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, 2010

Popular British TV chef: please don't celebrate excessive thinness

Nigella Lawson has championed an "anti-diet" philosophy and expressed concerned that increasing numbers of young people are suffering from eating disorders.

The television cook, renowned for her indulgent recipes, said she worried that dieting had become "normalised" for teenagers. Seeing her late mother, Vanessa, struggle with eating disorders throughout her life has made her determined to have a positive relationship with food, Lawson said.

"I think that's probably very much the basis of my anti-diet stance. "It's not that I think it's good to eat unheathily, I don't, but I can see how corrosive obsessive dieting can be.

And what I would say now as a parent - you know, I've got teenage children - is that I'm quite taken aback how much anorexia now seems to be pretty much equal in both sexes. I notice both male and female.

"In many senses it's slightly normalised because people routinely congratulate one another for eating less or for losing weight. 'Have you lost weight?' is meant to be a nice thing to say to someone. So, of course, you don't have to extrapolate very far and that gets to be a celebration of excessive thinness."

Appearing on Daybreak, the ITV1 morning programme, Lawson admitted that she did not set a perfect example for her own children. "I did vow when I had my daughter that I would never become someone who would say, 'I shouldn't eat this or I feel so fat today'. Of course, occasionally one does break that."

Her comments follow the death of Anna Wood, 16, who decided to join her mother on a post-Christmas diet in January last year. Within months, her weight dropped to six-and-a-half stone and she died of a heart attack earlier this year.

Lawson has previously referred to her mother, who died in 1985, as "perpetually dieting". She recalled: "As a consequence, my act of teen rebellion was not being skinny... in my experience, enjoying food is probably a good way of not getting into that binge mentality".


ADHD blamed on genes, not parenting

Nice to see the obvious acknowledged

ATTENTION deficit hyperactivity disorder is a genetic condition rather than a consequence of bad parenting or poor diet, new research suggests.

A landmark study found that children with ADHD are more likely to have differences in the brain caused by duplicated or missing segments of DNA. The research, published today in The Lancet, dispels theories linking the condition to parenting or high-sugar diets, The Australian reports.

Scientists from Cardiff University found that rare copy number variants - where small pieces of DNA are duplicated or deleted - were twice as common in children with ADHD as in those without.

The study identified an overlap between the affected parts of the DNA and those associated with autism and schizophrenia. The most significant was at a particular region on chromosome 16 that has previously been implicated in schizophrenia.

Children with ADHD are excessively restless, impulsive and easily distracted. There is no cure, although medication and behavioural therapy can reduce symptoms. Patterns of ADHD have shown it to be highly heritable. Sufferers are statistically more likely to have a parent with the condition.

Anita Thapar, of the department of psychological medicine and neurology at Cardiff, said the study showed that ADHD was better considered a neurodevelopmental disorder rather than a behavioural problem.

"We hope these findings will help overcome the stigma," Professor Thapar said. "Too often, people dismiss ADHD as being down to bad parenting or poor diet. Now we can say that ADHD is a genetic disease and that the brains of children with this condition develop differently."

Researchers analysed the genomes of 366 children with a diagnosis of ADHD against more than 1000 control samples to search for variations in their genetic make-up. They found 57 large, rare copy number variants in the ADHD sufferers compared with 78 among the 1047 controls.

While the study showed the primary role of genes, it did not exclude the influence of environmental factors and it included only people of European Caucasian descent.

John Williams, of the Wellcome Trust, a funder of the research, said: "These findings are testament to the perseverance of Professor Thapar and colleagues to prove the often unfashionable theory that ADHD is a brain disorder with genetic links."

The researchers said that while autism and ADHD were thought to be separate conditions, the study suggested that they may have a shared biological basis.

Philip Asherson, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, agreed that environment should still be considered a cause. Research on Romanian orphans found that deprivation at an early age could lead to ADHD or other neurological problems, he said.


29 September, 2010

Cretan babies breastfed for six months 'significantly healthier' than infants fed on formula feeds (?)

I don't know enough about life on Crete (or how well Cretan mothers use formula) to comment on possible social influences but the results are odd (the babies had to be EXCLUSIVELY breastfed to get any benefits?) and the fact that only 91 out of nearly 1,000 babies were exclusively breastfed after 6 months suggests that the 91 mothers concerned may be deviant from the population norm in other ways -- perhaps exhibiting an unusually high level of care for the health of their infants. So the benefit observed cannot with certainty be ascribed to the breastfeeding itself.

I can also see no evidence of an attempt to exclude experimenter expectation effects

Breastfeeding children for six months can ward off common infections during infancy, further evidence suggests. The findings showed babies brought up exclusively on their mother's milk were significantly more healthy than those given substitute formula feeds.

But the study found the positive effects - fewer and less severe infections - were not felt by children who were only partially breastfed.

Researchers from the University of Crete monitored the health of just under 1,000 infants for a period of 12 months. They recorded any common infections they had at one, three, six, nine and 12 months, which included respiratory and urinary infections, ear infections, stomach upsets, conjunctivitis and thrush.

The infants, drawn from a total of 6,878 births in 2004 in Crete, were routinely vaccinated and had access to a high standard of healthcare.

Researchers found the longer an infant was exclusively breastfed - with no substitute formula feeds - the lower the rate of infection. Any infections they did pick up were less severe than those experienced by their peers who were either partially breastfed or not breastfed at all.

Factors such as parental age and education, exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, ethnicity and number of siblings influenced the frequency of infections, the findings showed.

Meanwhile, researchers concluded that antibodies passed on through the mother's milk, as well as nutritional and immunological factors, accounted for some of the differences observed.

In an article which appears in the BMJ's Archives of Disease in Childhood they conclude: 'Exclusive breastfeeding helps protect infants against common infections and lessens the frequency and severity of infectious episode not only in developing countries but also in communities with adequate vaccination coverage and healthcare standards.'

Janet Fyle, Professional Policy Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said the findings were further evidence of the 'many benefits of breastfeeding'. 'We know that breastfeeding is the default method of infant feeding for babies; good for mothers and good for the health of the nation,' she said. 'That is why we need to continue our efforts to ensure that we maintain a high rate of breastfeeding in the UK, particularly among those women with low rates.'

But she said more needed to be done to tackle the perceived "stigma" attached to breastfeeding. 'As a nation we need to look at the issues that militate against mothers breastfeeding for longer, such as the workplace, and facilities for mothers to breastfeed when they are out and about,' she added.

'The UK needs to see breastfeeding as a normal process, and to move away from some of the outdated and negative stigma that is depressingly still attached to it, specifically breastfeeding in public.'

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), human milk is the most suitable food for newborn and young infants and exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life is recommended.



Objective: To prospectively investigate the effects of breastfeeding on the frequency and severity of infections in a well-defined infant population with adequate vaccination coverage and healthcare standards.

Study design: In a representative sample of 926 infants, successfully followed up for 12 months, feeding mode and all infectious episodes, including acute otitis media (AOM), acute respiratory infection (ARI), gastroenteritis, urinary tract infection, conjunctivitis and thrush, were recorded at 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 months of life.

Results: Infants exclusively breastfed for 6 months, as per WHO recommendations, presented with fewer infectious episodes than their partially breastfed or non-breastfed peers and this protective effect persisted after adjustment for potential confounders for ARI (OR 0.58, 95% CI 0.36 to 0.92), AOM (OR 0.37, 95% CI 0.13 to 1.05) and thrush (OR 0.14, 95% CI 0.02 to 1.02). Prolonged exclusive breastfeeding was associated with fewer infectious episodes (rs=−0.07, p=0.019) and fewer admissions to hospital for infection (rs=−0.06, p=0.037) in the first year of life. Partial breastfeeding was not related to protective effect. Several confounding factors, including parental age and education, ethnicity, presence of other siblings, environmental tobacco smoke exposure and season of birth were demonstrated to have an effect on frequency of infections during infancy.

Conclusions: Findings from this large-scale prospective study in a well-defined infant population with adequate healthcare standards suggest that exclusive breastfeeding contributes to protection against common infections during infancy regarding and lessens the frequency and severity of infectious episodes. Partial breastfeeding did not seem to provide this protective effect.

From: "Protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding against infections during infancy: a prospective study"

Amazing quackery

The supplier should do a long stretch in jail but don't hold your breath. I don't have much sympathy with the customers though. Anybody gullible enough to believe the claims will probably have a short lifespan anyway

Government health watchdogs have issued an urgent warning about a 'miracle' health drink that contains industrial strength BLEACH.

Hundreds of thousands of bottles of 'Miracle Mineral Solution' have been sold worldwide after makers claimed it cured illnesses including cancer and malaria. But its desperate users have suffered agonising bouts of nausea and diarrhoea after taking just a few drops of the fluid.

Shockingly, the health drink contains 28 per cent sodium chlorite solution - the equivalent to industrial strength bleach and six times the amount in a bottle of Domestos.

The Food Standards Agency has now warned people who have bought the drink to throw it away after Trading Standards received a deluge of complaints. A spokesperson said: 'If you look at a bottle of Domestos that's just 4.5 per cent sodium chlorite.

'The simple fact is not how this solution is taken but that you just shouldn't be drinking bleach full stop. 'We were alerted to the solution after a local authority received a complaint from somebody who had drank it. 'Sodium Chlorite is bleach. Bleach is not on the approved list of foods and it shouldn't be sold as a food supplement.'

Miracle Mineral Solution is sold over the internet by a man who gives his name as 'Jim Humble'. A bottle of the liquid costs £21.98 in American dollars and users must mix it with citric acid. Makers of the liquid claim that the solution can cure a range of illnesses including Hepatitis, cancer, Crohns disease, the flu herpes and TB.

But side-effects include severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, dehydration and reduced blood pressure. If the solution is taken in large enough doses the sodium chlorite could be fatal. It is the equivalent of drinking industrial strength bleach.

An FSA spokesperson added: 'If you have any of this product you should throw it away. If you have consumed MMS and feel unwell you should consult your doctor. 'If the solution is diluted less than instructed, it could cause damage to the gut and red blood cells, potentially resulting in respiratory failure.

'If you are aware of MMS being sold in retail outlets, you should contact your local authority trading standards department.'

Nobody from Miracle Mineral Solutions was available for comment.


28 September, 2010

Pomegranate juice is no silver bullet: watchdog

US federal regulators have filed complaints against the makers of POM Wonderful Pomegranate Juice, saying there's no science to support claims that the products treat or prevent diseases such as prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

The Federal Trade Commission says POM Wonderful, its parent company Roll International Corp, its creators and an executive violated federal law by making false and deceptive claims about disease prevention and treatment.

The agency's complaint names POM Wonderful president Matthew Tupper and company founders Stewart and Lynda Resnick, a billionaire California couple whose holdings also include florist retailer Teleflora, Fiji Water and companies that produce Wonderful Pistachios and Cuties clementines.

POM Wonderful is seen as starting the pomegranate craze that has spread to everything from tea to smoothies, hitting ice cream, martinis and salad dressings on the way. The company's health claims are a hallmark of its advertising.

POM Wonderful says on its website it has spent more than $US34 million to support scientific research on POM products since 1998. Study topics include muscle recovery, diabetes, antioxidant potency, heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

Regulators say the ads mislead in saying the research shows the juice or related pomegranate supplements prevent or treat certain diseases. "Any consumer who sees POM Wonderful products as a silver bullet against disease has been misled," David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said on Monday. He said companies using scientific research in their advertising must have research that supports the claims.

The FTC will hold a hearing within eight months before an administrative law judge. The FTC cited advertisements in national publications including The New York Times and Prevention, on internet sites run by the company including and, and elsewhere.

Regulators question the scientific methods used and said some studies cited did not show POM Juice to be effective against the diseases. The claims in POM ads that the FTC cites include:

- "New research offers further proof of the heart-healthy benefits of POM wonderful juice. 30 per cent decrease in arterial plaque ... 17 per cent improved blood flow ... promotes healthy blood vessels...."

- "Clinical studies prove that POM Juice and POMx prevent, reduce the risk of, and treat prostate cancer, including by prolonging prostate-specific antigen doubling time."

- "You have a 50 per cent chance of getting (prostate cancer). Listen to me. It is the one thing that will keep your (prostate-specific antigens) normal. You have to drink pomegranate juice. There is nothing else we know of that will keep your PSA in check.... It's also 40 per cent as effective as Viagra."

The complaint asks that future claims about pomegranate-based products comply with Food and Drug Administration regulations, although that is not typically required for compliance with trade laws. Having the FDA approve claims would give the company more guidance, the FTC said.

The agency also wants to prevent POM and its parents, founders and the executive "from making any other health claim about any food, drug, or dietary supplement without competent and reliable scientific evidence".


Antioxidants can give you a malignant melanoma


Millions of people who take daily vitamin pills could be putting themselves at risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer. Research has revealed that supplements containing antioxidants and minerals appear to increase the chances of developing a malignant melanoma.

Volunteers given pills containing vitamin E, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc were four times more likely to get cancer than those who took dummy pills.

The findings come from a follow-up study to one in 2007, which revealed the risks to vitamin-pill poppers. The results of that research, by French scientists, showed that out of 13,000 adults, those who took daily supplements to stay healthy were at much higher risk of skin cancer.

To double-check their findings, the same team monitored patients for several more years. These results, published in the latest European Journal of Cancer Prevention, confirm that the increased risk virtually disappeared once patients stopped daily supplements.

Now scientists behind the research, carried out at the National Centre for Rare Skin Diseases in Bordeaux, are calling for those most at risk of skin cancer – fair-skinned types or those with a history of excessive sun exposure – to steer clear of supplements.

Women may be more at risk than men, possibly because they have more fat around the skin, where antioxidants and vitamins are mainly stored.

Malignant melanomas kill around 1,700 a year in the UK and are the third most common cancer in those aged 15 to 39. Over-exposure to the sun’s rays is the biggest cause and since the mid-1990s there has been a 24 per cent increase in cases.

So far, the only proven way of reducing risk is to use high-protection creams and wearing suitable clothing. But it had been widely assumed that taking antioxidants would reduce the risk, since supplements theoretically protect the skin against damage from the sun’s rays. The latest study, however, suggests supplements have the opposite effect.

Scientists do not think taking vitamins actually causes malignant melanoma, rather it somehow speeds up the development of a tumour.

The findings are likely to heighten concerns about over-use of vitamins. Earlier this year, Swedish researchers found that taking daily multi-vitamin pills raised the risk of breast cancer in women by almost 20 per cent. They said supplements could increase the density of breast tissue, a known risk factor for cancer.

It is estimated that nearly a quarter of all adults in the UK take antioxidant supplements or multi-vitamins on a regular basis. The market is worth around £500million a year.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Health Supplements Information Service, which represents supplement suppliers, said other studies had found no link between vitamins and skin cancer. She added the low number of skin cancer cases in the French research also cast doubt on the results.

Cancer Research UK stressed that vitamins and minerals found in foods did not appear to harm skin in the same way. A spokesman said: ‘The best way to reduce the risk is to avoid sunburn.’


27 September, 2010

This weeks miracle food: Watercress

We get a new one of these most weeks. It's all theory, of course, including reference to that seemingly indestructible myth: anti-oxidants. There's no epidemiology and no use of even an animal model to demonstrate an effect on morbidity. But it apparently does everything except water your garden

Watercress is often placed to the side of a plate as a decorative garnish, but it has been revered for its health properties for centuries.

While these health claims may be debatable, watercress is packed with 15 essential vitamins and minerals. Now, scientists believe a daily dose may help combat breast cancer.

This month, researchers at Southampton University discovered that within hours of eating 3oz of watercress a day – about a full cereal bowl – a small group of breast cancer survivors had a higher level of cancer-fighting molecules in their blood.

They found the compound phenethyl isothiocyanate – which gives watercress its peppery taste – blocks the hypoxia-inducible factor protein which helps cancer tumours grow. They also found watercress helps ‘turn off’ the signals that cancer cells send out asking the body for more blood and oxygen.

Professor Graham Packham, who led the research, said: ‘I was surprised that eating one portion produced significant levels of this compound in the blood. It has the potential to have the same effect with other cancers.’

In fact, this is not the first time watercress – whose Latin name means ‘nose-twister’ – has been found to combat cancer. In 2007, Irish scientists revealed that a daily portion reduced DNA damage to blood cells, considered an important trigger in the development of cancer.

The trial involved 60 healthy men and women who ate 3oz of fresh watercress every day for eight weeks. They found that in addition to reducing DNA damage, the cress also increased the ability of cells to resist damage from free radicals.

But its cancer-preventative properties are not the only benefit. ‘Watercress is full of nutrients including iron, calcium and Vitamin A and C,’ says dietician Katie Peck. ‘It is low in sodium and high in water, so it is very low in calories.’

It is an excellent source of natural phytonutrients, substances in plants that have antioxidant properties such as isothiocyanates, flavonoids and carotenoids.

It also contains folate, which helps maintain normal blood levels of homocysteine (high levels are associated with an increased coronary heart disease risk) as well as decreasing the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

Consultant dietician Sian Porter says: ‘Watercress also contains lutein, a carotenoid which is a plant component that provides the deep orange, yellow and red colours in fruit and vegetables. They have a role in helping to stay healthy and keep heart disease, cancer and macular degeneration at bay.’


Beware attention-seekers

Their mother probably didn't look when they were little and said to her "Look at me". There has never been any evidence of harm arising from the consumption of GM foods

Six female Greenpeace campaigners have been arrested for trespassing after staging a supermarket protest in Sydney's north on Monday over a Wyeth Nutrition baby formula they believe may be harmful.

The six were part of a 15-strong group who staged the sit-down inside a Neutral Bay Woolworths about 10am. They positioned themselves in front of the S-26 baby formula, made by the Pfizer-owned company Wyeth Nutrition, which they claim contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

A similar protest was held by Greenpeace at a Coles store in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.

Police said the six women, aged between 20 and 30, were expected to be charged with trespassing later on Monday. ``Police spoke with the (Woolworths store) manager and then commenced negotiations with the group," a police spokeswoman said. ``They (the campaigners) left the store and then without warning went back inside."

Officers spoke with the manager again and the women were arrested a short time later when they refused to leave. The remainder of the group left of their own accord.

Greenpeace named the arrested six as Sarah Roberts, Melissa Freeburn, Rebecca Evenden, Anna Parente, Claire Parfitt and Olivia Rosenman, and said they would be assisted by a Greenpeace lawyer.

Greenpeace is angry over what it said was a lack of labelling on the S-26 baby formula and called on Woolworths and Coles to remove it from their shelves. Independent tests of the popular baby formula have found it contains traces of GM soy and corn which could be harmful to infants, Greenpeace Australia spokeswoman Laura Kelly told AAP at the supermarket on Monday. The formula is not labelled as containing GM ingredients.

Wyeth Nutrition said the company has had a strict policy of using only non-GM ingredients in all its infant formulas since 2001. ``It is important to note that trace amounts of GMO (genetically modified organisms) do not present a health or safety threat to infants," it said in a statement.

The company was concerned by the allegations made by Greenpeace and had requested a copy of the test results. ``Wyeth Nutrition would welcome the opportunity to work with Greenpeace and relevant authorities to address the matter in detail," it said.


26 September, 2010

Screen time leads to saggy faces for women (?)

This is just one person's opinion. It's not even epidemiology

A leading cosmetic surgeon has identified a growing phenomenon described as 'computer face' among professional women who work for long hours in front of their computers.

Dr Michael Prager, a Botox specialist, said that, of all his clientele, office workers were most likely to show premature signs of ageing. "If you are one of the unfortunate people who frown or squint while they are concentrating at the screen then, over time, you will inevitably end up with frown lines,'" he said.

"What is perhaps more surprising is the number of women with saggy jowls because they are sitting in one position for so long. "If you spend most of the time looking down then the neck muscles shorten and go saggy, eventually giving you a second neck.

He warned the problem is set to get worse as a generation grows up using computers throughout their working life. He said: "The women I am seeing at the moment have only been using computers at work for the last decade or so. "But women in their 20s have grown up with them and use them for every single task. It will be completely different for them and I think the problem is going to become much, much worse. "In another ten years, they could be looking quite awful."

Dr Prager, who has a practice near Harley Street, said he encourages his clients to put a mirror next to their computer so they can see if they are frowning at the screen. He said: "When people are stressed or thinking hard about something then they will often put on a "grumpy face" without even knowing what they are doing. "When my clients put a mirror next to their desk they are often shocked by the angry, frowning face which stares back at them."

According to Dr Prager there are several simple steps which can help stave off 'computer face', such as regular screen breaks and stretching the neck muscles. He added, perhaps not surprisingly, that after a couple of sessions of Botox, the habit of 'grumpy face' can be overcome.


'Miracle cure' market unpoliced in Australia

WIDESPREAD criticism of the Therapeutic Goods Administration has forced the Gillard government to look at overhauling Australia's drugs regulator because it is failing to adequately police the $2 billion industry in "miracle" cures and other quasi-health devices.

Claims that "therapeutic" products can cure everything from AIDS to cancer, guarantee weight loss or improve strength, balance and flexibility are misleading and deceptive and can sometimes lead to lethal results, health experts say.

The federal Department of Health and Ageing released a consultation paper on the advertising of therapeutic goods in June, saying it was important the public received accurate information about the risks as well as the purported benefits of these goods on the market.

"Concerns have been raised by some opponents of the current advertising framework that the system is not working to protect consumers as well as it might," the paper said. "There is a perception that the complaints handling process is not as transparent as it could be, and that the sanctions available to the [TGA's] complaints resolution panel … do not provide sufficient deterrence."

Unlike registered pharmaceutical drugs, most herbal and complementary medicines are "listed" by the TGA, which means their makers pay a fee and are expected to have evidence to back their claims. Listed products are not reviewed by the TGA but are subject to random audits.

Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Michael Moore said there was a perception the TGA did not take consumer protection seriously. Its "light touch" approach was no longer appropriate in an industry where Australians spend more than $2 billion a year.

He said product names such as "Fat Magnet", "Weight Loss Accelerate" and "Slim Me" were, in his view, misleading and deceptive and provided minimal or no information about known adverse side effects.

Under the Therapeutic Goods Act, there is no provision for the TGA to impose civil penalties for breaches of the advertising code. The TGA can only remove products from the register and refer repeated breaches of the advertising code to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for criminal prosecution, where the maximum penalty is a $6600 fine for individuals and $33,000 for corporations.

TGA spokeswoman Kay McNiece said most companies supplying therapeutic goods to the Australian market did comply with advertising requirements, but "the complaint handling arrangements for those companies that do not comply could be improved".

One long-standing critic of the TGA, La Trobe University public health expert Dr Ken Harvey, said it was failing to protect customers from unproven complementary medicines and devices that may be shonky. "If the TGA moves at all, it moves with glacial speed," Dr Harvey said.

Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health Catherine King said she was worried by the number of companies pushing the boundaries and would consider all 38 submissions before taking appropriate action


25 September, 2010

Effect of Family Meals on Obesity Varies by Race (?)

One wonders why "research" as worthless as this was ever done. "The study didn't look at what children were eating or how much they consumed". WHAT you eat and HOW MUCH you eat has no relevance? Did the authors contemplate that blacks, Hispanics and whites might have characteristically different diets or that the parents in different groups might set different examples in how much they ate? Is there a difference between eating lots of fried chicken and lots of tacos, for instance? Do black parents "pig out" more than white parents do?

I guess that political correctness means that I am not supposed to mention that sort of thing but diet is an obvious uncontrolled variable that renders the meaning of the findings moot. Journal article here

Eating family meals may help fight obesity in white children, but it doesn't seem to benefit black children much, and could even raise Hispanic boys' obesity risk, new research shows.

The study, in nearly 17,000 U.S. children, didn't look at what children were eating or how much they consumed. "I think that's a topic for future research, to figure out just what's going on at the dinner table," Brandi Y. Rollins of The Pennsylvania State University in University Park, who helped conduct the research, told Reuters Health.

She and her colleagues report their findings in the September issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Several well-publicized studies have shown that frequent family dinners may promote healthy weight and even reduce risky behaviors like drinking and smoking among adolescents and teens. But to date, Rollins said, there has been just one study of how family meals affect obesity risk in younger children. There's also evidence, she added, that family meals may be more beneficial to white teens than to black or Hispanic adolescents.

To investigate whether race, gender and household education level might influence the protective effects of family meals, Rollins and her team looked at data from the 2003 National Survey of Children's Health. The study included 16,770 boys and girls 6 to 11 years old, 72% f whom were non-Hispanic whites.

Forty-three percent of the white children were overweight or obese, compared to 60% of Hispanic children and 63% of non-Hispanic black children. White and black children ate about five meals a week with their families, on average, while Hispanic children averaged six family meals a week.

Non-Hispanic white kids who ate family meals every day were one-third less likely to be obese than white children who ate family meals twice a week or less. But there was no relationship between family meal frequency and overweight or obesity among black girls. For black boys, the risk of being overweight or obese decreased slightly as family meals per week increased.

For Hispanic boys who either lived in a single parent household or lived in less educated households (meaning the most-educated family member had not gone past high school), eating more family meals actually increased the risk of being overweight or obese.

There was no relationship, though, between family meal frequency and excess weight for Hispanic girls living with one parent or in less educated households, or for Hispanic boys and girls living in two-parent or more highly educated households.

"It is possible that parents within these ethnic populations used different child-feeding practices with their male and female children; previous research has shown this to be the case in other ethnic groups," Rollins and her team write. They note that one study found non-Hispanic white parents placed more food within reach for boys than for girls.

Another study found that Hispanic families were more likely than other ethnic groups to buy fast food for family dinners, the researchers add. "These family meals may not be the healthiest family meals," Rollins said.

Yet another possible explanation, she added, is that because black and Hispanic children are at higher risk of obesity than white kids, encouraging them to sit down to family dinners more often may simply not be enough.

The results suggest "that just telling people to have family meals isn't enough -- focusing also on what they're having during these family meals is just as important," Rollins said.


Food Fascists riding high in Boston

Do they really think thast they can force people to lose weight? It's tilting at windmills

First, it was smoking in restaurants and bars. Then, artery-clogging trans fat in fast food joints and bakeries. Now, Boston health regulators have their crosshairs fixed on soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages sold in city buildings.

Concerned about the girth of employees and visitors to government agencies, Boston officials are weighing — gingerly — whether to restrict or even prohibit the sale of calorie-laden refreshments on city-owned property.

The city has convened influential health, education, and housing leaders to develop a policy that aims to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. While discussions are ongoing, Bill Walczak, head of a community health center and a member of the city’s panel, said, “Somebody has to take a stand, and if it isn’t the government and health care institutions leading the way to a healthier lifestyle, who’s going to do it?’’

There are precedents: San Francisco’s mayor earlier this year issued an executive order banning sale of sugary drinks, and New York has imposed rules governing the mix of beverages in city vending machines to favor water.

In both cases, politicians and health authorities cited the link between soft drinks and the nation’s bulging waistline: From the mid-1970s to 2000, the average American’s daily calorie load attributed to sugary drinks rose from 70 to 190, one study reported. And Harvard researchers found that women who consume more than two of the beverages a day have an almost 40 percent higher risk of heart disease than women who largely forgo them.

Boston’s earlier prohibitions on workplace smoking and trans fat arrived at a time when public sentiment had already shifted. But Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s top health official acknowledged in an interview that restricting the availability of sodas, which are already banned from the city’s school, could engender greater resistance than previous public health causes.

“I think we’re going to run into a big issue of people saying, ‘Why would you take away our sodas, why are you interfering with what we’re eating and drinking?’ ’’ said Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “Unlike tobacco that is always harmful and if a person is smoking in the workplace it harms other people, I think people will look at sugar-sweetened beverages differently.’’

Ferrer said no policy has been drafted, but it appears inevitable that some measure will be adopted. The city promised when it received a $12.5 million federal stimulus grant to combat obesity and tobacco that it would “decrease consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages through counter-advertising and policy change,’’ according to a city document.

Unions representing city workers either said they were unaware of the discussions or did not return phone calls seeking comment. Firefighters declined to comment at a South End firehouse where a hulking blue Pepsi machine offers a dozen options, most containing sugar. Revenue from the machines is used by firefighters to help pay for coffee, utensils, and other dining supplies, said Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald.Continued...

Employees at City Hall were similarly reticent. The City Hall Deli on the eighth floor stocks a variety of soft drinks, as does the City Hall Coffee Stop in the bowels of the building. “I think everything has its place,’’ said the manager of the Coffee Stop, John Moreira. “We’ve got healthy and we’ve got junk.’’

The coolers there offer bureaucrats an array of choices: V8 and Diet Coke, Nesquik and apple juice, full-sugar sodas and designer iced tea. Water is the biggest seller, and diet sodas outsell the full-sugar varieties.

Banning the sale of unhealthy drinks would not necessarily stop workers from indulging, Moreira said. “They won’t get mad,’’ he said. “They’ll just bring it from home, or run across the street to CVS.’’

The trade group representing the biggest producers and distributors of soft drinks, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi, argues that it is unfair to demonize sodas when attempting to address a health condition as complex as obesity.

“The American Beverage Association and its member companies completely agree that obesity is a very serious public health challenge that we need to face,’’ association spokesman Chris Gindlesperger said. “Outright bans, they do nothing to teach people about balance and moderation. It’s overly simplistic and inaccurate to target one product or one ingredient when it comes to obesity.’’

But Walczak has already embraced a soft-drink prohibition at the Codman Square Health Center, where he is chief executive.

The nutrition club at the charter school located in the clinic demanded that the drinks be banished, as well as junk food once peddled in vending machines.

Walczak recalled that, in the 1980s, social workers at the health center smoked while counseling patients. “It would be considered bizarre to see someone smoking in a health care institution today,’’ he said. “We see this as the beginning of the food revolution.’’

Similar restrictions are being considered by other medical centers, as well. A tiny hospital in the Berkshires earlier this year banned sugary soft drinks and sports drinks. Now, one of the state’s biggest hospitals, Brigham and Women’s, is creating a task force to evaluate what strategies it should adopt to discourage soda drinking.

In an experiment at the hospital reported in a medical journal in June, researchers found that boosting the price of sugary soft drinks while keeping the cost of a diet soda steady yielded lower sales of the high-calorie drinks.

“With smoking, we’re talking about yea or nay, yes or no, there’s no median in there,’’ said Kathy McManus, the Brigham’s nutrition director. “When you’re talking about sugar-sweetened beverages, there is more of a continuum, so how to best reduce and then eliminate — there’s all sorts of potential strategies to be discussed.’’


24 September, 2010

New fears over safety of HRT after research shows withdrawing it from women can cut breast cancer risk

This is sheer speculation: "Scientists found that a decrease in the number of menopausal women taking HRT has coincided with a 10 per cent decrease in cancer rates." There has also been a decline in crime rates over recent years in the USA. Was that caused by women going off HRT? No-one has any certain idea of what is behind such demographic trends so it is just a wild guess to make the connection put forward in the article below

The safety of hormone replacement therapy has been thrown into further doubt after research showed that withdrawing it from women reduced the risk of breast cancer. Scientists found that a decrease in the number of menopausal women taking HRT has coincided with a 10 per cent decrease in cancer rates.

Fears over the treatment's safety were first raised in 2002 when a major U.S. study linked it to breast cancer, heart disease and strokes. It led to thousands of British women abandoning the pills, and within three years the numbers using it had halved to one million. But its link to breast cancer has since been disputed and in 2007 another study found that the risks applied only to those in their 70s and 80s – much older than women who usually take HRT.

Now Canadian researchers have found that the decline in use of HRT prompted by the health scares coincided with a 10 per cent fall in breast cancer rates in their country. They found the biggest decline in use of HRT was between 2002 and 2004, when the proportion of women taking it fell from 12.7 per cent to just 4.9 per cent. Over the same period, the number of breast cancer diagnoses fell by 9.6 per cent.

But the researchers also said that they did not think HRT actually caused breast cancer, it merely encouraged it to develop several years earlier. So women who developed tumours while taking the treatment may well have got them anyway.

The study found that the cancer rates began to rise again in 2005, suggesting that women who did not have HRT had postponed breast cancer by two or three years.

Dr Pritwash De, from the Canadian Cancer Society said: 'The nearly 10 per cent drop in invasive breast cancer incidence rate coincided with the decline in the use of hormone replacement therapy reported among Canadian women aged 50–69 years. 'The tandem drop in breast cancer incidence and use of hormone replacement therapy is a phenomenon that has been reported internationally.

'The results support the hypothesised link between the use of hormone replacement therapy and invasive breast cancer incidence and indicate that the sharp decline in breast cancer incidence in 2002 is likely explained by the concurrent decline in the use of hormone replacement therapy among Canadian women.

'To our knowledge, this is the first Canadian study to examine the link between population- level declines in the use of hormone replacement therapy and breast cancer incidence among post-menopausal women.'

HRT is usually prescribed to women in their 50s to treat the symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes, night sweats and mood changes, and it can also protect the bones.

Around 2.6million women in Britain are currently prescribed the treatment, which can be taken via a range of methods, including tablets, implants, skin gels and patches. This number has fallen from 6.2million in 2001, before the breast cancer study was published.


Breast milk no better than formula, says Norwegian Professor

Wicked Professor refuses to accept that correlation is causation -- points to third factor involvement

BREAST milk was no better for a baby than formula, a European pregnancy expert has said, claiming it made a child only slightly healthier.

Britain's Daily Mail newspaper has reported that Norwegian professor Sven Carlsen this week said breast-fed babies were slightly healthier, but it was not the milk that made the difference. Instead, he said, babies who were breast-fed had benefited from better conditions in the womb.

The professor, an expert in the hormonal changes of pregnancy, claimed: "Baby formula is as good as breast milk."

The bold statement is likely to reignite debate over whether "breast is best" and will possibly confuse mothers who are under pressure from Britain's Department of Health to feed their babies on breast milk alone for the first six months of life. Britain's National Health Service leaflets tell mothers that breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months will help prevent obesity, eczema and ear, chest and tummy bugs.

Avoiding formula, they are told, will cut the odds of a child becoming a fussy eater, as well as cut the mother's odds of some cancers and help with weight loss.

Prof Carlsen's claim came after he carried out a review of more than 50 studies into the relationship between health and breastfeeding. Most concluded that the longer a child was nursed, the healthier it would be.

The professor said while this might be true, it was because of a healthier pregnancy. His research shows that high levels of the male sex hormone testosterone in the womb affect a woman's ability to produce milk and to breastfeed.

With testosterone levels affected by the health of the placenta, which ferries oxygen and nutrients to the baby, the professor believes high amounts indicate poorer conditions in the womb overall. This means any differences in the health of a baby bottle-fed because its mother finds breastfeeding difficult are set before birth, rather than afterwards.

But a spokeswoman for England's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Charlotte Wright, said the claims were "irresponsible and overblown". "Women should remember that we were not designed to be bottle-fed," she said. "Formula is an artificial alternative."


23 September, 2010

The Pill-Breast Cancer Connection. Does it exist?

If so, it's a very small risk

Last summer, in a study of more than 50,000 African-American women, Boston University epidemiologist Lynn Rosenberg found a 65 percent increase in a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer among those who had ever taken the birth-control pill. The risk doubles for those who had used the contraceptive within the past five years and had taken it for longer than 10 years.

A commemorative piece flatly asserted earlier this year that "taking the pill has no impact on breast cancer risk."

Rosenberg's findings question that assertion. She wanted to study black women because they have been underrepresented in cancer research so far, even though they suffer from higher rates of "triple negative" breast cancer. This relatively rare form of breast cancer, in which the tumors lack certain genes and so are not responsive to standard treatments like tamoxifen, confers the highest and fastest mortality. In Rosenberg's work, it was these cancers that were linked to the pill. A number of other studies of women of multiple races support her data implicating the pill in breast cancer, including research done in New England; South Carolina; Long Island, N.Y.; and Scandinavia.

At the same time, other large studies, including one published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, found no increase in breast-cancer risk among pill users. Further complicating the health-risk equation, it's already well-established that the pill offers some protection to women from ovarian and endometrial cancers. One recent study of 46,000 women over the age of 40 by the Royal College of General Practitioners found that, despite a small increased risk of breast cancer in women under 45, pill-users as a whole actually live longer than other women. But this becomes less surprising when you figure that women who pop the pill tend to be healthier to begin with (for one thing, they have to see a doctor regularly in order to get a prescription).

So what are we to make of the breast-cancer connection? If it exists, why aren't the studies consistent? For one thing, Rosenberg explains that the association she found is relatively small. Compare the 65 percent increase in risk with the 2,000 percent increase in risk of lung cancer linked to smoking. Patterns are hard to spot because even when researchers use a large sample size, only a much smaller number of people will get cancer. (Even the smoking-lung cancer connection took decades of epidemiological head-scratching to figure out.) And if the pill is mostly causing the rare triple-negative type of breast cancer, the effect could be muddied in a study looking at breast-cancer disease overall.


An Australian female Hitler calls for infant formula to be made hard to get

Infant formula should be available only on prescription to boost breast feeding rates, an expert says. But Victoria's peak doctors' group and Melbourne mothers say the proposal goes too far.

Jennifer James, of RMIT University, said formula manufacturers should also be banned from marketing their products to the public.

"When women are having problems, and it's very challenging learning to breast feed, the formula is readily available and the marketing suggests that babies will thrive on it, so women go for it," Dr James said.

"The majority of women and new dads that you speak to will give you some reasons why it's important to breast feed but there's still this pervasive belief that 'I'll try it and if I can't do it, formula's just as good'. "I would like to see formula prescribed by a health professional rather than being available in supermarkets and chemists."

Melbourne mum Christine Rookas said it should be a mother's choice whether to breast feed or not. "I would be very frightened and afraid to think that formula will be prescribed," Ms Rookas, from Avondale Heights, said. "I think there's already a paranoia for mothers. They feel guilty enough about using formula milk."

Ms Rookas was still breast feeding six-month-old Neave, as she had her two older children, despite finding it tough. "I just kept persisting ... because it's more convenient rather than a huge health benefit," she said.

AMA Victoria president Harry Hemley said requiring a prescription for infant formula would be very inconvenient for new mothers. "There's no doubt that new mothers need more support to make sure their children are as fit and healthy as possible," Dr Hemley said. "Breast feeding is the best option for most new mothers, but not for everyone."


22 September, 2010

Beer Linked to Psoriasis in Women -- but correlation is not causation

Once again the role of social class seems to have been overlooked. From what I know, beer is most likely to be consumed by the rougher end of working class women and poor people have worse health across the board anyway. Women with any pretensions to class tend to drink mixed drinks or wine.

Women who drink regular beer may be increasing their risk of developing psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder affecting the skin, new findings suggest. Other options, such as light beer and wine, were not linked to such a risk.

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Boston University tracked 82,869 women who had not initially been diagnosed with psoriasis for about 15 years, from 1991 through 2005. The participants, from the Nurses' Health Study II, reported their own alcohol consumption and also, over the course of the study, reported whether a doctor had diagnosed psoriasis.

The researchers found that even relatively moderate amounts of beer seemed to increase the risk of psoriasis, with 2.3 drinks a week driving up the risk almost 80 percent.

And five beers a week more than doubled the risk of being diagnosed with this skin condition, as compared with teetotalers.

"We can say that if a woman would like to consume alcohol and if she has a family history of psoriasis or known psoriasis in the past or some other reason she might be predisposed to psoriasis, the alcohol of choice probably should not be nonlight beer," said Dr. Abrar A. Qureshi, lead author of the article appearing in the December issue of Archives of Dermatology.

But Bruce Bebo, director of research and medical programs at the National Psoriasis Foundation, feels the findings "need more investigation to determine whether there's a real connection or not."

And on the question of drinking in general, he added, "from the point of view of the health-care provider, trying to limit alcohol consumption for lots of reasons is important. If this encourages people to limit alcohol consumption, I think that's a positive outcome, but I don't think the National Psoriasis Foundation or any physician group would make a recommendation."

Previous studies have found an association between alcohol and psoriasis, although the reasons for this link were not clear.

"There is evidence that alcohol consumption can affect immune responses and psoriasis is an autoimmune disease," Bebo said. "There's also some evidence that it can affect the biology of [the skin cells known as] keratinocytes. But ... then why would it be nonlight beer, why not wine or other alcohol? Maybe there's something in wine that ... might reverse the effect."

"When we looked up the components of different alcoholic beverages, one thing that stood out for nonlight beer was the amount of protein, gluten in particular," said Qureshi, who is an assistant professor of dermatology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. "When we stumbled on this, we realized that there have been reports in the past that ingested gluten was associated not just with psoriasis worsening but other autoimmune diseases, such as celiac disease."

Another study in the same issue of journal found that psoriasis carries a heavy mental health burden, with people who have the disease suffering higher rates of depression, anxiety and even suicidality.

The link was more pronounced in men, according to the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

A third study in the journal reported that treating psoriasis with narrow-band UV-B light rays may increase vitamin D levels in patients and help reduce the burden of the disease.

But the Irish authors, who reported various financial ties with pharmaceutical companies, don't believe that the higher vitamin D levels actually were responsible for the psoriasis clearing.


Hard-wired for chocolate and hybrid cars? How genetics affect consumer choice

The ever-expanding role of genetics in explaining health and behaviour gets another big boost

Clues to consumer behavior may be lurking our genes, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"We examine a wide range of consumer judgment and decision-making phenomenon and discover that many—though not all of them—are in fact heritable or influenced by genetic factors," write authors Itamar Simonson (Stanford University) and Aner Sela (University of Florida, Gainesville).

The authors studied twins' consumer preferences to determine whether or not certain behaviors or traits have a genetic basis. "A greater similarity in behavior or trait between identical than between fraternal twins indicates that the behavior or trait is likely to be heritable," the authors explain.

The authors discovered that people seem to inherit the following tendencies: to choose a compromise option and avoid extremes; select sure gains over gambles; prefer an easy but non-rewarding task over an enjoyable challenging one; look for the best option available; and prefer utilitarian, clearly needed options (like batteries) over more indulgent ones (gourmet chocolate). They also found that likings for specific products seemed to be genetically related: chocolate, mustard, hybrid cars, science fiction movies, and jazz.

The researchers also found that some tendencies did not seem to be heritable—for example, a preference for a smaller versus larger product variety or likings for ketchup and tattoos.

"The current research suggests that heritable and other hard-wired inherent preference components play a key role in behavior and deserve much more attention in marketing and decision-making research," the authors write.

The authors believe their work may reveal some important information on the genetics of "prudence." "Some people may be born with a tendency to 'be in the mainstream' whereas others tend to 'live on the edge," the authors conclude.

More information: Itamar Simonson and Aner Sela. "On the Heritability of Consumer Decision Making: An Exploratory Approach for Studying Genetic Effects on Judgment and Choice." Journal of Consumer Research: April 2011.


21 September, 2010

Shonky breast tests

"Shonky" is a splendid Australian word that is not fully translatable but is apt in this case. "Fraudulent" goes nearest to its meaning

CANCER specialists warn that private clinics offering unproven breast screening methods as a "safe" alternative to mammograms could be putting women's lives at risk.

Clinics selling botox, liposuction and spray tans are increasingly providing breast cancer screening that uses thermal imaging and "electrical impedance" technology. The methods are being marketed to women as young as 20, with claims they can detect cancer years earlier than mammograms.

Experts say the technologies are not backed by sufficient scientific evidence and those offering the tests often have little medical training. In many cases no doctor's referral is required and there are concerns that potentially life-threatening cancers could go undetected.

The education and research director with the Cancer Council WA, Terry Slevin, said commercially driven breast-check clinics were popping up around Australia.

"There's a prospect of women becoming very confused about what is or isn't proven, valid, scientifically rigorous breast cancer screening and I worry that that will lead to some women being diagnosed with breast cancer at a much more advanced, dangerous stage than might have otherwise been the case if they'd used more reliable technologies," Mr Slevin said.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has already removed two screening devices from its list of registered medical goods, for making unsubstantiated claims. Another two companies using similar products are under investigation but cannot be named for legal reasons.

The Cancer Council and the Australian Medical Association say the industry's "aggressive" advertising is misleading and have written to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission asking them to also take action against clinics.

The letter includes complaints against one centre which, as well as offering spray tans, facials and laser therapy, provides "digital infrared thermal imaging", which it claimed could "improve early detection of breast disease by showing thermal abnormalities present in the body". Unlike a mammogram, in which the breast is compressed between two plates and an X-ray taken, a thermogram does not require contact with the imaging machine.

A spokeswoman for the Therapeutic Goods Administration said mammography was the only breast examination technique that had been supported by objective, randomised clinical trials.


Broccoli could provide potent pill to treat six million osteoarthritis sufferers

This is total speculation so far -- another example of trying to show that anything unpleasant is good for you and anything popular is bad for you. It's so predictable

Broccoli has been hailed by scientists as a 'super food' for joints which could cure millions of arthritis sufferers. The green vegetable is rich in the compound sulforaphane and initial research has suggested this may play a key role in protecting bones and joints and stop them from wasting away.

Scientists at the University of East Anglia have found the chemical blocks the enzymes that cause joint destruction in osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis. The team are now launching a new project that they hope will lead to a new broccoli-based treatment for Britain's six million arthritis sufferers.

Professor Ian Clark said: 'We all know broccoli is good for you but this is the first time it has been linked to a osteoarthritis. 'We know there is a chemical, sulforaphane, in broccoli that can slow down cartilage destruction and we want to see if this can actually get into the joints and stop the progress of the condition.

'The UK has an aging population and developing new strategies for combating age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis is vital - to improve the quality of life for sufferers but also to reduce the economic burden on society.'

Around 30 patients will be fed the cruciferous vegetable ahead of joint replacement operations. They will then be examined after their surgery to see if sulforaphane has successfully entered their joints. If the test is found to be effective then more patients will be recruited for a larger clinical trial.

Professor Clark said: 'The results could mean we prevent many, many more needing to go for surgery because progress of the disease will either be slowed down or completely halted. It really is a breakthrough project.' Currently, people suffering from arthritis can only choose between short-term pain relief or joint replacement operations.

Arthritis Research UK and the Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC), is funding the £650,000 project.

Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of disability in the UK where it affects around six million people. It is a degenerative joint disease which gradually destroys the cartilage in the joints, particularly in the hands, feet, spine, hips and knees of older people.

Broccoli has previously been linked with reducing the risk of cancer and is regarded as a 'super food'. However, there has not yet been a major study of its effects on joint health.


20 September, 2010

Can drinking gallons of water really banish your wrinkles?

It is important to put this myth to rest as drinking a lot of water can lead to hyponatremia and death.

For years it has been one of the most basic rules of beauty: if you want a clear, youthful complexion, you must drink at least eight glasses of water every day.

Facialists, make-up artists, alternative health practitioners, nutritionists — and yes, we beauty journalists — have all agreed that a good dose of H2O will ‘flush out’ our systems, banish spots, plump out wrinkles and moisturise our skin from the inside out. It really is the elixir of great-looking skin.

Various dermatologists have suggested in recent years that this theory simply doesn’t wash, insisting the only thing maintaining moisture levels in our skin is the outer layer of skin.

But most beauty devotees remain convinced; just look at all those female celebrities permanently clutching a bottle of the stuff.

Recent research seemed to suggest the water lovers are right — and that certain types of water are even better for you than others.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, female participants were told to drink one and a half litres of water a day for eight weeks without changing any other elements of their lifestyle.

Some drank ordinary tap water. Others drank Willow Water, a natural mineral water sourced in the Lake District. It contains salicin, a derivative of willow bark which, when metabolised, turns into salicylic acid, an ingredient that is found in a number of skin products and is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and acts in the same way as aspirin.

Each woman had her picture taken before and after the trial using the latest, state-of-the-art Visia complexion analysis system, which examines the extent and depth of wrinkles, the texture of skin and the amount of sun damage, to allow detailed comparison.

At the end of the trial, the results were astonishing. Those who drank ordinary tap water saw a 19 per cent reduction in their wrinkles. Those who drank Willow Water (and no, until this point I hadn’t heard of it, either) saw a dramatic 24 per cent reduction.

It all sounds very persuasive, but is it really true? As a beauty journalist, I’ve tried everything from lasers to ludicrously expensive face creams and Botox in order to banish my wrinkles. But could simply upping my water intake have saved me a fortune? There’s only one way to find out: put it to the test.

I have my face analysed by Visia, just like the guinea pigs in the new research, and embark on the Willow Water diet — 126 bottles of water, three a day for six weeks — and wonder if it will work its magic on me.

One of my main concerns about drinking so much is that I simply won’t have the time and will be spending all day in the ladies’. But, surprisingly, knocking back one and half litres a day isn’t that difficult. I manage to fit in three green bottles between meals and I even take them on holiday with me — 48 of them wedged into the car as we drive 2,000 miles around France.

Oddly, I find that I’m visiting the loo less frequently, but much more pleasingly I find that I feel calmer and sleep more deeply, too.

I don’t change my normal skincare regime: high strength vitamin C serum (SkinCeuticals’ Phloretin for the first month and Cellex- C’s High Potency Serum for the second) followed by SPF-50 broad-spectrum sunscreen.

My diet is much the same as always, apart from during the holiday when, of course, I eat far more bread, pastries and ice cream, and drink much more wine than usual. On the positive side, I also eat even more salad and fruit — bursting with water — than usual.

According to Dr Howard Murad, a U.S. dermatologist and ‘inclusive health’ expert, this is a particularly good way for us to up our water intake and is vital for controlling the ageing process.

Murad has long been of the opinion that rather than glugging water from a glass, you should increase your fluid intake through your food as much as you can since the body assimilates it far better.

‘The water we consume when we eat fresh fruit and vegetables isn’t just any water,’ he says. ‘It’s water that is encapsulated within the structure of food to provide us with a slow and steady infusion as we digest. ‘It’s also water that is locked into foods that are rich in antioxidants and other key nutrients, which protect and promote cellular integrity. ‘This is exactly the kind of water that we should be consuming.’

Given all the fruit and salad I’ve consumed in France, this news put me in a confident mood when I return to the Visia clinic. Peering at my reflection in the mirror that morning, however, the truth is I can’t see any visible difference at all. Indeed, the initial reading of the second image shows — to my horror — that my wrinkles are fractionally more extensive than before!

This would not surprise dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe, of the Cranley Clinic, West London. ‘Drinking water bears little relation to moisture levels in the skin,’ he says. ‘The thing that maintains the skin’s moisture levels is the skin barrier, which is the outermost layer. ‘If that is intact, it will trap moisture to stop it being lost from the skin. The way to moisturise is not from the inside, but from the outside. ‘You would have to be dehydrated almost to the point of death before it would show in the skin. ‘If you have a normal skin barrier, it will maintain as much moisture in the skin as it can, regardless of what is going on in the body.

The theory that drinking lots of water helps to improve acne has never been proven.’

When the before and after images of my face are carefully examined by leading cosmetic aesthetician Dr Rita Rakus (who has nothing to do with Willow Water or the trial), she reckons that there is slight lessening of the (many) wrinkles on my eyelids, but I’m certainly not convinced.

Peering closely at the images on the maximum magnification, I can just about see what she means, but the difference is so small it could just be that I’d had a good night’s sleep. I’d drunk 126 bottles of water in a bid to boost my skin and it hadn’t made a drop of difference.


Report links bone drugs, thigh breaks

But, miracle of miracles, admits that the link may not be causal. The disorder is also very rare so the risk is minute. The database for the study also seems to have been haphazard

Drugs to prevent bone loss, including Fosamax, Boniva, and Reclast, may be linked to an increased risk of fractures to the thigh bone, researchers said.

As many as 94 percent of 310 patients who had an uncommon type of fracture to the thigh bone were also taking one of the bone-loss drugs called bisphosphonates, according a report released yesterday by the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. Most had taken the medicine for more than five years.

The drugs are used to treat osteoporosis, which leaves bones weak and more likely to break. US regulators should add an update on the potential link to the drugs’ prescribing information and study their long-term safety, the researchers said.

Patients should not stop taking the drugs based on this finding, because they prevent hip and spine fractures, which are more common than the thigh break, said the report’s lead author, Elizabeth Shane.

"There is no evidence that this is a causal link, but there is an association, so we need to have that information available saying there may be an increased risk," said Shane, a professor of medicine at Columbia University, in a telephone interview. "For patients with osteoporosis who are at high risk of having a fracture, the benefits outweigh the risks."

The US Food and Drug Administration said the agency is reviewing the report and will consider changes to the drugs’ prescribing information.

Americans spent $2.16 billion on bone-strengthening drugs in the first half of 2010, according to IMS Health Inc., a Norwalk, Conn., research firm.

Fosamax, which is available generically, generated $1.1 billion in sales in 2009 for Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., while Boniva brought $977 million in sales for Roche, based in Basel, Switzerland. Reclast produced $472 million for Novartis, also based in Basel. Warner Chilcott Plc’s similarly acting drug Actonel had $222 million in sales for the County Louth, Ireland company.

The report was conducted by a panel of scientists convened in 2009 by the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research, a Washington professional group representing more than 4,000 doctors and scientists.

Researchers looked at 310 cases of atypical femur fractures, which account for less than 1 percent of hip and thigh fractures, said the report. Most of the fractures occurred in patients who had been taking the drugs for more than five years. The review included published and unpublished data and interviews with pharmaceutical companies and US regulators.

"In clinical studies involving more than 28,000 patients, Fosamax has not been associated with increased fracture risk at any skeletal site," said Merck spokesman Ronald Rogers in an e-mail.


19 September, 2010

Father absence linked to earlier puberty among certain girls

At least they admit that they haven't got a clue why, which is refreshing. The small and complicated correlation found in a sample of only 80 girls suggest a random walk rather than any real relationships, particularly as even that 80 was further subcategorized racially to get the correlations reported. n= small, as they say in statistics

Girls in homes without a biological father are more likely to hit puberty at an earlier age, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health.

The findings, to be published Sept. 17 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that the absence of a biologically related father in the home predicted earlier breast and pubic hair development, but only for girls in higher income households. The findings held even after the girls' weight was taken into account.

"The age at which girls are reaching puberty has been trending downward in recent decades, but much of the attention has focused on increased body weight as the primary culprit," said study lead author Julianna Deardorff, UC Berkeley assistant professor of maternal and child health. "While overweight and obesity alter the timing of girls' puberty, those factors don't explain all of the variance in pubertal timing. The results from our study suggest that familial and contextual factors - independent of body mass index - have an important effect on girls' pubertal timing."

The findings came from the Cohort study of Young Girls' Nutrition, Environment and Transitions (CYGNET), an epidemiologic project headed by Lawrence Kushi, associate director of etiology and prevention research at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research. The project is part of the UC San Francisco Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center (BCERC), one of four centers funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Early puberty has been linked to greater risk for breast and other reproductive cancers later in life, among other health impacts.

"Although the main focus of the CYGNET Study is on environmental exposures, we are also keenly interested in the social and behavioral contexts in which maturation occurs," said Kushi. "These findings demonstrate that such factors may play important roles in the onset of puberty in girls."

The link between father absence and earlier puberty in girls has been found in previous research, but most of those studies relied upon recall of the girls' first periods, and few examined the contributions of body mass index, ethnicity and income.

In this new study, researchers recruited 444 girls ages 6-8 through Kaiser Permanente Northern California, and have been following them annually. Their analysis was based on the first two years of follow-up. They considered signs of puberty that occur before the start of menarche. In interviews with the girls' caregivers, the researchers asked about the residents in the girls' homes and their relationships to the children.

Among the girls studied, 80 reported biological father absence at the time of recruitment. Contrary to what the researchers expected, the absence of a biologically related father was linked to earlier breast development for girls in higher income families - those having annual household incomes of $50,000 or more. Father absence predicted earlier onset of pubic hair development only in higher income African Americans families.

The mechanisms behind these findings are not entirely clear, the study authors said. Evolutionary biologists have theorized that the absence of a biological father may signal an unstable family environment, leading girls to enter puberty earlier.

Another theory that has been posited is that girls without a biological father in the home are exposed more to unrelated adult males - specifically, the pheromones of these males - that lead to earlier onset of puberty. However, in this study, the presence of other adult males, including stepfathers, in the home did not alter the findings.

It is also unclear why father absence predicted early puberty only in higher income families, particularly for African American girls.

"It's possible that in lower income families, it is more normative to rely upon a strong network of alternative caregivers," said Deardorff. "A more controversial hypothesis is that higher income families without fathers are more likely to have a single mother who works long hours and is not as available for caregiving. Recent studies have suggested that weak maternal bonding is a risk factor for early puberty."

Another possibility is that higher income girls in father-absent homes may be exposed to more artificial light - which has been shown to accelerate puberty in animal studies - through television, computers and other forms of technology, according to the study authors. The researchers also suggested that higher income African American girls may be more exposed to certain beauty products, such as hair straighteners, which have estrogenic properties that could influence pubertal timing.

The study adds to the debate of why girls in the United States are entering puberty at an increasingly early age. Last month, a study of 1,200 girls led by BCERC researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that about 15 percent of the girls showed the beginnings of breast development at age 7, an increase from similar studies conducted in the 1990s.

"The hunt for an explanation to this trend is significant since girls who enter puberty earlier than their peers are not only at greater risk for reproductive cancers, they are also more likely to develop asthma and engage in higher risk sexual behaviors and substance abuse, so these studies have broader relevance to women's health," said Bay Area BCERC's principal investigator Dr. Robert Hiatt, UCSF professor and co-chair of epidemiology and biostatistics, and director of population science at the campus's Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"In some ways, our study raises more questions than it answers," said Deardorff. "It's definitely harder for people to wrap their minds around this than around the influence of body weight. But these findings get us away from assuming that there is a simple, clear path to the earlier onset of puberty."


Mama Obama cares about your health

Michelle Obama is the prettiest First Lady in close to half a century. She’s Jackie Kennedy with a better tan. She’s got school-age kids, which makes her the Nation’s First Mama, too.

So when Michelle Obama addresses the NRA — in this case, the National Restaurant Association — on the topic of preventing childhood obesity leading to adult diseases like hypertension and Type-II Diabetes, she’s not speaking as a private citizen but as a mouthpiece for Big Daddy Obama, President of the United States of America. Proof: her speech is on the official White House Website — a Dot Gov.

I was a fat teenager. Now I’m a fat guy in his fifties. I was skinny in between but I could only fight the battle of the bulge for so long before Herr Hamburger got me in the gut.

These days — if Michelle Obama took a look at what I actually eat — it’s supposed to be pretty healthy. Dr. Atkins said beef, cheese, and eggs weren’t going to cause my cholesterol to rise — the problem was carbs. Old Doc Atkins must have been right because I haven’t cut back on red meat, cheese, or eggs and my cholesterol and blood pressure are right where they’re supposed to be, despite my being what’s called “morbidly obese.” I do suffer from Type II Diabetes, which means I severely restrict high-glycemic-index foods. I haven’t had a sugary soda in decades. The ice-cream I eat is sugar-free and low-fat. I’ve learned to like broccoli and cauliflower, cook with olive oil, don’t eat rice or pasta, seldom eat a potato, and even bread is a rare luxury.

So aside from her being less familiar with the health benefits of an Atkins’ diet than I am, I can’t find much to fault with Mama Obama’s suggestions to the restauranteurs that a lot of what they put on our plates is bad for our waistline.

Still, I wish Mama Obama would shut her damned pie hole. It’s no business of the White House what I eat and whether it’s bad for my health. I already have a mother of my own and I don’t need a surrogate mother in Washington D.C. trying to shove her health care down my throat. My own daughter ate Mac and Cheese off the children’s menus in countless restaurants and today — at age nineteen — she’s in such good shape with such impressive upper body strength she could kick the asses of the White House staff without breaking a sweat. defines totalitarianism as “Form of government that subordinates all aspects of its citizens’ lives to the authority of the state, with a single charismatic leader as the ultimate authority.”

What’s more personal than what we eat? Why is the First Lady using her official charisma to talk to restaurant owners at all, with the always-present veiled threat coming from the center of power that if you don’t do precisely what we want we’ll point guns at you until you do — using the swarm of bureaucrats at the FDA, Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and EPA as shock troops?

Eat what you want, babe. Feed your kids what you want. Tell the White House Chef to cook what you want. Order the Veggie Plate on Air Force One. If I want your diet advice I’ll invite you to my table. Until then, I’m supersizing an order of fries in your name.


18 September, 2010

Flu vaccine side effects worse than the disease

Report from Australia

PUBLIC health experts have called for an independent body to monitor drug safety after it emerged that young children were more likely to end up in hospital because of side effects from a flu vaccine than they were from the disease itself.

The analysis contradicts government safety advice that the harm did not outweigh the risk and raises concerns about the Therapeutic Goods Administration's assessment of the vaccine.

More than 1000 adverse responses in children under five were reported to the TGA by June this year, including nearly 100 instances of febrile convulsions, a seizure which in a small number of cases has been associated with long-term adverse health outcomes.

The side effects were linked to one of the three seasonal flu vaccines, Fluvax and Fluvax junior, from the drug company CSL, but the TGA maintained despite that, that "the overall risk-benefit balance of both products remains positive".

The Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer claims the advice was intended to indicate the drug should not be withdrawn from the market but said the government would reassess it in light of the research.

But research published yesterday in the journal Eurosurveillance showed Fluvax might have caused two to three hospital admissions due to seizure for every admission from flu it prevented.

The chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia, Michael Moore, said further examination of risks was needed, at arm's length from the TGA. The government should consider creating an independent centre. "There is a concern … that the TGA is the body that approves vaccines and is also the body that determines what the risks and benefits are when concerns are raised," he said.

Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases expert at the Australian National University, said the vaccination program in children under five did more harm than good. "The TGA made that decision [about risk-benefit] without any evidence to back it up." Professor Collignon questioned the TGA's independence and transparency because some of its advisers had worked for drug companies.

The Chief Medical Officer, Jim Bishop, said the risk-benefit claim indicated the drug should not be withdrawn. The TGA had recommended other vaccines besides Fluvax be used for children under five. He defended the TGA's independence: "There is no evidence the TGA is obligated to drug companies and they have a number of ways to make sure their advice is independent," he said. "I feel comfortable about our investigation [of the vaccine, but] the fact of the matter is there is now new information available and the regulator will take that into account".

Heath Kelly, the study leader and an honorary associate professor at the University of Melbourne, said the government should check for vaccine side effects - not wait for reports. There should also be a national insurance scheme to compensate people if they had a bad reaction. "On very rare occasions, things can go wrong in vaccination programs. The community that recommended and promoted vaccination [should] provide support for any child who suffers serious adverse consequences."

Robert Booy, an infectious diseases expert at the Children's Hospital, Westmead, said that while the rate of seizures was unacceptably high, it was important to remember that continuing complications from them were extremely rare.

While this study indicated there would be more hospital admissions from seizures than would be prevented by the vaccine, children tolerated the other two vaccines well.

A spokeswoman for CSL said: "Extensive investigations are ongoing with international collaborators". It supported recommending that Fluvax should not be used in children under five until it could be confident of preventing problems.


Dangerous herbal "medicine"

Report from Australia

Homeopaths are recommending "unproven" herbal remedies, including belladonna and phosphorus, for whooping cough. A whooping cough epidemic has swept the country, and tragically turned fatal this week when a five-week-old boy died.

Homeopaths say their treatments can prevent and cure whooping cough, while doctors say that is "complete rubbish". Drosera and pertussinum are other herbal remedies commonly recommended.

Australian Medical Association immunity spokesman Dr Rod Pearce said anyone recommending homeopathic "vaccinations" or treatments was illegitimate. He said officially homeopathic organisations admitted people should be conventionally immunised. "It is complete rubbish. If someone misrepresents what they can do, that is a problem. The discussion we've had with them as a whole is that they'll recommend vaccinating.

"There's stuff that's got good evidence and there's stuff that's rubbish. There is total recognition that the only proven way to get protection is to get vaccinated."

SA Health says vaccination is the best way to protect children. It says adults, particularly, should be vaccinated to protect children too young to be immunised. In the wake of the baby's death this week doctors called for vaccinations to be freely available.

Dr Pearce said parents should be vaccinated and should give their child the first vaccination at six weeks.

There have been nearly 4000 cases of whooping cough in South Australia so far this year, but this was the first death in almost a decade. A four-week-old baby died in NSW last year. Dana McCaffery's parents have since become vocal advocates of vaccination. Yesterday, Toni McCaffery posted her condolences to the SA baby's parents on a Facebook page and repeated her plea for the Federal Government to raise awareness and offer free vaccination to everyone.

'I am in tears . . . please Mrs Roxon act on your promise," she wrote. "We have been pleading all year for the government to act and not wait for another death. To the family, we are so, so sorry."


17 September, 2010

Fit children have better memories?

The usual childishly naive epidemiology. Middle class children probably do more exercise and inherit higher IQ from their patents. So exercise and mental functioning are correlated but one does not cause the other. Once again all we are seeing is a social class effect

If you want to boost your child’s results at school, you could do a lot worse than ensuring that they do plenty of exercise. Scientists have already shown that physical activity can make you brainier. But a team in America has used scans to show that an important part of the brain actually grows in children who are fit.

Scientists also found that one of the most important parts of their brains was 12 per cent larger than those of unfit youngsters.

They believe that encouraging children to take exercise from a very young age could help them do better at school later. Researchers from the University of Illinois, in the U.S., studied the brains of 49 children aged nine and ten using a magnetic resonance imaging scan, a technique which provides very detailed pictures of organs and tissues in the body.

They also tested the fitness levels of the children by making them run on a treadmill. The scientists found that the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for memory and learning, was around 12 per cent larger in the fitter youngsters. They found that these children performed much better in memory tests.

Professor Art Kramer, who led the study published in the journal Brain Research, said the findings had important implications for encouraging individuals to take part in sport from a young age.

‘We knew that experience and environmental factors and socioeconomic status all impact brain development,’ he said.
‘If you get some lousy genes from your parents, you can’t really fix that, and it’s not easy to do something about your economic status.

But here’s something that we can do something about. ‘This is the first study I know of that has used MRI measures to look at differences in brain between kids who are fit and kids who aren’t.’

The findings could encourage parents and schools to make exercise more of a priority for young children.
Figures show the majority of youngsters lead inactive lifestyles, with a third of those of primary school age either overweight or obese.


Tennessee decides to piss into the wind

Because this is based on wrong assumptions (e.g. about what "healthy" food is) it will achieve nothing

“Tennessee officials will unveil a statewide anti-obesity plan Thursday that is aimed at making residents healthier over the next five years, according to the state health department.

The strategy, dubbed “eat well, play more,” will focus on the nutrition and physical activity of residents. It is supposed to serve as a roadmap to reduce chronic disease and obesity in the state, and will focus on policy and environmental changes where people live, work and play.

Currently, Tennessee is tied with Alabama as the second most obese state in the nation. More than 31.6 percent of adults are obese. About 17 percent of teens are obese.

Gov. Phil Bredesen and Health Commissioner Susan Cooper will present the plan for the first time at noon at the Tennessee Public Health Association’s annual education conference.

Following their announcement, they will launch the web site for the intiative,


16 September, 2010

Autism drug has some promise

This is a very poorly-conducted study: Small sample, naive or absent taxonomy, no control groups and subjective assessment. Similar results could perhaps be obtained from a simple sedative or a placebo. The results seem however to warrant the setting up of a proper trial

A drug for autism has been hailed as the first treatment that could work against the condition. In a clinical trial, researchers found that it eased many of the distressing symptoms, helping sufferers improve their social skills and reduce tantrums. They were also able to make eye contact more frequently and became less irritable.

It is the first time the drug has been successfully tested on patients. And although it is many years away from being available here, the scientist believe their work could pave the way for treatments.

Researcher Dr Craig Erickson, from the Indiana University School of Medicine, who helped run the trial, explained: ‘We observed marked improvement in the majority of patients treated in the study, including reductions in agitation and tantrums. 'This work will potentially open up a door to treating disorders that has, until recently, been firmly shut.’

About one in 100 in the UK are diagnosed with an autism disorder. The severity ranges dramatically, but all sufferers experience problems with communication, imagination and their social relationships.

Although doctors prescribe anti-depressants and anti-psychotics for particular symptoms, there are no specialist autism drugs.

The new drug, Arbaclofen, is intended to rebalance the brain chemistry of those with autism. It was tested on 25 children with the condition aged between six and 17, over eight weeks. They suffered few side effects and by the end of the trial were calmer and more sociable. ‘We observed marked improvement in the majority of patients treated in the study, including reductions in agitation and tantrums'

They made eye contact more easily and were less anxious than at the start.

One teenager who took part in the trial was agitated at the start and was unable to stay in the room with the researchers for more than a few minutes. However, by the end, the patient was writing notes to the scientists and seemed less anxious and less aggressive.

Previous studies have shown that people living with the condition produce too much of the brain chemical glutamate which excites brain cells. Some may also make too little of another neurotransmitter called gamme amino butyric acid, New Scientist magazine reports today.

Dr Randall Carpenter, of Seaside Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which has developed the drug, said: ‘We are trying to normalise signalling functions within the brain. ‘Too much activation with glutamate makes people with autism very sensitive to loud noises and other sudden changes in the environment, increasing anxiety and fear.’

Arbaclofen ‘may stop them being oversensitive’, Dr Carpenter added. The results of the trial were so promising, that a larger-scale test is planned. The results have not been published in a medical journal.

Autism charities welcomed the trial, but stressed that the number of people taking part was small. The results could also be biased because the drug was not compared to a placebo, a harmless ‘dummy’ drug. And the assessment of the children was subjective, meaning that they could be misinterpreted.

Amanda Batten, of the National Autistic Society, said: ‘As the nature of autism is so complex, many interventions have been tried and tested over the years, but what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. ‘Further rigorous research is required into potential interventions, such as Arbaclofen, to properly understand and assess the impact that they could have on people’s lives.’


Melanoma breakthrough?

A double-blind trial would obviously be ethically impossible here, given the rapid progression of the tumours, but such a trial on an animal model would seem desirable. The two patients who got better could have been spontaneous remissions, which are not at all unknown with cancer. About a third of my skin cancers (BCCs and SCCs) vanish without treatment -- JR

IN WHAT is arguably the most significant use of genetic knowledge to tackle disease, scientists in California have created a drug that prevents the effects of a gene mutation linked to malignant melanoma.

The London Daily Telegraph reports that researchers have built on advances made by the human genome project to develop a drug that specifically targets the deadly cancer.

In a small clinical trial, melanoma tumors shrank by nearly a third in 24 of 32 patients with a mutation known as B-RAF - and in two other people, the tumors disappeared completely - according to the research, published in the journal Nature.

Plexxikon, the company behind the the drug - preliminarily called PLX4032 - has also begun working on a test to determine whether individual melanoma sufferers have the mutation and thus would respond to the treatment.

While the drug's long-term effects are unknown, and it does cause unwanted side effects, its initial results gave hope to scientists and cancer patients alike that specific chemicals can be used to target specific diseases.

Sir Mark Walport, director of UK cancer charity the Wellcome Trust, said that the breakthrough was a "penicillin moment" for cancer researchers. However, he added: "We have got to balance the hype and the hope. Cancer is complicated."


15 September, 2010

Anti-McDonald's ad angers fast food chain

Since there is NO evidence that McDonald's food leads to increased illness or earlier death, they could well sue these extremist creeps -- but that would just give them more publicity

IN a television advert that could kill your appetite, an overweight, middle-aged man is seen lying dead in a morgue holding a half-eaten hamburger as a woman weeps over the linen-clad body.

McDonald's ubiquitous golden arches then trace the dead man's feet with the text "I was lovin' it," a stinging pun on the fast-food chain's long-running slogan "I'm lovin' it." A voiceover says, "high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks. Tonight, make it vegetarian."

Produced by Washington-based health lobby Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the commercial is set to be aired in Washington DC during the popular The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Thursday.

PCRM says it is also considering running it in Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles. The ad "takes aim at McDonald's high-fat menu, with the goal of drawing Washingtonians' attention to the city's high rates of heart disease deaths and its high density of fast-food restaurants," PCRM said.

Studies show that people who consume fast food are at a higher risk for obesity, a factor contributing to heart disease, it said.

But the ad enraged McDonald's. "This commercial is outrageous, misleading and unfair to all consumers. McDonald's trusts our customers to put such outlandish propaganda in perspective, and to make food and lifestyle choices that are right for them," spokeswoman Bridget Coffing said.

PCRM said its survey showed that Washington has more McDonald's, Burger King, and KFC outlets per square mile than eight other cities with similar population sizes.

McDonald's, the world's largest restaurant chain, has nevertheless seen its earnings grow in recent months despite the global economic crunch, as it has wheeled out a range of alternatives to its famous burgers. On Friday, the chain reported its same-store sales for August were up 4.9 per cent globally year-on-year.


Shoot 'em up games improve decision-making

PLAYING shoot 'em up games can make you a better driver and stop you getting lost, scientists claim. They say fast-paced action games produce a heightened sensitivity, which can also improve multitasking, following a friend in a crowd or even reading the small print.

Their study, published in the journal Current Biology, looks set to delight avid gamers who are often told the games do little except provoke violence.

Researchers at New York's University of Rochester took a group of 18 to 25-year-old non game players and split them into two groups. Half played 50 hours of shooting games such as Call Of Duty 2 and Unreal Tournament and the other half played 50 hours of slow-moving strategy game The Sims 2. They were then given various tests, such as deciding whether a group of dots on a screen was moving right or left.

The research team found the first group was 25 per cent better at decision-making.

Daphne Bavelier, who co-wrote the study, said: "It's not the case that the action game players are trigger-happy and less accurate — they are just as accurate and also faster. "Action game players make more correct decisions per unit time. If you are a surgeon or you are in the middle of a battlefield — that can make all the difference."

She said that people made decisions based on probabilities they were constantly calculating and refining in their heads in a process known as probabilistic inference. The brain accumulates small pieces of visual or auditory information, eventually gathering enough data to help make a decision on what to do.

While shoot 'em ups are not generally considered mind-enhancing, the players need to make quick and accurate decisions based on what is going on around them.

But Vivienne Pattison, director of Mediawatch UK, told Sky News the study could send out the wrong message about violent games. "I don't dispute the findings, it is going to improve your reactions if you click something enough, of course it is," she said.

"But I'm not just talking about mental reactions — these games dehumanise violence. "There have been other studies that link them to violence and you could get the same reactions from a driving game."


14 September, 2010

Study finds people with lots of friends live 3.7 years more than those who are isolated

Ill people are not in a very good position to make friends and the results below may prove only that

The secret to a long, healthy life may be having a strong social network, according to a new study. People with normal social relationships - friends, family and community involvement - were 50 per cent less likely to die during the research period than those with little social support.

Scientists found that a good social network was the equivalent to giving up smoking in terms of mortality. But people with little support had a mortality risk equal to being an alcoholic.

Researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina compiled data from 300,000 people over eight years. The study found that socially connected people would live an average of 3.7 years longer than less-connected people, according to co-author Timothy B. Smith.

Dr Antonio Gomez, assistant clinical professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said doctors should take note of the study, but that it has its limitations. He told the LA Times: 'We can't make the broad, sweeping claim that social relationships cause increased survivability - at least, not yet.'

He added that the study did not explain how social contact could cause good health, or the possibility that unknown differences between people could be influencing health.

Teresa Ellen Seeman, professor of medicine at the UCLA School of Public Health, said: 'As humans, we have many different regulatory systems - blood pressure, metabolism, stress hormones. 'There is data that suggests all these systems are affected by social relationships. 'People who report more supportive and positive social relationships have... lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, better glucose metabolism and lower levels of various stress hormones.'


How the horse sedative ketamine could beat manic depression

A horse tranquilliser could hold the key to the fastest treatment yet for depression, with benefits seen within 40 minutes. This compares with the weeks, even months, it takes with traditional antidepressants.

Two small studies have found that 70 per cent of patients with manic depression responded positively to the horse drug ketamine, with the effects lasting for at least three days.

A number of clinical trials are under way, investigating the benefits of the drug. Manic depression - also known as bipolar disorder - is a relatively common condition affecting about one in 100 people. It can occur at any age, although it often develops in the 20s. Men and women can develop the condition; celebrity sufferers include Stephen Fry, Robbie Williams and Carrie Fisher.

The disorder is characterised by mood swings ranging from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. These episodes of highs and lows can often last for several weeks or more - they may be interspersed by periods of normal mood. Many people can also suffer episodes of recurrent depression without the extreme highs. The condition is thought to be a result of imbalances in brain chemicals such as norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine.

For example, episodes of mania may be linked to high levels of norepinephrine and depression to low levels. Most patients can be treated using a combination of different treatments. These include mood-stabilising drugs (antidepressants) which act on the brain chemical serotonin to prevent the extreme mood swings, and other medications such as antipsychotics during manic episodes.

However, the main problem with these drugs is that they take time to have an effect. They work for about 70 per cent of cases.

Ketamine has a reputation as an illegal party drug but it has also long been used as an anaesthetic. It works in a different way from traditional medicine for treating depression. The drug targets the activity of the brain chemical glutamate. One of glutamate's jobs is to boost the electrical flow among brain cells. Studies have shown that when this is interrupted, depression can result. Ketamine helps by blocking a brain protein which affects glutamate signals.

It also improves the working of another brain protein which is involved in regulating brain cells' electrical flow. Now a small study by the prestigious U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has shown the effects of ketamine can be seen within minutes. Researchers gave 18 patients, who had suffered with bipolar for more than 20 years, intravenous infusions of ketamine.

Within 40 minutes, depressive symptoms significantly improved compared with placebo. About 71 per cent responded positively to the drug and the improvement lasted for an average of a week.

In another study at Connecticut Mental Health Centre, seven patients with major depression were treated and all had significant improvement in depressive symptoms within 72 hours.

The amount of ketamine given was much lower than that used as an anaesthetic. It's thought the drug acts more quickly than existing drugs because it tackles the condition at the 'first link' in the chain of events that lead to depression.

The effects may also be longer lasting because the drug boosts production of an important growth factor, also helping to boost electrical flow. Several bigger trials - including one at University Hospital, Geneva - are now looking at the use of the drug for depression.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Deenesh Khoosal, who is also a spokesman on bipolar disorder for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: 'Only a small numbers of patients have used ketamine in studies so far, but larger trials are under way. If these results are confirmed, it will offer great hope for people with depression.'


13 September, 2010

The WCRF is at it again: An extra inch on the waist is a cancer risk!

When they "review" research, they ignore all the bits that don't suit them -- like the fact that fat women get LESS breast cancer. The WCRF make their money out of scary pronouncements: For "more research"

Every extra inch on your waistline raises the odds of bowel cancer even if the rest of your body is trim, doctors have warned. The dangers of a pot belly or 'muffin top' were highlighted by a large-scale review of studies into Britain's second biggest cancer killer. Crucially for the millions battling to contain middle-age spread, it found that you don't need to be overweight for a generous waistline to cause problems.

Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific adviser for the World Cancer Research Fund, which funded the review, said: 'This latest study adds to the already strong evidence that carrying excess body fat increases your risk of cancer. 'In fact, scientists now say that, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention.

'We estimate that more than 2,700 cases of bowel cancer a year in the UK could be prevented through people maintaining a healthy weight. 'But this study has also strengthened the evidence that where we carry the fat is important.'

A healthy waist measurement is defined as less than 31.5in (80cm) for women, less than 37in (94cm) for white and black men and less than 35in (89cm) for Asian men. The differences are down to variations in the average height of ethnic groups, and therefore variations in body mass index measurements.

For every extra inch on the waist above these levels, the risk of bowel cancer goes up 3 per cent, the Imperial College London review of seven pieces of research found.

Dr Teresa Norat, who led the review, told a cancer conference: 'This indicates that people should pay attention to abdominal fatness even if they are in the normal range of weight, and it confirms that being overweight increases the risk of this type of cancer. More research is needed to understand how abdominal fatness can be prevented in both normal and overweight individuals.'

It is unclear why abdominal fat is especially dangerous but some scientists believe it may be because it disrupts the balance of hormones that help fuel bowel cancer.

More than 38,000 cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed a year in the UK, and it claims more than 16,000 lives. Only lung cancer kills more.

The World Cancer Research Fund has repeatedly warned that eating processed meats – including bacon, ham, pastrami, salami and hot dogs – significantly raises the chances of bowel cancer. [Which is complete rubbish and another example of their highly selective vision]


Those pesky genes again: The gene that causes short-sight found

All those carrots you ate probably didn't help

A gene that causes shortsightedness has been pinpointed by British scientists, paving the way for eye drops that could make glasses history. Within just ten years, a drug that prevents short-sightedness or stops it in its tracks could be in widespread use. lions would be spared the inconvenience and expense of contact lenses, spectacles and laser surgery.

Given in childhood, the eye drops could also spare school pupils anxieties about having to wear glasses.

Short- sightedness, or trouble in focussing on distant objects, affects more than one in three Britons and is becoming more common as we spend more time indoors and in front of computer screens.

Caused by overgrowth of the eyeball, it usually starts developing in childhood. In some cases vision can rapidly deteriorate. There is no way of halting its progress and, in severe cases, it leads to blindness.

The latest research, by an international team led by experts at King's College London and published in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics, offers hope to millions.

To find the gene, the first to be linked to short-sightedness, or myopia, the researchers compared the DNA of more than 4,000 British twins. Twins are often used in such studies because it is easier distinguish the different effects of nature and nurture. They then confirmed their results by studying the genetics of another 13,000 British, Dutch and Australian individuals.

Some 45 per cent of Britons have the rogue gene and those who have two copies of it are almost twice as likely to be short-sighted as those who are free of it.

KCL researcher Dr Pirro Hysi, the study's lead author, said: 'We have known for many years that the most important risk factor for being short-sighted is having parents who are shortsighted and for the first time we are identifying genes that may be involved in passing on this susceptibility.'

The gene, known as RASGRF1, is thought to play a key role in the development of the eye and the passing of visual signals to the brain for processing. When it is faulty, the eyeball may overgrow, making distant objects seem fuzzy or blurred.

Dr Chris Hammond, also of KCL, said: 'Myopia, or shortsightedness, is the most common eye problem, affecting over a third of adults in the UK. 'People who are extremely short-sighted carry significant risks of future vision loss. The retina can peel away from the back of the eye like wallpaper off a wall.

'While we believe that environmental risk factors such as a lot of close work and lack of outdoor activity are implicated, we have not previously understood how people become short-sighted. 'We hope that by understanding the mechanisms we can stop children from becoming shortsighted and stop short-sighted children from becoming more short-sighted.'

A second study, by Dutch researchers, identified a second short- sightedness gene. Ultimately, there could be dozens behind the condition.

Drugs that counter their effect and stop the eyeball from overgrowing could be available in just a decade, said Dr Hammond. Other options include gene therapy - injecting 'healthy' genes into the eye.

But Dr Hammond said: 'Gene therapy is a major intervention. I think we are going to be looking at developing some kind of eye drop or tablet that interferes with the biological pathway that leads to short-sightedness.' Although the eye drops would not help adults who are already short-sighted, they could be of huge benefit to their children.

However, today's youngsters can take some simple steps to try to discourage shortsightedness. Terri Young, of Duke University in North Carolina in the U.S., said: 'People need to go outside and look at the horizon. 'Today's near work forces our eyes to be constantly in tension to focus on reading papers and watching monitors.'

Professor Pete Coffey, director of the London Project to Cure Blindness, cautioned that any drug would have to be shown to be extremely safe before it was given to children.


12 September, 2010

Cancer patients from wealthy areas of Britain have a much better chance of surviving

That pesky social class factor again -- a factor behind a whole host of epidemiological correlations

Cancer patients in the wealthiest parts of the country are far more likely to survive than those in poorer areas, figures show. Those from impoverished households face a much bleaker prognosis with less chance of still being alive a year after diagnosis.

On average, a person diagnosed with any type of cancer in England has a 65 per cent chance of surviving at least 12 months, compared with 62 per cent a decade ago.

But the figures from the Office of National Statistics show a distinct gap between the rich and the poor with those living in wealthy regions enjoying survival rates almost 25 per cent higher.

The report worked out the average one-year survival rate for all types of cancer for every primary care trust (PCT) in England using figures from 2006, the most recent available. It found that those living in Hammersmith and Fulham in West London had the highest survival rate of 70.3 per cent, closely followed by Westminster, and Kensington and Chelsea. Bournemouth and Poole, Bromley, Worcester and North Somerset also recorded survival rates close to 70 per cent.

By contrast Newham, one of the poorest PCTs in East London, had the lowest one-year survival rate of just 56.3 per cent, with similarly low figures in Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, and Barking & Dagenham. Rates of around 60 per cent were recorded in East Lancashire Teaching PCT, which encompasses Burnley, and Leicester City PCT.

Cancer experts say the poor are missing out on early screenings and treatments because they are 'intimidated' by the NHS. Professor Karol Sikora of Imperial College, London, said: 'Rich and middle-class people use the NHS far better. By contrast, the poor feel intimidated. 'They are made to feel unwelcome at surgeries and hospitals [How British!] and this means they are less likely to push for treatment or early screenings.

'If a middle-class person gets told they have to wait six months for a screening they will kick up a fuss and be seen. 'They also are more aware of what the Health Service offers.

'Women are more likely to go along for their mammograms and men to their prostate screenings so their cancers will picked up earlier and more easily treated. 'The NHS is meant to be free - but rich people know how to use its services better.'

Catherine Thomson, of Cancer Research UK, said: 'These figures are encouraging and reinforce previous ones showing that in general cancer survival rates have significantly improved over the past 40 years. 'But this study also flags up certain areas, particularly those in the North of England and those which are generally deprived, that are consistently falling short of the national average.

'Late diagnosis of cancer could help explain some of this northsouth divide and why the poorer areas tend to do worse. 'This could help highlight where efforts to promote early diagnosis could be best targeted to help save lives.'


British Food Standards Agency spent £7m on 'nannying' campaigns

The Food Standards Agency has spent nearly £7 million on posters, adverts and leaflets to educate consumers about improving their diets over the last year. MPs and campaigners said the figure was proof that the Agency had wasted taxpayers' money and was "nannying" citizens.

It spent £3.47 million on its salt awareness campaign, including devising a quiz to educate consumers. One question was: "Too much salt is bad for your heart. a. True b. False".

It also spent £554,000 on its Christmas Food Hygiene Campaign, designed to stop families undercooking their turkeys.

The figures were published in a written answer supplied by Anne Milton, the health minister, in response to Andrew Stephenson, the Conservative MP.

Mr Stephenson said: "Whilst I am not opposed to all public awareness campaigns, I thought the salt campaign typified the nannying behaviour of several government bodies. "I was appalled to learn that the Salt Awareness Campaign cost £3.5 milion and that the Food Standards Agency spent a further £3 million on other advertising and PR. I can see little justification for this expenditure, particularly as it took place whilst the country was still in recession."

The FSA, whose budget last year was £152 million, has come under fire for its handling of meat from cloned cows entering the food chain. It was also widely ridiculed for publishing an online guide advising football fans to cut down on drinking beer and eating crisps during this summer's football World Cup.

As well as suggesting fans watching the game in a pub drank fizzy water with a slice of lemon, it also advised: "You could walk to the pub instead of taking the bus, or use half-time for a brisk walk and some fresh air."

Tim Cox, at Liberal Voice, a Liberal Democrat group that campaigns for lower taxes, said: "The news that the Food Standards Agency has spent £6.7 million of taxpayers’ money on public awareness campaigns over the last year is scandalous.

"The British public do not need bureaucrats in Whitehall to tell them when to have dinner, or to advise them on what to eat during the World Cup. This is patronising, self-serving nonsense. The Coalition should cut all similar activities immediately.”

The campaigning arm of the FSA will be transferred to the Department of Health, under plans to slim down the Agency's role.

Ms Milton said that the FSA's campaigns had been effective, pointing out that the results of the most recent urinary analysis survey, which took place in 2008, showed a significant fall in the average population daily salt intake from 9.5g in 2001 to 8.6g.

Many more people were checking the labels on food to see how much salt and saturated fat they contained.


11 September, 2010

Peril of the sleeping pill: Users a third more likely to die early

The effect is small in absolute terms and some proper criticisms are expressed below. It would seem to be most likely that the condition causing the insomnia is responsible for the deaths involved rather than the remedy, but, as with epidemiological research generally, it's all just speculation

Popping a pill might seem a small price to pay for a good night’s rest. But experts warn the long-term cost could be far greater. Research shows that those who take sleeping tablets are a third more likely to die prematurely than those who do not.

The figure takes into account factors that can affect longevity, from social class and chronic health conditions to smoking and alcohol use. And, unlike previous research, it also recognises the effects of depression.

With around ten million sleeping pill prescriptions written each in tthe UK and many more tablets sold over the counter, the findings have significant implications for the health and habits of the nation.

Crucially, the study did not distinguish between those who were heavy users and those who only took them occasionally.

Researcher Genevieve Belleville said: ‘These medications aren’t candy and taking them is far from harmless.’

But British experts questioned whether the Canadian study had over-stated the risks. And they stressed that while sleeping pills should be prescribed prudently they still have a place in modern medicine.

Dr Belleville analysed 12 years of data on more than 12,000 Canadians. When all other factors were equal, death rates were found to be significantly higher among sleeping pill users and those taking tablets to ease anxiety. Pills used ranged from over-the-counter antihistamines to powerful prescription-only preparations such as Valium.

After taking into account alcohol and tobacco consumption, physical health, physical activity and depression, Dr Belleville found the drugs were linked to a 36 per cent increase in the risk of death. Pill takers were more likely to succumb to every type of illness, from parasites to cancer, she said.

Writing in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Dr Belleville, of Laval University in Quebec, gave a number of possible explanations for the alarming statistic.

But British sleep experts said that although the Canadians had tried to account for the effect of health problems, marriage breakdowns and other factors, it is likely that these ‘underlying problems’ still skewed the result.

Professor Jim Horne, of Loughborough University, said many of those studied were likely to be very troubled, adding: ‘It is all very well saying people who take these die, but one has to ask what happens if these people don’t take sleeping tablets.

Genevieve Belleville, from Laval University's School of Psychology in Canada, led the study, derived from Canada's National Population Health Survey. The data includes information on people aged 18 to 102, surveyed every two years between 1994 and 2007.

Both sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs can affect a person's alertness and co-ordination, which could make them more prone to falls and other accidents. Another theory is that they interfere with the breathing system and affect any breathing problems as the person sleeps. The medicines also work on the central nervous system, possibly increasing the risk of suicide.

Dr Belleville said people should consider a type of talking therapy called cognitive behavioural therapy instead. 'These medications aren't candy, and taking them is far from harmless.

'Given that cognitive behavioural therapies have shown good results in treating insomnia and anxiety, doctors should systematically discuss such therapies with their patients as an option. 'Combining a pharmacological approach in the short-term with psychological treatment is a promising strategy for reducing anxiety and promoting sleep.'

The study was published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.


Obese people don't have a lack of willpower - study reveals it is their brain cells that are to blame

An international study has discovered why some people who eat a high-fat diet remain slim, yet others pile on the weight. Researchers found in some people a high-fat diet causes the brain cells to become insulated from the body. This prevents vital signals, which tell the body to stop eating and to burn calories through exercise, from reaching the brain.

The team from Monash University, Australia, said the findings provide a critical link in addressing the obesity epidemic. Lead author Professor Michael Cowley, said: 'These neuronal circuits regulate eating behaviours and energy expenditure and are a naturally occurring process in the brain. 'The circuits begin to form early in life so that people may have a tendency towards obesity even before they eat their first meal,' he said.

Eating a high fat diet causes more 'insulation' in the nerve cells, and makes it even harder for the brain to help a person lose weight.

Professor Cowley said: 'Obese people are not necessarily lacking willpower. Their brains do not know how full or how much fat they have stored, so the brain does not tell the body to stop refuelling. Subsequently, their body's ability to lose weight is significantly reduced.'

Professor Cowley and his team collaborated with scientists from the Yale School of Medicine in the U.S, as well as teams from Cincinnati, New Jersey, Mexico and Spain.

For a period of four months, the researchers monitored the eating and body composition of groups of mice and rats. They found that those with a neural predisposition to obesity gained 30 per cent more weight compared to six per cent of the group with obesity-resistant cells.


10 September, 2010

Brain injuries in alcoholics may be linked to obesity

I was waiting for this one: "Fat makes you stupid". But generalizing from a non-sample of Polish alcoholics is drawing a long bow. And it's all a matter of "may be"s, with no testing of actual mental functioning reported. I wonder why not? Was such testing done but with pesky results? -- JR

The trifecta of alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking and a high body-mass index may be linked with alcohol-related brain injuries, a new study finds.

The study, published online Tuesday in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, looked at data on 54 male veterans age 28 to 66 who were dependent on alcohol and were in treatment and had not been drinking for about a month. In addition to noting the men's BMI, researchers also did brain magnetic-resonance imaging, looking at brain volume, blood flow and concentrations of metabolites in the brain. After controlling for factors such as age, the average number of drinks consumed over a lifetime and smoking, a higher BMI was linked with having lower N-acetylaspartate, a metabolite found in the central nervous system. Decreased NAA concentrations found via magnetic resonance may be an indicator of brain dysfunction or loss of neurons. A higher BMI was also associated with other markers related to brain injury.

"Excessive weight is not only a risk factor for cardiovascular disease or diabetes, but it is also a risk factor for developing dementia," said Stefan Gazdzinski, the study's lead author of Jagiellonian University in Poland.

"Obesity has been shown to be associated with worse decision making and problem solving throughout lifetime [But what does that mean? We are not leaping to causal conclusions again, are we?]. We had previously observed lower concentrations of some brain metabolites, markers of brain injury, in healthy non-alcohol-dependent people with BMIs in the overweight to obese range.

"Knowing that individuals in developed countries who overuse alcohol are usually heavier than individuals enjoying alcohol in moderation, because of the caloric intake, we wanted to investigate if excess weight accounts for some of the brain injury usually observed in alcoholics."


Big Brother in Iowa? School District Monitors Kids' Lunch Choices

Children have to memorize a four-digit PIN if they want to eat lunch! Brave New World, indeed!

An Iowa school district's lunch program asks children as young as 5 years old to memorize a four-digit PIN code so it can monitor what they eat in the school cafeteria -- prompting some parents to claim it's an unhealthy case of "Big Brother."

The Ankeny Community School District is maintaining a database that records what the kids buy to eat and then checks their food choices against national nutrition guidelines.

The program is intended to provide the children with more food options while ensuring compliance with new and stricter state-mandated nutrition requirements. But some parents are worried that the program infringes on people’s freedoms. And others want to know why their 5-year-olds need to memorize a PIN before they can tie their shoelaces, and what they’re supposed to do if they forget their four-digit number.

Garry Howe says he was shocked when his two sons brought home a letter from school last week informing him of the program. The letter included two sets of PIN numbers — one for Benny, 5, who is in kindergarten, the other for Nate, 7, who is in second grade.

It read in part:

Benny and Nate Howe, ages 5 and 7, of Ankeny, Iowa, are required to memorize PIN numbers as part of their school district's new lunch program.

“The PIN numbers will make serving lines more efficient and allow more time for students to focus on their lunch selections through our offer vs. serve program and daily salad bar. This will in turn accommodate increased meal choices and the relocation of our point-of-sale machine.

“Classroom teachers have been working with students to memorize their PIN numbers. As students “check-out” they will tell the checkout scanner their number. The scanner will record the items purchased and verify that a lunch is purchased that meets the new National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines. The point of sale employee will also visually verify the student’s identity to ensure the appropriate number was given by the student.”

The letter went on to thank parents for helping their kids memorize the PINs and asked them to stress the importance of keeping the numbers confidential.

“My children have to memorize a four-digit PIN if they want to eat lunch at school,” said Howe, two of whose four children are in grades K-5. “It sounds like Big Brother to me....

“The PIN pulls up the child's picture for validation and records what the child is eating so Big Brother can keep track of my child's food consumption,” he said.

But the school district says the PIN system provides for quicker, more efficient and streamlined food service while ensuring what students select from the cafeteria complies with the law.

"We’re making sure that as they’re leaving the lunch line that the menu items they’ve selected match up with state law, so they’re selecting a meal that has all the basic [components] of good nutrition,” said school district spokesman Jarrett Peterson. “We’re not tracking what each individual child eats.”

The PIN program being rolled out this week is a response to Iowa’s 2008 Healthy Kids Act, which targets childhood obesity through an overhaul of school food, wellness and fitness programs throughout the state.

One provision of the law, which went into effect in July, says that any and all food offered on school grounds — in vending machines, a la carte cafeteria options, even fundraising bake sales — must adhere to federal guidelines.

Peterson said the school district is not storing the information in any kind of database. “We are not tracking each individual student’s meals, we are tracking to make sure the meals we serve are in compliance with the Healthy Kids Act,” he said.

But Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy and civil liberties advocacy center, said there is a growing trend of schools collecting student data and that schools need to be open with parents about what they’re doing with that student information.


9 September, 2010

High dosage vitamin pill reduces Alzheimer's symptoms

But it may give you cancer. The Oxford group have been focusing on homocysteine for many years (e.g. here) and they do now seem to have some solid results. The results do seem to vary a lot with the patient concerned however.

That vitamins are involved in Alzheimers is, additionally, counter-intuitive. We are better nourished than ever yet Alzheimer's incidence seems to be rising. If vitamins were the issue, we would expect Alzheimer' levels to be falling.

There is obviously much need for replication by groups less committed to the theory concerned. Note the caution in the final paragraph

A simple vitamin pill could prevent millions from suffering the agony of Alzheimer's. The tablet, costing as little as 10p a day and made up of three vitamin B supplements, cut brain shrinkage linked to memory loss by up to 500 per cent.

Oxford University researchers behind the landmark study said it offered the 'first glimmer of hope' in the battle to find a drug that slows or stops the development of Alzheimer's.

It and other forms of dementia blight the lives of more than 800,000 Britons, and the number of cases is expected to double within a generation.

No previous drug trials have been successful and, with around 500 new cases of Alzheimer's diagnosed every day in the UK alone, anything that delays the development of the disease could improve the lives of millions.

The breakthrough centres on a compound called homocysteine which is naturally made in the body and, at high levels, has been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer's. Vitamin B is known to break down homocysteine, so the researchers decided to look at whether giving patients the vitamin would be good for memory.

Working with colleagues in Norway, the Oxford team recruited 270 pensioners suffering from slight memory lapses that can be a precursor to Alzheimer's. Known as mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, it affects one in six aged 70-plus, or 1.5million Britons. Half of those with MCI will develop dementia within five years of diagnosis. Half of those taking part in the trial took a vitamin B tablet a day for two years. The tablets contained extremely high doses of vitamins B6, 9 and 12.

For instance, the amount of B12 was up to 300 times higher than could be obtained by simply eating bananas, meat, wholegrains, beans and other foods rich in the vitamin. The others took a daily dummy pill with no active ingredients.

Brain scans were carried out to check if the pill reduced the shrinkage of the brain that happens naturally as we age and speeds up in memory loss. Vitamin B cut the amount of shrinkage by 30 per cent, on average, the journal PLoS ONE reports.

In those with the highest amounts of homocysteine in their bloodstream at the start of the study, it halved the shrinkage and in one extreme case, it cut it five-fold.

Those with the slowest rate of shrinkage did best in memory tests and in some cases their ability to recall lists was as good at the end of the trial as it was at the start.

Professor David Smith, one of the study leaders, said: 'This is a very striking, dramatic result. It is our hope this simple and safe treatment will delay the development of Alzheimer's in many who suffer from mild memory problems.' Co-researcher Professor Helga Refsum added: 'Here we have a very simple solution: you give some vitamins and you seem to protect the brain.'

The results suggest that a basic cocktail of vitamins can achieve results that have evaded pharmaceutical companies, despite billions of pounds being spent on experimental dementia drugs.

Professor Smith said: 'This was a disease-modifying study. All other disease modifying trials have failed. What we can say is that this is the first one that shows a glimmer of hope and success.'

The professor plans to run a larger trial which will look at whether the vitamin cocktail actually affects the onset of Alzheimer's. If the trial is successful, high dose vitamin B could be widely prescribed to those with mild memory loss in as little as five years. Those who do not want to wait can make their own vitamin cocktail with supplements on sale at health food stores.

But the researchers stress that people should not do this without speaking to their doctor first. High dose vitamins may trigger cancer and are known to fuel existing cancers. They may also react with medicines including arthritis and psoriasis drugs.

Despite this, Professor Smith says he ‘would not hesitate’ to take the cocktail of 20mg of vitamin B6, 0.8mg of vitamin B9, or folate, and 0.5mg of vitamin B12, himself, if he were diagnosed with MCI.

The Alzheimer’s Research Trust, which part-funded the study, said that delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years could halve the number of those who die with the condition. Rebecca Wood, the charity’s chief executive, said: ‘These are very important results.’

The Alzheimer’s Society gave the research a cautious welcome. Professor Clive Ballard said: ‘This could change the lives of thousands of people at risk of dementia. However, previous studies looking at B vitamins have been very disappointing and we wouldn’t want to raise people’s expectations yet.’


Health Tyranny in Communist China

Very similar to the health Fascism in the Western world: A pointer to the ideology of the Western health Fascists

Liu Tao grimaces as he leaps up and down doing jumping jacks, one of the exercises he sweats through under a revived daily calisthenics routine that authorities in Beijing want all workers to perform.

Suspended three years ago due to low interest, the mass calisthenics routines favoured by late Communist leader Mao Zedong have been reinstated in the Chinese capital under a new government health push.

Every week at the Working People's Cultural Palace, a park adjacent to the famed Forbidden City palace complex, instructors teach the moves that people are expected to perform to music broadcast twice a day on state radio.

"Young people snack a lot and sit in front of their computers all day. They don't want to exercise," said Liu, 28, a property manager whose employer assigned him to learn the routine so he could in turn teach his colleagues.

"So this type of activity is good for the body and the mind," he adds, before returning to a line of people performing the moves as their instructor calls out a beat of "One! Two! Three! Four!"

Launched in 1951 by Mao, group calisthenics evolved over the decades, combining traditional Chinese pursuits like kung fu with moves taken from more modern activities like aerobics and even bowling.

They were suspended in Beijing in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics as officials focused on Games preparations and due to a lack of interest, according to state media reports. But they've been brought back amid growing official concern over public health.

China's recent prosperity has led to its citizens living more sedentary lifestyles and eating larger quantities of richer food. Associated health threats such as diabetes and heart disease have been on the rise.

The Beijing Federation of Trade Unions wants the eight-minute routine to be mandatory for all state-owned companies in the capital by 2011, and for 60 percent of workers across the city to participate.

Authorities plan to train around 5,000 instructors to teach employees how to perform the routines.

Zhang Zhenying, 64, a fitness expert who teaches the exercises near the Forbidden City twice a week, hopes the routine will catch on with Beijingers. "When they retire, before school, on holiday, travelling, they can do them, it's so beneficial -- you don't just have to do them in the office."

Some companies in Beijing had already established mandatory calisthenics even before authorities in the capital reinstated them. Real estate agent Yao Xuesong exercises with his colleagues to the sound of Chinese rock music every morning at 8:30 on the pavement in front of his company's office.

More like a dance routine than a workout, Yao says the exercise helps relieve work stress. "Every day when I finish this, I feel a bit better. Co-workers get along better too," he says.

Some of his colleagues, however, move less enthusiastically to the music than Yao, and some doubt whether the exercises will truly catch on in a modern era of long work hours and job pressures.


8 September, 2010

Been on a diet recently? Research shows four in ten women actually gain weight

Four out of ten women who diet end up heavier than when they started watching their waistline, a study revealed today. The average female dieter actually gained 5.2lbs with a 'foot off the gas' approach once a target has been reached and a lack of willpower to blame.

Partners who cook or buy unhealthy food were also targeted as was filling up in the office with cakes and biscuits.

The research also showed that a large percentage of women start noticing the pounds creeping back on just 21 days after reaching their ideal weight.

Yesterday, Dr Ian Campbell of the Jenny Craig weight management programme said: 'In the UK 61.4 per cent of adults are overweight or obese. 'Successful weight management requires a long-term commitment in order to lose weight successfully and for good. 'Too many women simply flirt with the notion of dieting via unhealthy yo-yo dieting or quick fix solutions - rather than entering into a proper long-term relationship with healthy eating.

'Successful weight management requires a holistic and committed approach focusing on food, body and mind. 'We can often be too focused on the high impact diets that deliver flash-in-the-pan results and then let us down, rather than thinking about how to keep the weight off in the weeks, months and years down-the-line.

'Dieting can be a real challenge so setting realistic goals and remaining focused on them is important. 'Otherwise as this research shows, women could end up heavier than when they started.'

The 'Food: Body: Mind' report was commissioned by Jenny Craig who quizzed 2000 women aged between 18 and 65 who diet regularly on their attitudes, beliefs and behaviours around weight loss. Six in ten said they are currently on a diet and one in five women saying they are on a 'continuous diet'.

It found the most common triggers to start dieting was seeing their 'reflection in the mirror', preparing for a summer holiday or unflattering photos posted on social networking sites. Other popular reasons include comments by friends or relatives or remarks from their other half.

However the study showed that one in ten fall off the wagon within one day, while almost a fifth manage to make it to a week or more. The average is ten days.

Many blamed pressure they put on themselves to lose weight too quickly for the weight gain, which leaves them with a bigger appetite than normal. Others blamed colleagues, who tuck into fatty lunches and snacks unaware of the effect it has on the dieter, while mothers who polish off their children's leftovers was another common cause of weight gain.


McDonald's helps the homeless: Pesky!

But they can't win, of course

For most fast-food aficionados, McDonald's $1 menu items may seem like little more than a good deal on the road to a full stomach. But in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, a feud over cheap food has escalated into a biting debate on microeconomics and the city's homeless problem.

Natalie Gonzales, a McDonald's franchise owner in the neighborhood, recently decided to discontinue the $1 menu at her restaurant and start charging an extra 50 cents for each of the items, the San Fransisco Chronicle reports. Such price hikes might be met by a grumble and a shrug elsewhere, but in bohemian Haight-Ashbury, street people are up in arms, saying they rely on the dollar deals to survive.

The homeless interviewed by the Chronicle suggested it was part of a larger program of unfriendly policies in the city, whose mayor, Gavin Newsom, is pushing an anti-loitering ballot measure.

Not so, says Gonzales. "The speculation as to why I no longer offer menu items for $1 in this location is absolutely false," she said in a statement to the Chronicle that was vetted by the McDonald's corporate office. "This was a business decision based on a number of contributing factors. And while these items are no longer available at $1, they are still available at what I believe to be a good, everyday value."


7 September, 2010

Why Army-style fitness workouts are all pain and NO gain

This sounds right to me. But but I have done no exercise for over 50 years so I suppose it would -- JR

Taking a stroll on a grassy common these days, you'd be forgiven for thinking that National Service still existed. Increasingly, green spaces across the country are taken up with puffed-out people in bibs performing gruelling exercises. Their faces getting pinker by the minute, they run and jump about under the eyes of a watchful leader.

But this is no Army training camp, nor is it a team-building exercise for a large investment bank. Rather, it is a group of people participating in a military fitness class - and they're supposed to be having fun.

Over recent years, this no-frills bootcamp-style training has been adopted by fitness professionals and organisations everywhere. Every day more people flock to join the sweaty throng, perhaps as a result of our increasing awareness of obesity, or because classes like these cost approximately a quarter of the average personal training session (about £10 a class in comparison to more than £40 for an hour's one-on-one training).

By far the best known of such outdoor fitness providers is British Military Fitness (BMF), running classes nationwide, with 100 a week in London alone. But should you be signing up?

Dr Ralph Rogers, consultant in sports medicine at the London Orthopaedic Clinic, worries that these kinds of bootcamps result in injury, not weight loss and fitness. He says: 'Exercise needs to be done gradually, with proper supervision, otherwise there is a risk of injury. I would never recommend an overweight patient to do one of these military bootcamps. When you overload the body, the result is injury - anything from shin splints to back problems - and, in this kind of environment, people make things worse by trying to soldier on.

'Neither the psychological aspect of why someone is overweight or the nutritional aspect is addressed by a bootcamp. Even fit people can hurt themselves by being over zealous.'

Osteopath Paul Raw agrees: 'I've seen a lot of ex-soldiers with bad backs because the idea of military-style training is to push yourself beyond your limit. This means the likelihood of eventual injury is high. It's a British thing I think, to assume that exercise must equal pain. 'As an osteopath I look to the quality of the exercise. Just being tired from it isn't always productive.'

As a personal trainer, I have worked with clients from all walks of life. Everybody is individual, with different strengths and weaknesses, and making someone do lots of press-ups when they can't even do a single one properly is a recipe for a bad back.

And if the ratio of instructor to participant is about 1:20, clearly the instructor does not have enough eyes to ensure everybody is doing everything right.

Sit-ups are one of the main culprits when it comes to developing back problems through exercise. From what I have witnessed, all those who pay their £48 BMF monthly membership fee (not including the £50 joining fee) are encouraged to do lots of sit-ups.

Yet such exercises are appropriate only for those with no lower back or postural issues - a small percentage of the population - and even then there are preferable exercises less likely to encourage a rounding of the shoulders or put pressure on the spine.

Stretches can be similarly problematic. Placing your hands in the small of the back and squeezing your elbows together is one way of stretching out your chest, but getting your partner to hold your elbows from behind and force them together, as I witnessed recently, is damaging.

The one being stretched will only arch their back to relieve the pain in the shoulder. We start with a natural arch in the back, but if it is increased, the segments in between spinal discs are further squeezed, creating compression. Over time, this can cause problems, the kind which only the orthopaedic industry will profit from.

And then there is the endless jogging, upon which the military bootcamp is founded: 'Running is integral to improving fitness,' says the well-spoken chap in the video voiceovers on the BMF website. But this is only partially true.

Certainly running is good for cardiovascular fitness, but so is swimming. If you are carrying extra weight, fast walking is better than jogging, the impact of which can cause lower back pain and exacerbate existing injuries.

But the majority of BMF leaders don't know if their clients have such problems because they provide no screening at the outset. This is typical of most bootcamps. All you need to do before participating in a class is to register online, fill in a health form and liability waiver.

When we questioned BMF about this, Simon Richman, London area manager, said: 'The health form has a list of injury questions.' In fact, while the form does contain health questions, they are standard ones regarding things like allergies, heart issues, blood pressure and asthma.

'The onus is on the participant to tell us about any injuries themselves,' Richman added. 'But we do check at the beginning of the class whether there are any first-timers and they can ask questions if they need.'

But this courtesy doesn't seem to extend to everyone, as Catherine Cooper, 34, experienced. A former county tennis player, Catherine wanted to regain lost fitness. She was living in South-West London when she tried an enjoyable free introductory session with BMF.

According to Cooper, the instructors asked who was a first-timer. She says: 'They were particularly nice to those people. But I went again after paying my membership fee and they were more arrogant. 'I told them I had a knee injury from skiing, and that it was playing up from all the squats, but they insisted I continue. It was like they were on some kind of power trip.

'I argued with the instructor, but he carried on being aggressive and telling me to continue. Luckily I refused, so my knee did not get worse. It was only at the end of the session that he apologised, but by then it was too late. I knew I would never go back.'

Simon Richman says: 'It is our company ethos that everyone has a military or service background, but on top of this they must have a recognised fitness qualification, which includes being a physical training instructor in the services.' They must then complete a day's training course and shadow other classes before passing an assessment rendering them proficient to teach without supervision. 'We are all about creating a welcoming, motivating environment and not about humiliation,' he says.

So the intention is there, even if it does not convert to reality: surely no self-respecting adult really enjoys performing a wheelbarrow (crawling along the floor on your hands while another holds your legs behind you)?

There are more dignified ways of honing your core strength, which do not risk back injury to such a high degree. If you can't afford personal training, it is worth saving up to get an assessment from a sports therapist.

You'll learn what you should and shouldn't do before joining group exercise. If you were buying a house or a car, you would most likely do any necessary research, so why treat your health and fitness any differently?


Cockroaches could help combat MRSA and E.coli

This sounds very good news but the bureaucracy of getting new drugs through the approval process means that nobody will benefit for at least 10 years

Cockroaches and locusts contain powerful antibiotic molecules in their brains that could be used to develop new treatments against MRSA and E-coli, scientists have discovered. Scientists at Nottingham University found that the insects, which are widely reviled for their dirty image, could actually be more of a health benefit than a health risk.

They have identified up to nine different molecules in the tissues of cockroaches and locusts that are toxic to bacteria and they hope will pave the way for new treatments for multi-drug resistant bacterial infections.

The tissues of the brain and nervous system of the insects were able to kill more than 90% of MRSA and E.coli bacteria, without harming human cells.

Simon Lee, a postgraduate researcher who is presenting his work at the Society for General Microbiology’s autumn meeting in Nottingham, said: “We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into treatments for E. coli and MRSA infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs.

“Also, these new antibiotics could potentially provide alternatives to currently available drugs that may be effective but have serious and unwanted side effects,” he said.


6 September, 2010

Sleep-deprived teenagers 'triple chances of mental illness' by spending nights online

This is just the usual epidemiological crap. They found a correlation between reduced sleep and mental problems and just ASSUME that they know the causes behind the correlation. Blaming computer games is SO predictable from a do-gooder outfit like the George Institute.

That people with problems might find it hard to sleep does not seem to have occurred to them

Young people who rob themselves of sleep by spending all night surfing the internet and playing computer games are tripling their chances of developing a mental illness, according to research.

People who sleep less than five hours a night are up to three times more likely to become mentally ill than those sleeping eight or nine hours, the report said. A 17-24 year old sleeps on average eight to nine hours per night, but this figure has been decreasing due to the amount of time young people spend on electronic gadgets in their bedrooms.

Researchers from George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia, analysed the sleeping habits of almost 20,000 people aged between 17 and 24. They found over half of those who got fewer than six hours sleep had high levels of psychological distress, compared with one quarter of those who slept eight to nine hours a night.

Professor Nick Glozier, who led the study, said: "Over the past few decades young adults have been sleeping fewer and fewer hours, whereas the rest of us have generally been sleeping more hours. "There's a whole load of gadgets that kids and young adults now have in their bedrooms that they never used to have. "Yet of course they have to get up and go to school or college or go to university at exactly the same time. So there's a group of them who are becoming more and more sleep-deprived."

A lack of sleep could have potentially serious effects, he said. "What we are seeing is young adults who start off with anxiety and body clock problems, moving on to problems like bipolar or major depression. "In young adults already experiencing distress, the fewer hours they sleep the worse the outcome."

Psychological distress was assessed using the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10), that evaluates a person's mental health problems. The results appear in the journal Sleep.


Why not brushing your teeth can kill you

But only if you have bleeding gums. The assumption seems to be that toothpaste is bacteriocidal or that brushing hardens your gums. I am not sure that either is true. Brushing tends to make my gums bleed, which is why I gave it up long ago. I have had no gum bleeding ever since -- and no decay either. I would think that the findings below were an argument AGAINST brushing. A couple of glasses of gin and water before bedtime is my recipe for oral health.

I have corrected some deplorable spelling below. It must be a sign of modern education that writers and copy editors at a prestigious British newspaper think that "bacteria" is singular

A link between poor oral hygiene and increased risk of heart attack has long been suspected. But until now nobody has been able to figure out exactly why not brushing regularly might bring one on. Now a Bristol University dental scientist has discovered that a common bacterium responsible for tooth decay and gum disease can break out into the bloodstream and help blood clots to form. In turn these can cause heart attacks and strokes, which together cause more than 200,000 deaths in Britain every year.

Most of them time Streptococcus bacteria are confined to the mouth, but when someone has bleeding gums they can get into the blood. There the bacteria use a protein on their surface, called PadA, to force blood platelets to bind together to give themselves a protective shield.

Howard Jenkinson, professor of oral microbiology, said: "What we have done is whittled down to a single protein molecule on the surface of bacteria that can activate platelet formation. "It is the first time that a mechanism from a single bacterium has been shown to activate platelets and make them spread."

Describing the mechanism, he said: "When the platelets clump together they completely encase the bacterium. This provides a protective cover not only from the immune system, but also from antibiotics that might be used to treat infection.

"Unfortunately, as well as helping out the bacteria, platelet clumping can cause small blood clots, growths on the heart valves or inflammation of blood vessels that can block the blood supply to the heart and brain."

The study provides evidence for yet one more reason to brush one's teeth and - ideally - floss. "People need to be aware that as well keeping a check on their diet, blood pressure, cholesterol and fitness levels, they also need to maintain good dental hygiene to minimise their risk of heart problems," said the scientist.

But the research should also speed up the development of drugs which could prevent potentially deadly blood clots from forming in the first place.

Prof Jenkinson described the discovery of the key protein as a "new tool" on which to test drugs which might stop it from clotting blood. He is working with Dr Steve Kerrigan of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland to see how the protein's platelet-causing function can be blocked. "This could eventually lead to new treatments for cardiovascular disease which is the biggest killer in the developed world," said Prof Jenkinson.

He is presenting the research today (MON) at the Society for General Microbiology’s autumn conference.


5 September, 2010

Antibiotics and meat DO mix

CEI submitted comments this week on an FDA proposed guidance that “encourages” farmers and antibiotics manufacturers to stop using “medically important” antibiotics for livestock growth promotion purposes. When I first started researching the topic, I was sympathetic to the view that at least some of the antibiotics that serve as essential human therapies probably shouldn’t be used in livestock. Sure, I thought, cheaper meat is a huge consumer benefit, but why surrender our last line of defense in the war against germs? I wasn’t as strident as this Los Angeles Times editorial (”Antibiotics and meat don’t mix”), but I did think that maybe a few limits couldn’t hurt.

Naturally, I was surprised to find out how much it really could hurt. There’s actually a pretty large body of scientific research showing how much so-called sub-therapeutic doses actually contribute to consumer health by reducing pathogen loads in animal-derived foods and have a positive impact on human safety (see here, here, here, and here, for just a few examples). Plus, when the European Union banned antibiotics for livestock growth promotion, the expected decrease in the incidence of resistant human pathogens did not occur. In most cases, the number of resistant bacteria continued rising, and in some cases they rose dramatically. Moreover, the incidence of foodborne illness also rose substantially. This shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, since it’s estimated that livestock uses account for as little as 10 percent of the problem with antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The effect of antibiotic resistance on human health is a complex problem that cannot be solved by superficially appealing solutions. What we need to do is optimize the mix of long-term efficacy and near-term benefits from antibiotics use. We ordinarily expect that market forces can do this kind of thing, and that government regulation would exacerbate problems. The appropriate market forces are attenuated here, however, since the off-patent status of most antibiotics makes them a “commons”, with little incentive for anyone to maximize the net present value. Add in cross-resistance issues (i.e. resistance to one antibiotic can, at times, make a pathogen resistant to another one in the same or similar chemical class), and the end result is that we have to become more creative about instituting the right incentive mechanisms. But one thing is certain: an FDA decision to cut off a whole category of uses because the agency is solely concerned with long-term efficacy is shortsighted at best.

Here at CEI, we have long observed that far too many governmental (and some private) efforts to limit exposure to certain risks unintentionally increases exposure to other, potentially more hazardous risks. Whether you’re talking about human or animal use, banning beneficial uses today can have negative impacts on human and animal health just as surely as a lack of long-term drug efficacy can. And it seems pretty clear that use of antibiotics for livestock growth promotion purposes can coexist with the optimal antibiotics use.

SOURCE. (See the original for links)

Dangerous and ineffective diet pill

Editors of a top medical journal call Meridia “another flawed diet pill’’ and question whether it should stay on the market as a study shows it raises the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with heart problems.

The strongly worded editorial comes two weeks before government advisers review the prescription drug, which has already been pulled in Europe. In January, US drug regulators strengthened existing warnings that the appetite suppressant should not be used by those with a history of heart trouble.

In today’s issue, the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine noted that the latest study showed weight loss with Meridia was minimal, it didn’t improve cardiovascular health, and those with heart disease fared worse. “It is difficult to discern a credible rationale for keeping this medication on the market,’’ they wrote.

The editorial — with a headline calling the drug “another flawed diet pill’’ — was published along with the findings of the study conducted in Europe, Latin America, and Australia.


4 September, 2010

Here we go again: Coffee is good for your arteries (If you are a Greek islander)

More epidemiological naivety. Greeks who don't drink coffee must be pretty odd. Probably antisocial. That their health is also not too good may not be too surprising in that context

Drinking one to two cups of coffee per day is good for the heart, researchers have found. A study of elderly people aged between 65 and 100 found those who drank moderate amounts of coffee a day had more elastic blood vessels around the heart.

People with high blood pressure should be encouraged to drink moderate amounts of coffee, the authors said, based on the results. Previously, opinion has been divided over whether coffee is good or bad for the heart.

The research was conducted by the University of Athens on almost 700 elderly residents of a small island called Ikaria, in Aegean Sea, where more than a third of people live to the age of 90 or more. The research focused on 485 of the residents who had high blood pressure and tested their blood vessels using a heart scan.

Rigid and tough blood vessels are linked to heart disease and are taken as a warning sign of heart problems in the future. It was found that the patients who drank one to two cups per day of coffee had greater elasticity in their major blood vessels than those who drank more or none at all. Most drank traditional strong Greek coffee in small cups of between 25ml and 50ml each.

Dr Christina Chrysohoou, presented the findings at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Stockholm. She said: “The study revealed that moderate coffee consumption, between one and two cups per day, is associated with higher values of aortic distensibility when compared with other hypertensive elderly individuals taking less coffee. “There was no evidence, however, that increasing coffee consumption to three to five cups per day would lead to further improvements in aortic distensibility.”

Higher levels of coffee intake did not improve blood vessel health any further, probably because the extra caffeine, which can restrict blood vessels, cancelled out the beneficial effects, she said. Dr Chrysohoou said: “The results suggest that drinking coffee in moderation should be encouraged even in elderly hypertensive subjects as it seems that it may improve arterial aging.”

The study took into account other factors that would influence blood vessel health including age, gender, physical activity, body weight and diabetes.

The subjects drank their coffee in cafes with friends in a relaxed atmosphere at the beginning and end of the working day, Dr Chrysohoou said, so the psychological benefits of this may also play a part, she said.

Dr Chrysohoou said the findings also suggested that there might be a link between moderate coffee consumption and lower risks of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and poor kidney function.

It is thought chemicals in coffee improve heart health by preventing damage caused by oxygen molecules and blocking harmful nitric oxide. Other nutrients including flavonoids, magnesium, potassium, niacin and vitamin E all combat the harmful effect of oxygen on cells. Greek coffee is traditionally boiled and not filtered so is higher in these compounds, Dr Chrysohoou said.

The authors said in patients with high blood pressure there has already been damage caused by nitric oxide so this may be why they see more of a beneficial effect from coffee.

Dr Jeremy Pearson, deputy medical director of the British Heart Foundation was sceptical that the benefit was from coffee. He said: “Living the Greek lifestyle and eating the Greek diet is certainly good for you as long as you don’t smoke the Greek cigarettes. “However suggesting that your average flustered executive in a British office should drink strong coffee to reduce their blood pressure is nonsense.”

Dr Euan Paul - Executive Director of the British Coffee Association, said: "These new study findings from the University of Athens highlight that moderate coffee consumption is associated with improved elasticity of the arteries amongst those that drink coffee compared with those that drink less coffee. "This is important as it indicates that coffee consumption may reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis and future cardiovascular events by improving aortic distensibility.

"Coffee is one of the most heavily researched products in the world today, this study adds to the weight of scientific evidence which shows that moderate coffee consumption of around 4 - 5 cups per day, is safe and may even confer some health benefits."


New studies explain how cancer cells 'eat us alive'

Four key studies now propose a new theory about how cancer cells grow and survive, allowing researchers to design better diagnostics and therapies to target high-risk cancer patients.

This new idea also explains why so many cancer patients say that “their cancer is eating them alive” - an accurate observation that has never been understood, the researchers say.

These four new studies, co-published in the September issue of the journal Cell Cycle, provide evidence that tumor growth and metastasis is directly “fueled” by normal supporting cells.

These supporting cells are called fibroblasts, and they produce the stroma (connective tissue) that surrounds tumor cells. As the cancer progresses, increasing numbers of these stromal cells eat themselves to provide recycled nutrients to tumor cells - leading to dramatic weight loss in patients.

They also found that without recycled nutrients provided by fibroblasts, tumor cells are more fragile and die. Based on this breakthrough, the researchers propose that available drugs (now on the market), which sever the “parasitic” connection between tumor cells and fibroblasts, may be effective therapeutics.

“We think we have finally figured out how cancer really works - and this reverses 85 years of dogma, upon which current cancer research and therapy is based,” says the study’s senior investigator, Michael P. Lisanti, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman of Jefferson’s Department of Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine.

The prevailing theory, known as the Warburg Effect, developed by German researcher Otto Warburg in 1924 (for which he won a Nobel prize), says that tumor cells change their metabolism in order to fuel their own growth. As evidence, Warburg pointed to a lack of mitochondria, which are tiny “power plants,” in laboratory cancer cells, saying these cells have found another way to produce the energy they need.

Richard Pestell, MB, BS, MD, Ph.D, FRACP, director of the Kimmel Cancer Center and co-author on these studies notes, “These studies suggest that the absence of mitochondria in laboratory cancer cells may reflect in part that cultured cells have had to adjust to life outside of their original environment, without their stromal partner.” Drs. Lisanti, Pestell and colleagues found this out by performing a simple experiment in which they mixed cancer cells and fibroblasts together, and then searched for mitochondria. The found the fibroblasts didn’t have any mitochondria, and that the cancer cells had all the mitochondria.

“The Warburg Effect is happening, but it is happening to fibroblasts, not to cancer cells. Fibroblasts have no mitochondria because they are eating them to provide energy to cancer cells, and cancer cells have a ton of mitochondria because they need these power plants to process all the recycled nutrients given to them by fibroblasts, which then helps them grow and spread,” Dr. Lisanti says. They have dubbed this finding “The Reverse Warburg Effect.”

“It’s amazing,” Dr. Lisanti says. “Much of what we know about cancer is backwards because cancer researchers used isolated tumor cells for most cancer studies. Now, when we put cancer cells back in their stromal environment, we see how cancer cells critically depend on fibroblasts for their survival.”

Tumor cells do this by employing oxidative stress as a weapon. Then, oxidative stress in fibroblasts “tricks” these stromal cells into eating themselves to feed cancer cells, the researchers say. This process of “self-eating” or “self-cannibalism” is called autophagy.

During periods of starvation, normal cells undergo autophagy. This metabolic re-programming allows cells to recycle nutrients by continually eating themselves, including their mitochondria. This permits starving cells to recycle nutrients and to survive under hostile conditions.

Now, Dr. Lisanti and colleagues have figured out how cancer cells take advantage of this recycling process. To satisfy their large appetite, hungry cancer cells induce oxidative stress in the fibroblasts and this stress forces the stromal cells to eat themselves, which provides recycled nutrients or “food” to fuel survival of nearby cancer cells.

“It’s that simple. Cancer cells are eating us alive by stealing nutrients from normal cells using oxidative stress, and by employing those recycled nutrients to support their own growth. Stem cells are then recruited from the bone marrow to produce fresh fibroblasts, to continually fuel cancer cell growth,” Dr. Lisanti says. “For years, cancer patients have said they felt as though the cancer in their body was eating them alive. These patients were right. Essentially, the cancer knows how to induce oxidative stress and turns a local wasting process into a whole-body phenomenon.”

Co-author Ubaldo Martinez-Outschoorn, M.D., a medical oncologist at Jefferson says “Patients have been telling us that cancer is eating them alive for years: Now we know they were right!” One of his cancer patients recently said, “Doc, I can’t eat enough food to maintain my weight. No matter how much I eat, I feel tired, and I am always losing weight.”

“Now that we understand the mechanism, this reverses our thinking about cancer metabolism and about how to stop this stress and starve the cancer cells,” he says.

In one of the published studies, Dr. Lisanti shows that using anti-oxidants can prevent oxidative stress in the fibroblasts, thus cutting off the fuel supply to cancer cells, starving them. “We are now performing drug screening assays to discover new anti-oxidants and other molecules like this,” he says.

The researchers have additionally identified two key metabolites - ketones and lactate - produced by the co-opted fibroblasts that provide high-energy food to the cancer cells. This finding also explains a mystery and provides a warning.

The mystery concerns why people with diabetes are much more likely to develop cancer than non-diabetics. The reason, Dr. Lisanti says, is that diabetic patients produce elevated levels of ketones, and he now shows that ketones fuel cancer cell growth.
The warning comes from the common use of lactate, a type of sugar, in cancer patients. Surgeons often give their cancer patients an intravenous solution of lactate before, during, and after surgery, Dr. Lisanti says. “But we see that cancer cells are using energy-rich fuels, such as lactate, to increase their numbers of mitochondria to power cancer cell growth, survival, and metastasis, so surgeons may want to re-consider or stop this practice.”

The findings have led the researchers to question the value of research using isolated laboratory cancer cells - the basis of most cancer research - and the anticancer drugs that result from it.

For example, genetic mutations have long been thought to be the root cause of cancer, but Dr. Lisanti’s group observed that these alterations might be the consequence of the tumor cell’s interactions with the normal stroma. Oxidative stress induced by cancer cells in fibroblasts feeds back upon cancer cells, amplifying the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). They believe that ROS is then used by cancer cells to mutate their own genes to promote survival.

“These ROS molecules cause DNA damage in the cancer cells, resulting in genomic instability - random mutations and DNA breakage, as well as abnormal chromosome numbers. This instability helps cancer cells evolve into a more aggressive form,” Dr. Lisanti says.

“So, we see three consequences resulting from activating oxidative stress in normal stromal cells,” he says. “First, it forces stromal cells to make food for cancer cells. Second, this abundance of food protects the cancer cells against death. Finally, oxidative stress modifies cancer cell DNA, causing mutations and allowing them to evolve into a more aggressive form.”

Additionally, the researchers say their new theory of stromal metabolic re-programming suggests that cancer cells do not need blood vessels to feed them, which explains why some angiogensis inhibitors (drugs that shut down blood vessel growth) have not worked - and, in fact, may be dangerous.

“If an aggressive cancer cell can use oxidative stress to extract nutrients from normal stromal cells, it can go anywhere without the need for a blood supply. This may be how cancer cells spread all over the body,” Dr. Lisanti says. “Furthermore, angiogenesis
inhibitors induce hypoxia, which is low oxygen, in the stroma. This is exactly the condition that drives nutrient recycling via autophagy. So angiogenesis inhibitors may help provide food or recycled nutrients to feed cancer cells. This explains why angiogenesis inhibitors have been very disappointing in clinical trials, as they may be having just the opposite effect, promoting cancer cell growth and metastasis.”

These new findings also have clear implications for cancer diagnosis, the researchers say. Many of the molecules that Dr. Lisanti’s group identified could be used as diagnostics to identify high-risk cancer patients or to monitor the success of their anti-cancer therapy.

Among them is caveolin-1 (Cav-1), which is produced by fibroblasts. Dr. Lisanti had shown earlier that loss of Cav-1 predicts poor prognosis in breast cancer patients, and is linked to early tumor recurrence, metastasis, and drug resistance. He now understands why, as breast cancer patients with absent stromal Cav-1 are feeding their cancer cells via recycled nutrients. That explains why a loss of stromal Cav-1 is such a good biomarker for identifying high-risk patients.

“The idea that a cancer cell’s local environment is important for tumor growth is now well-accepted by the cancer research community,” Dr. Lisanti says. “Now we show why this notion is correct.”


3 September, 2010

Genetic excuse for obesity 'is a myth'?

There's actually nothing new in the research below. That you can work off fat by exercising hard and regularly is no news at all. There is no denial below that some people are genetically predisposed to fat

Obesity researchers have dismissed as a "myth" the excuse that we are "slaves" to our genes. Academics found that people could work off around 40 per cent of the extra weight that "fat genes" laid on them by exercising.

Although some people do have a predisposition to be overweight or even obese, scientists at the Medical Research Council's Epidemiology Unit in Cambridge discovered that having an active lifestyle could go a long way to countering a person's genetic inheritance.

The researchers made their conclusions after analysing the genes of over 20,000 men and women aged 39 to 79, looking for 12 genetic markers known to increase body mass index (BMI) and the risk of obesity.

With this, they calculated a "genetic predisposition score" for each person. They then asked them to fill out questionnaires about their physical activity levels at work and elsewhere.

They concluded: "The findings challenge the popular myth that obesity is unavoidable if it runs in the family and could guide future treatments to combat the obesity crisis."

Dr Ruth Loos from the MRC, who led the study, said: "Our research proves that even those who have the highest risk of obesity from their genes can improve their health by taking some form of daily physical activity."

She added: "People don’t have to run marathons to make a difference either - walking the dog or working in the garden all counts. It goes to show we’re not complete slaves to our genetic make-up and really can make a big difference to our future health by changing our behaviour. "It goes to show we’re not complete slaves to our genetic make-up and really can make a big difference to our future health by changing our behaviour."

The research is published in the journal PLoS Medicine.


Mental “exercise” linked to MORE dementia

An epidemiological study with some odd results. A proper double blind study would be needed to sort it out but the benefit of "mental excercise" is looking dubious. The authors can it all "post hoc" but that proves nothing.

Abstract here. I note that there seem to have been a lot of variables not controlled for -- IQ, education, general physical health etc. That makes any interpretation highly speculative

While staying mentally active in old age has been linked to a delayed onset of dementia, seniors who engage in such brain "exercise" may actually have a faster rate of decline once Alzheimer's is diagnosed, researchers reported Wednesday.

The current study, led by Dr. Robert S. Wilson of Rush University in Chicago, included 1,157 older adults who were dementia-free at the outset and were evaluated for cognitive decline over roughly six years.

At the study's start, participants reported on how often they engaged in a number of activities that were considered mentally stimulating — including reading, doing crosswords or other puzzles, playing games like cards or checkers, watching TV, listening to the radio and going to museums.

During the study period, 614 participants remained cognitively healthy, while 395 developed mild impairment in their thinking abilities, and 148 were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Wilson's team found that among the group who remained healthy, those who reported a greater number of cognitive activities showed a slower rate of decline in cognitive tests over six years. Test scores remained essentially unchanged among those in the top 10 percent for cognitive activities, but showed a gradual dip among those in the bottom 10 percent.

In contrast, among study participants who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's, those who were the most mentally active at the study's outset showed a quicker rate of decline over time than those who had been the least mentally engaged.

However, Hall pointed out that the key limitation of this and past studies on the issue is that they are observational studies. That is, they can show an association between mental activities and dementia onset and progression, but cannot prove cause-and-effect.

"The evidence from observational studies suggests that cognitive activities might delay the onset of dementia," Hall said, "but that has to be confirmed in intervention studies."

In an intervention-type study, participants would, for example, be randomly assigned to regularly perform some sort of mentally stimulating activity and then have their cognitive health followed over time and compared with that of a similar group who did not perform the activity.

If staying mentally active does delay dementia onset, evidence so far suggests the benefit would be modest.

In a study Hall and his colleagues published last year, they found that of older adults who developed dementia during the study period, the most mentally active ones were typically diagnosed just over a year later than the least mentally active men and women.

People in the most active group typically reported 11 "activity days" per week -- meaning, for example, they performed one activity, such as reading, writing or playing games, on all days of the week, and a second activity on four days of the week. The least active group reported four activity days per week.

"This doesn't prevent dementia. This doesn't prevent the (brain) pathology," Hall said. However, he added, if mental activities were found to delay dementia symptoms, or the need for nursing home care, by even a year, that would have a "tremendous public health impact."


2 September, 2010

It looks like the food alarmists have had a win

Once the media start describing something as a toxic chemical, the politicians are going to be under big pressure to ban it. BPA is in fact toxic only in the sense that everything is: Very large doses of anything can kill you. Even drinking too much water can kill you. BPA levels found in food are only a few molecules at at time: Totally harmles

ALARMING levels of the toxic chemical BPA are lurking in tinned foods including popular baby brands, a study claims. Consumer advocate Choice is demanding Bisphenol A be stripped from all tinned foods fed to infants and toddlers after conducting tests on a range of common products.

The "gender bending" substance, widely used in plastics and to stop food and drink tins and cans rusting, has been linked by some animal studies to infertility, cancers, heart disease, attention deficit disorder, and other health risks.

Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn said laboratory samples on 38 tinned products - including baby food, baked beans, coconut milk, corn kernels, soups and fish - revealed 29 contained "potentially harmful" levels. Choice's tests found the highest levels of BPA (300-420 parts per billion) in samples of Edgell corn kernels, John West tuna olive oil blend, and Heinz smooth custard with banana.

Mr Zinn said that though all the tested foods were well below the European Union's safety limit of 600 parts per billion, some scientists believed [Some people believe in fairies too] that the threshold should be set far lower. "A number of scientists believe this advice is based on outdated research and say babies and small children in particular are at risk because of their small body weight and rapid growth," he said. "Opinion may be divided on the potential health hazards of BPA, but why take unnecessary risks?"

There are scientists who believe BPA can interfere with the hormonal system by copying oestrogen.

Major retailers in Australia are already phasing out BPA from baby bottles following similar bans in Canada, the United States, and Denmark. But food companies and regulators worldwide maintain that the low levels humans are exposed to through food packaging are safe.

Manufacturing giant Heinz recently agreed to remove BPA from baby food packaging over the next year. "While we believe there is no risk to consumers, we are keen to allay any concern," said a Heinz spokesman. Simplot, the company behind Edgell and John West, is testing BPA alternatives for can linings.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council has rejected the findings, maintaining there is no evidence to suggest food packaged in cans containing BPA is harmful.

"There's no scientific evidence internationally that has shown any dangers to humans from BPA in canned products or bottles," spokesman Dr Geoffrey Annison said. "Products containing BPA have been subject to significant and rigorous investigations by leading world authorities and, in recent years, food regulators in the United States, UK and the EU have examined the latest findings and have determined that the use of BPA continues to be safe."


Egg recall hatches more regulations

More FDA regulations don't always mean greater food safety

“Never let a serious crisis go to waste,” White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously declared back in the salad days of the Obama administration. The head of the Food Drug Administration (FDA), Margaret Hamburg, is paying heed to Emanuel’s maxim, using the recall of a half billion eggs to argue for giving her agency more power over food. The agency has traced the recent uptick in salmonella infections to eggs. Citing this recall, Hamburg is urging the U.S. Senate to pass the Food Safety Enhancement Act, which the House of Representatives passed last summer.

So is the egg recall a “serious crisis”? Well, the unfortunate citizens immiserated by diarrhea and nausea from eating contaminated eggs will have obvious reasons to think so. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s foodborne illness surveillance system finds since 1998 that rates of infection in 2009 were lower for Shigella (55 percent decrease), Yersinia (53 percent decrease), STEC O157 (41 percent decrease), Campylobacter (30 percent decrease), Listeria (26 percent decrease), and Salmonella (10 percent decrease); rates were higher for Vibrio (85 percent increase).

So why all the hullabaloo about food safety at a time when our food is less likely than ever to make us sick? The decline in foodborne illnesses was taking place even as media reports on food safety grew from about 22,000 reports in 1998 to over 60,000 last year. It’s not at all surprising that this increase in news coverage, spotlighting foodborne illness in spinach, tomatoes, peanuts, and deli meats, has fueled consumer anxiety over food safety.

While the incidence of foodborne illness appears to be decreasing, might further government regulation speed up that decline and so protect public health? There are reasons to doubt it.

The Food Safety Enhancement Act would dramatically increase the FDA’s role in regulating food production in the United States. The legislation would require some 378,000 food preparation facilities to pay an annual $500 fee to register with the FDA, to keep voluminous records about their safety systems, and be subject to FDA-approved inspections every year or two.

In addition, the act authorizes the Health and Human Services Department to establish an elaborate tracing system that enables the agency to identify each person who grows, produces, manufactures, processes, packs, transports, holds, or sells food in as short a timeframe as practicable but no longer than two business days. Only farmers who sell directly to consumers, fishing vessels, and grain producers would be exempt from the full traceability requirements. The new law would increase the criminal (up to 10 years in prison) and civil penalties ($7.5 million) for violating the new regulations.

The new law would enable the FDA to more widely impose hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) regulations on food producers and processors. HACCP plans attempt to ensure food safety by elaborate monitoring and verification procedures, all copiously documented. The Washington, D.C.-based free-market think tank the Mercatus Institute notes that HACCP regulations were imposed on the seafood industry by the FDA in the mid-1990s. The goal was to reduce the incidence of the saltwater pathogen Vibrio in seafood, yet the CDC FoodNet finds that Vibrio is the only pathogen whose rate of infection has increased since 1998 (admittedly there were only 160 reported cases in 2009).

A 2009 analysis in the Review of Agricultural Economics by U.S. Department of Agriculture economist Michael Ollinger and Washington State University economist Danna Moore finds that costly HACCP regulations end up favoring larger food producers and processors. This is not surprising since only big companies have the resources to cope with the growing burden of federal regulations.

The Washington Post noted that just 192 large egg companies own about 95 percent of laying hens in the U.S., down from 2,500 companies in 1987. To the extent that the public and policymakers are concerned about industry concentration, the costs of meeting the new regulations will only exacerbate this trend toward centralizing food production and processing into the hands of fewer and bigger corporations.

While people decry big food companies and factory farming, the fact is that food safety has dramatically improved since the days of mom-and-pop butcher shops and millions of small family farms, e.g., deaths from foodborne illness have dropped more than 100-fold from 1900 to today. The act specifically exempts farmers who sell directly to consumers from the new requirements, but many small and organic farmers nevetheless oppose the legislation. They fear that the new regulations will inevitably expand to include them.

A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis estimates that the new regulations would cost the government $2 billion to implement by 2014. As for the costs to the private sector, the analysis laconically reports, "CBO cannot estimate the cost to private entities of those provisions." However, Ollinger and Moore argue that HACCP regulations cost a lot more than at least one viable alternative—setting specified performance standards and then letting companies figure out the most cost-effective way of meeting them. The two economists calculate that the paper pushing standards advocated by the FDA cost between 160 to 500 percent more than performance standards would. One cheaper food safety performance standard might be applying faster and improved tests for the presence of disease organisms in more samples of food.

Private companies have been quick to develop their own food safety programs. And they have a big incentive for doing so: They lose a lot of money when their brands and industries are caught up in a food safety problem. So companies like Walmart and McDonald's are already contracting with suppliers to meet higher standards than the government mandates.

For example, both Wal-Mart and McDonald's are members of GLOBALG.A.P., a private sector organization that sets voluntary standards for the certification of agricultural products around the globe. American and Canadian produce growers are in the process of implementing their produce traceability initiative that will follow lettuce, tomatoes, and spinach from field to salad bar. Even Caroline Smith DeWaal, food-safety director of the hypercautious and self-described “food police” Center for Science in the Public Interest praised McDonald's in USA Today as being “the top of the top” in food safety.

We can expect that as the media and consumers focus more attention on food safety, that food producers and processors will respond to market demands with increasing alacrity and effectiveness. The new regulations sought by the FDA will only slow down that process while offering the illusion of increased safety.

Disclosure: I grew up on a small dairy farm in Appalachia where I drank raw milk, ate eggs from our chickens, vegetables from our garden, and meat that we slaughtered and butchered ourselves, all without FDA inspection and oversight. My health was not noticeably impaired.


1 September, 2010

Hair color, socioeconomic status among risk factors for recurring basal cell carcinoma

An unusual finding: One disease that is more prevalent in HIGH status people. May be because the poor tend to be couch potatoes while richer people get into the outdoors more (Golf etc.). Exposure to the sun is the main cause of BCCs

Patients who receive a diagnosis of the skin cancer basal cell carcinoma at a younger age—along with those who have red hair, a higher socioeconomic status and a cancerous lesion on their upper extremities—appear to be at higher risk of developing multiple cancers and require closer follow-up, according to a report in the August issue of Archives of Dermatology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

"Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of cancer in people with European ancestry, and its incidence continues to increase steeply," the authors write as background information in the article. "Although basal cell carcinoma therapy is relatively straightforward and basal cell carcinoma mortality rates are extremely low, the high incidence of basal cell carcinoma and the high risk of developing multiple lesions put a major burden on limited health care resources, placing basal cell carcinoma in fifth place on the list of most expensive cancers to treat in the United States."

Risk factors for the disease include older age, being male, race and genetic predisposition, which may interact with UV light exposure or other environmental hazards. To investigate the incidence of and risk factors for single vs. multiple basal cell carcinoma lesions, Ville Kiiski, M.D., and colleagues at Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, studied two cohorts of 10,994 Dutch adults 55 or older, one in 1990 and one in 1999. Patients with basal cell carcinoma lesions were identified from Dutch national records and potential risk factors—including sex, age, hair color, eye color, educational level and other demographic and health characteristics—were determined when individuals entered the study.

A total of 524 (4.8 percent) individuals in both cohorts had basal cell carcinoma, of whom 361 had single lesions and 163 (31.1 percent) had multiple lesions. Individuals who developed their first lesion after age 75 were significantly less likely to develop multiple lesions, whereas red hair and a first lesion located on the upper extremities was associated with a significantly increased risk of developing multiple lesions.

"In contrast to developing a first lesion, high educational level was significantly positively associated with developing multiple lesions," the authors write. "This finding may be explained by the probability that people with higher levels of education (which correlates strongly with socioeconomic status) have different lifestyles (e.g., more frequent exposure to UV rays for intermittent periods)." It may also be that these individuals were more likely to develop cancer in places other than the face and neck, or because they tend to live longer and thus have more time to develop lesions, the authors note.

Known risk factors for basal cell carcinoma, including having blue eyes and fair or blond hair, were not associated with the risk for additional lesions. "The observed discrepancy among risk factor profiles of developing single or multiple basal cell carcinoma lesions may suggest that once cumulative environmental-genetic interaction has surpassed a certain threshold and resulted in a lesion, the phenotypic characteristics of patients seem less important. The clinical relevance of this finding is that physicians' risk assessment efforts should differentiate between patients at risk for a first lesion and those who have a history of basal cell carcinoma."


The cruel irony of organic standards

The triumph of purist ideology over compassion and science means suffering and death for organic farm animals across America.

The week-old dairy calf, gangly and still, lay on a barn floor, her long-lashed eyes rolled back to expose the blue-white rim. The next morning, when I went to help my neighbor with his newborns, the calf was dead.

Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations defining organic standards mandate that if this calf had gotten one dose of antibiotics, even to save her life, she could never give organic milk—even after the two years it takes for her to become a milker, and even though neither she nor her milk would retain any trace of antibiotics.

Farmers are not generally callous or cruel, but neither are they sentimental. Organic standards mandate that they take all measures to save the life of an animal, but treatment strategies can be subjective, and loss of organic status factors into a farmer’s decision. After all, antibiotics don’t always work, and sometimes animals recover without them. So decent farmers wait while an animal suffers, and crosses that line past which no intervention can reverse the slide to death.

“Yes, I have seen examples of when producers had a little too much optimism,” says Brian Baker, director of Alfred State College’s Institute for Sustainablity. He opposed the 100 percent antibiotic ban when it was proposed, and would like to see a reasoned debate on the issue.

A few weeks later, another calf started to fail. Too weak to suck, Jordan let milk from the bottle leak into my hand as I cupped her head. The farmer weighed his options, and muttering in frustration and anger, reached for the antibiotics and the phone. He injected the calf and called the organic standards regulator to report that Jordan was no longer organic. The next morning the calf was back on her feet, but ruined as an organic milker. With that one shot, an ethical farmer lost much of his investment in breeding and maintaining quality organic stock.

Clearly, antibiotic overuse in conventional agriculture is a disaster. Daily low-dose antibiotics make animals grow larger and quicker, and they hold off disease and infection so livestock can survive the crowded, filthy conditions at industrial farms and feedlots. But as the 15-17 million pounds of sub-therapeutic antibiotics that America’s livestock consume annually breed resistance in virulent pathogens, the antibiotics humans rely on are failing. In 2006, the U.S. government reported that 1.7 million hospital infections that year caused more than 90,000 patient deaths, up from 13,300 in 1992.

In the 1990s, an embattled organics movement defeated agribusiness’s attempt to allow all drugs, toxic pesticides and genetic engineering to fall under the proposed USDA organic label. Some speculate that when agribusiness saw that its strategy to eviscerate standards would fail, it began advocating regulations so strict that few farmers would adopt them, and those that did would become uncompetitive.

While some European and Canadian organic regulations are tighter, farmers there can administer therapeutic antibiotics as long as the animal is treated rarely, and is withdrawn from meat or milk production for twice the time the drug remains in its system.

Some organic proponents now quietly recognize that the 100 percent ban on antibiotics needs to be re-examined, especially in light of a growing move to incorporate animal welfare into the discussion.

Others remain pure. Allowing one-time therapeutic antibiotics is “a slippery slope,” says Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, and would “undermine consumer confidence in organics. It’s the same position [I have] as on human vaccines. They are dangerous, and that’s why I didn’t vaccinate my kid.”

But when I took an unscientific survey at the Montpelier, Vt., farmers market, every consumer I asked assumed that organic livestock are, and should be, getting antibiotics for life-threatening diseases, and that a “no-antibiotics” label meant no sub-therapeutic use. Organic farmers I asked want the regulation changed, and several locavore producers said they would not go organic, precisely because they wanted the option of treating a sick animal without risking financial hardship.

It’s time for the organic movement to incorporate science and compassion into organic standards and allow the rare, regulated use of life-saving antibiotics. 


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

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


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

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

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

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

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

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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