carefully reasoned and fully referenced scientific paper that is being criticized. Note that the original research was principally concerned with tobacco and alcohol use, that the group with the highest frequency of the genetic feature of interest are the Chinese and that the Chinese are legendary smokers. The higher incidence of crime among Maori probably has most to do with their lower average IQ -- which is well attested in the relevant scientific literature. See Lynn's book, for instance
A CONTROVERSIAL claim that New Zealand Maori have a "warrior gene" that makes them violent has been debunked by science. Three years ago two Kiwi researchers revealed at a Brisbane conference their radical belief that Maori were genetically wired to commit acts of brutality.
They claimed that indigenous New Zealanders carried a gene called monoamine oxidase, dubbed the "warrior gene", explaining why they were over-represented in jails and the crime statistics.
The pair faced a barrage of criticism and have now had their theory disproved in a new review which found no such gene exists. Researcher Gary Hook found "there is no evidence to indicate that the behavioural characteristics of Maori as a people are in anyway unusual". [Rubbish! The guy himself admits below that "conviction rates for domestic violence of Maori exceed those of any other group" and there is no doubting their higher incidence of violent crime generally. He seems to be having a dollar each way. He is saying on the one hand that the problem does not exist and on the other that it is wrongly explained] "Maori are not borderline psychotics, retarded, hyper-aggressive, depressive, antisocial, impulsive, suicidal risk takers and to suggest otherwise is irresponsible and not supported by the facts," Dr Hook wrote.
He said there was evidence the two researchers had made several serious flaws in their scientific reasoning. And not only was the science criticised but the ethics of claiming a "genetic explanation for negative social and health statistics" had been questioned, he said.
"While conviction rates for domestic violence of Maori exceed those of any other group there is no indication that the (monoamine oxidase gene) system carried by Maori functions any differently from that of any other ethnic group and certainly no evidence to indicate that it was anything to do with violent behaviour in Maori." Racial stereotyping, particularly by scientists, was "unethical and scandalous", he said.
One of New Zealand's leading Maori politicians, Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, applauded the latest findings and said the original researchers had let down indigenous people.
"I'm disappointed that two reputed scientists have done a disservice to a vulnerable part of our society and science by claiming they have come up with a breakthrough when all they have really done is make our job of finding solutions even harder," she said.
Health gap between rich and poor as big as it was in 1900
What the research below has shown is that the undesirable areas of yesteryear are still undesirable today and that the poor still live in such areas. And the fact that the poor are less healthy has been shown innumerable times. Any time poverty is factored into a study it is found to be related to morbidity and mortality. There are a variety of possible reasons for that but various unwise decisions regarding drug use and the like are almost certainly involved. Gin was much deplored as the drug of abuse among the poor in the 18th and 19th centuries
The link between poverty and mortality is as strong now as it was in the Victorian age despite the enormous medical and social advances in the 20th Century, according to new research. If you live in a deprived area of modern Britain you are almost twice as likely to suffer an early death than a more affluent counterpart. In the 1900s this risk was just over double.
Social scientist Dr Ian Gregory said despite the dramatic health improvements over the last hundred years the relationship between mortality and poverty across England and Wales 'remains as strong today as it was a century ago.' And the worst regions to live have not changed either, said Dr Gregory whose findings are published online in the British Medical Journal. He said: 'Mortality rates are 1.4 times higher today in places that were the most deprived areas in the 1900s, compared with the least deprived.'
Dr Gregory, of the University of Lancaster, said only the causes of death have changed from mainly respiratory, infectious and parasitic diseases then to cancers, heart diseases and strokes now.
The experience of poverty changed too, from not having the bare necessities for existence, to a century later comparing an individual's income or deprivation with those experienced by society as a whole.
Dr Gregory said: 'In the early 1900s of course, being poor meant a real possibility of starving to death whereas that is no longer the case now thanks to things like social security. 'But narrowing the health gap between rich and poor is not a case of simply throwing money at the problem and hoping it goes away because mortality and deprivation are deeply entrenched and patterns from the Edwardian era are strong predictors of ill health today.'
Dr Gregory maintains modern diseases 'have a possible long-term link to unhealthy living conditions in the distant past.' He said: 'The strong association between modern deaths from lung cancer and 1900s mortality suggests that this might in part be a cultural effect caused by the long term prevalence of smoking in poorer areas.'
The study, the first of its kind to directly compare modern deprivation and mortality with conditions a century ago, compared deprivation and death rates in Edwardian England and Wales to premature death and poverty in 2001 by using census mortality data from 634 districts.
Dr Gregory said: 'The twentieth century saw huge improvements in mortality rates in England and Wales. People are living 30 years longer. 'In the 1900s, a third of deaths occurred in the under fives and only 13 per cent occurred over the age of 75. 'A hundred years later deaths aged under five are less than one per cent and two-thirds of deaths now occur in those over 75. Life expectancy has risen from 46 for males to 77 and 50 for females to 81.'
But despite all the improvements patterns of poverty and mortality and the relations between them remain the same, he said. Dr Gregory added: 'Despite the fact that inequalities in mortality have narrowed, the relation between poverty and mortality across the whole of England and Wales seems as strong today as it was at the start of the 20th century. 'Mortality and deprivation patterns of 100 years ago are strong predictors of these patterns today; in particular, areas with high rates of mortality or deprivation in the past still tend to have high rates of mortality today.
'Even when the effects of modern deprivation are taken into account, mortality patterns from the 1900s still have a significant relation with mortality today and this affects most major modern causes of death.'
12 September, 2009
A bowl of blueberries keeps the brain active in the afternoon
But what if it gives you cancer and shortens your life? Antioxidants have been found to do both those things. It also sounds like this was not a double blind experiment so effects from experimenter expectations cannot be ruled out. Just another rite in the antioxidant religion, I suspect
Munching a bowl of blueberries for breakfast can stop you flagging in the afternoon, a new study shows. Researchers found that a large helping of the fruit - described by some as nature's 'superfood' - boosts concentration and memory up to five hours later. In tests, volunteers who drank a blueberry smoothie in the morning did much better at mental tasks in the mid afternoon than people who had an alternative drink.
British scientists who made the discovery believe the antioxidants in blueberries stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain - and keep the mind fresh. The finding means people could use blueberries and other fruit rich in anti-oxidants to improve their chances during exams or on long, difficult days at work.
Dr Jeremy Spencer of Reading University, who carried out the study, said: 'After one hour there was little difference in the attention tests. 'But after five hours people who didn't have the blueberry smoothie saw their performance fall by 15 to 20 per cent.'
Blueberries are bursting with vitamins C and E. Nutritionists say they are one of the richest sources of cancer-fighting antioxidant called flavonoids, which are also found in green tea, wine, grapes and cocoa. Past studies have shown that flavonoids can protect against degenerative diseases and even help people lose weight.
In the latest study - presented yesterday (THU) at the British Science Festival in Surrey University, Guildford - Dr Spencer recruited 40 volunteers aged 18 to 30 and 40 volunteers aged over 65. On the first day of the experiment, they were given a standard breakfast of toast and marmalade, followed by a mid morning smoothie made from 200g of blueberries.
An hour after the smoothie they carried out 45 minutes of computer based mental tests. The tests measured their short term working memory and their concentration. The tests were repeated five hours after the smoothie. Two weeks later the volunteers carried out the same experiment - but this time drank a 'control' smoothie containing the same amount of sugars and calories but with no blueberries.
In the tests, carried out an hour after the smoothie, the presence of blueberries in the smoothie made no difference to the volunteers' performance. But as the day wore on, the volunteers who didn't have the blueberries saw their performance and concentration slipping. When they were tested after five hours their performance was significantly worse.
In contrast, the volunteers who had the blueberry drink saw no decline in their mental powers, the scientists said. Dr Spencer said the brain boosting power was not unique to blueberries. 'From our studies, other foods containing flavonoids - such as strawberries, cocoa and raspberries - would be similar,' he said. 'It's not right to single out blueberries.'
The Reading researchers believe that flavonoids in berries activate an enzyme in the body called Enos which increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Without this boost, brains become tired as the day goes on and find it harder to concentrate.
Blueberries contain a cocktail of anti-oxidants including anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, resveratrol and tannins. The fruit are thought to protect against cancer and heart disease, and may even prevent dementia.
British 'Worried well' are wasting £600m a year on vitamins
Multivitamins taken by millions of 'worried well' are a waste of money and may be doing more harm than good, an expert has said. Brian Ratcliffe, a former government adviser on nutrition, accused the £600million-a-year vitamin pill industry of preying on the fears and finances of people who are essentially healthy.
The tablets, on sale in every supermarket, chemist and health food shop, do little to boost health in those with no medical problems and in some cases could be dangerous. For instance, those who take fish oils as well as multivitamins could be raising their odds of brittle bones in later years because they are consuming too much vitamin A.
The health-conscious should not take any supplements without first consulting their GP or another medical expert, said Professor Ratcliffe, of Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. He said: 'A lot of people take supplements because they are the worried well and are concerned with taking a belt-and-braces approach to health. 'So they are not thinking very carefully about why they are taking them, how much they should be taking and whether they should be taking them at all. 'They are simply wasting their money and fuelling an industry that is to some extent exploiting their fears. Then, of course, there is a chance they are dabbling in an area where there is a potential for harm.'
The professor, a former adviser to the Food Standards Agency, is not the first to raise concern about the tablets taken by 40 per cent of women and 30 per cent of men a day. Last year, a U.S. analysis of 67 studies said vitamins A and E [i.e. ANTIOXIDANTS] may shorten life, not extend it. Other studies linked the two vitamins to increased risk of cancer.
Even relatively small doses of vitamin A can be toxic, said the professor. The vitamin is found in many fish oil capsules, so those who take these alongside multivitamin pills may be getting more than they should. Too much vitamin A can cause nausea and headaches in the short term and raise the risk of osteoporosis in later years, the British Science Festival in Guildford heard.
On the other hand, high doses of vitamin C are not harmful - but up to three-quarters pass straight through the body. Even small doses may be of little benefit. A recent study found the vitamin C tablets taken by millions to ward off colds have little effect at preventing the sniffles and only marginally shorten their duration.
Professor Ratcliffe said that on average we get enough vitamin C from our diet - and it is easy to raise the amount by eating healthier food. However, some may benefit from specific supplements, including the elderly, who can be low in vitamin D, and pregnant women, who are advised to take folic acid.
Manufacturers said Government figures show that three-quarters of adults fail to eat five helpings of fruit and vegetables a day and many lack key vitamins and minerals. Dr Carrie Ruxton, of the industrybacked Health Supplements Information Service, said: 'Supplements are a useful means of boosting vitamin and mineral intakes while people are gradually improving their diets - this process takes time.'
11 September, 2009
Pill to reverse arterial plaques?
An unwise purchase until double-blind studies have been done. Saying it is as good as a Mediterranean diet is faint praise. There are many countries with longer life expectancies than Mediterranean ones. There are heaps of nonagenarians tottering around Australia, for instance, who grew up on a diet that could hardly be more "wrong" according to current wisdom -- lots of fried steak and fried potato chips, for instance -- and fried in dripping at that -- if anybody these days knows what dripping is
British scientists have developed a groundbreaking pill which provides all the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. One capsule of Ateronon taken daily can break down fatty deposits in the arteries and help prevent heart disease and strokes, potentially saving millions of lives.
The supplement, which costs £35 for a month's supply, contains lycopene, a chemical found in the skin of ripe tomatoes.
Each pill provides the equivalent of eating three kilos of ripe tomatoes. Studies have shown eating an Italian-style diet rich in tomatoes, fish, vegetables, nuts and olive oil can significantly reduce cholesterol and help prevent cardiovascular diseases.
Heart disease is the UK's biggest killer, responsible for 120,000 deaths a year - one of the highest rates in the world - while 70,000 die of strokes.
Ateronon was developed by Cambridge Theranostics, a biotechnology company which employs scientists from Cambridge University. By combining lycopene with whey, from milk, they shrank the molecule enough for it to be easily absorbed by humans. An initial trial in 150 heart disease patients found that taking the pill once a day could not only halt but even reverse the buildup of fatty deposits on artery walls in just two months, without side-effects.
Large-scale trials of up to 10,000 patients will begin this year at Cambridge, as well as in the U.S., Italy and Finland.
On top of the world... taller people are happier with their lives
It has long been known that taller men are advantaged in all sorts of ways. The way women discriminate against short men is of course a classic
Taller people are happier with their lives, according to a new study by U.S. academics. The research published in science journal Elsevier's Economics and Human Biology claimed people of greater height 'live better lives' on average.
Approximately 454,065 American adults aged 18 or over were interviewed between January, 2008 and April this year as part of the study. Participants were asked to give their heights, details about their emotions and reveal where they saw themselves on an imaginary 'life ladder'. According to the study, taller individuals overall evaluated their lives more positively and were more likely to report a range of favourable emotions, including enjoyment and happiness.
They were also less likely to register a range of negative feelings, including sadness and physical pain, though they were more likely to experience stress and anger, and if they were women, to worry.
Men who reported that their lives were the 'worst possible' were more than eight tenths of an inch (2cm) shorter than the average man. Women who saw themselves 'on the bottom step' were shorter than the average woman by half an inch (1.3cm).
Looking at the relationship between height and education, the study found men who did not graduate from high school were half an inch (1.27cm) shorter than average and more than an inch (2.54cm) shorter than the average college-educated man. The differences were only a little less for women.
The report's authors concluded the findings were almost wholly explained by the positive association between height and both income and education, both of which are closely linked to better lives.
10 September, 2009
Alcohol and coffee linked to heartbeat problems
This sounds like more epidemiological nonsense and shows a foolish willingnes to generalize from atypical samples. It also fails to look at the big picture -- which also suggests benefits from coffee and alcohol intake. It's just "publish or perish" fodder
Drinking more than ten alcoholic drinks a week or four cups of strong coffee each day can increase the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat, new research suggests. Two studies presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Barcelona found that alcohol and caffeine intake can affect the chances of developing an abnormal heart rhythm, known as atrial fibrillation.
About 46,000 people in Britain are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation every year. The condition greatly increases the risk of having a stroke, heart attack or other cardiac problems.
The study into alcohol, carried out on 8,830 men and women in Britain, Scandinavia and the United States, found that those who drank the equivalent of ten standard drinks — about 15 units a week — had an 80 per cent increased risk of being diagnosed with the condition within five years.
The Department of Health advises [on no scientific basis] that men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol a week, and women no more than 14. A 125ml glass of red or white wine or half a pint of 5 per cent lager contain about 1.5 units. A standard large glass of wine in a bar is 250ml.
The patients in the study had an average age of 67 and were already receiving treatment for high blood pressure but had no previous signs of atrial fibrillation. They were followed up for an average of 4.8 years, during which time heart scans revealed atrial fibrillation in 5.7 per cent of patients who reported drinking more than ten units a week, compared to 3.9 per cent of patients who drank less or no alcohol at all.
Inger Ariansen, who led the study at Oslo University Hospital, suggested that ten standard drinks could be regarded as a threshold for increased risk of atrial fibrillation, although she pointed out that different countries defined the amount of alcohol contained in a typical drink differently.
The second study, by researchers at the University of Modena, found that drinking more than the equivalent of four espresso shots a day could increase the risk of arrhythmias in people without known heart disease, even if they otherwise had a healthy diet.
Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said that the recommended limits for drinking alcohol a week were formulated to avoid the risk of liver disease and other drink-related health problems. “But there is no doubt that some patients are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol on the heart and it may be that a subset of people who metabolise alcohol differently are at increased risk of atrial fibrillation.”
He added that he was not aware of any direct evidence that drinking caffeine increased the risk of atrial fibrillation, “but it wouldn’t be surprising if you found that”.
Moths, caterpillars may replace laboratory mice
If mice and moths are so similar, it's no wonder rodent findings often do not generalize well to human beings
MOTHS, caterpillars and fruit flies could soon take the place of millions of mice used every year by scientists testing drugs, researchers said. Biologists have discovered that certain key cells in mammals and insects react in the same way when attacked by infections and produce similar chemical reactions to fight them off. The findings could mean up to 80 per cent of the mice used for testing new pharmaceutical compounds may no longer be needed, offering drug firms sizeable time and cost savings.
"It is now routine practice to use insect larvae to perform initial testing of new drugs and then to use mice for confirmation tests," Kevin Kavanagh, a biologist from the National University of Ireland, said. "This method of testing is quicker, as tests with insects yield results in 48 hours whereas tests with mice usually take four to six weeks. And it is much cheaper too."
Mr Kavanagh and his colleagues found that neutrophils, white blood cells that form part of the mammalian immune system, and haematocytes, cells that carry out similar work in insects, react in the same way to infecting microbes. Both the insect and mammalian cells produce chemicals with a similar structure which move to the surface of the cells to kill the invading microbe, they found. The immune cells then enclose the microbe and release enzymes to break it down.
"We used insects instead of mammals for measuring how pathogenic a bacterium or fungus is, and found a very good correlation between the results in mammals and insects," Mr Kavanagh said. "The reason for this ... is that the innate immune system of mammals is almost 90 per cent similar to that of insects."
9 September, 2009
On a diet? Then put away those artificial sweeteners... because they may help you GAIN weight
Artificial sweeteners do nothing to help weight loss and could actually cause us to pile on the pounds, scientists say. Our bodies are unable to distinguish between the calorie-free sugar substitutes widely used in the food industry and the real thing, research suggests.
Artificial sweeteners behave in a similar way to sugar, by activating sensors in the gut which are key to the absorption of glucose. As a result, the body processes extra sugar – and all the calories that go with it. For the dieter, it means little or no weight loss. Over time, it could even lead to extra pounds being put on.
Researcher Soraya Shirazi-Beechey said: ‘If someone wants to lose weight, I don’t think artificial sweeteners are going to help. ‘My recommendation is to eat natural foods, but to eat less of them.’
The Liverpool University professor studied the processes in the small intestine by which the sugar or glucose from food is absorbed into the bloodstream. She identified specific cells which detect sugar, releasing hormones essential for its passage through the lining of the gut and into the blood, where it is either burned off or is converted into fat. Crucially, these cells release the hormones when confronted by artificial sweeteners. This primes the gut to absorb real sugar.
Prof Shirazi-Beechey said: ‘Artificial sweetenerscan also activate the glucose sensor and increase the capacity of the intestine to absorb more sugar. ‘You drink diet cola to stay slim but the reverse is true, because the artificial sweeteners can activate the sensor, so you are taking more glucose from your diet.’ Drugs which control the sugar sensor cells, leading to more or less entering the bloodstream, could help treat diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
Vaccine hope after animal leukaemia virus linked to prostate cancer
A rare bit of proper scientific caution in the last sentence below
A virus known to cause leukaemia in animals has been linked to human prostate cancer, suggesting that the disease may have a viral origin. If correct, the finding may lead to more effective screening and vaccination to prevent men from developing the disease.
The main known risk factors for prostate cancer are genetic susceptibility, old age and poor diet. But research suggests that men infected with XMRV, the xenotropic murine leukaemia virus-related virus, may also be more likely to develop the cancer.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in British men and the second-most common cause of cancer death after lung cancer. Last year it was diagnosed in about 35,000 men in Britain.
The virus has been shown to cause leukaemia and bone cancer in mice but has never before been detected in humans. It is not known how men come to be infected but one possibility is that it is sexually transmitted.
In the study, details of which were published yesterday in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), 200 samples of cancerous prostate tissue and 100 samples of benign tissue were examined. The virus was found in 27 per cent of the prostate cancer samples and was associated with the most aggressive tumours. It was found in 6 per cent of benign samples. Although the study did not explicitly establish a causal link between the virus and the occurrence of cancer, scientists say there are reasons to expect that such a link might exist.
The virus works by inserting a copy of its DNA into the DNA of the cells it infects. Sometimes, as in the case of leukaemia in mice, the virus DNA is inserted next to a gene regulating cell growth. This can disrupt normal cell division,, and lead to a rapid proliferation of the infected cells, eventually leading to a tumour.
The study team are investigating where on the human genome the virus inserts itself and whether it directly affects cell growth. Establishing that the virus is a risk factor would have profound implications for how prostate cancer is screened and treated, according to Professor Greg Towers, an immunologist at University College London. “If this is found to be a cause, I’d expect a big change in policy,” he said. Since viruses are generally easy to detect, testing could pinpoint men at high risk who would then be screened for cancer.
However, developing a vaccine would be a much longer-term project. “If this virus contributes to the development of some prostate cancers, then we could speculate about the possibility of vaccination, similar to the approach used to prevent cervical cancer,” said Chris Parker, a prostate cancer specialist at the Royal Marsden NHS Trust.
Human papillomavirus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted, is present in almost all cases of cervical cancer, although many women carrying it never go on to develop cancer. A vaccine for HPV has been successfully developed and all British girls between 16 and 18 will have been offered vaccination by the end of the year. Scientists are now investigating whether the XMRV virus is also sexually transmitted. A first step will be looking to see if the virus is present in cervical and semen samples.
Helen Rippon, the head of research management at The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: “The findings of this study are intriguing but pose several questions about the role infection has to play in prostate cancer. “The researchers have yet to discover whether the virus is a cause, an effect or simply an innocent bystander in the development of the disease.”
8 September, 2009
Broccoli could prevent strokes and heart attacks -- in mice
Mention of broccoli tends to bring to mind the most famous saying by President Bush senior: "I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli”. More seriously, rodent findings often do not transfer well to humans and these findings are in any case only suggestive. It has not yet been shown that broccoli DOES prevent strokes and heart attacks -- even in mice. Good effects in one respect could well be neutered by bad effects elsewhere. If COX2 inhibitors can fix your arthritis but give you heart attacks instead, what evils may lurk in broccoli? That President Bush was unwise about broccoli is still a long way from being demonstrated
This probably still won't encourage children to eat it, but the many healthy properties of broccoli include preventing a heart attack or stroke, say researchers. A chemical found in the vegetable boosts the body's defence system to keep arteries unclogged. Cauliflower, sprouts and cabbage can also keep the blood flowing freely. They all contain sulforaphane, along with rocket, kale and pak choi, but broccoli contains the highest levels.
The discovery by scientists at Imperial College London could finally crack the code to using the vital vegetable ingredient in treating heart patients. Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which funded the research, said: 'As well as adding evidence to support the importance of eating "five a day", the biochemistry revealed in this research could lead to more targeted dietary or medical approaches to prevent or lessen disease that leads to heart attacks and strokes.'
The researchers found bent or branched arteries are more susceptible to disease because they lack a protein called Nrf2. In contrast, straight sections of artery are protected by the protein, which prevents cells becoming inflamed, an early indication for the development of heart disease. The researchers discovered that Nrf2 was disabled by a protein in the bent or branched areas of arteries, stifling its protective properties. But sulforaphane reactivated Nrf2 in these at-risk regions of the arteries, restoring the ability of the arteries to look after themselves. The researchers believe the chemical could help these trouble spots remain disease-free for longer. The findings, from a study of mice, are published in the journal Arteriosclerosis Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
In their next phase of research, investigators will find out whether using sulforaphane as a treatment can reduce the progression of disease. Dr Paul Evans, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, who led the research team, said 'We found that the innermost layer of cells at branches and bends of arteries lack the active form of Nrf2, which may explain why they are prone to inflammation and disease. 'Treatment with the natural compound sulforaphane reduced inflammation at the high-risk areas by 'switching on' Nrf2.
'Sulforaphane is found naturally in broccoli, so our next steps include testing whether simply eating broccoli, or other vegetables in their ‘family’, has the same protective effect. 'We also need to see if the compound can reduce the progression of disease in affected arteries.'
The health effects of broccoli are already recognised - along with the characteristically bitter taste that puts off so many children and the former US president George Bush. Studies have shown a chemical in the vegetable boosts DNA repair in cells and may stop them becoming cancerous. Other evidence suggests eating broccoli helps reverse the damage caused by diabetes to heart blood vessels.
Genetic breakthrough brings cure for Alzheimer’s a step closer
Genetic mutations that could account for more than one in five cases of Alzheimer’s disease have been found, in a significant leap forward for dementia research, scientists say
British scientists have discovered two genes associated with the degenerative illness of the brain and their French colleagues uncovered a third. Having certain variations of the three genes could increase the risk of having “common” late-onset Alzheimer’s by ten to 15 per cent, the researchers say. It is thought that cancelling out their effects could prevent almost 100,000 cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the UK each year.
The studies, published in the journal Nature Genetics, describe the first new genetic clues for dementia to be identified since 1993, when a mutant form of a gene called APOE was found to account for about a quarter of cases. A reliable genetic screening test for Alzheimer’s is unlikely to be available for many years but the discovery of further genetic links pave the way for possible new treatments. On the basis of further research, existing drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen may also slow the pace of mental decline.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting an estimated 400,000 people in Britain. This number is expected to grow to nearly a million within 20 years.
The British-led study was the largest genetic investigation of Alzheimer’s ever conducted. The scientists examined half a million variations in the genetic codes of 4,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease and 8,000 healthy people, looking for any differences that could be associated with the condition. They found that common non-protective versions of genes known as clusterin (CLU) and PICALM might account for 19 per cent of disease cases.
The French-led study, which looked at more than 14,000 DNA samples, also highlighted clusterin as well as complement receptor 1 (CR1), mutations of which could account for a further four per cent of cases.
Professor Julie Williams, who led the British-based study at the University of Cardiff, described the research as “the biggest advance in Alzheimer’s research in 15 years”.She added: “If we were able to remove the detrimental effects of these genes through treatments, we could reduce the proportion of people developing Alzheimer’s by 20 per cent. In the UK alone this would prevent just under 100,000 people developing the disease.”
Clusterin is known to protect the brain in a number of ways. Like APOE, it helps rid the brain of potentially destructive amyloid protein. But it also dampens down damaging inflammation caused by an overactive immune response — a function it shares with CR1. Previously inflammation seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers was thought to be a secondary effect of the disease, caused by the build-up of plaques of amyloid protein that can have a devastating effect on memory and behaviour. The new findings suggested, however, that it might actually be a primary cause, raising the possibility of fighting Alzheimer’s with common anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Professor Williams said that a number of drug companies had already shown interest in the research, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council and Alzheimer’s charities. The Cardiff researchers are now planning an even larger study, involving up to 60,000 people, to provide more evidence of the genetic causes of Alzheimer’s, which are thought to account for between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of a person’s risk of developing the disease.
Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: “At a time when we are yet to find ways of halting this devastating condition, this development is likely to spark off numerous new ideas, collaborations and more in the race for a cure.”
Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society charity, added: “These discoveries will enable scientists to follow new avenues of investigation as they piece together the causes of Alzheimer’s disease — likely to be a mixture of genes, lifestyle and life events. Most importantly it could also lead to new drug treatments.”
7 September, 2009
Diesel exhaust is linked to cancer development via new blood vessel growth
In badly maltreated mice anyway. Last year we heard that diesel fumes clog the circulatory system with plaque so perhaps extra blood vessel growth could be a good thing in that case. Looking at one effect in isolation is always dumb
Scientists here are the first to demonstrate that the link between diesel fume exposure and cancer lies in the ability of diesel exhaust to induce the growth of new blood vessels that serve as a food supply for solid tumors. The researchers found that in both healthy and diseased animals, more new blood vessels sprouted in mice exposed to diesel exhaust than did in mice exposed to clean, filtered air. This suggests that previous illness isn't required to make humans susceptible to the damaging effects of the diesel exhaust.
The tiny size of inhaled diesel particles, most less than 0.1 microns in diameter, potentially enables them to penetrate the human circulatory system, organs and tissues, meaning they can do this damage just about anywhere in the body. A micron is one millionth of a meter.
Diesel exhaust exposure levels in the study were designed to mimic the exposure people might experience while living in urban areas and commuting in heavy traffic. The levels were lower than or similar to those typically experienced by workers who use diesel-powered equipment, who tend to work in mines, on bridges and tunnels, along railroads, at loading docks, on farms and in vehicle maintenance garages, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
"The message from our study is that exposure to diesel exhaust for just a short time period of two months could give even normal tissue the potential to develop a tumor," said Qinghua Sun, senior author of the study and an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Ohio State University. "We need to raise public awareness so people give more thought to how they drive and how they live so they can pursue ways to protect themselves and improve their health. And we still have a lot of work to do to improve diesel engines so they generate fewer particles and exhaust that can be released into the ambient air."
The research appears online and is scheduled for later print publication in the journal Toxicology Letters. The researchers experimented with mice that resembled two conditions that could be present in a human body. In one, the scientists implanted a small platform seeded with normal endothelial cells, the cells that line blood vessels, under the skin of the mice. This was designed to mimic relatively normal conditions in human bodies for cell growth.
In the other, the researchers created an environment that would follow a significant loss of blood flow to a section of a vessel, called ischemia, in the hind limbs of the mice. This generated severe hypoxia, an area with low or no oxygen, a condition that is present in certain diseases.
Both types of mice were then exposed to either whole diesel exhaust containing particles at a concentration of about 1 milligram per cubic meter, or to filtered outdoor air, for six hours per day five days a week. The rest of the time they breathed filtered air in their cages. Effects of the exposure were measured after two weeks, five weeks and eight weeks of the exposures.
Though some blood vessel growth and chemical changes could be seen in the mice after two weeks of exposure, "generally, the longer the exposure, the more effects we could see," said Sun, also an investigator in Ohio State's Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute. "It's difficult to translate outcomes from an animal study directly to the human experience, but the bottom line is, the shorter the exposure to diesel exhaust, the better."
The exposure to diesel exhaust caused a six-fold increase in new blood vessel formation in the ischemic hind limbs after eight weeks and a four-fold increase in vessel sprouting in the normal hind limbs of the mice in the same amount of time, compared to mice breathing filtered air.
The researchers also saw significantly more blood vessel growth in the implanted cells and in rings of tissue taken from the aortas of mice exposed to the exhaust compared to the control mice exposed to clean air. In fact, the researchers found that three types of blood vessel development occurred in these areas after exposure to the diesel exhaust: angiogenesis, the development of new capillaries; arteriogenesis, the maturation or re-started growth of existing vessels; and vasculogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels.
All of these processes are associated with tumor growth, but unprogrammed angiogenesis in particular can wreak havoc in the human body, Sun said. "Whenever you talk about a solid tumor, angiogenesis is one of the fundamental mechanisms behind its development. Angiogenesis provides the means for tumor cells to grow because they have to have a blood supply. Without a blood supply, solid tumors will not grow," he said. "We want our bodies to generate new blood vessels only when we need them. And then stop producing them when we need them to stop."
Though the researchers have not defined every mechanism behind these processes, they sought to explain at least a few ways in which blood vessels are able to sprout or mature after exposure to diesel exhaust.
They observed that diesel exhaust exposure activated a chemical signal, vascular endothelial growth factor, which has long been associated with new blood vessel development. The exposure also increased levels of a protein, hypoxia-inducible factor 1, that is essential to blood vessel development when oxygen levels are low. At the same time, the presence of the exhaust lowered the activity of an enzyme that has a role in producing substances that can suppress tumor growth. The scientists also tracked low-grade inflammation in tissues exposed to the exhaust, which is often associated with tumor development.
Though the tiny size of diesel exhaust particles may contribute to their ability to penetrate all areas of the body, Sun noted that their complex chemical composition, and the way in which those chemicals are released once particles enter the body, also influence how they react with human cells.
Gasoline exhaust particles are larger than diesel fume particles, but it's premature to suggest that they are any less dangerous to humans, Sun said. "The bigger particles are known to be harmful primarily for upper respiratory tract illnesses. Larger particles also can't travel long distances - they tend to fall to the ground," he said. "Smaller particles hover in the air for a long time and can have long-term impact on humans when inhaled."
Sun and colleagues are now conducting a study testing whether the exhaust particles promote tumor development and metastasis.
Fertility not affected after taking oral contraceptive pill
TAKING the oral contraceptive pill does not affect a woman's ability to fall pregnant after she goes off it, with four in five women falling pregnant within a year, a study has found. German researchers said neither the length of time the pill was taken nor the type of hormones used had a bearing on pregnancy rates after contraceptive use.
The results, published in the US journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, form part of the European Active Surveillance Study on Oral Contraceptives, which followed almost 60,000 European women for five years, with the starting point between 2001 and 2004. Of these, 2064 women explicitly stated that they stopped using the pill because they wanted to fall pregnant.
Overall, 21 per cent were pregnant one cycle after stopping contraceptive use. After three cycles, the rate of pregnancy had increased to 45.7 per cent, and at one year (13 cycles) 79.4 per cent were pregnant. Of the one in five women who did not fall pregnant in the first 12 months, 45 per cent did so in the second year (26 cycles) after stopping the pill, giving an overall success rate of 88.3 per cent.
The researchers, who received funding from a pharmaceutical company, said rates of pregnancy were reduced in women older than 35 and in smokers.
The researchers, from Bayer Schering Pharma and ZEG-Centre for Epidemiology and Health Research in Berlin, said women who had been using the pill for a long time did have a slightly lower rate of pregnancy than those who had used it for a short period, but this was due to the effect of age, not long-term contraceptive use. "Because of their high efficacy, there is a perception by some women that the use of oral contraceptives may be associated with an impairment in fertility after their discontinuation," they wrote. "These findings suggest that previous oral contraceptive use does not negatively affect the rate of pregnancy."
Generic milk better value -- says Australian consumer group
Ignore all the fancy labels, there are only three kinds of milk you need to worry about, namely full-cream, low-fat and skim. The rest, boasting added calcium, vitamin D, A2 proteins, or omega-3 fatty acids, make only a negligible difference to your health, consumer group Choice has found.
"Despite the profusion of brands and the plethora of claims, the only really meaningful choice when buying milk is between full-cream, low-fat and skim," Choice says. Take milk boasting omega-3 fats for example - you would have to drink two litres to get the same benefit as eating a 50g portion of salmon, Choice found.
You are also better off buying generic supermarket milk which delivered equivalent nutritional benefits but for up to half the price, says Choice.
6 September, 2009
Women could avoid breast cancer through lifestyle changes
The WCRF is an international fundraising scam run by a group of medicos and others that issues regular but poorly founded scares to publicize itself. NOTHING they say should be taken as authoritative. But taking many grains of salt with their pronouncements would always be advisable
Scientists have found the strongest evidence yet that lifestyle is linked to the risk of developing breast cancer. The biggest review of research into the disease has shown that more than four out of ten cases could be prevented if women exercised, limited their alcohol intake and maintained a healthy weight. Breastfeeding also helps to reduce the risk of developing the disease, which kills 12,000 women in Britain each year.
The study by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) is an update on its cancer prevention report published in 2007. That report drew on 873 breast cancer studies. Now scientists at Imperial College London have added a further 81 studies carried out in the past few years.
The charity recommends that men and women aim to keep as lean as possible without becoming underweight. A healthy body mass index is between 18 and 25, but it recommends that people should try to remain close to the lower end of the scale, take at least 30 minutes of exercise a day and that alcohol be limited to two drinks a day for men and one for women.
The latest study is part of a Continuous Update Project run by the WCRF. Work on bowel cancer and prostate cancer should be available by 2010.
Arlene Wilkie, director of research and policy at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “This review provides further evidence that maintaining a healthy weight throughout life along with regular exercise will reduce the risk of health problems such as breast cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and arthritis.”
Drugs given during labour linked to breastfeeding problems
Another iatrogenic mess. Routine use of drugs instead of targeted use is always incautious
Drugs and painkillers that are routinely given to women in labour may reduce their ability to breastfeed their baby, reseachers say. A study seen by The Times ahead of its publication today, suggests that life-saving medication given to nearly all women to prevent and treat bleeding after birth is linked to reduced breastfeeding rates. The findings indicate a potential biological reason for why so many women in Britain fail to breastfeed, despite government efforts to increase the number of infants receiving their mother’s milk.
The Department of Health recommends that all children are breastfed for the first six months, because of the health benefits it can provide for both mother and baby. But breastfeeding rates in Britain are among the lowest in Europe, with only 45 per cent of infants exclusively breastfed a week after birth, and one in four receiving only formula milk from birth.
Analysis of the records of more than 48,000 women who gave birth in South Wales found that use of the clotting agents oxytocin or ergometrine was associated with a 7 per cent decline in the proportion who started breastfeeding within 48 hours of giving birth. It is thought that the drugs may impede a woman’s ability to produce milk, suggesting that mothers who have them may need greater time or support from midwives if they wish to breastfeed their baby. The study, by researchers at Swansea University, also confirmed the link between high doses of injected pain relief and lower rates of breastfeeding, an association that has recently prompted revised guidelines for the NHS on the use of epidurals in labour.
Sue Jordan, who led the study, said that the Government’s target to increase breastfeeding rates by 2 per cent a year was “unlikely to be met” unless further research was carried out. Young mothers or those discouraged from breastfeeding for social or cultural reasons are more likely to feed their babies from a bottle, but the main reasons cited for failure to breastfeed are a lack of milk or babies that simply refuse to feed. Of the women involved in the study, who all gave birth between 1989 and 1999, two thirds (65.5 per cent) of those who did not receive drugs to prevent post-partum haemorrhage started breastfeeding their baby within 48 hours of giving birth. But the proportion of those doing so reduced to 59.1 per cent among those given an injection of oxytocin, a hormone that plays an important natural role in labour, and to 56.4 per cent of women given an additional injection of ergometrine, given to address actual bleeding.
Overall, nearly eight out of ten (79 per cent) of the women in the study received either oxytocin, ergometrine or both. It is routine for women being treated on the NHS to be offered these drugs. The decline of 6-7 per cent in those being breastfed could lead to up to 50,000 fewer British babies being breastfed every year than might otherwise be possible, she added.
Because of the health benefits of breastfeeding, 50,000 bottle-fed infants represents the possibility of about 1,000 children becoming clinically obese, or 3,000 additional cases of childhood asthma. It could also greatly increase the number of mothers affected by breast cancer.
The findings are published today in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Dr Jordan said: “The potentially life-saving treatments to prevent bleeding after birth must not be compromised on the basis of this study but further studies are required to establish ways to minimise any effects on breastfeeding rates."
Rosemary Dodds, policy research officer for the National Childbirth Trust, said: “Women need more support to start breastfeeding soon after giving birth and this study adds weight to that. “A lot of women are not given enough information about the medications that might be given to them during childbirth, and women at low risk of bleeding may not need to take these drugs. “It is important that women understand the risks and can give their informed consent before they go into labour.”
5 September, 2009
"Unapproved" use of Relenza saves swine flu victim
This time she may be lucky she was in England. "Unapproved" usage of approved drugs sends Obama's FDA into a hissy fit. Just promoting such acts has recently cost Pfizer a fine of billions
Enterprising doctors saved the life of a young cancer patient infected by swine flu by making unlicensed use of Relenza, an antiviral drug, The Lancet reports today. The 22-year-old patient's immune system had been weakened by Hodgkin's disease and chemotherapy, damaging her defences against the A(H1N1) virus. She was admitted to London's University College Hospital in July suffering from shortness of breath and fluid build-up in both lungs.
Neither Tamiflu, a pill that is the frontline treatment for swine flu, nor broad-spectrum antibiotics had any effect. By the third day, she was placed on an artificial respirator. Doctors administered Relenza, also known by its lab name as Zanamivir, in its licensed form as a nebulised spray. But this remedy also failed and, over the next two weeks, her condition steadily worsened.
With her life in the balance, the doctors gambled on giving her Relenza intravenously, using a batch specially provided by the drug's manufacturers, GlaxoSmithKline. They backed this with a high dose of corticosteroids to tackle lung inflammation.
Her condition improved dramatically and, within 48 hours, she was taken off artificial respiration and transferred out of the hospital's intensive care unit and into a general ward.
The unorthodox treatment had to be approved by the hospital's oversight committee and the patient's next of kin as it is not a recognised strategy for swine flu.
Most of the deaths from swine flu have been related to severe respiratory failure, especially from people with an underlying medical condition. Physicians Michael Kidd and Mervyn Singer believe their patient's lungs were so impaired by the virus that she could not absorb Relenza in its spray form, so they took a final gamble on an intravenous drip.
Further investigation will confirm whether the treatment can find a wider use beyond a single case report, they said.
Infection-fighting proteins could lead to HIV vaccine 'within years'
HIV researchers have made the biggest breakthrough in 15 years, identifying two powerful antibodies that appear to fight all types of the virus - a development that brings new hope of a vaccine. The Australian reports the US team has discovered two infection-fighting proteins in blood taken from an African who was already infected with HIV but did not show any of the symptoms. The scientists found these antibodies apparently neutralised all major groups, or clades, of HIV.
By determining where the antibodies bind to the virus, they know which parts of the virus to target with vaccines. They also identified what genes the donor's body used to build the "broadly neutralising antibodies". The knowledge could lead to gene therapies to treat people already infected with HIV, as well as vaccines to protect people from infection.
Worldwide, 33 million people are infected with HIV, including about 16,600 Australians. The virus is estimated to kill about 2 million people a year, having already claimed 25 million.
The findings were reported overnight in the journal Science by an international consortium led by immunologist Dennis Burton of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and the newly established Ragon Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.
Trial vaccines developed over the past 15 years have proved ineffective or even dangerous. In November 2007, a global vaccine trial involving 3000 people at high risk of HIV infection, including 19 Australians, was halted when scientists discovered that the vaccine appeared to make them more susceptible to HIV infection. The reason remains unclear.
Virologist Damian Purcell, head of Melbourne University's Molecular Virology Laboratory, cautioned that the research was in its early days, but said vaccines and therapies could be on the market in 10 years, at the latest. "This finding demonstrates that, after all the disappointments over the last 15 years, scientists have gone back to basics and we're looking at fundamental questions like what are the best targets in the virus," Professor Purcell said.
Until now, researchers had been unable to find an Achilles heel on the virus that remained the same across clades. Part of the problem is that HIV mutates rapidly in the community and even in an infected person's body. Further, numerous clades circulated in different regions of the world. And because no one is known to have completely eliminated an HIV infection, it's not known which elements of the body's immune response must be triggered to get rid of, or clear, the virus.
Was blind but now she sees
A wonderful story
A MOTHER has told of the joy of seeing her three children again after radical brain surgery restored her sight. Tammy Rowley, 36, thought she would never see their faces again after she suddenly went blind last month. Doctors found the young mum had a huge brain tumour pushing on her optical nerve.
Two days later neurosurgeons at Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne removed the benign tumour, which had been growing unnoticed in Ms Rowley's head for years before it robbed her of her sight. As soon as she awoke from the operation, Ms Rowley said she knew the surgeons had saved her vision. "One leant over me to tell me it was a success and I looked up at him and went 'Oh wow, I can see you. It is so clear'. I was just so happy to be able to see again," she said. "I make sure I go outside every day to have a look, even if it is a horrible day. "I make sure I take the time to sit and watch my children play now because it is amazing what you take for granted until it is taken away."
As well as vision loss due to the pressure on her optical nerve, neurosurgeon Dr Michael Pullar said more than 90 per cent of Ms Rowley's pituitary gland had been destroyed, leading to constant migraines and hormonal issues which could not be reversed by surgery.
Although the tumour was larger than a golf ball, it did not show up on CT scans taken a year earlier when Ms Rowley suffered migraines and fuzzy vision. It was only when a GP delved deeper and ordered an MRI that the extent of the danger was revealed.
Using a camera and instruments passed through Ms Rowley's nostrils, Dr Pullar was able to detach the tumour and suck it out of her brain. "Her vision was at peril and without decompressing the nerves to the eyes she would have lost vision and become blind permanently," Dr Pullar said.
4 September, 2009
This should confound a lot of epidemiological suppositions
Regular Drinkers Exercise More
Drinkers aren't just bending their elbows: In fact, the more alcohol people drink, the more likely they might be to exercise, according to a new study.
Alcohol users not only exercised more than abstainers, but the differential actually increased with more drinking, said lead author Michael French. There is a strong association between all levels of drinking and both moderate and vigorous physical activity. However, these results do not suggest that people should use alcohol to boost their exercise programs, as the study was not designed to determine whether alcohol intake actually caused an increase in exercise.
French, a health economics professor at the University of Miami, and colleagues analyzed data from the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a yearly telephone survey of roughly 230,000 Americans.
They uncovered a strong statistical association between measures of both alcohol use and moderate to vigorous exercise, according to their findings, which appears in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.
Among women, those using alcohol now exercised 7.2 minutes more per week than those who abstained. Relative to abstainers, the more alcohol used, the longer the person exercised. Specifically, light, moderate, and heavy drinkers exercised 5.7, 10.1, and 19.9 minutes more per week. Overall, drinking was associated with a 10.1 percent increase in the probability of engaging in vigorous physical activity. The results for men were similar.
To Bethany Garrity, corporate fitness director at the National Institute for Fitness and Sport in Indianapolis, these results challenge the status quo assumption that healthy people make all the right choices.
We don't often associate an unhealthy behavior such as moderate to heavy drinking with healthy behaviors in the same individual, she said. Sometimes people tend to forget that we are not all healthy or all unhealthy in how we behave. This is a good reminder that people choose many kinds of health behaviors across the spectrum from healthiest to unhealthy.
Now it IS safe for your child to use a cellphone: After years of warnings, official British leaflet drops safety guidance
Repeated findings of no risk are not enough for the haters of anything popular. The occasional adverse result that would be expected by chance alone is seized upon and everything else is ignored
The draft of a new advisory leaflet for parents by the Department of Health removes safety advice to impose strict limits on youngsters' use of the handsets. It goes on to suggest that heating to the head caused by using a mobile is no more harmful than a hot bath.
A new advisory leaflet for parents by the Department of Health removes safety advice to limit the use of mobile phone for youngsters. However campaigners insist there is good evidence that using mobile phones increases the risk of brain tumours in both children and adults. One study published in March said children with mobiles are five times more likely than others to develop such a cancer in later life.
The current official advice from the Department of Health says that mobile phone use affects brain activity and admits to 'significant gaps' in scientific knowledge about the health effects. It highlights the fact that the head and nervous system are still developing into the teenage years with the result that children and young people 'might be more vulnerable' than adults. Consequently, it warns parents: 'The widespread use of mobile phones by children (under the age of 16) should be discouraged for non-essential calls.'
However, the draft of the new safety leaflet seen by the Daily Mail, removes all this safety advice and makes clear that no extra precautions need to be taken by children. It says: 'There is currently no scientific or biological evidence that radio waves cause cancer.'
The change in the advice is expected to lead to a marketing blitz aimed at children by mobile phone manufacturers.
Alasdair Philips, of the Powerwatch organisation opposed relaxing the safeguards, saying: 'A number of international studies have found a significant increase in brain tumours among people who have used a cellphone for more than ten years. 'It's incredible that the notion there is no good reason to restrict children's use of mobile phones could be the official Government line. This would be completely irresponsible and immoral. 'Parents are under pressure to buy mobiles for their children at younger and younger ages. By doing this they may well be giving them brain tumours in 30 years' time. 'The Government seems to be more interested in tax revenue from mobile phone calls - which is about £15billion per year now - than in the protection of public health. 'Children under 11 should not use a mobile, full stop. Older children should be encouraged to text only and hold their handset away from their body when they do so.'
In March, an international group of scientists reported that people who begin using mobile phones before the age of 20 are more than five times as likely to develop a malignant brain tumour. Co-author of the report, Dr David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, said: 'What stands out is the consistency of the association of exposure and disease. 'I see us facing a major problem in the future because of the fact that young children are on cell phones constantly, and we may be setting ourselves up for an epidemic of brain cancer, the same thing we did with cigarette smoking and lung cancer.'
A new report, 'Cellphones and Brain Tumours' was published on both sides of the Atlantic earlier this week by scientists and campaigners. Lead author Lloyd Morgan said: 'Exposure to cellphone radiation is the largest human health experiment ever undertaken, without informed consent, and has some four billion participants enrolled. 'Science has shown increased risk of brain tumours from use of cellphones, as well as increased risk of eye cancer, salivary gland tumours, testicular cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia. The public must be informed.'
Alternative drug to warfarin reduces risk of stroke
Warfarin is indeed dangerous if clinical management is not precise so any alternative is worth looking at. Someone I know who was on warfarin nearly bled to death because his therapeutic compliance was careless
A drug has been developed that scientists say reduces the risk of strokes in patients with irregular heartbeats compared with the popular drug warfarin.
For half a century, thousands of patients at risk of stroke have been given warfarin to prevent blood clotting. But treatment with the drug, also used as a form of rat poison, is risky and requires regular monitoring.
In a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology annual congress and also published by the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors found that the new drug, dabigatran (Pradaxa), was 34 per cent more effective at reducing the risk of stroke and blood clots in at-risk patients than well-controlled warfarin.
Death rates were also reduced by 15 per cent when patients were given the new drug, which at present is licensed only to prevent blood clots in hospital. However, at a cost of £4.20 a day, it is likely to be more expensive than the older treatment.
More than 18,000 patients from 44 countries took part in the three-year randomised evaluation of long-term anticoagulant therapy trial, the largest of its kind conducted. Participants had an average age of 71 and all suffered from atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder that greatly increases the risk of stroke.
The British Heart Foundation said that the results for an alternative to warfarin were promising, but the drug would not be available to patients until next year at the earliest.
Keith Muir, medical advisor for the Stroke Association, said: “Warfarin is a highly effective treatment when indicated for stroke prevention, but it is underused, often because of safety concerns or the need for regular blood tests to monitor its effects. The trial indicates that dabigatran may offer a useful alternative to warfarin for stroke prevention in some circumstances.
“However, the trial only involved people who could equally well have taken warfarin, and anyone currently taking warfarin should continue it unless advised by their doctor."
3 September, 2009
'Worried well' should not take aspirin to ward off heart attack
Another fad debunked
Healthy people should not take aspirin to ward off a heart attack because the risks outweigh the benefits, researchers say... a study of healthy adults found that those who took a daily aspirin for up to eight years did not reduce significantly their risk of a heart attack or stroke but did increase their risk of stomach bleeding.
The findings cast doubt on a “blanket prescription” of aspirin for the over-50s or as part of a polypill, a multidrug tablet being developed to help to prevent heart problems.
GPs prescribe aspirin to people who have already suffered a heart attack or a stroke, or those who are considered at high risk because of high blood pressure or diabetes. Thousands more Britons are thought to be taking the drug as a precaution against developing blood clots. A study published last year suggested that most healthy men over 48 and women over 57 would benefit from having aspirin prescribed but researchers from the University of Edinburgh believe otherwise.
Professor Gerry Fowkes said that his study was designed to find out whether aspirin could cause a reduction in cardiovascular events by 25 per cent or more. But among the 3,350 people in the trial, who were all aged between 50 and 75 and considered at risk of heart disease but had not yet developed symptoms, there were 357 heart attacks and strokes — 181 occurred in the group taking aspirin and 176 among the group who were taking a placebo.
At the same time 2 per cent of people taking aspirin were hospitalised owing to gastrointestinal bleeding, a known side-effect of the drug, compared with 1.2 per cent of the placebo group. Professor Fowkes said: “At least six previous trials had suggested that taking aspirin could lower the risk of cardiovascular events [but] our research suggests that aspirin should not be prescribed to the general population, although it does have benefits for people with established heart disease or other conditions.”
Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said the message “for those who have not got clear-cut vascular disease is that the benefit [of taking daily aspirin]. . . is offset by a worse risk of haemorrhage, and potential fatal haemorrhage”.
Thousands of deaths from repeat heart attacks could be prevented by an experimental drug that prevents blood clotting, the congress was told. Heart attack survivors who took the twicedaily pill known as ticagrelor (Brilinta) — expected to be licensed within two years — could lower their risk of dying from heart disease by 21 per cent compared with those taking the current “gold-standard” drug, clopidogrel (Plavix), researchers found.
New non-invasive IVF screening test produces long-sought baby, offering new hope to the infertile
A British woman has become the first in the world to give birth using a new IVF test that promises to improve the chances of parenthood for infertile couples. A boy, named Oliver, was born in July to a 41-year-old woman who had tried 13 cycles of IVF without success. She conceived after her eggs were screened to select those that were the most viable.
The screening technique has the potential to raise IVF success rates significantly, particularly for women in their late 30s and 40s and couples with a history of failed fertility treatment or miscarriage. It could also be used in younger women to promote the use of a single embryo in IVF to guard against risky multiple births. If the test can pick the best eggs, one embryo could be transferred to the womb without reducing success rates.
Simon Fishel, managing director of the CARE Fertility Group in Nottingham, who treated the new parents, said: “Oliver’s birth is an important landmark in shaping our understanding of why many women fail to become pregnant.” He said that older versions of the screening test have been shown to double the chances of IVF success for some couples with a poor prognosis, and that early results suggest that the new technique is at least as good, if not better.
Since the pregnancy that led to Oliver’s birth was announced in January, about five more women have conceived after taking the egg test, known as Array Comparative Genomic Hybridisation (Array CGH), out of about 20 treated. All the patients treated had a poor prognosis, with multiple failed attempts at IVF, and Dr Fishel said that the early success rate of about 25 per cent was a considerable improvement. “I’d generally give these women about a 10 per cent chance of getting pregnant,” he said.
The effectiveness of Array CGH, however, has yet to be assessed in a randomised controlled trial — the gold standard for medical therapies — and other scientists were more cautious about its prospects. Several other quality tests for eggs and embryos have looked promising at first, but have been found wanting by randomised trials. Tony Rutherford, chairman of the British Fertility Society, welcomed the birth, but added: “It is absolutely essential that these new techniques are subject to further rigorous research and should only be offered to patients within the context of a robustly designed clinical trial, carried out in suitably experienced centres. "The widespread use of this technology should await the outcome of such research to ensure we know which patients might benefit. All too often we see ground-breaking news about techniques that seem to offer great hope, but fail to live up to expectations when applied in widespread clinical practice.”
Array CGH seeks to identify eggs that have the wrong number of chromosomes, which will generally fail to develop properly if fertilised with sperm. Such chromosomal abnormalities are difficult to detect in eggs or embryos by eye, and they are among the major causes of IVF failure. Array CGH has two main advantages over other methods of screening: the first is “gene chip” technology that tests DNA very quickly, so that eggs or embryos do not need to be frozen while they are checked. The second is that instead of removing cells from embryos, which can damage them, it relies on testing the eggs, which are the cause of 85 per cent of chromosomal defects.
Healthy human cells have 46 chromosomes, 23 inherited from each parent. Before an egg is fertilised, it ejects half of its complement to leave space for the 23 paternal chromosomes carried by the sperm. The waste chromosomes are jettisoned in a structure called the polar body and are a mirror image of those left behind in the egg. Array CGH checks that an egg’s polar body has 23 chromosomes: if it does not, its parent egg must have too many or too few. Doctors can then ensure that only normal eggs are fertilised to produce viable embryos for transfer to the womb.
Oliver’s mother produced eight eggs, of which only two were found to be normal and transferred to the womb. In several other cases Dr Fishel’s team has found no eggs suitable for transfer.
The test costs £1,950, on top of the £3,000 or so for IVF. It is not available on the NHS or at other private clinics. Professor Peter Braude, of King’s College London, said: “I am delighted that this patient has achieved her positive outcome after so many years of trying. However we need to be cautious as to whether the new technique was responsible. “I hope that this is not the case here and would love to see a positive outcome to rigorous analysis of this technique, but at the moment this can only be viewed as a potentially very lucky result.”
Australia: Your regulator will protect you
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has been in a panic after a failure in its on-line listing system for complementary medicines. The system includes a list of Proprietary Ingredients, that is, ingredients where only the TGA knows the full composition. One of the Proprietary Ingredients contains peanut oil, but when sponsors used this ingredient, the warning statement that it contained peanut oil, and need to declare the presence of peanut oil on the product label did not appear. The TGA is now contacting the sponsors of products containing this ingredient, advising them of the need to add the warning statement to the product.
The TGA responds: At the end of July, the TGA became aware the electronic listing facility was not generating a prompt to the sponsor to add the PEANUT warning (which alerts sponsor to add a warning to their label that the product contains peanut) when either the product contained a proprietary ingredient which included peanut, arachis (peanut) oil or Arachis hypogaea as an excipient ingredient , or when the product contained one of these as an active. The issues have all been resolved. In all circumstances these are correctly generating the appropriate warning upon validation. A total of 16 products were found to be missing the required warning label in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods entry. However of these only 1 of the products was currently being supplied and was found to have the correct warning label on the product already.
SOURCE (Via email)
2 September, 2009
Organic milk tastes bad
Panelists in taste tests rated organic milk lower than milk from conventional or pasture-fed cows, according to University of Missouri food science research. "Clearly, organic milk was the least liked among the samples, whereas conventional milk and milk from pasture-fed cows were rated similarly," said Laura Valverde, a food science master's student.
One hundred panelists sampled the three kinds of milk, which were purchased directly from Missouri on-farm dairy operations. Organic milk scored the lowest in taste tests that rated flavor, liking and mouth feel.
"Panelists could not discriminate between conventional milk and milk from pasture-fed cows, other than a distinction of overall appearance," she said.
Cows' feed could make the difference. One reason for organic milk's low scores could be the cows' feed. The organic cows were fed with clover, hay, grass and barley. While hay was part of the feed of all cows, clover gives milk a rather strong flavor and barley can be a source of off-flavors, she said. "We could not determine if the difference in liking was because panelists were unfamiliar with organic milk or if there was anything objectionable in the organic milk," said Ingolf Gruen, food science researcher and Valverde's graduate adviser.
Public concerns about the use of rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) have helped boost sales of organic milk. "The widespread belief among organic milk consumers is that organic milk is superior to conventional milk. However, organic milk superiority has not been scientifically proven," Valverde said.
Surprise! Depression and anxiety is genetically heritable!
Just like most personality characteristics. Even attitudes have a surprisingly high degree of genetic heritability
Almost 15 per cent of preschoolers have abnormally high levels of depression and anxiety, and a difficult temperament at five months of age is the most important early warning sign, a study has found.
Highly strung or tense four and five-year-olds are also more likely to have mothers with a history of depression than children who are not anxious or depressed.
The study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, was based on annual interviews with 1759 mothers about their children's behaviour from five months to five years of age. The team of Canadian, French, US and British researchers from the International Laboratory for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Development said depression and anxiety symptoms could be identified in infants who were fearful or anxious, worried, not as happy as other children or who had difficulty having fun.
Difficulties in sleep, changes in appetite or concentration, lack of interest in things they used to find pleasurable and suddenly aggressive behaviour are also early warning signs.
The lead author, Sylvana Cote, a professor at the University of Montreal's department of social and preventive medicine, said: ''As early as the first year of life, there are indications that some children have more risks than others to develop high levels of depression and anxiety.''
1 September, 2009
Exposed: The swine flu hoax
The alarm has been sounded. Politicians, pharmaceutical executives and media conglomerates would have us believe that a 1918-style pandemic is a real threat. The 1918 pandemic, however, evolved out of conditions unique to World War I, for four specific reasons.
Why 2009 Is Not 1918: First, World War I was characterized by millions of troops living in waterlogged trenches along the Western Front. This war zone became fertile ground for an opportunistic virus, as medical literature reveals: "…a landscape that was contaminated with respiratory irritants such as chlorine and phosgene, and characterized by stress and overcrowding, the partial starvation in civilians, and the opportunity for rapid ‘passage’ of influenza in young soldiers would have provided the opportunity for multiple but small mutational charges throughout the viral genome."
Second, the war witnessed the growth of industrial-scale military camps and embarkation ports, such as Etaples in France, enabling the flu virus to enter into another phase of accelerated mutation. On any given day, Etaples was a makeshift city of 100,000 troops from around the British Empire and its former dominions. These soldiers concentrated into unsanitary barracks, tents and mess halls.
Today, many cities and nations have dense concentrations of people; none of these, however, are geographically isolated under the conditions of trench warfare and World War I-style deployments. Of course, there are smaller, sub-populations of people in prisons (prone to multi-drug resistant tuberculosis), in military barracks (prone to respiratory pathogens and meningococcal infections) and on cruise ships (prone to the Norovirus) – all proof of the connection between human confinement on the one hand and infectious disease on the other.
Third, after the war, ships such as the USS Alaskan became floating Petri dishes. Thousands of soldiers were packed like sardines for the long voyage home, allowing the virus to reverberate within hermetically-sealed units.
Fourth, returning troops were stuffed into boxcars for the train trip back to military bases, where they infected new recruits. Later, it was documented that Army regiments whose barracks allowed only 45 square feet per soldier had a flu incidence up to ten times that of regiments afforded 78 square feet per man.
The 1918 flu virus became pandemic because, during World War I, the normal host-pathogen relationship was abandoned when millions of young men crowded into geographical confinement. In World War I, a flu virus was presented with a seemingly limitless number of hosts – almost all young, male, and with compromised immune systems. Unconstrained and unchecked by the usual habits of human behavior, the virus went rogue.
Flu viruses are smart, but they are not suicidal: if the host becomes extinct the virus will become extinct too. The evolutionary strategy, from the virus’s perspective, is to stay one step ahead of the immune systems of both humans and animals – but not two steps ahead. The flu virus aims to infect and reproduce without killing a critical mass of the hosts, of the herd, so the virus’s virulence is ameliorated after it becomes fatal for people on the margins of the host population – the weak and the elderly. World War I disrupted this synchronized, co-evolutionary relationship between flu viruses and human populations.
No flu since 1918 has been strong enough to produce, in millions of people, a "cytokine storm," which is an immunological over-reaction leading to pulmonary edema (the lungs filling with fluid) – the curse of those with the strongest immune systems, normally between 20 and 40 years of age.
In normal flu pandemics, even in severe ones, the flu virus kills a portion of the weak and elderly. This appears to be the case in 1837 for Germany and in 1890 for Russia, though reliable medical evidence is scarce. It was certainly true for the Asian flu of 1957 and the Hong Kong flu of 1968, neither of which were significantly fatal for young adults. The flu 1976–1977 has been exposed as a boondoggle, a fraud, with far more people dying of the vaccine than from the flu itself.
Indeed, 1918 was an aberration. Since then, no flu has scythed away so many people: some 500,000 Americans and anywhere between 25–50 million people worldwide in three waves: first in March, then in August (the deadliest wave), and in then again in November of 1918, lasting into the spring of 1919.
The origins of the 1918 pandemic can be traced back to the trenches of the Western Front in 1915, 1916, and 1917 – to the world’s first large-scale industrial and international war. There was no other cause: If WWI had not been fought, it is inconceivable that the 1918 flu pandemic would have been so severe. Today, in 2009, absent the conditions of WWI, it is preposterous for political and medical authorities to claim that the swine flu is a menace to society.
The Mysterious Origins of the H1N1 "Swine Flu" Virus
If the current H1N1 swine flu virus does become abnormally lethal, there would be three leading explanations: first, that the virus was accidentally released, or escaped, from a laboratory; second, that a disgruntled lab employee unleashed the virus (as happened, according to the official version of events, with the 2001 anthrax attack); or third, that a group, corporation or government agency intentionally released the virus in the interests of profit and power.
Each of the three scenarios represents a plausible explanation should the swine virus become lethal. After all, the 1918 flu virus was dead and buried – until, that is, scientists unearthed a lead coffin to obtain a biopsy of the corpse it contained. Later, researchers similarly disturbed an Inuit woman buried under permafrost.
The US Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, with a scientist from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, then began to reconstruct the 1918 Spanish flu. Had Iran or North Korea engaged in Frankenstein experiments (complete with ransacking graves) to reverse engineer the 1918 virus the US and the UK would have gone ballistic at the UN Security Council.
Interestingly, numerous doctors and scientists suspect that the swine flu virus was cultured in a laboratory. A mainstream Australian virologist, Adrian Gibbs – who was one of the first to analyze the genetic properties of the 2009 swine flu – believes that scientists accidentally created the H1N1 virus while producing vaccines. And Dr. John Carlo, Dallas Co. Medical Director, "This strain of swine influenza that’s been cultured in a laboratory is something that’s not been seen anywhere actually in the United States and the world, so this is actually a new strain of influenza that’s been identified." Because of this, the 2009 swine flu virus – which has yet to be detected in any animals – has a rather suspicious pedigree.
The Propaganda Campaign
Across the mainstream media, reports announce one swine flu death after another (even though ordinary flu kills about 35,000 Americans each year). Upon closer scrutiny of what passes for journalism, the victims have "underlying health problems," or "a common underlying health condition," or "significant medical conditions."
One news headline even blared: "Swine flu mother dies after giving birth, leaving her premature baby fighting for life," and only later, buried deep in the story underneath, did it explain that she had "other medical problems" which included being confined to a wheelchair because of a serious car accident.
Citizens the world over are increasingly skeptical of hyped headlines followed by smaller-print caveats. They are uneasy with the effort to create "doublethink" – a term coined by George Orwell in 1984 and a reference to holding two contradictory ideas in one’s mind simultaneously, paralyzing critical thought.
The media has never been in the habit of reporting the cases of people who, for no known reason, die of the flu. Out of the 35,000 Americans who die each year from flu-related illnesses, some are bound to be relatively young and healthy. It happens. This year, however, their stories are front-page news.
More recently, news reports now claim that the H1N1 swine flu can affect people in the lungs and lead to pneumonia. This, however, is what separates the flu from the common cold in the first place; and this is why tens of thousands of elderly people die of flu-related symptoms each year. Fox News even claimed that "this one morphs and mutates and comes back in different ways…," (like all flu viruses). In short, the media now uses the flu’s own ordinary symptoms to fuel fear.
Fortunately, a growing wave of online media challenges the propaganda. Back in 1976, there were no rival voices, and the Center for Disease Control’s manipulative television commercials dominated the airwaves. Fortunately, as a testament to official shamelessness, these videos are now archived and searchable on the Internet under the title of "1976 Swine Flu Propaganda."
Now, like then, the US government’s pandemic policy alternates between the ridiculous and the repugnant. The government’s flu website is revealing. First, the historical section on the 1918 virus is intellectually dishonest, making absolutely no link between the unique conditions of World War I and the flu pandemic; instead, the site propagates the erroneous notion that this virus came out of the blue.
Second, the site announces an absurd American Idol-style video contest: "Create a Video About Preventing or Dealing With the Flu & Be Eligible to Win $2500 Cash!" (Congress has earmarked 8 billion dollars for swine flu prevention and can only offer $2,500 to the proles – or, rather, to the one prole who, rising above mediocrity, best parrots the Party Line.)
And third, the site encourages the use of Twitter to "stay informed…" There is something mildly disturbing about the US federal government promoting Twitter as a form of resistance to foreign authoritarianism, while, simultaneously, using social networking to further federalize and protect the abuse of power at home.
1976 + 1984 = 2009: In sum, it appears that the 2009 swine flu pandemic will not be 1918. It might be a 1976-style hoax, however, serving profit and power – with a bit of Orwell’s 1984 thrown in for good measure.
Breast tumour drug could treat many skin cancer cases
Melanomas are quite ferocious neoplasms so any possible advance does warrant vigorous exploration
Up to one in five cases of the deadliest form of skin cancer could be treatable with an existing drug already licensed for breast tumours, research has suggested. Scientists in the United States are planning a clinical trial of the drug, known as lapatinib or Tyverb, in patients with certain kinds of malignant melanoma, after genetic research suggested their tumours might be susceptible to it.
If the trial is successful, it would open a new approach to treating about 20 per cent of cases of malignant melanoma, which is diagnosed in more than 10,000 people each year in Britain and causes more than 2,000 deaths.
While melanomas are usually curable if identified and treated early with surgery and chemotherapy or radiotherapy, they often respond poorly to existing therapies once they are advanced.
The trial of lapatinib will involve melanoma patients whose tumours have particular genetic mutations that suggest they might respond to the drug. It follows a study that has identified 16 new genetic mutations that are often found in malignant melanoma, one of which is present in 19 per cent of the tumours that were investigated.
This common melanoma mutation, called ERBB4 or HER4, is also present in certain lung cancers, which can be treated with lapatinib. The new study, by the US National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), also found that lapatinib can inhibit the growth of melanoma cells in laboratory cultures.
Steven Rosenberg, of the US National Cancer Institute, who was involved in the study and will oversee the clinical trial of lapatinib for melanoma, said: “This collaborative study represents an ideal example of how sophisticated genetic analyses can be translated to the benefit of cancer patients.”
Yardena Samuels, who led the study, said: “We have found what appears to be an Achilles’ heel of a sizable share of melanomas. Though additional work is needed to gain a more complete understanding of these genetic mutations and their roles in cancer biology, our findings open the door to pursuing specific therapies that may prove useful for the treatment of melanoma with ERBB4 mutations.”
The results highlight an emerging new approach to cancer research and treatment, by which cancers are categorised according to the pattern of genetic mutations that drive them. Drugs that target these precise mutations can then be selected, so that patients get a treatment personalised to their tumour’s genetic characteristics.
Tumours that occur in different parts of the body, such as the skin and the breast, may sometimes be amenable to similar treatment strategies if they are driven by similar genetic mutations.
In the study, which is published in the journal Nature Genetics, Dr Samuels’s team investigated the protein tyrosine kinase (PTK) gene family in blood and tumour samples from people with metastatic melanoma. The PTK gene family is already known to be implicated in many cancers. An analysis of samples from 29 patients revealed 19 PTK mutations, only three of which were previously known. These were then followed up in a larger group of 79 melanoma patients. One of the 19 mutations, in the ERBB4 gene, showed up exceptionally often, in 19 per cent of patients’ tumours. Many of these ERBB4 mutations appeared in parts of the gene that are known to be mutated in other cancers, including lung, brain and stomach tumours. Two other PTK genes, called FLT1 and PTK2B, were also found to be mutated in about 10 per cent of melanomas, and could also be potential targets for drugs.
Eric Green, scientific director of the NHGRI, said research of this sort should eventually allow doctors to target cancer treatment very precisely to the needs of individual patients, depending on the particular mutations found in their tumours. “We envision a day when each cancer patient will have therapies tailored to the specific genetic profile of his or her tumor,” he said. “Ultimately, this should lead to more effective and less toxic approaches to cancer care.”
SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"
Where it is not bunk is when it shows that some treatment or influence has no effect on lifespan or disease incidence. It is as convincing as disproof as it is unconvincing as proof. Think about it. As Einstein said: No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.
Epidemiological studies are useful for hypothesis-generating or for hypothesis-testing of theories already examined in experimental work but they do not enable causative inferences by themselves
The standard of reasoning that one commonly finds in epidemiological journal articles is akin to the following false syllogism:
Chairs have legs
You have legs
So therefore you are a chair
"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin
"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions
Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”
"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?
Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:
1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).
2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.
3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.
4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.
5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?
6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.
7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.
8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].
9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.
10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.
11). A major cause of increasing obesity is certainly the campaign against it -- as dieting usually makes people FATTER. If there were any sincerity to the obesity warriors, they would ban all diet advertising and otherwise shut up about it. Re-authorizing now-banned school playground activities and school outings would help too. But it is so much easier to blame obesity on the evil "multinationals" than it is to blame it on your own restrictions on the natural activities of kids
12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!
More on salt (See point 5 above): Salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin
Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.
The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.
The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.
NOTE: "No trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat".
Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here
Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding for their usual recommendations in double-blind studies.
The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.
Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."
Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here
This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.
I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.
Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.
The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."
The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.
Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.